Queen: Their 50 Greatest Songs

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This month sees a flurry of activity in praise of a man who would have been 60 on September 5. There’s a new double-DVD set called Lover Of Life, Singer Of Songs, featuring all of Freddie Mercury’s solo videos and his story as told by his close friends; a new CD release of The Very Best Of Freddie Mercury; a book entitled Fr eddie Mercury; A Life, In His Own Words; a photographic exhibition at Proud Central in London.Earlier this month there was a special performance of the Queen musical We Will Rock You. Well, Freddie always did like a party. To join in the celebrations at Classic Rock, we decided to ask the stars of the rock world to choose their favourite Queen songs and tell us what they mean to them. The interviews took place over months and happened all across the world: almost everyone asked, whether they were in thrash metal bands or contemporaries of Queen, had a song special to them. We present the 50 songs voted for by them (and us), in alphabetical order. And to the man formerly known as Farrokh Bulsara, we say, happy birthday, sir. Let the party begin…

A KIND OF MAGIC

From A Kind Of Magic, 1986

A sister to One Vision, A Kind Of Magic was another high quality pop song written by Roger about his utopian vision of the world. One of Queen’s most recognisable singles, this was initially written for the film Highlander. The title was inspired by a line from the film and moulded into a hook-laden pop masterpiece with the band’s customary aplomb, although there are two versions offering slightly differing constructions and feels in the public domain. The first, credited to Roger Taylor, appears over the closing credits of the film, while the slightly funkier album version bears the Mercury hallmark, although both are driven by Taylor’s unashamedly poptastic drum sound.

ALL DEAD, ALL DEAD

From News Of The World, 1977

With guitar sounds like these, it’s no wonder the ‘no synthesisers’ edit was printed on every album up to 78’s Jazz. Every band of any note is far more than the sum of its parts and this album track turned out to be one of guitarist Brian May’s best works. Not the strongest singer in the traditional sense, especially when compared to Mercury, his lead vocal here is perfectly suited to the sparse piano-led verse.

Another trademark is May’s lyrics that, on the face of it, seem to tell a run-of-the-mill tale of a lost love yet a few digs beneath the surface turn up so much more: it wasn’t just Mercury who could tug on the heartstrings at a whim. The showpiece though has to be the central instrumental section, and if you’re still in search of the classic definition of May’s so-called ‘guitar orchestrations’ you’ll find it here.

ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST

From The Game, 1980

Another One Bites The Dust topped the US ‘black’ chart and allegedly contains backwards-masked messages…

Ed Kowalczyk, Live

“It was one of the first songs I could play on guitar. And I have a distinct memory from the days of vinyl of a neighbour and I playing it backwards looking for messages. If you do that it definitely says: ‘It’s fun to smoke marijuana’.”

J. Devil, Eagles Of Death Metal

“It’s a downright-dirty-disco-fuck-song if ever there was one. It’s nasty. Queen are one of those unique bands that is made up of truly gifted musicians – the minds of composers. And being able to take all that ability and channel it and control it, is best evidenced and best exemplified with this song. It’s a simple, compact vocal line. It’s basically drums, bass, guitar, vocal, and that’s it. When Brian May’s guitar comes in, it’s just a tight riff – no-one can hold a candle to it. Combined with a simple, driving drum beat that, I dare say, has not one single fill, and a non-alternating bass pattern. Simplicity in its purest form.

“Honey, clearly, I am a true child of Freddie Mercury – I’m like his ‘straight nephew’, as my friends like to say. Sam Elliot showed me ‘cowboy style’, Magnum P.I. showed me a little swagger, but Freddie Mercury – he didn’t just have a moustache, he owned it. It’s a necessary and crucial component to who he is as a performer and a person.”

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

From A Night At The Opera, 1975

When doubt regarding airplay of Mercury’s celebrated ‘mock opera’ was aired, Freddie rightly retorted: “Of course they’ll play it, my dear. It’s going to be fucking huge.”

Carmine Appice, Vanilla Fudge

“I guess Bohemian Rhapsody is really one of my favourites. Vocally, it’s just amazing. I just saw Queen on this tour they just did with Paul Rodgers. They used a big video screen, and they used a video of Freddie singing the intro, and then the band played to him, without a click, which was pretty cool. And then Paul Rodgers came out and did the hard rock part of it. But for me, the vocals were so amazing – that was the epitome of what Queen was all about right there. I knew all those guys, I was real close with Roger and Brian. Brian invited me down to the studio when they did [A Night At The Opera] in 5.1 surround sound mixing. And he says, ‘Just sit in the middle!’. I sat in the middle, and I heard all this stuff going on around me, it was great.”

