If you haven’t seen “Bohemian Rhapsody” yet, then go see it ASAP (it’s basically a two-hour fangasm). After seeing it, you probably want to hear more great music from Queen because you’re a human with ears and they’re amazing. But after checking out a Greatest Hits comp / playlist, where should go next if you want to dig deeper? That’s where I come in. A lifelong Queen superfan, I’m going to give a ranked overview of all Queen albums from worst to best None of Queen’s albums are outright bad (there’s always at least one moment of greatness to be found). But some are better than others, and why start anywhere but the best? One rule: This list only includes albums released during Freddie Mercury’s life. No disrespect to Brian and Roger, but as far as this list is concerned anything after “Innuendo” didn’t happen. Oh, and if you want to hear any of the songs I mention, you can hear them on Queen’s official YouTube channel, which I suggest you visit. Let’s go!
Part I: Loser’s Bracket
14) A Kind of Magic (1986)
The rest of the record is filler, and I usually skip most of it. “Pain Is So Close To Pleasure” is terrible, “Friends Will Be Friends” has lyrics that hurt my brain (though it apparently was a live favorite), and a few songs are half-assed stabs at heavy metal that run out of gas well before they’re done (see “Gimme the Prize”). “Princes of the Universe” is great when edited down to a minute for TV, not so much at its full length.
Basically, all of the good songs on Magic can also be found on greatest hits compilations, which are better uses of your time. But definitely seek out the “Highlander Version” of the title track now that you can buy it on iTunes… the one on the album is a radio edit that isn’t nearly as metal.
13) Flash Gordon (1980)
As weird as that sounds, it makes a certain kind of sense. Before home video was everywhere, if you left a screening of "Flash Gordon" and wanted to take it home with you this was the next best thing. Also a lot of the music is more “film score” rather than “pop song”, and the dialogue clues you in as to why you’re listening to several minutes of moody synthesizer.
Unfortunately, much of this is hard to enjoy separate from the film. Usually I’ll listen to “Flash’s Theme”, skip ahead to “Football Fight”, then skip again to side two. But starting with “Flash to the Rescue” the album delivers some unique thrills. The last 12 minutes or so are pretty great, and it’s not coincidental that most of what I remember from the film is the part scored by these tracks. While Flash Gordon is a very patchy record, the general weirdness makes it essential for Queen completists.
12) Queen (1973)
Fans of Queen’s heavier music may be angry at how low I placed their debut, and I do love a lot of the music on Queen. Unfortunately this album’s recording was rushed that the band were running on fumes during much of the process, and you can tell. Most of the tracks on this album are not the best or definitive versions of the songs. Superior alternate takes have been released on comps like At the Beeb, or as bonus tracks on reissues. But even though this is a warts and all recording (the amount of mistakes and wrong notes is shocking to hear from a band that’s known for being such perfectionists), it’s a cool document of Queen’s early sound. Brian’s and Roger’s music was dominant as Freddie’s songwriting had yet to catch up to his vision. So the best songs from these sessions are generally the heaviest: Even if Brian’s “guitar orchestra” technique would become more refined in the future, it’s never been pushed this far into sheer volume and intensity. It’s hard not to feel good letting songs like “Doing All Right”, “Modern Times Rock and Roll” and “Son And Daughter” demolish your senses. And a few of the other tracks come out alright: “Keep Yourself Alive” may not have been a radio hit, but it’s a nice try nonetheless. The best song is “The Night Comes Down”, a gorgeous acoustic ballad that hits a wonderful peak at its conclusion. Basically, there’s no Queen album that sounds quite like Queen, for better and worse. And even if it’s basically unfinished, it’s a good addition to the archives.
