Queen II (Elektra,1974)
Sheer Heart Attack (Elektra,1974)
A Night at the Opera (Elektra,1975)
A Day at the Races (Elektra,1976)
News of the World (Elektra,1977)
Live Killers (Elektra,1979)
The Game (Elektra,1980)
Flash Gordon (Elektra,1980)
Hot Space (Elektra,1982)
The Works (Capitol,1984)
A Kind of Magic (Capitol,1986)
Live Magic (EMI,1986)
The Miracle (Capitol,1989)
Classic Queen (Hollywood, 1992)
Greatest Hits (Hollywood, 1992)
Live at Wembley '86 (Hollywood, 1992)
Queen at the BBC (Hollywood, 1995)
Greatest Hits, I & II (Hollywood, 1995)
Made in Heaven (Hollywood, 1995)
Queen Rocks (Hollywood, 1997)
Greatest Hits III (Hollywood, 1999)
Queen Rock Montreal (Hollywood, 2007)
Absolute Greatest (Hollywood, 2009)
Queen + Paul Rogers
Return Of The Champions (Hollywood, 2005)
The Cosmos Rocks (Hollywood, 2008)
Live In Ukraine (Hollywood, 2009)
Excessive, decadent, theatrical, tasteless, mocking, ironic, self-conscious: Queen lived up to its moniker with gleeful abandon. It could only have happened in the Seventies. In the group's prime, guitarist Brian May and irrepressible lead singer Freddie Mercury provided a steady flow of bombastically catchy schlock-rock hits. Although the albums drag with mediocre filler that sinks the group far below the level of, say, Led Zeppelin in terms of overall achievement, the triumphant pomp of Queen's biggest hits—"Another One Bites the Dust," "We Are the Champions," "Bohemian Rhapsody"—eclipses the copious weak material. Mercury stands apart as a sexual sphinx in the decade of not-entirely-liberated excess: A gay man who lived out the classic straight-male fantasy of leading a rock band, he paraded his sexuality before millions—it remained unspoken, an open secret—and though stricken with AIDS, he did not publicly admit to having the disease until the day before his death, in late 1991.
Their first official releases presented the band as a somewhat crude glam outfit with arty underpinnings. But the group began almost fully formed as dramatic perfectionists—Queen at the BBC gathers eight tracks recorded in two sessions just before the release of its first album, showing a band clearly excited yet delicately precise about every move. Gradually, the members' college degrees and musical chops emerged. On Sheer Heart Attack, "Killer Queen" and "Stone Cold Crazy" weld Mercury's creamy falsetto strut to propulsive, tightly wound arrangements. You can get winded just listening to all those multitracked Freddies singing rings around each other. That's nothing compared to "Bohemian Rhapsody," of course: The notorious six-minute centerpiece of A Night at the Opera is either a prog-rock benchmark or the most convoluted novelty song ever recorded.
The over-the-top approach is precisely what makes Mercury and company so endearing, but it's also responsible for Queen's downfall. A little too predictable, A Day at the Races is a quickie sequel to Opera. News of the World sports two songs that have become so popular, they've transcended mere chart success to reign eternally as ubiquitous anthems: the jackboot jock-rock pomp stomp of "We Will Rock You" (written by May) and the ultimate gloat, "We Are the Champions" (by Mercury), both of which are still heard at sports stadiums around the world.
The decline starts with Jazz, which has the quickie operetta "Bicycle Races" but is otherwise utter jive. The Game offers two more megahits, of dubious achievement for the band: "Another One Bites the Dust" (credited to bassist John Deacon), a shameless rip-off of Chic's "Good Times" and "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," a bit of pseudo-rockabilly hokum that introduces an ominous new element to the Queen mix: nostalgia.
From this point forward, Queen's output seems neutered and obsessed with gloss, whether with outright nostalgic projects (the tuneless Flash Gordon soundtrack) or albums that exhibit the hollow glamour of the times (Hot Space, The Works); the only track from this period that has any life at all is "Under Pressure," an impromptu collaboration with David Bowie. Mercury began to suffer from AIDS during this period, and everything from A Kind of Magic on was driven by an unspecified philosophy promoting all races, creeds, etc. ("One Vision," "The Miracle"). He was on this trip until his death, as evidenced by the posthumous Made in Heaven—for which he recorded vocal tracks to be finished later by the band—and we can only hope the project brought him peace. Though not the band's best work, the earnest, joyful later albums remain poignant as an epitaph for Mercury.
After the film Wayne's World made "Bohemian Rhapsody" a Number Two hit in 1992, the band's new label, Hollywood, rushed a hits collection into the stores. Classic Queen omits "We Will Rock You," "Another One Bites the Dust," "Killer Queen," and a half-dozen other essentials; Greatest Hits offers these tracks but does not include "Bohemian Rhapsody," "Under Pressure," and others that were on Classic Queen. The double Greatest Hits I & II corrects the oversight, though many of the inclusions weren't U.S. hits ("Breakthru," "Headlong," "I Want to Break Free"). Greatest Hits III is a junkyard of rarities, remixes, and solo tracks, valuable mostly for Mercury's ingenious cover of "The Great Pretender."
Mercifully, the 2009 collection Absolute Greatest fits most of their mega hits onto one disc (though still missing "Fat Bottomed Girls" and "Bicycle Race").
The remaining members of Queen (minus bassist John Deacon, who politely declined) reformed with Bad Company and Free vocalist Paul Rogers in 2005 to play a few arena tours of Queen classics (and Bad Company not-so-classics). In the two corresponding live releases—a 2005 show in Sheffield, England, and a 2008 show in the Ukraine—it's obvious that Rogers' histrionic muppet warble is no match for the Mercury's theatrical instrument. The group's studio album, The Cosmos Rocks sounded more like a band that rips of Def Leppard than the band that Def Leppard ripped off.
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
Picks From Around the Web
blog comments powered by Disqus