Why it's time to add Queen's Live Killers to the pantheon of truly great live albums

Freddie Mercury onstage at the Lewisham Odeon in 1979
Freddie Mercury onstage at the Lewisham Odeon in 1979 (Image credit: Fraser Gray / Alamy Stock Photo)

By the end of the 1970s Queen had become a true-blood mainstream band, the kind who regularly enjoyed making a significant dent in the pop charts. So it wouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone if their live shows has started to suffer. Fat chance: the double Live Killers album was all the proof anyone needed that Queen were one of the best live bands of the era, with enough fire in their collective belly to teach anyone a few tricks.

Queen always had a reputation as a phenomenal live band, mixing individual musical virtuosity with the brilliant flamboyance of Freddie Mercury, and Live Killers captures the essence of that magic. The crowd is mixed loud enough to make its presence felt, but never too high to overshadow the likes of classics like We Will Rock You and Don’t Stop Me Now.

The former opens up, with a metallic, bombastic and ferocious delivery that simply stuns. The inspired medley of Death On Two Legs, Killer Queen, Bicycle Race and I’m In Love With My Car works so well you’d swear this was the way the songs were created. 

Throughout, Brian May’s guitar work is outstanding, complementing Freddie Mercury’s soaring voice. Among the highlights are a magnificent rendition of Keep Yourself Alive, a concussive delve into Tie Your Mother Down, and the inevitable showpiece Bohemian Rhapsody, while Love Of My Life – performed poignantly as a May/Mercury duet – turns into an audience singalong of epic proportions. It all ends with the two punch combination of the more traditional version of We Will Rock You followed by an avowedly triumphant We Are The Champions.

The absence of any visual cues only serves to heighten Queen’s audacity, and it’s astonishing to recall that when Live Killers was originally released, the reaction to it was somewhat muted. In fact, certain reviewers – perhaps distracted by the removal of the studio gloss of the original songs – suggested it was a pale representation of what the band were capable of delivering onstage. They were wrong, and the album now stands as one of the best double live albums of the era.

The band mixed this album themselves, and subsequently dismissed their own work as inadequate. But, if truth be told, it's the very lack of undue finessing that makes the album great, allowing Live Killers to exist as a genuine representation of a great live band at their absolute peak, cylinders furiously pumping, forever carved in wax. 

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