Saturday, December 22, 2018

All Hail Queen!

The movie "Bohemian Rhapsody" has been out for some time and sparking an interest in the music of Queen decades after the death of its lead singer, Freddie Mercury. Rightfully so. It’s some of the best music by far of any decade and deserves to be celebrated. I’ve enjoyed their music since I was a kid and my admiration for them has only grown as I have.

So I thought, considering the success of the movie, I’d offer 10 of my favorite Queen songs that I wouldn’t mind being lost with on a desert island. The list might change over time (I’m terrible about lists. I never want to pin myself down), the songs may not be on the list of others, but the beauty of Queen is that all of their songs have some element that makes them notable. I’ll post a Part I and Part II with five songs each.

Let me know what some of your favorite Queen songs are.

In this post, we'll go from number 10 to 6 starting with:

10.  Seven Seas of Rhye

This was the first hit single for Queen hitting #10 on the UK charts when it was released in 1974. It's a rollicking song about a mythical place made up by Mercury and his sister, Kashmira when they were children. It closed out their first album "Queen" as a musical sketch but was elaborated on for their second album, "Queen II." Most noticeably, this is the song they performed when they were booked as a last minute replacement on the TV show Top of the Pops and helped give credence to their being named in January, 1974 as "third most promising act" by Sounds, a weekly music publication. Driven heavily by Mercury's piano and May's guitar, the lyrics are something out of Jabberwocky (or perhaps Game of Thrones). A fitting glimpse of things to come from this band and just really fun to listen to.

9.  Play the Game

I have a particular fondness for this song possibly because I used it in a montage on a video that friends and I filmed far too many years ago. From the opening airplane landing whistle you're drawn into the wisdom of love via Freddie Mercury who counsels taking a relaxed stance  when it comes to matters of the heart. "It's so easy...all you have to is play the game."

The message is casual. Love can be a minefield or it can be a game and it's so much easier when one views it as the latter. "This is your life/don't play hard to get/it's a free world/all you have to is fall in love." You're not a prisoner of love, you're a participant in the game. Remembering that might just help you win the game.

Interestingly as casual as the lyrics and Freddie's vocal styling is, the music is a bit more aggressive, illustrating the tension that love can produce whether considered a war or a game. Occasionally May's guitar blasts in to remind us no matter how you look at it, it's never quite as easy as Mercury tries to make it sound.

8.  Radio Ga Ga

This title may have made people tilt their heads a bit when the song came out, but the song itself is infectious. Check out the Live Aid performance and you'll see how infectious it can be. Written by Roger Taylor after he heard his young son describe a bad song as "radio ca ca", Taylor had originally intended it for a solo album, but the band sensed a hit and worked the Queen magic on it. It's a love song to the idea of radio written at a time when videos were force feeding people images of songs that at one time they could only imagine. (Ironically it has one of the most visually interesting videos using scenes from the 1927 film Metropolis that fit the song perfectly). It was a especially popular at live shows since the audience could take part by clapping their hands in unison to the beat of the chorus and became a highlight of their history making performance at Wembley Stadium during Live Aid. By the time they recorded the album "The Game," Queen had embraced the use of synthesizers and used them quite effectively. "Radio Ga Ga," appearing on the album "The Works," is ripe with them to fine affect. When Mercury sings in the chorus, "Radio, someone still loves you!" he sings it almost like a call to battle to save an old friend.

7.  Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy

This is another of those sophisticated songs, the male answer to "Killer Queen" only rather than a high class call girl, we have a charming gigolo at the ready to please you. Sung in the first person, the narrator is a graduate of the "good old fashioned school of lover boy" where he no doubt excelled not only in the art of seduction, but the art of simple companionship as well. He can do whatever your heart desires, more than likely for a price, which is never discussed in the song. That would be uncouth and ruin the romance. Instead it's "Say the word your wish is my command."

Sounding like it would be right at home in a musical, the song with it's touch of ragtime, highlights the musical playfulness the band was willing to take part in so often. The performances, especially the drums and bass, are as clever as the lyrics. With those glorious harmonies that Queen perfected, it's a song I can hear and never tire of, and one that shows the phenomenal creative range the band was capable of.

6.  Don’t Stop Me Now

This song is the musical definition of euphoria (whether sexual or otherwise)! It's pretty obvious what is making Mercury so excited as he races his way passionately through the song. After all, he describes himself as "a sex machine ready to reload, like an atom bomb about to explode." He's also unconcerned with who helps him in this endeavor since he wants to "make a supersonic man" and later a "supersonic woman" out of someone.

But even on a nonsexual level, this is a hell of an anthem. Voted in a Rolling Stone reader's poll as Queen's third top song, it achieves what it sets out to do: Rev you up. Unconcerned with subtlety, it's pure abandon, whatever abandon that may be. Freddie is enjoying life and he's inviting everyone along for the ride. The more the merrier. If you need a booster shot after a long day at work, this is the shot for you.

Next post I'll feature my top 5 Queen songs.