Freddie Mercury, Roger Taylor, Brian May, and John Deacon were each extraordinary songwriters and musicians and together made Queen a timeless musical phenomenon that may only be rivaled by The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, or the Rolling Stones in terms of being completely recognizable. Nearly everyone knows “Bohemian Rhapsody” thanks in large part to the movie “Wayne’s World” and just the near constant radio play and multi-platinum status of their classic album, “A Night at the Opera”. No sporting event in baseball, hockey, football, or basketball would be complete without “We Will Rock You” and what would a championship victory of any sport be without “We Are the Champions”? You’ve heard Queen in Pepsi commercials and even “You’re My Best Friend” made it in a search engine commercial. Yet is Queen only defined by their greatest hits? Oh heck no! If you really want to know just how impressive and musicaly gifted Queen are as a band, I highly recommend you soak in this list of my Top 10 Most Under-Rated Queen tracks! Plus some very honorable mentions!
#10 Liar – from Queen, (1973)
It’s raw, its hard rock on the edges of heavy metal. This track helps establish Queen’s explosive dynamic style of hard rhythm, tight drumming, and Freddie Mercury’s vocal virtuosity. Song starts soft but the build up is intense! “Liar” also gives us a taste of John Deacon’s bass ability with a tantalizing solo that bleeds from Brian May’s fantastic, practically orchestral riffing. This is all before Brian May discovered echo-reverb and delay and believe me, this track is only a small taste of what May can do in later tracks. Vocally, you have Freddie delivering soft, tender words to offering words that seem to bite and sink into your tender eardrums where his delivery will echo and stick until you want to sing along. You’ll want to also hear the live version of “Liar” from their 1974 show at the Rainbow Theater concert for sure. The concert was filmed for a BBC show, Old Grey Whistle Test and could probably be found easily on You Tube now.
#9 White Queen (As it Began) – from Queen II, (1974)
The song is majestic and poetic. It’s sublime fairy tale fantasy. Just close your eyes and let Queen paint a musical story in your mind of the sad-eyed, White Queen at night. The sounds coming from Brian May are the natural guitar sounds of his Red Special guitar, a custom homemade guitar he and his father built from old pieces from a fireplace in their home and odds and ends he found in his spare time. No synthesizers here whatsoever! Some multi-layered magic, that is all. This song also starts nice and softly, almost a lullaby before a tremendous rousing climax and tender, sweet, sad closing as soft as it had began.
#8 Teo Torriate (Let Us Cling Together) – from A Day at the Races, (1976)
Warm, soft lyrical interlude in an album of classics, this is a tender love song written by Brian May delivered by Freddie Mercury invitingly with incredible empathy for the listener. The chorus is Japanese, paying tribute to that country’s warm reception for Queen’s first 1975 Japanese tour in which they were treated like royalty with a reception akin to Beatlemania. This song is very rousing and illustrates that Queen will go to any length to reach out to an audience–even sing to you in Japanese.
#7 The Hero – from Flash Gordon, (1980)
Powerful, hard, inspiring, and yet only a minute and a half long and stuck on a soundtrack album that is kind of forgettable for a movie that was sci-fi cheese. If it were not for Queen’s rock treatment, Flash Gordon would not be the cult classic that is. Queen turned an over-the-top campy sci-fi homage to the old Flash Gordon black and white TV serials the into an epic rock space opera. This song was featured in the end credits and saw action in Queen’s live shows. I seriously dig this song and it’s not just the pounding drum intro and edgy riffs and Freddie’s rousing delivery– it’s a total package deal capsule of what Queen can do if given just a scant minute of your time. Crank this one up nice and loud.
#6 You and I – from A Day at the Races, (1976)
John Deacon offers up a nice catchy song with wonderful, visual lyrics of romance by lanterns that go swinging by. Timeless love, jittery, nervous love. Nice swaying rhythms and transitions–a very complex song that goes back and forth from ballad to rock. There is a lot packaged into this song and its only proof that there is depth to Queen that other bands can’t touch. I don’t know too many bands that can handle such chnages in rhythm and style like Queen can. Why this song and Brian May’s “Long Away” also off “A Day at the Races” were never released as singles is beyond me.
#5 Dead On Time – from Jazz, (1978)
Brian May in top form delivering frantic riffs and solos in a tension-filled race and rock romp. This song speaks to the die-hard Queen fans that have fallen in love with that raw rock sound that was first born with “Keep Yourself Alive” off 1973’s “Queen” and “Brighton Rock” from their 1974 album, “Sheer Heart Attack”. The great thing about the album “Jazz” is that it seems to capture Queen as they close in on a peak of perfection. Aside from “Fat Bottomed Girls” and “Bicycle Race”, and “Don’t Stop Me Now”, this track along with John Deacon’s track, “If You Can’t Beat Them” are two solid songs that deserve much more recognition. “Jazz” was a very rock heavy album and May and Deacon bring some secret weapons into Queen’s rock arsenal.
#4 If You Can’t Beat Them- from Jazz, (1978)
John Deacon is a definite secret weapon in Queen’s arsenal. He may not come up with many songs, but those he writes end up being major hits. Take “Another One Bites the Dust” and “I Want to Break Free” and “You’re My Best Friend” for just his three big examples. This track is catchy, hard rock with inspiring lyrics and layers upon layers of guitar with a nice bass sound and rhythm section. This song was fantastic live on their U.S. tour and any bootlegs of this track live in Houston 1978 should be treasured like the precius One Ring from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I can’t argue enough for this song and it deserves to be a single and get more air time on the classic rock stations.
