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Deep Cuts: Queen

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The first LP (damn, I’m old) I ever bought was Queen’s The Game. I had no idea what I was buying at the time. I just knew that they played the two songs that I like that I had heard on the radio. I really didn’t discover the band until a friend in high school played me some of their earlier stuff. Then Live Aid happened, and I was hooked.

Queen is one of those bands that probably haven’t gotten the credit they deserve, both musically and lyrically. Let’s face it, Freddie Mercury is one of the best vocalists we will ever hear, bar none. The man even recorded an opera album with Montserrat Caballe. Brian May is one of those guitarists that has an immediately recognizable sound, the main source of which is his self-made Red Special, a guitar he built with his Dad when he was 16. The one-two punch of Roger Taylor on drums and John Deacon on bass gives you a rhythm section to be reckoned with. The fact that three of them sing both lead and backup (Deacon’s the odd man out), and all four of them write, just adds to the dynamic of the group. But all of this doesn’t mean JACK SQUAT when compared to their live shows. This is the best, band, everrrrr to perform live. It’s no secret that they owned Live Aid after they took the stage. I challenge anyone to watch “Queen: Live at Wembley ’86” and not think, “DAMN, that’s how you put on a rock concert!!”

My approach to this was to create a 2-CD set of Deep Cuts from the band. I’ve listed them in chronological order, but included a track listing at the end for any enterprising souls that would like some sequencing to their music. I will say, after doing this piece, I rediscovered the band and gained a greater appreciation for their body of work.

“Liar” – Queen, written by Mercury
Some would say that this song is a precursor to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the lyric a classic “boy who cried wolf” theme. You can hear the beginnings of the signature Brian May guitar sound, Freddie’s vocal prowess and the steady rhythm section of John Deacon and Roger Taylor. I would argue that Queen was one of the first heavy metal albums recorded.

“Father to Son” – Queen II, written by May
The boys followed up quickly with Queen II, an even heavier album than their debut. The sound was much more lush and extravagant…a sign of things to come. This song sounds like Brian May had been listening to the Who’s Tommy.

“Some Day One Day” – Queen II, written by May
May takes lead vocals on this song. A much mellower song when compared to the rest of the album, this one stands out in its acoustic simplicity.

“Seven Seas of Rhye” – Queen II, written by Mercury
While this song first appeared on Queen in instrumental form, the Queen II version now included vocals. The piano intro leads to the vocal harmonies that would soon become commonplace amongst future Queen songs. Evidently, the liner notes in The Platinum Collection state that "it’s a wonderful song with nonsensical satanic lyrics." Just an aside…while most diehard Queen fans will probably want to hang me by my thumbs for saying this, the Freddie Bastone remix of this song that is included on the Hollywood re-release of this album is quite good. It doesn’t compare to the original in that it is more of a dance version. I guess it’s a re-imagining (a la Tim Burton’s “Planet of The Apes”) of the song, taking samples of the band’s voices from other songs (i.e. “Ready Freddy” from “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”), as well as the original vocal track, and laying it over one of those typical 90’s dance grooves.

“Brighton Rock” – Sheer Heart Attack, written by May
This song was definitely a showcase for May, whose bout with hepatitis had forced the band off of the road and back into the studio, hence the release of this album in the same year as Queen II. The sound of the calliope at the beginning gives this a bit of a Beatles feel. May’s frenetic guitar playing throughout the song may not quite be Beatlesque, but when you break it down, the use of vocals and the sound fading back and forth from left to right (a must-listen with headphones) very much reminds me of Sgt. Pepper. May later used this song as a part of one of his extended guitar solos during live shows.

“Now I’m Here” – Sheer Heart Attack, written by May
While this was a May-penned song, Freddie owned it from the beginning. Written while on their first U.S. tour, opening for Mott the Hoople.

“Stone Cold Crazy” – Sheer Heart Attack, written by Deacon/May/Mercury/Taylor
Two-plus minutes of speed metal…IN 1974!!! I firmly believe that this song is the reason there is a Metallica. Ironically, Metallica won a Grammy in 1990 for their version of this song.

“Misfire” – Sheer Heart Attack, written by Deacon
Deacon finally makes a writing appearance and it’s this little light-hearted song. You begin to see the variety of musical styles that this band can achieve.

“Bring Back That Leroy Brown” – Sheer Heart Attack, written by Mercury
This was the beginning of Freddie’s dalliances with ragtime. You can practically picture the band on a vaudeville stage with a banjo & upright bass looking like a barbershop quartet from the ‘20s.

“Death on Two Legs (Dedicated To…)” – A Night at the Opera, written by Mercury
Rumor has it this song was about their former manager, Norman Sheffield, who took all of their money and ran away to the U.S. Very biting lyrics, and one helluva song to start off A Night at the Opera.

“‘39” – A Night at the Opera, written by May
Many thought this to be about war, but it was later clarified to be about space travel. The traveler went away for what he thought was a year, only to return 100 years later with everything having aged except for him: “All my life / Still ahead / Pity Me”. Beautiful song.

