Queen Songs Ranked 140–121

This is starting to get hard now. Although we are still some way off the top 100 — or even the halfway point — there are no ‘fillers’ here: this collection is made up of twenty good, solid Queen songs. Some of them are what I would categorise as nearly-but-not-quite: there’s definitely something there, but the overall song doesn’t quite make it to the stratosphere. As you would expect, most of the non-album tracks are now accounted for … though by no means all.

Click here for details about how I compiled the list and to start from the beginning (number 185).

140. Calling All Girls (Taylor), Hot Space, 1982

A ‘hybrid’ guitar sound (sort of semi-acoustic), built on an uptempo beat, drives this song along — it sounded even better performed live (it featured in the set list for the ’82 US and Japanese tours). Calling is, however, let down somewhat by bland lyrics and puerile humour (assuming that it’s the sound of a record needle we hear at roughly 1:43 ‘scratching’ the vinyl). Best moment: the guitar in the chorus, for example at 0:55.

139. Delilah (Queen), Innuendo, 1991

A lightweight slice of Freddie-inspired whimsy with a playful synth-led tempo. Nice guitar from Brian, especially mimicking the miaow of a cat. Sometimes, something seemingly incidental and buried away in the mix just captures the ear — here it’s the piano at 0:25. Not one of Roger’s favourites, he is on record as saying.

138. You Don’t Fool Me (Queen), Made in Heaven, 1995

More than a decade after the release of Hot Space, this is one of Queen’s better efforts to capture a ‘disco’ sound (not least because of the absence of programmed instrumental backing). It is nevertheless immeasurably enhanced by terrific guitar from Brian, bringing to mind the Eddie Van Halen solo on Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. Best moment: the scorching guitar at 2:43.

137. Son and Daughter (May), Queen, 1973

A real spit-and-sawdust, blues-infused effort from Brian, this was a different beast on stage (and will feature a lot higher in my rankings of Queen live songs), a showcase for his guitar solo before Brighton Rock came along. The lyrics are frankly a puzzle. Listen carefully and there’s some great bass from John. ‘Live’ versions of the song featured on two BBC sessions, one of which includes a great of-its-time spoken line from Roger: ‘steel yourself — this is valid’.

136. Scandal (Queen), The Miracle, 1989

One of the better efforts from the Miracle sessions (and one where the synth treatments enhance the song for once), Brian’s screaming guitar captures the pain in the lyrics. Best moment: “It’s only a life to be twisted and broken …” at 2:12.

135. Sweet Lady (May), A Night at the Opera, 1975

Another of Brian’s rockier efforts, this has a great opening riff (sounding even better when played live), solo and frantic outro. The lyrics were mocked by ‘Roger’ in the Bohemian Rhapsody movie during a band ‘tiff’. Best moment: the guitars at 1:57

134. Khashoggi’s Ship (Queen), The Miracle, 1989

After a false start with Party, Khashoggi’s Ship — real drums, raw guitar, no unnecessary synth treatments — brings The Miracle to life, marred only by the interlude at roughly 1:30. Like some of the b-sides from the Miracle sessions, it sounds like it might have been recorded in a single take (which is not a criticism).

133. Jealousy (Mercury), Jazz, 1978

One of Freddie’s piano-based reflections on the pain of love, it also features great bass from John. Oddly enough, Brian’s brief acoustic contributions seem a little out of place. Best moment: John’s high bass notes at 1:38.

132. The Night Comes Down (May), Queen, 1973

Remarkably, it is the original demo from the legendary De Lane Lea session that made it onto the first album, as the band supposedly felt they were unable to improve on the feel of the song in subsequent takes. Now remastered, of course, it sounds great — such a mature sound, with typically dark and introspective Brian lyrics. Best moment: the end of the song, building to an unbearably tense climax.

131. Soul Brother (Queen), b-side, 1981

Although this sounds like a tongue-in-cheek, one-take throwaway, it is actually surprisingly effective and an unexpected bonus when Under Pressure was released. It’s the sound of the band enjoying themselves and each other’s playing.

There is a widely quoted comment attributed to Brian from 2003 in which he says that Freddie surprised him one day in the studio, saying that he (Freddie) had written a song about him (Brian). In the same quoted remarks, Brian also seems to link Soul Brother to the Game sessions (meaning 1979 and/or 1980) and this has become widely accepted (it is stated as a fact in the official lyrics book, for example). In fact, the lyrical allusions to Flash Gordon and Under Pressure very strongly suggest that Brian is mistaken on this point and that Soul Brother is from the Hot Space sessions, probably recorded at roughly the same time as Under Pressure in the second half of 1981.

Best moment: “When you’re under pressure …” at 1:20.

130. Cool Cat (Deacon/Mercury), Hot Space, 1982

With a suitably relaxed and laid-back sunny-days vibe, this is by far the best of the John & Freddie funky collaborations. John’s bass is fabulous and Freddie’s vocals are great too. The version with Bowie’s incidental vocals has rightly not seen the official light of day.

129. The Miracle (Queen), The Miracle, 1989

A classic nearly-but-not-quite song. On the one hand, satisfyingly complex arrangements (and a song that Brian often raves about), and a departure from the standard song structure. On the other hand, embarrassingly utopian, peace-on-earth lyrics (“That time will come / One day you’ll see / When we can all be friends”). Best moment: the closing minute or so, starting when John’s bass kicks in at 3:49 (and despite those final lyrics!).

128. A Winter’s Tale (Queen), Made in Heaven, 1995

It’s easy to see why there is a ‘cosy fireside’ remix (referencing a line in the song). For all its charm, A Winter’s Tale‘s real emotional power undoubtedly comes from the knowledge that Freddie wrote the lyrics in the face of approaching death. The lines are a bit clunky in places; under normal circumstances, they would surely have been edited and polished somewhat. Nevertheless, this is a far more satisfying seasonal song that their ‘official’ Christmas single, Thank God It’s Christmas. Best moment: “It’s all so beautiful / Like a landscape painting in the sky” at 2:49.

127. All God’s People (Queen/Moran), Innuendo, 1991

Apparently, this song was originally intended for the Barcelona album, hence the writing credit for Mike Moran. It’s very obviously two interesting song ideas spliced together (a technique they had used before — with Breakthru, for example). Best moment: when ‘Part 2’ kicks in at roughly 1:49.

126. Fight from the Inside (Taylor), News of the World, 1977

As shown by the demo version released in 2017, this is almost exclusively Roger, including lots of his trademark riffs and vocal sounds. The instrumental version, also released as part of the News of the World box set, is great. Best moment: the guitars bouncing around the mix, for example during the introduction.

125. Headlong (Queen), Innuendo, 1991

Obviously, a favourite guitar riff of Brian’s (he references it on stage to this day). One of those songs where the lyrics perfectly capture the mood of the music (and vice versa). Best moment: a toss-up between the sound of Brian’s guitar at roughly 2:45 and “Oop diddy diddy / Oop diddy do”.

124. Sheer Heart Attack (Taylor), News of the World, 1977

Apparently written at the time of the Sheer Heart Attack sessions in ’74, it would be interesting to hear a demo recorded at that time, as this ’77 version comes close to a full-on punk sound (an obvious response from Roger to the then-current music scene). The rhythm guitar on the demo version released in 2017 sounds more natural than on the final version.

123. Mad the Swine (Mercury), b-side, released 1991

An unexpected delight on its eventual release some thirty years or so late, Mad the Swine comes from the earliest sessions but failed to make it onto the first album. Another example of Freddie’s penchant for Bible-inspired lyrics from that period. That apart, it’s hard to envisage where it might have been positioned on the Queen album — certainly Roger’s percussion is more audible in the mix than on other songs of the time — or what it might have replaced. Best moment: the wonderful break at roughly 1:38 (“And then one day you’ll realise …”).

122. If You Can’t Beat Them (Deacon), Jazz, 1978

One of John’s hidden gems, this is a great guitar-led song, which really came to life on stage, though it was unjustly omitted from Live Killers. Best moment: the multi-tracked solo and the long outro.

121. Tenement Funster (Taylor), Sheer Heart Attack, 1974

All the usual Roger trademarks are here, lyrically (girls, growing up, cars and rock-‘n’-roll) and musically — it certainly sounds like Roger on rhythm guitar, though the soaring guitar solo is surely from Brian. Best moment: the aforementioned solo, following on from “I’ll make the speed of light out of this place”.

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Queen Songs Ranked 160–141

Plenty of material here that is good but just rather ordinary by Queen’s exceptional standards. Another couple of singles feature, as do some of the better non-album, b-side tracks. With numbers 185 to 141 now complete, only tracks from the first album and A Day at the Races have yet to feature anywhere on the list.

For details about how I compiled the list and to view numbers 185–161, scroll to the bottom of the page.

160. Dreamers Ball (May), Jazz, 1978

Another nod to America from Brian — this time the milieu is the New Orleans jazz scene — Dreamers Ball (the title appeared on the original Jazz album without an apostrophe; sometimes, as on the Live Killers sleeve, it is displayed as Dreamer’s Ball; arguably it should be Dreamers’ Ball) is in truth one of his weaker efforts, a poor relation of the magnificent big-band sound of Good Company. The rather ponderous feel is perhaps deliberate, evoking (for this listener at least) a sleazy late-night bar, complete with cast-off, booze-soaked dreamer drowning his sorrows.

The acoustic early-take released in 2011 is also somewhat leaden, though the finished version features nice multi-tracked lead guitar and backing vocals. Best moment: the guitars from 2:48 to 3:10.

159. Friends Will Be Friends (Deacon/Mercury), A Kind of Magic, 1986

This song perhaps tries a little too hard to capture the anthemic, arms-in-the-air quality of Queen’s best stadium-ready songs (the video is a big clue to its intent — the nearest Freddie ever got to crowdsurfing, despite what a certain well-known film might suggest to the contrary).

Released as a single to coincide with the Magic Tour, it was inexplicably placed between We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions at the climax of the show — an egregious error, as far as this fan is concerned. As often, the guitar breaks (particularly at roughly 1:58 and in the outro at 3:44) are the best bits.

