20. Spread Your Wings (News Of The World, 1977)
Another number from the pen of John Deacon, this '78 single charted poorly upon release (reaching a mere 34 in the UK charts) but as its placing here indicates, has become a firm fan favourite in the 40 years since it made its debut. Following the story of a troubled youth stuck in a dead end job, the narrator urges the young man to spread his wings and fly away, to a soundtrack of twinkly keys and acoustic guitar before the song's stomping chorus kicks in.
“I liked a lot of John’s songs," ex-Queen roadie Peter Hince told us. "The big ones, of course, are Another One Bites The Dust and I Want To Break Free. In the end, though, I think Spread Your Wings is John’s best song. I never cared that much for the power ballads – those songs with really big dynamics, going from something like a lullaby into these huge crescendos. But there was something different about Spread Your Wings. It was like a power ballad, but it had more emotion in it.”
19. I Want It All (The Miracle, 1989)
The Miracle's lead single, I Want It All had rock fans the world over breathing a sigh of relief. A hard-edged, stomping rocker stuffed full with squealing solos and hefty riffs, it reprised the band's classic rock-focussed sound. "I Want It All re-establishes our old image in a way," chief writer May said of the track in 1989. "It's nice to come back with something strong. Something that reminds people we're a live group."
On the surface written about a group of disillusioned youths longing for a better life, May admitted it was actually inspired by a source closer to home: "It was just this riff that I was obsessed with for months. The actual title was a favourite phrase of Anita's, a very ambitious girl: 'I want it all, and I want it now.'"
18. The Prophet's Song (A Night At The Opera, 1975)
Just about as close to true prog as Queen ever got, this eight minute May-written epic was originally conceived in four parts, which goes some way to explaining its scattershot voyage. It moves from delicate acoustic guitar strums and plucked strings to heavy, rocking arpeggiated riffs and layered vocal harmonies, then to its two-and-a-half minute a cappella interlude around the 3:25 mark, and then back into a guitar solo-laden hard rock wig out, before a 30 second reprise of that delicate acoustic guitar. Phew. It's an exhaustive profile of everything Queen did best, full of trademark prowess and ambition. It's little wonder it's one of Mike Portnoy's favourite Queen songs.
"I had a dream about what seemed like revenge on people," explained May of the song. "I couldn't really work out in the dream what it was that people had done wrong. It was something like a flood. In the dream, people were walking on the streets trying to touch each other's hands, desperate to try to make some sign that they were caring about other people. I felt that the trouble must be – and this is one of my obsessions anyway – that people don't make enough contact with each other."
17. Hammer To Fall (The Works, 1984)
Still depressingly prescient today, this The Works track was written by May as a response to the world's war-minded, trigger-happy leaders and the grinding futility of conflict. A rousing rocker inspired by Samuel Beckett's 1953 play Waiting For Godot, the lyrics play upon many of the fears felt by those living in the shadow of the Cold War and the threat of nuclear action from the USSR (that hammer that's falling? Think back to the Soviet's hammer and sickle insignia and it all falls into place).
Almost tailor-made for the live arena, it's little wonder this track was one of the highlights of Queen's show-stealing performance at Live Aid in 1985.
16. Another One Bites The Dust (The Game, 1980)
Another One Bites The Dust topped the US ‘black’ chart and allegedly contains backwards-masked messages which may or may not tell listeners that ‘It’s fun to smoke marijuana’. A dirty take on disco-funk, its simple and compact vocal runs in tandem with Deacon's bass and May's tight, jagged riffs. Combined with a simple, driving drum beat that barely has a single fill, it's simplicity in its purest, most effective form. Believe it or not, it was actually Deacon who penned this song and introduced the band to funk in the process.
"I'd listened to a lot of soul music when I was in school, and I've always been interested in that sort of music," said Deacon upon the song's release. "I'd been wanting to do a track like [this] for a while, but originally all I had was the line and the bass riff. Gradually, I filled it in and the band added ideas. I could hear it as a song for dancing but had no idea it would become as big as it did."
