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Listening to: Queen, Greatest Hits (UK)

Queen Greatest Hits UK

This is still the definitive greatest hits package by Queen. It first came out in 1981, which means it’s got everything you need to have heard: Queen before it started to use (a lot of) synthesizers; Queen playing excellent pop songs deeply rooted in British heavy metal, rock ‘n roll and music hall; Queen being outrageous and fey and yet satisfyingly rock ‘n roll all at once.

I remember first hearing this record at my friend Reinhard’s house. He was a year older and started his rock listening journey a little earlier than I did – and he had this fabulous Queen record that we listened to over and over (he also had Depeche Mode’s Construction Time Again, and I gave him a copy of AC/DC’s For Those About To Rock for his birthday – or did I give him the Depeche Mode and he had the AC/DC?). I remember being awestruck by the gratifying rumble of Queen’s sound – I immediately loved Roger Taylor’s thunderous and precise, musical drums, and Brian May’s guitar remains to this day a unique, melodious, beautiful sound, his solos pitched a little lower than many other guitarists’.

The song list on this, the first of many Queen Greatest Hits discs, is essentially perfection. Sure, there are some later tracks that one secretly wishes had been around already in 1981 to be included here – ‘Hammer to Fall’ from 1984’s The Works would have blended in well – but this is as good as it gets short of actually listening to classic Queen albums. (Maybe this is a classic Queen album.)

‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ ‘Another One Bites The Dust,’ ‘Killer Queen,’ ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love,’ ‘Fat Bottomed Girls,’ ‘Bicycle Race’ – they’re all here. There are some lesser-known titles, too (lesser-known to North American ears), like ‘Save Me’ and ‘Don’t Stop Me Now.’

What’s great about this compilation is that it’s mostly cut from a single cloth of sound – Queen circa 1973-1980 were a consistent sounding band with a big, powerful sound. These recordings were laboured over in the studio, often painstakingly assembled (lore has it that ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was overdubbed so much that the tape became transparent). What’s great about them is that unlike other 1970s studio bands, Queen did not end up making tedious fantasy music with 15-minute songs about fairies and fauns. They made perfect pop confections that have become part of the fabric of rock ‘n roll.

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