From 1971 to 1991 Freddie Mercury, Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor wrote and recorded many of the world’s sharpest pop songs, sweetest ballads and grandest rock anthems, as well as a versatile swathe of assiduous musical experimentation taking in funk, punk, disco, calypso, opera, blues, ambient, gospel, music hall and more; an eclectic range of influences and passions were put through the Queen grinder and came out sounding like no other band. Arguably, though, Queen were best at heavy metal, as this celebratory top ten proves…
Silver Salmon (unreleased, c.1972)
An extremely rare acetate of a song originating in May and Taylor’s former group Smile (written by frontman Tim Stafell), this cryptic, dusky ode to a spaceship has a thrillingly raw, underground garage-demo sound wholly removed from Queen’s usual meticulous studio wizardry, plus a proto-NWOBHM riff, pummelling drums and a cracked scream from Freddie that’s completely unique (and weirdly reminiscent of Dani Filth).
Son And Daughter (Queen, 1973)
Rumbling seductively on a gargantuan Iommi-school doom riff (later half-inched by sludge hooligans Iron Monkey for their song House Anxiety), Brian May’s Son And Daughter is a dirty stoner blues metal snarl with an impassioned thud and unusually direct lyrics (“The world expects a man to buckle down and shovel shit”). The BBC session version incorporates Brian’s echo-drenched extended solo, but removes the word ‘shit’.
Ogre Battle (Queen II, 1974)
Lyrically Queen’s first two albums were based around Freddie Mercury’s epic, fantastical bespoke mythology of kings and queens, senators and messengers, fairies and ogres. It culminates in this thrilling tale with a spectacularly metal title reflected in its pulverising proto-thrash riff and furious gallop, plus a dizzying backwards intro and the screaming, clashing sound of giants in combat.
Stone Cold Crazy (Sheer Heart Attack, 1974)
Introduced to a new generation of young metalheads when Metallica covered it on the B-side of Enter Sandman, Freddie’s vocal on the 1974 original (the only Queen song credited to the whole band until the late ‘80s) was rather more playful and camp than Hetfield’s, but that ripping machine-gun riff and speedy headbanging tempo still mark this out as an early metal classic.
Death On Two Legs (A Night At The Opera, 1975)
An incandescent song of hate from the poison pen of Mercury (later covered by Dream Theater and Bay Area thrashers Heathen), with barbed shards of malevolent guitar stabbing out of punchy piano as Freddie wraps his acid tongue around lines like “Insane, should be put inside, you’re a sewer rat decaying in a cesspool of pride” (dedicated to the band’s first manager!)
White Man (A Day At The Races, 1976)
A proto-Run To The Hills protest song about the massacre of native Americans by invading paleface imperialists; as befits its sombre subject White Man is dark, doomy, brooding and scornful, with a powerful percussive stomp, wailing leads and a simple but ineffably mighty riff. Freddie once introduced it live as “A real bitch of a song, it really gets to the nodules.”
Sheer Heart Attack (News Of The World, 1977)
An artful spoof of the flourishing punk trend – which in 1977 had relegated Queen to has-been status at 30 in the eyes of the inverted-snob rock media – Sheer Heart Attack offers a perfect sonic realisation of an album title from ‘74, with blistering jackhammer guitars, a frantic rasping beat and lyrics bristling with wry teenage disaffection cliches (“I feel so inar-inar-inar-inar-inar-inarticulate!”).
Dead On Time (Jazz, 1978)
This overlooked energetic deep-cut from Queen’s last album of the ‘70s was virtually beating a path towards speed metal, or a glam rock stomp at five times the speed, voltage and adrenaline. Piled high with May’s heroic fireworks, Taylor’s whirling elastic fills and Mercury’s rapid-fire delivery, the HM quotient is ramped up even further by the “You’re dead!” thunderstorm ending.
Was It All Worth It? (The Miracle, 1989)
Although on record Queen’s rock softened in the ‘80s, occasional air-guitar anthems like Hammer To Fall and One Vision got harder and tougher onstage, where Queen continued to reign. But at the end of their poppiest album, after innocuous ‘80s synth chimes, they unleash their heaviest metal riff in over a decade on this jubilant, emotional and virtually Maidenesque swashbuckler with a rapturous classical mid-section.
The Hitman (Innuendo, 1991)
Sequenced for maximum impact – blasting in all guns blazing after the soft fade on Freddie’s light-hearted love song to his cat, Delilah – The Hitman’s aggressive opening volley of insistent chords and meaty, swaggering riff perfectly express the violence of the ruthless gun-for-hire lyrics, thought by many to be the frontman’s veiled reference to the HIV that was soon to take his life.