From Pitchfork: “Fucking Queen. For all their reported bombast, pomp, and tendency to overshoot and double-slaughter any semblances of good taste, everything you’ve heard about them is still true. They’re one of the few phenomena who deliver on the hype, regardless of how you approach them. Hate or love proggy album suites? Doesn’t matter, Queen will make you feel good about your choice. Can’t stand operatic drama, or can’t get enough unitard-clad frontmen? Love to hate prime 1970s hard rock with arena sheen? Welcome to the greatest/most horrible band of the 20th century. They did and wanted it all. Yet, so much of Queen’s music is still under-recognized even by people who know and love the hits.”
Last year’s reissue campaign was most welcome. Most of the Hollywood cd’s sounded muddy, and these new ones are clear as a bell, shedding new light on old friends. They each come with a second disk of BBC sessions, live tracks and rare studio stuff. They are inconsequential. It’s the albums as they were originally released that are the treat. I’ve been revisiting their first 8 albums recently which gives me an opportunity to post a fresh perspective on QUEEN PHASE ONE (1973-1980). I’ve no use for QUEEN PHASE II (1981 and beyond), as beloved as it is to fans from Great Britain it never appealed to me at all.
When I was 9 years old my older cousin came waltzing into my Grandmother’s house with a brand new album tucked under his arm. He placed it on the counter and proceeded to make himself a sandwich; after the obligatory salutations and mandatory small talk with Nana, of course. Curious, I walked over to the counter and flipped the album over to take a gander at the cover.
I thought, at that moment in time, that the cover of Queen’s News Of The World was one of the most amazing, disturbing, and very, very cool images I had ever seen. I was fascinated by it, to say the very least. For those of you not familiar with this iconic image, it’s a painting of a giant, metallic silver robot, looking quite sad actually, who is holding two dead people in his cool, robotic hand; one poor soul has a bloody puncture wound in his chest (which explained the robot‘s bloody middle finger), the other simply devoid of life with no visible wounds (perhaps he died of shock). A third figure was falling to his death.
I would later learn that this was a reproduction/ manipulation of a cover painting for “Weird Tales”, a science fiction pulp magazine around the 1940’s. The artist was Frank Kelly Freas who would later, miraculously, go on to paint some iconic cover images of Alfred E. Newman for MAD magazine. But that’s another story in itself.
A few months later I conned my parents into letting me purchase the album, and what I heard within those grooves still amazes me today. This is a dark and intense album, stylistically all over the place, played by virtuoso musicians. You can forget the stadium anthems (We Will Rock You/ We Are The Champions); overplayed and shmaltzy they’re the lamest tunes on the disc, although the solo at the end of …Rock You still amazes.
Sheer Heart Attack, penned by sticks-man Roger Taylor is a brutal speed metal attack that blows away anything released in 1977. Get Down, Make Love, a strange apocalyptic disco-funk fusion number, later covered to so-so effect by Nine Inch Nails, still gives me chills due to guitarist Brian May’s manipulated, otherworldly guitar sounds. Fight From The Inside is chilly robo-funk of the highest order, and Sleeping On The Sidewalk, is a swaggering blues rocker with a killer guitar solo. News Of The World remains a highpoint of Queen’s career, topped, but just, by A Night At The Opera and Sheer Heart Attack.
“Queen’s music is a bizarre yet highly accessible fusion of the macho and the fey.”
It didn’t hurt that Queen had one of the best and tightest rhythm sections in rock history either, with Roger Taylor on the kit and John Deacon on the bass. And the guitarist, one of the most underrated in all of rock and roll history, was/is incredible. The sound he coaxes by playing with a coin instead of a traditional guitar pick, has never been duplicated, although many have tried, by anyone other than Brian May. Perhaps it’s partly due to the fact that he built his guitar himself out of wood from a broken down mantelpiece and spare parts from a car (his “Red Special“) that makes it so unique. I dunno, probably, whatever. It’s just incredibly unique. And what about Freddie Mercury, well, his talent as a front man and sinbger/songwriter/entertainer is well documented. All 4 members of the band penned top 10 hits. Can you name another band where that is the case? I can think of only one other, beginning with a “B”.
After the massive success of The Game album (Another One Bites The Dust, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, etc), things started to go downhill, and fast. After releasing “Under Pressure”, their duet David Bowie, they offered up Hot Space which remains a strange hodge-podge of watered down funk and cheesy lyrics. Yes, I am aware that a good majority of Queen’s lyrics have always been a tad cheesy, but this was notches cheesier than anything they released up to this point. Brian May, against this new direction from the beginning, went into a depression not long after the album was released.
I have to admit that after Hot Space I stopped listening. I chose/choose not to tarnish their considerable legacy by purchasing anything after1980.
Although Queen became even bigger in Europe they would never again see the kind of success they enjoyed in the ‘70’s in America.
God Save The Queen!
My favorite Queen Albums, in order of how I like ’em: