In Remembrance Of Freddie Mercury: Top 10 Queen Songs
We remember the Queen singer who died 20 years ago on 24 November.
Posted on Nov 25, 2011 03:32 pm
To mark 20 years since the death of Freddie Mercury, the flamboyant master of operatic pop singing, we wanted to pay our respects and pick our top ten Queen songs ever.
Mercury was born as Freddy Bulsara in 1946 in Zanzibar, and grew up in India before moving to Britain in his mid-teens. He joined Roger Walters and Brian May to start Queen in 1970, when he changed his name.
He eventually become recognised as one of the greatest singers in history, who would reportedly sing in tune so consistently that he would "phase out" an original take when placing backing vocals. And while this would have marked his place in the history books, he was also a stunning songwriter, performer and instrumentalist.
He died of an illness brought on by AIDs only one day after publicly acknowledging he had the disease, on 24 November 1991.
So what are our favorite Queen songs ever? They have quite a large discography, but we think we've whittled down a great playlist for your weekend. If you have Spotify, here's a link to play them in full quality, but there's a couple of great live performances on this post which are worth viewing.
Remember to discuss your favorite songs and pay your own respects to one of the masters of pop singing in the comments.
10. "Ogre Battle" from Queen II (1973)
Those with a fleeting knowledge of Queen tracks might not realise how heavy the band could be in their early years. Ogre Battle was a remarkably heavy track when it was written in 1972, but didn't make it to their debut album because they didn't have time to perfect the song. This is all about the fast-thrashing guitar, which plays out a metaphorical battle between ogres. Such was the energy that the band included it in every live set until the late 70s.
09. "Killer Queen" from Sheer Heart Attack (1974)
Their breakthrough hit single is classic Queen; firm drums and bass, phasing vocal experimentation and harmonies tighter than a nun's gardening schedule. Along with a grand piano, Mercury wanted to track a cheaper upright piano to give the verses jangle with that vaudeville sound. It oozes style and set the pace for the theatrical sense of humour that defined their careers.
08. "I Want To Break Free" from The Works (1984)
The famous transgender styling in the video was truly a classic moment in early music television, but was considered too controversial in the US and resulted in a ban on MTV. In turn, the US was the only country where the single wasn't a commercial hit, where the song entered the chart at number 45.
While the music didn't have the same scale of theatre as their other work, the mild soundtrack partly masks a very timely set of lyrics by bassist John Deacon (who quietly wrote some of the band's best loved hits) about sexism and women's rights.
07. "Don't Stop Me Now" from Jazz (1978)
Another classic which wasn't a commercial success but has been used next to footage of cars, planes and spaceships that is has become firmly baked into the public conscience. It was voted the Greatest Driving Song Ever by the car show Top Gear, though the award was mislabelled as 'Stop Me Now'. Never mind, Top Gear is s--t these days anyway.
06. "Fat Bottomed Girls" from Jazz (1978)
Guitarist Brian May knocked some classic blues into the Queen repertoire here, and helped evolve what we know today as hard rock with his guitar being tuned to drop D -- not a common occurrence in those days. Like "Ogre Battle", this is another great example of Queen playing heavy riffs that sound even better loud.
05. "We Are The Champions" from News Of The World (1977)
This anthem remains one of their best known songs, and 2005 poll even found it to be the world's favorite song. Easily earning a place in the Grammy Hall Of Fame, scientists later proved it to be the catchiest song in the history of pop music, so it's really no wonder that huge crowds know to stand, sing and wave when it plays at sporting events. Brian May admitted it was written with the audience in mind, but they hit the nail right on the head and we love it.
04. "Somebody To Love" from A Day At The Races (1976)
Aretha Franklin inspired this song in which Mercury begs God to find him someone to love. The only thing about this song which is as impressive as Mercury's performance is the efforts that Brian May and Roger Taylor went to for the simulated gospel choir in the background. The pair layered their voices over 100 times, which brings the song to its striking conclusion in the final build up -- one of the most wonderfully unique moments in music history.
This live version is magic, but make sure you check out the original to hear how those harmonies hit and sizzle that analog tape on the original.
03. "Under Pressure" from Hot Space (1982)
David Bowie joined Queen for one of the best collaborations in history, but it almost never happened. Bowie had come to Mountain Studios to contribute backing vocals to "Cool Cat" (which was later edited out anyway), but the group ended up completing a different idea called "Feel Like" which later became "Under Pressure" during a live jam between the musicians at Bowie's own studio in Switzerland.
Mercury and Bowie supposedly battled over the final mix of the album, but the result is a stunning array of delays and sharp finger clicks. The 2.30 mark is a particular highlight and example of Bowie's musical contribution.
02. "Bohemian Rhapsody" from Night At The Opera (1975)
Easily Queen's defining song and the most bombastic recording from their extensive catalogue. The subject of the lyrics which are said to be full of veiled references to Mercury's personal traumas, and continues to be hotly debated between fans, academics and journalists.
On the surface, it follows the story of a young man who commits a murder and expresses utter regret and describes a sense of their doomed fate. It is performed with such sincerity that few can deny its brilliance, and the song was also a technical achievement in the studio -- over 180 layers of audio were mixed through a 24 track tape machine, which meant constantly bouncing the audio to two tracks and continuing on the other 22 tracks while somehow retaining a flawless balance between instruments. After going through eight generations of analog tape over three weeks, they finally completed the most expensive recording in history -- and it sounds like it.
01. "You're My Best Friend" from A Night At The Opera (1975)
We know some of you will wonder why this beat Bohemian Rhapsody to the top spot, but we have a very good reason. To hear it, just play the song and hear the opening four bars. The magic and simplicity of that electric piano sparks memories of those loveable old TV shows with a yellow hue from your youth, when life was easy. In this sense, it is more powerful than Bohemian Rhapsody could ever be, even if this is also down to the contribution of TV producers who had to pick music to run to credits over the years.
It was written by the mild-mannered bassist Paul Deaon for his wife, where he sings about love without resorting to pained cliques of unbridled passion. Instead it talks of real friendship, enjoying life and the values that hold a relationship together for the long term. It is modest and eschews showmanship, but tops our chart because it simply what it is: a masterpiece in popular songwriting.
We loved going through the Queen catalogue for this chart, and recommend you dig through the full Queen collection on Spotify - or zoom straight to a playlist of this top ten to hear Spotify's full quality versions.
What would you add to our chart? Do you have a favourite story about one of these songs, and will you miss the talents of both Freddie Mercury and Paul Deacon? Share something in the comments and we'll browse them over the weekend.