#3 Sail Away Sweet Sister – from The Game, (1980)
Powerful love rock ballad featuring Brian May on lead vocals with great building layers of guitar riffs and lifting vocal choruses. This song and “Save Me” also on the album deserve more attention and recognition. Of course “Save Me” was released as a single but this song got kind of buried away and seems to offer at least as much power and quality as “Save Me” or “Play the Game”. With songs like “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “Another One Bites the Dust”, I can see why other tracks got unfortunately overshadowed on this album. Another honorable mention on this album is the funk-rock “Dagon Attack” and the Roger Taylor rock pulsing “Rock It (Prime Jive)”. “The Game” album should have gotten a Grammy.
#2 Ride the Wild Wind – from Innuendo, (1991)
Roger Taylor provided two masterpieces to this incredible album. This is one of them. Just close your eyes, hold on tight, and let the wind take you. You are speeding on the back of a motorcyle in some dar city’s streets and by the time Brian May’s masterful solo hits you, you’ll wish the ride would last forever. Roger Taylor has a knack for driving songs with driving rhythms and high octane energy and fun and emotion. This is a natural sequel to his 1975 tune, “I’m in Love with My Car” off “A Night at the Opera” but this song is even more powerful and it will grab you instantly.
#1 It’s Late – from News of the World, (1977)
The problem with picking a number one most underated song, let alone constructing a “Top 10” list of anything from Queen is that Queen has left us with such a wide range of musical masterpieces and such a large body of work that spans at least two decades’ worth of studio albums and now over forty years of history and a still enduring presence in our musical consciousness. The song that makes the top of my list for most under-rated songs from Queen is this magnum opus rock ballad off of the 1977 “News of the World” album. It’s a three-part, three scene love drama and it is all emotion, all wonderfully stirring with Mercury taking you through every “scene” with the rise and fall of every note to the backdrop of May’s orchestrations that are another journey in itself. The great thing about certain Queen tracks, especially like this one, they sort of stick in your mind not just as catchy tunes or choruses, but as musical movies, really. The lyrics just naturally provoke the imagination for me as well as the emotions. This song is a masterpiece as good as “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “Somebody to Love”. This song seems much more poignant perhaps because you can feel all four members of Queen pouring everything into it of their personal lives.
Some Queen 80’s Honorable Mentions
You’ll notoce that I didn’t give too many nods of special recognition to a lot of Queen’s work in the 80’s. That’s not to say they didn’t have their share of 80’s under-rated gems– they had plenty! The problem is, the 80’s for Queen saw Queen at a peak of performance and popularity. They were doing record breaking tours, LIVE-AID, and an unforgettable soundrtrack to Highlander. The 80’s saw some great highs and lows for Queen, but mostly great highs by the time they were in their “A Kind of Magic Tour” in 1986. It was hard to find songs that didn’t get attention or notice both for better or for worse. I just have to mention their 1982 “Hot Space” album to prove the point to some. I had already done a fairly thorough review of “Hot Space” and why I liked it but check that review out for “Hot Space” honorable mentions. If I mention “A Kind of Magic”, naturally it brings up Highlander or “One Vision” and its prominent inclusion in the Iron Eagle soundtrack. As for Queen’s last studio album as a foursome, “Innuendo” of 1991 and the in-memorium album, “Made in Heaven” in 1995, they deserve an entirely seperate article I am sure to write soon.
So given that, here’s my list of Queen’s honorable mentions.
One Year of Love – from “A Kind of Magic”, (1986) – A nice, easy-listening love song by John Deacon featuring some smooth saxaphone and orchestral elements. Song was featured briefly in the 1986 movie, Highlander.
Was It All Worth It – from “The Miracle”, (1989) – A semi-autobiographical romp into the rock n’ roll life of Queen. Kind of tongue in cheek, but maybe not. With Queen, you never really know but I really love the delivery of this very elaborate song that really lends itself to the later 1991 album “Innuendo” and the offering of “The Show Must Go On”. So much texture in this one song it feels like I am on a world tour with them.
Machines (Back to Humans) – from “The Works”, (1984) – The band that used to boast “No Synthesizers” on the backs of their album covers in the 70’s had embraced them more fully in 1982 with the album “Hot Space” and with the 1984 hit single “Radio Ga Ga” off “The Works” album. “Machines” seems to poke at that observation as well as many other observatiobns about how technology and machines have sort of run amok in our everyday lives. Maybe an even more poignant message now in 2013? In any event this song gets the balance just right between rock and where synthesizer seem to belong in rock. Synthesizers can enhance or add a flavor or texture or element of atmosphere to a song–or a band for that matter, but thankfully Queen learned a lesson from “Hot Space” and injected the very organic elements that made them legends– Brian May’s guitars, Freddie Mercury’s vocals and energy, and the very steady pulsing rhythm section of John Deacon and Roger Taylor.
Keep Passing the Open Windows – from “The Works”, (1984)
A smooth, pulsing rhythmic pop song that just hums in your head and lifts you up, Proof that it doesn’t have to be heavy, multi-layered, or over-the-top to be a great song. Queen can do it all, here, they do something simple and do it beautifully.
Rachel McLeod has been following Queen as a die-hard, dedicated fan since 1980. She has also been playing drums and percussion since the age of five and now dabbles in synthesizers and electronic music.