Tuesday, July 5, 2011


I've always been kind of a "greatest hits" fan with Queen. When I was younger, I think I was cool with taping my favorite songs off of my friends' LPs. Years later, after the tragic death of Freddie Mercury, I remember being pretty amazed at the diversity of talent that paid tribute to him, and the band, at the big tribute concert: Metallica, Guns N Roses, George Michael, Roger Daltrey, Robert Plant, Tony Iommi, David Bowie, Elton John, Seal, Lisa Stansfield, it really was pretty amazing. How many other concerts boast performances by Metallica and George Michael?

I remember reading that W. Axl Rose cited Queen II as one of his favorite albums ever. I checked it out and didn't recognize any of the songs.  I wasn't that deep of a Queen fan.

But now, with the deluxe reissues of their early catalog on Hollywood (I got complimentary review copies, by the way), I'm really discovering what I'd been missing.  Especially Queen II!

One thing I didn't realize about Queen was how influenced they were by Zeppelin in their early days; they also seem to really have been influenced by the British progressive rock of the era.  I'm not saying they were a knock-off of those bands: between Freddie Mercury's incredible vocals, Brian May's really distinctive guitar sound, and the grand arrangements, they had their own thing going from the get-go.  On 1973's Queen and 1974's Queen II, they were practically a black light poster band.  Most people only know Queen's lead track, "Keep Yourself Alive." There's really cool music on both of these albums. But after Queen II, it seems like the band made a decision to move on. Which was just as well, the band had so much ground to cover, and four great writers.

1974's Sheer Heart Attack is one of their best albums.  It has the proto-speed metal "Stone Cold Crazy" (famously covered by Metallica years later).  At the same time, it has one of their greatest pop moments, "Killer Queen," and a tribute to Jim Croce, "Bring Back That Leroy Brown." I guess the thing about a singer with Freddie Mercury's confidence and swagger: he thought he could sing any style, and he was usually right. The rest of the band were so great, they were also able to cross genres.  It's interesting, though: Brian May never sounds like anyone else.

1975's A Night At The Opera was, at the time, the most expensive record ever recorded.  The centerpiece, of course, was "Bohemian Rhapsody."  Again, it was a very diverse album, featuring "I'm In Love With My Car" (written and sung by drummer Roger Taylor), and one of their biggest hits, "You're My Best Friend" (written by bassist John Deacon). "'39" was an acoustic classic written and sung by Brian May. George Michael cited that as his favorite Queen song. There aren't that many bands who have four members capable of writing huge, classic, hits.  Yeah, The Beatles, but Ringo didn't really write songs on his own.

Finally, 1976's A Day At The Races, which also covers lots of ground, from Brian's hard rock classic "Tie Your Mother Down" to Freddie's gospel "Somebody To Love."

More recently, Queen has reissued their next five albums: 1977's News Of The World, 1978's Jazz, 1980's The Game and Flash Gordon, and 1982's Hot Space. I'll get to those eventually.  Right now, I'm catching up with the first five!

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