This is why Queen are the best band in the world: we’re just into the top 100 and there are some seriously great songs here. The first song from their fifth album, A Day at the Races, finally makes an appearance (at 82). Three undoubted Queen classics also feature in this particular selection, but three b-sides have yet to make their appearance!
100. Action This Day (Taylor), Hot Space, 1982
One of many songs — particularly from the ’80s — that came to life on stage, Action is a typically uptempo Roger song, with both he and Freddie sharing lead vocal. Notable for a saxophone solo, it is unfortunately rather let down by a horrible drum machine sound. Best moment: the synth/guitar break at roughly 2:19, leading into the sax solo.
99. I Want To Break Free (Deacon), The Works, 1984
One of Queen’s most recognisable singles, the original version on The Works is actually rather sparse. John’s synth additions for the single version significantly improved the song. There is some great information about Fred Mandel’s contribution to the song — including a one-take synth solo — in this interview, starting at roughly 37:38.
One of their best ‘concept’ videos (as opposed to a ‘live’ performance of the song), it is of course fondly remembered for the Coronation Street pastiche. As a result, the audacious recreation of parts of Nijinsky’s ballet, Afternoon of a Faun, is almost always overlooked.
By the mid-’80s Queen were following the trend of releasing 12″ remixes — with patchy results. This one extends the outro in a harmless and mildly diverting way. Then, disaster: they insert a hideous More of That Jazz-style mashup of all the tracks from the Works album. No, no, no.
Best moment: the additional synth on the single version after the solo, starting at 2:35.
98. Modern Times Rock-‘n’-Roll (Taylor), Queen, 1973
Roger’s sole writing contribution to the first album and an early live staple towards the end of the set. The lyrics revolve around favourite Roger themes: rock-‘n’-roll and the coming generation. He takes lead vocal, though Freddie sang most of the song on stage, except for a raucous end section, when he and Roger shared vocal parts. Best moment: the guitar solo.
97. Gimme the Prize (Kurgan’s Theme) (May), A Kind of Magic, 1986
Probably as close to heavy metal as Queen ever got, this is a guitar tour de force from Brian. A song that suited Freddie’s much more aggressive ’80s vocal style. As on the Flash Gordon soundtrack, dialogue from the film is incorporated seamlessly into the song. Only the ‘fight’ sound effects mid-song date it a little. Best moment: the guitars at 0:25.
96. Play the Game (Mercury), The Game, 1980
Although the synth intro announced the end of the ‘no synthesizers’ era, this is actually a fairly by-the-book Freddie piano-based love song. The video is pretty awful, though it is highly praised in some undiscerning quarters (this comment once appeared on the official website: ‘It is an utterly enthralling four minutes, and among the band’s best loved and certainly most memorable films’). Best moment: the instrumental break at roughly 2:07 — as long as you ignore the image of the backwards-playing video that you’re visualising as you listen along.
95. Football Fight (Mercury), Flash Gordon, 1980
A hilariously camp and exhilarating slice of synth-driven pop. Best moment: the opening synth. The demo version — without synths — is great too.
94. We Will Rock You (May), News of the World, 1977
We Will Rock You has, of course, become iconic over the last forty years as a stadium anthem and as one half of a pairing with We Are the Champions. Famously, it was written by Brian specifically for live interaction with the crowd, and it should be remembered that it was originally issued as the b-side to Champions. After the rich and complex textures of the first five albums, it opened the sixth album in dramatically sparse fashion. Performed live, it undoubtedly benefits from additional guitar and bass (most notably on Live at Wembley ’86) and, of course, the ‘fast’ version is another beast altogether — one of Queen’s best ever live songs.
93. Stone Cold Crazy (Queen), Sheer Heart Attack, 1974
One of Queen’s first songs (possibly emerging from Freddie’s ’60s band, Wreckage), though it only featured on the third album. Fast and furious, it was an early stage favourite. Surprisingly, it re-emerged in the Queen + Adam Lambert era, perhaps because it has been covered and played regularly by Metallica and so has gained a wider hearing beyond the traditional Queen audience. Best moment: the multi-tracked guitars from roughly 1:22.
92. My Life Has Been Saved (Queen), b-side, 1989 and Made in Heaven, 1995
It’s astonishing that the original version failed to make it onto the Miracle album: it is far superior to several tracks that made the cut. Both versions are great, though the later version omits some of Brian’s guitar. The lines “I read it in the papers / There’s death on every page” must have been unbearably tough for Freddie to sing: they are certainly unbearably tough to hear.
91. I Can’t Live with You (Queen), Innuendo, 1991
Brian reportedly said in 1991 that this had been a difficult song to mix; certainly, the version that appeared on Queen Rocks (with some instruments re-recorded) is much more muscular. Packed with great guitar. Best moment: “Through the madness, through the tears / We’ve still got each other for a million years” at roughly 3:10.
