Listen to This, Not That: Queen

We’ve finally gotten to the very last of the “basic bitch” classic rock bands, as I like to endearingly call them.Now that means I’ll be looking at other bands, so feel free to leave any feedback on who I should talk about next. Next few months’ plans are: Black Sabbath, The Doors, and Deep Purple. I’m also considering The Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac, Yes, Genesis, Rush, Thin Lizzy, and AC/DC. Think big rock bands known for a few overplayed hits on radio and that’s who I love to talk about in this discography deep dive series because classic rock is more than meets the eye and ear, as I like to say. I’m here to expand your definition of classic rock and to show you all the gems you’re missing out on and Queen have a lot of them! I started writing this series because it’s the guide I would have wanted when I was getting into classic rock, which can be scary and intimidating because of classic rock fans’ pretentious reputation and there’s a lot of music to listen to. But I’m here to make it fun, approachable, and educational.

I’ve been looking forward to writing about Queen for a long time because I had a huge Queen phase not that long ago. Still love them, but I’ve retreated back to my comfort zone of the 60s, but not for long because I’ll be marathoning Queen albums for a while. As with all the other blog posts in this series, we’re gonna start with a little band history and what makes this band so significant in rock and roll history and then we’ll go into what the overrated songs are, and then what you came here for – the list of underrated songs album by album. If that sounds like something good, keep on reading!

Queen: A simple band name, but a big impact and rock and roll royalty

Queen are a band that need no introduction, but here I don’t take anything for granted. Yes, everyone on the planet knows “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions”.

Like Led Zeppelin, not only were Queen incredible in the studio, they were incredible live and all the musicians are masters of their craft and influential too. Freddie Mercury’s considered the best lead singer and such an incredible performer and knew how to capture an audience’s attention. He could play piano really well too and he could draw and write incredible songs! Is there anything Freddie Mercury couldn’t do? Brian May is a modern day renaissance man, but as a guitarist he’s ranked really highly in best guitarist lists and there’s definitely a reason for that. He made the Red Special and that gave him a unique sound, better than almost any guitar out there. Roger Taylor doesn’t only play drums well, his voice is so good that he could be a lead singer in any band that doesn’t have Freddie Mercury in it. And his falsetto was a big part of the vocal harmonies. John Deacon is the glue that holds Queen together and his shy, easygoing personality made him the perfect fit. He also has this sassy side to him in his performances and his knowledge of electrical engineering helped him make the Deacy Amp, which is a big part of the band’s sound.

What I also find incredible about them is that they weren’t that young when they got famous, Brian May and Freddie Mercury were nearing their 30s when they finally made the big time and Roger Taylor was mid 20s and John Deacon was at the end of his early 20s. The entertainment industry values and privileges youth and if you’re in your 30s, you’re basically a grandpa in the eyes of the powers that be in that business.

All their accomplishments sound even more incredible as I go through them, which is why they still blow my mind and I went through a Queen phase for a while. Better yet, each band member wrote hit songs. Not every band can say that. And that’s why I get so annoyed when people act like Queen were just Freddie Mercury and Brian May’s band. Excuse me? And ignore the fact that John Deacon wrote “Another One Bites the Dust” and “I Want to Break Free” and Roger Taylor wrote “Radio Gaga” and “One Vision” and that it was Roger’s idea for the band do do drag for the “I Want to Break Free” music video (of course he would be, he was the best looking in drag).

Queen are one of those bands that I can’t say exactly what genre they are and that is a good thing and what people love about them. You can’t put them into any box and there’s something for everyone in their discography. They’re just Queen and they’re above labels. If they make a song, it’s Queen, end of story. But if I had to classify the various sounds they tried they’d fall into art rock, prog rock, hard rock, glam rock, proto-metal, funk, disco, and more! All in all considered one of the best rock bands of all time and influenced countless musicians musically and aesthetically.

To top it all off their performance was the best at Live Aid and the one that everyone remembers most. And I’ll end this section with one of my favourite Queen moments. Always something that made me laugh and I have to smile every time I see it.