Ian Anderson, Jethro Tull

“I’ve often woken up looking at Freddie Mercury in the morning because I have a place in Montreux and there’s a statue of him right outside my window. I respect Queen very much as a band, but personally speaking I never liked Freddie’s vocals. But everybody likes Bohemian Rhapsody, don’t they?”

Gary Moore

“I still recall hearing it for the first time while recording with Colosseum II at the Roundhouse Studios in London. Don Airey [keyboard player] and I were just blown away by the song’s separate movements. You could tell those guys were fucking brainy, the degrees and A-levels come flooding out on that song; its arrangement and melody are so incredible.”

BRIGHTON ROCK

From Sheer Heart Attack, 1974

Fairground noises, choppy guitar riff, helium-tinged vocals… May eventually adopted Brighton Rock as his guitar showcase.

Pete Agnew, Nazareth

“It was the first thing I heard them play. Roy Thomas Baker had produced our second album, and told us to look out for Queen. When I got home I went to Boots in the local high street and bought a cassette of Sheer Heart Attack. After sitting in the car and playing both sides I was stunned, and had to be moved on by a traffic warden.”

Steve Diggle, The Buzzcocks

“I met Brian May recently and told him how much I liked that song. It’s all about the upstroke [on the guitar]. We’ve also got one in our second-biggest hit, Promises. I told him that it’s owed to Brighton Rock and also about the time I hid in the toilets at Manchester Free Trade Hall on the A Night At The Opera tour. I saw the matinée show and then blagged into the evening one. Fortunately, he didn’t ask for the ticket money!”

BICYCLE RACE

From Jazz, 1978

Freddie Mercury’s nimble whip though this hard rock tongue-twister presents Queen at their most ludicrously camp.

Zacky Vengeance, Avenged Sevenfold

“It’s such an interesting song, especially because of the way it’s put together – it’s all over the place. It shows off Freddie Mercury’s voice, and of course it’s very cool that they organised a women’s nude bicycle race to promote it. That song always leaves me smiling whenever I hear it.”

Mike Patton, Faith No More

“That Queen record Jazz had some weird shit on it. I can’t even tell you where I got this, but there is this kind of circle of engineers and recording enthusiasts that collect ProTools sessions. I happened upon some Queen ones from that record, and the way this shit was recorded was really fascinating. We’re talking about 16-tracks, with all of those vocal harmonies – I was astounded at how economically they had recorded this stuff. If you listen to how dense Bicycle Race is, it sounds more dense, more deep, more rich than these ProTools systems that you can record 96 fucking tracks on. So that really impressed me – not to mention the music – but, how the fuck did they do it?”

CRAZY LITTLE THING CALLED LOVE

From The Game, 1980

Rockabilly 50s pastiche, reportedly written by Freddie Mercury while covered in bubble bath foam at the Munich Hilton. Queen proved once again that musical boundaries weren’t a problem for them with the release of Crazy…. What’s more, the theme allowed Mercury to dress up in leather and writhe about on the back of a huge motorcycle for the accompanying video.

Musically, the song is one of the band’s simpler ones with a straightforward construction, acoustic intro and obligatory solo bass run. The musical versatility also extends to the guitar solo, with May dusting off Taylor’s own Fender Esquire to produce a perfect 50s-flavoured lead break.

DEAD ON TIME

From Jazz, 1978

Queen prove their rockin’ credentials once again with this often forgotten gem.

Buried among a motley collection of songs is this storming rocker that shows May’s ability to simply shred on his guitar. Even though the Led Zeppelin influence is palpable, especially during the bluesy yet crushingly heavy main riff, Queen are able to cleverly place a number of their own trademarks throughout, such as layered vocal and guitar parts plus a bombastic yet super-tight rhythm section. By this time in the band’s career there were enough gems to fill a setlist three times over, so Dead On Time was never played on stage.

DEATH ON TWO LEGS (DEDICATED TO…)

From A Night At The Opera, 1975

Inspired by the band’s former management company, of whom Freddie once famously pouted: “One leaves them behind like one leaves excreta.”

Todd Rundgren

“The first Queen song that really turned me on was Death On Two Legs. It has everything that became ‘signature Queen elements’ – the big stacked up vocals, the fiery guitar thing. But it also has a bit of production pizzazz, and a very quirky arrangement, with a lot of stops and starts and syncopated hits in it. That was what made it arresting. I bought the album because of that song.”

