Queen was an English rock band that released fourteen studio albums between 1973 and 1991. Their first two albums, Queen and Queen II, contain epic rockers by flamboyant frontman Freddie Mercury and guitarist Brian May, including their early anthem “Keep Yourself Alive.”
They scored a transatlantic breakthrough with “Killer Queen,” a cabaret rocker from their third album Sheer Heart Attack. Its followup, A Night at the Opera, catapulted Queen to the global major leagues with “You’re My Best Friend” and their magnum opus “Bohemian Rhapsody.” By now, bassist John Deacon and drummer Roger Taylor made regular songwriting contributions.
Queen proliferated with the 1976–78 albums A Day at the Races, News of the World, and Jazz. They adapted early to music video and scored further hits with “Somebody to Love,” “Fat Bottom Girls,” and “Bicycle Race.” Their 1977 hits “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” are perennials at sporting events worldwide. Queen’s music grew to encompass pop, funk, blues, hard rock, and piano ballads.
Queen embraced rockabilly on their 1979 single “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” which ushered their 1980 release The Game and its Chic-inspired hit “Another One Bites the Dust.” Later that year, they scored the soundtrack to the action-adventure Flash. In 1981, Queen paired with David Bowie for the single “Under Pressure,” which appears on the band’s 1982 release Hot Space along with the subsequent hit “Body Language.”
In 1984, Queen had back-to-back European hits with “Radio Ga Ga” and “I Want to Break Free” from their eleventh studio album The Works. After their 1985 performance at Live Aid, Queen performed “One Vision,” the theme song to the action-drama Iron Eagles. The band’s 1986 release A Kind of Magic serves as the unofficial soundtrack to the fantasy-adventure film The Highlander. During this period, Mercury released a solo album, Mr. Bad Guy, and charted with the Platters cover “The Great Pretender.” Queen reconvened with the 1989 release The Miracle, recorded after the singer’s HIV diagnosis.
In 1991, Queen made a comeback with “Innuendo,” the epic title-track to their fourteenth studio album, released ten months before Mercury’s passing from AIDS. In his memory, the surviving members staged a star-studded tribute at London’s Wembley Stadium. A final collection of songs appeared in 1995 on Made in Heaven.
Members: Brian May (vocals, guitar, piano, ukulele, synthesizer), Roger Taylor (vocals, drums, percussion, synthesizer, guitar, bass), Freddie Mercury (vocals, piano, synthesizer, guitar, programming, 1970-91), Mike Grose (bass, 1970), Barry Mitchell (bass, 1970-71), Doug Bogie (bass, 1971), John Deacon (bass, rhythm guitar, synthesizer, 1971-98)
Queen evolved from the late sixties psych-rock trio Smile, which issued the 1968 Mercury Records single “Earth,” a mid-tempo harmony rocker with thick organ, roaming drums, and an oozing guitar solo. Guitarist Brian May (b. July 19, 1947) played in bands since age 17, when he assembled the R&B/beat group 1984 with singer/bassist Tim Staffell, who wrote “Earth,” and collaborated with May on its b-side “Step On Me.”
May came to the scene with the Red Special, a custom-made electric guitar equipped with a 24-fret oak fingerboard, three single-coil pick-ups, and (originally) a built-in distortion circuit. He built the instrument with his father during 1963/64 and still uses it to this day.
May and Staffell formed Smile in 1968 with drummer Roger Taylor (b. July 26, 1949), who saw their ad on a college-notice board for a “Mitch Mitchell/Ginger Baker type” drummer. Smile gigged for two years and recorded six songs in total. (One of these, the May/Staffell composition “Doin’ Alright,” was later recorded for Queen’s first album.)
Staffell, then a student at Ealing Art College, befriended classmate Freddie Bulsara (b. Sept. 5, 1946), who offered to take over vocal duties in Smile. Bulsara got the gig and Staffell soon left the band. The bassist formed a one-off trio, Humpy Bog, with drummer Colin Petersen (ex-Bee Gees) and singer/songwriter Jonathan Kelly. Staffell then sang and played guitar and percussion on the 1972 album Nova Solis by symphonic-rockers Morgan.
Bulsara, who favored a grand nameplate, suggested that Smile rename itself Queen. He adopted the surname Mercury after the line “Mother Mercury, look what they’ve done to me” in a new song he had written for the band, “My Fairy King.”
Queen played their debut London concert on July 18, 1970, at Imperial College. Their early setlist contained embryonic versions of songs that appear on their first two albums. They shuffled through three short-term bassists then filled that slot in February 1971 with John Deacon (b. Aug. 19, 1951), an electronics major at Chelsea College who recorded three songs (“Sunny,” “Vehicle,” “Transit 3”) with unsigned sixties mod-rockers The Opposition.
In 1971, Queen was offered free recording time at Wembley’s newly built, state-of-the-art De Lane Lea Studios. They cut five demos and drew the interest of budding record producer Roy Thomas Baker (Free, Nazareth), who shopped the band to various labels. During 1972, the still-unsigned act spent eight months recording their first album at Soho’s Trident Studios. Recordings took place during off-hours with Baker, who produced this and the band’s subsequent three albums.
In March 1973, with their album in the can, Queen signed to EMI in a deal brokered by Neptune Productions, the managerial wing of Trident. In advance of the band, Mercury made his EMI debut on the June release “I Can Hear Music,” a Ronettes cover (written by Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, and Phil Spector) backed with “Goin’ Back,” a Goffin–King song popularized by Dusty Springfield. The single was produced by Trident soundman Robin Geoffrey Cable and released under the name Larry Lurex, a spoof on Gary Glitter.
Queen released their self-titled debut album on July 13, 1973, on EMI (UK, Europe, ZA) and Elektra (North America, Oceania, Japan). It opens with “Keep Yourself Alive,” a pyrotechnic rocker that ascends through multiple riffs to an anthemic chorus. The song appeared a week before Queen as a single, backed with the side-two cut “Son and Daughter.” May composed both songs, plus “The Night Comes Down” and the Smile co-write “Doing All Right.”
Taylor contributed the brief, brisk “Modern Times Rock ‘n’ Roll.” The remainder of the album consists of Mercury compositions: “Great King Rat,” “My Fairy King,” “Liar,” “Jesus,” and the 70-second postlude “Seven Seas of Rhye…,” which he developed afterward into a full song.
“Keep Yourself Alive” opens with a brisk, phased bar-chord riff (in F, then A), soon overlaid with a bending, scaly, eleven-note lick (in A minor). Taylor’s booming drums kick in, triggering a chordal rise (to F) for the flowing, open-cadence verse. Mercury sings exuberant, echoing lines of perseverance over the phased riff and zooming bridge (“But if I crossed a million rivers”). The chorus (in D) is a harmonized, anthemic clarion call, suffixed with the line “Take you all your time and a money and honey you’ll survive.” In the second bridge, after lines about “a million dinners… on silver trays,” Freddie makes a self-fulfilling prophecy:
Give me everything I need
To feed my body and my soul And I’ll grow a little bigger Maybe that can be my goal
After the second chorus, Taylor plays a panned, panoramic drum fill that cuts to May’s inaugural Red Special solo on a Queen album. The song modulates to a fade-out chord (B), where Freddie ad libs the “money honey” line.
“Doing All Right” is a piano ballad (in F) with lyrics that remedy uncertainty with hope. Eighty seconds in, May plays a brisk, acoustic samba-chordal descent for a barren vocal stretch, which snowballs to a fast, amplified section with scales over a four-chord power riff.
“Great King Rat” is a brisk, melodramatic rocker with a galloping rhythm and lyrics about the outlaw “son of a whore” who died of syphilis at forty-four. It opens with Red Special effects (feedback, drones) and has a slow, booming middle with echoing vocals, followed by a classical guitar interlude.
“My Fairy King” opens with echoing Red Special notes over piano, which triggers a brisk, screaming passage (in G) that cuts to a cabaret-style verse. The chorus consists of echoing cries and airy harmonized layers. Midway, an ivory-laden ballad passage (from C to F) gives way to blurry Red Special tones, which trigger a loose outro jam.
“Liar” opens with claps and cowbell, followed with booming toms that herald a circular mid-tempo riff (in A). The song is an open-cadence shuffle with bluesy riffage intermixed with Freddie’s angelic vocal flourishes. Midway, he roars amid the stop-start bars and operatic harmonies that usher May’s scaly solo. A percussive vocal sequence triggers a louder flood of amplified riffing and modulations.
“The Night Comes Down” has a brisk, interlocking pattern of bass and Spanish guitar chords and filigree, overlaid with cymbal mist. This cuts to balladic acoustic verses where Mercury laments nighttime temptations.
“Modern Times Rock ‘n’ Roll” is a hopping, speedy, amplified rock interlude (in E) with Taylor vocals and a harmonized chorus (in G).
“Son and Daughter” is a smouldering mid-tempo rocker with a bluesy riff (in E) and gritty vocals that assail the notion of intersex parity.
“Jesus” has a plodding two-chord riff (Bm.. Bm.. G… Bm) and an operatic chorus (in D) about the titular subject. An explosive jam (in F) cuts through the second half before a final go-round of the closed-cadence structure, which fades out on harmonies that give way to the ivory runs of “Seven Seas of Rhye….”
Baker co-produced Queen with John Anthony, a soundman for assorted acts on Charisma (Genesis, Lindisfarne, Rare Bird, Van der Graaf Generator) and Vertigo (Affinity, May Blitz), who recently produced albums by Al Stewart (Orange), Home (The Alchemist), and Roxy Music (For Your Pleasure). Aside from Baker, the credits list three engineers, including Mike “Clay” Stone (Pawn Hearts, Nursery Cryme) and David Hentschel (Atomic Rooster, Byzantium, Elton John, Jackson Heights, Michel Polnareff, Mott the Hoople).
May and Mercury designed the packaging of Queen with Taylor’s friend Douglas Puddifoot, who photographed Freddie live for the front cover. The back cover features a collage of group and member pics (mostly red-tinted) with their Queen Crest logo in the upper-center. It combines the zodiac signs of each member: two Leo lions (Deacon and Taylor), two Virgo fairies (Mercury), and one Cancer crab (May). Mercury designed the logo shortly before this album’s completion. Queen’s later Marx-titled albums display this logo with greater prominence.
