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Queen: Worst To Best

Queen Made In Heaven

Queen formed in 1970 in London, originally a hard rock band, with shades of progressive rock and metal. They adapted as musical fashions changed; they flirted with disco on 1982’s Hot Space and stripped down pop hits on 1984’s The Works.

But over their twenty year recording career, certain hallmarks of their sound remained; Freddie Mercury’s virtuoso voice and Brian May’s distinctive guitar sound, from his “Red Special” guitar that he handcrafted as a teenager with his father. Mercury and May were supported by drummer Roger Taylor, whose high harmony vocals were an important part of the group’s sound, and bassist John Deacon. While Mercury and May were the most prolific writers, unusually all four members wrote hit singles for the band – they’re the only four piece band to have all of their members inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Queen’s best albums were generally at the start of their career  – in the 1980s they often seemed more focused on singles and dabbled with solo careers. Even as the quality of their albums declined, they remained a formidable live attraction, especially their 1985 Live Aid performance, and enjoyed hit singles throughout their twenty year tenure. Queen refocused their attention as Mercury’s health declined, before he succumbed to AIDS in 1991. I’ve skipped 1980’s Flash Gordon soundtrack, as it doesn’t feel like an album, mostly short instrumentals interspersed with dialogue, but it would be at #15 if I had included it.

Queen Albums Ranked

 

#14: A Kind Of Magic

Queen A Kind of Magic1986
A Kind of Magic is Queen at their least focused, and it’s largely a compilation of their contributions to soundtracks like Highlander. But even on their weakest studio album there are highlights; May’s majestic, haunting ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’ and the group rocker ‘One Vision’.

#13: Made In Heaven

Queen Made In Heaven1995
Queen re-emerged in 1995 with a collection of songs the band worked on with Mercury in the months before his death. Many of the songs were outtakes from previous Queen albums or songs previously used on solo projects, and it feels thin, despite the heart-warming story behind it.

#12: Hot Space

Queen Hot Space1982
Hot Space is infamous as Queen’s disco record. There are weak songs like Mercury’s ‘Body Language’, but it does feature the classic David Bowie duet ‘Under Pressure’ and the second half is more focused on balladry like ‘Les Palabras De Amor’ than on dance floor fillers.

#11: The Miracle

Queen The Miracle1989
It’s messy, and the two rock songs that open the album aren’t convincing, but at its best The Miracle is a creative rebound for Queen after a sometimes indifferent 1980s. ‘I Want It All’ has scorching guitar work from May, while the title track is a pretty, multi-part suite.

#10: Jazz

Jazz Queen1978
Queen closed out the 1970s with their weakest album of the decade. The ‘Bicycle Race’/’Fat Bottomed Girls’ single is one of their finest, but most of the album tracks feel unfocused, like weaker versions of past triumphs.

#9: The Works

Queen The Works1984
After Hot SpaceThe Works marks a return to basics. It’s not their most substantial album, but Mercury’s ‘It’s A Hard Life’ is a majestic ballad, and the rhythm section supply the hits with Deacon’s ‘I Want To Break Free’ and Taylor’s ‘Radio Ga Ga’.

#8: A Day At The Races

Queen A Day At The Races1976
A Day At The Races was less ambitious than the group’s previous albums, and it was their weakest album to date, but it still contained Mercury’s gospel-tinged show-stopped ‘Somebody To Love’, and great Brian May tracks like ‘Tie Your Mother Down’ and ‘Long Away’.

#7: The Game

The Game Queen1980
The Game introduces a new, streamlined Queen for the 1980s – if they were an album band in the 1970s, they’re largely a singles band in the 1980s. The best tracks are diverse singles like Mercury’s rockabilly ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ and Deacon’s funky ‘Another One Bites The Dust’.

#6: Queen

Queen 1973 Debut1973
Queen’s debut album wasn’t very successful in terms of sales, but it showed a lot of their ideas already in place. May’s ‘Keep Yourself Alive’ is the most well known song, but there are strong, forgotten Mercury songs like ‘Great King Rat’ and ‘My Fairy King’.