DON’T STOP ME NOW

From Jazz, 1978

A joyously delivered summation of Freddie Mercury’s life manifesto; fun, fun and more fun.

Brian Tatler, Diamond Head

“This pumping, piano-driven rocker is so full of life and fun, it never fails to improve my mood. ‘I’m having such a good time, I’m having a ball’, sings Mr Fahrenheit himself, and you know what? I totally believe him. The song keeps on climaxing until it finally lets out its last gasp of perfect harmony, Freddie’s ad-libbed vocals drifting happily away into the night, just like a cigarette after sex.”

FAT BOTTOMED GIRLS

From Jazz, 1978

In which Brian May conjures up a riff every bit as sexily curvaceous as the song’s tongue-in-cheek, risqué subject matter.

Leslie West, Mountain

“Mountain toured with Queen on one of their earliest visits to the States. They knocked my fiancée and I out every night. To me, Fat Bottomed Girls sounds a little like Honky Tonk Women [by The Rolling Stones], which I guess is why I like it so much.”

Ruyter Suys, Nashville Pussy

“It’s a rallying call; I’m sure even 70-year-old women sing along to it. It rocks, it’s funny and it’s catchy as hell. And yet, when you think about it, what a strange thing to be singing about. The power overrides the lyrics.”

Ricky Warwick, The Almighty

“It’s such a great riff and Freddie’s vocals are fantastic as ever. Only he could get away with singing lyrics like those, and making them stand up. I won’t even get into the video or the [Jazz] album sleeve.”

FATHER TO SON

From Queen II, 1974

Multi-tempoed and magnificently overblown, featuring some stunning guitar playing from author Brian May. Parental advice has rarely sounded this good.

Dee Snider, Twisted Sister

“My choice had to be a vintage Queen song. I was a huge fan. When I saw them opening for Mott The Hoople back in 74, I was the only person to stand up and go absolutely fucking nuts. In heels I’m six foot seven, so my friends all begged me to sit down and stop embarrassing them. I couldn’t believe how fucking amazing they sounded – they just blew my mind.

Father To Son and the early albums will always mean a lot to me, but afterwards they lost me. I was into Queen, the metal band. They’d stolen ideas from Black Sabbath, and nobody even noticed.”

FLICK OF THE WRIST

From Sheer Heart Attack, 1974

The first of two songs aimed at Norman Sheffield, a manager who Queen parted with acrimoniously. See also Death On Two Legs. If you were a dyed-in-the-wool rocker in the early 70s, this was the track that confirmed Queen’s legitimate headbanging credentials. They had provided hints before, of course – especially on Keep Yourself Alive, the opening song on their self-titled debut album. But then Queen II had come along, and the band’s inherent power had been overwhelmed by pomposity. We hankered after something vicious and neck-snapping; we wanted Brian to let rip on his knackered antique-fireplace guitar, and Freddie to spit out his lyrics with jaw-dropping venom. Flick Of The Wrist (a Mercury composition) delivered all that in spades. Brian’s guitar work was incendiary and Freddie’s vivid choice of words (‘prostitute’, ‘castrate’, ‘sacrifice’ et al) appeared to sum up his bitter frustrations with the machinations of the music biz at the time – Queen being locked into a disadvantageous recording contract with Trident Studios. Flick… was also the B-side of the Killer Queen single, which must’ve confused the hell out of people expecting another breezy operatic pop song.

GET DOWN, MAKE LOVE

From News Of The World, 1977

Heightened by John Deacon’s creepy bass-line, Freddie Mercury sounds distinctly in need of a cold shower here.

Charlie Benante, Anthrax

“One word comes to mind about this song – sex! This wasn’t an ordinary song. The verses were spastic and the chorus was big and catchy – and then there is the middle section that sounds like a noise orgasm. I love the way Queen sound. I don’t know what it was that set them apart from the rest, when you heard Queen, you knew who it was. Freddie was such an amazing singer, he could incorporate anything and make it sound like Queen. Nine Inch Nails did a killer cover version of this.”

GOOD COMPANY

From A Night At The Opera, 1975

A showcase for Brian May’s guitar jazz effects, also a Japanese ukulele, this song sees its subject puffing on a pipe and looking back at their time on Planet Earth.

