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).