Not That: Popular Queen songs

The typical rules for Listen to This, Not That apply once again for Queen. If this is your first time reading Listen to This, Not That, the rules are as follows: no top 20 hits (UK and US) and no greatest hits. The reasons for this being that top 20 hits are usually very memorable and popular and same with greatest hits – that’s most likely what you’ll already hear on classic rock radio and you’re probably tired of that. This is a series that focuses on deep cuts after all. Finding a greatest hits compilation for Queen couldn’t be easier: Greatest Hits, released in 1981 and Greatest Hits II, released in 1991. These compilation albums cover pretty much everything popular. Now, let’s list the “Not That” songs and their chart placements:

  • “Seven Seas of Rhye” (#10 UK)
  • “Killer Queen” (#2 UK, #12 US)
  • “Now I’m Here” (#11 UK)
  • “Bohemian Rhapsody” (#1 UK, #9 US)
  • “You’re My Best Friend” (#7 UK, #16 US)
  • “Somebody to Love” (#2 UK, #13 US)
  • “Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy (#17 UK)
  • “We Are The Champions/We Will Rock You” (#2 UK, #4 US)
  • “Bicycle Race/Fat Bottomed Girls” (#11 UK, #24 US)
  • “Don’t Stop Me Now” (#9 UK, #86 US)
  • “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” (#2 UK, #1 US)
  • “Save Me” (#11 UK)
  • “Play The Game” (#14 UK, #42 US)
  • “Another One Bites The Dust” (#7 UK, #1 US)
  • “Flash” (#10 UK, #42 US)
  • “Under Pressure” (#1 UK, #29 US)
  • “Body Language” (#25 UK, #11 US)
  • “Las Palabras de Amor” (#17 UK)
  • “Radio Gaga” (#2 UK, #16 US)
  • “I Want to Break Free” (#3 UK, #45 US)
  • “It’s a Hard Life” (#6 UK, #72 US)
  • “Hammer to Fall” (#13 UK)
  • “One Vision” (#7 UK, #61 US)
  • “A Kind of Magic” (#3 UK, #42 US)
  • “Friends Will Be Friends” (#14 UK)
  • “Who Wants to Live Forever” (#24 UK)
  • “I Want It All” (#3 UK, #50 US)
  • “Breakthru” (#7 UK)
  • “The Invisible Man” (#12 UK)
  • “The Miracle” (#21 UK)
  • “Innuendo” (#1 UK)
  • “I’m Going Slightly Mad” (#22 UK)
  • “Headlong” (#14 UK)
  • “The Show Must Go On” (#16 UK)

Listen to This: Underrated Queen Songs

That’s a lot of hits! I don’t want people angry at me in the comments section so I’ll say this: I really do love Queen’s hits and a lot of these songs are great and so magical to listen to the first time you hear them. But I like to take the path less travelled in many aspects of my life and that includes listening to some amazing gems that are under appreciated and that’s hopefully what you came here for! In the next section, I’ll be going album and listing my favourites and at the end you’ll find a neat little playlist of all my favourites. As always, live albums will be skipped and we’re only going to cover albums from Queen to Innuendo.

Queen (1973)

If you read my unpopular classic rock opinions post, you’ll know that I’m partial to early Queen – it’s my favourite era in the band’s history: their most unique, prog rock like work and their least commercial work. They started off strong with their debut. A lot of bands have that awkward phase where they try to find themselves, but I don’t think that was the case for Queen, then again they’re one of my favourites of all time so call me biased. The song lyrics often go into fairy tale/fantasy themes, probably went above a lot of people’s heads and people wanted optimistic music to listen to. You can really hear the trademark royal Queen guitar sound from the beginning and it’s *chef’s kiss* beautiful. “Keep Yourself Alive” was the band’s first single and the opener of the album, but wasn’t a commercial success, still a great song. There’s a Tim Staffell composition on here from the Smile days, “Doing Alright”, which you’ll definitely know if you’ve seen Bohemian Rhapsody. My favourite Roger moment is that falsetto in the intro of “My Fairy King”, reminds me of Ian Gillan’s scream in “Highway Star”. My favourite Deaky moment is that bass solo from “Liar” and I love that call and response “Mama I’m gonna be your slave all day long”. Lots of heavier tracks on this album. Another favourite of mine is “Great King Rat”.