158. It’s a Beautiful Day (Reprise) (Queen), Made in Heaven, 1995

157. It’s a Beautiful Day (Queen), Made in Heaven, 1995

Apparently, a half-idea of Freddie’s from the Game sessions (a bit like what became the opening bit to Breakthru), it’s such a shame he didn’t pursue it further. A wonderfully optimistic lyric, less decadent and hedonistic than Don’t Stop Me Now. Nicely moulded into a coherent shape by the band, including samples of early songs on the reprise.

156. Coming Soon (Taylor), The Game, 1980

After his two funky missteps on the Jazz album, this is more typical Roger fare. Propelled along by a driving drum beat, I Wanna Testify-type vocal flourishes and what sounds like Roger on rhythm guitar, this doesn’t quite hit the heights, though the backing vocals at 1:35 and at the end are gorgeous. A Human Body would perhaps have been a better choice of second Roger song on The Game, with this as the non-album b-side.

155. Tear It Up (May), The Works, 1984

A sledgehammer of a song from Brian that lacks the subtle shades of his very best heavy songs: a tribute to wild partying but without the wit of Freddie’s Don’t Stop Me Now. It’s certainly a statement of intent lyrically and musically: we’re here to have a good time, we’re here to rock. It draws a line under Hot Space, as if to say ‘we know we pissed off a lot of our fans with the dance stuff’. Indeed, that sentiment was in part the inspiration for the album’s title — ‘we’re going to give ’em the works’. Full-on, driving guitar compensates for awful, crashing drums.

Despite the lyrical theme, it was an unlikely set opener on the Works tour. Even more surprising that it remained in the set for the Magic Tour. Even more surprising that it was resurrected by Q+AL.

154. Let Me in Your Heart Again (May), released 2014

Another promising but unfinished idea (again, one wonders why), this one from the Works sessions and nicely shaped into something releasable by Brian and Roger. Fred Mandel plays keyboards — check out his comments on the song in this interview at roughly 45:15. The Anita Dobson version is worth a listen for Brian’s guitars, though perhaps not for the singing.

153. A Dozen Red Roses for My Darling (Taylor), b-side, 1986

An example of where that ’80s Phil Collins-esque, big-yet-compressed, dry drum sound works well (taking the lead in this instrumental), this is a delightfully left-field Roger creation. The repeated guitar riff is great, as are the synths. It was reworked into a more traditional song for the A Kind of Magic album, but A Dozen Red Roses definitely works as a piece of music in its own right.

Best moment: the atmospheric break at roughly 2:09, which sounds like a cross between something from side two of David Bowie’s Low album and the X-Files theme.

152. The Loser in the End (Taylor), Queen II, 1974

Perched at the end of side one on the original vinyl release, Loser follows uneasily — both lyrically and musically — in the wake of Brian’s magnificently dark and introspective songs, the juxtaposition as jarring as the guitar treatments in the song itself. The theme is typically early-years Roger, the inter-generational tensions involved in growing up and embracing rock-‘n’-roll, girls and fast cars.

Best moment: Roger’s percussion, particularly the repeated marimba sounds (for example at 0:06).

151. Feelings, Feelings (May), released 2011

From the News of the World sessions, this song didn’t make it through the weeding process to the final album cut, and at roughly two minutes’ duration it obviously remained unfinished and unpolished. Its upbeat, rocky feel is reminiscent of It’s Late and the latter part of the BBC session version of Spread Your Wings from the same period.

150. The Invisible Man (Queen), The Miracle, 1989

One of Queen’s more ‘humorous’ pieces, it certainly has an infectious bassline and nice guitar from Brian — though, take away the various aural flourishes and it’s not immediately obvious what else. Many people will doubtless disagree but it’s also one of their less likeable ‘thematic’ videos: as with anything using technology as a central reference (in this case, video games), it quickly dates.

It is widely reported that the Miracle album was originally going to be called The Invisible Men. Someone, somewhere — fortunately — had a change of heart.

149. Sleeping on the Sidewalk (May), News of the World, 1977

In a sign of things to come, much of this blues-y piece was apparently recorded in a single take. Like many of Brian’s lyrics, he is wrestling with the price of fame and success, though with more humour that is typical in his songs. The live version from the News of the World tour, released in 2017 with Freddie on vocal, was an unexpected delight on its release: one wonders where it was placed in the set during its (very) limited run.

Best moment: leaving the laugh in at the every end of the take (very much not a Queen thing up to that point).

148. One Year of Love (Deacon), A Kind of Magic, 1986

Another of Freddie’s more ‘shouty’ vocals from the ’80s, One Year comes complete with saxophone solo and orchestral arrangement. It is by no means the worst of the ‘mushy ballad’ type but, with its plodding beat, struggles to go anywhere particularly interesting and is sorely missing Brian’s guitar.

147. Crash Dive on Mingo City (May), Flash Gordon, 1980

It may only last a minute or so but Brian’s guitar, joined by Roger on timpani, evokes Flash’s frantic crash-dive through the city’s defence shield, ruining the wedding and mercilessly killing Ming in the process.

146. The Hitman (Queen), Innuendo, 1991

This certainly sounds like a no-holds-barred Brian rocker, though there is a lengthy quote ‘out there’ attributed to Brian, saying that the original idea came from Freddie with further work from John. It is full-on and relentless, leaving little room for subtlety, though it has some outstanding guitar from Brian.

145. Funny How Love Is (Mercury), Queen II, 1974

The weakest of Freddie’s songs on Queen II, Funny is notable for the Phil Spector-esque ‘wall of sound’ arrangement, courtesy of Robin Cable’s production (also featured on Freddie’s Larry Lurex arrangement of I Can Hear Music). A somewhat slight song, although it comes in at nearly three minutes the fade-out starts ridiculously early.

144. Man on the Prowl (Mercury), The Works, 1984

A more full-on, Elvis-inspired, rockabilly arrangement than Crazy Little Thing Called Love, this is upbeat throughout, and has a great middle-eight (“Well I keep dreaming about my baby …”) and piano solo to finish, courtesy of Fred Mandel, who had played keyboards on stage with the band in 1982. Apparently it was pencilled in as a single (another?!) from The Works until Thank God It’s Christmas came along.

143. Hang On In There (Queen), b-side, 1989

This track didn’t make the Miracle album but is undoubtedly better than some that did. It sounds like a number of studio jams spliced onto a basic song, notably at roughly 2:30 and 3:10 (the latter Brian-John-Roger jam is particularly good, using part of what has become known as Fiddly Jam).

142. Life Is Real (Song for Lennon) (Mercury), Hot Space, 1982

A somewhat uncharacteristically serious ‘price-of-fame’ lyrical theme from ’80s Freddie, the song doesn’t quite do justice to the undoubtedly heartfelt sentiments. Like (say) The Invisible Man, strip away the flourishes and what is left is something rather ordinary by Queen standards and would probably not have made the cut on any of the first six albums.

141. Dear Friends (May), Sheer Heart Attack, 1974

At just one minute and nine seconds, this is an affecting piano ballad in miniature. One cannot help but feel that, by the ’80s, an idea such as this would have been worked on to bring it closer to a more conventional three-minute length or abandoned. Best moment: the backing vocals from 0:32.

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Queen Songs Ranked 185–161

Intrigued and inspired by a blog I came across on Twitter in late-October 2018 — annoyingly, I can’t find the link, but there are plenty like it — I began drawing up a complete list of Queen songs, ranked from ‘worst’ to ‘best’.

Obviously this is all completely subjective, and I don’t doubt that my views will change as I go along. If nothing else, it’s great fun to do and a perfect excuse to listen to and appreciate (to a greater or lesser extent) every single Queen song, not least the ones I usually unthinkingly dismiss and rarely play. I don’t really have a musical vocabulary, but I will try and explain my thinking as best I can. Any time references relate to versions I found on the official Queen channel on YouTube, unless stated otherwise.

First, a few words about what’s in and what’s not. I fully accept that this is a bit arbitrary, though there is a logic of sorts.

  • It encompasses every Queen studio song released either on an album or as a b-side up to Freddie’s death — so Mad the Swine makes the cut, for example.
  • I decided to include God Save the Queen and The Wedding March, even though they are arrangements of traditional pieces of music, because they are very obviously ‘Queen-ified’.
  • On reflection, I decided to include the Made in Heaven album because Freddie was involved in at least some of the recording process. Based on that criterion, I have also included Feelings, Feelings and the three tracks that featured on the Queen Forever compilation. I have not, however, included No One But You, which had no Freddie involvement.
  • There are no live tracks or session tracks — including no ‘fast’ version of We Will Rock You. Boo.
  • To keep things simple, I am counting reprises as separate tracks, except Seven Seas of Rhye from the first album (which, strictly speaking, is a taster rather than a reprise anyway!).
  • Other than the reprises, which all stand as separate tracks on albums, there are no officially released early takes, remixes or reworkings included — so no Forever (boo … again), for example, and (mercifully) no Blurred Vision, which would otherwise have been propping up the entire Queen oeuvre.
  • I decided against the so-called ‘Track 13’, classing it as a piece of ambient music rather than a song as such. It isn’t, for example, listed on the Made in Heaven album cover.

This selection — from 185 to the dizzy heights of 161 — contains mainly b-sides, plus incidental and dialogue-heavy pieces from the Flash Gordon soundtrack. There are also a number of songs from the Miracle sessions. Two singles (both minor hits) also feature — not my favourites, obviously. 

185. Chinese Torture (Queen), The Miracle bonus track, 1989

A Brian experimental ‘thing’ that echoes bits of his ’86 Magic Tour solo (but it’s definitely no Brighton Rock!).

184. Stealin (Queen), b-side, 1989

From the Miracle sessions, this has obviously taken shape from a jamming session. A quintessential ‘minor’ b-side song.

183. Lost Opportunity (Queen), b-side, 1991

From the Innuendo sessions, it’s a blues piece that would have been suited to Brian’s first solo album (indeed it has the same feel as Nothing But Blue).

182. Don’t Try Suicide (Mercury), The Game, 1980

My least favourite Queen album track. As an attempt at black humour, it comes up short (“… You’re just gonna’ hate it … Nobody gives a damn”). The brief uptempo bits (“You need help …” and the guitar solo) rescue it from being completely awful. It would have been far better as an exclusive b-side release with A Human Body taking its place on The Game.

