They Were the Champions…
With the release of Bohemian Rhapsody, the new biopic charting Freddie Mercury’s life during his tenure in Queen, we take a look at some of their defining singles
Article by Andrew Steel
What is there to say that hasn’t already been said about British rock legends Queen? The pomp-and-circumstance foursome consisting of vocalist Freddie Mercury, guitarist Brian May, bass player John Deacon and drummer Roger Taylor remain one of the most enduring artists to hail from the United Kingdom in the 20th century, a genuine musical behemoth who triumphed against adversity and naysayers to become one of the biggest live draws on the planet. Though Mercury passed away in 1991and Deacon retired in the following years, May and Taylor have continued to tour the world and record, first with Paul Rodgers of Free and subsequently US singer Adam Lambert. Now, ahead of the release of Bohemian Rhapsody, the new biopic charting Mercury’s life during his tenure in the group, we take a look at some of their defining singles across their career.
Keep Yourself Alive (from Queen, 1973)
The first song on both their self-titled debut LP and their inaugural single, Keep Yourself Alive remains one of Brian May’s most thrilling slices of hard rock in their repertoire, a solid-gold guitar anthem through and through. It failed to chart on either side of the Atlantic upon release but retrospective acclaim highlights it as the arguable peak of Queen’s first two records.
Bohemian Rhapsody (from A Night at the Opera, 1975)
Part piano ballad, part dramatic opera and part heavy metal wig-out, Bohemian Rhapsody stands as Mercury’s defining contribution to popular music, a near-six-minute opus that has come to typify the band in all its glory. A number-one smash on release in the UK and again after Mercury’s death, it was also propelled to #2 stateside on the back of its usage in the hit film Wayne’s World in 1992.
Somebody to Love (from A Day at the Races, 1976)
Mercury’s gospel-tinged ballad holds a credible claim to being the frontman’s finest vocal performance in the band, scaling an impressive range between F2 and an A♭5 falsetto; its legacy however became bolstered at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert following his death when the band performed it with George Michael at Wembley Stadium to a broadcast audience of one billion.
Spread Your Wings (from News of the World, 1977)
A 4/4 rock gem from Deacon, Spread Your Wings may not hold the iconic status of his funk-fuelled Another One Bites the Dust but holds a cherished place among the Queen faithful. Its snow-covered music video was filmed in Taylor’s back garden, with Mercury allegedly lacking sobriety and slippery conditions meant that the group found it a rather arduous experience to shoot.
Crazy Little Thing Called Love (from The Game, 1980)
This Elvis-inspired rockabilly ditty is one of the most fun cuts Queen put on record and gave the band their first chart-topper in the USA, thought it was held off the summit in the UK by Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2). Mercury reportedly penned it inside ten minutes while lounging in a bath in a Munich hotel and the band supposedly recorded it in less than half-an-hour shortly after.
Under Pressure (from Hot Space, 1982)
The band’s only duet released during Mercury’s lifetime, this collaboration with the late David Bowie – best identified by its seven-note bassline – came around from an impromptu jam session after the Space Oddity singer was invited to provide backing vocals on another track, Cool Cat. The video, by David Mallet, edited together stock footage and silent film clips to illustrate its themes.
Radio Ga Ga (from The Works, 1984)
Taylor penned this bombastic synthpop stadium anthem, complete with singalong chorus and catchy chant, as a riposte to the advent of television as the prevalent medium over radio. Session player Fred Mandel added synthesisers to the song for the band and its music video, featuring scenes from the German film Metropolis, was ironically played in heavy rotation on MTV.
Who Wants to Live Forever (from A Kind of Magic, 1984)
Written for the soundtrack to the film Highlander, this power ballad from May failed to attain the heights of fellow contemporary singles but has appeared on virtually all of the band’s subsequent hit compilation records. With no bass riff, Deacon is absent entirely from the song, instead replaced by the lush string work of the National Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Michael Kamen.
The Show Must Go On (from Innuendo, 1991)
Though Innuendo, released months before Mercury’s passing, is filled with some of Queen’s most poignant work, like the flamenco-tinged title track and number one single These Are the Days of Our Lives, this dramatic swansong by May (though credited to the full group) proved to be a soaring finale for the frontman. The singer recorded it in one take, despite concerns he was too fragile to perform.
Too Much Love Will Kill You (from Made in Heaven, 1995)
This spine-tingling ode to fatal attraction – originally slated for 1989’s The Miracle – first emerged at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, sung as a solo piece by songwriter May. Subsequently released as a track from his own debut in 1992, it emerged in its original form on the posthumous Made in Heaven; poignantly resonant and given fresh life by the late frontman’s raw performance.