Eddie Kramer, producer

“When I was working on the Brian May pedal [Digitech’s ‘Brian May Red Special’ guitar pedal], I was fortunate to listen to all their multi-track tapes. It was very interesting hearing his tonal quality. There are so many fantastic tracks. There’s a song, and its multi-layered track, and [May’s guitar] sounds like a clarinet, a trumpet. It’s just spectacular. It’s sort of old-time vaudeville-ish. It’s wonderful. I never really appreciated it until I was able to listen to the multi-tracks and see how he did it. It just recently has become one of my most favourite tracks. And I say that Brian May is a bloody genius.”

I WANT TO BREAK FREE

From The Works, 1984

Can anyone ever forget the sight of Roger Taylor as a schoolgirl – or a moustachioed Freddie Mercury vacuuming in full drag – in the remarkable video for this hit #3 single?

Francis Rossi, Status Quo

“It’s an easy choice for me. I know it’s simple and that after the guitar solo, Freddie sings the verse oddly – ‘Can’t get used to living without, living without, living without you/By my side’ – but there’s something great about it. The first time I heard it I thought: ‘You bastard, Fred’.”

I’M IN LOVE WITH MY CAR

From A Night At The Opera, 1975

A Roger Taylor-sung paean to conducting a full-blown romance with one’s faithful automobile. Jeremy Clarkson would approve.

Curt Kirkwood, Meat Puppets

“I really love that song. The drummer wrote it – I love it when drummers write. The first time I heard I’m In Love With My Car is just like a lot of Queen stuff – their arrangements are unique and fascinating. Their band impetus and approach is fascinating. What a lush, evocative arrangement… of something completely stupid. One of the best bands ever – everybody knows it. The musicians in the band are just wonderful. Freddie Mercury… after Elvis, probably one of the best frontmen ever. I mean, just flat-out, there’s nothing you can even say about it.”

Kerry Livgren, Proto-Kaw

“When I was with Kansas, we toured with Queen on their first visit to the States and became good friends. They profoundly influenced us, not so much musically, but they taught us how to put on a professional show for the audience. My favourite Queen song is I’m In Love With My Car. It’s an unusual choice, but I’ve been in love with several cars in the past, so it struck a chord.”

INNUENDO

From Innuendo, 1991

Written by Roger Taylor, the dark and complex Innuendo has been called the Bohemian Rhapsody of the 90s.

Mikael Äkerfeldt, Opeth

“I didn’t get into Queen until quite late. At the time of Innuendo’s release [in 1991], it blew all the extreme forms of metal I was listening to out of the water. The album’s great as a whole, but that song’s insanely evocative, brooding and almost evil sounding. Every extreme metalhead I know loves this song! I guess I’ll be representing the whole extreme metal genre by saying that Queen’s music is highly influential for oddities, too.”

IT’S A HARD LIFE

From The Works, 1984

Written by Freddie Mercury, who not only played piano, and did most of the vocals, but even told May how to play his solo.

If you watch the tongue-in-cheek video for this song, the third single released from the album, it definitely has an operatic feel. Why? Because the intro was based on Vesti La Giubba, from the 19th Century opera Pagliacci. Which is why so many people saw this overblown, ceremonious performance as reprising Bohemian Rhapsody.

KEEP YOURSELF ALIVE

From Queen, 1973

Disregarding an oddity disc made as Larry Lurex, Keep Yourself Alive was Freddie Mercury’s first single. Incredibly, it was slated by Record Mirror for ‘lacking originality’. Huh?

Frankie Sullivan, Survivor

“Freddie Mercury was the Van Gogh of rock; everything he did was great. Can you think of anything that was bad? I cut my teeth trying to play Brian May’s licks on that song. It still gives me goose bumps.”

KILLER QUEEN

From Sheer Heart Attack, 1974

“You almost expect Noel Coward to sing it,” said Freddie of Queen’s ode to a high-class call girl. “It’s one of those bowler hat, black suspender belt numbers.”

Chris Squire, Yes

“In the early days of Yes, Bill Bruford [drummer] and I bought our boots from Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor’s stall at Kensington Market. I’ll always remember this guy kneeling down, feeling my toes and saying: ‘I’ve got a little band. We’re rehearsing at the moment’, and I’d reply: ‘Good luck, hope it goes well’. ‘Are those boots feeling okay?’, he’d say. It was Freddie, and I later got to know Roger and Brian, too. Who would have known that Freddie would write so many classic songs? The best was Killer Queen. When it first came out, it was refreshingly original.”

