Picking Queen’s 10 best songs is a tough task by anyone’s standards. So, what we need is a person who lives and breathes their music, has the band’s portraits inked into their knuckles and has worn possibly more catsuits than the late, great Freddie Mercury.
Step forward, Justin Hawkins. Rather than pick the obvious tracks that populate their three Greatest Hits albums, The Darkness frontman has approached this list by way of picking an ultimate playlist and has largely selected the deepest cuts from their back catalogue.
DANCER (Hot Space, 1982) Hot Space is a misunderstood album really. It’s kind of dismissed as the disco album and people don’t like it because it’s a departure, but there are some moments on there that are really fantastic. There’s a brilliant guitar solo on Dancer, which I think is kind of Queen’s The Stroke – you know, the Billy Squier song. That’s Queen’s version of that. It’s the same producer, and there are lots of elements that are quite similar. It’s got a brilliant chorus, a great guitar solo, and it’s a great song to work out to.
THE KISS (AURA RESURRECTS FLASH) (Flash Gordon, 1980) This is a beautiful, John Barry-esque instrumental piece with some really, really high singing in it – the voice is used like a Theremin would be used in these sorts of arrangements. The whole soundtrack is really atmospheric and beautiful anyway, but The Kiss is the best moment for me.
GOOD OLD-FASHIONED LOVER BOY (A Day At The Races, 1976) The vocal arrangement on this song sounds like nothing else any other rock band has done before. It’s light-hearted, sexually ambiguous, and I just love it.
MUSTAPHA (Jazz, 1978) The opening track on Jazz. It sounds like Freddie’s singing in Arabic at the start. But then perhaps he’s not. It doesn’t really matter either way; you can still sing along to it, and it’s a great excuse for the band to demonstrate their spectacular dynamics. And just when you think it can’t get any louder, it suddenly gets a lot louder, and that happens two or three times throughout the song – it’s brilliant. It’s a Roy Thomas Baker production as well, and a great introduction to a really diverse album.
39 (A Night At The Opera, 1975) 39 is a song that Brian May sings, and it seems to be about time travel and World War One. There’s some really strange science-fiction melodies to it, but then it’s also straight folk with these really interesting twists. It’s hard to pinpoint what it’s really trying to say, but it’s beguiling and I can’t stop listening to it still.
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IN THE LAP OF THE GODS (Sheer Heart Attack, 1974) If I could choose the whole Sheer Heart Attack album then I would, but if I had to pick one song it’d be In The Lap Of The Gods – part one, I guess. It’s interesting because it doesn’t have a usual structure where you’ve got like a verse and chorus, and they’ve affected Freddie’s vocals so that his voice appears much lower and doomier than it normally would. And after the chaotic, tempestuous intro there’s this massive harmony on In The Lap Of The Gods in stereo that goes from in front, to the side, behind and back around you. Considering this was done in the mid-70s, it’s amazing.
IT’S LATE (News Of The World, 1977) When we had the chance to play with Brian (May) recently we were really hoping to play this song, but it’s not one of the more known ones so I think there was a slight reluctance to go there. But I love this song. It’s really long; there’s loads of different movements in it, it’s got a brilliant guitar solo that goes on for ages, and a huge drum fill as well, which all the best Queen songs should have. They produced that album themselves as well, so it’s an impressive feat in that respect too.
DRAGON ATTACK (The Game, 1980) This was the album where I think they were experimenting with a different musical identity, and obviously it’s when Freddie stopped wearing the lycra which is why on the front cover they’re all wearing leather jackets. But if you look carefully all the jackets are quite different, so even that’s well observed. Dragon Attack has that amazing walking bass line and a really complicated drum pattern too. And it’s my DJ set opener – it’s an obscure song but a floor-filler, which tells you a lot about the groove.
IT’S A HARD LIFE (The Works, 1984) This was from The Works album and the video was directed by Tim Pope – it was probably the last time we saw Freddie in a cat suit. He was wearing that red one with all the eyeballs on it, and he had a great big giant mullet wig – a mega mullet if you like. It was super long, super high at the top, and it was just a really inspirational piece of work as both a song and as a video.
YOU TAKE MY BREATH AWAY (A Day At The Races, 1976) The last one is really important actually, and I’ve just remembered what it should be. It’s from A Day At The Races, and so much from that album is really good, but I have to choose You Take My Breath Away. I saw footage of Freddie doing it live first of all, and it was already really good, but when you hear the record it’s got this amazing vocal arrangement at the top of it, and nobody else can do this, check this out…(he precedes to play the intro on his phone) That makes me cry every time I listen to it – apart from this time because I’m being a man in front of TeamRock.