15. We Will Rock You (News Of The World, 1977)
An innocent coincidence, perhaps, but the fact that the song used the pronoun ‘We’ in this News Of The World single said a great deal about how the band saw themselves in terms of their own loyal fan base, and the slings and arrows they had suffered on their behalf.
Hoping to get back to their roots and peel back some of the layers of over-production that had plagued criticism of their most recent albums, WWRY was engineered to show the band's more "spontaneous side", and is a real statement of a song packed into two minutes as a result. With its captivating ‘boom-boom-tush’ rhythm and whiplash vocals, topped off by that marvellously bugling guitar solo, it was the first real rock anthem to gain traction since the heyday of what we now think of as classic rock. Populist, all-inclusive, this was the ‘come on in, the water’s fine’ rock anthem at its most affecting. A song for the people to sing along to; to clap their hands and stamp their feet to.
Incidentally, this song has no actual recorded drums. Its memorable beat was derived purely from studio handclaps and foot-stomps. The fast version is well worth a listen, too.
14. Fat Bottomed Girls (Jazz, 1978)
Having only really flirted with the idea of sex in their music up until this point – though as Brian May pointed out, "in our music, sex is either implied or referred to semi-jokingly, but it's always there" – Queen went all out in this lead single from Jazz, in which Brian May conjures up a riff every bit as seductive and awe-inspiring as the song’s tongue-in-cheek, risqué subject matter.
A rallying cry for the appreciation of chubby cheeked women across the land, the bluesy guitar riff calls upon the likes of The Rolling Stones' Honky Tonk Women set against a jangly, southern-fried soundtrack.
"I wrote it with Fred in mind," said May in 2008. "As you do, especially when you've got a singer who likes fat bottomed girls... or boys."
13. The March Of The Black Queen (Queen II, 1974)
Another of Mercury's proggier numbers, The March Of The Black Queen channels his love for bombastic storytelling to its fullest, clocking in at way over six minutes and documenting another flamboyant tale of fairy expeditions – a consistent theme on his side of Queen II. This is one of the two Queen songs written with polyrhythm/polymeter – the other being Bohemian Rhapsody – leading to many fans to crown it BH's precursor, especially thanks to that ever-so-similar outro at 5:40. It's become a firm fan favourite as a result.
Much like many of the songs on Queen II, its mind-bogglingly complex structure kept it from being performed live. It was also a key example of the band's lack of self-restraint when it came to over-production in the early days: "Those were the days of the 16-track studios," said Mercury in 1977. "Before, when we did so many overdubs on 16 track, it was like we just kept piling it on and on. The tape went transparent because it couldn't take anymore. I think it snapped in two places, as well."
12. We Are The Champions (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.
The ‘We’ in We Are The Champions was again meant as a collective 'you and me' salute to fans – an in it together banner call, but with more subtle, reflective intentions. With its lines about having ‘paid my dues’ and ‘done my sentence, but committed no crime’ Mercury both invites us in to share his lonely bubble, and speaks up for us with his defiant declaration that ‘we’ are the champions, ‘my friends’. Heart pounding, arms-aloft salutes, seated at the piano, head thrown back like Judy Garland, Freddie would be both martyr to the cause and friend-indeed.
“I can understand some people saying We Are The Champions was bombastic,” allowed May some years later. “But it wasn’t saying Queen are the champions, it was saying all of us are. It made the concert like a football match, but with everyone on the same side.”
Or as Freddie put it laughingly in an interview with the Daily Mail in the aftermath of the song’s gigantic success: “To some people I’m still a bitch. I enjoy being a bitch. I enjoy being surrounded by bitches. I certainly don’t go looking for the most perfect people. I’d find that boring. I’m like a mad dog about town. I like to enjoy life.”
11. Radio Ga Ga (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 remains the single most enduring image of that day.