Queen performed “Keep Yourself Alive” on a 7/24/73 broadcast of the BBC music program The Old Grey Whistle Test. In October, they did exclusive engagements in Bonn, Germany (10/13/73: Underground, Bad Godesberg) and Luxembourg (10/14/73: Le Blow Up). On November 12, they launched a 23-date UK tour with Mott the Hoople at Leeds Hall, wrapping with two shows on December 14 at the Hammersmith Odeon. On Dec. 28, they supported fellow newcomers 10cc at Liverpool’s Top Rank Suite. Amid these activities, Queen recorded their second album at Trident.
On January 27, 1974, Queen made their Australian debut at the Sunbury Music Festival, a four-day event at George Duncan’s farm in Diggers Rest, west of Melbourne, with sets by Ayers Rock, Chain, MacKenzie Theory, Madder Lake, Mississippi, Sherbet, and Skyhooks. Queen — who were scoffed as “poms” (antipodean slang for “English”) by the local crowd — promised they’d return to Australia as superstars.
Queen mimed the now-completed “Seven Seas of Rhye” on the 2/21/74 broadcast of the BBC music program Top of the Pops (rebroadcast 3/14/74). The song appeared on February 25, 1974, as their second EMI a-side, backed with May’s “See What a Fool I’ve Been,” a slow, smouldering blues rocker with androgynous vocals and a scaly, stormy mid-section.
“Seven Seas of Rhye” is the closing track on Queen II, released on March 8, 1974, on EMI and Elektra. May wrote most of side one (Side White), which concludes with “The Loser in the End,” a Taylor rocker.
Mercury wrote all of side two (Side Black). Several numbers run together as unofficial medleys. He sings everything apart from “Some Day One Day” (May) and “Loser” (Taylor).
Side White starts with “Procession,” a Red Special prelude that signals “Father and Son,” a lavish rock anthem in which the father encourages his son to grow into a productive man (“Don’t destroy what you see, your country to be, just keep on building on the ground that’s been won”). It segues into…
“White Queen (As It Began)” a symphonic epic of soft–heavy dynamics. May drew inspiration for the character — the “mother of the willow green” with “smiling dark eyes” and “stars of lovingness in her hair” — from The White Goddess: a Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, a 1948 book-length essay by English poet Robert Graves.
“Some Day One Day” May reminisces with a childhood sweetheart and promises “a misty castle waits for you.”
“The Loser in the End” is a booming, bluesy rocker about caring yet restrictive moms whose newly grown sons walk out on them.
Side Black starts with “Ogre Battle,” a vicious rush of backward effects and multi-tracked vocals. Freddie tells a take: when “the black crow flies to find a new destination,” its an omen that the “ogre men are coming out from the two way mirror mountain.” This segues into…
“The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke” a galloping number about an axe-swining midnight nutcracker who draws all kinds of “fairy folk” (ploughmen, politicians, pedagogues, tatterdemalions, the Shakespearean characters Oberon and Titania) to watch him deliver his master-stroke. Freddie drew lyrical inspiration from the 1864 painting The Fairy Feller’s Masterstroke by Victorian fantasy artist Richard Dadd.
“Nevermore” is a piano–vocal interlude with two stanzas. The dry seas and dead valleys are metaphors for heartbreak (“the path of nevermore”).
“The March of the Black Queen” is a smoldering epic of layered vocals and swelling interplay with abrupt changes of style (opera, music hall). Freddie sings about the “lord of the darkness, the queen of the night” who’s “vulgar, ‘buse and vile.” It segues to…
“Funny How Love Is,” a harmonized strumalong with lines about how love is everywhere (“every song in every key”).
“Seven Seas of Rhye” opens with the same sparkling ivory motif (in D). The completed song is an uptempo rocker with operatic harmonies, brisk cadenzas, and shifting key centers. Freddie sings as a spirit descending on “earth from the skies” who commands the “very souls [of] you unbelievers.”
Sessions took place between August 5, 1973, and February 20, 1974, at Trident. Baker produced the bulk of Queen II amid work on albums by Welsh mainstays Man (Rhinos, Winos, and Lunatics), Danish rockers Gasolin’, and future Hawkwind frontman Robert Calvert. Cable produced two tracks (“Nevermore,” “Funny How Love Is”) concurrently with titles by Chris De Burgh, Dana Gillespie, and Jimmy Webb. Mike Stone, one of four engineers on Queen, served as the sole engineer on Queen II and the subsequent four albums.
Queen II sports a cover photo by Mick Rock, the famed photographer behind 1972–74 album visuals for Be-Bop Deluxe (Axe Victim), Camel (Mirage), Cockney Rebel (The Psychomodo), David Bowie (Ziggy Stardust), Iggy & the Stooges (Raw Power), and Lou Reed (Transformer). The Queen II image — where Queen’s shaded faces form a rhombus in the dark with Mercury’s hands crossed shoulder-to-shoulder — would reappear in subsequent media, notably in the video of their 1975 magnum opus “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Queen II reached No. 5 on the UK Albums Chart. Queen promoted the album with a 24-date UK tour (March 1—April 2), supported on select dates by Liverpudlian hard-rockers Nutz. On April 16, Queen did their first US tour as an opening act for Mott the Hoople. Their April 20 show at Mid-South Coliseum, Memphis, featured a third act, soul rockers Babe Ruth. After a May 7–11 stand at Uris Theatre in New York City, Kirshner Records signees Kansas took the place of Queen, who left the tour after May suffered a bout of hepatitis.
Queen started sessions for their third album on July 7 at Trident.
Sheer Heart Attack
On October 11, 1974, Queen issued their third single, “Killer Queen,” Mercury’s tale of a French courtesan. With its cabaret piano verses; operatic, multi-tracked chorus; and sparkling, arpeggiated guitar fills, the song became their breakthrough international hit, reaching No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 12 on the US Billboard Hot 100. The b-side, “Flick of the Wrist,” is a brimming Mercury rocker with fidgety, pent-up verses and a floodgate chorus, replete with booming bass and flowing syllables.
Queen’s third album, Sheer Heart Attack, appeared on November 8, 1974, on EMI and Elektra. It features six Mercury numbers: both sides of the single plus “Lily of the Valley,” “Bring Back That Leroy Brown,” and two distinct songs titled “In the Lap of the Gods” and “In the Lap of the Gods…Revisited.” The album also includes four May compositions (“Brighton Rock,” “Now I’m Here,” “Dear Friends,” “She Makes Me (Stormtrooper in Stilettoes)”) and a contribution apiece from Taylor (“Tenement Funster”) and Deacon (“Misfire,” his writing debut). One track, the speed-metal archetype “Stone Cold Crazy,” is group-credited because they couldn’t remember which member penned the lyrics.
Stylistically, Sheer Heart Attack adds traces of folk and retro music hall to Queen’s signature blend of symphonic-rock and glam-metal.
“Brighton Rock” emerges from circus clatter with an exuberant riff and unrecognizably high-pitched vocals about two seaside lovers. The song speeds along with smoky riffs, echoing drums, and moments of smoldering free-form experimentation.
“Killer Queen” starts with a cabaret piano-vocal arrangement (in C minor) and quotes Marie Antoinette (“Let them eat cake”) in its tale of a high-class serial mistress.
“Tenement Funster” opens with a staccato guitar figure and Taylor vocals, joined by booming drums that herald the terse chorus line “Oh, give me a good guitar,” followed by soaring May leads. Roger amazes people with his purple shoes and vows that, with an open car, he’ll “make the speed of light outa this place.” The track segues to…
“Flick of the Wrist,” a fussy, flaring rocker that assails a nameless industry con-man who Freddie warns will “seduce you with his money-make machine.” It blends into…
“Lily of the Valley,” a tender piano postlude marked with angelic held notes and searing sustains on the Red Special. Freddie sings of his soul search and references “Seven Seas of Rhye.”
“Now I’m Here” — which opens on a tense, closed-cadence descent (in D) — is a swaying rocker about self-exultation. In May’s lyrics, Freddie enacts a character’s who’s fled the picket fences (“Whatever came of you and me? America’s new bride to be”) for the subterranean life (“Don’t worry baby I’m safe and sound, down in the dungeon just peaches and me”). One line references Queen’s spring ’74 tour (“Down in the city just Hoople and me”). On the Sheer Heart Attack tour, Freddie sang the “Now I’m here” and “Now I’m there” lines from opposite ends of the stage (an illusion created with a double).
“In the Lap of the Gods” consists of multi-tracked vocals, cascading piano, and a low-register verse with windy backward cymbals. Freddie states that, while he’ll do anything for his lover, what ultimately happens is in the lap of the gods.
“Stone Cold Crazy” sports a galloping, pummeling riff (in G minor), cut by frenetic ticking verses and a smoldering break. Freddie dreams that he’s an Al Capone-like character evading the law.
“Dear Friends” is a tender piano–vocal interlude about the peaks and valleys of life.
“Misfire” is a two-chord strumalong with wailing leads, rich harmonies, and double-tracked vocal counterpoint; capped by a modulating outro with searing runs. Freddie, in a dare to his partner, uses the one-bullet shot as a metaphor for romantic game-play.
“Bring Back That Leroy Brown” is vintage ’20s/’30s music hall in galloping 2/4 with churning banjolele and saloon piano. Midway, legato guitar and scaling bass assail the “woo-woo” bridge. The lyrics refer to the character in “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” a 1973 Billboard No. 1 by American singer–songwriter Jim Croce, whose song concerned a tall, loaded, gun-toting anti-hero of Prohibition-era South Side Chicago.
“She Makes Me (Stormtrooper in Stilettoes)” is a heavy ballad with doubled two-chord acoustic strum (D-D-D-A…, played by May and Deacon). Brian, in a somber tone, submits to a dominant woman (“Who knows who she’ll make me, as I lie in her cocoon”) and assures “She is my love” as the track resigns to its hazy outro.