Queen II (1974)

This is my personal favourite Queen album and I’d recommend you listen to it in its entirety, but I’ll highlight my favourites in this section. I’ve flipped flopped around, but the more I listen to Queen II, the more I’m in love with it and it’s a fan favourite for a reason from its iconic cover to the two themed sides: the white, more emotional, side, mostly written by Brian May and one composition by Roger Taylor, and the black, darker, fantasy themed, side, all written by Freddie Mercury.

My favourite moments are “Procession/Father to Son” which opens up the album and segues so nicely into the other – this one is really prog (reminds me of Yes at some points – funny enough Queen opened for Yes in the early 70s) like with different movements and heavy, layered guitar sounds – I am in love with that “royal guitar sound”. And who doesn’t love that choral sound in the vocals. Like Bob Dylan, Brian May took inspiration from Robert Graves’ The White Goddess in his songwriting particularly in “White Queen (As It Began)”. He had another muse for that song, a school crush that he thought was the perfect woman. Also love the sitar effect on the guitar”Some Day One Day” has Brian on lead vocals and generally, I love hearing Brian singing his own songs – maybe because he’s my favourite band member, you could say I’m a Mayniac.

“Ogre Battle”, the first Freddie Mercury composition on this album is one of Queen’s earliest songs, but he decided to record it for Queen II rather than Queen I because the band wanted to have more freedom to make it polished and better to give it justice. Well, it was worth the wait! As the title suggests, “The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke” is inspired by the 19th century painting of the same name by Richard Dadd, which he painted while locked up in a mental institution. As great as this song is, unfortunately, it was rarely performed live – only a few times on the Queen II tour. That song flows seamlessly into “Nevermore” and then we get to the star and the true epic of the album, “The March of the Black Queen”, in a way a predecessor to “Bohemian Rhapsody”. If you love the many movements and the epicness of BoRhap, then you’ll love “March of the Black Queen”. In fact, I love “March of the Black Queen” even more! If I had to pick a favourite part it’s at 4:10 “I reign with my left and I rule with my right. I’m lord of all darkness. I’m queen of the night” – those lyrics and the delivery are *chef’s kiss*. I love how it segues into “Funny How Love Is”, which is an upbeat song that reminds me of The Beach Boys and late 70s Fleetwood Mac.

Sheer Heart Attack (1974)

This album is another strong Queen album and once again the band at their best – with a lot of variety on it, but there’s a sad story behind it. Brian May got very sick with hepatitis in 1974 and that ended Queen’s first US tour with Mott The Hoople (“Now I’m Here” talks about it). He was so sick that he was in hospital while Queen were writing the album and John Deacon filled in and played a lot of guitar parts on the album. Even through adversity, the band released an incredible album and the single, “Killer Queen”, was a breakthrough for them and got them on Top of the Pops.

The album opens up with “Brighton Rock”, which could alternatively be titled “Brian May flexing for 5 minutes”. The best guitar solo in all of Queen’s discography, you can’t change my mind. Another star of the show is the medley: “Tenament Funster/Flick of the Wrist/Lily of the Valley”. Roger Taylor wrote and sang lead vocals on the first part of the medley. The second part is Freddie Mercury’s and a diss track to the ripoff artists in the music industry, but not the only diss track about that as you’ll see in the next album – it’s my favourite part of the medley. The last part is also by Freddie Mercury and a softer piano song in contrast to the hard rock songs before it. “Stone Cold Crazy” is another favourite of mine and probably the first thrash metal song. You may not have expected Queen to play music that hard, but they snapped! That was as heavy as Sabbath or Budgie, but with Queen’s theatrical flair that they’re known for. “Dear Friends” is a beautiful ballad, what a contrast to the previous one. “Misfire” is Deaky’s first song for Queen and it’s so good, but so short and it’s guitar harmony heaven (Deaky played most of the guitar parts too!). I wonder if that’s where Thin Lizzy got the inspiration for their trademark twin lead guitar sound because I hear some similarities? If you want something more campy show tunes like with some 50s influences, there’s “Bring Back That Leroy Brown”, which is a reference to the Jim Croce song, “Bad Bad Leroy Brown”. That banjolele! “She Makes Me (Stormtrooper in Stilettos)” is a song with Brian May on lead vocals. That song title makes me think of Star Wars even though it came out 3 years before it.

