More than any other rock band, before or since, Queen were both a great albums band and a great singles band. They could do it all – heavy rock, pop, opera, disco, gospel – and they did it all brilliantly.
And the way those early hits were presented on this album was inspired – the breadth of Queen’s scope perfectly illustrated by the way the epic grandeur of Bohemian Rhapsody leads into the disco sizzle of Another One Bites The Dust.
So here they are, all the songs on Queen’s Greatest Hits, ranked in ascending order of awesomeness…
17. Save Me
There are no clunkers on Queen’s Greatest Hits. It’s all gravy. The power ballad Save Me is heroic stuff – a power ballad written by Brian May, sung with gusto by Freddie Mercury, with a wonderfully OTT solo by May. But in such exalted company, it ends up with the wooden spoon.
16. Play The Game
On the band’s 1980 album The Game there was not only Save Me but another power ballad – this sort-of-title track, written by Mercury. The band that once boasted ‘no synthesizers’ used them here to dazzling effect. The video is notable for the band close-ups in the chorus, when May, Mercury and Roger Taylor are singing “play the game”, but John Deacon is not. Maybe Deaky just didn’t like playing games.
With its stupidly brilliant hook line – “Flash! Ah ah!” – this is surely the most ridiculous song that Queen ever recorded. Hats off to writer Brian May for that. The soundtrack album that the band made for the sci-fi adventure movie Flash Gordon was erratic, as most soundtracks are, but this single – an edited version of album opener Flash’s Theme – is a mini-masterpiece of high-camp rock theatre, featuring lines of dialogue including Brian Blessed’s hammy intonation: “Gordon’s alive!”
14. Bicycle Race
The double A-side single was an art form in itself. The Beatles started the trend way back in 1965 with Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out, and in 1978 Queen delivered a classic of the form with Bicycle Race/ Fat Bottomed Girls. There has been much conjecture about the subtext to Freddie’s lyrics in Bicycle Race – ostensibly inspired by the Tour de France, but possibly a coded gay anthem. Whatever, the song is a thrilling ride, with references to cocaine, Star Wars, Watergate and John Wayne, and a solo played on bicycle bells.
13. Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy
There was a flavour of traditional British music hall in two playful songs from 1975’s A Night At The Opera – Seaside Rendezvous and Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon. But on the following album, A Day At The Races, Freddie turned that influence into a hit song. As its title suggested, Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy was Freddie in sweetly romantic mood.
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12. Seven Seas Of Rhye
The oldest track on Queen’s Greatest Hits originally appeared on the band’s self-titled debut album in 1973, as an instrumental, and again on 1974’s Queen II as a fully formed song. As a single it was not a hit, but it’s one of the definitive early Queen songs.
11. You’re My Best Friend
In the 80s John Deacon wrote the huge hits Another One Bites The Dust and I Want To Break Free, but You’re My Best Friend was his first song that was released as a single, in 1976. He wrote it for his wife Veronica Tetzlaff, and played it on a Wurlitzer electric piano – described by Mercury as “a horrible instrument”. For all that, Freddie sang it beautifully.
10. Fat Bottomed Girls
Even in the late 70s, before political correctness was a generally accepted concept, Fat Bottomed Girls was a risqué title. But no matter: the song is one of Brian May’s best, a hard rocking humdinger. And when Freddie sang, “Heap big woman, you made a bad boy out of me”, he never sounded more convincingly heterosexual.
9. We Are The Champions
There are power ballads, and then there is this – Freddie Mercury’s monument to self-belief and self-aggrandisement. We Are The Champions has become the soundtrack to countless sporting triumphs across the years. And in it one were two lines that Freddie always sang to his audience with love: “You brought me fame and fortune and everything that goes with it/I thank you all.”
8. Crazy Little Thing Called Love
It was Freddie’s homage to Elvis Presley, a pure rock’n’roll number, written off the cuff one day on tour, when he jumped out of the bath, wrapped himself in a towel and strummed out the chords on an acoustic guitar. And in the video for Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Freddie preened in black leathers like the Elvis of the 1968 Comeback Special.
7. Another One Bites The Dust
Queen’s biggest selling single wasn’t a rock song, and it wasn’t written by Freddie Mercury. It was a disco song by John Deacon. Another One Bites The Dust topped the US chart in October 1980, and lit up dancefloors all over the world. It was only when Queen got balls-deep into funk on their 1982 album Hot Space that they almost killed their career.
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6. Now I’m Here
After a first major hit with a pop song, Killer Queen, the follow-up single was a reaffirmation of the band’s heavy rock credentials. Now I’m Here was built around one of Brian May’s greatest riffs. And for such a kick-ass song, it was a surprisingly big hit, reaching number 11 on the UK chart.
5. We Will Rock You
It is, quite simply, the mother of all rock anthems. The genius is in the arrangement – performed as a football-style chant with massed handclaps, May’s guitar coming into the mix with a sustained note before he rocks out in the climax. It’s all done in just two minutes and one second – a master class in rock dynamics.
4. Killer Queen
Hitting number two in the UK in late 1974, Killer Queen was the band’s big breakthrough. It also announced Freddie Mercury as a singular talent, a pop-rock song so perfectly poised, with an evocative lyric full of classic lines: “Gunpowder, gelatine/Dynamite with a laser beam/Guaranteed to blow your mind.” Also in Killer Queen is arguably the greatest Brian May solo of all time.
3. Don’t Stop Me Now
Freddie Mercury knew how to have a good time, and Don’t Stop Me Now was a celebration of a life lived to the full. From dramatic intro – with Freddie “floating around in ecstasy” – to a tumultuous crescendo powered by Roger Taylor’s brilliant drumming, the song an explosion of energy and pure joy. It was cited in a 2015 study by Dutch cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Jacob Jolij as the most perfect “feel-good” song ever made. Damn right.
2. Somebody To Love
The most beautiful song that Freddie Mercury ever wrote was inspired by the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, and influenced by American gospel music. The vocal arrangements were stunning, with the multi-tracked voices of Mercury, May and Taylor recreating the sound of a gospel choir. And Mercury in particular dug deep in his lead vocal, the most soulful performance he ever recorded.
1. Bohemian Rhapsody
It’s Freddie Mercury’s masterpiece, Queen’s most famous song, and one of the most innovative pieces of music ever created by a rock band. Bohemian Rhapsody was, and remains, a truly unique achievement – the ultimate triumph of Mercury’s creative genius. And perhaps most remarkable of all, the song has lost none of its magic through familiarity. It is as mindblowing now as it was back in ’75.