181. The Ring (Hypnotic Seduction of Dale) (Mercury), Flash Gordon, 1980

180. Arboria (Planet of the Tree Men) (Deacon), Flash Gordon, 1980

179. Ming’s Theme (In the Court of Ming the Merciless) (Mercury), Flash Gordon, 1980

Essentially mood music. Ming’s Theme contains some fairly menacing synthesizer.

178. Flash’s Theme Reprise (Victory Celebrations) (May), Flash Gordon, 1980

177. Marriage of Dale and Ming (And Flash Approaching) (May), Flash Gordon, 1980

176. Flash to the Rescue (May), Flash Gordon, 1980

Essentially narrative interludes, helping the story along. Marriage of Dale and Ming includes some nice guitar on the Flash snippets. Flash to the Rescue carries a sense of heightening drama, as if setting up the action to come. In an interview celebrating the fortieth-anniversary re-release of Flash Gordon, Brian highlighted Flash to the Rescue as one of his favourite bits of music from the film [from roughly 8:55].

175. Body Language (Mercury), Hot Space, 1882

By some distance Queen’s worst choice of single — and a lead-off single at that. Back Chat would have been a much better choice. Body Language was omitted from both Greatest Hits II and Greatest Hits III. By all accounts, this was more or less an exclusively Freddie creation in the studio. Typical of his more aggressive, ‘shouty’ style of singing in the ’80s. There is little or no Brian guitar. When played live on the Hot Space tour, it was considerably rockier and much improved. This won’t be the last time I say those words.

174. Execution of Flash (Deacon), Flash Gordon, 1980

Short and simple — but effective: a few basic notes on guitar (presumably played by John) combining well with a suitably funereal orchestral sound.

173. Hijack My Heart (Queen), b-side, 1989

Another song from the Miracle sessions. With Roger on vocals, this sounds like it could have featured on Shove It! — the first Cross album (but really a Roger solo album). The guitar riff is very Roger.

172. There Must Be More to Life Than This (Mercury), released 2014

Originally part of the Hot Space sessions, this version includes nice guitars and is superior to the version on Mr Bad Guy, but it suffers badly from a weak Michael Jackson vocal performance when set alongside Freddie’s voice.

171. Thank God It’s Christmas (May/Taylor), 1984

The fact that this Christmas song only reached Number 21 in the UK charts speaks volumes. It is middle-of-the-road and unadventurous fare with equally bland lyrics, and lacks any kind of genuine festive spirit (perhaps because it was recorded in the summer). The best thing about it is John’s driving bass.

170. The Wedding March (Arr. May), Flash Gordon, 1980

May’s short ‘Queen-ified’ arrangement of Wagner’s Bridal Chorus from Lohengrin, with a suitably brooding ending (Dale is after all being forced to marry the dastardly Ming).

169. My Baby Does Me (Queen), The Miracle, 1980

Typical of the funky, laid-back feel that Freddie and John were fond of creating in the ’80s, the problem is that it doesn’t really go anywhere, and is seriously marred by vacuous lyrics and a soulless drum-machine backing.

168. More of That Jazz (Taylor), Jazz, 1978

Their weakest album closer, More of That Jazz sits neglected and unloved in the musical and lyrical shadow cast by the exuberant Don’t Stop Me Now, which precedes it. Sounding very much like one of Roger’s more-or-less solo efforts, it is hampered by uninspired lyrics — ‘Give me no more of that jazz’ just does not work as the closing message of an album called Jazz — and further weakened by the unnecessary inclusion of a hideous mashup of earlier tracks. They did the same thing with the 12″ remix of I Want to Break Free. An awful decision.

167. Party (Queen), The Miracle, 1989

The weakest (by far) of Queen’s album lead-off songs, this is based around a heavy, programmed drum beat. It’s rescued by some zippy guitar work from Brian.

166. Rain Must Fall (Queen), The Miracle, 1989

Another of the weaker Miracle tracks with a synthesized drum beat far too prominent in the mix. Freddie’s repeated use of “cool” dates the song. However, the basic track is considerably enhanced by Roger’s percussion, a scintillating guitar solo from Brian and some great bass from John, especially from roughly 3:10 onwards.

165. Fun It (Taylor), Jazz, 1978

Roger’s first experiment in funk in which he and Freddie share lead vocal duties. It includes several trademark Roger frills, but ultimately sounds like a demo. Like many of the songs on Jazz, it would surely have worked better with more inspired production. A foretaste of the cold ’80s drum sound to come.

164. God Save the Queen (Arr. May), A Night at the Opera, 1975

Originally recorded in 1974 to close the live show, Brian’s arrangement served two important functions: it was an inspired choice to close Queen’s Sgt Pepper and it was surely the only thing that could have followed Bohemian Rhapsody.

163. In the Death Cell (Love Theme Reprise) (Taylor), Flash Gordon, 1980

162. Escape from the Swamp (Taylor), Flash Gordon, 1980

161. In the Space Capsule (The Love Theme) (Taylor), Flash Gordon, 1980

Three great mood pieces from Roger, combining timpani and synthesizer to great effect. There’s a haunting, ethereal quality to the synth sound, reminiscent of his excellent solo track, Fun in Space (which was being worked on at roughly the same time).

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Bohemian Rhapsody Film Review

Having now seen Bohemian Rhapsody for a second time, here’s an attempt to bring some order to a mad jumble of thoughts — what works and what doesn’t, whether the inaccuracies matter, whether it is fist-pumpingly brilliant or wince-inducingly awful, whether it is respectful of the Queen legacy, and above all whether it is a worthy addition to the Queen canon.

On the whole, I like the film. That was never a given. I am sure that nobody seriously expected a groundbreaking, genre-redefining, Oscar-sweeping piece of art — like the song Bohemian Rhapsody itself, say — but on the quality spectrum I was crossing my fingers for something more akin to The Doors than Spiceworld: The Movie. It’s short-sighted to wax lyrical about every last Queen product — this replica sixpence, that T-shirt, this vodka, that board game. Some things are high quality and worthwhile; others are mediocre and a bit naff. There Must Be More to Life Than This (the Queen & Michael Jackson version) is ordinary at best. I never particularly got into Roger’s band The Cross. I have not seen — nor do I intend doing — the We Will Rock You musical. Objectivity matters, even where ‘classic’ Queen is concerned and even more so in the case of post-Freddie and non-Queen projects.

With regards to the film, I hadn’t paid too much attention to the various high-profile squabbles and sackings over the years. But with the publication last year of a series of appetite-whetting stills, followed by the drip-drip release of various trailers, and finally the recent publicity and hype, I was aware of an established consensus of sorts among fans before the film’s actual release: the four central acting performances (particularly Rami Malek) are amazing, it was said; the concert scenes are great; the attention to ‘authenticity’ is astonishing, though they take liberties with the ‘real’ story; plus a vaguer sense that it is going to be a rock ‘n’ roll rollercoaster ride, propelled along by an irresistible soundtrack.

Well, yes and no.

The soundtrack album was the first surprise. To be honest, I had expected Queen Productions Ltd to churn out another rehashed ‘greatest hits’ package. What emerged was a well-above-par release, with little nuggets of gold dotted throughout — from the previously unreleased guitar-rich version of Don’t Stop Me Now and the Queen-ified ‘Fox’ fanfare to the delightfully re-recorded Doing All Right and (best of all) the raw, thumping live Fat Bottomed Girls from Paris in 1979 — not even the version from the widely circulated bootleg video. Definitely promising.

The second ‘surprise’ — if surprise it is — was how many of the rumours were just plain wrong, yet another reminder to consume media tittle-tattle with a large helping of scepticism. Some at least of Sacha Baron Cohen’s version of history appears to be nonsense, though the script (if indeed there even was a script at that stage) will have undergone a million re-writes since his time. Among other canards, Brian’s first wife Chrissy does indeed appear in the film, as do all the ‘wives’ (for use of inverted commas, see below), and the accusations of ‘hetero-washing’ (ignoring or downplaying Freddie’s homosexuality) are way wide of the mark — indeed, scenes of men kissing men probably outnumber those of heterosexual canoodling.

The main weakness of the film for me is the balance of the script, a symptom of the lack of clarity about what sort of film this is trying to be. I wrote months ago on a fan forum that it was:

…far more important [for me] for the film to portray the power and impact of Queen’s live show.

In my mind, this was to be a film about Queen. But Bohemian Rhapsody purports to be a ‘biopic’ — a biographical film of Freddie’s life, focusing on the years from 1970 to 1985. In truth, it is a messy hybrid of the two. In part, it is a tongue-in-cheek whistle-stop re-enactment of key moments in the band’s history. Especially with the active involvement of Brian and Roger in the film’s production, Bohemian Rhapsody feels at times like a vehicle for (some of) the band’s greatest hits — a visual jukebox — and will doubtless be enjoyed by many for this very reason.

Bohemian Rhapsody is also an attempt at a deeper study of Freddie — flamboyant free spirit, creative genius, tortured soul. The film’s opening scenes take time to establish him as an awkward, restless outsider (a regular target for casual racism, for example), stumbling to realise vague dreams of stardom. Far from a fast-paced rollercoaster ride, I suspect that some will find these elements of the film ‘slow’. Above all, there are several scenes exploring the relationship between Freddie and Mary, the pivot around which the whole film revolves. Lucy Boynton as Mary is excellent throughout: the moment when she pretends to take a drink at Freddie’s insistence during a late-night phone call, thus signalling a release of sorts from his spell, is particularly affecting.