#5: Innuendo

Innuendo Queen1991
The group’s final album before Mercury’s death suffers from being released in the CD era – at almost 55 minutes it could do with some trimming. But the key tracks – the six minute title track and ‘The Show Must Go On’ – recapture the grandiose Queen of old, and they’re some of the band’s best work ever.

#4: News of the World

Queen News of the World1977
In the year of punk, Queen produced a more streamlined album. The album opens with two huge Queen anthems – ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘We Are The Champions’ – but the rest of the album is surprisingly consistent, with highlights like May’s ‘It’s Late’ and Taylor’s ‘Fight From The Inside’.

#3: Sheer Heart Attack

Queen Sheer Heart Attack1974
Queen’s second album of 1974 contained their breakthrough hit ‘Killer Queen’, but it’s a relentlessly entertaining suite of songs, showcasing the diverse music interests of Queen’s four members.

#2: A Night At The Opera

Queen A Night At The Opera1975
A Night At The Opera contains the monstrous single ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, a multi-part epic, but there’s enough else here that it doesn’t overshadow the rest of the record. ‘Death On Two Legs’, ’39’, ‘The Prophet’s Song’, and Deacon’s pop of ‘You’re My Best Friend’ are all strong entries in the band’s catalogue too.

#1: Queen II

Queen II1974
Queen’s second album is their most indulgent and pretentious, but that’s a compliment. Mercury and May have an LP side each – May contributes ‘White Queen (As It Began)’, while Mercury’s ‘The March of the Black Queen’, ‘Ogre Battle’ and The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke’ are all multi-part magnum opuses.

36 thoughts on “Queen: Worst To Best Leave a comment

    • Cool – there are 87,178,291,200 different ways to rank a list of 14 items, right? Looking at my list objectively, the most provocative thing is probably having Jazz below The Works. Never really been able to get into Jazz.

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  1. Pretty much the guide I’ve been looking for! The only Queen album I own is A Night At The Opera, but my introduction was Greatest Hits back in the early 90s (quite possibly after Wayne’s World and Bohemian Rhapsody). The only studio albums I actually bought after that? Innuendo and, quite possibly, The Miracle. Then I drifted away and tuned into alternative rock. Although obtaining a copy of A Night At The Opera a few years ago, I still haven’t explored the discography too much.

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    • Cool. In some ways I think the 1981 Greatest Hits is the best thing they ever did, but I also feel like their albums are overlooked, while some of their singles are overexposed. If you like Night at the Opera, Sheer Heart Attack is almost as good, while Queen II is a bit more hard rock/progressive rock.

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  2. Good list but you’re a little too harsh on three albums in particular: A Kind Of Magic, The Miracle and Hot Space. Perhaps they belong in the “you had to be there” category, but since I was there I have a strong affinity for all three. Initially I was against Hot Space as the “disco album,” but it has grown in stature for me over the years. I particularly like “Back Chat” among the dance/club-inspired songs, and the second half of the album has some really strong rockers, Beatles-inspired tracks & ballads. A Kind Of Magic, which I featured in my “Thirty Year Thursday” series in 2016, is a very strong album in spite of the fact that it was tied to their Highlander contributions. Freddie’s histrionic (in the best possible way) vocals on “One Year Of Love” are incredible. As for The Miracle, it’s one of the most interesting & creative albums in their discography, and it gets unfairly compared to its follow-up, Innuendo, which I think receives a little too much praise because (a) it “sounds like” classic Queen and (b) it’s tied to people’s emotions about Freddie’s death shortly after its release. Don’t get me wrong…it’s a very strong album…but The Miracle shows Queen being creative as opposed to re-creative (if that makes any sense). I also believe it’s the only Queen album where all songs were credited as “written by Queen” instead of one particular band member. Through it all, even the lesser songs on these albums are notable for the incredible musicianship, especially Brian May’s constantly inventive guitar work.