Luke Morley, Thunder

“I still recall hearing it on the radio for the first time. It’s a song that sums up all Queen’s strengths; it has all Freddie’s campness, lots of regal references, vocal harmonies to die for and fantastic multi-layered guitar from Brian May. It’s amusing and incredibly original.”

Clem Burke, Blondie

Sheer Heart Attack was the album of theirs that I fell in love with, and I saw them when they supported Mott The Hoople in New York City. Bohemian Rhapsody kinda put me off them in a way, because it was everywhere. My era of being a Queen fan was a little before that, and I loved Killer Queen because of its pop qualities. It was evocative and provocative – a great combination.”

Vernon Reid, Living Colour

“It’s the first Queen song I ever heard.It blew my mind. The harmonies – the use of harmonised guitar and vocals – it was something that nobody else was doing. They just had this… grandiosity.”

LIAR

From Queen, 1973

A superbly dramatic vehicle for Queen’s harmony vocals, Brian May’s guitar and the band’s ability to tell stories with their music.

Paul Stanley, Kiss

“The first song I heard was Liar. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and that was the song that made it for me. Obviously, they grew into something very different, but I remember hearing that song, and as far as the personality and the sonics of it, it was very impressive to me.

“Later on, it became something else which was equally impressive for other reasons – the diversity and the ability of everybody in that band to write a No.1 song is unmatched.”

LOVE OF MY LIFE

From A Night At The Opera, 1975

A highly emotional staple of the band’s live shows past and present, Brian May plays harp on one lover’s plea to another not to walk away and desert them.

James Christian, House Of Lords

“Part of me wants to choose Bohemian Rhapsody, a song that the whole world loves. But I’m gonna go for Love Of My Life, from that masterpiece of an album A Night At The Opera. It’s a lot less obvious, but what a fantastic, touching song. When I first heard it, it gave me goose bumps. What an incredible vocal performance. If ever there’s a band that deserves its longevity, it’s Queen.”

NO ONE BUT YOU

From Greatest Hits III, 1999

Written by Brian May and recorded with Taylor and Deacon after Freddie’s death, No One But You is the only posthumous song in Queen’s catalogue.

Matt Heafy, Trivium

“Picking my favourite Queen track is like picking my favourite time to breathe air. My favourite Queen songs were usually Freddie Mercury compositions: intricate, moving, sometimes all over the spectrum of music. I originally heard No One But You at the We Will Rock You musical and I’ve been hooked ever since. I believe it’s about Freddie’s relationship with the other members of Queen… It’s heartfelt, catchy and touching. When I think about how empty the world is without Freddie, it literally hurts in a beautiful sort of way.”

NOW I’M HERE

From Sheer Heart Attack, 1974

Lyrically referencing a support slot with Mott The Hoople, the raucous hard rock of Now I’m Here was a great live favourite.

Richard Barbieri, Porcupine Tree

“It’s a song that I think they opened with when I saw them circa the Sheer Heart Attack album. Although Freddie camped it up, and much of their material was delicate, when Queen rocked out they easily rivalled Zeppelin, Sabbath and Purple. It was one of the best gigs `i’ve ever seen.”

OGRE BATTLE

From Queen II, 1974

Heavy as a ton of bricks, Ogre Battle captures Queen in embryonic yet colourful and forceful pomp-rock form.

Rob Halford, Judas Priest

“All I’ve got on my iPod is every single Queen song and every single Priest song. Queen II is my favourite of their albums, and Ogre Battle is perhaps its finest moment. Queen were an incredible heavy metal band. I saw them on their first ever tour, at Birmingham Town Hall. They just blew me away.”

ONE VISION

From A Kind Of Magic, 1986

Featured in the film Iron Eagle, One Vision saw Roger Taylor calling for worldwide peace and unity.

The mother of all set openers, One Vision launched the part Highlander soundtrack, part Queen album that was A Kind Of Magic and was the first single to be released with a ‘written by Queen’ credit. Inspired by their epoch-defining Live Aid performance, the tune is built around a suitably girthsome guitar riff and fleshed out by yet another brilliant vocal performance.

Again the song demonstrates the band’s ability to play within any style and even though the song construction is fairly obvious, the middle eight, composed of electronica and studio trickery, shows off the humour inherent throughout the band’s output and often overlooked. Oh, and your ears aren’t deceiving you; the final lyric is indeed ‘fried chicken’,

motivated by the band’s gnawing hunger after a long day in the studio and the result of some Mercury-led vamping during the recording process.

PLAY THE GAME

From The Game, 1980

Play The Game was the first Queen song to feature a synthesiser, after many years of declaring such technology off limits.