“In the Lap of the Gods…Revisited” (same lyrics but musically unrelated to its titlesake) is a cabaret piano ballad with emotive vocals; gradually overlaid with smoldering Red Special and grand choral vocals.
Sheer Heart Attack was recorded between July 7 and October 22, 1974, at studios in London (Trident, AIR, Wessex Sound) and Monmouthshire, Wales (Rockfield). Taylor conceived a title-track that went unfinished for the time being.
Baker produced Sheer Heart Attack just ahead of Futurama, the second album by EMI’s next-in-line, Be-Bop Deluxe, whose guitarist–frontman Bill Nelson plied May-like tones and cadenzas during this period. Continuing soundman Mike Stone also worked on 1974 albums by Headstone (Bad Habits) and Strawbs (Ghosts).
Mick Rock photographed the Sheer Heart Attack cover, which shows the group huddled on their backs in apparent heat strokes; flanked by the name and title in bold red all-caps. The back shows the same image under cracked glass.
Sheer Heart Attack reached No. 2 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 12 on the US Billboard 200. In January 1975, Queen lifted “Now I’m Here” as the album’s second single (b/w “Lily of the Valley”). It went Top 30 in Benelux and Germany and peaked at No. 11 on the UK Singles Chart.
Queen promoted the album with an 18-date UK tour that commenced on October 30 at Manchester Palace. They welcomed the holidays with an 11-date Continental tour (Nov. 23–Dec. 13). On December 27, Queen made their second TotP appearance miming “Killer Queen.” Their second US tour (Feb. 5–23, 1975) covered 15 cities with support on select dates by Kansas and Mahogany Rush. In April, Queen flew to Japan for a seven-city, eight-date tour, bookended by shows at Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan Arena.
A Night at the Opera
On October 31, 1975, Queen issued “Bohemian Rhapsody,” an operatic rock opus in three sections. Mercury developed the song piecemeal over a six-year period. It was accompanied by a music video directed by British TV producer Bruce Gowers, who also made the video to 10cc’s recent “I’m Not In Love.” With its impassioned verses, whimsical middle, and explosive climax, “Bohemian Rhapsody” topped the UK Singles Chart for nine weeks over the 1975–76 holiday season.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” is the penultimate track on Queen’s fourth album, A Night at the Opera, released on November 21, 1975, on EMI and Elektra. It features four additional Mercury numbers (“Death on Two Legs,” “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon,” “Seaside Rendezvous,” “Love of My Life”), four May contributions (“’39,” “Sweet Lady,” “The Prophet’s Song,” “Good Company”), and a song apiece by Taylor (“I’m in Love with My Car”) and Deacon (“You’re My Best Friend”). The album is titled after the 1935 MGM comedy film starring The Marx Brothers.
Musically, A Night at the Opera emphasizes Queen’s penchants for multi-movement epics (“The Prophet’s Song,” “Bohemian Rhapsody”) and retro music hall (“Seaside Rendezvous,” “Good Company”) with forays into folk (“’39”), balladry (“Love of My Life”), hot-rod rock (“I’m in Love with My Car”), harmony pop (“You’re My Best Friend”), and cabaret whimsy (“Death on Two Legs”).
“Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to…)” opens the album with a piano cadenza, overtaken by grim riffage that breaks to a cabaret motif, flanked with wailing leads and biting lyrics (“You suck my blood like a leech, You break the law and you breach”) aimed at Queen’s first manager, Norman Sheffield, who sued the band for an out-of-court settlement. The song follows a stop–start structure marked with abrupt key changes.
“Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon” is a piano cabaret miniature with campy, disguised vocals.
“I’m in Love with My Car” is a slow, heavy freewheeling anthem with smoldering guitar and cocky vocals. Taylor lobbied successfully to have this as the b-side of the “Bohemian Rhapsody” single.
“You’re My Best Friend” opens with sustained C notes on the Wurlitzer electric piano. It swells into a Beach Boys-style harmony pop number with quaint, nostalgic vibes. EMI lifted this as the album’s second single, which peaked at No. 2 in Canada and No. 7 on the UK Singles Chart.
“‘39” is a folksy acoustic strumalong about astral travelers who embark on a year-long voyage, then return to find that 100 years have passed due to time dilation. Deacon learned the contrabass for this number. May’s leads invoke a theremin tone (Star Trek style) on the break.
“Sweet Lady” is a heavy, mid-tempo harmony number in 3/4 with a descending three-chord passage and a shuffling, double-speed chorus.
“Seaside Rendezvous” is ’20s-style ragtime music hall with swooning vocals, speakeasy horns, and barroom piano.
“The Prophet’s Song” (8:21) fades in at length on the toy koto, a Japanese zither. It bursts into epic mode on the line “listen to the wise man,” which signals a tense riff (in A minor) and a lurching, menacing passage (in D). May wrote the lyrics during his recovery after waking from a dream about a great flood of Noah’s ark proportions. The track swells on the pre-chorus (“I see no day, I heard him say, so grey is the face of every mortal”) with vocal flare-ups and intensified volume. A middle sequence of echoing, layered, multi-tracked harmonies gives way to a slide-laden rock jam before the song reinstates for a final chorus, swallowed by a chiming figure (in G), an explosion, and a recap of the toy koto, which segues into:
“Love of My Life,” a piano ballad with melodramatic vocals and layered harmony passages, interspersed with ivory etudes.
“Good Company” is a rustic, May-sung music hall number with knee-slapping banjo (lyrically stated) and manicured leads.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” (5:55) opens on the multi-tracked salvo “is this the real life.” In the first section (piano ballad), the narrator offers glimpses of his troubled home life (“mama just killed a man”) and his need to go (“carry on, cause nothing really matters”). The second chorus is followed by wailing leads that break to a non-sequitur, cabaret midsection, where Freddie name-drops characters from classic art, literature, and astronomy — Scaramouche, Galileo, Figaro — possibly as metaphors for the band members, which engage in an operatic call-and-response (“he’s just a poor boy from a poor family”). A thundering line (“Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me..”) heralds section three: a bursting hard-rock riff (in D) interjected with salient lines (“so you think you can love me an leave me to die”). A sudden recap of the intro (“nothing really matters”) ends the song. Mercury welcomed multiple interpretations of the lyrics, which possibly deal with a teenager who flees home to find his muse but encounters seedy elements along the way.
“God Save the Queen” serves as the album’s postlude: a Red Special take on Britain’s national anthem. Gentle Giant did a similar arrangement at the close of their debut album.
Sessions took place from August to November 1975 at Rockfield and five London studios: Olympic, Lansdowne, Sarm, Roundhouse, and Scorpio Sound. “God Save the Queen” was recorded months beforehand at Trident, which Queen abandoned after breaking ties with Neptune Productions and hiring Elton John’s manager, Scottish music mogul John Reid. Baker produced A Night at the Opera concurrently with albums by Hustler, Gasolin’, and Jet (Jet), comprised of recent Sparks members. Stone also engineered 1975 albums by Peter Hammill (Nadir’s Big Chance), Starry Eyed and Laughing, and Who drummer Keith Moon.
A Night at the Opera sports a white gatefold cover design by David Costa, a onetime guitarist of English folk-rockers Trees. It shows the Queen Crest logo against the Japanese rising sun with the name and title in cursive. The original inner-sleeve features light-tinted, dry-ice-laden live shots of Queen. Costa also designed 1974/75 album covers for Elton and Kiki Dee (I’ve Got the Music in Me).
A Night at the Opera reached No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart and also topped the Dutch, Australian, and New Zealand album charts. In North America, it reached No. 2 on the Canadian Albums Chart and No. 4 on the US Billboard 200.
Queen promoted A Night at the Opera with a five-week, 17-city UK tour that started with a two-night (Nov. 14–15) stand at Liverpool’s Empire Theatre and wrapped on Christmas Eve at the Hammersmith Odeon. They launched their third US tour on January 27, 1976, at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, NY. The tour covered 21 cities and included a double-bill with Foghat (2/13/76: Riverfront Coliseum, Cincinnati) and a multi-night stand in Santa Monica (3/9–12/76: Civic Auditorium). On March 22, Queen opened their second Japanese tour with their third Budokan show. In April, they made their second visit to Australia where (as Mercury promised) Queen were now superstars.
Freddie Mercury produced “Man From Manhattan,” a folk-pop music hall song by singer–songwriter Eddie Howell. May plays a fifteen-second solo on the song, a Benelux hit that appears on the singer’s titlesake album on Warner Bros.
Three-fourths of Queen (May, Mercury, Taylor) sing backing vocals on the 1976 CBS release All American Alien Boy, the second solo album by ex-Mott the Hoople frontman Ian Hunter.
A Day at the Races
Queen released their fifth album, A Day at the Races, on December 10, 1976, on EMI and Elektra. It features four songs each from May (“Tie Your Mother Down,” “Long Away,” “White Man,” “Teo Torriatte”) and Mercury (“You Take My Breath Away,” “The Millionaire Waltz,” “Somebody to Love,” “Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy”) and a song apiece by Taylor (“Drowse”) and Deacon (“You and I”). The album takes its title from the 1937 Marx Brothers film.
Musically, A Day at the Races, upholds Queen’s balance of hard rock, cabaret (“The Millionaire Waltz”), and romantic balladry, fusing the latter two styles on “You Take My Breath Away.” Some of the rockier numbers assume a newfound darker edge (“White Man”) and droning quality (“Drowse”). Their multi-tracked vocals now embrace gospel on “Somebody to Love,” the album’s lead-off single, which reached No. 1 in the Netherlands and No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart.
“Tie Your Mother Down” opens with a gong-laden, double-tracked lead, enveloped in a blurry, circular, winding figure (a Shepard tone: an auditory illusion of continual ascent). At 1:01, the song congeals as a Gallagher-style boogie rocker (in A). The standard 12-bar arrangement takes a melodic twist on the harmonized “give me all your love tonight” refrain.
“You Take My Breath Away” has an unaccompanied multi-tracked vocal intro. Overall, it’s a light cabaret piano ballad (in C minor) with airy, sustained syllables.
