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Featured: Queen Albums Ranked from Worst to Best

Featured: Queen Albums Ranked from Worst to Best

Just a bunch of musical prostitutes, my dear.

I realize that you’re currently reading a music-themed article on a movie site, but don’t drowse off just yet. As the token musician of InSession Film, writing about music as it relates to film is out of personal necessity, and with the release of Bohemian Rhapsody, a kind of magic has aligned. Call it an excuse if you must, but this grants me permission to give in under pressure and play the game of dissecting one of my favorite bands and their stone cold crazy career. How many (killer) Queen references were you able to decipher in that opening paragraph? Don’t judge, just let me entertain you.

Queen were innovators in genre and production, and they deliberately made that known; sometimes forcibly so, tagging each of their 1970’s albums with a “No Synthesizers” gag, queuing listeners in on what sounds and styles they were able to conjure with only piano, guitar, bass, and drums. Each of the band’s four members (who remained unchanged throughout their career) possessed a masterful and unique bond with their respective instrument; Brian May on guitar, Roger Taylor on drums, John Deacon on bass, and of course Freddie Mercury himself, perhaps the greatest front man and rock singer of all time. They are one of our greatest rock bands, but they didn’t start out that way, and similar to how we talk about audiences not being ready for certain films, Queen were certainly ahead of their time. Despite individual songs being written and credited by individual members of the band (some folks may not even know that Brian May and Roger Taylor were also talented lead vocalists in their own right), they only worked because of a special musical bond they shared with one other; they kept each other alive, for over 30 years.

As a massive Queen fan, a biopic like Bohemian Rhapsody is one I didn’t have much interest in seeing, and despite a few pleasing attributes (the music, Rami Malek’s portrayal, and the pathos behind 1985’s Live Aid performance) the film isn’t very good at all (part of me still dreams of the Sacha Baron Cohen cut). This will not be an in-depth review of the film, and will instead be an honoring of what that film sets out to achieve; a celebration of the great music of Queen, and a respect for their incredibly diverse and experimental career. Each one of their fifteen studio albums was its own journey with a mind of its own, many being better than others (yes, there are some duds). And as a music fan who considers the album as that artist’s singular musical statement, let’s take a look at all fifteen of Queen’s artistic statements from worst to first, from operas to races, from magic to miracles, even from immortal Scottish swordsman to Flash Gordon.

15. Made in Heaven (1995)


I honestly considered not even including Made in Heaven, it feels unfair to rank among Queen’s studio output. It’s also quite terrible. Released four years after Mercury’s passing, Made in Heaven is comprised of Mercury’s unreleased vocal and piano parts with added instrumentation by surviving members May, Taylor, and Deacon, creating new compositions from those initial ideas. But without Freddie Mercury’s presence in each song’s finalization, the album simply comes off as passionless and reeking of financial obligation. Some of the best songs here (specifically the title track and “I Was Born to Love You”) already existed in prior form on Mercury’s 1985 solo album Mr. Bad Guy, only adding to the album’s overall lack of purpose. But aside from that, and aside from very good tracks like “Let Me Live” and “You Don’t Fool Me”, Made in Heaven feels overly schmaltzy, saccharine, and downright corny; I personally have a hard time just getting through a song like “Too Much Love Will Kill You”.

Listen to the full album here.

14. Flash Gordon (1980)


This soundtrack and score composition (Queen’s first) of Mike Hodges cult sci-fi flick also feels a little unfair to rank. Flash Gordon is barely an album, if at all; it is primarily comprised of short interlude tracks and effects written for the film, even featuring some of the film’s actual audio and dialogue. This makes for a fine release within the context of the film, and the album can be enjoyed on those merits, but as an individual album it lacks musical fluidity; this may seem like unfair criticism, but I am ranking Queen’s “albums” after all. The opening single “Flash’s Theme” and closing track “The Hero” are the only two lyrical tracks, and are coincidentally the only two that feel like “songs”. They are great tunes for sure, and the soundtrack features many enjoyable interludes (“Football Fight” is a riot), but they aren’t enough to give this album its own functionality outside of the film. It’s a fine soundtrack, but not so much an album.

Listen to the full album here.