“The Prophet’s Song” – A Night at the Opera, written by Queen
A studio masterpiece! This is the other epic on A Night at the Opera. The vocal layering in the middle of the song is incredible. To think that Freddie is basically harmonizing with himself shows what a vocal talent he truly was. Another headphone must!

“Tie Your Mother Down” – A Day at the Races, written by May
This has been a concert staple for years. I’d say the live versions probably affected my opinion of this song more than anything else. Just a rockin’ good song!

“You and I” – A Day at the Races, written by May
Since A Day at the Races was meant to be a companion album to A Night at the Opera, this is a companion piece to “You’re My Best Friend.” Just a simple song about spending time with someone you care about. You’re starting to see more piano show up in their songs, which I think rounds out their sound even more.

“Sleeping on the Sidewalk” – News of the World, written by May
Arguably their first foray into a true blues song. They’ve performed nearly every other musical style, so why not the blues? It’s more or less a story about a trumpet player that’s starts from the bottom, gets to the top and ultimately ends up at the bottom again. Pretty common formula for VH1’s “Behind the Music,” if you think about it.

“Let Me Entertain You” – Jazz, written by Mercury
Tongue planted firmly in cheek, Freddie & the band sum up their live show: “I've come here to sell you my body / I can show you some good merchandise / I'll pull you and I'll pill you / I'll Cruela-de-ville you / And to thrill you I'll use any device.” Yup…that pretty much sums it up.

“Don’t Stop Me Now” – Jazz, written by Mercury
I always liked this song for its simple message of living life to the fullest. While doing some research for this piece, I discovered that this song is in “Shaun of the Dead.” Evidently there’s a scene in a bar where this song comes on the jukebox. Haven’t seen it yet, but based on the way people have raved about it online, I’ll have to check this out soon.

“Play the Game” – The Game, written by Mercury
I think The Game was the first LP that I ever bought that wasn’t a K-Tel compilation (I’d probably stolen a few of my sister’s before that). Up until this point, Queen hadn’t used any synthesizers in their recordings. What a great way to start using them! I always thought this song had a “spacey” feel to it. It was always overshadowed by “Another One Bites The Dust” & “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, both worldwide #1 singles. Unfortunately, this album would be the last hit studio album in the U.S. for the band.

“Need Your Loving Tonight” – The Game, written by Deacon
This is a great pop song, plain & simple. It brings to mind Marshall Crenshaw or Rick Springfield.

“Calling All Girls” – Hot Space, written by Taylor
Let’s face it: Hot Space is not a very good album. If it hadn’t included “Under Pressure,” the sales for it would’ve been far worse than they were. I think the band was trying to capture the dance groove that had proven successful on The Game, but failed miserably because the 80’s music scene was a quickly changing landscape. That being said, “Calling All Girls” captured the sound of the time and the shape of things to come. Rumor has it, this song was about V.D. ‘Nuff said.

“Radio Ga Ga” – The Works, written by Taylor
My take on this song is that video was potentially ruining music because it was taking away the individual interpretation aspect of listening to music. “We watch the shows-we watch the stars / On videos for hours and hours / We hardly need to use our ears / How music changes through the years / Let's hope you never leave old friend / Like all good things on you we depend / So stick around cos we might miss you / When we grow tired of all this visual.” Ironically the most impressive thing about this song is a visual moment. I challenge anyone not to get chills when you see their performance of this song during Live Aid at Wembley Stadium. Seeing the whole crowd participate in the moment from the video with the hands raised and clapping in sync is breathtaking. The other amazing thing was that the band hadn’t seen one another in many months, never did a sound check, and walked out on stage cold and owned the show from there on out. That, my friends, is a Rock & Roll Band!

“Man on the Prowl” – The Works, written by Mercury
Continuing Freddie’s fascination with Elvis Presley and ‘50s music. This song is on here mostly for Fred Mandel’s piano playing towards the end of the song.

“Machines (Back to Humans)” – The Works, written by Taylor, May
While this song is totally out of character for the band (the synthesizers that was so widely avoided up until <The Game> are nearly the main instrumentation), I’ve always liked this song. It’s more or less a musical version of “The Terminator.” A friend of mine calls it “Mr. Roboto, Pt. II.” Besides, where else are you going to hear the word “parahumanoidarianised”?

“I Want to Break Free” – The Works, written by Deacon
Okay, Okay…we get it. No, actually we don’t! Most people thought this was about Freddie wanting to be “out.” Well, he didn’t write it…John Deacon did. And to the best of my knowledge, he’s not gay. I think this is just a song about being in a relationship and wanting out of it. I will say, the band didn’t do anything to sway the common perception of the song with a video that featured everyone in drag. The song was more recently used in a Coca Cola commercial for C2…whatever the hell that was.