“Long Away” sports a mid-tempo electric strum with humble May vocals about nostalgic longing.
“The Millionaire Waltz” has a cabaret arrangement in stately 3/4 with staccato piano and Mercury’s angelic vocals; interspersed with operatic harmonies and May’s precise fills. The explosive mid-section breaks to a quote of Strauss.
“You and I” is a flowing, optimistic number with Wilsonesque harmonies, a descending bridge, and a revved-up second half.
“Somebody to Love” is a mid-tempo piano ballad with impassioned vocals about romantic yearning; capped by a grand gospel chorus.
“White Man” has a dark, desolate intro (in D minor) with distant, sliding chords and bleak vocals about the plight of Native Americans. It swells up on the first chorus with searing, multi-tracked leads and layered vocals.
“Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy” is piano-thumping music hall, countered with Freddie’s angelic vocals and May’s oozing sustains.
“Drowse” is a slow, heavy, smoldering number with hazy, harmonized vocals; shadowy bass and searing slide guitar. The lyrics veer between youthful vigor and middle-age regret.
“Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together)” is a slow, sad piano lament (in D minor) with a chorus in Japanese. May overlays the piece with distant, torrential atmosphere. The midsection showcases Queen’s swelling, multi-layered harmonies. The coda reprises the album’s introductory Shepard tone.
Queen recorded and self-produced A Day at the Races between July 12 and November 19 at four studios: The Manor (Oxfordshire), Sarm (East London), Wessex Sound (Highbury New Park), and Advision (London). Baker wasn’t involved due to the expiration of his contract with Queen. He instead produced 1976 albums by French-Canadian cabaret songwriter Lewis Furey, Welsh rockers Lone Star, and (with engineer Stone) Scottish popsters Pilot. Concurrently, Stone earned his first production credits on the debut albums by Charlie (Fantasy Girls) and Easy Street (self-titled).
On September 18, 1976, with sessions halfway finished, Queen played to an audience of 200,000 as part of a free outdoor concert at London’s Hyde Park. Virgin Records co-founder Richard Branson organized the event, which also featured sets by Kiki Dee, space-rock guitarist Steve Hillage, and Liverpudlian funk-rockers Supercharge. Among the attendees was Hugh Cornwell, the guitarist–singer of up-and-coming new wave rockers The Stranglers, who (in a 1977 interview with Melody Maker journalist Caroline Coon) described Queen’s sound as “immaculate” but the members as “aloof to the audience.”
A Day at the Races sports the second of two Costa designs, this time with the Queen Crest logo over a yellow variation of the rising sun on a black background. Here, one faerie sits while the other strikes a ballerina pose. The winged lion (right) is grey and the gold lion (left) holds a queen’s crown before the ring. The logo also appears on the LP label (Side 2). On the back cover, the two lions form a procession with the crab and a third faerie (blond). The inner-gate has lyrics and a sound-stage shot of Queen. The inner-sleeve has a medium shot of each member; Freddie’s hair is now trimmed at the shoulders. Costa also designed 1976/77 covers for Stackridge and Cliff Richard (Every Face Tells a Story, US issue).
A Day at the Races reached No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart and also topped the Dutch and Japanese album charts. In North America, it reached No. 4 on the Canadian Albums Chart and No. 5 on the US Billboard 200.
On December 1, 1976, Queen were slated for a segment on Today, an early-evening variety program that aired on Thames Television. When they pulled out from the slot, it was filled by a new EMI act, the Sex Pistols, who were goaded by show host Bill Grundy into a verbal match that culminated with guitarist Steve Jones calling Grundy (who mock-flirted with aspiring singer Siouxsie Sioux, a member of the Pistols’ entourage) a “dirty old man,” followed with “you dirty fucker… what a fucking rotter!” The incident made national headlines and catapulted the Pistols to household name status.
Queen promoted A Day at the Races with a 39-date North American tour that commenced on January 14, 1977, at the Milwaukee Auditorium and wrapped on March 18 at the Northlands Arena in Edmonton, Alberta. Their opening acts on this tour included The Outlaws, Head East (multiple Midwest dates), and Thin Lizzy (Northeast leg, including a 2/5/77 show at Madison Square Garden).
That March, Groucho Marx of the Marx Brothers kin invited Queen to his Los Angeles home, where they serenaded him (five months before his death) with an a cappella rendition of “39.” They further promoted A Day at the Races with spring tours of Europe and the UK, culminating with a June 6–7 engagement at London’s Earls Court Arena.
Midway through the sessions for Queen’s sixth album, Roger Taylor issued the solo single “I Wanna Testify,” a hybrid of doo-wop and hard rock backed with “Turn On the TV,” a funk-rock number with Zepplin-esque stop–start rhythms.
News of the World
On October 7, 1977, Queen issued two new songs: Mercury’s “We Are the Champions,” an anthem of perseverance and victory paired with May’s “We Will Rock You,” a sportsman chant. As joint a-sides, they hit the Top 2 in the UK and Netherlands. Both songs were played back-to-back on most radio stations in North America, where the single reached No. 3 on the Canadian RPM Top Singles chart and the US Cash Box Top 100.
Queen released their sixth album, News of the World, on October 28, 1977, on EMI and Elektra. In addition to the single, the album features three songs by May (“All Dead, All Dead,” “Sleeping on the Sidewalk,” “It’s Late”), and two apiece from Mercury (“Get Down, Make Love,” “My Melancholy Blues”), Deacon (“Spread Your Wings,” “Who Needs You”), and Taylor, who contributed one new song (“Fight from the Inside”) and a retooled “Sheer Heart Attack,” originally planned for the album of the same name.
“We Will Rock You” rolls on a stomp–stomp–clap–pause pattern with no instruments until May’s climactic guitar solo. Freddie belts out three verses: each a challenge to meandering males at different stages of life (young boy, young man, old man). The chorus, sung in unison, acts as a call to arms. The stomp pattern was multi-tracked to feel like a stadium chant. “We Will Rock You” has since become a ball game perennial.
“We Are the Champions” opens as a piano–vocal confessional (in C minor). As the narrator assures that he’s beaten the odds, Queen builds an operatic bridge (“And we mean to go on, and on, and on, and on”) to the grand chorus: a triumphant rallying cry where Mercury summons the winner in everyone.
“Sheer Heart Attack” is a brisk ditty with a buzzsaw riff (in E♭) and choppy syllables (“I feel so inar, inar, inar, inar, inar, inar, inar, inarticulate”) sung by an unrecognizable Mercury. Taylor plays the bass and guitar parts in the recently codified punk style, which didn’t exist when the song was first demoed for the namesake album.
“All Dead, All Dead” is a minor key lament to a deceased loved one, comprised of sad piano–vocal verses and a harmonized chorus. Midway, a droning guitar tone passes upward (to heaven’s gate?) May wrote this in memory of his boyhood cat.
“Spread Your Wings” concerns Sammy, a young man eager to escape his dead-end situation and be someone. Piano ballad verses with gutsy vocals; rising bridge and swelling grand chorus with operative “fly away” repetitions and salient refrain: “Pull yourself together ’cause you know you should do better, that’s because you’re a free man.”
“Fight from the Inside” is a raunchy mid-tempo rocker with sliding licks over chugging chords (in E). Taylor sings and largely performs this cut with apparent flanging (akin to “Life In the Fast Lane”) and a high-pitched rasp. The song has echoes of Derringer.
“Get Down, Make Love” opens with a bobbing octave bassline (in E), overlaid with howling guitar sustain. Mercury belts and sighs in a raunchy, suggestive manner (“I suck your mind, you blow my head”) over minimal verses, filled randomly with sparse piano and manicured guitar amid Taylor’s syncopated sixteenth note rhythm pattern. The smoldering mid-tempo chorus (in G) precedes a spacey, psych-tinged break of shimmering, echoing “cosmic vortex” sounds, which May achieved (without synthesizers) by filtering the Red Special through an Electroharmonix Frequency Analyzer pedal.
“Sleeping on the Sidewalk” is a mid-tempo boogie blues (in B) with muted fuzz guitar and dark walking bass, meshed low in the mix under May’s vocals. The track’s overall groove is reminiscent of “Revolution” by The Beatles.
“Who Needs You” is light bossa nova with carefree vocals and Latin guitar filigree over a tight rhythmic motif (in A).
“It’s Late” (6:26) takes shape as a slow, closed-cadence blues (in A). The first verse is exclusively May and Mercury with a shuffling riff mixed low under Freddie’s soaring, earnest vocals. Grand harmonies surround him on the explosive chorus. May plays two solos in succession: a wailing passage over raunchy mid-tempo chords (in F#) and a smoldering run at high velocity (in C#). The fast sequence recaps at the coda with pummeling drum rolls.
“My Melancholy Blues” is an after-hours torch song with subtle traces of jazz (loose piano, ride cymbal, brushes). This song showcases Mercury’s emotive yet newly refined timbre; understated like the music.
Sessions took place between July 6 and September 16, 1977, at Sarm and Wessex Sound. Queen co-produced the album with Stone, whose concurrent credits include the debut single by The Motors and the second album by Easy Street (Under the Glass).
As Queen laid tracks for News of the World, former labelmates the Sex Pistols (now signed to Virgin) were in an adjacent studio recording tracks for Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. One afternoon, the Pistols’ acting bassist John Simon Ritchie (aka Sid Vicious) came face-to-face with Mercury and asked “Aren’t you that Freddie Platinum bloke who’s selling ballet to the masses?” to which Mercury quipped “Yes, Simon Ferocious, I’m trying my best, dear.”
News of the World is housed in a gatefold with art lifted from the October 1953 issue of the American sci-fi publication Astounding Science Fiction. Queen contacted the artist, Frank Kelly Freas, who modified the vertical outer-fold illustration to incorporate the band members, portrayed as victims of a giant deadly robot. The inner-gates show the robot tearing into a crowded stadium as people flee in horror. The album got its title from a UK Sunday tabloid that ran from 1843 to 2011. Five months after this album’s release, The Jam used the title for a stopgap single.
