In (dis)honor of the announcement that Adam Lambert will sing for Queen at this year’s Sonisphere Festival (July 6-July 8, 2012), CT‘s Ricky Spenner and Mike Sandler reviewed ten of the band’s greatest songs before the former American Idol runner-up will have his chance to wrap his vocal cords around them.
1. “All Dead, All Dead” – News of the World (1977) – EMI/Parlophone/Elektra/Hollywood
Ricky: The News of the World album cover always terrified me growing up. Those robots held Queen DEAD in their bloodstained hands!!! Despite my fear of the grisly robot Armageddon, I think this is one of Queen’s sweeter songs. Strangely enough, Freddie plays second fiddle to Brian May on this one. I heard it’s about Brian’s dead cat. Is that true?
Mike: Good choice, Ricky. And, yes, you’re right about the dead cat theory. My investigative skills took me to Wikipedia, which confirmed that Brian May confirmed this story on “In the Studio with Redbeard.” So “the babe without a name” is Brian’s dead, unnamed cat?
2. “Who Wants to Live Forever” – A Kind of Magic (1986) – EMI/Hollywood
Ricky: OK, time to kick up the cheese! As great as Queen is, A Kind of Magic is pretty tough to take seriously. I remember watching the Highlander (movies (1986, 1991) AND the TV series! (1992-1998)) growing up with my dad, so maybe that’s why it stands out to me. I think I associate it more with Mercury’s death than with the MacLeod family. Very underrated song—the more I talk to myself, the more I realize it’s one of my favorite Queen songs!
Mike: Wow! Queen scored the music for two B-movie classics, Highlander and Flash Gordon (1980)? That must be a record. “Forever” is one of the better songs from a mediocre album; it’s cinematic in scope and sad when you associate it with Mercury’s death.
3. “Stone Cold Crazy” – Sheer Heart Attack (1974) – EMI/Parlophone/Elektra/Hollywood
Ricky: There are a few bad-ass Queen songs, and this is one of them. Freddie has such a smooth, quick delivery in this song. I’d like to see Adam Lambert pull this off. Actually, I wouldn’t.
Mike: Agreed – and there’s a great guitar solo in this song. “Stone Cold Crazy” is also the first song that the whole band shared a writing credit on. I’ll bet this song came out of a jam session, which is something one wouldn’t associate Queen with doing. Speaking of associations, it’s unfortunate that I now have to associate Adam Lambert with Queen.
4. “Hammer to Fall” – The Works (1984) – EMI/Parlophone/Capitol/Hollywood
Ricky: I love Brian’s guitar lick in this song, and Freddie’s vocal wailing is just awesome, albeit limited. I pump my fist every time at “What the hell we fighting for?”
Mike: Fantastic tune! When I saw Queen and Paul Rodgers a few years ago, Brian sang the first half of this by himself, strumming his guitar. It was great. This was also one of highlights of Queen’s Live Aid set.
5. “Another One Bites the Dust” – The Game (1980) – EMI/Parlophone/Elektra/Hollywood
Ricky: John Deacon doesn’t get enough credit. He’s cooked up some groovy-ass bass licks. Freddie really sounds confident in this song, too. He sounds like he’s vocally challenging ANYONE to step up to the plate. Your move, Mr. Lambert. Am I spelling his name right? Does it really matter?
Mike: You’re spelling it right, Ricky, but I think his name is pronounced “Lamb-bear”; he must be French. Anyway, when your bass player can write a song like “Another One Bites the Dust,” you’re in good shape. This appears on The Game, an album that started Queen’s flirtation with dance music. But it wasn’t over the top yet, and I still love this song. I like the drum beat and the sound effects; it surprises me that this song hasn’t been sampled more.
6. “Killer Queen” – Sheer Heart Attack (1974) – EMI/Parlophone/Elektra/Hollywood
Ricky: Is there a song that completely wraps up the “Queen Sound” more than this song? Freddie sounds so smooth on this track.
Mike: Yes, this is signature Queen (and Queen is even in the title). There’s the great, layered guitar lick at about the 45 second mark; it’s always caught my ear. “Killer Queen” also has the stacked vocal harmonies that made the band famous. The end of the song, which has about thirty guitar tracks fading out, reminds me of carnival music for some reason.
7. “Somebody to Love” – A Day at the Races (1976) – EMI/Parlophone/Elektra/Hollywood
Ricky: Very rarely do I say that a Queen song “romps.” This one definitely romps. I miss blues-rock Queen. Mike, you picked some fun songs. I picked a lot of moody songs.
Mike: True. Your Queen songs speak to Highlander, mine speak to Flash Gordon. I don’t know what that says about us. “Somebody to Love” has always reminded me of a church choir song, and this is a good example of the contrasts of Freddie’s, Brian’s, and drummer Roger Taylor’s voices – especially Taylor, who can hit those high notes. This contains one of Brian’s best solos, too.
8. “Put Out the Fire” – Hot Space (1982) – EMI/Parlophone/Elektra/Hollywood
Ricky: Oh, hey 80s’ production? Could you make our drums sound bigger? Thanks. I think Lambert will be all over this one. Have at it, Adam.
Mike: Don’t give him any ideas! This is one of Brian’s hidden-message songs (along with “All Dead, All Dead,” “Hammer to Fall,” and “We Will Rock You”). “Put Out the Fire” is actually pro-gun control; I’ve heard the first character in the song is Mark David Chapman, who shot John Lennon to death a year prior to the recording sessions. Again, another strong Brian song helps a so-so album – this time Hot Space. And I’m a sucker for big drum sounds.
9. “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon” – A Night at the Opera (1975) – EMI/Parlophone/Elektra/Hollywood
Ricky: Do I sound like I’m on old time radio? I love this tune. This is the silly and care-free Freddie that can’t be replicated. I love Brian’s melodic guitar lines too.
Mike: The guitars in this song sing, damn it! “Lazing” is an unpredictable song from an unpredictable band; Queen could play any style of music very well. Lamb-bear wouldn’t know what to do with this one.
10. “Under Pressure” (with David Bowie) – Hot Space (1982) – EMI/Parlophone/Elektra/Hollywood
Ricky: This is a dream duet. Freddie and Bowie play off each other so well in this song. I hear this song covered quite a bit, but nothing stands up to the original. Another underrated bass groove in this one, too. Maybe not too underrated thanks to that Vanilla Ice fella.
Mike: What really grinds my gears is the thought of David Bowie playing this with Queen and Lamb-bear; Freddie and Bowie never got to play this live, and I’ll bet Bowie sings this with them to “pass the torch.” Geez, I invite Queen to my bar mitzvah in sixth grade, and this is the thanks I get. Great, now I’m angry.