Comments by the historian Anthony Beevor, who wrote recently about war films, are interesting and relevant in relation to the film:

The real problem is that the needs of history and the needs of the movie industry are fundamentally incompatible. Hollywood has to simplify everything according to set formulae. Its films have to have heroes and, of course, baddies – moral equivocation is too complex. Feature films also have to have a whole range of staple ingredients if they are to make it through the financing, production and studio system to the box office. One element is the “arc of character”, in which the leading actors have to go through a form of moral metamorphosis as a result of the experiences they undergo. Endings have to be upbeat…

Ironically, the basic Freddie story does loosely conform to this by-the-numbers story arc: meteoric rise followed by downfall, before redemption (here during a Munich rainstorm — the pouring rain a familiar trope, symbolising cleansing and re-birth) and the grand Live Aid finale. However, the script is unable to handle the sheer quantity of source material, resulting in ridiculously contrived situations and jaw-dropping narrative leaps. Thus, Freddie meets the band and (separately) Mary at the same Smile gig — the exact same night that Tim quits to join Humpy Bong. Elsewhere, Freddie and John debut with the band on stage at the same time — the night, coincidentally, of the broken microphone stand. Most ridiculous of all (as Alexis Petrides points out in The Guardian), Freddie turns up unannounced on Jim Hutton’s doorstep to declare his love, and then reconciles with his (Freddie’s) father over tea and cakes — all on the same morning — before nipping across to Wembley Stadium to steal the show at Live Aid. A busy day indeed.

This brings us more generally to the thorny issue of historical accuracy and fidelity to the facts. Broadly speaking, events in the film fall into one of two periods of Queen history — ‘early’ and ‘late’. Within — and even across — these periods, the chronology is alarmingly fluid, and, as we were pre-warned, whole chunks of the Queen story are ignored, glossed over or turned upside down. A camper van, used for gigging up and down the country, is sold on Freddie’s initiative to pay for studio time: in reality, of course, Queen did almost the opposite, refusing to tread the usual ‘pub and club’ circuit — actually one of the things that immediately set them apart from run-of-the-mill bands at the time. John Reid arrives on the scene a couple of years early (around the time of the first album) and leaves about six years late (at the time Freddie was offered a solo deal by CBS): in reality he was the band’s manager for just three years. Rock in Rio acts as a backdrop for Freddie’s break-up with Mary — events probably eight years apart in reality. Before Live Aid, Roger exclaims that the band haven’t played live for years — helping to set up the dramatic finale but, of course, a fiction: the Works tour came to an end in Japan just two months before Live Aid.

In the film, journalists raise the spectre of AIDS at a Hot Space press conference in 1982 — a year before scientists had even formally identified the virus.

Some of the inaccuracies are more puzzling, seemingly unimportant to the storyline. Freddie is shown smoking in ’75, several years before he actually started. Dominique Beyrand, Roger’s then girlfriend, is referred to as his wife (they only married in 1988). Journalists raise the spectre of AIDS at a press conference for the release of the Hot Space album, which would have been in 1982, a year before scientists had even formally identified the virus. Jim Hutton is working as a waiter at one of Freddie’s house parties when the two first meet; they actually met in a nightclub. And photo evidence may provide evidence to the contrary, but some of the costumes just don’t ring true — Brian’s orange Adidas top in the We Will Rock You scene, to name one. Trivial though these details are, they nevertheless sit uncomfortably alongside Queen official archivist Greg Brooks’ unwise assertion that “… the Fox team were obsessed with detail; getting every aspect of every scene perfectly right”. No, Greg; they obviously weren’t.

In the ‘We Will Rock You’ scene above (in reality 1977), Freddie is shown with the look he actually adopted three years later.

Two figures loom large in the background. The role of arch-villain, as had been well trailed, is assigned to Paul Prenter, the eminence grise, fuelling Freddie’s hedonistic lifestyle and — motivated by infatuation and greed — increasingly blocking all contact between Freddie and the Queen ‘family’, and between Freddie and Mary. Prenter’s real part in the Queen story is well known, but I have sympathy (again) with the critic Alexis Petrides, who argues that the demonisation of Prenter necessitates portraying the rest of the band as conventional, clean-living, sober chaps. Perhaps this is the reason why Dominique Beyrand is referred to as Roger’s wife — a clumsy attempt to juxtapose the band’s growing maturity and sense of responsibility with Freddie’s wild abandon (early scenes make clear the younger Roger’s fondness for partying). We see no wild Queen parties and there is no collective band meltdown in Munich, both of which are perhaps closer to the truth than what we see in the film.

Less expected was the portrayal of Jim Beach. In contrast to Prenter, he is a sober, steadying influence. Jim is an almost ubiquitous presence — during tricky negotiations with the record company, during a critical band reconciliation scene in his office, even during recording sessions, dutifully completing paperwork at a side-table. He is there in the background at band rehearsals for Live Aid when Freddie reveals his HIV status to the band (the implication being, of course, that Jim already knew). In a Jeeves-ish final twist, it is Jim who increases the volume on the mixing desk at Live Aid before Queen’s set — in reality, it was a sound guy called Trip Khalaf.

The on-stage scenes are good, though it would be going too far to say that they faithfully ‘copy’ Queen live. The lengthy Live Aid sequence is an exception; it is carefully recreated. The use of ‘live’ recordings works extremely well, and the actors’ miming is good, particularly Malek’s lip-synching. Again, some aspects of the live scenes are just fabrications: for example, each member of the band — even John! — is shown introducing themselves to the audience as Freddie holds his microphone horizontally. We already knew before the film came out about the placing of Fat Bottomed Girls early in their career: it is used to soundtrack a blistering first tour of the States, years before its actual release.

The lighting rig shown here is a cross between the ‘pizza oven’ from 1978-1979 and the ‘G2 razors’ from 1980-1982.

Some inaccuracies are no big deal — the lighting rig a cross between the ‘pizza oven’ and the ‘G2 razors’, Freddie throwing his leather jacket across the stage towards the crowd, dry ice during We Will Rock You. We knew about the crowdsurfing from the trailers, of course. How I wished this had found its way to the cutting-room floor. Alas, no. Jim Morrison used to jump into the crowd. Maybe for him it was spiritual, his way of connecting with the audience. Freddie was a showman and entertainer, glorying in his superstar persona, urging us in the midst of ‘70s recession and industrial decline to drink champagne for breakfast. He was not a crowdsurfer.

And what of the band performances? Rami Malek is indeed excellent. The ‘biopic’ format does not best serve Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy and Joseph Mazzello, over-accentuating as it does Freddie’s role and importance, leaving their characters somewhat underdeveloped. I also struggled at first to reconcile what I saw on the screen with my own perceptions and preconceptions of my childhood heroes. Only on second viewing did I really warm to their performances. Gwilym Lee certainly captures Brian’s voice and mannerisms. The younger ‘Brian’, however, felt too carefree and jokey: I find it difficult to imagine Brian engaging in witty repartee. ‘My’ Brian is the epitome of solemnity — serious, studious and deeply thoughtful.

Mazzello brings out John’s quiet steadiness, though his facial expressions veer uncomfortably close towards gurning at times, and his on-stage ‘Deacy’ moves are a little over-exaggerated. Well done to Ben Hardy for nailing the Hammer to Fall drum parts. However, other than for his ‘Galileos’, non-Queen fans may wonder at Roger’s importance in the band. Of the four, his part seemed the most obviously underdeveloped, though he was involved with Freddie’s younger sister in the film’s funniest exchange:

ROGER: So Kash, what are you doing later?

KASHMIRA: Homework.

I also liked the irony around I’m In Love With My Car. Mocked by Brian and John in the film, it has outlasted pretty much every other non-single as a staple of the live set, as well as earning Roger hefty royalty cheques as the original Bohemian Rhapsody b-side.

How, then, to sum up Bohemian Rhapsody? At times preposterous and cheesy, overreaching in places and prone to missteps, drift and loss of direction. Yet also larger than life, irresistibly ambitious, often majestic and magnificent, and always, always totally compelling.

Rather like Queen, in fact. And rather like Freddie.

More about Queen


Queen songs ranked — plus an explanation of the rationale and ground rules I adopted

Live Killers

Reflections on Queen’s first live album, forty-ish years after its release

Queen Memories

Growing up as a Queen fan: teenage tales told through 10 Queen-related objects

Queen Live Killers: Forty-ish Years On

Essential listening in its day … Live Killers is flawed but brilliant nonetheless … Queen’s catalogue of restored and remastered live recordings currently contains a gaping pizza oven-shaped hole … [T]he quality of the Rainbow ’74 box set, recorded five years earlier than Live Killers, presumably on significantly inferior equipment, demonstrates that analogue recordings from the ‘70s era can be cleaned up to an exceptional standard.


Queen played at the Dallas Convention Center in Texas on 28 October 1978, the opening night of what became their Jazz world tour, which came to an end fourteen months later with a concert in aid of Kampuchea at the Hammersmith Odeon in London.

The photograph immediately below, taken by Queen roadie and keen photographer Peter Hince, is interesting. It shows the magnificent ‘pizza oven’ roof of lights used on the tour. I originally wrote that the shot was taken either on the European or Japanese leg of the world tour, my thinking being that the American shows still featured the News of the World drum skin and the much later Crazy Tour of Britain used (a) fewer red and green lights in order to fit the rig into the smaller venues and (b) a different skin again — this time showing Roger’s face. The Mark Blake book Is This the Real Life: The Untold Story of Queen, however, states that the photo below is in fact from the US tour, actually the opening venue in Dallas. Photos on the Queenlive.ca website confirm that the Jazz drum skin was indeed used at the Dallas show. Within a week at the latest, however, Roger had reverted to using the News of the World skin.

A great photo of the ‘pizza oven’ lighting rig and drum riser, taken by long-time Queen roadie and keen photographer Peter Hince.

Recorded in continental Europe between January and March 1979, Live Killers is an album that I seldom play nowadays, preferring unofficial (bootleg) recordings, some of which are excellent, if obviously flawed in terms of sound quality. With the fortieth anniversary of its release approaching — and with fingers crossed for the appearance of some sort of retrospective late-’70s live package — this seems an opportune moment to re-join Queen on their 1979 European tour, to once again be “transported effortlessly from city to city”1, and to evaluate afresh an album that captured the band at a transition-point in their career — before Mack and Munich, before ‘magic’ and ‘miracles’, before true global mega-stardom and mega-bucks.

In 1981, as a Queen-obsessed youngster, I wrote the following in one of many scrapbook ‘biographies’:

In fact, everything about this album is commendable, from the striking cover to the interesting sleeve notes to, of course, the music.