In terms of the actual songwriting, Play The Game is in some ways what might be called one of Queen’s signature songs, along with the likes of Bohemian Rhapsody and We Are The Champions. What those signature songs share is having a part where the melody line takes a huge leap, soaring suddenly to a high note, or climbing in steps (or, in the case of We Are The Champions, both).

Play The Game begins with an almost playful theatricality on two repeated close notes, then the tenth note jumps way up the register. Another huge leap is at the end of the verse, where the melody line hangs (and has you hanging with it) before plummeting vertically. There’s even a third instance, in the swooshing synth sound in the instrumental section. All three are great but subtle hooks.

SAVE ME

From The Game, 1980

Written by Brian May, who also played piano, this is a classic Queen ballad. The video featured some very bleak, distinctive chalk drawings.

The first single from The Game, this came out six months before the album was released. It reached No.11 in the charts, staying there for an amazing six months. In many respects, it’s a typical Queen single, with an over-the-top production [from Mack] that had more in common with the early days than the late 1970s releases.

SEVEN SEAS OF RHYE

From Queen II, 1974

Previewed instrumentally on their debut a year earlier, this ‘finished’ version of the song admirably worked itself up into a froth, complete with seaside singalong finale.

Mick Box, Uriah Heep

“Queen created some of the best stadium rock anthems of our time. We Are The Champions is relevant to every sporting event in the world. It works for the new generation, too, as my four-and-a-half year old boy demands Queen in the car on every journey. Seven Seas Of Rhye is my favourite of their songs. It has great energy and simply bursts with ideas from start to finish.”

Tony Clarkin, Magnum

“As the one that writes all Magnum’s material, I’m fascinated to see other bands in which everyone ended up writing good songs. When Roger Taylor produced the Vigilante album for us, he said they fought like cat and dog over whose song was used as the single. For me, the song that really set up Queen’s career was Seven Seas Of Rhye, a real rocker with fantastic harmonies. I loved the fact that it was on their first album, Queen, and was reprised at the end of Queen II. That was a stroke of genius.”

SHEER HEART ATTACK

From News Of The World, 1977

Queen go punk. And bizarrely, this snotty song wasn’t on the album called Sheer Heart Attack. Go figure.

Rumour has it that the reason this song didn’t feature on the album of the same name is that its composer, drummer Roger Taylor, wasn’t especially keen on relinquishing the lead vocals to the band’s usual singer. Bizarrely, Mercury’s inherent smoothness suits the undeniably punky nature of the tune down to a tee: Taylor’s trademark gravel-throat probably would have been too much, but the drummer did also contribute bass and rhythm guitar. There are more violent Queen tunes, but never anything as in-your-face as this, almost certainly a reaction to punk’s knee-jerk derision of so-called dinosaur bands.

SOMEBODY TO LOVE

From A Day At The Races, 1976

Its thunderous vocal harmonies polished to perfection, Somebody To Love builds magnificently and offers unusual lyrical confessions of loneliness and insecurity.

Geoff Tate, Queensrÿche

“I was asked to record it for a tribute album called Stone Cold Queen. It’s very melodic, but shit, it was a really hard song to sing. Queen did such incredible hard rock stuff, though there was so much else to them.”

STONE COLD CRAZY

From Sheer Heart Attack, 1974

Later covered by Metallica, Stone Cold Crazy is as close to true heavy metal as Queen ever came.

Reb Beach, Whitesnake

“Man, what a chorus. I love that song because the whole band rocks, then everything stops and Freddie uses that amazing voice of his to express a really wordy verse. Only he could have make that sound the way it did.”

Dolf De Datsun, The Datsuns

“Queen can be very overblown, which of course is great, but it’s a great hard rock song. The drumming is fantastic. I love the spooky guitar parts in the background, and those castanets. You don’t pick up on them straight away, but they really make the song work.”

SWEET LADY

From A Night At The Opera, 1975

Brian is known for big guitar riffs, far less so for songs about ladies that have treated him ‘like a dog’ and torn him up inside.

Jim Peterik, Survivor

“Some of Queen’s least-played tunes are among their best. For instance, Sweet Lady from A Night At The Opera. What a great Brian May song, showing off his guitar trademarks and those stacked harmonies; also Freddie’s incredible vocals. The verse, chorus and outro are all in different time signatures; talk about cool. But as Queen always used to say, if something’s worth doing it’s worth overdoing.”

