Top 5 (favorite albums series) #4: Queen

Queen

I’ve been doing a lot of Top5s ever since I started this blog more than a year ago, and I never did one about my favorite albums of all time.

However, doing a Top5 about my favorite albums would be too trivial and I’m not a big fan of triviality. Therefore, I decided to do a series of Top 5 lists with my favorite albums from my favorite bands.  And there’s one more rule: live albums are out. There will only be studio albums.

And let’s make one thing clear: this is MY PERSONAL OPPINION. It doesn’t mean these albums are the most important, most influential or most innovative.

It is common knowledge that after The Beatles, the relationship of bands with the studio shifted dramatically. It was no longer enough to only record the albums, it was mandatory to explore everything it could offer. And rather few (if any) bands manage to do that best than Queen.

Having The Beatles as their blueprint, the band went to extremes when it comes to studio wizardry, especially regarding vocal harmonies and bombastic arrangements.

The band’s career can be divided in two phases: before and after synthesizers. Although they are both great, few would argue that the latter is better. After The Game, Queen became a band of some great songs on some good records rather than a band of wonderful records, period.

And that’s why these are my choices. Here we go:

#5: Sheer Heart Attack

The first Queen album to actually have a title (the two before were Queen and Queen II), this is the sound of a hungry band still trying to prove their worth. Opening with the Heavy Rock of “Brighton Rock”, they followed it with “Killer Queen”. One of Freddie Mercury’s masterpieces, it chronicles the story of a high-class prostitute and her taste for powerful clients (Khruschev and Kennedy) and sophisticated goods (Möet Chandon and perfume from Paris), besides her insatiable appetite for sex. Just the right ingredients to award Queen with their first number one single. Roger Taylor shines on “Tenement Funster” and two criminally underrated gems come coupled to one another: “Flick of the Wrist” and “Lilly of the Valley”. Brian May returns with another heavy song, “Now I’m Here” telling the story of his fascination with America and their first tour there, supporting Mott the Hoople. “In the Lap of the Gods” is good, but overshadowed by the fantastic “Stone Cold Crazy”, practically a Thrash Metal before the term even exist. Brian shows his sensitive side on “Dear Friends” and then it’s time for the first of many John Deacon gems in the band’s career: the wonderful “Misfire”. Queen always liked to have a brush with other styles of music and their flirt with country leads to a happy marriage in the funny “Bring Back That Leroy Brown”. The last song is “In the Lap of the Gods…revisited” a beautiful and epic ballad with a catchy chorus.

#4: Queen II

After being dismissed by critics as a mere copy of Led Zeppelin upon the release of their first eponymous album, Queen returned to the studio determined to show how those critics were wrong. And were they successful or what? Queen II is the album that shows how great Queen would be down the years. Despite the intro “Procession” still possessing some Zeppelin “feel” to it, the song that follows is flawless: “Father to Son” is a Brian May masterpiece, helped by amazing vocal lines from Mercury. Brian was inspired as the next song “White Queen (As it Began)” shows. Another one of those underrated Queen gems, where Freddie Mercury’s voice again calls the shots. One could argue that “Some Day One Day” and “Lose in the End” are some kind of fillers, but no one can state that “Ogre Battle” is not the work of a true genius. Fantasy lyrics perfectly matched with epic arrangements. And the fantasy trend continues with the unbelievably wonderful “Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke”, one of my favorite Queen songs of all time, inspired by a painting. If the song itself was not enough, they coupled it with the poignant “Nevermore” showcasing a Mercury interpretation rarely seen by any singer. This would be enough to propel any album to classic status, but Queen II had more: another fantasy epic “The March of the Black Queen” coupled with the beautiful and catchy “Funny How Love Is” and the great “Seven Seas of Rhye”, the first Queen single to scratch the British top 10.

#3: Jazz

It was 1978 and Queen had pinnacled. Hit songs and hit records had catapulted the band to megastardom. Freddie Mercury was enjoying every single minute of it and to top it off he orchestrated the ultimate launch party for the next record. Held in New Orleans to go with the title of the record it was one of those Rock and Roll parties that become legendary: a festival of eccentricities and debauchery. However, it wouldn’t mean nothing if the record didn’t hold up. And hold up it did. As eccentricity was the order of the day, nothing more eccentric than opening a record with a song in Arab. “Mustapha” is weird, but the fans liked. From then on it’s quintessential Queen. One of the best Queen choruses opens the second track, the classic “Fat Bottomed Girls”, followed by yet another criminally underrated gem, “Jealousy” and another stone-cold classic “Bicycle Race”. This was probably the album with the greatest John Deacon contributions (which means a lot, given how great a songwriter he was): the joyful “If You Can’t Beat Them” and the sad and poignant “In Only Seven Days”. The brilliant wordplay commands the Hard Rock of “Let Me Entertain You” while the band once again shows how they can be pretty heavy on “Dead on Time”. Brian May explores the realm of vaudeville music in the creative “Dreamers Ball” and let loose his Beatles influences on “Leaving Home Ain’t Easy” (regarded by many as Queen’s “She’s Leaving Home”). Freddie Mercury was determined to show that he was having one hell of a good time, so he decided to show it on the great “Don’t Stop Me Now”. Brian May to this day still don’t like the song very much because it reminds him of how out of control was Freddie’s partying at the time and where this lead him. Roger Taylor songs “Fun It” and “More of That Jazz” are weird and may be considered fillers.