13. Jazz (1978)


Some Queen fans may have this playful release ranked higher, especially for yielding some of the band’s most notable hits (“Fat Bottomed Girls”, “Bicycle Race”, and the quintessential “Don’t Stop Me Now”). But Jazz always felt too little too late, and a bit of a dull recreation of what the band had already done before. Reteaming with producer Roy Thomas Baker, who helped provide the technical marvels behind Sheer Heart Attack and A Night at the Opera, sounded good on paper, but ironically Jazz just sounds paper thin and musically weak. When it needs to rock out with songs like “Let Me Entertain You” and “Dead on Time”, it lacks energy, and when it needs to provide beauty and melancholy with songs like “Jealousy” and “In Only Seven Days”, it lacks pathos. And at a length of thirteen songs, which actually isn’t that dense by Queen’s standards, the album still feels too long. Many of these tracks, while perhaps stylistically regressive for Queen, are not bad in the slightest, but Jazz is sadly one of those albums where its production and overall sound fails it. It does, however, feature one of Queen’s most amusing openers with “Mustapha”, Freddie’s tribute to his own heritage.

Listen to the full album here.

12. A Kind of Magic (1986)


Like Flash Gordon, A Kind of Magic too is a soundtrack album of sorts (for Russell Mulcahy’s fantasy epic Highlander). However, unlike Flash Gordon, A Kind of Magic feels more like an album, probably because it only partially serves as a movie soundtrack. Instead of instrumental interludes, A Kind of Magic is composed of nine lyrical songs, all of which range in musical diversity like the best Queen albums do. With such strong hit songs like opening rocker “One Vision” (initially for the movie Iron Eagle), the anthemic title track, and the achingly gorgeous and orchestral “Who Wants to Live Forever” (one of the band’s best), A Kind of Magic should have been more magical. But by functioning as only a “partial” soundtrack, the album feels incomplete, with the album’s remaining cuts functioning as mere filler to make up space, such as the uninspired repetition of “Pain Is So Close to Pleasure” and “Don’t Lose Your Head”. There are some epic movie-themed tracks here (“Princes of the Universe” and “Gimme the Prize (Kurgan’s Theme)” specifically), but sadly, and similarly to Flash Gordon, most of the album is best enjoyed in conjunction with its respective film, and not as well on its own.

Listen to the full album here.

11. The Works (1984)


In many ways, The Works was Queen’s 1980’s “debut”, the album that would form the overall sound and style of Queen in the 80’s. Many fans also considered this album a return to form for Queen, having experimented with disco and R&B on 1982’s Hot Space two years prior, and while The Works still carries on with the more pop-flavored stylings Queen would explore throughout this decade, the album reemphasizes their rock-and-roll backbone, with Brian May’s signature guitar tone all over heavy tracks like “Hammer to Fall” and “Tear It Up”. The album is at its best when it sticks to this raw sound (mirrored in its colorless album cover), not just on those two aforementioned rockers but also on songs like “It’s a Hard Life”, “Keep Passing the Open Windows”, and the incredible closer “Is This the World We Created…?”. Aside from these great tracks, the overall album sounds a bit at war with itself stylistically, which is surprising given how musically diverse Queen were known to be. Perhaps it’s mostly due to synth-pop anthems like “Radio Ga Ga” and “I Want to Break Free” which (call me crazy) I don’t think have aged all that well, and only contribute to the album’s struggle for self-identity. The Works may be a mixed bag, but still not without its strengths.

Listen to the full album here.

10. Hot Space (1982)


I realize that on any other Queen fan’s list, 1982’s Hot Space is bottom of the barrel (or at least damn near close); I happen to think it’s pretty good. What was it I said earlier about Queen? They were innovators in genre, looking at the musical past while also predicting its future. During this time, disco, funk, and R&B were still top of mind, but the way Queen married the dance genre’s typical synth sounds with authentic rock instrumentation was somewhat unique. Queen didn’t just make another disco album with Hot Space, they made a statement of how instrumentally diverse pop music can be, to the point that Michael Jackson even cited the album as a big influence on his 1982 classic Thriller (I bet you didn’t know that). Brian May’s tasteful guitar licks compliment the synth grooves of “Staying Power”, “Dancer”, the incredible “Back Chat”, and Taylor’s “Action This Day” beautifully, to the point that I wish there was more of it. It’s strange that Hot Space often gets criticized for being Queen’s “disco” album, when its disco-influenced songs are actually the album’s highlights (yes, I even like “Body Language”). Instead, the album’s back half offers more musical variety, sometimes for better and for worse; Deacon’s “Cool Cat” is a groovy reggae number featuring a stunning vocal performance by Freddie, but Taylor’s “Calling All Girls” and May’s respective contributions “Put Out the Fire” and “Las Palabras De Amor” sound excruciatingly out of place. However, Hot Space is perhaps most known for its closer, a collaboration with David Bowie on the classic “Under Pressure”; and rightfully so; this song soars.

