Time to dust off some of Queen’s hidden and under appreciated crown jewels
With the Freddie Mercury/Queen biopic Bohemian Rhaposdy having just made its big public announcement of its pending arrival to movie theaters everywhere Nov 2 and putting out its first trailer earlier this week, now is as good a time as any to start delving a bit deeper into the band’s rich musical catalog.
Everyone knows all the hits like “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “We Will Rock You”, “We Are the Champions”, “Fat Bottomed Girls”, etc, but not everyone has a full knowledge of the truly magnificent collection of songs Queen wrote during their career.
There are some absolute gems on some of these albums that because they were not big radio hits that got a ridiculous amount of airplay or multiple mainstream pop cultural nods they unfortunately slipped through the cracks to be forgotten by most.
However, now it is time to dust off those old LP’s to give a listen to 10 of the best (in no particular order) mostly unknown and underappreciated crown jewels of Queen and give them a moment in the spotlight.
1. Death on Two Legs (A Night at the Opera 1975)
When most people think of Queen, they think of music that is fun, flirty, witty, and flamboyant. Most would never associate them with rage driven songs. However, in the band’s storied career they have had a number of them.
“Death on Two Legs” is a song Mercury wrote that is considered his hate letter to Queen’s first manager Norman Sheffield who was said to have from 1972-75 treated the band poorly and abused his position as manager.
The song has that colorful Queen vibe to it, but turns it in a dark direction. Brian May absolutely tears it up in the guitar sections. The anger is absolutely palpable and the delivery of the lyrics is fierce, yet articulate. There are no holds barred here.
2. Seven Seas of Rhye (Queen II 1974)
To give a bit of context for this song, when Mercury was a young boy he and his sister made up a fantasy world called Rhye which they gave a rather rich back story. This song was written as a tribute to that time in their lives.
This is one of Queen’s most driving and self-affirming anthems of all time. It really is quite a shock that this never got more attention. That piano riff epic and builds anticipation, the guitar just hammers away, and Mercury flaunts his confidence in its full glory in his vocal delivery.
It is one of those songs where the sensation of being picked up and pulled along for one hell of a wild ride courses through the head and heart the entire time, but at the same time gives this sense of feeling mighty and unconquerable.
3. Ogre Battle (Queen II 1974)
Not very many people realize this, but when Queen first got started their sound was primarily hard rock driven, borderline heavy metal. This tune in particular is about the closest to metal they ever got.
It features operatic vocal harmonies, thundering rhythms, and some of Brian May’s heaviest guitar work during Queen’s classic 70’s era. The lyrics are fantasy themed, quite obviously. It is pretty easy to put together what they are about.
It starts off with high operatic vocal harmonies played in reverse until the band comes in with this riff that builds anticipation until everything hits this tremendous crescendo that ushers in the galloping melodic hard rocking song.
4. Bring Back That Leroy Brown (Sheer Heart Attack 1974)
To lighten the mood up a bit though, this song will absolutely hit the spot. It is one of those fun little jaunts that feels like a ragtime band. There is a great deal of jangle piano, upright bass, ukelele-banjo, and some trickily timed and executed double bass on the drums played by master percussionist Roger Taylor.
It is an upbeat tune that shows off Queen’s more quirky, fun, and not taking themselves too serious side. Though it isn’t a string snapping, head splitting rock n’ roll anthem it still shows a great deal of musical talent and versatility that the band as a unit possessed at the time.
5. Keep Yourself Alive (Queen 1973)
This is the song that begins the entire Queen saga. It is the very first track on the very first album the band ever put out.
It has some well executed noodly yet somehow precise, layered, and triple harmonized guitar work already with that iconic unique signature Brian May sound with some very youthful fresh faced performances from the rest of the band as well. It has a steady slightly faster than walking tempo that adjusts a bit here and there.
Freddie Mercury’s voice sounds so incredibly new and young. There is this rich, full timbre to it that seems to fade away over the course of the band’s career (no doubt due to the fact that he smoked like a chimney).
Regardless, this is a stereo cranking, head banging, singalong anthem that should have gotten more attention over the years than it has.
6. Seaside Rendezvous (A Night at the Opera 1975)
Another playful musical jaunt, this tune REALLY shows the band just having a good time making music that they like.
It is another song with a heavily ragtime tinged jazz vibe, but at a much more swinging, fun, leisurely pace. The lyrics are all about love (of course) and meeting up with that special someone by the seaside for a fun day/night out.
Fun fact: most of the wind instrument parts were entirely mouth sounds made by Mercury and Taylor. Even the tap dancing drum bridge was played by Mercury and Taylor tapping on the mixing desk with thimbles on their fingers.
7. My Melancholy Blues (News of the World 1977)
This has to be one of the single most beautiful songs Queen ever wrote and recorded. It does not feature any guitar at all, but rather Mercury at the piano singing, Taylor adding some light drums, and bassist John Deacon adding some girth on bass performing a jazzy smokers lounge lovelorn song of losing love and drinking to forget about it.
It is a slow, easy paced tune. So relaxing, yet at the same time it evokes an uncountable amount of emotions depending on what anyone’s state of mind might be at a given moment. Regardless, for a band that is known for doing things that are off the wall, this is still something completely unprecedented from Queen.
8. Dead on Time (Jazz 1978)
May goes absolutely ham on this tune guitar-wise. It almost sounds as though for the longest time he had been just itching to stretch his fingers and make some real fireworks on the fret board. Considering the more pop oriented direction the band was taking, this does not seem like too much of a stretch.
It certainly has that aggressive hard rock vibe that a lot of the early Queen stuff had, though it does keep some of the more operatic vocal elements that they had managed to become notorious for having since they had gained more notoriety.
This is definitely a must for anyone who needs more headbanging songs that still have some melody to them.
9. Don’t Try Suicide (The Game 1980)
Believe it or not, Queen actually has a PSA of sorts trying to get people to avoid resorting to suicide as the solution for their pains and problems.
For a song begging people not to try suicide, the music is rather poppy, upbeat, and cheery. It has this backstreet West Side Story swagger in the verse sections, but in the chorus a very modern (for the time) straightforward pop rock vibe.
There is a very well mixed blend of electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and piano in this one. They don’t overpower one another and each stands out where it needs to. There is no operatic vocals, but given the nature of the song it makes sense.
10. Was It All Worth It (The Miracle 1989)
After a decade or so of making pop hit after pop hit, Queen decided at least for a moment it was time to return to their hard rock roots that made them popular in the first place.
There are still 80’s pop flourishes here and there, but everything is very noticeably guitar driven. It is loud, proud, and will not be put under a shroud. Certainly a breath of fresh air for older fans of the band.
There are certain sections that seem a bit Led Zeppelin influenced sections, but they are brief and not so present that they could be consider a ripoff. Regardless, it is easy to hear just how much May had continued to improve at his craft over the years.
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