*TENEMENT FUNSTER/FLICK OF THE WRIST/LILY OF THE VALLEY *

From Sheer Heart Attack, 1974

Interwoven as a trilogy, these songs seemingly had little in common lyrically or musically, but mesh surprising well – especially the soul-searching Lily Of The Valley.

Mike Portnoy, Transatlantic/Winery Dogs

“My immediate reaction is to pick something like Death On Two Legs or The Prophet’s Song, which are two of my very favourites…but I think I’ll have to go with a more obscure favourite. This mini-operetta from Sheer Heart Attack was a sign of bigger musical pieces and direction to come. A mini-trilogy of three different songs put together – à la side two of Abbey Road – combining different styles ranging from Roger Taylor’s rocker edginess to Freddie Mercury’s theatrical romantic.”

THE MILLIONAIRE WALTZ

From A Day At The Races, 1976

A camp and quirky slice of whimsy from the pen of Mr Mercury. It’s light-hearted as hell, but proof of the band’s in-depth talent.

Michael Weikath, Helloween

“I could’ve chosen Keep Yourself Alive or The Great King Rat, but A Day At The Races is such an incredibly arranged album, with a wonderful mood. I didn’t buy my copy of it until early in 1979, but I still remember playing it all the time as spring became summer.”

THESE ARE THE DAYS OF OUR LIVES

From Innuendo, 1991

His health worsening by the day, Freddie was able to throw himself into Roger Taylor’s heart-wrenchingly poignant lyric of a man looking back on all he’s achieved.

Dave Hill, Slade

“What a poignant song, and what incredible lyrics. Freddie sang about not being able to turn back the clock and laying back and enjoying life through your kids, when of course he knew he was going to die. He was well aware of what he was going through. Those were the days of his life, and his songs are still a big part of ours. It’a very reflective time when somebody dies, but Queen’s music has kept Freddie alive in spirit.”

39

From A Night At The Opera, 1975

Inspired by a science fiction tale of time dilation, Brian May’s acoustic-based 39 remains among Queen’s most oddly endearing moments.

Dan Hawkins, The Darkness

“It’s always been my favourite song. My dad used to have this old, beaten-up MG, but it had a really nice stereo and I vividly remember him putting in his cassette of A Night At The Opera. It was already at the song 39, the harmonies and arrangement of which promptly blew my mind. After that I was obsessed with music and Queen.”

TIE YOUR MOTHER DOWN

From A Day At The Races, 1976

Its surging riff influenced by Rory Gallagher, Brian expected Freddie to change the song’s working title. He didn’t.

A stalwart of the Queen setlist, those used to the frenetic pace of live adaptations will be pleasantly surprised by the far groovier album version, opening the record after an almost unbearably tense build-up. Trivia tells us that, during the video shoot, Taylor was blown off his stool by some inadvisably-placed pyrotechnics and, coincidentally, the American and Japanese editions of the song as a single were backed by what is arguably the worst Queen song ever; Drowse

Joe Elliott, Def Leppard

“It’s a song that I wish Leppard had written; it’s got the drums and guitars just the way we like them. Brian [May] played it with us at Hammersmith on our last tour. It’s hard to choose between that one and Now I’m Here, butI’ll go with Tie Your Mother Down as my favourite Queen song just for its thrashiness – by their standards it’s pretty rough and ready.”

James ‘JY’ Young, Styx

“Freddie Mercury was so great at making songs of things that would potentially offend large groups of people, by that I mean something like Fat Bottomed Girls. Tie Your Mother Down was another of those inflammatory titles, but you’d really have to search around to find a better uptempo rock song. It’s like a drag racer, and you can’t wait for the light to turn green.”

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS

From News Of The World, 1977

If ever there was a song about beating insurmountable odds, look no further than We Are The Champions, Mercury’s national anthem to underdogs making good.

Ross Valory, Journey

“Freddie Mercury was the only guy in rock that could do all that ‘Figaro, Figaro, Figaro’ operatic stuff and get away with it. With him, it was no mere pantomime. He nailed it every time, and We Are The Champions is the best summation of that.”

WE WILL ROCK YOU

From News Of The World, 1977

This song has no actual recorded drums. Its memorable beat was derived purely from studio handclaps and foot-stomps.

John Cale

“It’s my favourite of theirs because it’s so ubiquitous. It’s played at sporting events, but it can stand for anything. Whenever you want to make a statement of just about any kind, it’s a song that can be sung.”