Listen to the full album here.

9. The Miracle (1989) 


From the beyond silly album cover, The Miracle is perhaps Queen’s most playful album of the 1980’s, and all the better for it. Still dabbling in their blend of synth-pop and heavy rock as heard on The Works and A Kind of Magic, the results on The Miracle sound more consistent and self-aware in its absurdity, as if the band had finally found a way to mesh these tonal extremes. It’s heard on the pop rock anthem “Breakthru” (one of my favorite Queen songs from the 80’s), the electronic romp of “The Invisible Man”, as well as the dual openers “Party” and “Khashoggi’s Ship”, but when the album rocks, especially on great anthems like “I Want It All” and the phenomenal closer “Was It All Worth It” (a reflection on the band’s career up until that point), things still feel of a piece and never too tonally jarring. Not every song nails that tonal balance though, as many of John Deacon’s co-contributions (specifically “Rain Must Fall” and “My Baby Does Me”) come very close to self-parody, but Brian May’s guitar playing has never been more tasteful during this era (just listen to “Scandal” to hear why), giving The Miracle more personality than its two 80’s predecessors.

Listen to the full album here.

8. The Game (1980)


The opener “Play the Game” may be its own anthem of love, but so is the entirety of 1980’s The Game, where Queen paid loving homage to their influences (the greaser-themed cover should give that away, where Freddie bears a striking resemblance to Elvis Presley) while simultaneously embracing where pop music was going. On The Game, Queen opened up their minds, stared inside, and played the musical game, to the point that this became their first album to finally use a synthesizer (an Oberheim OB-X), musical commonplace at the time. The Game relishes in textures of power pop, rockabilly, and funk, yielding some of the bands most danceable hits; Deacon’s “Another One Bites the Dust”, Mercury’s country/rockabilly hit “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, and the heavy funk of May’s “Dragon Attack”, one of their greatest live staples (and a personal favorite of mine). The Game mostly succeeds in accomplishing a very tricky thing, nostalgically looking back to the musical past while never forgetting the future (Queen had always been foreshadowing where rock music was going, even if it wasn’t intentional). The album does, however, have a few moments where things sound more regressive and reactionary of the times, such as the power pop stylings of “Need Your Loving Tonight”, “Rock It (Prime Jive)”, and “Coming Soon”, all of which sound like they could’ve been hit songs by any new wave act only a few short years prior. But these few moments of near mimicry can be easily forgiven by the time we reach Brian May’s gorgeous closer “Save Me”, a Queen ballad for the books.

Listen to the full album here.

7. News of the World (1977)


News of the World was seen as Queen’s response to the punk rock scene, after being criticized by bands like The Sex Pistols for being too “progressive”. But aside from the obvious punk rebuttal with Roger Taylor’s “Sheer Heart Attack” (and a successful one at that) News of the World is not a punk album. It is, however, Queen at their most stripped down, raw, and organic, substituting the symphonic for the anthemic. This becomes clear less than five seconds in, when the classic pairing of “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” comes right out swinging without any warning. But News of the World has more raw diversity up its sleeve than simply the two greatest sports anthems ever written, including John Deacon’s tender ballad “Spread Your Wings”, Brian May’s melodic rocker “It’s Late” (one of his greatest contributions), Roger Taylor’s funk metal masterpiece “Fight from the Inside” (perhaps my favorite Taylor song), all concluding with Mercury’s jazz crooner “My Melancholy Blues”. Despite its versatility, News of the World never loses its grit and stays rather unpolished, reigning as one of Queen’s most consistent albums. I’m singing a lot of praise here, and yet I can’t bring myself to rank News of the World any higher due to one simple reason; I can’t be the only person who thinks “Get Down, Make Love” is one of the worst songs of the 1970’s.

Listen to the full album here.

