I make no bones about it: I am a diehard Queen fan.
I’ve heard all the criticisms, that their songs have nothing to say, that they’re more concerned about “in the moment” feelings with their music than writing compelling lyrics, that they never settled on a particular sound or style to keep a consistent fanbase, blah blah blah.
It’s all noise to me.
Queen might not have the deepest lyrics in all their songs, though I could easily rattle off several that do, but where professional music critics were quick to dismiss them, Queen was a band that lived by the mantra “we don’t make music for critics.” That’s usually what an artist says when they make something that’s not particularly good but in this case, the phrase is apropos.
Queen made music for their fans, in every sense of it. Some of their biggest and best songs can only ever be truly appreciated when sung in an arena full of fans, swaying in place, screaming the lyrics to their heart’s content. Songs like We Are the Champions, Friends will be Friends, Radio Gaga, and In the Lap of the Gods…Revisited fall into that category. Not to mention the songs that lend themselves to belting out lyrics solo in the car, such as Tie Your Mother Down, Hammer to Fall, and perhaps the most purely fun and banger tune in the band’s library, Don’t Stop Me Now.
The band made music that was fun, and other than the fiasco that was Hot Space, they made music their fans liked. It’s true they didn’t limit themselves to a set genre or style, but that’s not a deterrent. Look at the Rolling Stones, who’ve been crapping out the same nonsense since 1964 with hardly a whiff of reinvention. Queen evolved with the tastes around them, allowing them to stay in the collective consciousness of pop culture, and regularly rise above the rest with a big hit every few years between their first album in 1973 and their last with Freddie, in 1995.
I also make no bones about my disappointment in the Bohemian Rhapsody biopic, a movie I rated a pedestrian 7/10. I thought it was too safe, too sterile, and too easy on the non-Freddie members of the group while treading Freddie like the villain of his own movie. Nevertheless, I appreciate that the movie reawakened a love for the band in a new generation of music listeners. Queen sales spiked in conjunction with the movie. I’m glad; I hope more and more people listen to the band and get a feel for what makes them so special. Unfortunately, though I understand why from a storytelling perspective, the movie ends with the band’s now-legendary fifteen-minute set at the LIVE AID benefit show. For many new listeners, Queen stopped at that point. Those newbies will never know the final entries in their catalog which, as a result, has been seriously undervalued as of late.
That being said, it’s basically a consensus among long-time fans that the group’s post-LIVE AID material is a step below what came before. And sure, there’s not much that can compare to Queen II, The Works, or News of the World or the tons of other great hits sprinkled around their 1970’s and early-1980s albums, but The Miracle, in particular, seems to be hastily put near the bottom of ranking-lists whenever it comes up.
Revisiting the album recently made me realize not only how great it is, but also how the perception of it could have been improved if something as simple as the track order had been changed before release.
That’s right: Track order. It matters.
Track order is, in my opinion, the secret sauce to a great album. Going back to the days of vinyl records, albums were basically two mini-performances of 4-7 songs each. There needed to be (1) a strong opening to hook the listener, (2) a strong finish either to entice the listener to flip it over to the other side or to leave the listener with a high note and (3) a middle section that varies in style while keeping the weaker entries cushioned between stronger songs that bookend each side.
Typically Queen albums have excellent track arrangement. A Night at the Opera, The Works, and News of the World are three in particular that are excellent, with killer openings and closings to each side, and great content in between, nicely arranged.
The Miracle, however, is poorly arranged.
It begins with Party, which bleeds into Khashoggi’s Ship. It’s a solid start, but not the best songs on the album, or even side one. In my opinion, the best tracks should either kick-off (within the first two tracks) or—if there’s something special about them—close out a side. The Miracle is track three and, though it became the album’s namesake it’s only just an okay song. It’s not bad, but the lyrics are a bit contrived. It’s an odd choice for the album’s namesake, especially if they were just going to stick the song in the middle of side one anyway. Side one ends with the best song on the album, I Want it All, followed by The Invisible Man. I Want it All is one of the band’s best pure rockers and it deserved better than to be lost in the middle of Side-A.
Side-B begins strong with Breakthru. Rain Must Fall is next, and it’s a good song for the middle of a side; a bit quirky, not particularly memorable, but solid. Scandal might’ve had an underwhelming music video but it’s a solid rocker and, again, feels lost in the middle of Side-B. My Baby Does Me is good and well-placed, and the album ends perfectly with Was it All Worth it.
Individually the songs range from fine to excellent, but the album feels stop-and-start.
If I were producing, I would have arranged the album like this:
- The Invisible Man
- I Want it All
- Khashoggi’s Ship
- The Miracle
- Rain Must Fall
- My Baby Does Me
- Was it All Worth it
It makes only minor changes to the original arrangement but, in my opinion, it really helps the flow of the album.
First, you start with a great pop number that features Freddie introducing the members of the band to the listener. Then you follow up with the best song on the album, then hit the listener with the one-two punch, before closing out with the titular ballad. Side two begins as it originally did, with those great harmonizing vocals. Then you get a couple of weaker entries, carefully cushioned between better songs, to lessen the diminishing impact, before closing strong with another rocker, and the big power ballad finale.
If you’re like me and you listen to Queen album by album, give it a try with this new arrangement and see if you don’t agree that the whole production flows and feels more harmonious as an album.
If, however, you’re part of the newer generation of fans, and you use various digital services to stream your music, then you probably only know Queen’s biggest hits on a song-by-song basis. I would encourage you to look at these older bands’ whole albums. You’re doing a disservice to something like Queen II, which was recorded and arranged to be listened to from beginning to end as one complete performance. Rubber Soul and Revolver by the Beatles, as well as Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys are other albums that should be taken in as a whole, as they all feature specific sounds and styles singular to their albums.