A Night At The Opera (1975)

Named after a Marx Brothers film, this is the album that made Queen what we know them as today and it has a bunch of their biggest hits on it, but look beyond those and you have a lot of great material. It’s another strong album from Queen and on my Perfect Albums list for a reason.

They were finally free from their previous exploitative record deal and skint, they had one last chance to make something groundbreaking and they did that! The album opens with “Death on Two Legs”, a diss track to Norman Sheffield, their manager at Trident who screwed them out of money. It’s definitely my favourite diss track of all time. That delivery of “now you can kiss my ass goodbye” is flawless. “I’m In Love With My Car” is a meme of a song and I love that Roger Taylor locked himself in a cupboard until Freddie Mercury would let it be the b-side to “Bohemian Rhapsody” – that’s a Slytherin move and very smart because that made him a lot of money so he can buy luxury cars or whatever he wants. Brian May’s “’39” is a yeehaw astronomy song and my favourite on the album. Funny enough, the plot in the song is similar to that of Interstellar, which came out 39 years later. Mercury on average is .39 AU from the sun. Coincidence? “Sweet Lady” is a harder rock song also written by Brian May. Every time I hear the lyric “you call me sweet like I’m some kind of cheese”, I laugh, especially thanks to Freddie Mercury’s delivery of that line. Freddie Mercury wasn’t the only one to write an epic, Brian May wrote “The Prophet’s Song”, so if you’re wanting a change from “Bohemian Rhapsody” but still want to listen to an epic, listen to that – and it’s even longer than BoRhap. If you want more yeehaw banjo ukulele sounds, listen to “Good Company”.

A Day at the Races (1976)

Once again another great opening track, “Tie Your Mother Down”, that guitar riff – reminds me of Rory Gallagher and Status Quo. This is an album I haven’t listened as much to because I’m more of an early Queen fan, but I really should have given it more of a chance because it’s really solid, in fact, I’d even consider it a perfect album. Don’t just stop at “Somebody to Love” and “Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy”, listen to the whole album and you’ll hear some tracks that are just as amazing.

Fun fact, it’s the first album that Queen completely produced themselves. I love the piano songs like “You Take My Breath Away” and “The Millionaire Waltz”. “Long Away” was inspired by John Lennon and The Beatles (and I hear some Byrds influences here, and possibly some Badfinger – The next Beatles of sorts), a songwriter and a band that Queen really admire. Seriously, if you look at any questionnaires they filled out for music magazines they’ll all say they love The Beatles and John Lennon. “You and I” has similar vibes. “White Man” is one of those rare songs where Queen get political, this time talking about colonisation and oppression of Native Americans. “Drowse” is a Roger Taylor composition with an interesting time signature. Queen never performed this song live. Closing the album is “Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together)”, a tribute to their Japanese fans who were always so loyal and passionate. That’s something I love about Queen, their universal appeal and how they gave back to their fans by incorporation their culture and language in songs for them.

News of the World (1977)

This is the point where I’m less familiar with Queen’s music. But I know how much a meme the album cover is because Family Guy made fun of it with having Stewie be afraid of it. The album cover is an edit of the October 1963 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, with the robot instead holding the members of Queen in his hand and a couple of them falling.