News of the World reached No. 1 in France and the Netherlands; No. 2. in Canada; No 3. on the US Billboard 200; and No. 4 in the UK and Norway. Queen promoted News of the World with a 22-city North American tour that launched in Portland, Maine (11/11/77: Cumberland County Civic Center) and wrapped in Inglewood, Calif. (12/22/77: Forum).
Elsewhere, Mercury and Thomas Baker co-produced This One’s On Me, the 1977 third album by Jamaican–British actor–singer Peter Straker. Mercury befriended Straker sometime beforehand and helped secure him a deal with EMI. The album mixes music hall and glam camp, exhibited on the theatrical rocker “I’ve Been to Hell and Back.”
In April 1978, Queen launched a 12-city European tour at Stockholm’s Ice Stadium. In England, they played two multi-night May engagements in Stafford (5/6–7/78: New Bingley Hall) and London (5/11–13/78: Empire Pool). Brian May fled to Canada for tax reasons.
In July, Queen regrouped at the Montreux Jazz Festival, a two-week event (7/7–23/78: Casino de Montreux) with sets by Aquarelle, Chris Hinze, Didier Lockwood, Guido Manusardi, Jan Akkerman, Joachim Kühn, Jukka Tolonen, Airto Moreira, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Patrick Moraz, Ben Sidran, Dixie Dregs, Entrance, Larry Coryell, Sea Level, Billy Cobham, Freddie Hubbard, and Pharoah Sanders.
Queen released their seventh album, Jazz, on November 10, 1978, on EMI, Elektra, and Ariola (France). Mercury wrote the bulk of side one (“Mustapha,” “Jealousy” “Bicycle Race” “Let Me Entertain You”) and the penultimate “Don’t Stop Me Now.” May wrote “Fat Bottomed Girls” and three numbers on side two (“Dead on Time,” “Dreamer’s Ball,” “Leaving Home Ain’t Easy”). Jazz also contains two songs each by Deacon (“If You Can’t Beat Them,” “In Only Seven Days”) and Taylor (“Fun It,” “More of That Jazz”).
“Mustapha” opens with Mercury bellowing the name Ibrahim, a prophet in the Islamic faith. A frantic, galloping cabaret ensues with Mercury singing taut syllables in Arabic, Persian, and English, culminating with a gasping chorus (“Allah-i, Allah-i, Allah-i, Ibra-Ibra-Ibrahim, yeah!”) and explosive riff-laden passage.
“Fat Bottomed Girls” opens with a harmonized chorus, followed by a bluesy riff in drop D tuning. The first verse recounts a boyhood experience of the narrator losing his virginity to a naughty older woman. Mercury belts over a stomp–kick drum rhythm amid May’s sustained, smoldering tones.
“Jealousy” opens with mournful piano (in G minor), joined by sitar-sounding strings. Mercury emotes in his angelic balladeer style. While ostensibly about post-romantic sadness, the lyrics address not a human subject but jealousy itself. May’s buzzing tone emanates from a Hallfredh acoustic guitar with a customized hardwood bridge and fret wire enhancements.
“Bicycle Race” opens with the harmonized word “bicycle” over a chromatic descent (from E♭), followed with an ascending piano–bass figure where Mercury, in mock-juvenile innocence, confers “I want to ride my bicycle.” A string of jerky exchanges ensue where Freddie gainsays every color, car, character, and creature that the band puts forth. A litany of names (Jaws, Superman, Frankenstein, Peter Pan, John Wayne) are given the short shrift. In the “Bicycle Race” video, Queen mime on a soundstage with intercuts of a nude women’s bicycle race at Wembley. “Fat bottomed girls” are mentioned in the bridge. Mercury wrote this song after Queen attended the 1978 Tour de France on July 31 (Freddie’s 31st birthday).
“If You Can’t Beat Them” starts with an electric three-chord strum (D…A-G). Taylor’s booming drum roll ignites a flowing verse where Mercury extols “Give as good as you get.” Each refrain (“You’re never gonna help yourself”) cuts to a chordal ascent with searing guitar and a swaying, downbeat-heavy rhythmic pattern. May smolders over the flanged, elongated fadeout.
“Let Me Entertain You” enters on a pensive drum–bass figure (in E), soon overlaid with jumbled riffing and sassy vocals. The song passes through multiple key centers in a raunchy, medium-uptempo arrangement as Mercury mocks the artifice of showbiz (“I’ll pull you, and I’ll pill you, I’ll Cruella DeVille you”). Each chorus hammers the pensive opening figure, pausing as Freddie bellows the syllables “‘TAIN YOUUUUUU!”
“Dead on Time” follows a smoky, cymbal-laden intro with a lightning-fingered metal riff (in F#). Mercury lets out a rising scream as the band congeals. The lyrics invoke a free-wheeling conman; each verse line ends with “leave on time.” Freddie’s belted lines intersperse with operatic multi-tracked harmonies. May overtakes the song with pyrotechnic licks and brisk bar chords. Musically, this song recalls “Stone Cold Crazy.”
“In Only Seven Days” is a mid-tempo piano ballad about the misgivings of part-time love. Freddie gives another angelic vocal performance amid jazzy key changes; laced with Spanish guitar and fuzzed, echoey Red Special leads.
“Dreamer’s Ball” is a medium-slow blues that opens with double-tracked thirds. It proceeds through crooning verses in a 2/4 acoustic ragtime groove with multi-tracked backing vocals.
“Fun It” is a funk raveup built on a tight bass figure and echoey Syndrum pattern, inter-cut with clipped, edgy guitar licks and cocky vocal swagger.
“Leaving Home Ain’t Easy” starts with a brisk acoustic strum, overlaid with a violin-like Red Special effect. May sped-up his voice to achieve the girlish tone on the middle-eight. It’s a folk harmony number, possibly inspired by his exit from Britain as a tax exile.
“Don’t Stop Me Now” is a theatrical show tune in the vein of Rodgers and Hammerstein. It starts as a slow piano-vocal inspirational, then swells into a high-energy singalong.
“More of That Jazz” opens with a syncopated mid-tempo drum pattern, overlaid with two contrapuntal guitar lines: one clean and staccato; one gruff and distorted (in E). Taylor, who sings and plays most of the instruments, hits several uncharacteristic high notes. The track climaxes with a snippet loop of prior tracks on the album.
Queen recorded Jazz between July and October 1978 at three studios: Mountain (Montreux), Studio Miraval (Correns), and Super Bear (Berre-les-Alpes). Roy Thomas Baker returned as producer, having recently worked with engineer Geoff Workman on albums by The Cars (self-titled), Journey, and Starcastle (Fountains of Light, Citadel). Queen used Mountain at the suggestion of David Bowie, who also booked the studio that fall for his 1979 release Lodger. The two parties met at the Montreux Jazz Festival.
Jazz is housed in a gatefold conceived by the band. The front shows a white-on-black concentric Moiré pattern with the name Queen (x5) overhead and the title (in hot pink) bolted from the center. The back shows a reverse image: black-on-white with the title (x6) overhead. A procession of cyclists line the bottom and circle the LP labels, which sport the hot-pink title font. The inner-gates shows a monochrome wide view of Mountain’s interior, where the members are seen afar amid their large equipment arsenals. The inner-sleeve features a group shot of Queen, who now sport medium-length hair (May excepted).
In advance of the album, Queen issued “Bicycle Race” and “Fat Bottomed Girls” as a double-a-sided single. It reached No. 11 on the UK Singles Chart. In January 1979, EMI lifted “Don’t Stop Me Now” as a second single (UK No. 9). April saw territorial releases of “Mustapha” (Germany) and “Jealousy” (US). Jazz reached No. 3 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 6 on the US Billboard 200.
Queen began its promotion of Jazz with a North American tour that opened on October 28, 1978, at the Dallas Convention Center. They played 30 cities across the US and Canada, concluding with a three-night engagement (December 18–20) at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif. By now, Deacon sported short hair and Mercury wore head-to-toe leather.
In January 1979, Queen embarked on a 21-city European tour that included eleven dates in Germany and two in then-communist Yugoslavia, the epicenter of a growing Eastern rock scene. They also performed in the French cities of Lyon and Poitiers, culminating with a three-night stand (Feb. 27–March 1) at the Pavillon de Paris. During April–May, they did a 15-date, eight-city tour of Japan that included two multi-night engagements at Tokyo’s Budokan Hall.
A document of the European tour, Live Killers, appeared as a double-album in June 1979 on EMI/Elektra. It features 22 numbers from their repertoire: one song from Queen (“Keep Yourself Alive”), three from Sheer Heart Attack (“Killer Queen,” “Now I’m Here,” “Brighton Rock”), seven from A Night at the Opera (“You’re My Best Friend,” “’39,” “Love of My Life,” “I’m in Love with My Car,” “Death on Two Legs,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “God Save the Queen”), one from A Day at the Races (“Tie Your Mother Down”), five from News of the World (“Get Down, Make Love,” “Spread Your Wings,” “Sheer Heart Attack,” “We Are the Champions,” “We Will Rock You”), and four from Jazz (“Let Me Entertain You,” “Bicycle Race,” “Dreamer’s Ball,” “Don’t Stop Me Now”).
Most of these performances are from their February 2 show at Frankfurt’s Festhalle. They elongate the Sheer Heart Attack numbers “Now I’m Here” (8:44) and “Brighton Rock” (12:13). “Bohemian Rhapsody” opens with the intro from “Mustapha.” Live Killers includes two performances of “We Will Rock You,” one with a rocked-up arrangement (Lyon) and one faithful to the original (Frankfurt). The album is housed in a gatefold with a collage of performance pics on the inner-gates.
On August 18, Queen played Saarbrücken Open Air ’79 at Ludwigsparkstadion in Saarbrücken, Germany. The one-day festival also featured sets by Rory Gallagher, Ten Years After, Molly Hatchet, Lake, and Voyager.
