QUEEN’s catalogue, from bottom to top

THE GOOD THREE

06. A Day at the Races (1976)

How do you follow-up your magnum opus? How did the Beatles follow-up Sgt. Peppers? The White Album? No, they made Magical Mystery Tour, but it flopped so hard people just skip over it and look to the White Album as the true follow-up to Pepper. Queen released A Night at the Opera, which sold a ridiculous amount of copies thanks to Bohemian Rhapsody‘s ridiculous success. How do you follow it? Queen decided not to rock the boat; they simply made more Night at the Opera (and called it by the name of another Marx Brothers movie). The result is an album that aimed higher than any other album the band would release after it, but which failed to reach the heights of its predecessor.

That’s okay though, because it still managed to be a fantastic record. Two songs in particular stand out, the gospel-infused, autobiographical Somebody to Love, and the cabaret sing-songy Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy. The former was the band’s attempt to re-reach the heights of Bohemian Rhapsody; the latter featured the band not even trying and just deciding to have fun. Both make the album a gem…

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05. Queen II (1974)

The best album in many hardcore fans’ eyes. Queen II’s strength and weakness is both in how interconnected it is. You either love it or hate. If you’re looking for an album that is a collection of individual songs, this ain’t it; Queen II tells two stories, one on Side-A (the White side) and the other on Side-B (the Black side). Brian May provides the lyrics to Side-A (the grounded side), while Freddie writes the words on Side-B (the fantastical side). It’s a strange experiment in album-making, reminiscent of maybe something Paul McCartney or Wings might try.

It works for what it sets out to do, but it just doesn’t do what many might want out of an album. It’s the one album that requires a complete listen-through, not because all the songs are great but because all the songs serve as chapters in a musical novel. In that case, the album-closing track, Seven Seas of Rhye (in which Mercury sings about a fictional, faraway land), is both a fitting cliffhanger and the best song on the album…

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04. Sheer Heart Attack (1974)

Releasing only months after Queen II, Sheer Heart Attack showed Queen as a band willing to evolve and desperate for success. Seven Seas of Rhye (from Queen II) had become a modest hit but the foursome wanted more. They continued grinding away, pumping out a new album and, finally, scoring a hit that would give them genuine success. Killer Queen isn’t the only reason this album is ranked so highly, however. Sheer Heart Attack feels like the dry run of what would be the band’s signature style. If A Night at the Opera is the band’s Sgt. Pepper’s, Sheer Heart Attack is its Rubber Soul/Revolver; it was the loud declaration of “this is who we are now and this is what we sound like.”

Killer Queen is what everyone knows but Stone Cold Crazy was the first thrash-metal song in mainstream music history (inspiring Metallica years later), Now I’m Here sounds like it could play on the radio today, and In The Lap of the Gods (revisited) was Freddie’s first dabble with “anthem” singing. All help the album to rise to near the top of the ranking…

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THE GREAT TWO

03. The Works (1984)

The Works is just what it sounds like. After the failure of Hot Space, the band reconvened with lost momentum for the first time in their career. Roger Taylor casually said to Freddie on the day they began work on their next album, “Let’s give them the works…” And so they did. The album that followed is the tightest, sharpest, leanest and meanest album in the band’s catalogue. With only nine songs, all of them excellent, it is pound-for-pound the band’s best album. The mix of genres and sounds calls back to The Game, but is bests that album across the board with a more robust sound (incorporating synthesizers and creative arrangements while not losing the individual talents of each band member).

The record probably doesn’t have the number of instantly-recognizable hits that other albums can boast, but what it has is an ear-worminess to it; every song gets in your head and digs in deep, unable to leave your consciousness for days and weeks after listening. As with some of the tracks on The Miracle, you’ll listen to some of these songs for the first time and swear you’ve known them your whole life. Every song is special, but special attention can be given to the lead-off song, Radio Gaga, as well as I Want to Break Free and Hammer to Fall. This was the album that gave them the confidence to steal the show at LIVE AID one year later…

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02. A Night at the Opera (1975)

Most would probably rank this at number-one, if only because of the historical significance of it. As already said, this is the band’s Sgt. Peppers (a comparison the band members themselves made over the years). It was more than that, however; the Beatles were under no pressure when they released their surreal LSD-inspired album in 1967. Queen, on the other hand, were struggling. Killer Queen had been an international hit but a bad recording contract kept the band essentially broke. They needed another hit record to have the leverage to control their own financial destiny. They also struggled with radio play and knew they needed to do something unorthodox to stand out from the crowd. The result is an album simultaneously dripping with bitterness over their present situation and exploding with creativity befitting a band making their last stand. The album’s a true masterpiece, held back from the top for no reason other than arbitrary personal preference.

Death on Two Legs is Freddie’s shot across the bow at their shoddy business “partner,” I’m in Love with My Car is Roger Taylor’s silly anti-love song to his automobile, You’re My Best Friend is John Deacon’s first great contribution (the first of many from the band’s “quiet one”), 39 is Brian May’s modern-sounding (or is it a throwback to 60’s pop?…it’s somehow both) mini-masterpiece, Love of My Life is one of the greatest ballads ever composed, and then there’s the album closer, which needs no introduction (lest I write another two-thousand words on what it might mean)…

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THE PERFECT ONE

01. News of the World (1977)

It’s not the flashiest pick maybe, but to me this is as good as Queen gets. After the subdued reception to A Day at the Races, as well as the influx of punk rock, the band decided to shift away from the big, operatic sound they’d just carved out for themselves, shifting to a more raw sound that was en vogue at the time. It was not the last time Queen would prove to be radio chameleons, able to remake themselves in whatever style they needed to stay relevant.

News of the World begins with a one-two punch you can’t find on any other record: We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions. It begins with that; how do you top that?! Amazingly the record does not relent: Sheer Heart Attack (the song, not the album) proved that Queen could out-Sex Pistol the Sex Pistols. All Dead All Dead showed they weren’t abandoning their unique sounds, Spread Your Wings is a power ballad for the ages and Fight from the Inside ends Side-A with a gritty hard-rock number. That’s one heck of a first side. The album closes with a trio of songs any other band would kill to have on three separate albums: Who Needs You (another modern-sounding number), It’s Late (arguably the band’s very best power ballad), and My Melancholy Blues, a perfect-closer, not big and bombastic, but relaxed and subdued, just what you need after having your socks knocked off in the opening five minutes.

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So there it is. Disagree if you must but as far as I’m concerned, that’s how I rank ’em.

We’ll have our review of Bohemian Rhapsody up in a few days.

Say tuned!

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