Twenty great songs, which nevertheless just miss out on a Top 100 placing due to the exceptional quality of the Queen canon. Some incredibly tough choices here, including the appearance of a bona fide Queen classic. Amazingly, any track from A Day at the Races is yet to feature. It’s their most consistently good album, in my view, if not necessarily their best — that’s another matter, which I have discussed elsewhere.
120. Get Down Make Love (Mercury), News of the World, 1977
In some respects, the antithesis of the over-the-top, multi-layered production so typical of the earlier albums, this is Queen at their most stripped back: the utter emptiness at roughly 3:18 is truly arresting for any fan of the early material. Hot space, indeed. Also notable for Freddie’s risqué lyrics. The song stayed in the live set for five years, a showcase for Brian’s harmonizer effects and vocal gymnastics from Freddie. An early take (without harmonizer) released in 2017 is also terrific, with its feeling of spontaneity and exploration.
119. Made in Heaven (Mercury), Made in Heaven, 1995
At the time my favourite track from Mr Bad Guy, this reworked version makes the original sound somewhat insipid. A gorgeous melody and soaring vocals, given added emotional power by the Queen sound. It would arguably have been even better without the synth backing in the verses, instead giving the piano more prominence in the mix. Best moment: Brian’s guitar at 1:19.
118. Is This The World We Created…? (May/Mercury), The Works, 1984
An audacious way to end their ‘return-to-form’ album after the sound and fury of Hammer to Fall. Written months before Band Aid and Live Aid, of course, it is a deliberately simple and sparse arrangement. Lyrically, it is a long way from Freddie’s exhortation for us to drink champagne for breakfast, and for some the lines “Somewhere a wealthy man is sitting on his throne / Waiting for life to go by” will ring hollow. On stage, keyboard backing was added to the second verse, but the simplicity of the original arrangement works best. Best moment: “Is this the world we devastated / Right to the bone?”
117. Dancer (May), Hot Space, 1982
One of those songs — like Dragon Attack — that was pieced together from a jumble of semi-formed ideas. That’s not the only similarity between the two: both are guitar-heavy Brian creations, and both sit as track two on their respective albums. The programmed drums and synth bass sound horribly dated, but the multi-tracked guitars are, of course, great, particularly during the long outro from, say, 2:49. The German Wikipedia site tells us that the spoken words towards the end of the song are “Guten Morgen, Sie wünschten geweckt zu werden”, apparently best translated as “Good morning, this is your wake-up call”.
116. Mother Love (May/Mercury), Made in Heaven, 1995
Like most of the songs on Made in Heaven, Mother Love packs a mighty emotional punch. It is very likely the last song that Freddie ever recorded: too ill to complete the song, he did not live to finish the final verse, which Brian sang. The middle eight is immensely powerful and it is impossible not to be moved by the final section of the song featuring echoes of Freddie, beginning with Wembley ’86 and ending with Goin’ Back, one of his very first recordings as Larry Lurex and lyrically apposite.
The band adopted the policy of crediting all songwriting collectively to ‘Queen’ from 1989 onwards. Oddly — and perhaps owing to the uniquely harrowing and intimate circumstances in which it was written — Mother Love was credited to May / Mercury.
115. Procession (May), Queen II, 1974
How often does a song title so perfectly capture the mood of a piece of music? Regal, stately, majestic … a perfect way to open the album. A slightly different version features at the start of the 1973 Golders Green concert that was broadcast on the BBC and released as part of the Queen On Air boxset.
114. Misfire (Deacon), Sheer Heart Attack, 1974
The first of John’s songs to feature on a Queen album, this is a delightfully catchy pop song. Presumably he played all those guitars while Brian was recuperating in hospital and away from the studio.
113. Flash’s Theme (May), Flash Gordon, 1980
Cartoonish and tongue-in-cheek (“Flash — aah!”), it marries perfectly with the mood of the film, and Brian still manages to utter a perennial romantic truth: “No one but the pure in heart will find the golden grail”. Ming’s sinister utterance at the beginning — and the delivery by Max von Sydow — is pure genius: “I like to play with things awhile … before annihilation!”
112. Some Day One Day (May), Queen II, 1974
After Freddie’s death, the limitations of Brian’s singing were obvious, but here his sensitive voice is perfect for the dark and sombre lyrics (“No star can light our way in this cloud of dark and fear / But some day, one day…”) and a gorgeously affecting vulnerability is evident in his delivery of “we’ll come home”. It’s not the last time that Brian will sing of a longing for home. A fine blend of acoustic and electric guitar, and an early example of Brian’s penchant for guitar orchestrations. Best moment: the electric guitar backing each chorus and the ‘angelic’ chorus at the end of the second verse at 1:42.