Many people seem to agree. It’s hardly scientific evidence but, as of August 2018, the Live Killers CD has a four-and-a-half-star rating on Amazon UK. Highly favourable write-ups can often be found in the publications (and websites) devoted to the ‘classic rock’ scene — Prog Rock, Planet Rock etc. A note of caution: with a middle-aged, nostalgia-hungry readership, it is clearly a matter of self-interest to wax lyrical about albums from this ‘golden’ era. Ultimate Classic Rock, for example, offered up this judgement on their website in 2015:

Live Killers was everything a Queen fan could ask for, the perfect memento from their breathless classic-era concerts – whether you got to see them in the flesh back then or not.

Ultimate Classic Rock (2015)

The whole piece reads in similarly fulsome fashion. But scroll back to the opening sentence — “Queen had long been known for their out-sized stadium rock shows”. Not true. This ‘review’ (and others like it) is laden with cliché-ridden hyperbole. It is the Queen of legend, the stadium-bestriding giants of later folklore. The reality is that in the late-70s — pre-South America, pre-Live Aid, pre-Magic Tour — our heroes were still very much an indoor-arena band.

Judging from the more discerning reviews on Amazon and from various posts on fan forums, one recurring strain of thought seems to be that Live Killers slots into the decent-document-of-the-live-show-at-the-time category — in other words, nearly but not quite. Gary Graff, writing in Phil Sutcliffe’s excellent Ultimate Illustrated History book, unintentionally (I think) damns the album with faint praise, describing it as “solid and at times striking”2. He’s writing, lest we forget, about arguably rock’s most compelling live act.

The ‘Sounds’ review of Live Killers from June 1979 – a surprisingly positive review. ‘Sounds’ were never big fans of Queen.

Live Killers has had a chequered history. It sold well, if not spectacularly, and some initial music press reviews, at least, were not entirely unfavourable. Its rawness and apparent lack of polish met with approval. Record Mirror described it as a “triumph”. Even Sounds awarded the album three stars out of five3. However, despite this and a number of grudgingly positive reviews of the subsequent Crazy Tour (of which a Mick Middles review in Sounds is a classic example), the music press remained almost uniformly hostile to the band. Punk and new wave might have burned themselves out by 1979–1980, but ska (urban, working-class, multicultural) and the ‘New Romantics’ (synthesised electronic pop, highly stylised fashion) were the coming Big Things. Queen were decidedly uncool.

In particular, Live Killers struggled in comparison with Thin Lizzy’s critically acclaimed Live and Dangerous, released in 1978. There were certainly similarities: even the album’s title ‘Live Killers’ carried echoes of the earlier release. Criticism of Queen’s performance — the apparent bias towards their standout album, A Night at the Opera, and their newer material, the use of recorded tape during the show, the lengthy guitar and timpani solos — segued into familiar attacks on the band as pompous, self-indulgent and out of touch. Thin Lizzy, on the other hand, better suited the new wave aesthetic: street-wise outsiders with lyrics that romanticised rough, tough working-class culture.

Criticism also surfaced from within the Queen camp. The official fortieth-anniversary history states that the band were “under pressure to come up with a live album”4. Georg Purvis attributes feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction to all four band members5, though he supplies few, if any, dates and supporting references to provide meaningful context. Elsewhere, in comments attributed to 1983, Brian talks wearily of the inescapability of live albums. On Redbeard’s In the Studio ‘rockumentary’ show about The Game, both Roger and Brian are dismissive of the album. A 2001 remaster was well received but I can find no evidence of anyone suggesting it was a major improvement on the original mix. It was seemingly not deemed worthy of a reissue as part of the 2011 remasters package and, at the time of writing, it does not appear to be available in the official Queen online shop.

Everyone releases a live record. It’s just a filler before the next studio album. It will curb the sale of bootlegs sold at exorbitant prices. Such comments — all of them doubtless used at some point to justify the release of a live album — sound frankly un-Queen-like: the ‘uncompromising perfectionists’ meekly compromising to meet the expectations of others. This is hardly the obstinate, headstrong band whose debut single featured a drum solo, who released a six-minute single (seven minutes when Roy Thomas Baker gets carried away in telling the story) against unanimous industry advice and who, filled with unwavering self-belief, walked away from John Reid’s management in 1978 and into the Guinness Book of Records as Britain’s highest-paid directors.

Double (even triple) live albums were almost de rigueur at the time: Seconds Out, Strangers in the Night, Tokyo Tapes, to name just a few, all date from this period. Plans for a Queen live album had repeatedly been shelved during their early career. The bootleg often circulated as ‘Sheetkickers’ appears to be a professionally mixed 40-minute edit of the February ’74 Rainbow show. The November Rainbow shows were filmed, of course, as well as the 1977 Earls Court6 shows. Perhaps the feeling was that film would better capture the theatricality and visual power of the band. The 33-minute Queen at the Rainbow film was shown in cinemas in 1976, but without an accompanying audio soundtrack release. Once the home video market was established in the ’80s, We Will Rock You, Rock in Rio and Live in Budapest all appeared within the space of three years — none, however, with accompanying audio releases.

As documented on the excellent Queenlive.ca website, this photo by Koh Hasebe was taken at one of the Japanese shows at about the exact time as the Live Killers front cover shot. The picture of Brian, which was incorporated into the cover image, features in his ‘Queen in 3D’ book on page 136. John’s hat, barely discernible on the album cover, is clearly visible here.

As evidenced on the excellent Queenlive.ca website and in Brian’s Queen in 3D book7, the stunning front cover photograph is from one of the Japanese shows, subsequently manipulated to incorporate Brian into the shot. The original inner gatefold offered a busy montage of live shots drawn from across the band’s career, though (like the set list) leaning heavily towards recent tours. Impressive stuff.

Much less impressive, on the other hand, are the inner sleeve notes. Any useful context and insightful remarks are buried away amidst cliché (“literally fighting its way up the charts”), misleading comment (Now I’m Here “… used as an encore and later dropped”it was dropped for perhaps as little as a week8 on the News of the World tour), the occasional baffling statement (Keep Yourself Alive “having gone full circle over the years” — so when was it played significantly differently, one wonders?) and a sprinkling of sugary sentiment (“a very singable tune with sentiments never forgotten by Queen fans”). From the single-minded foursome who supposedly almost wrecked the launch of Queen II by fussing over problems with the cover9, the egregious proofing errors — “eerieness”, “raport”, “his live album”, “form News of the World” — are particularly inexcusable.

Cue the thunderclap and the album begins at breakneck speed. The fast version of We Will Rock You, previously unavailable, is as exhilarating as when I first heard it at Stafford Bingley Hall in May 1978 and remains my favourite Queen set opener. Let Me Entertain You sits in its rightful place near the beginning of the show. It is baffling why this song was placed as the closing track on side one of Jazz (even more incongruous, though obviously unintentional, is its placing in the middle of thirteen tracks on the Jazz CD). A six-song medley follows. End of side one: a chance to draw breath.

Side two leans heavily on audience participation, a quest for ‘authenticity’ that Roger was keen to emphasise in interviews at the time10. Now I’m Here features Freddie’s call-and-response routine: a later staple of the show (‘Day-O’), it was new on the Jazz tour. The acoustic set slows the pace with its more laid-back, singalong feel. Brian’s guitar solo dominates the magnificent third side, though it’s a shame that Spread Your Wings features its conventional ending rather than the sensational, upbeat BBC session version. Side four brings the show to a close with the obligatory encores.

Given the limitations of space (four sides, approximately 22 minutes each), it is a varied and well-balanced package, relatively faithful to the actual set list running order. However, debate has always surrounded the omissions deemed necessary to fit the show onto four sides of vinyl. Three songs — If You Can’t Beat Them, Fat Bottomed Girls and It’s Late — were all ‘occasional’ rather than permanent fixtures of the set list over the fourteen-month world tour as a whole — played on some nights and not others, often alternated and usually the first to be dropped to make room for any new additions (for example, current single Don’t Stop Me Now was introduced on the European leg, Teo Torriatte was performed in Japan, and Mustapha, Crazy Little Thing Called Love and Save Me were all in the Crazy Tour set).

None of these ‘occasional’ songs were included on Live Killers. As a solid rather than exceptional track from the Jazz album, If You Can’t Beat Them is perhaps the least surprising, though the live version outshines the original. It’s Late was presumably left out on grounds of length. More surprising was the omission of Fat Bottomed Girls — recent single, inspiration for the Jazz promotional visuals and a full-throated stage rocker. The biggest shock, however, was the absence of Somebody to Love, again presumably due to its length — performed live, it lasted around seven minutes. Roger once commented that the band initially had difficulty translating the song to the stage11. But it remained a live staple almost to the very end, a bona fide Queen classic12.

The ever-evolving medley — not quite “play the Hits” [sic] as described in the sleeve notes — was another staple of the ‘70s show. Pacy and punchy, it featured snippets of singles and album tracks alike. Here, Roger’s vocal on I’m In Love With My Car and Brian’s harmonizer effects on Get Down Make Love are undoubted highlights. You’re My Best Friend, on the other hand, feels rather lightweight and out of place, though Queen fan, musician and YouTube reviewer James Rundle disagrees and singles it out for particular praise. It was dropped for the 1980 European tour.

Taken on the Crazy Tour, this picture featured in one of the British music papers in December 1979.

Elsewhere, the Mustapha teaser at the beginning of side four is a pointless add-on — the reason for its presence being … what, exactly? Sounds magazine, among others, criticised the inclusion of the taped operatic section of Bohemian Rhapsody, also on side four. In this case, it is difficult to see how it could have been left out: as the 1986 Live Magic album demonstrated to nauseating effect, editing songs ends in disaster, and it would have been unthinkable to omit Bohemian Rhapsody altogether.

The inclusion of the entire three-song acoustic mini-set is also debatable. Only the Magic Tour, which also included a medley of rock ‘n’ roll standards, featured a longer acoustic interlude. Between 1980 and 1982, Love of My Life was the sole acoustic song, though the semi-acoustic Save Me featured earlier in the set. An obvious alternative would have been to omit Dreamer’s Ball and Brian’s long band introduction before ’39 (included, presumably, as light relief and to illustrate the exuberance of a typical Queen audience). As an aside, how ironic it seems to hear Brian referencing Roger’s tiger-skin trousers.