“Keep Passing Open Windows” – The Works, written by Mercury
There are moments in this song that remind me of Joe Jackson (probably because of the featured piano). It’s really just a “keep your chin up” type of song.

“Hammer to Fall” – The Works, written by May
Another great live concert staple. The song addresses concerns about the possibility (at the time) of nuclear war and the soldiers who were training. This song is very reminiscent of their earlier work and probably would’ve fit on any of their mid-‘70s releases.

“Is This The World We Created…?” – The Works, written by Mercury, May
Just a beautiful song asking a pertinent question.

“One Vision” – A Kind of Magic, written by Queen
This song was written about Bob Geldof (One Man) and Live Aid (One Mission). In doing some research, I discovered what is said by that creepy voice in the beginning: “God works in mysterious ways.” All I know is that when I hear this song in my car, I’m usually driving 100mph by the end of the song. Another anecdote: Yes…Freddie does say “fried chicken” instead of “one vision” at the end of the song. Rumor has it that Freddie’s boyfriend said to him after they were having fun with the end of the recording “You’re Queen…you can say whatever the hell you want!” and they ended up using the outtake.

“A Kind Of Magic” – A Kind of Magic, written by Taylor
Recorded for the “Highlander” soundtrack. Great animated video featuring the band as shown on the cover of the album. The song title is a line from the movie.

“Who Wants To Live Forever?” – A Kind of Magic, written by May
Majestic ballad also written for “Highlander.” No, it’s not about Freddie having AIDS. Brian wrote this about the character in the movie that is immortal.

“Princes of the Universe” – A Kind of Magic, written by Mercury
Okay, so I liked the movie “Highlander.” This is also from the movie. Kickass guitar solo in the middle.

“I Want It All” – A Kind of Magic, written by Queen
A tribute to the excesses of the late ‘80s. Following a long break after the Magic tour, due to Brian May’s battle with depression and divorce, and Freddie being diagnosed with AIDS, the band got together and worked through it all. All writing credits were now attributed to the band as a whole.

“The Invisible Man” – The Miracle, written by Queen
Wicked bass line from Deacon. Just a fun song about…uh…the Invisible Man.

“Innuendo” – Innuendo, written by Queen
One final opus for the band. I think this harkens back to the original sound the band had, full of pomp and soaring melodies. Featuring Steve Howe on guitar during the flamenco interlude.

“Headlong” – Innuendo, written by Queen
Another driving song…100mph! Completely nonsensical lyrics as far as I can tell. It sounds like the band is having fun, though. Aside from the studio polish, this is another song that sounds like it could be from one of their ‘70s albums.

“These Are the Days of Our Lives” – Innuendo, written by Queen
I think this is the most heartbreaking song they did. It’s pretty obvious that the band knows that this is most likely their swan song, and even more obvious that it’s Freddie’s. The video for it was intentionally filmed in black & white to hide how sick Freddie was. It’s very appropriate that the last thing Freddie said on camera was “I still love you…” As someone stated on one of the message boards that I was looking at: “In the video you can see his pain, sorrow and regret but also a glint of satisfaction as he knows that although he is about to die, his music will live forever.”

“The Show Must Go On” – Innuendo, written by Queen
It’s incredible that Freddie was able to continue to sing considering his condition. If you didn’t know he was sick, I don’t think you could tell the difference. The lines “Inside my heart is breaking / My makeup may be flaking / But my smile still stays on” show that he was fighting up to the very end.

One short closing note: I’m actually going to see the Queen + Paul Rodgers show here in Cleveland in March. I was initially resistant to this idea because I thought that it was sacrilege. I have to admit, after hearing Return of the Champions (the double live album they recorded on tour in England), I was pleasantly surprised. Now Paul is certainly no Freddie, but they do put on a good show. Since I never got the chance to see the original lineup, I figured I’d take what I could get…kind of a common theme in their music, if you ask me.

Suggested Track Listing

Disc 1

1. Seven Seas Of Rhye
2. Brighton Rock
3. Stone Cold Crazy
4. Liar
5. Father To Son
6. Some Day One Day
7. Death On Two Legs (Dedicated To…)
8. Now I’m Here
9. Misfire
10. ‘39
11. The Prophet’s Song
12. Tie Your Mother Down
13. Let Me Entertain You
14. Sleeping On The Sidewalk
15. Bring Back That Leroy Brown
16. You And I
17. Need Your Loving Tonight
18. Keep Passing The Open Windows
19. Don’t Stop Me Now

Disc 2

1. One Vision
2. Play The Game
3. Machines (Back To Humans)
4. Radio Ga Ga
5. Calling All Girls
6. Man On The Prowl
7. I Want To Break Free
8. A Kind Of Magic
9. Headlong
10. The Invisible Man
11. I Want It All
12. Princes Of The Universe
13. Hammer To Fall
14. Innuendo
15. The Show Must Go On
16. Is This The World We Created…?
17. Who Wants To Live Forever
18. These Are The Days Of Our Lives