queen greatest hitsAs Queen’s quintessential 1981 release Greatest Hits again climbs the charts, Chris Mobbs maps the journey of one of its underappreciated stand-outs: the Brian May-penned Save Me.

What Lurex thread links this archetypal Queen masterpiece to Lulu, Krautrock, Giorgio Moroder, Donna Summer and Electric Light Orchestra?

Read on…

As the ’70s drew to a close, Queen confidently – alright, arrogantly – rocked the by-now familiar dual identities within the musical cosmos. On the one hand, sniffy UK music publications NME and Melody Maker dismissed them as hopeless pariahs – emblematic, in their very narrow minds, of all that was wrong with music. Punk and New Wave and Reggae were infinitely more cool. Queen, along with other dinosaurs like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Genesis, were louche and irrelevant.

On the other, hundreds of millions of paying punters disagreed; they idolised these miraculous musicians, loved a bit of louche, and couldn’t give two bollocks what these fans of the Pistols preached. Also getting up their snooty, safety-pinned noses was the tax exile status of the biggest bands and stars of the 1970s. Would you be happy to give 98 per cent of your earnings to the tax man?

And so to Munich.

If you believe Malcolm Gladwell, by 1979 Queen were comfortably expert in the mysterious alchemy of studio recording. In fact the famously fastidious Dr. Brian May alone probably passed his 10,000 hours somewhere around Sheer Heart Attack. It is to their great credit then that they were willing to try something new: to dive in and work with Musicland house producer Reinhold Mack.

‘Mack’ is the unifying answer to the brau haus quiz question above. So quickly and completely did he gain their respect during this first collaboration that he would be invited back to the Queen family fold, stadium and studio, many more times in the decades that followed. His fresh and instinctive ability to bottle lightning would result in some of their greatest hits; four from The Game alone on the 25 million-selling (and counting), Greatest Hits.

Save Me is one of those exalted cuts. Next to the juggernaut that is Another One Bites the Dust, it may appear almost a footnote – an afterthought. In fact it was recorded beforehand, in the summer of 1979, during the first of the two The Game Musicland sessions and separated by a ‘Crazy Tour’ around the UK. The John Deacon/Chic-driven Dust would come about in early 1980, the discos and debauchery of Munich by then well and truly assimilated.

The apocryphal story of May’s inspiration for Save Me relates to the end of his friend’s marriage. Its literal and devastating lyrics are pure Brian, as is its breathtaking, dynamic four-minute journey.

A simple piano motif and that singular Freddie voice. A gorgeous bittersweet melody; a prominent acoustic guitar. Roger’s signature snare-and-hi-hat beat and John’s melodic bass, nimble and tasteful. An explosion of three voices in harmony; the first recorded instance of a synthesiser on a Queen track (an Oberheim OB-X if you must know) just a restrained splash to herald another kaleidoscopic Brian solo. Finally a gossamer resolution, a circle complete. So masterful. So beautiful. So Queen.

In hindsight it is almost inconceivable that Queen managed to tour the UK, tour Europe and Japan, record The Game, tour the US, and record and promote Flash Gordon in under two crazy years.

So never mind the snobs and never mind the bollocks: this is songwriting genius and a perfect arrangement executed by inspired musicians at the very top of The Game. Listen with goosebumps and a smile, and raise a glass of Moet to Freddie and the boys. Save Me is a masterpiece.

Greatest Hits by Queen is out now.

Buy now at JB Hi-Fi