QUEEN’s catalogue, from bottom to top

Bohemian Rhapsody (the movie) has just been released in the UK, the long-in-development biopic of Freddie Mercury and Queen. The movie promises a heavy dose of the band’s unique sound and music, which makes this the perfect time for potential new fans to get on board and love, as I do, one of the very best bands of the 70’s and 80’s, fronted by arguably THE best vocalist in rock history.

Queen has a catalogue of fifteen studio albums. There are also live albums, bootlegs, greatest hits compilations and other selected works, but let’s stick to the fifteen that buttered the bands’ bread from 1973-1995. If you want to get into the band, of course, I’d start with the first Greatest Hits album. It might surprise you how many songs you know very well were sung by Freddie and Queen. After that, you simply must check out the band’s fifteen studio albums. Naturally, you should listen to them in order, to feel their evolution across the decades.

Nevertheless, if you’re pressed for time, and just want a quick breakdown, here is my (scientific and perfect and no other one needed) ranking of their albums from bottom to top…

THE BOTTOM FIVE

15. Flash (1980)

The soundtrack to the infamously putrid Flash Gordon movie features very little vocalizing and hits the bottom because it is, essentially, just a soundtrack. That said, the title track is catchier than it has any right to be and it—paired with The Hero—is at least worth a listen…

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14. Hot Space (1982)

This was the band’s biggest misfire, as Freddie pushed the rest to dabble in what he called “the black/funk sound.” The greatest sin on the album is that the new sound reduced Brian May’s role from a major player to supporting artist. Queen was not just the Freddie Mercury show; it’s a perfect team effort of Freddie’s inhuman vocals (and fantastical writing style), Brian May’s stunning guitar solos and sharp writing style (and warm, jazzy voice), Roger Taylor’s witty writing style (and killer falsetto), and John Deacon’s great bass playing (and underrated, bit-of-everything writing style). The band worked best when all four parts shared the load evenly; on Hot Space they do not and the album suffers because of it.

Side-B is better than the flip-side but there’s not enough good to redeem it. That being said, it’s clear when you listen to Side-A how much the album influenced Michael Jackson (as the King of Pop claimed) as he was working on Thriller. The best tracks however are a Brian May penned power ballad, The Words of Love, and the only song anyone knows from the album, the David Bowie duet, Under Pressure

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13. Queen (1973)

The band’s debut album shows only a little of the magic that would put them on top of the world just a few years later. Their sound can best be described as “Led Zepplin with a lot of glam.” Freddie’s voice is electric but at the same time feels like untapped potential. It’s a solid album but mostly unspectacular.

Keep Yourself Alive is the first track and was the band’s first single; it went nowhere on the charts but is looked back on today as a great little rocker. A personal favorite of mine on the album is Jesus, which is a regular tune in my car around Christmastime…

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12. A Kind of Magic (1986)

After the success of LIVE AID, Queen returned to the studio to record again, this time with a feeling of renewed purpose. The result was an album that doubled as a quasi-soundtrack to the movie Highlander. The songs are an interesting mix of styles. There are the big “anthemic” songs that Queen made famous with We Will Rock You and Radio Gaga, there are some “very-80’s synth” tunes to give the album a drilled-in place in time, and there are the songs inspired by the movie, which end up, ironically, being some of the best of the bunch. It’s an odd mix, not bad but far from the band’s best output.

Friends Will Be Friends is the standout, and though it’s clearly an attempt to recreate We Are The Champions, it works in spite of itself, because it—like so many others in Queen’s catalogue—is just so infectiously sing-alongy…

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11. Innuendo (1991)

The last album completed while Mercury was alive, Innuendo is partially a farewell letter and a bittersweet recognition that the band still had a lot left in the tank if it wasn’t for Freddie’s rapidly-deteriorated health. The title track is a unique one, resembling Bohemian Rhapsody at least in ambition and composition (though not it sound). Rockers like Headlong, I Can’t Live With You, and Ride the Wild Wind are as good as anything the band had done in years.

There’s a very late 80’s/early-90’s sound that may be off-putting today, but it was in keeping with the era. The album is at times great, in fact, but it also has a little too much fat that needed trimming (including not one but two songs penned by Freddie in honor of his freaking cats). Other than the title track, the ballads are where the album shines, with I’m Going Slightly Mad showing how much creativity there still was in Mercury’s nearly-dead body and mind, and These Are the Days of Our Lives revealing, in the music video, just how little life he had left…

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THE MIDDLE FOUR

10. The Miracle (1989)

The Miracle gets a bum rap among Queen fans, who see the album as mediocre. There isn’t really one big song that propels the album to the top of anyone’s ranking. That being said, there also isn’t a skippable track on the record either. Every song is at least good and a few, while not necessarily the band’s most memorable works, are nonetheless still worth more love:

The best compliment to give an album of mostly-forgotten songs is that each of them, when you hear them, trigger something in your brain that makes you think you’ve known the song forever though you’ve only heard it for the first time…

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09. Jazz (1978)

Jazz is, in many ways, the equal to Innuendo. Both albums have glaring flaws while also having songs good enough to make you ignore the misfires. Jazz gets a higher notch on the list simply because its best songs are some of the band’s very best songs ever.

The sublime Fat Bottomed Girls, the surreal Bicycle Race, and of course, the seemingly-autobiographical Don’t Stop Me Now (my personal favorite Queen song) make this almost a self-contained greatest hits album. Throw in the criminally underrated Leaving Home Ain’t Easy (which could hit the radio today and wouldn’t feel out of place) and you’ve got an album for the ages (albeit one with more than a few forgettable tracks)…

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08. Made in Heaven (1995)

Released four years after Freddie’s death, Made in Heaven was a pleasant surprise to fans who thought there would be no more Queen albums. Instead, working with half-finished demos and rearranged solo projects, the surviving trio composed a fitting epilogue to the band’s Freddie Mercury years. Though they’ve continued touring (at least Brian and Roger have; John is retired), Made in Heaven is the band’s proper coda. Despite the circumstances, it’s a stunning achievement, with everyone—Freddie included—providing some of their best work in nearly a decade. There are too many songs to highlight; of the ten songs on the album, nine of them are at least “great” and a few are “truly fantastic.” The fact that a hodgepodge, posthumous album, with recordings dating as far back as the mid-80’s, can have such a strong theme of life and death on almost every track is even more stunning.

Standouts include Mother Love (featuring Freddie’s final vocal performance), Too Much Love Will Kill You, and You Don’t Fool Me (which was nothing more than random samples from various Freddie recordings, compiled and arranged by Roger Taylor to sound like a song).

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07. The Game (1980)

Queen’s first album of the 1980’s ushered in a new sound and a new approach to their albums. Previously the band had worked hard to create a seamlessness to their LPs, with a strong theme running throughout. With The Game, Queen switched to recording stand-alone songs and putting the best they had to offer on the completed album. As a result, the album was the first of theirs to have a little of everything.

There are ballads, rockers, old school rockabilly and even disco. It’s eclectic yet mostly without weakness. The standouts are among the band’s most memorable tunes, including Another One Bites the Dust (originally just a throwaway before Michael Jackson heard it and recommended it be a single; it went on to reach #1) and Freddie’s tribute to Elvis, Crazy Little Thing Called Love (which likewise hit #1). There’s not a bigger stylistic chasm between two songs than that. An underrated gem is also the power ballad Save Me

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