Although Queen is one of the biggest bands of all time, they are still a hit-driven act in the eyes of the general public. There’s nothing wrong with successful singles, but I’ve always thought that at the core of the band’s philosophy lies a playfulness and musical diversity that can only be experienced when listening to their full albums. So forget about Radio Gaga for one second and let’s explore ten of their most interesting deep cuts.
Although credited to Freddie Mercury, my favorite thing about “Liar” is that it’s a showcase for the band as a whole. The rhythm section is incredibly tight, while May’s crunchy guitar drives this 6-minute, multi-part epic taken from their debut album. There are some people who swear Queen was never better than in their pre-fame early years, and while I don’t necessarily agree, a song like this would definitely make a convincing case for that statement.
9. “Dragon Attack”
“Dragon Attack” is one of the songs that indicated the band’s shift towards a more rhythm-driven sound with the 1980s The Game album. Every member seems to be having fun playing this funky, groovy gem, and the fact that it became a live favorite proves that it was equally as fun for the audiences to hear. Plus, bassist John Deacon once said it was his favorite Queen song ever, and who are we to disagree?
8. “Back Chat”
If “Dragon Attack” merely signaled a change, then “Back Chat” represents a full dive into that new style with no looking back. It is one of the band’s full-on funk/disco tracks, taken from an album that still polarizes listeners to this day. Me, I think it works wonderfully – it is another testament to just how many genres Queen could do convincingly and how tight of an instrumental groove they could lock into. It is impossible to sit down when listening to this one.
7. “You Take My Breath Away”
Those under the impression that Queen was all about pomp and stadium anthems should give “You Take My Breath Away” a listen. I know the effect it had on me – having grown up with “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “I Want to Break Free” being played to death by radio stations, this song felt like a fresh breath of air (excuse the pun). It’s nothing more than Freddie singing a love ballad accompanied by his piano, but what a gorgeous and affecting ballad this is, making the subject of the lyrics sound more like a deity than an actual human being.
“Mustapha” may sound like just a warm-up exercise for Freddie Mercury’s voice, but even so, it is the exercise of one of rock’s greatest vocalists. He seems to be making up the lyrics as he goes along (featuring words in both Arabic and English), but they’re set to such an infectious melody that it’s impossible not to sing along. And that metallic guitar break? Classic Brian May right there.
5. “Stone Cold Crazy”
One of my favorite Queen characteristics has always been their knack for experimentation. Especially in the ‘70s, it seemed like the band outright refused to settle upon only one genre, no matter how well it suited them. The fast, frantic rocker “Stone Cold Crazy” became one of the earliest examples ever of the thrash metal genre and was later even covered by Metallica. It seemed like just another day in the Queen world though – they pioneered an entire genre and then rapidly moved on to other things never to return to it again.
4. “Spread Your Wings”
An interesting chapter in Queen’s history is John Deacon’s evolution as a songwriter. 1974 saw him make his debut with “Misfire,” a nice enough song, and by the following year he already wrote his first classic with “You’re My Best Friend.” Fast forward five years later and his “Another One Bites the Dust” proved to be one of the band’s biggest US singles. Largely forgotten between those two we can find “Spread Your Wings,” a song that is no less impressive. It shows just what a good ear for melody Deacon had, and even the lyrics are among the band’s best: an encouragement to quit your dead-end job and fulfill your potential that is highly relatable.
3. “The Prophet’s Song”
Perhaps Brian May’s own answer to Freddie’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” this is one of the two lengthy epics on their magnum opus A Night at the Opera. “The Prophet’s Song” was inspired by a dream May had about the Earth being flooded and indeed, this is the feeling that they tried to convey with the song: one of total apocalypse and chaos, where “The earth will shake in two will break / And death all around will be your dowry.” The only thing that’s left after Mercury announces this apocalypse with all the might in his voice is a couple of lonely, desperate voices echoing from one side to the other in the song’s ambitious mid-section.
2. “White Queen”
Queen’s second album was conceptually divided into two sides – White Side is almost entirely written by Brian May, and Black Side with compositions by Freddie. On one hand, it showcased the band’s “prog” sensibilities; on the other, it established two equally distinctive and prolific song-writing forces (with a third one on its way). May’s “White Queen” is as gorgeous a ballad as any that Mercury has ever written, featuring one of my personal favorite Queen melodies at the end of each verse – right when they sing “The white queen walks and the night grows pale…” It creates such a majestic, nearly “royal” feel, especially with those haunting harmonies underneath and the way it transitions into the heavy chorus.
1. “Death on Two Legs”
Rock music is no stranger to artists revolting against their record labels and managers, whether its The Rolling Stones recording “Cocksucker Blues” just to spite Decca or Pink Floyd parodying the whole music industry in “Have a Cigar.” Freddie Mercury wrote “Death on Two Legs” in the same line of thinking, a “fuck-you” letter to the band’s ex-manager, and ended up with what is perhaps Queen’s most vicious song ever. Never mind subtly hinting at the target, the song assassinates its character head-on with lyrics such as “You’re a sewer rat decaying in a cesspool of pride”. Conducted by Freddie’s always-impressive vocal acrobatics and orchestrated by Brian’s guitar riffs, this is simply one of the band’s most accomplished compositions.
PS. David Bowie was a famous partner of Queen — and he had a secret talent. Plus, Queen is included in the list of the world’s best-selling albums.
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This is great, I love lists like this…always opens my ears to songs I might have overlooked.
Though you missed one of the greatest Queen songs of all, “WAS IT ALL WORTH IT” from the album “The Miracle.” The song is big, dramatic…epic! Am orchestral opening, followed by a crunching riff, and the terrific lyrics – they basically tell the story of Freddie and the band, really. Huge chorus, layered vocals and Brian just wails. Simply an amazing song!
Why are there no songs by Roger Taylor on the list? “Sheer Heart Attack” or “I’m In Love with My Car” or “Fight from the Inside”
I would have included Ogre Battle from Queen 2 and It’s Late from News of the World.
In the year of ’39. Tenement Funster.
Great King Rat, the list goes on…
’39 is another one. AOR rock stations in New York regularly played that one too.
In 1980, growing up around New York City, I heard “Dragon Attack” and “Spread Your Wings” CONSTANTLY. Fast forward 10 (not even 20 or 30 years) and basically only Queen fans know these songs for the most part. I’m no expert on radio but it seems in retrospect those songs got a lot of airplay from a combination of call in requests and the fact that the DJs genuinely liked them.
Once “Classic Rock Radio” became a thing ca 1991 or so, only the songs “really” recognized as hits ever saw the light of day.
The same can be said for “Rock It (Prime Jive)”. I heard that song AT LEAST as much as I did “Another One Bites The Dust” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”
Oh, God, sooooo many the list could easily be brought up to 25. What about “Doing Alright,” “Great King Rat,” “My Fairy King,” “March of the Black Queen,” “The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke,” “Bring Back that Leroy Brown,” “Drowse,” “Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy,” “You’re My Best Friend,” “Get Down Make Love,” “Don’t Stop Me Now” “Prime Jive,” and “Delilah.”
Maryanne- “The Night Goes Down” too! ❤️
Liar, White Queen, and Death On Two Legs are awesome, but, where’s The March Of The Black Queen?
Chloe- YES! The first 2 albums are great!
I like “March of The Black Queen” (especially the guitar work) but it tends to be a bit overrated by Queen fans by and large. It’s an ambitious effort but there are countless other Queen tracks I’d rather listen to.
Great list, and as many have pointed out, you can add loads more! I will just say that Queen 2 is pretty much faultless from start to finish, from the complexity of “Fairy Feller” to the shoulda been a hit single “Funny how love is.”
When I saw Queen live in 1977, as they started into “Death on Two Legs” Freddie said “We’d like to dedicate this to our ex-manager, who was a real asshole.” My young ears were shocked, but it was a very freeing moment to hear my rock god speak so freely.
And “Sheer Heart Attack” (the song) out-punked the punks by a wide margin!
I always listen to Queen albums straight through. To me they’ve always been an album band. The hits definitely paid the bills though!
I would also add “Great King Rat”, “Loser In the End”, “Nevermore”, “It’s Late”, “Now I’m Here”, and “Tie Your Mother Down”.
Teo Torriate, White Man, from Day at the Races, Melancholy Blues, from News of the World, You Don’t Fool Me, from Heaven, and Innuendo from, well, Innuendo, which I have on vinyl. Yeah, this list can be longer still. Sweet Lady, Good Company, Jesus. I wish I could find 80’s era Queen records in the record store.