Today (November 24, 2021) marks the 30th anniversary of legendary singer Freddie Mercury's death. The Queen frontman died from Aids-related complications in 1991, having declined to speak publicly about his diagnosis until the day before his death.
Many things have happened this year to commemorate the milestone event, including the release of a Freddie Mercury graphic novel and an upcoming BBC documentary about the singer's life that will premiere this Saturday. We're very big Queen fans over here at Live365, so we feel it necessary to contribute to the special day as well.
To remember the life and legacy of Freddie Mercury and all victims who have suffered from AIDS, we are centering our weekly Top 10 around the genius of Queen. We've already made a Best Queen Songs list, so this time we're tackling our favorite Queen albums in a Top 10 ranking!
From 1973 until 1995, Queen released 15 studio albums. Their records covered a lot of ground: from stadium rock anthems to heavy metal hits, stirring piano ballads and even some disco tunes. While some of their records may not be hailed as critical or commercial successes (we're looking at you, Hot Space), others are innovative projects that left a lasting mark on the world of music. Without further ado, here are our picks!
10. Innuendo (1991)
Innuendo was the final album released during Freddie Mercury's lifetime, while he was battling AIDS. It was heralded as a return to form from the iconic band, even though the more popular grunge rock scene - and new bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden - were taking over.
Innuendo had a lot of intelligent humour and pathos about it. There's "Delilah," for instance, that's all about Mercury’s pet cat. "I’m Going Slightly Mad" is a song about slipping into crazinees performed in the reverie style of English playwright Noël Coward. Then there's the brilliant songwriting of "These are the Days of Our Lives," and "The Show Must Go On," as well as that Spanish guitar-adorned title track.
All in all, Innuendo was a good end to Queen's legacy. The surviving members would release Made In Heaven a few years later, but Innuendo felt like a more proper finale for devoted fans.
9. Queen (1973)
We've started with the end of Freddie's career, and now we're taking it back to the beginning. Queen's self-titled album was not a commercial success until the band became more mainstream, but this debut record shows off the early potential of the group and captured their raw, budding talent. Queen was recorded in chaotic spur-of-the-moment sessions at London’s Trident Studios, during the studio’s downtime (Queen were not signed by a label yet, despite arduous club gigs and marketing efforts).
In terms of sound, the album was a mix of progressive rock, heavy metal, and/or hard rock. Notable tracks on this record include the upbeat "Keep Yourself Alive," as well as "Liar," "My Fairy King" and "Doing All Right." While Queen does not have the same attention as later albums from the band, it's still a favorite among diehard fans.
8. Queen II (1974)
Queen's sequel to their debut was arguably the heaviest of their discography. Many fans love this underrated record for the track "Ogre Battle," but other songs like "March of the Black Queen" and "Seven Seas of Rhye" also pack a punch.
While commercial sales for this album were similarly low like the band's debut, it did receive a boost in purchases thanks to their live show popularity. Queen made the coveted cut as the opening act for Mott The Hoople, one of the hottest tickets in the U.K. in late 1973. The tour continued into the U.S. through early 1974, prior to the release of Queen’s sophomore album, whose recording sessions were well underway. The group would release Queen II upon the tour's completion.
Queen II also had a memorable “White Side/Black Side” concept where each side was respectively dominated by Brian May and Freddie Mercury compositions. And who can forget Mick Rock’s iconic LP cover photo for this album? It would eventually be recreated for the iconic music video to "Bohemian Rhapsody."
7. The Works (1984)
After the debacle that was Hot Space, Queen got the hint and released The Works in 1984. Thankfully, it was a solid rebound and even produced some classics like "It's a Hard Life," "Hammer to Fall," the stadium smash "Radio Ga Ga" and the now-beloved "I Want to Break Free."
The Works is satisfying because it features the band’s hard rock roots without compromising the electropop and funk elements they’d been embracing over the previous few years. To put it simply, The Works worked, and while the band never got to tour this album in the United States (it's all MTV's fault for banning "I Want to Break Free's" drag queen music video), it fared well commercially. For a comeback album, it pushed all the right buttons.
6. The Game (1980)
Two huge singles catapulted this album to success: “Another One Bites The Dust,” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” which both hit #1 on the United States Billboard Music Charts. Those two songs kept solidifying Queen's growing presence across the pond, and some consider The Game the peak of the band's career - or at least the last record before things got rough.
Other than the two huge singles that fueled this album's recognition, most of the tracks on The Game have fallen into undeserved obscurity. There's the dramatic "Save Me," which we think is one of Brian May's best-written tunes, as well as the tracks "Need Your Loving Tonight," and "Sail Away Sweet Sister." Most of Queen's legacy came from their work throughout the 70s, but The Game made sure the band didn't lose its starpower in a new decade.