90. Let Me Entertain You (Mercury), Jazz, 1978
Another slice of fast-paced Freddie pop-rock, with typically lightweight though amusing, somewhat risqué lyrics (Mustapha, Bicycle Race, Let Me Entertain You and Don’t Stop Me Now — all Freddie songs from the Jazz sessions — have much in common). If nothing else, the line “We’re only here to entertain you” seemed to allude to Freddie’s desire to distance himself from what he had referred to as the band’s ‘too serious’ approach in the early days. Brian’s guitar is great throughout. The biggest puzzle was its placing on the original vinyl release of Jazz at the end of side one rather than as an opener. Best moment: the lines “We’ll give you crazy performance / We’ll give you grounds for divorce”, with Freddie’s piano barely audible in the mix.
89. Love Kills (Mercury), released 2014
The best of the Queen Forever compilation’s new tracks, this is a slowed-down version of one of Freddie’s best solo singles. The acoustic introduction works well, as does the big Queen sound at roughly 2:35. Queen + Adam Lambert performed a great version on stage in 2014.
88. Ogre Battle (Mercury), Queen II, 1974
After wind-like effects swirling left and right — the calm before the storm — the band unleashes a dense cacophony of sound and fury as backdrop for this tale of warring giants. One of Queen’s heaviest and most uncompromising songs, this “fable” of battling giants and mysterious auguries (“When the piper is gone and the soup is cold on your table”) features fantastical, Tolkien-esque lyrics from Freddie, typical of that era. The 1975–1977 tours featured Freddie appearing to cause magical explosions around the stage during the instrumental middle section. Best moment: Brian’s guitars at 2:02.
87. Crazy Little Thing Called Love (Mercury), The Game, 1980
Lightweight (“disposable”, to use Freddie’s own word) pop, famously composed in ten minutes in the bath and the last mega-hit that Freddie wrote. Released as a single in October 1979, this was the first time fans heard the clean, Mack-produced sound. The live version, the final section of which was more uptempo and guitar-heavy, is far superior. Best moment: though he was apparently kept away from much of the recording, it has to be Brian’s solo, played on a Telecaster.
86. Dead on Time (May), Jazz, 1978
Another Brian extravaganza, it is a shame that, like many of the songs on Jazz, it suffers from poor production, deadening the instruments (other than the awful drum sound), particularly the interplay of the multi-tracked guitars. The reason for the ‘Thunderbolt courtesy of God’ sleeve note. Best moment: the solo starting at 1:48.
85. Don’t Lose Your Head (Taylor), A Kind of Magic, 1986
Fast-paced and packed with interesting ideas, this is one of the best uses of electro-synth sounds by Queen, with the added bonus of a Brian solo at roughly 3:39. The title is of course a play on the method of execution of the ‘Immortals’ in Highlander.
84. Let Me Live (Queen), Made in Heaven, 1995
The best of the songs created from the fragments left behind by Freddie. Despite obviously having little to work with (hence the fact that Brian and Roger sing much of the lead vocal), they constructed a rousing gospel-influenced track, making use (for the first time) of outside backing vocalists to create the gospel-choir sound. Best moment: the verse sung by Freddie.
83. I’m Going Slightly Mad (Queen), Innuendo, 1991
Another song where lyrics and music complement each other perfectly, particularly John’s playful bass and Brian’s solo. The Noel Coward-esque lyrics are supposedly the result of a late-night competition to conjure up ever more ridiculous euphemisms for madness. Also one of their most creative videos, despite working under the most emotionally difficult of circumstances. Best moment: “Ooo ooo aaa aaa…” at roughly 3:01.
82. Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy (Mercury), A Day at the Races, 1976
A classic piece of Freddie piano-based pop with neat arrangements and multi-layered backing vocals. The words ‘old fashioned’ are not hyphenated on the back cover of the original album sleeve. A hyphen is, however, used on the inner-gatefold sleeve as part of the song title, though not in the lyrics themselves. It is unclear why an engineer (Mike Stone) was given a couple of lines to sing: Roger sang them on the partially re-recorded Top of the Pops version.
A follow-up single to Tie Your Mother Down, which barely scraped into the charts, its release coincided with British concert dates. It was packaged as Queen’s First EP, also featuring Death on Two Legs, Tenement Funster and White Queen. Best moment: Brian’s playful solo and the ‘countdown’ to dining at the Ritz at 2:17.
81. Dragon Attack (May), The Game, 1980
One of Queen’s better forays into dance-funk, primarily because there’s still plenty of guitar. Dragon Attack is one of the songs where Brian’s growing interest in (as he described it) making space for the rhythm arrangements to breathe is clearly evident. Great mini-solos, too, from Roger and particularly John. Best moment: the middle eight starting at roughly 2:40 (“She’s low down / Don’t take no prisoners …”).
Queen songs ranked — from Get Down Make Love (1977) to In Only Seven Days (1978)
Queen songs ranked — from Pain Is So Close to Pleasure (’86) to Tie Your Mother Down (’76)
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