This week was Halloween and this weekend is the worldwide theatrical premiere of Bohemian Rhapsody, a biopic about Queen, but mostly about lead singer Freddie Mercury. So naturally, there were a lot of people dressing Freddie Mercury for Halloween, myself included. Queen is my favorite band, and I had a beard so naturally I shaved so I could be Freddie – to mediocre results.
I’m disappointed to hear that Bohemian Rhapsody (the movie) is meeting to mixed reviews, but I’m sure I’ll still enjoy it. The broad critical reaction is that Rami Malek gives a wonderful performance as Freddie Mercury, but the rest of the movie is just a little weak.
So while a lot of people are criticizing the movie and lauding the man it’s about, I think I’d share ten of my favorite lesser-known Queen songs.
“Doing All Right”
This is a neat little track from Queen’s first album. It’s got some fun and thrilling tempo changes, and bounces between a calm lullaby and a hard rocking riff. Whenever I hear them sing “Doin’ alllll riiiiiiiiiight…” In the chorus, I can’t help but feel that if some other mid-level band had recorded this song, it would be on their greatest hits album.
Queen’s second album – the fittingly-titled Queen II – is full of odd, quirky songs that are named like high fantasy adventure stories, such as “The White Queen,” “March of the Black Queen,” “Nevermore,” “The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke,” and “Seven Seas of Rhye.” But the most brash and hard-rocking of all is “Ogre Battle,” which starts quietly but quickly rises to a scream and leads into one of Brian May’s best guitar riffs.
Fun fact: There’s a video game series named after this song.
This song is mostly a showcase for guitarist Brian May, with a three minute guitar solo in the middle. During live shows, the song was often four minutes longer.
Additionally, this song is something of personal pride for me. A few years ago, I made a long playlist (about four hours long) to listen to on lengthy drives. And when I first started thinking of songs to put on this playlist, the very first song that I decided would be perfect to this playlist would be Queen’s “Brighton Rock.”
Then, the Edgar Wright-directed movie Baby Driver, which is all about cars and music, has a main character who claims that “Brighton Rock” is his favorite song to drive to – and the song plays during the movie’s climax in a beautifully-choreographed car chase. (And Edgar Wright has talked about how Sheer Heart Attack is his favorite Queen album; mine too!)
“The Prophet’s Song”
This is for the person who liked “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but thought it was a bit too short and not high-concept and weird enough. It’s an achievement in progressive rock that tells the story of Noah’s Ark during the flood. The middle of the song is a chilling musical canon (also know as “rounds”) from Mercury, in which three different recordings of his voice are played in succession one-after-the-other. It’s interesting to hear, and is best heard with surround sound headphones.
This song was written by Queen for their Japanese fans, and I just think that’s really nice. The chorus is sung in both Japanese and English, and is definitely the high point of the song. One thing I love about this song is that it goes from minor, dissonant verses to a upbeat and melodic chorus that just makes this interesting contrast.
“Spread Your Wings”
I don’t always love songs that have a narrative story in the lyrics, but this power ballad tells the story of a young man giving up his day job to chase his dreams. It’s inspiring.
Fast Version of “We Will Rock You”
Obviously, there’s a communal element in the stomp-stomp-clap rhythm of “We Will Rock You” and that’s what’s made that song so successful, but I really love this version of the song. Better than the original? Hard to say.
If you talk about Queen’s Flash Gordon soundtrack, most people can tell you about the theme song, “Flash,” and this song reprises that same “FLASH – AHHH!” melody, but this song takes that a step further. As opposed to the main theme, “The Hero” really fills me with the desire to watch to watch Flash Gordon.
I could have just as easily given this to “I Want to Break Free.” Sure, both of these songs have been on greatest hits albums here and there, but aren’t in the same group as any of those early hits like “We Will Rock You” or “Fat-Bottomed Girls” or “Under Pressure” or anything like that. It’s definitely a second-tier greatest hit – but I think it deserves to be in the top tier. It’s a lot of fun, it’s upbeat, it’s wholesome.
The title track from Queen’s last album tries to capture the same magic that “Bohemian Rhapsody” did sixteen years earlier. It’s a weird six minutes which goes through a few tempo and tonal changes and manages to be a little over the top. I’d be a fool to say that it his the same highs as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but it’s still an awesome song and one of the best on the band’s concluding efforts.
(Honorable mention: All the songs where drummer Roger Taylor sang lead vocals.)