Words | Chris Mobbs
Queen is the greatest band of all time.
Time and again, in a 20-year purple patch, they harnessed virtuosity, playfulness and singular inspiration. They combined this genius with stamina, bloody-mindedness and a forensic attention to detail that would have broken most musicians.
Choosing their top five albums is like being told by Tony Soprano to choose five fingers.
Put the phone away. Sit in a comfortable chair between two speakers. Light some candles. Drape yourself in cashmere. Listen to these albums from first track to last – just as Freddie, Brian, Roger and John intended – for the playlist approach to Queen is akin to a dessert smorgasbord: a good idea at the time, but one that will probably result in dyspepsia. Luxuriate instead, in degustation.
Sometimes seen as the Harpo to the Groucho in Queen’s Marx Brothers brace, but is the better album. Beyond even the ‘Greatest Hits’ contributions (Somebody To Love, Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy) lies the delicacy and precision (and stalker-song inspiration to Sting, probably) of You Take My Breath Away. In Millionaire Waltz, one of their greatest, they somehow dance between Strauss, Dietrich, Zeppelin and back again without breaking sweat. And check out John Deacon’s bassline.
The one that bestowed the coronation they knew was rightfully theirs. Listen to Killer Queen and Now I’m Here anew, as simply tracks two and six – part of an uninterrupted whole. This is perhaps their most varied and complete album; they are Jacks and Masters of all trades. Want to know how to segue from a song heavy enough for Metallica (Stone Cold Crazy) to a lullaby (Dear Friends)? Harlem Rag Time via a George Formby solo? Step forward, Bring Back That Leroy Brown. And She Makes Me is a classic ‘secret’ Queen bijou with a city-scape coda that will make your hair stand on end.
Think Highlander was a ridiculous bit of fluff about a French Scotsman and a Scottish Spaniard tearing around on horses lopping off heads? Wrong. If I was a boxer, or a 16th century Scotsman preparing for battle, One Vision would accompany my ring walk. If I was a Kurgan barrelling through New York in 1986, I’d do it in a Buick to Gimme the Prize. And Who Wants To Live Forever is the best love song about immortality in Scotland ever written.
If this whole album was only It’s Late, it would still make the list – it’s Queen’s best song. Therefore, logically, the greatest song of all time. Not enough? Well then, here’s John Deacon cementing his place as Queen’s George Harrison, with Spread Your Wings.
Freddie’s voice, always supernatural, evolved over the years from rapier, to the Claymore of the ’80s to, incredibly, given his condition, Katana. The one-two cut of Days of our Lives and Show Must Go On are heartbreaking. On the latter, Freddie downs one more vodka and hits a dog whistle-high D, while Brian rises to the challenge and coaxes a final heroic solo out of the Red Special for his old, stricken friend. Utterly devastating.
The Bohemian Rhapsody OST is out October 19 via EMI.