11) Hot Space (1983)Most Queen fanatics would put Hot Space straight at the bottom of this list but I really don’t think it’s that bad. The main reason for its infamy is that Queen had never gone this far into dance and pop before, which alienated their core fans. Given the upheavals in pop music at the time and the massive success of “Another One Bites The Dust”, a move into total dance music wasn’t a ridiculous idea. Unfortunately it’s clear not everyone in Queen felt that way. Hot Space’s first side is pretty fine, especially “Back Chat” and “Dancer”, two absolute bangers that are a good example of Queen doing their best to try something new. “Back Chat” is a classic John Deacon pop tune with a fantastic solo from May. “Dancer” is a May number that rocks harder than anything else here, and shows that even Brian was willing to play along with the Hot Space sound to some extent. “Staying Power” and “Body Language” are pretty silly and don’t quite work but screw it, they’re still a lot of fun. Alas, on side two the wheels come off. Seemingly meant as a consolation prize for fans alienated by side one, this is some of the tamest, most conventional pop rock Queen ever released. They seemed to consciously reign themselves in, and that was most definitely not what they were best at. Still, as forgettable as this stuff is, none of it’s bad. If I borrowed an old car and found this in the tape deck I wouldn’t be mad (Yes, I’m old). Plus Hot Space has the decency to end with two real winners: “Cool Cat” (a fun soul excursion by Deacon and Mercury) and “Under Pressure” (the classic duet with David Bowie that’s probably the main reason this album sold any copies). Though I’ll defend Hot Space a great deal, it’s still one of Queen’s weakest records, the sound of a dysfunctional band hedging their bets. Part II: Getting to the Good Stuff
10) A Night at the Opera (1975)
News of the World is a polarizing record, a reactive effort by a band in crisis. Basically, the punk rock revolution had begun and Queen found themselves in the crosshairs of the new guard due to their pomposity and pop-progressive leanings. So the band fired back. They cut their hair, toughened their sound and cut their most aggressive record to date. Most of the songs are either aimed at starting a fight or making arenas full of fans pump their fists in the air. What is surprising is how well this abrupt identity re-invention actually worked out. “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions” may feel like a single jammed at the beginning of a functioning record, but there’s a reason you can’t listen to rock radio for two hours without hearing them. “Sheer Heart Attack” (the song, not the album) is the closest to straight up thrash/speed metal Queen would ever get. “Get Down Make Love” is a cool, dark experiment that Trent Reznor would cover years later (not having to make many changes, honestly). News of the World is also surprisingly ballad heavy: “All Dead, All Dead” is beautiful, kind of an indirect ancestor of “Who Wants to Live Forever”. “Spread Your Wings” is a bit iffy but the closing showstopper “It’s Late” was my favorite song for a few months in middle school. Not all of the experiments work (especially that segment of ear-piercing noise in the middle of “Sheer Heart Attack”), but overall this is a fascinating listen. Extra points for Freddie’s torch song “My Melancholy Blues”... it’s like he had to have one moment of feyness even on an album of Jock Jams.
8) The Works (1984)
The Works is one of Queen’s most underrated efforts, a fantastic comeback from the commercial and fan disappointment of Hot Space. This is Queen at their most absolute 80’s-est (there’s even the painfully earnest acoustic protest ballad “Is This The World We Created?”, which instantly dates this to the era of “Live Aid”) and despite what some die-hards would tell you Queen were a hell of a good band in the 80’s. They just shifted their focus to their live presence and singles, and that made some of their albums suffer a bit. The weaker tracks on The Works are thankfully bunched together on side one: “Man on the Prowl” doesn’t gel with anything around it, and “Tear It Up” is a retread of “We Will Rock You” with a weaker chorus (it gets pretty good towards the end though). But “It’s A Hard Life” and “Radio Ga Ga” are fan favorite anthems that sound confident in a way that none of Hot Space ever did. The second side is all killer, no filler. “Machines (Back to Humans)” is a thundering sci-fi epic bigger than anything since A Night At The Opera. “I Want To Break Free” is possibly John Deacon’s finest pop delight, and “Just Keep Passing The Open Windows” is a hidden gem, one of Mercury’s more progressive oddities. Finally, there’s the one-two punch of “Hammer to Fall” and “I Go Crazy” (a bonus track not originally on the album but such a perfect closer that I can’t live without it), two intense rock numbers that basically burn the house down. The Works isn’t entirely consistent but it’s a personal favorite. If you want to hear the band that rocked Live Aid, this is the best place to go. 7) The Miracle (1989)