6. A Night at the Opera (1975)


Queen fans may disown me for putting A Night at the Opera outside my top 5. With a title inspired by the Marx Brothers, A Night at the Opera is perhaps Queen’s best and most important album; an operatic, playful, and expensive journey in musical variety and studio trickery (at the time it was the most expensive album ever recorded). Mixing genres of heavy rock (the cynical opener “Death On Two Legs”), delicate pop (Deacon’s tribute to his wife “You’re My Best Friend”), bluesy rock (Taylor’s most popular tune “I’m In Love with My Car”), gorgeous balladry (Mercury’s dedication to Mary Austin “Love of My Life”, and a reoccurring theme in the biopic), folk music (May’s sci-fi themed “’39”), Dixieland jazz (“Good Company” – I mean, just listen to Brian May’s guitar mimic a clarinet!), and Music Hall (“Lazing On a Sunday Afternoon”), A Night at the Opera is musically all over the place but never feels like much of a mess due to the strength in its songwriting, a strength we can’t mention without acknowledging the greatness that is “Bohemian Rhapsody”, a six-minute summation of everything A Night at the Opera represents, and one of the greatest musical journeys of the 1970’s. But as someone who prefers the raw heaviness of Queen’s earlier works, the album sometimes sounds a little too polished, stripping away the grit of its heavier tunes. It also, on a few occasions, trips over its own ambitions; the middle vocal bit of “The Prophet’s Song” overstays its welcome, the Music Hall of “Seaside Rendezvous” veers dangerously close to self-parody, and May’s rocker “Sweet Lady” is dully out of place. It’s not a perfect album, but it gets props for perhaps being the most theatrical rock album ever made, and a great starter for newcomers of the band.

Listen to the full album here.

5. A Day at the Races (1976)


#Underrated. With A Night at the Opera being such a critical and commercial hit, it would’ve been easy for Queen to simply recreate that album all over again. Sadly, A Day at the Races often gets criticized for being just that, a sequel of sorts to its predecessor. One must question, if it wasn’t for yet another Marx Brothers-themed title, would critics have still said this? A Day at the Races clearly rides on A Night at the Opera’s more Vaudevillian successes with less musical variety, but what it lacks in diversity it makes up for in consistency; the album is more loving, tender, and consistently amusing, almost conceptually so, an experience reminiscent of watching a complete Music Hall performance from the Victorian era. And with Queen producing the album themselves this time (without Roy Thomas Baker), the album sounds less polished than A Night at the Opera and more live and organic, complementary of that live Victorian setting. It’s clear from the great opening rocker “Tie Your Mother Down” that Queen are intending to have some fun here, which continues with the Vaudeville stylings of “The Millionaire Waltz” (perhaps a bit of a “Bohemian Rhapsody” retread), and “Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy”, though their tender side still shines through on Deacon’s lovely “You and I”, Mercury’s aching ballad “You Take My Breath Away”, and especially the gospel stylings of the classic “Somebody to Love”. A Day at the Races yields some of the best vocal harmonies by the band (I imagine this being a favorite album among choir teachers), and it all sounds refreshing baroque.

Listen to the full album here.

4. Queen (1973)


Queen may have formed in 1970 (after Mercury joined May and Taylor following their own band Smile), but it took three years to release their debut. And to be honest, their self-titled debut is a bit of a patchwork and clearly represents a group of young men still trying to figure themselves out (even the band admits falling victim to over-arranging). But listening to this debut with the mindset that it was released in 1973 reveals a whole new perspective; Queen were always praised for being ahead of their time, especially in production and musical variety, but we often don’t acknowledge the influence they had on heavy metal, and that started here. May’s anthemic opener “Keep Yourself Alive” was like nothing the world had heard before, with an energy and aggression that rivaled other metal pioneers at the time (i.e. Black Sabbath and Deep Purple), but layered with a guitar tone that was just incomparable (Brian May, who studied astrophysics, built his own guitar, dubbing it the “Red Special”). It doesn’t end there; “Son and Daughter” is among the heaviest in the band’s catalog, and Mercury’s contributions “Great King Rat”, “My Fairy King”, and “Liar” epically channel the psychedelia and theatrics of early progressive rock/metal. The overall sound of Queen is dirty and unpolished (some songs even sound like demos, such as the dark ballad “The Night Comes Down”), but this grit continues to attract hardcore fans, myself included. It was also the first album I ever heard on vinyl; call me sentimental.

Listen to the full album here.