“Crazy Little Thing Called Love”
On October 12, 1979, Queen returned with a new Mercury-penned single, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” a rockabilly tune with a strummed riff (Dsus3), airy vocals, walking bass, and angular guitar licks. They recorded the song during June–July at Musicland Studios in Munich. The picture sleeve shows an image from the video shoot with the band all leather-clad and short-haired (May excepted). The video shows them miming on a small soundstage as Freddie struts the catwalk in camp ’50s poses, flanked with scantily clad “rock ‘n’ roll” women.
“Crazy Little Thing Called Love” reached No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100. It also topped the charts in Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands. As sessions continued at Musicland for their eighth studio album, Queen embarked on a late-autumn UK tour.
On December 26, 1979, Queen played the Hammersmith Odeon for the opening night of Concerts for the People of Kampuchea, a four-day series of benefit shows for the war-torn Indochinese nation. The concerts were organized by Paul McCartney and featured sets by The Clash, The Pretenders, The Who, The Specials, Ian Dury & the Blockheads, Elvis Costello & the Attractions, Matumbi, Wings, Rockpile, and Rockestra, a McCartney-led supergroup with musicians from the other bands.
Queen opened the new decade with the single “Save Me,” a May-penned ballad that features their first use of synthesizer. It reached No. 11 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 5 on the Dutch Top 40, but wasn’t issued in the US, where “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” began its month-long run at the top.
The “Save Me” video shows the band miming on a soundstage with Freddie in red leather trousers; interspersed with animation of a woman and dove. It was directed by Keith “Keef” MacMillan, the photographer behind classic album covers on Vertigo (Affinity, Gasoline Alley, Paranoid, Valentyne Suite) and RCA/Neon (Spring, Time Is…) who directed the early videos by Kate Bush.
Queen’s eighth studio album, The Game, appeared on June 30, 1980, on EMI and Elektra. It features the prior two singles and opens with Mercury’s “Play the Game,” released weeks beforehand as the third single. The album features two additional May songs (“Dragon Attack,” “Sail Away Sweet Sister”) and two contributions each by Taylor (“Rock It (Prime Jive),” “Coming Soon”) and Deacon (“Another One Bites the Dust,” “Need Your Loving Tonight”), plus another Freddie rockabilly number, “Don’t Try Suicide.”
“Play the Game” opens with ‘laser beam’ sounds from the Oberheim OB-X synthesizer. It’s a piano ballad (rooted in C) with a swelling bridge and harmonized chorus, followed by a chromatic instrumental refrain. The lyrics address a love-shy subject, advising the individual to open up the mind and “let your heart decide.”
“Dragon Attack” is a mid-tempo number with a terse twelve-note bassline (in D minor) against a clicking rhythmic pattern. The lyrics crouch the recording process at Musicland in metaphorical terms and namedrop the album’s producer. Midway, May plays a strident, unaccompanied solo, followed by an a capella ad lib.
“Another One Bites the Dust” is a medium-uptempo funk song with an angular eleven-note bassline that scales from B down to E then jumps to A. On the second verse, May lays a funky chordal pattern reminiscent of the 1979 Chic hit “Good Times.” The protagonist is possibly an underworld character out for vengeance: a predicament Freddie dramatizes on soaring lines like “Out of the doorway, the bullets rip… to the sound of the beat! Look out.” Midway, Taylor holds the beat, flanked with Oberheim effects and Freddie’s strident ad libs.
“Need Your Loving Tonight” is a medium-uptempo riff rocker with a three-chord power riff (FFFF.. DD.. CC), overlaid with brisk acoustic strum.
“Crazy Little Thing Called Love” is an uptempo rockabilly tune (in D with hammered thirds) and airy vocals with a flirty fifties ‘cool cat’ vibe. May plays a clean solo (twangy, noodling) on the the chordal plunge of the bridge (B♭), underscored by walking basslines; cut by a clapped doo-wop break.
“Rock It (Prime Jive)” opens with an impassioned, octave-spanning chorus by Freddie, accompanied by May’s clear, chorused staccato figure (in B). One minute in, Queen bursts into the song proper: an uptempo new wave rocker with brisk chords and vicious Taylor vocals, intercut with beeping synths. Things wind into a two-chord jam (F#… B…) with swelling Oberheim.
“Don’t Try Suicide” opens with a countdown clap, joined by an upward bassline (B to D) and an echoing guitar chord (D7 minor) — the elements of a dark verse structure overlaid with channeled call-and-response vocals that urge the subject not to take his own life. The chorus is a brisk five-chord plea with strummed acoustic guitar and piano.
“Sail Away Sweet Sister” is a piano-laden ballad (in B minor) with impassioned May vocals and an explosive chorus (in D). He urges an estranged lover not to move overseas for a new romance. Midway, Mercury adds harmonies and operatic vocables. The song swells with double-tracked Red Special breaks, then subdues for a sea-sound outro.
“Coming Soon” is a medium-uptempo harmony rocker (in B♭) with palm-matted riffing and pocketed bass on a heavy downbeat.
“Save Me” is another May power ballad with quiet piano-driven verses (in G) and an explosive, harmonized chorus (in D). Freddie sings the lyrics, which Brian wrote for a despondent, recently divorced friend.
Queen co-produced The Game with Reinhold Mack, a veteran Munich soundman who worked with numerous early ’70s Krautrock acts (Abacus, Out of Focus, Sahara, Subject ESQ., Sunbirds) and more recent titles by Electric Light Orchestra (Out of the Blue), Paice Ashton Lord (Malice in Wonderland), Rory Gallagher (Calling Card), Violinski, and Gary Moore‘s G-Force. Apart from the two earlier singles, sessions on The Game took place between February and May 1980 at Musicland. Mack, who played synthesizer on select passages, encouraged a looser rhythmic approach and used newly developed editing techniques to smooth out imperfections.
The Game sports the same photograph as the “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” picture sleeve. The back cover features medium shots of each member from the same photoshoot as the picture sleeve for “Play the Game,” which (along with the video) marks the first appearances of Mercury with his trademark ’80s-era mustache.
In the video for “Play the Game,” May forgoes the Red Special for a Telecaster, which Freddie wrestles away then runs, turns and throws back at Brian. Mercury sports a t-shirt bearing the word “Flash,” an early hint of a film project in the works involving Queen. “Play the Game” reached No. 14 on the UK Singles Chart and hit the Top 10 in Ireland, Norway, and Switzerland. The single is backed with “A Human Body,” a non-album Taylor composition with acoustic strum, twangy leads, booming drums, harmonized refrains, and a vocoderized chorus.
In August, Queen lifted “Another One Bites the Dust” as the fourth single from The Game (b/w “Dragon Attack”). This was done at the urging of Michael Jackson, a huge fan who attended the band’s Los Angeles shows. The video shows them miming on a soundstage with Mercury in a yellow tank top and Taylor in a grey sharkskin suit. The picture sleeve shows Freddie midair in a screencap from the “Play the Game” video.
“Another One Bites the Dust” spent thirteen weeks on the US Billboard Top 5, including three weeks at No. 1 during October 1980. The Game reached No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart, the Billboard 200, and the Canadian and Dutch album charts.
On December 8, 1980, Queen released Flash Gordon, the official soundtrack to the namesake sci-fi action film based on the 1930s comic strip. It’s an eighteen-track mix of instrumental interludes and reoccurring rock themes. Unlike most soundtrack albums, this makes extensive use of soundbites from the corresponding movie.
“Flash’s Theme” opens with dialogue involving the movie’s arch villain, Emperor Ming the Merciless. The theme has a pensive, pulsing rhythmic figure (in A minor) overlaid with explosions and Red Special breaks (in D), intercut with soaring, operatic cries of “FLASH!” Elements of this song reappear in “Flash to the Rescue,” “Marriage of Dale and Ming,” and “Flash’s Theme Reprise (Victory Celebrations).”
May wrote the titular theme and the soundtrack’s other guitar-driven pieces. “Battle Theme” is an explosive rock instrumental with smoldering power chords, flanked with laser sounds and dialogue. “The Wedding March” is a Red Special arrangement of “Bridal Chorus” by German romantic composer Richard Wagner (reminiscent of May’s Night at the Opera take on “God Save the Queen”). “The Hero” recaps “Battle Theme” with shouted vocals; intercut with orchestral flourishes and recaps of “Flash’s Theme.”
Mercury contributes several short pieces in the library music vein. “Ming’s Theme (In the Court of Ming the Merciless)” is a sequence of ‘laser beam’ synth sounds intercut with dialogue. “Football Fight” is a peppy instrumental interlude with neon-powered synths on a hopping synth-bass rhythm. “Vultan’s Theme (Attack of the Hawk Men)” is an uptempo synthesized instrumental reminiscent of the Doctor Who theme.
Taylor’s contributions echo recent developments in ambient music, purveyed by Brian Eno and Berlin School artists. “In the Space Capsule (The Love Theme)” is a synthesized soundscape with tribal percussion. “In the Death Cell (Love Theme Reprise)” is a dark, rhythmless soundscape. “Escape from the Swamp” has layers of trebly synth over faint tribal drumming.
Queen recorded Flash Gordon in the late winter (February–March) and early autumn (October–November) of 1980 at three London studios: Studio Townhouse, Music Center, and Advision. May and Mack co-produced the soundtrack, which features orchestral arrangements by Howard Blake.
In February 1981, Queen played five nights (12–13 and 16–18) at Tokyo’s Budokan Arena, followed by a seven-date swing through Argentina and Brazil.
Roger Taylor released his debut solo album, Roger Taylor’s Fun In Space, in April 1981 on EMI.
Taylor drums on three songs (“Crash,” “You Are You Are,” “Moral”) on the September 1981 Beggars Banquet release Dance, the fifth album by Gary Numan. Taylor also appears as a backing vocalist on three songs (“Right Away,” “Diamonds and Pearls,” “Play the Game Tonight”) on the June 1982 Epic release Vinyl Confessions, the eighth studio album by Kansas.
On October 21, 1981, Queen released the single “Under Pressure,” a collaboration with David Bowie.
Queen and David Bowie created the song in July 1981 at Mountain Studios in Montreux, where Queen were recording their next studio album and Bowie was recording “Cat People (Putting Out Fire),” the Giorgio Moroder-produced theme to the upcoming erotic horror film Cat People starring Nastassja Kinski and Malcolm McDowell.