#2: News of the World

Fresh from becoming one of the greatest bands on the planet after A Night at the Opera and A Day At The Races Queen had the tough task of getting to the top and remaining there. How do you do it? How about opening your new record with two songs that would go on to become two of the most well-known songs in the history of music? That’s what they did. News of the World opens “only” with the one-two punch of “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions”. They are not only forever enshrined in the Rock and Roll pantheon; they also became bona fide sports anthems. If this album was just a double A-side single with just those two songs it would justify its second place. However, NOTW has much more than this. Right after “We Are the Champions” we are offered one of the heaviest songs Queen ever recorded (and probably the greatest song Roger Taylor ever wrote that is not called “Radio Gaga”): “Sheer Heart Attack”. It was stored ever since the release of the album of the same name. Brian May appears showing his melodic sense on the wonderful “All Dead, All Dead” and John Deacon once again writes a hit with “Spread Your Wings”. Queen was always all over the place when it comes to music and here we find another example of that: “Get Down, Make Love” is seriously heavy, but “Sleeping on the Sidewalk” is a great upbeat blues song. John Deacon wrote another unsung gem with the Mexican-flavored “Who Needs You?” and “It’s Late” is just pure Queen, with a flabbergasting performance by Mercury. “Fight from the Inside” is a filler, but the album ends on a high note with another breathtaking Freddie performance on a melancholic blues called er, “My Melancholy Blues”.

#1: A Night at the Opera

According to the band itself: “The album that saved our asses” and called by a lot of people of “the White Album from Queen”; A Night at the Opera is not only a classic, is a landmark. It showed that a band with this amount of talent should always trust its instinct. With huge bills to pay due to their crooked Trident management, Queen needed an album that could buy them their artistic freedom. And they did just that. Opening with “Death on Two Legs”, a “tribute” to their old management – probably the greatest example of how you can curse somebody without bad language – the record doesn’t let go for a second. Just like a team franchise player, Mercury took the reins of the record and made it what it is. The next song, “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon”, is also his and another example of how Queen could navigate freely among any style of music. “I’m in Love with My Car” is a good Roger Taylor moment and who said John Deacon couldn’t write a hit? Here he presents us with the wonderful “You’re My Best Friend”, that indeed became a hit. “‘39” is Brian May at his best. The vocal lines are superb, the acoustic playing brilliant and the sci-fi lyric couldn’t be more typical Brian. He is the main man again on “Sweet Lady” (once labeled by a critic “the Kissest song, Kiss never wrote”), on the Prog-tinged epic “The Prophet’s Song”, on another dabbling into country, “Good Company” and his killer version of the British anthem, “God Save the Queen”. However, all this just goes to show that on ANATO, Brian was a great second fiddle to Freddie. Mercury penned “Seaside Rendezvous” and of course, “Love of My Life” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”. While the first became more famous after the live version appeared on Live Killers, due to audience participation, the latter is one of the greatest songs ever written. Freddie had been dabbling with epics ever since the first album (“My Fairy King”) but nobody was ready for this. There’s an opera in the midst of it, for chrissake! Wonderful, epic, melodic, thrilling… There’s a plethora of compliments to “Bohemian Rhapsody”. And lest we forget: even the heavy riff after the opera is Freddie’s. It was a crowning moment for the Queen jeweled crown that was beginning to take shape.

Current playlist:

Listening:

Marillion – The Thieving Magpie (La Gazza Ladra)

Winery Dogs – Unleashed in Japan 2013

Watching:

Kiss – Kiss My Ass (DVD)

Blues Pills – S/T (Bonus DVD)

The Langoliers

Be sure to check out my book “Straight And Lethal” winner of the NABE Pinnacle Awards 2014 Fall edition.

NewPinnacleAward3D2 (1)

You can contact me at: carloantico666@gmail.com

Add me on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/#!/carlo.antico

Follow me on twittter: @CarloAntico

 

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