3. Innuendo (1991)


In-nu-en-do (noun) – an oblique allusion, hint, or insinuation. Perhaps this album title meant little to critics and fans back in February 1991, but nine months after the release of Queen’s final album, the allusion became clearer. Freddie Mercury was a very private and prideful man, and when he died that November of pneumonia due to complications with AIDS, Innuendo slowly took on a new meaning. Much like David Bowie’s devastating final album Blackstar, Innuendo is an insinuation of one’s upcoming death, and refusing to give in to the reaper’s reaching hand. Even though you can hear the slow deterioration in Freddie’s voice, he continues to passionately belt “Yes we’ll keep on trying, tread that fine line” on the album’s complex title track, singing of remembrance for better days on “These Are the Days of Our Lives”, even finding the time to laugh at his illness on “I’m Going Slightly Mad” (accompanied by a quirky music video which was reportedly almost too physically exhausting for Mercury to shoot), all concluding with a plea for a never-ending legacy on “The Show Must Go On” (“Inside my heart is breaking, my makeup may be flaking, but my smile still stays on.”). Freddie’s plea for pushing forward continues on great cuts like “Ride the Wild Wind”, the saddening “Don’t Try So Hard”, the aggressive rocker “Headlong”, and even wishing well to one of his cats with the silly “Delilah”. Innuendo is one of the rock music’s saddest albums, which is perhaps why it has stylistically aged better than its 80’s predecessors, straying further from synth-pop and tonally closer toward post-punk, new wave, and alternative rock (i.e. The Cure). Bring tissues.

Listen to the full album here.

2. Queen II (1974)


Having already shown the world an edge like no other, Queen’s debut still retained their early Smile roots, particularly on early Smile songs like “Doing All Right”. The band still needed to discover a more defined sense of self, which became the basis of Queen II, a dual-sided conceptual epic filled with fairy fellers, seven seas, queens, and ogres. Rather than the typical Side A and Side B vinyl format, Queen II is split between Side White and Side Black; Brian May (with the help of Roger Taylor on one song) handled the writing of White, Mercury handled Black. With the epic opener “Father to Son”, the delicate “White Queen (As It Began)”, and the soft-spoken “Some Day One Day”, Side White continues where Queen left off, and with strong results. However, it is Mercury’s Side Black that has become synonymous with Queen II’s continued legacy, a medley of epic fantasy that foreshadowed the early experimentations of Queen. Side Black rises from the ashes with the heavy onslaught of “Ogre Battle” before transitioning into the medieval weirdness of “The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke” (inspired by Richard Dadd’s painting of the same name). This connects effortlessly into the brief beauty of “Nevermore” and the epic centerpiece “The March of the Black Queen”, one of the band’s greatest deep cuts. Closer “Seven Seas of Rhye” (only half written for their debut) became the album’s only “hit” single, but fittingly concludes this unified epic through medieval times that flows freely as a single piece of music. The album’s legacy continues to grow, becoming a cult favorite among fans and even Queen themselves, a legacy clearly scene on its iconic album cover, later recycled for the music video to “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

Listen to the full album here.

1. Sheer Heart Attack (1974)


“Guaranteed to blow your mind, anytime.” They killed it alright. A Night at the Opera may have been when people took notice of the band, but Sheer Heart Attack is when Queen became Queen, and marks one of the greatest and most significant leaps forward for any band (and the album was released only seven months after Queen II!). Sheer Heart Attack is a seamless marriage of what Queen was and who they would become, a bridge between their glam/metal beginnings and their heavily polished musical versatility; they had conquered the recording process by now (with the help of Roy Thomas Baker), crafting a tight, diverse, and complexly arranged string of thirteen songs where not one sounds like the other (it might as well have been thirteen albums). The album delivers on glam rock (“Brighton Rock” and “Now I’m Here”), art pop (the killer classic “Killer Queen”), ragtime (“Bring Back That Leroy Brown”), opera (“In the Lap of the Gods”), speed metal (“Stone Cold Crazy” – later covered by Metallica without much difference), all ending with a literal explosion on “In the Lap of the Gods…Revisited”. And despite its diversity, the album never trips over its ambitions (unlike elements of A Night at the Opera); the songs are mostly short, to the point, and transition into one another like a 39-minute medley (which includes the clearly defined yet incredible three-part medley “Tenement Funster” – “Flick of the Wrist” – “Lily of the Valley”). The album’s title should have been an indicator that its sheer variety might be enough to put someone into cardiac arrest, but never has such an eclectic rock album sounded this graceful and complete, with sounds that no one would expect a four-piece could create. This, dear friends, is Queen.

Listen to the full album here.

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