Heads UP, peasants.
It's the Queen of Rock's birthday today!
So to celebrate what would have been Freddie Mercury's 72nd birthday, we're going to have a listen to ten underrated Queen songs (a tough one for me, because such a list can easily hold 50 tracks.)
But first, a funny thing happened to me about a month ago. A really funny thing, in fact. I became a huge Queen fan! I know, I know, I'm REALLY late to this party.
You'll have to forgive me, because while I knew all of Queen's hits (of course; who doesn't? And yes, before you can ask, of course I've seen Wayne's World.) I just never really paid attention to any clips of them performing live and didn't know the extent of their excellent musical catalog.
Honestly, it was the trailer for the upcoming Bohemian Rhapsody film that piqued my interest and finally made me look up what the big deal was over Freddie Mercury. OMG! How the heck could I have been so ignorant of this gorgeous man's talent and stage presence?
Anyways, better late than never.
Here are ten underrated songs by lead guitarist Brian May, bassist John Deacon, drummer Roger Taylor, and lead singer/frontman extraordinaire Farrokh Bulsara (aka Freddie Mercury) that show incredible songwriting range across genres and really deserved to chart higher -- or at all.
1. Keep Yourself Alive (1973)
The Brian May composition that kicked it all off...the very first track on Queen's very first album, Queen. And remarkably, this catchy rocker went nowhere on either side of the Atlantic.
2. Bring Back That Leroy Brown (1974)
Ragtime meets rock in a delightful ode to Jim Croce's most famous musical character (Croce died tragically the year before in a plane crash.)
3. Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy (1976)
Was this Mercury hinting about his sexual orientation ("Whatcha doing tonight, hey boy?")? Mercury simply said in an interview that it was his "ragtime mood." You be the judge, but I can attest that there are many female fans that would love to have him as their good old fashioned lover boy.
4. Let Me Entertain You (1978)
After the success of "Bohemian Rhapsody" Queen started selling out bigger venues and adding pyrotechnics and effects to their shows. And Mercury was just as unapologetically unabashed with his stage get-ups that included tight pants, form fitting jumpsuits, leather, short shorts and more. He once referred to himself as a "Persian popinjay" and he never let his fans down with his over confident stage strutting, gyrating, and other moves.
It was an act, of course -- offstage, Mercury was said to be shy and quiet. He admitted to an interviewer once that he had created a monster and was expected to keep up that persona to please fans. "Let Me Entertain You" doesn't disappoint because it sums up what to expect at a Queen show back in the day and reminds us that Mr. Fahrenheit and the group never did anything half-assed.
5. Back Chat (1982)
Sadly for American fans, the group's 1982 album Hot Space was so poorly received by critics and listeners in the U.S. that they decided to stop touring there. It was a big departure from the rock sound fans were accustomed to, venturing instead into disco, funk, and New Wave -- the type of music flowing in gay clubs at the time.
No surprise that this different direction was Mercury's idea. May, Deacon, and Taylor reportedly hated this album and the songs on it. Yet I must confess I really like the tracks on Hot Space and applaud the attempt to capture the '80s pop sound. Apparently Michael Jackson did as well, because Hot Space inspired his Thriller album.
After the iconic hit "Under Pressure", "Back Chat" is one of the best songs on the album in my opinion.
6. Calling All Girls (1982)
Yes, I'm including two tracks from Hot Space because "Calling All Girls" got stuck in my head immediately after hearing it. Also if you've seen George Lucas' 1971 dystopian film THX 1138 you'll see the video was heavily influenced by the movie.
7. Pain is So Close to Pleasure (1986)
It sounds like something Smokey Robinson would have recorded in the '80s. Freddie does falsetto on this Motown influenced tune from the band's A Kind of Magic album.
8. The Miracle (1989)
Cuteness aside with the music video (which featured kids playing pint-sized versions of the band members), this is just a lovely song about the everyday beauty of our world, the cycle of life, and the dream most of us have for peace -- the ultimate miracle. May has said it's one of his favorite Queen songs, and it's easy to see why.
9. The Show Must Go On (1991)
A lot of people think this song, from Innuendo (the last Queen album recorded while Freddie was alive) alludes to Freddie's dedication to recording music even as his health was failing due to contracting HIV. That may be true, but for me the lyrics are a personal reminder of how we need to keep pressing on when faced with disappointments. Lovers will leave, friends will betray you, and jobs may be taken from you. However, the show...YOUR show...must go on. I kind of think of this song's message as a prelude to the triumphant "We Are the Champions" in a way.
Note: this isn't the official video below, but it does showcase Freddie's sexy ways with his trademark broken microphone stand and incredible stage presence. A man that could keep thousands of fans enthralled in the palm of his hand during each show for sure.
10. Too Much Love Will Kill You (1995)
The first time I heard this song, I cried. Partly because the lyrics are so poignant and true and partly because the version featuring Freddie on vocals was released a few years after his death. Brian May wrote and recorded it as his first marriage was ending.
Fortunately, there are not too many other Queen songs that make me reach for a tissue. Their music is empowering and uplifting.
Happy Birthday, Freddie!
What Queen songs would you include on your underrated list?