Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published September 17th 2021
15 albums, 1 list Do you agree?
I haven't done one of these in a little while, and the idea for this one came at the end of last month while I was looking for songs for a different column. I had toyed with a couple of ideas, but each time there were at least one or two albums, books or films that I didn't like. (For those coming in late, I will only do a ranking list if I think everything on the list is at least okay.)
Anyway, the idea that came to me was ranking Queen's studio albums.
The problem is, finding the time to have a couple of listens to fifteen albums proved rather awkward and difficult, especially with every other column idea I've had and have been writing, plus university and my own writing things. But I'm a little ahead in study so I thought I'd spend the time doing this, as a nice relaxing day of good music.
In the end, it was a nice, relaxing two days of music. Yes, I do like all of the albums, even if I don't like every song on each album. So, this is just the 15 studio albums released by the classic Queen line-up of Brian May (guitar), John Deacon (bass), Roger Taylor (drums) and Freddie Mercury (lead vocals/keyboards) (and, yes, I am fully aware May and Deacon played keyboards, Mercury played guitar and Deacon played guitar and some percussion… this is just what they are best known for). While they have released some stuff following Mercury's death (The Cosmos Rocks, for example), this list will only look at the 15 albums with Freddie as the lead singer. No compilation albums, no live albums, no box sets, no remix albums.
Now, Queen were one of the pre-eminent British bands from the 1970s to the 1990s. Four members who were/are all superb musicians in their own right, and the only band where every single member wrote a song which reached number on a chart somewhere. They released an iconic video clip in 'Bohemian Rhapsody', were the definite highlight of Live Aid (which I watched live at the time), and made the whole world take notice when their lead singer passed away. Queen songs have been a part of the soundtrack of the lives of so many.
So, let's look at the albums.
Hot Space (1982) Yeah, widely regarded as a misfire, this disco-infused album – full of synthesisers and strange funk grooves, recorded years after disco was already dead – did not really strike a good chord. The sound is so not Queen, and yet there are still some good tracks on the album. It is okay and just doesn't feel like a Queen album, that's all. However, it does include one their greatest songs, so… swings and roundabouts. Key tracks: 'Life Is Real (Song For Lennon)'; 'Under Pressure' (with David Bowie)
From this point on, all the albums are good, and I fully admit that some – many – people will have them in a different order to me.
This album feels a little tired, as if going through the paces in some tracks. There are a few dull tracks here, and some are weird without real quality control in evidence. However, the best tracks are amazingly strong and it produced some of the songs to become most associated with Queen over the years. Key tracks: 'Fat Bottomed Girls'; 'Bicycle Race'; 'Don't Stop Me Now'
Queen II (1974) This is the heaviest Queen album in musical sound, and I know a few fans who rate it quite highly. Now, I think the music is amazing and there are some really complex compositions, but too often the lyrics just let it down. The overdone fantasy tropes just don't do it for me, and some songs ramble on a bit. But I can appreciate the music as amongst the best Queen ever recorded.
Key tracks: 'Father To Son'; 'Ogre Battle'; 'Seven Seas Of Rhye'
The Miracle (1989)
This was a little bit of a let-down of an album. It did feel like they were going through the motions at times, but some of the tracks were still amazing. Still, there are tracks that feel like they were just recorded without the care that marked their earlier albums, and that was disappointing. However, I still quite enjoy a lot of the tracks here.
Key tracks: 'The Miracle'; 'I Want It All'; 'The Invisible Man'
Made In Heaven (1995)
This could have been terrible – the posthumous album created from bits and pieces left by Mercury, recorded when he knew he was dying. But it's not. It really isn't. There are some absolutely stunning tracks on this album. Yes, there are some that fall a little flat and don't work, but this was clearly a labour of love for the surviving members of the band and that shows through.
Key tracks: 'I Was Born To Love You'; 'Heaven For Everyone'; 'Too Much Love Will Kill You'
A Kind Of Magic (1986)
This is sort of the soundtrack to the film Highlander, and so the lyrics reflect that a little too heavily. But it is a rocking album with some great playing and songs that are so easy to sing along to. But the lyrical conceit of "fried chicken" still leaves a sour taste in my mouth, 35 years later. It grates and really does affect my enjoyment of the album. Still, there are amazing songs here.