Based on the 1994 remaster track timings, the original four sides of vinyl add up to 22m 18s, 24m 52s, 22m 01s and 21m 08s respectively. Taking 25 minutes as the upper limit, an alternative track listing for the original vinyl release might have been:

Side One: We Will Rock You / Let Me Entertain You / If You Can’t Beat Them / Medley – omitting You’re My Best Friend

Side Two: Somebody to Love / Now I’m Here / Love of My Life / ‘39

Side Three: Don’t Stop Me Now / Spread Your Wings / Brighton Rock

Side Four: Keep Yourself Alive13 / Bohemian Rhapsodyomitting Mustapha / Tie Your Mother Down / Sheer Heart Attack / We Will Rock You / We Are the Champions / God Save the Queen

The poor quality of the overall sound is often highlighted — and rightly so. With a few notable exceptions such as I’m In Love With My Car — where the instruments seem separated out and clearer in the mix — much of the album sounds muddied and muffled, like listening through cotton buds rather than headphones. In Purvis’ opinion, “the band sounds muddled, some of the instruments are poorly mixed, and the audience levels are inconsistent”14. Imagine an album restored to the standard of the version of Sheer Heart Attack included in the News of the World box set15: recorded at one of the Paris shows, it is genuinely raw, pulsating and anarchic.

The extent to which the tapes were tampered with during the mixing process is a matter of debate. Mark Blake describes Live Killers as “an undoctored account … loud and messy”16. Purvis quotes Brian as insisting “vehemently” that there were no overdubs17. Phil Sutcliffe’s book, on the other hand, quotes Roger that “only the bass drum was live”18 — presumably speaking here with tongue firmly in cheek.

Given Queen’s reputation in the studio, this was never going to be a warts-‘n’-all release. Most — if not all — of the European shows were recorded, with songs selected from different nights. The website Queenlive.ca contains a brilliant track-by-track analysis, demonstrating that individual songs were often made up of recordings spliced together from different nights. I have neither a music producer’s ear nor a high-quality sound system. But even to this non-specialist, the change of ‘feel’ midway through songs and the ‘movement’ of instruments around the stereo mix were giant clues about the amount of general interference.

A great shot of the close of one of the Crazy Tour shows, this picture was published in one of the British music papers.

At times, the studio tampering is blatant. Why, for example, add an echo to Freddie’s introduction to Now I’m Here, recorded in Frankfurt on 2 February? The vocal at the beginning of Don’t Stop Me Now (up to “ecstasy”) has also almost certainly been added later. A tough song to sing, no doubt, and usually performed immediately after a frenetic and gruelling Now I’m Here, it was perhaps used as an opportunity for Freddie to catch his breath at the piano. The opening of the song was generally played with guitar substituting for the vocal. Of fourteen live recordings in my possession from 1979, the only exceptions to this are Newcastle (which includes three words: “Gonna have myself”) and the filmed Hammersmith show on Boxing Night, when he sang about half the opening lines, his voice being generally superb all evening after a four-day break.

My second Queen gig — from the Crazy Tour.

Most controversial of all was probably the inclusion of bleeps to mask Freddie’s use of the word ‘motherfucker’ in his spoken introduction to Death on Two Legs. Again, one really has to wonder why this was included. Bizarre and wholly unnecessary, it could have been edited out or replaced with an alternative introduction during which he doesn’t swear. If it was an attempt at tongue-in-cheek humour, it failed utterly.

Equally extraordinary was the selection of Love of My Life as lead-off single, edging out Body Language in the most-bizarre-choice-of-first-single competition. From the band’s perspective, it obviously showcased the crowd-participation element of the show, as well as introducing a completely different side of their music to the general singles-buying public. This author has a vague recollection of Roger valiantly defending the single on a Radio 1 Roundtable review show. It sank without trace (in the UK at least), their worst chart performance since Keep Yourself Alive. The obvious choice should surely have been We Will Rock You (fast) — new, catchy and a perfect advert for the album. The frenetic version of Keep Yourself Alive — debut single, of course — might also have worked well, an appropriate way to bookend this phase of their career.

A great shot of Freddie and Brian from Munich on 10 February 1979. It features on the Queenlive.ca website. No picture credit is indicated.

Essential listening in its day (it was, after all, the only live product officially available until 1984), Live Killers is flawed but brilliant nonetheless. The original tapes sit in the archives as well as the complete Paris footage, at least according to Brian19. Queen’s catalogue of restored and remastered live recordings currently contains a gaping pizza oven-shaped hole. If there is to be some kind of re-release, it will almost certainly be an enhanced package, not just an improved version of the original Live Killers album. One hopes, naturally, for a complete, unadulterated document of the Jazz tour. Even allowing for Brian’s comments about persistent sound problems on the tour, the quality of the Rainbow ’74 box set, recorded five years earlier than Live Killers, presumably on significantly inferior equipment, demonstrates that analogue recordings from the ‘70s era can be cleaned up to an exceptional standard.

The wait goes on.

More about Queen


Queen songs ranked — plus an explanation of the rationale and ground rules I adopted

Live at the Bowl

Looking back at Queen live at Milton Keynes in June 1982 — reviewing the original review

Queen Memories

Growing up as a Queen fan: teenage tales told through 10 Queen-related objects


Teenage Tales of Queen via Ten Objects

Memories, my memories
How long can you stay
To haunt my days1

All Dead, All Dead (Brian May, 1977)

These reminiscences are neither comprehensive nor authoritative; still less do they amount to any kind of a history of Queen, ‘personal’ or otherwise. Rather, like the scrapbooks I used to lovingly fill, it is an attempt to glue down fading memories and slowly blurring mental snapshots and to capture odd — literally, in some cases — anecdotes of a somewhat obsessive schoolkid, all of them bound up in a variety of Queen-related items that I acquired over the years.

Much of what I talk about here occurred in my secondary school years from 1977 to 1982. Younger Queen fans reading this should remember that the 1970s were a distant land without YouTube, Spotify and BluRay, without MTV and VH1, without even home video machines. Radio 1 was transmitted on crackly medium wave in mono sound; Radio 2 was for old people. Quality rock music on the three — yes, three! — TV channels was virtually non-existent. Top of the Pops was an excruciating mime-fest and The Old Grey Whistle Test by the late-‘70s privileged Annie Nightingale and new wave over Whispering Bob’s ‘progressive’ rock.2 If you happened to miss what little was broadcast – well, tough.

Yet, despite it all, we survived! For those who were there, “these days are all gone now, but some things remain…”

Teenage Tales of Queen via Ten Objects
Tremlett’s book, published in 1976, was my introduction to the World of Queen.

George Tremlett’s paperback was written in 1975 and published the following year. The final page offers a tantalising glimpse of the ‘new’ stage show, which opened with Bohemian Rhapsody, though the last entry in the appendix’s chronology of concerts lists two nights in Brisbane, 22–23 April 1976, one of which was presumably scheduled (hence its listing in the book) but does not appear actually to have taken place (at least according to my edition of Greg Brooks’ Queen Live).

Greedy for knowledge of my new heroes, I must have picked the book up sometime in 1977 or — more likely — 1978, in any case well before the advent of glossy, informative and comprehensive music magazines like Q. In the weekly music papers — principally NME, Sounds and Melody Maker — coverage of Queen was scarce, uninformative and, in the main, extremely hostile. Aside from the anodyne fan club biography, Tremlett was my introduction to the World of Queen.

The book is competently written and researched. Evidently, Tremlett enjoyed ready access to Brian’s parents and he quotes Brian’s father extensively; Freddie’s parents, Bomi and Jer Bulsara, by contrast, appear to have been much more guarded and unforthcoming (perhaps wishing to keep a low profile, mindful of widespread racial prejudice in 1970s England). The text adds a little colour to Brian’s oft-repeated statement — on the documentary Days of Our Lives, for example — that his father only really ‘got’ Queen after Brian flew his parents to Madison Square Garden (presumably in February 1977, Queen’s first show there).3 For example, though acknowledging the existence of family tensions, Harold May, speaking to the author probably in late-1975, says: “We still think that Queen II was a masterpiece.”

My copy is dog-eared and much-thumbed; its black-and-white photos were long ago sacrificed for display on my bedroom walls. A separate appendix reprints personal questionnaires completed by the band (date unspecified but the most contemporary reference appears to be Queen II, released in March 1974). Something of the band’s individual personalities is revealed here. Freddie lists his ‘special talent’ as “ponsing and poovery”, a singular turn of phrase reminiscent of the equally unforgettable ‘Bechstein Debauchery’. John’s ‘dream’ is “wet”. Unsurprisingly, Brian seems to have approached the task the most earnestly of the four. After thirty-plus years, I finally tackled The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse (Brian’s ‘favourite book’) – an interesting and typically cerebral read, if somewhat dated now.

Teenage Tales of Queen via Ten Objects
Cheap, unofficial memorabilia – particularly badges and t-shirts – was readily available at seaside resorts like Llandudno and Blackpool.

This badge reminds me of the time I first discovered Queen through school friends, even though it was probably purchased a year or so later. It’s an example of the sort of cheap, knock-off seaside fare that we bought as kids; the 1978 Jazz font is juxtaposed with a 1977 promotional image. Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy started my singles collection (yes, I am aware that it’s actually an EP); A Day at the Races was my first album, possibly picked up on holiday in Llandudno during the Whitsun school holidays.

Albums were relatively expensive to buy in those days — about £4. As my mum was still sceptical about my interest in Queen, she took me round to her friend’s house one evening in October ’77; her friend’s son had a copy of the new album, News of the World, and I was allowed to listen to it in full (in another room) to check that I did actually like it. I remember nearly falling off the chair during the Sheer Heart Attack solo, worrying that the record player was faulty or that the needle had stuck.

