After the band’s album “Flash Gordon”, Queen actually released one of the biggest selling albums of all time their “Greatest Hits” which has sold well over 25 million copies worldwide. At one point it was said that one in every three families in the UK had a copy. It was on the charts in the US for over 400 weeks which is insane. The band was on fire and constantly busy. They wasted no time in getting back in to the studio to record their new album “Hot Space”. They started in June of 1981, but wouldn’t finish until March 1982 due to touring and other obligations. The album finally saw the light of day on May 21, 1982.
The band went a completely different direction with this album, I mean they pulled a complete 180o turn. The rock sound was replaced with a wide variety of sounds including disco, dance, pop, funk, r&b and pretty much everything but rock. When Kiss did this, they really only did it with a couple songs because “Dynasty” still had more rock than disco. Queen doesn’t do anything halfway, they went all in and it didn’t quite have the impact they were hoping. Although the album went on to sell over 3.5 million copies worldwide, upon its release it barely went Gold in the US only reach #22 on the charts. This album turned off a lot of people in the US and their popularity started to wane in a big way. But it wasn’t only the album. Homophobia set in with the US market as well and they weren’t as accepting of Freddie Mercury. This caused the band to actually stop touring the States after they finished the ‘Hot Space Tour’. Things were not all that well in the Queen camp. The good news is, the States came around eventually and Freddie is loved by all and I think people now realize what a true talent he really was. And this is really a story for another time as we are going to stick to the music.
The album kicks off with the funkified song “Staying Power”. It is full of synthesizers, drum machines and even horns that were arranged by Arif Mardin. This might be the only song ever by Queen with a horn section. There is no actual bass guitar on this as John Deacon plays guitar with Brian May. The bass sound is all effects. It isn’t a bad song if it wasn’t sounding the way it is. It is a complete left turn. I think we have the success of the song “Another One Bites the Dust” for this mess.
“Dancer” is up next and this is actually a fun track that has some nice guitar moments, but is still ultimately a dance track with more funked up grooves. This track was penned by Brian May with Freddie on vocals. It has tambourines, keyboards and every electronic sound you could think of, but it still has some of the edge of rocking Queen. The song mentions the title of the album so this could be classified as the title track.
If you think the first couple songs were some funky, well “Back Chat” really goes out. This time we get a funky R&B song from John Deacon with Freddie on vocals. It is has a cool vibe and groove and isn’t that bad. The album has gotten a lot of bad rap over the years for its complete turn, but there are moments that are worth hearing. This song feels like a classic 80’s pop song with some new wave elements and still has a great May solo.
“Body Language” is not your normal Queen song as there is no guitar on this song at all. It could be considered plain awful for that fact alone, but it is just plain awful period. Now what do I know as this was their biggest hit off the album in the US hitting #11 on the Charts. I think the US got it wrong, because this doesn’t even hold a candle to anything else they’ve done in their catalog. I don’t care, they can snap there fingers in the song as much as they want to sound cool, but I hate it the whole thing.
The next track takes its name from a Winston Churchill phrase, “Action This Day”. It was written by the great Roger Taylor and he shares vocals with Freddie Mercury. Roger doesn’t actually have a solo sung song on the album which is the first time that has happened (Flash Gordon doesn’t count). This is a pure New Wave dance track. Roger’s drumming is all done on an electronic drum machine. There are more horns on this song, but they are actually all synthesized. It is a fun, upbeat track and leave it to Roger to give something that still feels a little like Queen.
We then get the Brian May penned song, “Put out the Fire” which is actually about gun control. And almost forty years better we still need something as shootings keep getting worse. It is a more rocking track and has some great Mercury falsetto. The guitar solo by May was done while he was a little inebriated. Even drunk, May has still got it. This is another song that is close to the Queen we know and love.
Freddie brings the next song “Life is Real (Song for Lennon)” who had died only a year earlier as of the writing. For Queen, the music usually comes before the lyrics, but in this case Freddie’s lyrics were written prior to the music. It starts off with a repeated piano note before Freddie comes in to sing. As a tribute is a nice song, but it is so fluffy and a little cheesy and doesn’t quite hit the mark for me. I find it a little boring and unimaginative.