5. A Day at the Races (1976)
This appropriately-titled sequel, which followed the band's hit album A Night at the Opera, showed that Queen was on a roll. While A Day At The Races may not be Queen's biggest album of all time, it's an outstanding piece of work. It managed to ship gold in America (selling 500K units) having crossed-the-hit-single line with another chart-chomping worldwide single of vocal extravagance: the gospel-esque-vintage number "Somebody To Love."
Other standouts on this album include the opener "Tie Your Mother Down," the gorgeous ballad "Take My Breath Away," and "Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy," which was something of a tribute to Noël Coward. Since Queen had proved themselves with their previous album, A Day at the Races gave them room to experiment a bit, and we're grateful for that.
4. News of the World (1977)
When we think of News of the World, we think of the opening mega-hit stadium crowd pleasers "We Are the Champions" and "We Will Rock You." Those back-to-back twin songs hit #1 on the charts and remain cult classics - especially at sporting events.
On those two songs, Brian May revealed in Musicaficianado: "That was a response to a particular phase in our career when the audience was becoming a bigger part of the show than we were. They would sing all the songs. And in a place like Birmingham, they’d be so vociferous that we’d have to stop the show and let them sing to us. So both Freddie and I thought it would be an interesting experiment to write songs with audience participation specifically in mind. And my feeling was that everyone can stamp, clap and sing a simple motif. The idea for “We Will Rock You” came from that."
Queen also spiced their sound up a bit with the tracks "Spread Your Wings," "Get Down, Make Love" and "My Melancholy Blues." As an album, News of the World was a sonic departure from their previous work, with its generally louder, but more sparse and down-to-earth musical arrangements, more firmly rooted in the rock genre. Regardless, this album became Queen's most commercially successful project.
Upon release, the band supported the album with a bigger and glitzier stage-stomping world tour, promptly starting in the U.S. - where the album’s popularity grew the most. (And by "the most," we mean into certified quadruple platinum status.) In other words, it fared comparatively better than in Queen's home territory, the U.K.
3. Sheer Heart Attack (1974)
Sheer Heart Attack is just a very well-made album, period. The genius of starting with the blazing song "Brighton Rock," then effortlessly coasting from the glam-tastic "Killer Queen," to the fragile "Lily of the Valley," then "Now I’m Here's" staccato bombast, and finally, the thundering speed metal of "Stone Cold Crazy" is just, well...chef's kiss good. There's nothing much like it.
Sheer Heart Attack was an important adventure for Queen. It showed the band - and the rest of the world - that they had the confidence to push the boundaries of rock music in new directions. It spawned Queen-mania in the U.K., much of Europe, and Japan. In the U.S. Sheer Heart Attack went gold (and eventually platinum) and the single for "Killer Queen" cracked the Top 20 (peaking at #12). In their native U.K., it made it to #2, their second Top 10 hit. Brian May’s “Now I’m Here” almost made it there, reaching #11.
2. Jazz (1978)
This #2 pick might be controversial for some, but here us out on this one. Whenever discussions take place about Queen’s incredible string of classic albums throughout the late 70s, 1978’s Jazz is the one that always gets overlooked. Why? We're not sure, because behind the pretty standard geometrical black-and-white cover art lies electrifying hits such as "Bicycle Race," "Fat Bottomed Girls," "Don't Stop Me Now," "Let Me Entertain You," and "Mustapha."
This album was recorded outside of England for a change, with producer Roy Thomas Baker, last featured in the studio-mix three albums prior on A Night at the Opera. The band was set on making music bearing a loosely defined “European" flavor. And so Jazz was recorded in Mountain Studios, Montreux, and Super Bear Studios, Nice, France.
Sure, maybe nothing on Jazz has reached the soaring heights of other Queen classics, but it's all very consistent. And very, very fun. So fun, in fact, that the band threw a big, expensive Halloween night launch party for this album in New Orleans. There may not be any actual jazz music on this record, but it certainly is a jazzy listen meant for a warm summer's day.
1. A Night at the Opera
Yes, the "Bohemian Rhapsody" album.
Sure, that legendary track is the thing that catapulted Queen's career into the stratosphere during the 70s, but putting the big bad "Bohemian Rhapsody" aside, A Night at the Opera really is a stroke of genius. All four members contributed great tracks to it. Rogers Taylor’s famous “I’m In Love with My Car,” stands as the drummer's greatest composition and recording, and John Deacon’s upbeat “You’re My Best Friend,” is also considered the pinnacle of his songwriting career.
Besides that, there's "Love of My Life," "Prophet Song," and "Good Company" to keep your ears happy. This album was a major experimental risk for the band, since the final deliverable left U.K. EMI execs very nervous. There was major financial gambling involved with it (it was the most expensive album ever recorded until Fleetwood Mac's Tusk came along), plus what DJ would want to play a six-minute song on the radio?
Fortunately, thanks to the band's unflinching insistence on certain musical aspects, good management, the right muse, and the advance vinyl production just in case the project received a green light, many DJs did play that six-minute song on-air. Now, A Night at the Opera is certified 3x platinum status by the RIAA. It is Queen's magnum opus, and it's nothing short of operatic.
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