Scott Gorham, Blck Star Riders

“We toured quite a lot with Queen, they always used to play it and it’s Queen at their rockiest. It was always a cool and memorable part of their set; they cranked up the drums, Brian ripped out that big ol’ guitar chord, and I love the way that Freddie used to spit out the lyrics.”

WHO WANTS TO LIVE FOREVER

From A Kind Of Magic, 1986

Brian May’s eloquently expressed rebuttal of the need for eternal life appeared in the Highlander movie, assuming a new and unwelcome tone on November 24, 1991.

Bruce Dickinson, Iron Maiden

“I love Who Wants To Live Forever simply because of the beautiful vocal melody, the way it continues to lift and lift as the song progresses. The first time I heard this song, it made me cry.”

YOU’RE MY BEST FRIEND

From A Night At The Opera, 1975

Written by John Deacon about the woman he’d marry, it could also perhaps be viewed as a sentimental conversation between two old pals at pub throwing out time.

David Bielanko, Marah

“It was a three-minute pop song from the A Night At The Opera album. written by bassist John Deacon and features some of the most amazing three- and four-part vocal and guitar harmonies. Freddie Mercury’s lead vocal has a lot of special effects, but it’s also a very passionate performance.”

RADIO GA GA

From The Works, 1984

Written by Roger Taylor after overhearing his three-year- old son saying “radio poo-poo”, this ultra-rhythmic anthem topped the charts in 19 different countries.

Among the huge amounts of good Bob Geldof’s first Live Aid did, one was to bring Queen back from the brink and reinvigorate them as a creative force. “Live Aid proved a great tonic for us.” Taylor said in an interview in The Sun six months later. “Now we can’t wait to hit the stage again.”

The reason for this effect on the band was, stripped of all their usual live paraphernalia and reduced to just the four of them on stage, Mercury owned Wembley from the moment he stepped on the stage. The set ran like a greatest hits outing and the sight of 72,000 pairs of hands raised aloft during Radio Ga Ga and We Will Rock You remains the single most enduring image of that day.

Glenn Hughes

“It’s got to be Radio Ga Ga, a well rounded and beautifully written song made even more famous still at their Live Aid gig at Wembley.

“I’m a big fan of Queen. Last year Brian May invited my wife and I to the Las Vegas premiere of We Will Rock You and I sang Stone Cold Crazy with Brian and Roger Taylor at the after-show party. Queen are one of simply one of the greatest, most original bands of all time.”

Alan Reed

“Specifically, this would be the version they performed at Live Aid’s Wembley show in 1985. They’d gone off in a poppier direction, but seeing perform this one live was just awesome. Pallas, my band at the time, were in a studio in London’s Willesden Green during the Live Aid concert. We could hear Wembley through the window, but watched Freddie on the telly at the top of his game with 60,000-odd people doing the famous clap-along. Any singer who says he doesn’t feel inadequate next to that is a liar.”

UNDER PRESSURE

From Hot Space, 1982

Recorded with David Bowie, Roger Taylor is right to call this song “one of the very best things Queen have done”.

The first time Queen collaborated with another artist they got their second UK No.1. Both Queen and David Bowie happened to be in Montreux in October 1981 and according to Swiss promoter Claude Nobs: “We had a big barbeque at my house with wine and the weather was beautiful and at midnight I said to them: ‘Why don’t you go to the studio and do something?’. They looked at me and said: ‘What do you mean?’ .And I said: ‘You don’t always have Queen and David Bowie together so why don’t you go into the studio and see what you can do?’.”

By next morning they’d recorded the song. It’s underpinned by one of the finest bass lines in pop history from John Deacon, but most of the arrangements were done by Mercury whose soaring vocals, while a perfect complement to Bowie’s, steal the show spectacularly. Bowie apparently wanted to re-record it all, but Queen’s sense of spontaneity prevailed.

Andy Powell, Wishbone Ash

“It’s a killer riff and I often find myself whistling it when I myself am under pressure. It’s fantastic when an artist – or two in this case – comes up with a lyric that affects situations in real life.”

Russell Mael, Sparks

“It wasn’t one that they did on their own, which makes it a little more interesting. Bowie’s contribution really helped to make that song into something special.”

Mick Thompson, Slipknot

Under Pressure is an awesome fucking song. There’s a lot in the way of dynamics, and it’s very moody. What I don’t like is if you’re ever playing it, and someone under the age of 28 hears it, they automatically think of Vanilla Ice. And I get almost violent!”

This was published in Classic Rock issue 98.