Fellow-fanatic and school-friend Keith and I hatched a frankly ridiculous plan to enter the school Christmas talent competition and mime to We Are the Champions, Queen’s then-current single. Armed with a cassette tape player, an acoustic guitar, a genuine electric bass (minus amplifier or power lead) and a set of textbooks for drums (with real drumsticks, making all the difference), we cajoled friends Tommy and Shaun to join in — doubtless bribing them with 2oz of pear drops or the like. Bizarrely, we survived the ‘audition’ and then, foreshadowing Queen’s Live Aid triumph eight years later, stole the show on the night. I, by the way, was Freddie, an upside-down golf club substituting for the iconic microphone. Leotards, bangles and black nail varnish were mercifully absent. Looking back, I still feel a touch of guilt about the other entrants, who presumably had some genuine talent or other.

At the first years’ disco a few days later, Keith and I somehow coaxed the entire year group onto their hands and knees to hammer out We Will Rock You on the hall floor. An impressive sight, if somewhat odd — given that this now-iconic song had yet to find its place in the wider public consciousness and was, at that time, ‘merely’ a b-side. Six months later, when asked by the English teacher the title of my individual project, I proposed ‘Queen’. “But you ‘did’ Queen at the talent show and at the Christmas disco,” she protested wearily. How little she understood.

Teenage Tales of Queen via Ten Objects
My favourite rarity – a Japanese import of Queen’s first album.

This Japanese import of the first album is, I think, one of the first ‘rarities’ I ever bought and still a favourite. Apart from the cost of the item itself, buying a rarity involved either a trip to the nearest city where record shops were much better stocked or an agonising ten-day wait for the cheque to clear, if buying by mail order from the back of Sounds. Imported Japanese singles and LPs — at hugely inflated prices — were quite the rage in the late-‘70s, with their reputation for quality and excellent packaging. Certainly, the vinyl felt thicker and less flimsy than the British equivalent, the cover was made of thick card and each release was presented with an exotic wraparound label (the Japanese lettering prominently displayed) and a thin plastic covering.4 This particular item — the debut album — offered two additional attractions for me. Firstly, the distinctive red Elektra cover, quite different from the standard EMI version (Elektra was Queen’s record label in much of the non-European world in the ‘70s). Secondly, all Japanese LPs contained a lyric sheet – not included in the EMI release.

I have never been great at disentangling lyrics from the background music, and I was eager for clarification of some of the words, phrases and lines that I had always struggled to decipher on the first album (My Fairy King is the obvious example). Alas, I had failed to factor in the somewhat limited abilities of the translator. For example: “Gonna blast it around / This music’s gonna make you a star / Girl’s in your arms and she gassed / And you should go far…” is supposedly from the final verse of Modern Times Rock ‘n’ Roll.

For years I struggled to nail down the precise wording of Freddie’s follow-up to Roger’s line “Do you think you’re better every day?” in Keep Yourself Alive. Our Japanese wordsmith came up with: “No, I just think all roads just lead right into my grave”. My 1994 Digital Master Series CD booklet, on the other hand, renders it thus: “I just think I’m two steps nearer to my grave”. One of my favourite Queen ironies is that Keep Yourself Alive, a live staple, was always performed towards the end of the set as a rousing, get-’em-out-of-their-seats, celebration of life; the meaning behind Brian’s lyrics is undoubtedly much darker.

Teenage Tales of Queen via Ten Objects
I joined the official fan club in early ’78. I think membership was £2.50 per year. This was possibly my first renewal gift.

This sew-on badge was, I think, a renewal gift from the fan club. I first joined in spring ’78 so it’s probably from 1979 or perhaps 1980. Sadly, I have very little memorabilia left from my years in the fan club. Just like the photos in Tremlett’s book, the quarterly magazines were mercilessly pillaged to decorate my bedroom (alongside the nude bicycle race poster from Jazz, which mum inexplicably allowed me to display). The tour programmes from 1978, 1979 (my favourite) and 1980 all met a similar fate. Insane acts of vandalism, when I reflect back, but this was twenty-five years or more before eBay. Besides, what does an acne-dotted thirteen-year-old understand of nostalgia?

Each member of the band wrote an annual letter for the fan club magazine.5 Freddie’s letters were always light and gossipy — buying a new piano, taking up smoking. I have no recollection of John’s, to be honest (humble apologies, John). I do, however, recall my frustration at Roger’s autumn ’78 contribution because he wasted precious space listing the tracks on the forthcoming album (Jazz). He also judged it to be their “best” yet. I doubt he or posterity now agrees. Brian’s contributions were densely packed and scrawled like a doctor’s prescription.

I somehow deciphered Brian’s all-but-illegible handwriting in the spring 1981 magazine, in which he proudly announced the release of the film Flash Gordon (music by Queen, of course) — “I managed to get in there and turn the music up”, or words to that effect. I think it was the spring ’81 issue at any rate: the winter ’80 issue was definitely a special picture-only colour issue.

What lingers in my mind, however, is Brian’s heartfelt plea to us fans not to attend the screening if our local cinema had yet to install state-of-the-art stereo sound. I live in Wigan, not Leicester Square; Wiganers are pioneers of pie-eating, not new technology. Do I choose the rock (no pun intended) or the hard place — boycott brand-new Queen music or snub the wishes of Brian May? Yikes! I confess I chose the latter. Brian, I can only beg your forgiveness. I wonder, is this a good time to admit that I’ve never seen We Will Rock You?

Teenage Tales of Queen via Ten Objects
A gift from the fan club. The original Jazz album did not come with accompanying lyrics, though later CD releases did.

This Jazz lyric sheet was a freebie sent to all fan club members in late-’78 after the release of the Jazz album, the first one not to include printed lyrics since their debut. Four individual portraits adorn the reverse. Brian looks pensive (nothing new there), as does Freddie; perhaps he is still dreaming of the Tour de France (which allegedly inspired him to write Bicycle Race when it passed close by their recording studio in Montreux). Roger holds a cigarette defiantly aloft; John sports his severe ‘skinhead’ haircut. The excellent Queen Live website dates Freddie’s shot to a press conference held the day after the infamous New Orleans party on 31 October 1978. It always puzzled me that they didn’t print the lyrics to Mustapha and I still can’t follow the words of Bicycle Race in print without being convinced by the end of the song that ‘bicycle’ is spelt incorrectly. Try it.

Within months of Jazz, Queen Live Killers was available; I was, by this time, a teenager and spending hours secreted in my bedroom. However, while normal lads thumbed girlie magazines or girlie bra-straps, I was using an old walking stick to mime Brian’s guitar parts (swapped for a tennis racquet during the acoustic set). A toy cannon perched perilously on a pile of Beano annuals doubled as a microphone for Roger’s vocals (more substantial vocal parts than Brian’s, I always thought). Silly, silly, silly. Or was I subconsciously revisiting Tim Staffell’s stories of Freddie miming to Jimi Hendrix with a twelve-inch ruler in the art room at Ealing College that I’d lapped up from reading Tremlett?

Teenage Tales of Queen via Ten Objects
This picture sleeve is a still from the Play the Game video, not, it must be said, one of my favourite videos.

The picture from the Another One Bites the Dust picture sleeve is, of course, a still from the Play the Game video, released in mid-1980. Back then, the only way to be sure of seeing a video was on Top of the Pops. This shot prompts the memory of a strike in the summer of 1980 (either at the BBC or by the Musicians’ Union or Equity; I forget which). TOTP was off air, a casualty of the strike, and I only caught the video once — perhaps on ITV’s Tiswas. I was devastated. For all I knew, it might never be broadcast in public again, thus demonstrating complete ignorance of the fact that the world was about to embark on an incredible technological and communications revolution. Within three years, my parents had bought our first home video machine and I was able to watch (and watch again … and again) Queen’s Greatest Flix, a sixty-minute tape of the band’s music videos, available at the press of a button. How lucky I felt.

Speaking of Tiswas (a raucous, groundbreaking, Saturday morning show aimed at kids but probably watched by as many adults, especially dads), I remember Roger and John making a guest appearance at the time of the Crazy Tour in ’79, offering a gold disc as a competition prize. The question was to name the two Marx Brothers’ films used as Queen album titles. Answers on a postcard. I duly sent off my entry, cleverly adding (or so I thought) that Duck Soup was also the title of a Queen bootleg. I didn’t win.

Back to technology. I am reminded of dragging mum round town, hours before a long, boring coach journey to France during Easter 1981, scouring the high street for a curious item Roger was photographed holding in the 1980 tour programme. Wigan’s electrical retailers were collectively baffled by my description — why didn’t I take the photo, I wonder? And yet, by the following Christmas, a ‘Walkman’ (the mysterious item in question) was the must-have accessory for any teenage fan of music. Maybe Roger had picked his up on the 1980 US tour, itself a reminder of how far so-called ‘advanced’ Britain lagged technologically behind other parts of the world, notably Japan and the USA.

Teenage Tales of Queen via Ten Objects
Probably my favourite Queen image, taken during In the Lap of the Gods…Revisited on the Sheer Heart Attack world tour.

Of the myriad images taken of Queen over the years — with the tag ‘previously unseen’ increasingly the rule rather than the exception — why does this remain my favourite photograph of the band (well, of Freddie, to be precise)? For me, it captures quintessential ‘Queen’. Freddie’s mesmerising pose exudes pomp, grandeur and theatricality and endows the photograph with a symmetrical, choreographed quality, demonstrating an astonishing mastery of stagecraft. I adore the concert lighting from the mid-‘70s and remain baffled as to why the magnificent Hyde Park footage has never been cleaned up and officially released.6

The photograph also represents my favourite era of Queen (roughly ’74–‘76) and — heresy, I admit — for me, Lap of the Gods was always a more exhilarating set-closer than Champions. Yes, I realise that Champions was actually the final encore, but you get my drift. Later-era Freddie was a showman, an entertainer, captivating and charismatic, to be sure. But this is early-era Freddie: camp and fey, yet majestic and arrogant. Incidentally, why, I ask myself, are dry ice and flash-bombs so under-used on stage these days? Are they disparaged, perhaps, as ‘70s-era kitsch?7

Teenage Tales of Queen via Ten Objects
One of several front covers from different Queen ‘biographies’ I wrote as a teenager. The font is from The Game; the image is a News of the World promotional photo, cut out from a fan club magazine.

