Saturday, June 6, 2009

Q - Queen - "Greatest Hits"

Freddie Mercury was easily one of the greatest front men (though he may have liked being behind too – and that fills the quota for gay jokes early, and now - back to the action) & possessor of the greatest overbite in rock history. Certainly no one else could combine the majesty & ludicrousness of rock better than Freddie (check out the pictures of Freddie strutting out in a cape & crown, though my favorite pic is of a shirtless Freddie wearing a leather cap & pants & suspenders brandishing a riding crop while on the shoulders of someone dressed as Superman – now THAT’S humor). Despite the talents of the band, the story of Queen begins & ends with Mr. Bad Guy: John Deacon & Roger Taylor were competent, not much more, on bass & drums, and Brian May was a good guitarist who was overshadowed by his own guitar.

One unique thing about Queen is that every member wrote a number one song for the group. While no single member was particularly consistent in song quality (Brian & Freddie fared the best), sharing the songwriting duties while maintaining a readily identifiable sound was quite the achievement. Also, they kept the same lineup from first album to last (I refused to qualify any of Brian & Roger’s reunion attempts, especially with the insult of having the meat and potatoes, Iron John hack Paul Rodgers in the place of rock’s answer to Quentin Crisp). These qualities made for a fairly decent recording career and one HELL of a greatest hits collection.

By the time this LP came out, Queen had pretty much blown its wad creatively (though they remained a fantastic live act throughout the 80’s (and TOTALLY stole the stage at Live Aid: it was obvious even then. Watching the entire Wembley stadium raise their hands and clap to “Radio Gaga” was mindblowing). They would release 4 more records, some of which tried to get around their creative quagmire by experimenting with different musical forms (which they’d actually started a couple years before “Greatest Hits” came out), but with diminishing quality. By the time Freddie was diagnosed with AIDS, the band was pretty much through, which makes this release almost the capping off of their career (personally, I don’t really miss “Radio Gaga”, “I Want to Break Free”, “Who Wants to Live Forever”, etc. all that much. None of their later hits could replace anything here.)

As such, it succeeds wildly. This may very well be the most successful greatest hits collection released – it’s certainly the best way to listen to the very uneven Queen. Every song is great, and every song belongs. The one thing the LP doesn’t do is spotlight the art-rock side of Queen, which is fine, because the singles were always much better than the album cuts. It’s a great rock and roll experience to be able to truly ENJOY the music that’s being played: whether you’re singing along, stomping your feet, headbanging away, waving your lighters in the air, or laughing at the lyrics (I still crack up at the shout out to the fat-bottomed girls in “Bicycle Race”, which in and of itself is totally ridiculous (I used to enjoy yelling “Jaws was never my scene / AND I DON’T LIKE STAR WARS” in Donald’s face – boo yah!)) Whoever put this LP together did a spectacular job: “Killer Queen”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, “Under Pressure”, “We Are the Champions”, “Somebody to Love”, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “You’re My Best Friend” – and that’s only half the record (now if “I” was the one putting the record together today, I would’ve replaced “Another One Bites the Dust” (overplayed, but how could it not be here?), “Flash”, & “Play the Game” with “Seven Seas of Rhye”, “Stone Cold Crazy”, & “Don’t Stop Me Now” (and, if there was some way to squeeze them on, “Save Me” and “I’m in Love with My Car”); this is nothing against any of the above songs, just personal preference).

Verdict: so good, you’ll want to buy more Queen records. But choose wisely, Indy – some of them are pretty rough (“Hot Space”, anyone?)

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