    Okay, I’ll step off my soap box now. 😀

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    • Something has to be near the bottom! I like ‘Back Chat’ a lot as well – I almost mentioned it in the write-up, and I think even at #11, I actually like The Miracle more than most Queen fans, but like a lot of the 1980s’ stuff I generally mostly like May’s stuff and the singles.

      I think they had shared writing credits for Innuendo as well – it masks how important Roger Taylor was as a writer on the last few Queen albums (Breakthru, Invisible Man, Days of our Lives, Innuendo, Heaven for Everyone).

      What else would you have near the bottom?

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      • I guess the problem I have with “worst to best” lists is that they tend to keep people who may have been on the fence about certain albums from ever checking them out. For me, just about every Queen album is great, with only varying degrees of greatness…with the exception of Made In Heaven, of course, which has some decent moments but it sounds like the pieced-together project that it is. I can’t argue that most of the albums near the top of your list are essential purchases for anyone new to Queen’s music (or who haven’t delved beyond compilations), while the lower-ranked albums…while still as worthy of praise…are probably not the best entry points into their discography.

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        • Maybe I should even be stating in the intro that I only do Worst To Best lists for artists that I really like, and where I think their albums are generally worthwhile. I don’t think I’d even attempt it for someone like Neil Young – I love his 1970s stuff, but there are so many post 1970s albums to wade through, and I only need so many Neil Young albums in my life.

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        • Always good to have some kind of disclaimer or explanation up-front, even if some readers won’t pay attention. I know what you mean about Neil Young. I covered his complete discography a few years ago in a 10-post series. There are some wonderful post-’70s albums but more often than not it was a slog to differentiate many of them.

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  3. Whenever someone asks me what is my favorite Queen album I always have a hard time deciding between Queen II and A Night at the Opera, so I think this is a great list! =D

    I wish I liked News of the World as much as you do, though. I am not a big fan of neither We Will Rock You nor We Are the Champions (maybe they are a victim of being overplayed), so that makes the album lose quite a bit of its charm. I do, however, love Spread Your Wings and All Dead, All Dead.

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      • I have a related question: Do you think being sick of certain songs takes away from an album’s greatness if you thought those songs were great in the first place? I’m rarely affected by songs being “overplayed” but I seem to be in the minority, as a lot of music lovers I know will take points away from albums because of that. I like to think of how an album will sound to someone hearing it for the first time, and as often as possible I like to listen with that mindset. I’m curious about how many others do the same.

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        • I have had that issue sometimes – I remember when I first started my site, I marked Crowded House’s early albums pretty harshly, then realised I wasn’t taking the singles into account, which wasn’t fair. ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’ kind of towers over the rest of the Crowded House debut, so it shouldn’t be discounted.

          The two acts I struggle with the most with single overplay are Queen and U2 – the first two songs on News of the World and the first three songs of Joshua Tree in particular I’ll often skip, but I think both of those albums are very solid otherwise. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ has lost impact for me too, but it’s a key track for Queen.

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        • I have a friend who wouldn’t listen to The Beatles, once claiming that they were overrated and that he preferred The Monkees. His explanation was that he was overexposed to Beatles songs when he was younger and didn’t need to hear them anymore. At this point it’s probably been 35 years since he played anything by them, which makes me think that they would sound pretty fresh to him. But he’s clung to that opinion for so long that I don’t think he’ll budge. Just because a song is overexposed doesn’t mean its impact should be forgotten.

          U2 is a great example. I was already a huge fan when The Joshua Tree was released, and overplayed that record all by myself throughout my junior & senior years of college. I don’t play it (or most of their discography) much anymore, but I still regard it as a pivotal album in my life and would rank it among their Top 3 or 4, especially for newcomers. Maybe “worst to best” should really be “least favorite to most favorite” or “least played to most played.”

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