With Bohemian Rhapsody impressing box office audiences, now's a good time to take a look at some of Queen's lesser known – but equally worthy – album tracks (again, in chronological order – not order of preference!).
1. LIAR (From QUEEN)
Liar is one of the band's earliest and heaviest tracks. I've got a lot of time for Queen's first album, which was released in 1973. One of the best is Liar, a six-odd minute epic that while unusually structured, is still as catchy as hell (especially the oft-repeated shout of “Liar!” from the band).
Interestingly, the song begins with a lengthy instrumental prologue that gradually builds up through cymbal, bass drum, handclaps, and then into some ace guitar work from Brian May with a smattering of Hammond Organ in the background. It's a track that's essentially many tunes for the price of one. The instrumental opening aside, there's the main confessional which alternates between Freddie whispering his sins over an acoustic backdrop and the heavy Liar chanting. The song then changes again from the moment that the band instruct you to “LISTEN!”, a fast-paced drum/sing 'n' respond workout that then morphs into the final salvo in which the eponymous liar is told that “everything you do is sin”.
It's a chameleon of a track that already proves that the band have great promise.
2. THE NIGHT COMES DOWN (From QUEEN)
Queen's debut album is an interesting one. The band are finding their feet, and trying on various musical hats. You can see the embryonic signs of future theatrics in the likes of Great King Rat, but there's also a more organic, bluesy feel to the album.
This more naturalistic approach results in an excellent track called The Night Comes Down. Its simplicity works for it rather than against it, with a lovely acoustic intro that takes you into this mellow chill-out. It's the sort of song that can be enjoyed on a warm Summer's evening as the sun goes down with a pint of ice-cool beer in your hand.
How many more months till Spring?
3. SOME DAY ONE DAY (From QUEEN II)
Side One of Queen II is comparatively restrained when put alongside the crazy Side Two, a long suite of the band well and truly establishing their mid-70s pomp. But the first side is where many hidden gems can be found, including Some Day One Day.
There's a Celtic feel about this one, conjuring up images of taking a walk in a rural Scottish town. Like the next song, it showcases the considerable talents of Brian May. One of the finest guitarists of all time, May shows great ambition with the arrangement of Some Day, One Day, building up to a three-part guitar solo in its closing moments. Different solos, but they all come together to form a seamless whole. Now that takes skill.
4. BRIGHTON ROCK (From SHEER HEART ATTACK)
The opening clanging fairground noise picks up where Queen II left off at the seaside. What starts off as a simple tale of Jenny and Jimmy on their holidays in the British seaside town turns into one of the most complex guitar solos ever committed to vinyl. The middle bit of Brighton Rock not only demonstrates Brian's guitar skills, but also his unique way of playing guitar. There's such attention to detail here. Every time I listen to Brighton Rock's guitar solo, I can pick out something that I hadn't heard before, with echoed, overdubbed, distorted tricks that come together to create something timeless.
5. STONE COLD CRAZY (From SHEER HEART ATTACK)
Fast and furious, Stone Cold Crazy packs a lot into its short timeframe. Pounding drums and percussion from Roger. Crunching guitar and bass work from Brian and John. Meanwhile, Freddie reels off the lyrics at a rapid rate of knots, so much so, it'll take a few spins to work out that he's singing about gangsters (although my cloth ears can at least make out the mention of Al Capone).
6. DEATH ON TWO LEGS (DEDICATED TO...) (From A NIGHT AT THE OPERA)
One of the best Queen albums, A Night At The Opera, begins in atmospheric fashion with a sinister piano solo building up into a manic maelstrom of guitar noise and feedback. This then suddenly cuts out, before launching into a blistering attack on... Well, reports allegedly suggest that there had been early managerial problems. Plenty of references to financial issues in the lyrics (“You've taken all my money... and you want more”), but the words are notable for their sheer viciousness. The hapless target of the lyrics is described, amongst other things, as a misguided old mule, an old barrow boy, and a sewer rat decaying in a cesspool of pride.