Key tracks: 'One Vision'; 'A Kind Of Magic'; 'Who Wants To Live Forever?'
The Game (1980)
The first Queen album I bought, on cassette in 1981. There are so many great songs on this album… but there are also a few that really do miss the mark. The music is generally very good, with diversions into some different sounds. I have a real affection for this album, and it does contain a couple of Queen's most well-known tracks.
Key tracks: 'Another One Bites The Dust'; 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love'; 'Rock It (Prime Jive)'
Flash Gordon (1980)
This soundtrack is underrated and I love both it and the film. The album tells the story of the movie in 40 minutes. Yes, a lot of the music is incidental, as is normal in a film soundtrack, but the playing is just amazing. I've gone through each of the tracks in my review, so I won't repeat myself, but I do enjoy this way too much. And it has my favourite Queen song ever on it.
Key tracks: 'Flash's Theme'; 'Vultan's Theme/Battle Theme'; 'Wedding March'
Again, and I keep saying this, there are some great tracks on this album, but there is also a bit of filler. What sets this album apart, though, is the fact it was recorded with Mercury's illness on everyone's mind, and there is a sense of depression about the album that adds a layer of emotion. Still, it is a fine album.
Key tracks: 'I'm Going Slightly Mad'; 'Headlong'; 'The Show Must Go On'
A Day At The Races (1976)
This album is one that I go back and forth on, and listening to the albums in chronological order, it did suffer after A Night At The Opera, but there is something about it that struck me as pleasant. And I think that's this album – not great, but pleasant. And yet it has some Queen staples on it. At the moment I rank it this high; next month it might be down three or four places. It's that sort of album.
Key tracks: 'Tie Your Mother Down'; 'You Take My Breath Away'; 'Somebody To Love'
Queen (known as Queen I on some re-released versions) (1973)
It all started here. It is a little messy, as many first albums can be, but it is so much fun and, already, they demonstrate their musical chops, coming out with all guns blazing. This is full of bombast and confidence, and it is a fun listen. No, not every song works completely, but those that do are just amazing.
Key tracks: 'Keep Yourself Alive' (I actually prefer the version from the live album Live Killers); 'Liar'; 'Modern Times Rock'n'Roll' (There is the first version of 'Seven Seas Of Rhye' here as well, but the version on Queen II is better.)
The Works (1984)
The second Queen album I ever bought, also on cassette, and I bought this before Live Aid, not after like a few of my friends (true fan credentials established). There are only a few tracks that don't quite work, and those that do work, work so well. They rock better than they had in years on some tracks, and the Metropolis-inspired video for 'Radio Ga-Ga' was something that just stunned at the time. Musically, they are on song; this album is wonderful.
Key tracks: 'Radio Ga-Ga'; 'I Want To Break Free'; 'Hammer To Fall'
Sheer Heart Attack (1974)
Queen's third album showed just what the world was about to deal with. The musicianship is a little more restrained, replacing the bombast and hard rock of its predecessor with more nuanced playing. The band was really finding its identity here, and Mercury was coming to his own as the front-man of the band. Not much filler here, either.
Key tracks: 'Killer Queen'; 'Now I'm Here'; 'Stone Cold Crazy'
News Of The World (1977)
I think there's only one track that I'm 'meh' on in this collection, and it does include some of the most iconic Queen songs. The playing is tight and the songs just feel more coherent. It's another example of them playing a more nuanced style, where every note and beat means something, showing how far they'd come from their first two albums.
Key tracks: 'We Will Rock You'; 'We Are The Champions'; 'Sheer Heart Attack'
A Night At The Opera (1975)
This is the Queen we all know and love. The over-the-top, glorious Queen that people still associate with the band's name to this day. There's only one song that doesn't really resonate with me on the whole thing, and it includes some of the best songs in the entire Queen canon. This is an amazing piece of recorded music, and it was rarely equalled by anyone since (though maybe Brian Wilson came close before).
Key tracks: 'You're My Best Friend'; 'I'm In Love With My Car'; ''39'; 'Bohemian Rhapsody'; 'God Save The Queen'
And there we are – the fifteen original line-up Queen studio albums ranked. I know people will disagree; after finishing this, I looked online and found that not one person who had done this before me agreed with me at all. So, sorry for that. But if you disagree, then please feel free to let me know where you'd put them in the comments section below.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed a look back at a fine body of work.