It was the last album to make an appearance (at 82), and here three more classics from the consistently high-quality A Day at the Races appear in this magnificent selection of Queen songs. There is still one non-album track yet to feature, as well as three tracks from the Flash Gordon soundtrack. The album Made in Heaven makes its final appearance. Three tracks featured on Greatest Hits are listed, but nothing from Greatest Hits II.
80. Pain Is So Close to Pleasure (Deacon/Mercury), A Kind of Magic, 1986
The best of the Freddie/John disco-funk collaborations, Pain has a distinctly Motown feel and some great falsetto vocal from Freddie. As so often, Brian’s guitar adds an unmistakeable Queen sound. The remix released as a single in North America is a salutary reminder that remixes are usually best avoided. Best moment: the solo, leading into the middle eight — “When your plans go wrong …”
79. I Go Crazy (May), b-side, 1984
Another of Brian’s rockier efforts that sounds as if it’s a one-take run-through with additional guitars on top. He’s actually quoted as saying that the others were “ashamed” of the song, hence its appearance only as a b-side. It’s certainly raw and unpolished, but that fits the mood of the song. Best moment: the ‘crazy’ ending from 3:09 onwards.
78. You’re My Best Friend (Deacon), A Night at the Opera, 1975
One of John’s gentler songs (presumably written for his then new wife Veronica) and his first hit single. The electric piano (played by John) was yet another addition to the Queen sound. The lush vocal harmonies are great. Compare the thick, warm drum sound to anything on the Jazz album. Best moment: any of the backing harmonies — but particularly from roughly 0:56 when lead and backing vocals split into separate channels.
77. Jesus (Mercury), Queen, 1973
A much-overlooked gem from the first album. Notable for Freddie’s Bible-themed lyrics and for great vocal harmonies. The centrepiece, however, is Brian’s extended solo, an early home for his experiments with guitar harmonies and a harbinger of future guitar wizardry. Bearing this in mind, Jesus is perhaps an example of what Brian has said was Freddie’s insistence in the early days that whoever penned the lyrics should be credited as the writer of the overall song (a comment he made, if memory serves, with reference to Liar). A version of Jesus was one of the songs recorded at the now legendary De Lane Lea session.
76. Who Needs You (Deacon), News of the World, 1977
A gentle Latin-tinged musical feel combines with acerbic, dog-eat-dog lyrics to great effect. When Radio 1 did their weekly album-chart rundowns in ’77, Who Needs You and Spread Your Wings were the two songs regularly played. The 2017-released early-take is also great. Best moment: the acoustic solo.
75. Rock It (Prime Jive) (Taylor), The Game, 1980
After his relatively sub-standard contributions to Jazz, Roger hit a real purple patch (he must have been writing and recording his excellent first solo album, Fun in Space, at much the same time). Rock It is (as the title suggests) a straightforward, no-nonsense rock song, but it benefits immensely from Mack’s production. It sounded even better live (on the rare occasions it was played). The rising synth from about 3:56 is not unlike the drone used at the start of their live shows at the time (also created by Roger, according to the Queen Rocks Montreal commentary). Best moment: the extended musical break from “We want some prime jive” at roughly 3:06.
74. Las Palabros de Amor (The Words of Love) (May), Hot Space, 1982
Just as Queen’s success in Japan had inspired Brian to write Teo Torriatte, so their ground-breaking South American tour in 1981 presumably inspired Las Palabros de Amor. The lyrics were also a comment of sorts on the Falklands War: Queen were massive in Argentina at the time, and at Milton Keynes Brian refers to this song (I assume it’s this one — he doesn’t actually name it) as “our song of peace”.
For the first time in five years, the band also appeared on Top of the Pops in a pre-recorded slot. Freddie and Roger are wearing tuxedos and Brian is sporting a tour jacket. It’s a hilariously stilted performance. Roger, as ever in these videos, looks thoroughly bored, making little more than a token effort to ‘play’ the drums and sing along. Freddie — again, as usual — makes a hopeless attempt at miming the vocal. John makes an excellent job of being John. Who knows what he is thinking.
Brian is in full action-man mode. It’s his song after all. Relying on memory, I wrote incorrectly that he mimed the synthesizer ‘swirls’ on Freddie’s grand piano. In fact, there’s a synth sitting on top of the piano. He alternates between ‘playing’ the two (not too sure what the piano bits are) before miming a bit of guitar later in the song.
Despite it’s more traditional sound (compared to their previous single, Body Language), Las Palabros de Amor was not a big hit, reaching only number 17 in the UK. It’s possible that the Spanish lyrics did not endear the song to the public at a time when Britain was effectively at war with Argentina.
Like their other Hot Space singles, Las Palabros de Amor was ignored for Greatest Hits II, despite it reaching the top twenty. It is also extraordinary that neither of the two singles released by June 1982 from Hot Space (not counting Under Pressure) was played live on the European tour (Body Language was added for the subsequent US tour). Almost unprecedented, in fact. Every other Queen single except You’re My Best Friend (which was added on later tours) was included in the live set at the time of its release.
Best moment: the guitar and “whoo hoo” at 3:23.
73. I Was Born to Love You (Mercury), Made in Heaven, 1995
Originally the lead-off single from Freddie’s solo album, this has an irresistibly uptempo beat, perfect for Brian’s guitars. It’s not hard to see why Queen + Adam Lambert introduced it into their set. Best moment: Roger’s drums at 3:50, heralding the long outro.
72. Drowse (Taylor), A Day at the Races, 1976
A somewhat left-field effort from Roger — and one of his best early-period Queen songs — the laid-back feel of the lyrics is perfectly complemented by the slide guitar, evoking long, lazy summer days (it was presumably written in the long hot summer of ’76, of course). The middle eight (“Out here on the street / We’d gather and meet …”) is particularly good. Best moment: Roger’s vocal at 2:22 — “the lights and the fun”.