Fresh off of the life-changing success of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, for the first time in their career Queen had nothing to prove to anybody. They were hot, they knew it and everybody else knew it. So what else was there to do but just give the fans more? A Day at the Races has a certain tossed-off quality, as though the band just happened to have this music lying around. This would be off-putting except that 70’s Queen at their most complacent was still writing masterpieces like “Somebody To Love”. Races also boasts one of the best production jobs Queen ever had. Where the band sounded a big muffled on A Night at the Opera, here they practically leap straight out of your speakers. “Tie Your Mother Down” is Queen in their purest 70’s hard rock mode, a live favorite that kick ass and takes names. It’s immediately followed with “Take My Breath Away”, an 180 degree turn into soft, romantic drama. That whiplash is pretty common on Races, which feels like a collection of great moments randomly thrown together. Later on, for example, “White Man”s metallic stomp is immediately followed by the prancing silliness of “Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy”. What saves A Day at the Races is two things: That cocky, careless attitude is awfully intoxicating, and every song on it is good. Any Queen fan will sing the praises of “Somebody to Love” (where three British guys somehow sound like an entire gospel choir) but there are also fun pop tunes like “Long Away” and Freddie dancing the “The Millionaire’s Waltz” at peak gay. It’s a prime album for people who want to look past the greatest hits and discover some hidden gems. Probably my favorite is “Drowse”, a nostalgic Taylor number that I’m surprised by all over again every time I hear it. Part III: The Best Of The Best
5) Sheer Heart Attack (1974)
After the goth-prog-metal of their first two albums failed to blow up commercially, Queen changed direction: on Sheer Heart Attack they bounce around like a hyperactive puppy, demanding that you notice them. The sound is bright and colorful, the songs are tighter than before, and it’s all a lot of fun. Like some other 70’s Queen albums, there’s a lot of tonal whiplash, more pronounced here because of how little dead time there is. Songs lead immediately into other songs and there are very few fade-outs. That said, basically every Queen fan loves this record… it’s a consensus favorite. Brian May happened to be terribly ill during the recording sessions, so all of his guitar work was dubbed in after the fact. Since he was doing this anyway, he just went insane with it, layering in more and more guitars until the edits disappeared in a haze of endless solos. This is without question May’s showcase, the shining example of what he brought to the band. When opener “Brighton Rock” derails itself for several minutes for a directionless guitar solo, it sounds so cool that nobody minds. Freddie also finally found his pop voice with the early hit “Killer Queen”. John Deacon’s first track is also here (yay!), the bubbly little non-single “Misfire”. The most underrated track on Sheer Heart Attack is “Now I’m Here”, a rock anthem that I’m shocked was never a radio hit (Personal note: I was overjoyed to hear it in the movie). Headbangers will also note “Stone Cold Crazy”, a legendary speed metal track famously covered by Metallica (and again, they really didn’t have to change much). So there’s a ton of great stuff on here. That said, the aforementioned whiplash is intense, and there are occasional weak moments that break the flow (like “Tenement Funster”). Still, it’s a hell of a sugar rush, and a fine intro to the band’s early years. 4) Innuendo (1991)
The spectre of mortality hangs heavy over Innuendo. Its title is a reference to ongoing rumours about Freddie’s health, and it would be the last full album completed before his death. Having established a more democratic working method with The Miracle, Queen truly gave their all on its follow-up. It’s an absolute tragedy that a band still capable of work this good couldn’t have continued forever. And yet, Innuendo is here, and for that I’m eternally grateful. Not since the early 70’s had Queen had such a sweeping, dramatic musical vision. The title track starts out huge, with lyrics tackling the big questions of life, purpose and even God. It’s also an absolute banger, featuring one of Brian’s most apocalyptic guitar leads in the midsection. The finale (“The Show Must Go On”) is even more enormous and impressive, a last defiant scream into the great beyond that still brings me to tears. In between is collection of songs better than anything Queen had produced in at least a decade. Standouts include “Headlong”, “I’m Going Slightly Mad”, and “These Are the Days of Our Lives” (which is quietly devastating, yet has a melody smooth enough to be heard in doctor’s offices and supermarkets everywhere). Freddie’s voice was suffering a bit by this point from his illness, and the massive vocal reverb seems might have been meant to hide that fact. Yet the intense emotion and drive behind that voice makes up for it. The biggest oddity is “Hitman”, a slab of aggro metal that seems to shove itself angrily in the second half of the record. That song is the culmination of many songs that Freddie has sung about the connection between love and death, and in it he adopts the persona of lover and murderer in a way that’s a bit terrifying. Innuendo is not an easy listen, but it’s a deep and rewarding one from a band some wouldn’t think capable of it. 3) The Game (1980) 2) Jazz (1978)