This is the front page of one of many Queen lists and ‘biographies’ I wrote through my teenage years. The font comes from The Game, simply because I found it the easiest to copy. Note the mock-serious use of the ‘Published’ symbol and date, as if this were some sort of official publication. I was obsessed with writing histories of Queen (I taught history for many years — is there a connection, I wonder?).

My schoolboy efforts shamelessly plagiarised information (and not a few clichés) gleaned from Tremlett and a similar paperback written by Larry Pryce, as well as the fan club magazines, of course. These biographies were painstakingly ‘illustrated’, another home for many of my cut-out magazine photos. It certainly helped me acquire an encyclopaedic knowledge of the concert venues of the UK and USA, not to mention the catalogue numbers of all single and album releases up to Hot Space, after the release of which it became rather predictable: ‘Queen1’ (the catalogue number of Radio Ga Ga), ‘Queen2’ etc spoiled the fun somewhat.

Unlike many record labels, EMI (was it their decision?) omitted song timings on record labels or sleeves. As a result, a particularly diverting (‘geekish’, some would say) activity was to use the stopwatch facility on my then-new digital watch to time the length of each track. As a Genesis, Led Zeppelin and Yes fan too, it irked me that Queen never indulged (a very ‘Roger’ word) in long, drawn-out epics. By the by, a consequence of this innocent pastime is that my collection of original picture sleeves is now virtually worthless. With one carefree wave of my biro, I forever disfigured them by inscribing the a-side and b-side timings in a suitably prominent position. No matter.

I agonised over the ‘true’ length of segued songs such as Flick of the Wrist, Love of My Life and Teo Torriatte. Sadly, EMI’s experts do not appear to have been similarly exercised in the run-up to the initial release of Queen’s back catalogue on CD. Faulty indexing/mastering of Queen II resulted in the final verse of The March of the Black Queen being tacked on to the beginning of Funny How Love Is. An egregious error for any fan.

Teenage Tales of Queen via Ten Objects
A sketch of Roger Taylor.

This sketch dates from 1979, I think. My dad was talented at drawing and painting. He used to spend hours helping me with my art homework, teaching me about the ‘vanishing point’, perspective and light and shade. He produced fantastic pencil drawings of Brian, first at Hyde Park8 and then on the Jazz tour, making ingenious use of the shapes in (I think) a razor-blade accessory to help him re-create the ‘pizza-oven’ roof of lights. After copying cartoon figures and caricatures, ‘Roger’ was my first effort at drawing a human face.

Image-wise, Roger was my favourite as a teenager, obsessed as I was with his immaculate white teeth and flowing blond hair (before he had it all cut off, around the time of the British shows in May/June 1977). Frustrating battles with mum over the length of my hair — usually the Friday before the start of the new school term — loomed over my teenage years and defined the limits of my adolescent rebelliousness. I always lost. Meanwhile, Brian’s musical sensibilities and extraordinary efforts at the cutting edge of astrophysics, stereo photography and animal welfare long ago secured his promotion to ‘favourite band member’ status. Besides, he and I share a birthday (the date, not the year). So there.

Teenage Tales of Queen via Ten Objects
My first ever concert ticket, signed by Brian. On the back he wrote: ‘Rock on – B!’ The sellotape marks indicate that I either displayed it on my bedroom wall or in a scrapbook.

I wonder what you regard your most valuable Queen possession to be. For me, it is a simple piece of paper: the ticket stub for my first ever Queen concert, which was Stafford Bingley Hall on 6 May 1978 during the News of the World European tour. Re-reading set lists and hearing recordings from the tour, I confess that virtually nothing of the concert itself has stuck in the memory. According to Queen Live, the band performed the standard set list. Perhaps I was just too young. Memories of my second gig — the Liverpool Empire, 6 December 1979, on the Crazy Tour — are much more vivid.

I have just two recollections of the Bingley concert. First, as a highly self-conscious eleven-year-old, I stupidly decided not to wear my glasses and so, standing at the back of the venue, saw virtually nothing except a myopic blur. Magnificent crown lighting rig? What magnificent crown lighting rig?!

Second, the volume. As a kid of the mid-‘70s, music meant a transistor radio, a record player (or music centre, if money permitted) and the occasional disco in a large, echo-filled room. None of this had prepared me for Queen’s assault on the senses. I still half-jest to friends about the ‘ten’ minutes it took to disentangle actual music from the ear-splitting din that washed over me like a tsunami.

After the show, Keith and I wrote letters to the band via the fan club. I enclosed my ticket in my letter to Brian and waited. And waited. One day, weeks — or perhaps months — later, a ‘Queen’ envelope arrived, addressed in Brian’s unmistakeable hand and enclosing the aforementioned ticket, duly signed. Priceless.

More about Queen


Queen songs ranked — plus an explanation of the rationale and ground rules I adopted

Live Killers

Reflections on Queen’s first live album, forty-ish years after its release

Queen Memories

Growing up as a Queen fan: teenage tales told through 10 Queen-related objects

A version of this article was first published as a ‘fan feature’ on the official Queen website in August 2012. These footnotes relate to information that has come to light in the intervening six years.

‘Queen in 3–D’ Review

The viewer can almost feel the heat generated by the ‘pizza oven’ lighting rig (page 135) or reach out to touch the various drums and cymbals that surround Roger on stage (page 151, for example).


Queen in 3–D by Brian May

Brian May is an extraordinary individual. Best known as one of the members of the legendary group Queen and widely acknowledged to be one of the most innovative guitarists in the history of rock music, he is also an accomplished astrophysicist with a PhD in interplanetary dust and a tireless campaigner on behalf of the cause of animal welfare. May is also an aficionado of Victorian photography, his interest in which is closed linked to a lifelong passion for the world of 3-D photographs — stereoscopy.

The result is this magnificent book: lavishly packaged, beautifully presented and full of hundreds of previously unseen photographs — many but not all in 3-D — spanning the entirety of Queen’s career up to the final tour with Freddie Mercury in 1986 and beyond to Brian and Roger’s collaborations with Paul Rodgers and Adam Lambert. The extraordinary influence on Brian of his parents — particularly his father, Harold, with whom he famously built his ‘Red Special’ guitar — is also evident through the inclusion of intimate family photographs, including Brian’s first efforts to take 3-D photographs in the back garden as a child and pictures of proud mum and dad visiting Brian on tour in the USA in 1977.

For the reader interested in learning the basics of stereoscopy, there is a full but accessible explanation at the beginning of the book of the principles and techniques of 3-D photography and, throughout, references to the different makes and models of camera used to take various photographs. The real joy of the book, however, is to be found in the photographs themselves — many taken spontaneously — capturing the band and its entourage on and off stage, at work and at play. For the Queen obsessive (like me), there is treasure to be found on every page.

Despite the limitations of camera technology, every phase of the band’s career is covered, thanks in part to May’s (increasing) willingness to lend his camera(s) to others to capture pictures of the band, particularly on stage. The result is that ‘the early years’ are documented visually as never before — from shots of the band in rehearsal above a long-forgotten pub before the release of the first album to moments of relaxation during the recording of A Night at the Opera. Coverage of their tours of Japan is particularly extensive, perhaps because Brian was trying out new technology available over there long before it hit western shops.

Though the older photographs inevitably lack a certain sharpness, the graininess actually serves to enhance their authenticity, irresistibly drawing the viewer into the scene. This book demonstrates that, at its most effective, 3-D photography offers a far more intimate and ‘realistic’ representation of a moment than conventional ‘flat’ photographs. Consider, for example, the feelings of claustrophobia induced in the viewer by the back-of-the-limousine photograph of the band on page 36 and the image of Freddie, Mary and John huddled in an aeroplane crossing the American continent on page 103. The viewer can almost feel the heat generated by the ‘pizza oven’ lighting rig (page 135) or reach out to touch the various drums and cymbals that surround Roger on stage (page 151, for example).

There is a substantial accompanying text (and captions), placing the individual photographs in their historical and geographical context. More than that, the text reads almost as a mini history of the band, sketchy in places but nevertheless packed with insights and anecdotes, many previously unheard, at least by this reader. As May says in his introduction, the text is entirely his own, unmediated by a co-author or ghost writer. His ‘voice’ is instantly recognisable to visitors to ‘Brian’s Soapbox’ on his website and, for the most part, this works absolutely fine. Only occasionally do detours up and down the byways and ‘B’ roads of May’s many passions threaten to distract us on this wonderfully nostalgic journey — recurring references to animal rights, in particular. Less agreeable are references to up-to-the-minute (2017) political issues — particularly Trump and Brexit — the inclusion of which will inevitably date those segments of the text.

Having paid £50 for the book, inevitably I find that the few errors and typos grate — not least, the thank-you dedication to Roger on page 4 (“benificence” … unless that’s an in-joke). There are also references to “Jeff Lynn” and “Max von Sidow”. The involvement of Queen archivist Greg Brooks ensures that the factual history is extremely accurate, though the caption on page 134 that the robot face on Roger’s bass drum was never used in Europe is simply wrong, as many photographs can attest.

This reader did feel that the picture of the stage set-up at Madison Square Garden on page 167 was somewhat misleading. Its appearance beneath a chapter-heading stating ‘1980’ with a caption urging the reader to compare it with a picture taken in February 1977 implies a three-year gap between the two photographs, when in fact the page 167 picture is clearly from the News of the World tour in November 1977 (the magnificent ‘Crown’ lighting rig is clearly visible) – a gap of only a few months.

One puzzle is May’s reference to Led Zeppelin’s dramatic lighting effects on stage; he refers to witnessing a powerful performance of Kashmir in Wisconsin. Kashmir is on the Physical Graffiti album, released in 1975, but May dates the performance to “just before we were a proper touring entity”. Either his memory is faulty on this point or he is suggesting that Queen only really ‘got their act together’ with the live show from the A Night at the Opera tour later in 1975.

Nonetheless, these minor quibbles — hopefully, corrected or clarified in a future edition — pale into insignificance when set against the many, many delights to be found in this five-star book.

This review was first uploaded to Amazon in May 2017.

More about Queen


Queen songs ranked — plus an explanation of the rationale and ground rules I adopted

Live Killers

Reflections on Queen’s first live album, forty-ish years after its release

Queen Memories

Growing up as a Queen fan: teenage tales told through 10 Queen-related objects