In the 21st century, Queen have emerged as the most-loved band from the classic rock era. They enjoyed little critical respect and struggled to sell records in the US for much of their career, but they now outperform more acclaimed acts like The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and The Rolling Stones on streaming services.
As you’d expect, most streams are of a few big hits – ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, ‘I Want To Break Free’, and ‘We Will Rock You’ are all among their most popular songs. Here’s my list of my favourite Queen songs. More than most bands, 10 songs are woefully inadequate to cover the breadth of Queen’s work. They released 13 studio records over three different decades – it’s notable that the top three songs on my list are all from different decades. All four songwriters wrote top ten hits individually – singer/pianist Freddie Mercury and guitarist Brian May dominated their early albums, but the rhythm section of Roger Taylor and John Deacon also emerged as songwriters as the band’s career progressed.
I had to leave out lots of great songs – there was no room for ‘The Prophet’s Song’, ”39′, ‘It’s Late’, ‘The Miracle’, ‘Dragon Attack’, ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’, ‘Now I’m Here’, ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’, or ‘Death on Two Legs’. Also, I failed to squeeze in the much-loved ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ – consider it #11.
10 Best Queen Songs
#10 – Another One Bites The Dust
written by John Deacon, from The Game, 1980
‘Another One Bites The Dust’ is one of Queen’s most atypical hit. Its taut funk broadened their appeal; it was released as a single on Michael Jackson’s recommendation and its popularity among black communities helped it to top the US charts. It was largely performed by John Deacon, who played rhythm guitar, bass, piano, and handclaps. He had to fight for the sound he envisaged, convincing Taylor to play with a dry-sounding drum kit to achieve a funk sound. The b-side, May’s ‘Dragon Attack’, is another successful dabble by Queen into funk. Later the same year, Weird Al Yankovic released a parody version entitled ‘Another One Rides The Bus’.
#9 – Fight From The Inside
written by Roger Taylor, from News of the World, 1977
1977’s News of the World is one of my favourite Queen records. Skip past the overexposed opening pair of ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘We Are The Champions’, and you get a strong collection of relatively unknown Queen songs. It was largely recorded by Taylor – he sang lead vocals, and played drums, bass and rhythm guitars. This deep cut is largely overlooked, although it’s reportedly one of Slash’s favourite guitar riffs. It’s hard to categorise – it’s kind of bluesy and kind of funky.
#8 – Fat Bottomed Girls
written by Brian May, from Jazz, 1978
‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ is certainly one of Queen’s crasser hits, but it’s never lost its appeal for me. There’s a great contrast between the dirty blues and Freddie Mercury’s sleazy vocals of the verses and the huge, harmonised chorus with Brian May’s smoother voice in the spotlight. ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ shared a double a-side single with ‘Bicycle Race’ – Mercury shouts “Get on your bikes and ride!” to link the two tracks.
#7 – The March of the Black Queen
written by Freddie Mercury, from Queen II, 1974
Clearly ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is Queen’s best-known multi-part epic, but recorded a couple of years earlier, ‘The March of the Black Queen’ shares many of the same elements. The was an urban legend that the recording of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was so overdubbed that the tapes became almost transparent, but that story was actually about ‘The March of the Black Queen’. The song contains polymeter – there are different time signatures simultaneously, 8/8 and 12/8. Mercury had an almost four-octave vocal range, and he hits some very high notes in the operatic section in the middle. Along with another Queen II track, the song inspired a popular Nintendo game, Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen.
#6 – White Queen (As It Began)
written by Brian May, from Queen II, 1974
‘White Queen (As It Began)’ comes from the White Side of Queen II, written by May, May started writing the song back in 1968, based on a girl in his biology class whom he regarded as an ideal. He later “I [was] dared to ask out this girl, and she became a lifelong friend, it’s very strange.” There’s lot of pretty guitar work from May – the sparkling acoustic and electric textures recall contemporary records from Genesis.
#5 – Somebody To Love
written by Freddie Mercury, from A Day at the Races, 1976
With three strong singers in the group, Queen were always superb at harmonies. Along with ‘Let Me Live’ from Made In Heaven, ‘Somebody to Love’ was almost their only foray into gospel music. Mercury was an admirer of Aretha Franklin – in Queen: The Greatest, Brian May said “He loved Aretha, and this was his gospel epic.” There’s a great piano line from Mercury, and one of my favourite Brian May solos.
#4 – The Show Must Go On
written by Queen, from Innuendo, 1991
Queen credited their songs from later albums to the band as a whole – it may seem autobiographical to Mercury’s failing health, but ‘The Show Must Go On’ was largely written by May. With Mercury’s health failing, the band were worried whether he’d be able to hit the high notes the song required. According to Wikipedia “Mercury consumed a measure of vodka and said “I’ll fucking do it, darling!” then proceeded to perform the vocal line.” It’s the emotional punch of the bridge that’s the song’s key moment; Mercury’s voice soaring and vulnerable as he sings:
My soul is painted like the wings of butterflies
Fairy tales of yesterday, grow but never die
I can fly, my friends
#3 – Under Pressure
written by Queen and David Bowie, from Greatest Hits (1981) and Hot Space (1982)
Queen’s second #1 hit in the UK was a collaboration with David Bowie. Bowie and Queen were both recording in Montreux, and a jam together led to ‘Under Pressure’. It has a loose and exploratory feel, like it’s finding its shape as it goes along. It’s built around a John Deacon bassline, later retooled into the Vanilla Ice hit ‘Ice Ice Baby’. The appeal is hearing two legendary rock singers, Bowie and Mercury, trading scat singing and verses before they team up for the coda – “this is our last chance/this is ourselves”.
#2 – Killer Queen
written by Freddie Mercury, from Sheer Heart Attack, 1974
Queen’s commercial instincts began to come to the fore on their third album – ‘Killer Queen’ was the band’s first international hit. It has the same ingredients as their earlier album tracks – it’s camp and free-flowing. But it’s more streamlined than before, with a fun chorus and a stinging solo from May. May missed the original recording of the song, laid up with hepatitis, but the band left space for him to add his solo later.The movie Bohemian Rhapsody paints the band as struggling before their 1975 mega-hit, but 1974’s ‘Killer Queen’ was a #2 hit and put the band on the map.
#1 – Innuendo
written by Queen, from Innuendo, 1991
The title track of Queen’s 12th album is an odd case – it entered the UK charts at #1, the band’s first number one hit since ‘Under Pressure’. But it’s half-forgotten today – it’s not among the band’s 20 most-streamed songs on Spotify. ‘Innuendo’ is a surprising #1 hit – it’s a sweeping epic with an eastern feel, not unlike Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’. It was largely composed by Mercury and Taylor – it originated out of a group jam, while Mercury cowrote the orchestration in the middle section with producer David Richards. Unusually for Queen, the song features a guest musician – Yes guitarist Steve Howe plays on the flamenco section.
And they saved “Innuendo” itself until last. They played it and I was fucking blown away. They all chimed in: ‘We want some crazy Spanish guitar flying around over the top. Improvise!’Steve Howe, Prog Magazine
If you want a more exhaustive breakdown from a more obsessive fan, my friend Kezzamachine has been running a round-robin of all 210 Queen songs. These are his final results:
What’s your favourite Queen song?