7. GOOD COMPANY (From A NIGHT AT THE OPERA)
Queen work best when they try out various musical styles. A Night At The Opera tackles heavy metal, ballad, vaudeville, and on Good Company, there's a charming throwback to the days of Dixieland jazz. Brian's guitar work is again on top form here, recreating those old-style jazz guitars and ukuleles.
Not only does the sound of Good Company propel it into my Top 20, it's also the sad tale of a chap who was advised in his younger days to “keep good company”. But over the years, he neglects his friends, and puts his work ahead of his family. The outcome of this is that as an old man, he's left puffing on his pipe with no one there to see.
8. YOU TAKE MY BREATH AWAY (From A DAY AT THE RACES)
Out of all the Queen albums, A Day At The Races is the one that tends to be left unplayed on my iPod. I think it's the fact that many of the tracks are either too ordinary or inferior retreads of the Night At The Opera stuff. However, it has grown on me a little more in my old age, and one of the best is this simple ballad which is essentially a Mercury solo (it's just him on piano and vocal overdubs).
It's a plaintive love song that's free of pretension, and there's a cool bit at the end which makes you think that the song's finished, only to slowly fade in again with an eerie build-up of multi-dubbed vocals chanting “Take my breath.. take my breath... awaayyyyyyyeeeeeee!!!”
9. SHEER HEART ATTACK (From NEWS OF THE WORLD)
News Of The World is one of my favourite Queen albums because the emphasis is on producing straight-ahead rock. Punk is on the up in 1977, so Queen cut down on the pomp and produce songs like Sheer Heart Attack. With its lyrics like “I feel so inarticulate,” it does make you wonder whether the band are having a pop at the punk genre – the irony being that it's a song that's even more furious than most of the punk output at the time. The heavy, bassy, rhythm pounds along at a hell of a lick as Freddie spits out the lyrics with relish.
While it's heavy on the heavy, Sheer Heart Attack is still brilliantly arranged, with plenty of surprises such as the strange squeaky guitar treatment in the middle, and also the way in which it suddenly comes to a halt after the last burst of “Reeeeeeeaaaaaalllll... cardiac!”
10. FIGHT FROM THE INSIDE (From NEWS OF THE WORLD)
Roger Taylor more than held his own against the other musical talents in the band. Past tracks have seen memorable odes to cars, living a tenement funster lifestyle, or complaining about the dreariness of Sundays.
He keeps up the good work with both Sheer Heart Attack and this underrated gem. Like a few others in this list, the instruments are mostly played by just one of the Queen members. On Fight From The Inside, Roger handles drumming, bass, guitar and vocal duties to create a snarling, blistering attack on corporate sham bands, who are only out to make a quick pound or buck. “You're just another picture on a teenage wall!” hollers Roger. “You're just another money-spinner tool!” The lyrics are just as biting as the music – and given that there have been plenty of 'money-spinner' bands over the years, it's a song that continues to stand the test of time.
11. MUSTAPHA (From JAZZ)
Jazz is one of Queen's most eclectic albums, gathering together pop, disco, blues, piano ballad, and this intriguing opener, which contains Arabic and Persian lyrics. It's not the first time that Queen would look to other cultures and other countries' styles of music, and it wouldn't be the last. That deep, jarring Deacon background vocal boom on the final “MUSTAPHAAAAAAA!!!” always makes me laugh.
12. DRAGON ATTACK (From THE GAME)
If Queen fans thought that the band had gone soft with the Jazz album, then The Game goes back to basics again – even if they'd renounced their “No synthesisers policy”.
Dragon Attack is one of the heaviest of the lot, a big rocker that drips with brio and confidence. It's a song that plays to everyone's strengths. Freddie belts out the vocals with renewed power. Brian's guitar solo is one of his most detailed. Roger attacks the drums like he's hitting wasps on the kit. And a quick shout-out to John Deacon, whose bass playing reaches a peak on this album. After this track is his piece de resistance, Another One Bites The Dust, which shows John at the top of his game.