The verse and bridge to “Under Pressure” stem from “Feel Like,” an unfinished Taylor number. Deacon came up with the bassline — six notes in D and a seventh in A — and Bowie suggested the sped-up cadence on the second three notes. Bowie and Mercury each wrote their respective lines in the song.
The “Under Pressure” video cuts between high-speed vintage newsreels (building implosions, failed liftoffs, Depression breadlines) and silent-era film clips, including a scene from Nosferatu that coincides with the song’s stark middle-eight (“Turned away from it all like a blind man”). Mercury’s “Why can’t we give love, give love” lines synchronize with 1920s romantic clips of lovers embraced. The video went into high rotation on the fledgling US cable channel MTV.
“Under Pressure” reached No. 1 on the Canadian, Dutch, and UK singles charts and reached the Top 10 throughout Europe and the Commonwealth.
On October 26, 1981, Queen issued Greatest Hits, a collection of their most popular songs. The UK version (58:44) has seventeen songs: two each from Sheer Heart Attack (“Killer Queen,” “Now I’m Here”), A Night at the Opera (“Bohemian Rhapsody,” “You’re My Best Friend”), A Day at the Races (“Somebody to Love,” “Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy”), News of the World (“We Will Rock You,” “We Are the Champions”), and three from Jazz (“Fat Bottomed Girls,” “Bicycle Race,” “Don’t Stop Me Now”) and four from The Game (“Another One Bites the Dust,” “Save Me,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “Play the Game”), plus “Flash” and the Queen II closer “Seven Seas of Rhye,” the compilation’s earliest track.
The fourteen-song US version (47:58) omits “Now I’m Here,” “Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy,” “Don’t Stop Me Now,” “Save Me,” and “Seven Seas of Rhye” but adds the just-released single “Under Pressure.” This version of Greatest Hits skips Queen II but does include “Keep Yourself Alive” from their debut, an unrepresented album on the UK Greatest Hits.
Queen released their tenth studio album, Hot Space, on May 21, 1982, on EMI and Elektra. It features three songs apiece by Mercury (“Staying Power,” “Body Language,” “Life Is Real (Song for Lennon)”) and May (“Dancer,” “Put Out the Fire,” “Las Palabras de Amor (The Words of Love)”), plus two by Taylor (“Action This Day,” “Calling All Girls”), and one by Deacon (“Back Chat”). Freddie and John co-wrote the rockabilly ballad “Cool Cat.”
Hot Space concludes with the pre-released “Under Pressure.” That aside, Freddie sings lead on everything and harmonizes twice with Brian (“Put Out the Fire,” “Las Palabras de Amor”) and once with Roger (“Action This Day”).
Sessions took place between June 1981 and March 1982 at Mountain, Montreaux, and Musicland, Munich. Arid Martin produced “Staying Power,” which features his “hot and spacey” horn arrangement. Reinhold Mack produced the remaining new tracks and played synth bass on “Action This Day,” which features saxist Dino Solera.
Mercury conceived the Hot Space visual scheme: four color blocks (red, blue, yellow, green) on the front, back, and labels. The front places each member’s outline within a color block with select details missing on Mercury (no nose), Taylor (no eyeballs), and Deacon (no left eye). On the inner-sleeve, the face of each member is half revealed (ala With the Beatles) in one of the four colors against a black background.
“Body Language” appeared in advance of Hot Space in April 1982 (b/w “Life is Real (Song for Lennon)”). It reached No. 3 in Canada and Poland, No. 5 in Finland, No. 6 in the Netherlands, and No. 11 on the US Billboard Hot 100. The video shows scantily clad models writhing in dark-lit, unisex steam rooms. Freddie appears midway in shades and leather. The rest of Queen appear during the finger-snapping middle-eight.
In June, Queen lifted “Las Palabras de Amor” as the second single (b/w “Cool Cat”). It reached No. 1 in Poland, No. 10 in Ireland, and No. 17 in the UK. Queen mimed this song on a soundstage for TotP. In the clip, Mercury and Taylor sport tuxedos while Deacon wears a double-breasted lavender top with popped collars and an open flap. May appears leather-jacketed behind a grand piano and rises during the solo with the Red Special. TotP aired “Las Palabras” on their 6/17/82 broadcast (after “I Want Candy” by Bow Wow Wow) and reaired the song a fortnight later.
Elektra issued “Calling All Girls” as the third US single (b/w “Put Out the Fire”). In the video, Freddie undergoes surveillance, fights off cybernetic guards, and writhes in a round cage inside a camera-monitored, post-apocalyptic quarantine facility. The video makes extensive use of the era’s visual effects (slow motion, soft focus, white backgrounds, tinted lighting).
In Japan, Elektra lifted “Staying Power” as the third single (b/w “Calling All Girls”).
EMI issued “Back Chat” as the third and final Hot Space single in the UK and Europe (b/w “Staying Power”). It reached the Top 20 in Ireland and South Africa.
Hot Space reached No. 4 in the UK, No. 5 in New Zealand, No. 6 in Canada, and went Top 10 throughout Europe, where it topped the Austrian and Dutch albums charts.
Queen promoted Hot Space with a July–September North American tour that included three dates with Billy Squier, a fellow Mack client whose July 1982 third solo album Emotion in Motion appropriates the “Dragon Attack” bassline in the title track. Queen’s ’82 US leg wrapped with a Sept. 25 appearance on the NBC late-night comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live, where they performed “Under Pressure” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” This would be their final performance with Mercury in America.
In 1983, May assembled Brian May + Friends, an ad hoc studio group with guitarist Eddie Van Halen, bassist Phil Chen (Rod Stewart), and keyboardist Fred Mandel (Alice Cooper, Elton John). They issued the EMI single “Star Fleet,” a composition by Paul Bliss (Dog Soldier, Bliss Band), backed with the May original “Son of Star Fleet.”
May also produced the 1983 Polydor release Lettin Loose, the debut album by the Glaswegian metal band Heavy Pettin. As a sessionist, May plays the guitar solo on “(Another) 1984,” a track on Billy Squier’s fourth solo album Signs of Life.
Roger Taylor released his second solo album, Strange Frontier, in June 1984 on EMI. It contains five originals and two co-writes with Mountain Studios staffer David Richards, the album’s keyboardist and co-producer. Deacon plays bass on “It’s an Illusion,” a co-write with Status Quo guitarist Rick Parfitt.
On May 12, 1984, Queen played the Golden Rose Pop Festival, an eight-day Montreux event with sets by the era’s leading pop and rock stars, including Adam Ant, The Alarm, Bananarama, Cyndi Lauper, Duran Duran, Elton John, Howard Jones, Kajagoogoo, Madness, Peter Schilling, The Pretenders, Rod Stewart, Roger Daltrey, Slade, Spandau Ballet, Thomas Dolby, Tracey Ullman, UB40, and Ultravox.
After promotions wrapped on their eleventh studio album, Queen released “Thank God It’s Christmas,” a May–Taylor-penned yuletide number released on November 26 for the 1984 holiday season. It reached No. 8 in Ireland, No. 11 in Belgium, and No. 21 in Austria and the UK.
Queen released their eleventh studio album, The Works, on February 27, 1984, on EMI and Capitol. It features nine songs: three by Mercury (“It’s a Hard Life,” “Man on the Prowl,” “Keep Passing the Open Windows”) and two by May (“Tear It Up,” “Hammer to Fall”), who also co-wrote a song apiece with Mercury (“Is This the World We Created…?”) and Taylor (“Machines (or ‘Back to Humans’)”), who wrote the album’s lead-off single “Radio Ga Ga.” Deacon contributed the second single “I Want to Break Free.”
Sessions took place between August 1983 and January 1984 at Musicland in Munich and the Record Plant in Los Angeles. Queen co-produced the album with engineer Reinhold Mack, who produced The Works in succession with Strange Frontier and albums by Heavy Pettin and Meat Loaf. Mack does Fairlight CMI programming on “Machines.” Queen associate Fred Mandel plays synthesizer on four tracks and added piano on “Man on the Prowl.” He’s credited with ‘candy-floss instruments’ on “Hammer to Fall.”
The Works sports a grayscale, shadowy image of Queen seated lotus style by photographer George Hurrell, who also has visual credits on eighties albums by Aretha Franklin, Fleetwood Mac (Mirage), Lindsey Buckingham, Melissa Manchester, and Midge Ure. The graphic artist, Bill Smith, also designed covers for The Associates (The Affectionate Punch), Brand X, The Cure (Seventeen Seconds), Genesis (Abacab, Genesis), The Jam (Sound Affects), New Musik (Anywhere), Talk Talk (The Party’s Over), and Thomas Dolby (The Golden Age of Wireless).
“Radio Ga Ga” appeared in January 1984 as an advance single, backed with the non-album b-side “I Go Crazy.” In the video… “Radio Ga Ga” reached No. 2 in the UK and Australia and topped the charts throughout Benelux and Scandinavia. Queen performed this song on February 3, 1984, as UK guests (along with Bonnie Tyler, Culture Club, and Paul Young) at the Sanremo Music Festival, an annual Italian song festival.
In April, Queen lifted “I Want to Break Free” as the second single (b/w “Machines (or ‘Back to Humans’)”). In the video… “I Want to Break Free” reached No. 3 in the UK and No. 1 in Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, and South Africa.
In mid-July, “It’s a Hard Life” became the third Works single with a video by director Tim Pope (Altered Images, The Cure, Psychedelic Furs). “It’s a Hard Life” reached No. 2 in Ireland, No. 4 in the Netherlands, and No. 6 in the UK.
On September 10, 1984, Queen lifted “Hammer to Fall” as the album’s fourth and final single, accompanied by a video montage of live clips from the Works tour. The song peaked at No. 13 in the UK and reached No. 3 in South Africa.
The Works reached No. 1 on the Dutch albums chart and No. 2 in the UK, and went Top 10 across Europe. Queen promoted the album with a fifteen-city, 23-date tour that commenced on August 24 at the Forest Nationale in Brussels and wrapped on September 30 at the Stadhalle in Vienna.
