40. It’s A Hard Life (The Works, 1984)
This The Works single was written in every sense 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 has an undeniably operatic feel, thanks in no small part to the intro being based on Vesti La Giubba, from the 19th Century opera Pagliacci. This is precisely why so many people saw this deliciously flamboyant, ceremonious performance as reprising Bohemian Rhapsody.
However, not everyone enjoyed the song or its video: "It's obvious that Roger and John are miserable throughout the video, scowling and grumbling to each other," writes Georg Purvis. Still, Mercury was proud of the end result, its pomp and grandeur making it one of his The Works favourites.
39. White Queen (As It Began) (Queen II, 1974)
Purportedly inspired by British poet Robert Graves' The White Goddess, May later admitted it was really about a girl he'd fancied at school: "I remember being totally in love with this girl from biology, and I never ever talked to her...I [was] dared to ask out this girl, and she became a lifelong friend, it's very strange."
Still, his mix of acoustic guitar, thumping proto-metal and woozy instrumentation, blended with Mercury's silky vocals, gives the whole song a depth and density which pointed towards the brilliant power of May and Mercury's developing songwriting partnership.
38. Death On Two Legs (Dedicated To…) (A Night At The Opera, 1975)
Truly the biggest 'fuck you' ever committed to tape, this ferocious takedown was inspired by the band’s former management company, of whom Freddie once famously pouted: “One leaves them behind like one leaves excreta.” Pure venom and bile, Mercury makes no attempt at sugarcoating how he feels about his subject matter: 'Feel good? Are you satisfied? You're a sewer rat decaying in a cesspool of pride / Should be made unemployed, then make yourself null and void.' Ouch.
“The first Queen song that really turned me on was Death On Two Legs," Todd Rundgren told us. "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.”
37. Breakthru (The Miracle, 1989)
At the time this single was released, Mercury had been diagnosed with Aids, although this remained a closely guarded secret within Queen’s inner circle. "I expect [critics] to say we’re an arrogant bunch of bastards like they usually do," said May upon its release. "The Miracle isn’t supposed to be us, it’s supposed to be something that we’re looking for – peace on Earth – and that will be lambasted as crass idealism. But there you go."
The critics could say what they liked – the fans loved it. Starting off with a delicate piano intro, the song soon gives way to a rollicking, upbeat rocker. Also, listen out for that Boys Of Summer-inspired chord sequence. "I very much like this track," said May at the time. "It's a Roger track, full of energy."
36. Keep Yourself Alive (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? With its innovative tape phasing and Pinball Wizard-inspired studio trickery, it was anything but. Its galloping riffs, banks of multi-tracked guitars, call-and-response vocals and killer chorus also made it a firm live favourite.
It’s also a majestic example of May’s studio perfectionism, proving that the band had a heightened sense of grandiosity from the off. May was harder to please though, regretting later that “it never had that magic that it should’ve had.”
“Freddie Mercury was the Van Gogh of rock; everything he did was great" Survivor's Frankie Sullivan told us. "Can you think of anything that was bad? I cut my teeth trying to play Brian May’s licks on this song. It still gives me goose bumps.”
35. Brighton Rock (Sheer Heart Attack, 1974)
Sheer Heart Attack opener Brighton Rock (working titles: Bognor Ballad, Southend Sea Scout and Happy Little Fuck) was bookended by a picaresque tale of two seaside lovers sung in high and low registers by Mercury.
With its fairground noises, choppy guitar riff, helium-tinged vocals, May eventually adopted Brighton Rock as his guitar showcase. "I'd gotten away from listening to Hendrix quite a bit by then," he told the BBC in 1984. "I'd like to think that that was more sort of developing my style, really. Particularly the solo bit in the middle, which I'd been doing on the Mott The Hoople tour and sort of gradually expanded and has got more and more ever since. Although I keep trying to throw it out, it keeps creeping back in."
“It was the first thing I heard them play," Nazareth's Pete Agnew told us. "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.”
34. You Take My Breath Away (A Day At The Races, 1976)
Another song on this list to have been inspired by Queen's first trip to Japan, this one drew upon the Japanese Pentatonic scale for its melody. Written with Mercury's then-partner David Minns in mind, it's a delicate, plaintive piano-driven love song in the most classically Queen sense, and one that doesn't hold back in letting the protagonist know exactly how into him Mercury really was.
"It did literally take my breath away when I first heard it," said The Struts' Luke Spiller. "The opening sequence, the vocal stacking, the notes Freddie hit. I remember specifically learning how to go into my falsetto range from that song – it showed me things I could do with my voice that I didn’t know I could do."
33. Seven Seas Of Rhye (Queen II, 1974)
Oh, we do like to be beside the seaside. Previewed instrumentally on their debut a year earlier, this ‘finished’ version of the song admirably worked itself up into a fizzing, piano-led froth, complete with seaside singalong finale. Stuffed with gleeful energy and bursting with innovative ideas, it was one of Mercury's favourites, despite the scathing reviews Queen had already grown to expect.
"For me, the song that really set up Queen’s career was Seven Seas Of Rhye, Magnum's Tony Clarkin told us. "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."
32. Princes Of The Universe (A Kind Of Magic, 1986)
Recorded as part of the Highlander soundtrack, this song has many of the glossy 80s movie score calling cards you might expect, but with all the stomping, overtly theatrical Queen pomp you might not. No strangers to soundtracks, of course – though it's worth noting not a single song from Flash Gordon made it into this list – Queen knew how to deliver what a movie demanded, and this song, with it's hard-edged metallic riffs and creeping sense of unease, is one of the heaviest the band produced in the 80s. At a time when the band were utterly preoccupied with twinkly piano numbers and radio-friendly pop rock, it was a glorious reminder that the band still knew how to rock. Hard.
31. One Vision (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.
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.