13. KEEP PASSING THE OPEN WINDOWS (From THE WORKS)
The Game had previously tackled the theme of suicide with Don't Try Suicide. If that track was a straightforward warning, then Keep Passing The Open Windows tries another tack. It's an anti-suicide plea that uses the power of words to instil some kind of hope and optimism for the future. “You just gotta be strong and believe in yourselves,” sings Freddie. “Forget the sadness, 'cos love is all you need.” If nobody gave a damn in Don't Try Suicide, then everybody sure does in Keep Passing The Open Windows.
14. IS THIS THE WORLD WE CREATED? (From THE WORKS)
While The Works is one of Queen's most optimistic albums in terms of its sunny, crowd-pleasing stadium rock, it ends on a curiously downbeat note. With only Brian on acoustic guitar, Freddie looks around at the world and is appalled by what he sees. Hungry mouths to feed. Suffering. Helpless newborns needing loving care inside a happy home. And on top of this, a wealthy man sits on his throne, obliviously counting his money.
Some things never change, alas. It's a song title that could be comfortably applied to the political horror show of 2018.
15. GIMME THE PRIZE (From A KIND OF MAGIC)
If certain Queen albums are critiqued as being too poppy, the following one invariably goes back to the band's roots. Gimme The Prize is one of a smattering of songs recorded for the movie, Highlander, and is one of the band's heaviest of the 1980s. The interspersed snippets from the film add a mystical quality that had arguably been missing since the mid-70s.
16. PRINCES OF THE UNIVERSE (From A KIND OF MAGIC)
Another heavy stomper that signs off the Kind Of Magic album in style. Princes Of The Universe boasts some classic Queen vocal harmony work, right from the opening a cappella moments. It's an epic barnstormer that packs in everything you could want from a Queen track: an air-guitar worthy Brian solo; thudding Roger drumming; and a singalong tune that drunken fans can massacre at karaoke nights. Brilliant.
17. PARTY (From THE MIRACLE)
The Miracle returns Queen to the charts after nearly three years of absence. The album opens in great style with a big moody drum intro that quickly turns into a three-minute celebration. Lyrically, while there's good times to be had, there's just a twinge of regret as Freddie claims that “In the cold light of day next morning, party was over”. It's a sign of things to come as both The Miracle and Innuendo see Freddie look back at his life in his final years. Can the party really be over?
18. WAS IT ALL WORTH IT (From THE MIRACLE)
Both The Miracle and Innuendo albums close shop with a song that reflects on Freddie's life. If The Show Must Go On offers more of a downbeat farewell to fans, then Was It All Worth It provides a more celebratory take. Against a background that sounds like it could have come from some blockbuster movie epic (I like the dramatic rush of the orchestrated middle bit – you half expect Indiana Jones to make a cameo in between saving his pop from the clutches of evil tycoon, Walter Donovan), Freddie proudly recalls the band's achievements from “living, breathing rock 'n' roll” to going to Bali, seeing God and Dali.
Was it all worth it? As the man himself chuckles at the end, it was a “worthwhile experience.” You can't argue with that.
19. THE HITMAN (From INNUENDO)
Innuendo sees Queen go back to basics. Many of the songs cut down on the pomp and instead get on with delivering first class rock. The trick is to pair up these great rock tunes with some honest, and at times poignant lyrics about Freddie's illness that would ultimately claim his life later that year in 1991. You could argue that The Hitman deals with this, as the eponymous brute is a thief, a pest and a sucker that can “cut you down to size”.
The lyrics take no prisoners. The music doesn't take any either, one of Queen's heaviest tracks for some time.
20. BIJOU (From INNUENDO)
Tricky to choose just one more from the Innuendo LP, since there's plenty of quality tracks to go round. Just pipping the whimsical Delilah at the post is the enigmatic Bijou. It's not just the fact that it's unusual in structure (coming full circle after Liar), with two haunting Brian May solos bookending a lone Mercury verse, it's the ethereal nature of the song. There's something otherworldly about the song, a masterpiece of quiet atmosphere that remains a must-hear Queen track. Right until the end, the band still had the power to captivate and surprise.