In January 1985, Queen co-headlined Rock In Rio, a ten-day event (11–20) at the Cidade do Rock in Barra da Tijuca with fellow top-billers AC/DC, George Benson, Rod Stewart, and Yes. Queen headlined both Friday’s of the event: the 11th, which also featured Iron Maiden, Whitesnake, Erasmo Carlos, and Ney Matogrosso; and the 18th, which included sets by The Go-Go’s, Kid Abelha, and The B-52’s, supplemented on this occasion by the Talking Heads rhythm section of drummer Chris Frantz and bassist Tina Weymouth, the husband–wife duo behind the funk-pop Heads spinoff the Tom Tom Club.
On April 29, 1985, Freddie Mercury debuted as a solo artist with the Columbia release Mr. Bad Guy. It contains eleven originals with backing by Fred Mandel and German session drummer Curt Cress. The album spawned four singles: “Made in Heaven,” “Love Me Like There’s No Tomorrow,” and the British hits “I Was Born to Love You” and “Living on My Own,” a No. 1 hit in ten nations. Mercury conceived the project with Michael Jackson but their collaboration faltered over Freddie’s discomfort with the studio presence of Jacko’s pet llama.
On Saturday July 13, 1985, Queen partook in Live Aid, an all-star charitable concert event arranged by Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof for Ethiopian famine relief. The transatlantic event consisted of simultaneous concerts at Wembley Stadium, London, and JFK Stadium, Philadelphia, both telecast internationally to a global audience of 1.9 billion (roughly 40% of the world’s population).
Queen took the Wembley stage at 6:41 pm and played a 21-minute set comprised of six numbers: “Bohemian Rhapsody” (first part), “Radio Ga Ga,” “Hammer to Fall,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “We Will Rock You,” and “We Are the Champions.” In an improvised vocal break, Freddie engaged in a vocable call-and-response with the audience (“Aaaa..oh”), dubbed by media as “the note heard round the world.” Their set took place between Dire Straits (two songs) and David Bowie (four, including “Heroes,” a victory anthem first released the same year as “Champions”).
During the Wembley event final, Mercury and Brian performed “Is This the World We Created…?” — the first of three closing numbers, followed by Paul McCartney and friends (“Let it Be”) and Band Aid (“Do They Know It’s Christmas?”).
Queen’s Live Aid reception prompted Mercury to assemble the band at Musicland in September 1985 to group-write and record a new song, “One Vision,” and anthemic riff rocker with victory-minded lyrics inspired by Martin Luther King Jr.
“One Vision” first appeared as a standalone on November 4, 1985, backed with the remix “Blurred Vision.” It reached No. 5 in Ireland, No. 7 in the UK, No. 10 in Australia, and No. 19 on the US Mainstream Rock chart.
Shorty after its chart peak, “One Vision” appeared in the 1986 TriStar Pictures release Iron Eagles, an action drama film about US Air Force pilots by director Sidney J. Furie (The Ipcress File) and starring Louis Gossett Jr. (An Officer and a Gentleman).
On May 11, 1986, Queen mimed two songs (“One Vision” and the followup single “A Kind of Magic”) at the Montreux Golden Rose Pop Festival, which also featured a-ha, Billy Ocean, Bronski Beat, Chris Rea, Depeche Mode, ELO, Elvis Costello, Eurythmics, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Genesis, INXS, Level 42, OMD, and the Pet Shop Boys.
John Deacon assembled The Immortals, a one-off studio trio with singer Lenny Zakatek (Alan Parsons Project, Gonzalez) and guitarist Robert Ahwai (Hummingbird). They cut the 1986 MCA single “No Turning Back,” a Deacon–Ahwai original backed with “No Turning Back (The Chocks Away Mix).” The a-side appears (along with tracks by Jon Anderson and Deep Purple) on the soundtrack to Biggles, a 1986 adventure film about rime travel.
Roger Taylor contributed backing vocals ob two songs (“Sometime Love,” “When the World Comes Down”) on the 1986 Polydor release Vigilante, the sixth studio album by Brummie rockers Magnum.
A Kind of Magic
Queen released their twelfth studio album, A Kind of Magic, on June 2, 1986, on EMI and Capitol. It opens with the pre-released “One Vision” and contains eight new songs: two apiece by May (“Who Wants to Live Forever,” “Gimme the Prize (Kurgan’s Theme)”) and Taylor (“A Kind of Magic,” “Don’t Lose Your Head”); and one each by Mercury (“Princes of the Universe”) and Deacon (“One Year of Love”), who co-wrote “Pain Is So Close to Pleasure” and “Friends Will Be Friends.”
Mercury sings lead on everything and harmonizes with May on “Who Wants to Live Forever” and duets with singer Joan Armatrading on “Don’t Lose Your Head.” Six of the album’s songs (everything apart from “Pain Is So Close to Pleasure”, “Friends Will Be Friends” and “One Vision”) appear in the 1986 fantasy action-adventure film Highlander starring Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery. A Kind of Magic served as the unofficial soundtrack to the film, which lacked a proper soundtrack.
Sessions took place between September 1985 and April 1986 in Europe at Musicland and Mountain with further sessions in London at Townhouse and Abbey Road Studios. Queen co-produced A Kind of Magic with Mack and David Richards. Musical guests include keyboardist Spike Edney (“Pain Is So Close to Pleasure,” “Friends Will Be Friends”) and ex-Riff Raff saxophonist Steve Gregory, who plays alto on “One Year of Love,” which features strings conducted by onetime Affinity keyboardist Lynton Naiff. “Who Wants To Live Forever” features the National Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Michael Kamen.
A Kind of Magic is housed in a gatefold sleeve with illustrations by Roger Chiasson, whose human caricature style depicts Queen as buff blue clubbers (front) amid flying frogs, cards, musical confetti, and club girls (back). The inner-gates and inner-sleeve present more cartoon party imagery.
In March 1986, EMI issued “A Kind of Magic” as the album’s second advance UK single while Capitol (US) did likewise with “Princes of the Universe.” Both singles have the same picture sleeve and non-album b-side: an instrumental version of “Don’t Lose Your Head” titled “A Dozen Red Roses for My Darling.” The EMI single reached No. 1 in Spain and Argentina and peaked at No. 3 in the UK, Ireland, and Switzerland.
“Friends Will Be Friends” accompanied the album’s release as the third UK single, backed with the oldie “Seven Seas of Rhye.” It reached No. 14 in Ireland and went Top 20 in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland.
“Pain Is So Close to Pleasure” became the third US single (b/w “Don’t Lose Your Head”) and a fourth single in select parts of Europe, where it entered the Dutch Top 30.
In September, Queen lifted “Who Wants to Live Forever” as the fourth and final UK single, backed with the oldie “Killer Queen.” In France, “One Year of Love” became the final Magic single (b/w “Gimme the Prize (Kurgan’s Theme)”).
A Kind of Magic reached No. 1 in the UK and Argentina, No. 2 in the Netherlands, and No. 3 in Austria. It also went Top 10 in France, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. In Australia, it peaked at No. 12 on the Kent Music Report.
Queen promoted A Kind of Magic with a UK–European tour behind that commenced on June 7, 1986, at Stockholm’s Rasunda Fotbollstadion. The two-month trek included dates with Status Quo (7/11–12: Wembley Stadium) and Marillion (7/19: Müngersdorfer Stadion, Cologne). They closed the tour with an August 9 show at Knebworth Park, where Freddie Mercury made his last ever live appearance.
Queen released their thirteenth studio album, The Miracle, on May 22, 1989, on Parlophone and Capitol. It opens with “Party,” borne from a three-way jam between Mercury, May, and Deacon. The group-written “Khashoggi’s Ship” is titled after Saudi billionaire Adnan Khashoggi and his lavish yacht the Nabila (since renamed Kingdom 5KR).
The Miracle contains ten songs, including two sole-writes by May (“I Want It All,” “Scandal”) and one by Mercury (“Was It All Worth It”), who co-wrote one song with Taylor (“Breakthru”), who contributed “The Invisible Man.” Mercury also collaborated with Deacon on three songs: “Rain Must Fall,” “My Baby Does Me,” and the album’s title-track. Mercury sings lead throughout the album and harmonizes with May on two numbers (“Party,” “I Want It All”) and with Taylor on “The Invisible Man.”
“I Want It All” appeared twenty days before The Miracle as the lead-off single, backed with the non-album group composition “Hang On in There.”
Queen released their fourteenth studio album, Innuendo, on February 4, 1991, on Parlophone and Hollywood. Conceived for the now-dominant CD medium, it’s their longest studio album (at 53:48) with twelve songs, including three sole-writes apiece by Mercury (“I’m Going Slightly Mad,” “Don’t Try So Hard,” “Delilah”) and May (“Headlong,” “I Can’t Live with You,” “The Show Must Go On”).
Taylor contributed two songs (“Ride the Wild Wind,” “These Are the Days of Our Lives”) and collaborated with Mercury on the title track: a rock opus with a flamenco interlude performed by Yes guitarist Steve Howe. May and Mercury joint-wrote “Bijou” and collaborated with Deacon on “The Hitman.” Mercury, who sings lead on all twelve tracks, wrote “All God’s People” with film composer Mike Moran.
Made in Heaven (1995 — recorded 1980–93)
- Queen (1973)
- Queen II (1974)
- Sheer Heart Attack (1974)
- A Night at the Opera (1975)
- A Day at the Races (1976)
- News of the World (1977)
- Jazz (1978)
- The Game (1980)
- Flash Gordon [OST] (1980)
- Hot Space (1982)
- The Works (1984)
- A Kind of Magic (1986)
- The Miracle (1989)
- Innuendo (1991)
- Made in Heaven (1995 — recorded 1980–93)
- Discogs: Queen
- English Albums: Q
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1 thought on “Queen”
From the original beta draft: “Comprised of four distinct personalities who each contributed material, the band became globally revered for a series of monumental albums and anthemic singles that have since achieved evergreen status.”