Oh no, I just bought Queen’s Greatest Hits! Oh yes, they’re really good!

And the platinum version at that. Three CDs’ worth.

I’ve been resisting that purchase for years.  I’ve got a bit of history with Queen though.  It’s one of those guilty pleasures.

The immediate cause of the purchase was the 50th birthday party I did the music for last Saturday (see the blog I wrote in anticipation). One of the birthday people wanted “Don’t Stop Me Now” to be on the playlist.  I didn’t have it.  Download the track or just go for the whole album?  I twitched,  quivered, contemplated owning “Fat Bottomed Girls”, shut my eyes, gritted my teeth and just pressed that BUY button.  What the hell!

I’ve got history.  I loved Queen’s early albums. The first four, especially numbers three and four. That would be “Sheer Heart Attack” and “Night At The Opera”.

In the mid seventies, when they came out, I was a metal and rock fan first and foremost. Led Zep, Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, Bad Company, Free, Thin Lizzy, Nazareth, Budgie, Purple, The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, etc, etc. And Queen. They rocked, sometimes.  They flounced too, and they knew how to write a pop song (“Killer Queen”, anyone?) but they did rock.  “Seven Seas of Rhye” off “Queen II” was the hit that introduced them to a lot of people, me included. That rocked.  “Now I’m Here”, “Brighton Rock” and “Stone Cold Crazy” were three of the greatest rockers in my book.  Still are today. “Brighton Rock” is Brian May’s finest moment.  He does a Hendrix and takes his guitar to places where no man has gone before. “Stone Cold Crazy” was covered by Metallica on “Garage Inc”. That’s metal.

“Night At the Opera” is Queen’s finest album.  Of course it is. It’s got “Bohemian Rhapsody” on it.  I still remember how excited I was by that song when it came out, in 1975. There had never been anything like it.  All those different phases, building to the metal wig-out.  Of course that was my favourite bit.  At the time it seemed like perfection. I wanted that riff to go on forever.

The whole album was amazing, with such variety. The “Prophet’s Song” was as adventurous musically as “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and “Death On Two Legs” and “I’m In Love With My Car” gave me my metal fix.  For a short while it was the best album in the world, ever.

Then punk happened and Queen slipped right off the agenda.  Overblown, effete, increasingly self indulgent – that was my take.  I rejected them – though not my old favourites.  They were a guilty secret before we talked about guilty secrets.

And really, from then on, though I absorbed all the hits, I just wasn’t a Queen fan.  And some of the songs were just awful.  I mean, “Fat Bottomed Girls”, “Bicycle Race”. How could the band that made “Brighton Rock” descend to such embarrassing depths, I asked myself. And that video for “I Want To Break Free”. The band that made ‘Bohemian Rhapsody”? Ho, hum.  I did like the bass line to “Under Pressure” and couldn’t resist the hard funk of “Another One Bites The Dust”, but that was about it.

Leave Queen to the masses…

So what changed?

Did I just grow old and get ever more nostalgic?  Well, I grew back into metal when iTunes allowed me to assemble old favourites with a click and a drag. And that included the Queen classics. But not all the other stuff.

Then some other things happened.

1. My kids, when they were a bit younger, really liked “We Will Rock You”.  I grew to appreciate it, especially the riffing at the end.

2. Last year in our summer holiday on the Costa Brava, Spain, we saw a Queen tribute band at our holiday camp, Cala Gogo. The band played mostly the eighties pop classics, rather than my metal favourites. The audience went mad for them, especially a large Dutch contingent.  Never mind that the singer looked like Harry Enfield (British comedian) rather than Freddie Mercury, it was a huge amount of fun.

3. The BBC made a two part documentary about the band and Freddie Mercury’s battle with AIDS. It was superb.  Brilliant about the music and incredibly sensitive and moving about Freddie.  You had to love him at the end of it. I went straight back to the music after watching it. Listened to the albums that I had… and hovered over that greatest hits, the music I’d rejected. I just managed to resist the purchase.

4. And then the party just now.  Suddenly, I thought, what the hell, just get the lot, rather than download a couple of tracks.  I know there’s some good stuff there as well as some complete twaddle. So I did the deed. Pressed BUY.  And “Don’t Stop Me Now” went down so well at the party.  Late on. Amongst young and old. It rocked! As it had when Harry Enfield belted it out on a warm Spanish evening in front of some crazy Dutch people. I accepted the reality.  Queen are a truly great pop band. As well as the brilliant metal band I loved in the seventies.

So, on the tube this morning, as I went into work, I put the Platinum Collection on, on shuffle.  While reading the Guardian on my iPad. I loved it, especially the remix of “Another One Bites The Dust”, featuring Wyclif Jean and Pras Michel from the Fugees. That was really cool.

So there you go.  I’ve succumbed. My resistance is over.  I will maintain that the first four albums were the best.  But I will agree that Queen are actually one of the greatest pop bands ever. And that they still appeal to all the generations.  Not many can do that.

I still draw the line at “Fat Bottomed Girls” though…

God save ’em!

About John S

I'm blogging about the things I love outside work: music, sport, culture, London, with some photos to illustrate aspects of our wonderful city. And anything else that I happen to think is worth writing about!
This entry was posted in Music - concerts, lists, reflections and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Oh no, I just bought Queen’s Greatest Hits! Oh yes, they’re really good!

  1. Tony Lord says:

    Yes, Queen are seen as a bit naff now, but some of their songs can be hugely moving.

    I remember a documentary a few years ago on Channel 4 called (rather sensationally) “the boy whose skin fell off”.

    It was about a guy who had a terribly painful condition which ultimately killed him. His wish was to be cremated to “Don’t stop me now” as he wanted his funeral to be a celebration of his life and what might come next for him. Freddie’s beautiful singing brought tears to the eyes of the congregation and the memory is making me well up now.

    It’s also a great power song when you’re struggling at the gym: if I need a bit of extra push to complete that last kilometer, Freddie always helps me over the line!

  2. Jeremy Gould says:

    Disc one, superb. Disc two, middling. Disc three, dire.

  3. John S says:

    Having downloaded on iTunes, can’t quite tell where one disc starts and another ends. But I think you’re right! Listened to queen II all the way through today. It’s a very fine album and fascinating to listen in the context of where they ended up. If they’d taken a different turn, building on this one, we might have been hailing them as one of the greatest prog rock bands.

  4. Jeremy Gould says:

    Just checked. Disc two starts with Radio Ga Ga, disc three with Driven By You. Though I have a special version of disc one that includes Under Pressure which makes it better.

  5. Osama Rahman says:

    Nothing wrong with a bit of Queen!

  6. Nice article – interesting to read your perspective. I got into queen at the time of Works and so was later than you. I get that for early fans they took some odd decisions – but despite their post Freddie output I think everyone likes a bit of Queen. And I like Fat Bottomed Girls too…

    • John S says:

      Thanks for reading. I think you’re right – everyone likes a bit of Queen. I’m amazed at how many hits this post still gets nearly a year on, and from all over the world, as far as I can tell from the stats.

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