71. Back Chat (Deacon), Hot Space, 1982
One of their more successful disco-dance efforts — again, sounding better played live. It’s baffling why this wasn’t chosen as the lead-off single from the album, as opposed to Body Language. Brian tells the story that he had to fight to get his ‘angry’ solo on the final mix: John originally wanted a hardcore disco-funk sound with no guitar at all.
Back Chat was their first 12” remix, actually one of the better ones, as most of them were decidedly ordinary. It’s possible that some of the additional guitar bits and vocal ad-libs are offcuts that didn’t make the final mix; even so, this extended version is nicely put together and worth a listen.
Best moment: the short synth break at 1:52, leading into the guitar solo.
70. Flick Of The Wrist (Mercury), Sheer Heart Attack, 1974
Freddie explores territory, musically and lyrically, that he returned to even more successfully with Death on Two Legs the following year. The guitar solo is appropriately vicious. Hard to believe that this was one half of a double-‘A’-sided single. Introducing the song at the filmed Rainbow shows, Brian refers to it as “the side which you haven’t been hearing on the Tony Blackburn show” — Blackburn was a Radio 1 DJ and household name at the time. Best moment: “Prostitute yourself he says / Castrate your human pride”.
69. Heaven for Everyone (Taylor), Made in Heaven, 1995
The best of the re-interpreted solo songs, this is a favourite with many fans. The pseudo-reggae feel is certainly an unusual sound for Queen. The version on the first Cross album is great too. Best moment: “What people do to other souls …”.
68. The Millionaire Waltz (Mercury), A Day at the Races, 1976
Successfully appropriating yet another musical style — this time a waltz — and overlaid with typically lavish arrangements, particularly from Brian. It’s always great to hear John’s bass prominent in the mix (in this case during the introduction). Despite not being released as a single, an abridged version of the song featured in the live-show medley for two years. Best moment: piano and guitar in waltz time at roughly 2:50. The sound of Brian’s guitar is quite exquisite at 3:19 to 3:24.
67. Doing All Right (May/Staffell), Queen, 1973
Thanks to the Bohemian Rhapsody movie, the whole world now knows that this was originally a Smile song. Listening to it afresh, it’s a delight to hear Freddie’s delicate vocal, particularly in the opening lines — a stark contrast to the macho style that became his trademark in the ’80s. On stage, Brian used his delay technique to great effect during the ‘heavy’ bits. Best moment: the two guitar breaks.
66. Need Your Loving Tonight (Deacon), The Game, 1980
Another of John’s hidden pop-rock gems (somewhat unfairly overlooked, nestling between two ‘classic’ singles). With its great opening riff, Need Your Loving… sounded particularly good on stage when it (briefly) featured towards the beginning of the set. It sounds like some nice acoustic guitar (from John, perhaps?) behind the main guitar. Best moment: what sounds like Freddie’s “let’s go” at 1:37 before the middle eight and Brian’s soaring solo.
65. Lily of the Valley (Mercury), Sheer Heart Attack, 1974
Delicate, beautiful and understated — almost a companion piece to Nevermore on Queen II (yet to feature in this list!). Typically gorgeous early Freddie lyrics, obscure and veiled at times, but poetical and enriched with literary and historical allusion —”my kingdom for a horse” referencing Shakespeare’s Richard III, for example. Best moment: the backing vocals at 0:52.
64. Fat Bottomed Girls (May), Jazz, 1978
In stark contrast to Brian’s usual lyrical preoccupations with leaving and absence, this is an in-your-face celebration of the on-the-road, rock-‘n’-roll lifestyle (lyrically more Roger’s usual territory). The song is badly let down by the production (the guitars sound dull and lifeless): on stage, this was quite magnificent (as shown by the version from Paris ’79 released on the Bohemian Rhapsody soundtrack). There was a great ad-lib from Freddie at Milton Keynes: “You made an ass-hole outta me!” Best moment: Roger’s bass drum during the opening section of the song, before the whole band comes in.
63. A Human Body (Taylor), b-side, 1980
It’s quite astonishing that A Human Body didn’t make it onto The Game: it’s far better than Roger’s own Coming Soon and certainly an improvement on Freddie’s Don’t Try Suicide. It’s entirely possible that, in the latter case, band politics made it impossible for Roger to have three songs out of ten on the album. Some at least of the guitars are almost certainly played by Roger. Best moment: Roger’s vocals in the long outro from about 2:57 alternating between left and right channel.
62. Now I’m Here (May), Sheer Heart Attack, 1974
A somewhat unlikely choice as single (there are much more obviously chart-friendly songs on the album), this is — unusually for Brian — an upbeat reflection of life on the road, specifically America. ‘Peaches’ is apparently a reference to a girl he fell in love with over there. It worked brilliantly as a set opener on the Sheer Heart Attack world tour and became a staple of the live show until the end.
Best moment: the repeat effect used on Freddie’s voice (“Now I’m here / Now I’m there”), which during the 1974–1975 tour was cleverly exploited via use of a roadie on the opposite side of the stage dressed to appear exactly like Freddie.
61. Tie Your Mother Down (May), A Day at the Races, 1976
Another raucous set opener courtesy of Brian — the easiest song to come onto the stage to, so he has said — and (also like Now I’m Here) an odd choice of single. One of the singles that didn’t make the Greatest Hits album, in the UK at least. It did, however, feature on Greatest Flix: unlike many of their ‘live’ videos, the video for Tie Your Mother Down is excellent, showcasing to the maximum their stunning light show at the time. Best moment: the harmonies on “all” when they sing “Give me all your love tonight” at the end of the chorus (for example at 2:04).