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 produced stripped-down, synthesizer fuelled 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, 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 a studio album, mostly short instrumentals interspersed with dialogue, but it would be at #15 if I had included it.
Queen’s Albums Ranked
#14: A Kind Of Magic
A Kind of Magic is Queen at their least focused, 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 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
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
It’s messy and the two rock songs that open the album aren’t convincing. At its best The Miracle marks a creative rebound for Queen after a sometimes indifferent 1980s. The anthem ‘I Want It All’ has scorching guitar work from May, while the title track is a pretty multi-part suite.
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
After Hot Space, The 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. 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
A Day At The Races was less ambitious than the group’s previous albums. Mercury’s gospel-tinged show-stopper ‘Somebody To Love’ is one of their best tracks, showcasing their harmonies. As always, Brian May is reliable on tracks like ‘Tie Your Mother Down’ and ‘Long Away’.
#7: The Game
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’.
Queen’s debut album wasn’t very successful in terms of sales, but a lot of their ideas were already in place. May’s ‘Keep Yourself Alive’ is the most well-known song, but there are strong, forgotten Mercury-penned pieces like ‘Great King Rat’ and ‘My Fairy King’.
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
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’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
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’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.