111. My Melancholy Blues (Mercury), News of the World, 1977
An intriguing slice of introspective Freddie, evoking a drunken late-night, jazz-lounge feel. It features Roger on brushed drums and little or no guitar, except bass. A daringly downbeat song with which to close the album: they tried something similar with considerably less success with More of That Jazz the following year. Best moment: it’s just great to hear John’s bass throughout.
110. Too Much Love Will Kill You (May/Muskers/Lamers), Made in Heaven, 1995
Undoubtedly a powerful ballad and a fan favourite from the Made in Heaven album, this is possibly a rare example (for Queen) of where less would have been more — ‘less’ in this case being something akin to the version on Back to the Light (the vulnerability in Brian’s voice captures the mood of the song, as does the acoustic solo at roughly 3:21). It’s a tough call. Both versions are great, and the line “I used to bring you sunshine / Now all I do is bring you down” is truly heartbreaking.
109. Seaside Rendezvous (Mercury), A Night at the Opera, 1975
A deliciously camp, music-hall-inspired vaudeville pastiche, showcasing the versatility, inventiveness and sheer audacity of the group — Freddie, in particular. Best moment: the ‘instrumental’ interlude.
108. Another One Bites the Dust (Deacon), The Game, 1980
Adored by many and sung by millions in sporting stadiums to this day. To some, it is the song that tempted Queen into thinking they could conquer the disco-dance world and led directly to their musical nadir — Hot Space. The bassline is certainly memorable, the arrangements are undeniably sparse and the drum sound is bone dry, but it’s worth remembering that this was not their first foray into this musical territory (its antecedents can be heard in Get Down Make Love and Fun It). Nor was it originally marked down as a single; Roger tells the story that it was Michael Jackson who persuaded the band to release it.
The Dust scene in the recording studio in the Bohemian Rhapsody biopic is unintentionally hilarious: Jim completes his paperwork in the corner as the band bicker, John produces his killer bassline, plucking a polished set of lyrics out of the ether for Freddie to sing, and another Queen classic is born. Best moment: the opening da-da-dum-dum-dum.
107. Put Out the Fire (May), Hot Space, 1982
Brian’s anti-gun song — a relatively rare chance on Hot Space for the band to rock out. A strong riff and a scorching guitar solo, Put Out the Fire is perhaps marred only by the jarring ’80s drum sound and by the rather shallow and simplistic first-person lyrics (again, typical of ’80s sensibilities, or lack thereof). The listener cannot help but feel that the writer of White Man might have found a more elegant way to convey his laudable message. Or maybe that was the point. Best moment: the opening of Brian’s solo at 1:58 and the rhythm guitar beneath it.
106. It’s a Hard Life (Mercury), The Works, 1984
Another of Freddie’s piano-based meditations on the vicissitudes of love (à la My Melancholy Blues and Jealousy), the piano-guitar interplay is reminiscent of the live version of White Queen and the general feel is of the early albums (a huge compliment!). A song that didn’t quite seem to work live. Best moment: Freddie’s stunning opera-style opening — “I don’t want my freedom …”
105. The Kiss (Aura Resurrects Flash) (Mercury), Flash Gordon, 1980
Short and sweet, indeed, with gorgeous, gorgeous falsetto from Freddie.
104. In the Lap of the Gods (Mercury), Sheer Heart Attack, 1974
Although at heart a relatively by-the-numbers piano-based song, it is packed with quirky arrangements (the backing vocals are extraordinary) and features a truly ‘goosebumps’ opening — a electrifying way to open side two of the original vinyl release.
103. Leaving Home Ain’t Easy (May), Jazz, 1978
Another of Brian’s songs about absence and longing, this time set to a nice acoustic backing. The treated vocals in the middle-eight section to represent the abandoned partner’s forlorn pleas — “Stay, my love …” — are great. Best moment: the multi-tracked vocals at 0:52 — “endless games”.
102. Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon (Mercury), A Night at the Opera, 1975
Audaciously positioned between the viciousness of Death on Two Legs and the driving I’m in Love with My Car, this is yet another deliciously camp and bohemian slice of Freddie whimsy.
101. In Only Seven Days (Deacon), Jazz, 1978
A light, slight but classy effort from John, with narrative-style lyrics a million miles away from the cold cynicism of If You Can’t Beat Them and Who Needs You. Best moment: the piano intro.