This is the album that brought you arguably Queen’s best known songs “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions”. The next two tracks couldn’t be more different in mood: “Sheer Heart Attack” and “All Dead All Dead”. Did you know that Roger played rhythm guitar and bass on the former? The latter is a song Brian May wrote about his childhood pet cat’s death. That song makes me sad every time I listen to it because it reminds me of my first cat, Moonie who died in 2019. “Spread Your Wings” is a beautiful John Deacon composition and what makes this different from previous tracks is the lack of backing vocals. Queen really are a band who aren’t afraid to try different things and that’s what I love about them. I like the guitar riff from “Fight From The Inside”, a Roger Taylor composition with him on lead vocals. It’s not a bad album, but definitely not my favourite. Another highlight from the album is “It’s Late”, a song that tells the story of a relationship that’s about to end.

Jazz (1978)

This is an album that I would typically skip except for “Fat Bottomed Girls” and “Don’t Stop Me Now”, because I love those songs. But there are other good songs like “Jealousy” (which has some buzzing guitar that is reminiscent of a sitar) and “If You Can’t Beat Them” (one of the few Deaky songs where Brian plays all the guitars). The band are at the point where they can get meta with their music and “Let Me Entertain You” and “Dead On Time” reference songs from previous albums like “Teo Torriatte” and “Keep Yourself Alive”. “Fun It” is their first attempt at disco, but it’s no “Another One Bites The Dust” – doesn’t have that magic.

Not my personal favourite and not something I’d replay in its entirety, just I’m more of an early Queen fan. Critics famously panned this album, calling it dull, and Dave Marsh even called Queen “the first truly fascist rock band”, what??? And he’s getting mad on behalf of women saying that “Fat Bottomed Girls” treats women as objects. As a woman with a decent sized butt, he can shut it, I like that song. All I know is that there’s not much jazz to be found here, misleading album title. Lots of filler. Unpopular opinion: I can’t stand “Bicycle Race” – I find that song annoying.

The Game (1980)

Queen used to famously brag about how they didn’t use synthesisers, but new decade, new me, right? Enter the Oberheim OB-X. This album was once again another success for Queen, with multiple hit singles and it being their best selling album in the US. Since half the album was released as singles and most of them did well, there’s not a lot of “listen to this” material to pick from. “Dragon Attack” has a funky bassline. “Rock It (Prime Jive)” is another good Roger Taylor song. “Don’t Try Suicide” is a catchy song I find myself singing when I feel bad. I laugh at the song title “Sail Away Sweet Sister” because I joke that they predicted James Charles being cancelled. “Coming Soon” is also decent. Overall, a good album, definitely stronger than Jazz and News of the World.

Flash Gordon (1981)

This is where Queen start to have their trainwreckords, to borrow an expression from Todd in the Shadows. Many fans say that the soundtrack they made for Flash Gordon is the worst. I definitely see some parallels with Pink Floyd and The Kinks, many people didn’t like the soundtracks they made for More and Percy. At least there were a couple redeeming moments on those albums. On this one though, I fail to hear anything I could see myself listening to for fun outside this deep dive review. It sounds cheesy and there’s not much Queen in it and it’s not like I hate synthesisers, it’s just that other bands used them better. A similar criticism I had for The Who’s Who Are You. Sounds like a product of its time and didn’t age well. At best, this music is fitting for when I’m waiting in the queue for Space Mountain at Disney or for a video game, but ultimately I just want to get on Space Mountain! If Queen’s name weren’t on it, I don’t think it would have sold well. There’s a reason that this album is skipped in Queen album rankings. The nicest thing I can say is that “Battle Theme” is the most listenable song here.

Hot Space (1982)

The other “worst Queen album”, except for “Under Pressure” – everyone loves that song. Alternative title: Freddie and Deaky have fun with disco music while Bri and Rog roll their eyes and grumble. I like the album cover because I think it’s an accurate depiction of which Hogwarts houses they’d be in. Freddie is the perfect Gryffindor. Roger’s a total Slytherin. Deaky’s a smart Ravenclaw. Bri’s a Hufflepuff, which happens to be the house with the badger mascot. Queen predicted Harry Potter. I don’t make the rules.

