Even those with a passing acquaintance with classic rock can reel off the hits from a Queen setlist. ”Bohemian Rhapsody,” ”We Will Rock You” and ”Killer Queen” are part of the pop-cultural furniture.
But going off-piste with the Queen catalog always bears fruit, and we have dug in the crate for the tracks that forever seem to be passed over, but can more than hold their own. Moreover, they once more demonstrate the breadth of imagination in Queen's songwriting. Scarcely has a band carved out their history in rock with such a sense of Baroque, operatic flair.
1. Goin' Back (Larry Lurex Single, 1973)
The artist name on the single was Larry Lurex, but this languid cover of a Carole King classic was really a pre-fame Freddie Mercury, Brian May and Roger Taylor doing a favor for Trident Studios’ house engineer Robin Geoffrey Cable. If Phil Spector had produced Queen, it would have sounded like this.
2. My Fairy King (Queen, 1973)
The cogs of Freddie Mercury’s musical imagination were working overtime even on their first album. A multi-part mini-epic arriving in a swirl of leather, chiffon and black nail polish, “My Fairy King” kicked off the journey that eventually culminated in “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
3. Some Day One Day (Queen II, 1974)
Queen veered close to prog on their second album, but Brian May’s otherworldly semi-ballad took off somewhere else entirely. Hazy and unknowable, they never sounded like this again.
4. Tenement Funster (Sheer Heart Attack, 1974)
Queen’s third album was an entire musical universe in itself. Amid the dandy pop, playful ragtime and proto-thrash metal aggro was Roger Taylor’s love letter to the aspirational power of rock and roll.
5. The Prophet's Song (A Night at the Opera, 1975)
“Bohemian Rhapsody” grabbed the headlines, and just about everything else, but Brian May’s eight-minute epic is no less ambitious or insane, not least in the fever-dream chorale at its center. It kicks back in with a killer riff, too.
6. Drowse (A Day at the Races, 1976)
No member of Queen seemed as happy in their own skin as Roger Taylor, and “Drowse” reflected that. This was the drummer as an old man looking back at his younger self and saying, “Wasn’t it brilliant?”
7. It's Late (News of the World, 1977)
One of the great Queen tracks: six minutes of escalating sexual tension set to a blockbusting Brian May riff, it builds and builds before exploding in a big sweaty mess. When it’s done you’ll be reaching for a smoke.
8. Princes of the Universe (A Kind of Magic, 1986)
Part of the soundtrack to cult classic Highlander, this sword-swinging monster sees May and Taylor cranking up the volume and having a blast doing it — although not as much as Mercury when he hollers “Bring on the girls!” with his tongue jammed firmly in his cheek.
9. Ride the Wild Wind (Innuendo, 1991)
It’s hard not to view Queen’s swan song through the prism of impending mortality. “Ride the Wild Wind” pulses with lust-for-life romance, but a current of sadness swirls beneath it. The line “Gonna leave it all behind, get out of the rat race” is defiant and heartbreaking.
10. Time to Shine (The Cosmos Rocks, 2002)
May and Taylor’s union with Paul Rodgers worked better when they weren’t trying to sound like Queen, as this soaring highlight from their sole album together proves. It makes you wonder what would have happened if they’d stuck it out.
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