There was something clearly different, and special, when Queen‘s debut album emerged in 1973.
At its heart, the group was another four-piece hard rock band from England, brimming with muscle and energy. But those operatic harmonies, bolstered by Roy Thomas Baker’s lustrous production, and a unique sense of dynamics set Queen apart from the get-go, and things only grew from there.
Over the course of 14 albums (before frontman Freddie Mercury‘s death in 1991), Queen became the champion and the visible definition of pomp rock in all its glory and delight. The group never stopped rocking hard, but its ambitions up to and even past the zenith of “Bohemian Rhapsody” were beautifully crafted and unapologetically bombastic. Even Queen’s quiet sounded big, and its big was designed to shake the Earth — and continues to thanks to the enduring stomp of “We Will Rock You.”
Forty-five years on, Queen’s kind of magic endures via a variety of forms — reissues, stage musicals, movies and TV shows and at just about every sports event in the world, not to mention Brian May and Roger Taylor’s touring situation with Adam Lambert. May once asked, in song, “Who wants to live forever?” and his group has created music that most certainly will.
It’s not an easy task, but here are our picks for the 20 best Queen songs.
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25. Queen – “Tenement Funster”
This Roger Taylor-sung glam reminiscence about restless youth kicked off a Sheer Heart Attack suite that also included “Flick of the Wrist” and “Lily of the Valley.”
24. Queen – “In the Lap of the Gods”
Even by this early stage of Queen’s career, we knew the group could get a little over the top. The stacked, falsetto-flaunting vocals and ebb-and-flow construction is an important precursor to “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the very next album.
23. Queen – “Hammer to Fall”
The fourth single from The Works felt like a reward, and a good one, for fans craving something harder-rocking than its pompier predecessors.
22. Queen – “Don’t Stop Me Now”
A primarily trio song until May’s guitar solo, this Jazz track is a light-hearted romp that nevertheless came off as a statement of intent at an unstoppable phase of Queen’s career.
21. Queen – “39”
Brian May’s true definitive moments with Queen came via his guitar, but this A Night at the Opera folk song about space travelers (pre-astrophysics Ph.D.) is a gentle treat whose choruses still convey the harmonic majesty that is Queen’s vocal trademark.
20. Queen -“Need Your Loving Tonight”
A riffy, garage-tinged tune from bassist John Deacon that shows Queen could elevate even the most basic rock song into a something many bands would be happy to include on their greatest hits.
19. Queen – “Seven Seas of Rhye”
Short but pleasingly bombastic, “Seven Seas” straddles Queen’s first two albums, appearing as an instrumental on its debut before surfacing again as a vocal piece for Queen II. Either is a most excellent adventure.
18. Queen – “Somebody to Love”
The harmonies are stacked with “Bohemian Rhapsody” richness on this follow-up hit, but with a more pronounced gospel flavor and soulful, swinging backbeat.
17. Queen – “Keep Yourself Alive”
The first thing we heard from Queen during the summer of 1973 remains one of the best, a blast of galloping guitars, operatic harmonies and taut dynamics, even including a brief drum solo, that’s still a surefire fist-pumper 45 years later.
16. Queen – “Brighton Rock”
Sheer Heart Attack‘s opening track goes from carnival calliope to a festival of propulsive hard rock ecstasy, with a verse that could have been on Tommy and a chorus that can only come from Queen — and, of course, a blazing solo from May that ranks high in the overall rock canon, not just Queen’s.
15. Queen – “Who Wants to Live Forever”
A track that took on haunting meaning after Mercury died five years later, at the time it was a lush pop hymn, featured in The Highlander, that broached provocative question and offered a nice transition between May’s restrained opening verse and Mercury’s soaring performance that followed.
14. Queen – “I Want It All”
A muscular bit of social commentary propelled by Roger Taylor’s rare use of double kick-bass drums and featuring a chorus that, while intended as sarcasm, was a bit of a manifesto of Queen’s own mission du rock.
13. Queen – “Now I’m Here”
There’s an arty glam edge to this heavy rocker from Sheer Heart Attack, once again displaying Queen’s accomplished dynamic sensibility. Nice shout-out to onetime tourmate Mott the Hopple too.
12. Queen – “Radio Ga Ga”
If some stalwart fans found this a bit silly when it was first released (which didn’t keep it from becoming a worldwide hit), Live Aid a year and a half later insured that everybody understood.
11. Queen – “Another One Bites the Dust”
Queen’s funky turn on The Game came as something of a surprise, but everyone got onboard when they figured out how much fun it was. Sylvester Stallone sure thought so, even if he couldn’t get it for “Rocky III.” (And raise your hand if you bought into the backward masking.)
10. Queen – “Stone Cold Crazy”
Punk and thrash metal were in their nascent stages when Queen unleashed this beast on Sheer Heart Attack. Props to Metallica for acknowledging who helped show them how it was done.
9. Queen – “You’re My Best Friend”
If you make it through the 2:52 mark of this 1976 single without feeling uplifted and a little bit giddy, you seriously have no heart.
8. Queen – “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”
A gem from the kitchen sink that was The Game, letting Queen get its rockabilly on from Mercury’s Elvis-isms to May’s hot James Burton licks.
7. Queens – “We Are the Champions”
In some ways the definitive Queen song, from its balladic verses to its anthemic chorus, “Champions” has an eternal lock on sports stadium playlists and enjoys the (wholly believable) distinction as the catchiest song in the history of popular music according to a 2011 scientific study in the U.K.
6. Queen – “Tie Your Mother Down”
Some prefer their Queen pompy. Others favor the face-melting, hard-rockin’ side. The opening track from A Day at the Races supports the latter.
5. Queen – “Killer Queen”
The group’s first big U.S. hit offered a concise take of its unique virtues, from melodic irresistibility to soaring harmonics and May’s lyrical guitar style.
4. Queen – “Fat Bottomed Girls”
Queen’s celebration of the prominent posterior came with a wink from the opening chorus and kept through Mercury’s command to “get on your bikes and ride!” A gleeful anthem about the most unlikely of subjects.
3. Queen – “We Will Rock You”
Short (2:02), sweet, to the point and the most famous one-two-THREE! beat in rock, and probably pop music, history. A top five sports staple along with “We Are the Champions” and a catalyst for one of the best opening segments in Cheers‘ storied TV history.
2. Queen feat. David Bowie – “Under Pressure”
1. Queen – “Bohemian Rhapsody”
All hail the, er, king and forever champion, a concept album wrapped up into one six-minute Queen song and the original Carpool Karaoke classic thanks to Wayne’s World. Its reign will most certainly endure.