After the success they had with “Another One Bites The Dust”, which Michael Jackson told the band would be a hit, Freddie and Deaky wanted to try their hand at more disco/dance rock kind of music. Thing is, they’re a bit late to that because by 1982, disco was dead, maybe if it were released a couple years earlier it would have been better received? That said, Michael Jackson really liked this album and said it influenced the sound of Thriller. I like disco music so I’m gonna think better of this album than a lot of Queen fans. I like “Staying Power” and the anti-gun “Put Out The Fire”. “Back Chat” though is my favourite track on this album and fans say this is Deaky’s diss track to Brian May. “Las Palabras de Amor” is the band’s tribute to their Latin American fans and I laugh every time they say ‘despacito’ (which means slowly) in that song, bet they didn’t know there would be a big hit with that title decades later. “Life is Real” is a nice tribute to John Lennon and much more like the Queen of a couple years back, so this album isn’t completely alienating. I’d say overall this album is so-so, but it’s grown on me a bit.

The Works (1984)

After that failed experiment, Queen went back to their hard rock sound and the rest of their career became apologising for Hot Space. Roger Taylor came up with the title for this album when they started recording the album, he said “Let’s give them the works!” Personally, I think the Greatest Hits covers the good songs on this album. The other songs aren’t bad, they just don’t stand out.

A Kind of Magic (1986)

Another successful album for Queen and released a year after their famous Live Aid performance. This was the last album to be promoted with a tour, since Freddie was diagnosed with AIDS in 1987 and couldn’t tour anymore and instead wanted to focus on making as much music as possible for the fans. Fun fact: it was one of the first rock albums by a big band to be released in the USSR after the beginning of perestroika. Besides the hits “One Vision” and “A Kind of Magic”, I like the Mercury-Deacon compositions “Pain is So Close to Pleasure” and “Friends Will Be Friends”. “Gimme the Prize” has some great heavy metal guitar work on it and I appreciated it, but not a song I’d listen to much. Overall, not my favourite, but there are some good songs.

The Miracle (1989)

Queen were going through a lot in their personal lives at this time. Brian filed for a divorce and Freddie was diagnosed with AIDS. Once again, Roger came up with the album title, but it was originally gonna be called The Invisible Men. Personally, I’m not really into Queen’s mid-late 80s material (I think a lot of it sounds cheesy and it’s not like I hate synthesisers, I just don’t think it goes well with rock bands who by the 80s are basically dinosaurs) and I think the best of CDs cover the best material from this time because “I Want It All” is really good, I just love that guitar solo and you can really hear the divorce in it because it’s different his previous guitar solos. “The Invisible Man” predicted that trend of musicians shouting their names in a song, very popular among rappers in the 21st century.

Innuendo (1991)

This is the last album released before Freddie Mercury’s death in November 1991. Queen did release one more album after Freddie Mercury died, called Made In Heaven, but I won’t be talking about that one. Freddie’s voice on this album is great, period. He always fought and kept releasing music until the end and I have so much respect for him. Besides the hits: the title track and “Headlong”, there are some good tracks like “I Can’t Live With You” (sort of reminiscent of Zeppelin), “Don’t Try So Hard”, “Ride The Wild Wind”. I can’t talk about this album without talking about “Delilah”, it’s a cheesy song, but as a proud mother of a cat, I appreciate any songs about cats. Delilah was a calico cat. My cat, Bowie, also happens to be a calico cat.

Here is the full Listen to This, Not That playlist for Queen:

In conclusion:

This deep dive confirms to me why Queen are one of my favourite bands of all time and as always I love going out of my comfort zone when looking at my favourite bands even if it’s sometimes a miss. I always believe in keeping my mind open. I hope you enjoyed reading this deep dive into Queen’s discography as much as I loved writing it and you’ve learnt something new. By popular demand, next Listen to This, Not That will be Black Sabbath!

Shoutout to Patrick and Jeffrey from Maryland for supporting the blog!

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