Queen has been at the epicentre of rock history since their formation in 1970.
Even a brief flick through Queen’s illustrious rock n’ roll history is enough to remind oneself of the band’s tremendous influence, not just in music but culture, film and TV.
Their album Greatest Hits has scored platinum status a remarkable 21 times and sits at the top of the UK’s best-selling albums ever with Adele, ABBA, The Beatles and Oasis in behind.
Queen released over 70 chart singles, 6 of which reached number 1.
Their stat-smashing, stadium-shaking hits sent reverberations through rock n’ roll history, effortlessly fusing the seemingly-dissonant genres of opera, classical music and rock.
Despite the tragic death of frontman and vocalist Freddie Mercury in 1991, Queen are far from a spent force.
The band is still going strong, regularly touring with guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist Brian May and drummer, vocalist and keyboardist Roger Taylor still representing the original 1970 lineup.
They are due to tour the UK and Europe in 2022.
Here, we’ll be looking at some of the top 20 tracks by Queen based on chart history and popularity polls, with a couple of *slightly* lesser known numbers thrown in for good measure!
20. Crazy Little Thing Called Love
Freddie wrote Crazy Little Thing Called Love in the bath with a tribute to Elvis Presley in mind. Freddie actually composed the song on guitar, which he could barely play, but that helped create the song’s catchy stripped-down arrangement.
Freddie’s vocal parts clearly resemble that of Elvis when he sings the line crazy little thing called love. The rockabilly style with a walking bassline is also evocative of Elvis-era music.
It was the band’s first US number 1 single where it stayed for 4 consecutive weeks. It reached number 2 in the UK singles chart.
19. Killer Queen
Released on Sheer Heart Attack in 1974, Killer Queen marked Queen’s turn towards a more glam/pop-rock style. Layered with diverse and complex vocal harmonies, Killer Queen was still unmistakable. The recording process for Killer Queen was also very creative with a multi-tracked guitar solo and four-part vocal harmonies. The band put on an iconic performance of the track at Top of the Tops in 1974.
18. Keep Yourself Alive
Written before John Deacon joined the band, Keep Yourself Alive was a real hard rock track off Queen’s self-titled debut album.
This song makes the list for the simple fact that it was Queen’s only single to not chart on either side of the Atlantic! In fact, despite some very solid reviews, it was largely ignored worldwide.
One critic quipped Queen as “looking just half as good as they sound”!
It remains a firm fan-favourite, though, and Rolling Stone Magazine rated the track as 31st on their list of "The 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time".
17. You’re My Best Friend
A classically arranged rock love song, You’re My Best Friend was written by bassist John Deacon for his wife and was composed mainly on the electric piano.
The Wurlitzer electric piano gives it a distinctive tinny tone that was described by Freddie as “tinny and horrible”, but also that it had the “desired effect”.
Multi-part Queen vocal harmonies and guitar licks make this a quintessential Queen classic.
16. Heaven for Everyone
Heaven for Everyone was originally written by Queen drummer Roger Taylor for his side-project with Freddie Mercury named The Cross in 1988.
The song was remade for Queen’s 1995 album Made in Heaven where Freddie’s old vocal was recorded with a new backing track.
Its posthumous release added a new layer of poignancy to the lyrics than was initially intended.
The track reached number 2 in the UK single charts.
Queen’s longest single exceeding Bohemian Rhapsody by 35 seconds, Innuendo was released on the album of the same name in 1991. This was after Freddie’s AIDS diagnosis, he died 10 months after its release.
Innuendo was described as a ‘jigsaw puzzle’ epic with interlayered parts including an operatic interlude. It harked back to the early days of Queen as a progressive rock band and featured a guitar part but Yes’ Steve Howe.
Howe became the first non-Queen member to play on a studio recording.
Innuendo’s lyrics were seen as evocative of Freddie’s illness, even though media stories surrounding his worsening condition were still being denied at the time.
14. Who Wants to Live Forever
Another classic Queen track that was written for Highlander, Brian May reportedly wrote the track in about 20 minutes from the back seat of a car.
Another classically-driven Queen track, Who Wants to Live Forever features a truly epic vocal performance from Freddie and caught a new wind in 2011 when it appeared in a Walkers crisp’s advert.
This track remains one of Queen’s most-covered tracks and was performed by Seal at the Freddie Mercury tribute show in 1992.
13. Somebody to Love
A real ballad, Somebody to Love was inspired by Freddie’s fascination with Aretha Franklin.
It channelled the tone and spirit of gospel music and featured in many collaborations subsequent to Freddie’s death.
The song bears many similarities to the gospel-esque symphonic track Bohemian Rhapsody, and though there are some parts seemingly performed by a choir, these were produced with only 3 voices - Freddi Mercury, Brian May and Roger Taylor.
12. Bicycle Race
Bicycle race was one of Queen’s tongue-in-cheek epics, and like I Want to Break Free, its video was banned for lewd content.
Freddie was inspired by the Tour De France in 1978 and given its complex modulations and bicycle bell solo, you could say it appeared on the right album in Jazz.
Bicycle race’s lyrics were actually some of the more politically driven by comparison to other Queen tunes, drawing references to Watergate and Vietnam.
11. I Want it All
I Want It All was a song about fighting for one’s rights and it became a protest song in South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement. Released in 1988, Freddie never saw the opportunity to play the song live.
The track is renowned for its rockin’ solos and is the only Queen tune to involve the use of dual bass drums, as can be seen from the music video.
I Want it All was always destined to be one of Queen’s most epic hard rock anthems.
10. Radio Ga Ga
Lady Gaga named herself after this track, stating that she “adored” Queen. Roger Taylor reportedly caught inspiration for the song when his son uttered the words ‘radio ca-ca’ whilst they were listening to a bad song.
It turned into a commentary on TV’s ascendency vs radio.
The band played this track at every single live performance from its release in 1984 to the last ever concert with lead singer Freddie Mercury in 1986.
9. These Are The Days of Our Lives
Freddie’s last filmed performance, this track was actually written by Roger Taylor as a retrospective on parenthood and how it made him reflect on his own life.
Once Freddie announced his AIDS diagnosis, the track took on a new level of meaning; a reflection on mortality, as encapsulated in the lines; “Cos these are the days of our lives, they've flown in the swiftness of time.”
Brian May later speculated about how Freddie’s vocal articulation and behaviour in the video is a gesture of him saying goodbye.
8. A Kind of Magic
A Kind of Magic was released on the album of the same name in 1986. The album was written as a sort of unofficial soundtrack for the film Highlander and the phrase “a kind of magic” itself is spoken in the film by Connor MacLeod (Christopher Lambert).
In recent years, A Kind of Magic has been used in numerous TV and film productions, most recently appearing in Furniture Village’s Christmas advert.
7. Don't Stop Me Now
Birthdays, weddings, events of any kind...you can always crank the volume up to 11 with a bit of Don’t Stop Me Now.
The song was only a minor hit at the time of its release, reaching just 9 in the UK charts.
But Don’t Stop Me now has aged phenomenally well, registering an average 65,000 additional downloads every year on average according to Billboard. It has matured from a relative outsider to one of Queen’s most beloved hits.
Neuroscientists found that Don’t Stop Me Now is one of the world’s happiest songs.
The track was written to be hedonistic - about having fun - but Brian reflected on how they were starting to worry about Freddie at the time it was released.
It was voted as the third-best Queen song by readers of Rolling Stone.
6. I Want to Break Free
I Want to Break Free encapsulates Queen at their tongue-in-cheek best. The video showed them dressed in drag and was subsequently banned from MTV in the USA.
With a synth-driven disco-pop feel, the song is topped off with a synth solo that sounds much like a guitar - something that Brian wasn’t initially overboard about!
5. Under Pressure
Under Pressure came about from a jam session with David Bowie. The track was actually co-written with Bowie, but Bowie himself performed the song in public for the first time in 1992 as a tribute to Freddie.
The track reached number 1 on the UK singles chart and is Queen’s third best-selling song.
With another thrilling vocal performance by Freddie, Under Pressure is a poignant but powerful Queen classic.
4. Another One Bites the Dust
Inspired by Chic’s Good Times, Another One Bites the Dust was originally written by John Deacon before Freddie took the track by the scruff of its neck and hammered out one of the most famous Queen vocal performances of all time.
The track is now credited as Queen's best-selling single, with sales exceeding 7 million copies.
It was Michael Jackson - a big Queen fan - who urged them to release it as a single.
3. We Are the Champions
Released on the 1977 album News of the World, We Are The Champions originally appeared on the A-side of the We Will Rock You single.
Brian May said the tune was inspired by a crowd that sang You’ll Never Walk Alone as they walked off stage post-encore on the Day at the Races album tour.
They wanted to create a similar level of anthem - something that could be sung full pelt by a huge crowd.
It’s safe to say that they achieved that goal!
It has been found to be one of the catchiest tunes in music history and was voted ‘the world’s favourite song’ in a 2006 poll by Sony Ericsson.
2. We Will Rock You
We Will Rock You is the crowning glory of Queen’s arena rock.
Remarkably, it never hit number 1 spot in the charts when first released on the B side of the We Will Rock You single.
We Are the Champions is on the A-side of that record and the two tracks are usually played together, as they were at Live Aid in 1985.
It was released again by band Five in 2000 and on that occasion, it did hit number 1 in the UK singles chart.
We Will Rock You is only just over 2 minutes long and is driven by its simple but big and substantial beat.
A proper ‘shout it out loud’ rock classic for the ages - and one of the most famous songs in existence.
1. Bohemian Rhapsody
Bohemian Rhapsody is one of the world’s most iconic rock songs and will forever remain so.
It’s a billboard topping, stat-crushing masterpiece, the only song to reach Christmas number twice in 1975 and then 16 years later in 1991. Bohemian Rhapsody claimed the UK singles number 1 spot for 9 weeks and is Queen’s best selling track.
In December 2018, the track officially became the most streamed song from the 20th century. It has now been downloaded or streamed over 1.6 billion times.
The video also received widespread critical acclaim and was named by The Guardian as one of the key events in rock music history.
Brian May marvelled at how the track was “all in Freddie’s mind” and it took 3 weeks to record.
Etching Queen’s highly unique symphonic arrangement into rock history, Bohemian Rhapsody is also the title of Queen’s 2018 biographical film.
Image Credit: GroupEditor