Roger comes back and saves us again with “Calling All Girls” which was written on the guitar. This is actually the first Roger Taylor song to be issued as a single for the band. Freddie is singing so they still haven’t released one with Roger singing. Now it didn’t do anything on the charts, but can’t believe it took this long for one of his songs to be a single. This is another 80’s song that sounds so 80’s pop music and I am okay with that as I love the 80’s. Roger still is the big rocker in the band and is able to keep some elements of that sound, but turn it in to one of my favorite songs on the album (not my favorite as that will come at the end).
“Las Palabras De Amor (The Words of Love)” is an atmospheric sounding keyboard/synth ballad that is pure and utter dribble (is that a word?). I have never been a fan of any of there songs were they sing in a different language which I find strange and might need to explore the reasons why one day, but not now. This does nothing for me and feels cheesy with a side of more cheesiness. Moving on…
The funk is brought back to life with “Cool Cat” a R&B treat written by Freddie and John and has Freddie on falsetto the whole time. Interesting to note that David Bowie was on backing vocals, but didn’t like his performance so it was removed. I like the groove on this one and Freddie’s high end is sick so how can you not love his vocals. It doesn’t feel like a Queen song, but a good song is a good song.
The album ends with what may be the greatest Queen song ever (at least to me) so sit back as I have a lot to say about this one. “Under Pressure” is about how life’s pressure can really take a toll on your life and how it destroys everything; however, love is the answer and can make everything so much better. I definitely got all that from the song, but it was less about the words and more about the give & take of the vocals between Freddie Mercury and David Bowie. Two of the best artist of all time duking it out vocally is one of the greatest things you can ever hear. I guess God wanted to hear this song live as now both have passed over to the other side and they can sing it to Him.
The song is also famous for that simple, two note bass line by John Deacon. That “don don don dondo don” (or something like that) was immediately recognizable and played throughout. After Deacon had come up with that riff, the band went to lunch or something and completely forgot the riff. One of the band members (or maybe Bowie) helped remind him what it was. That famous bass line is not to be confused with “don don don dondo don don” the Vanilla Ice riff for “Ice, Ice Baby”…there is a difference and he will tell you…whatever.
The song came about while Bowie was in the studio with them to sing backing on “Cool Cat”. The band had been working on the song “Feel Like” and with David’s help and a little jam session, the song turned into “Under Pressure”. I love how sometimes songs are created instantly while others have to be worked through and retried over and over until it somehow materializes. Well, the extra effort was worth it on this one as it is incredible and helped make me a Queen & Bowie fan for life. Whew, I think that is enough for that one. What a way to end the album.
- Staying Power – Keeper (1/2 Point)
- Dancer – Keeper
- Back Chat – Keeper
- Body Language – Delete
- Action This Day – Keeper
- Put Out The Fire – Keeper
- Life Is Real (Song for Lennon) – Delete
- Calling All Girls – Keeper
- Las Palabras De Amor (The Words of Love) – Delete
- Cool Cat – Keeper
- Under Pressure – Keeper
The Track Score is a 7.5 out of 11 or a 68%. Solid enough score. The album is not the band’s best, but ain’t their worst either. Yes, they completely changed things up and went funked up disco with a twist of R&B and New Wave but at least they keep trying new things. I would’ve hated this album when it came out, but now some decades later, there are some fine elements here. There is no denying the talent and the vocals, but they still crafted some great songs albeit very different from prior albums. Overall, I think I will be generous and give it a 3.0 out of 5.0 Stars mainly for “Under Pressure” because not many bands can write a song as good as that one is. If you hated this album, give it another try and let me know what you think.
The Bonus E.P. is chock full of goodness. You get a live version of “Staying Power” which is better than the studio version because the song has more life and a little more rocking as it has some real drums with it. The tempo is sped up and now it fits in a Queen show. It was recorded at the Milton Keynes Bowl in June 1982. Next up is a studio track called “Soul Brother” which was the B-Side to “Under Pressure”. It is a great R&B track that feels like you are going to church at times. Talk about cultural appropriations (ha! kidding). Then we get the single remix of “Back Chat” which really makes it sound like a dance song but maybe not as funked out. Still a cool song and I see why they wanted it as a single.
Next up are two live songs form the Tokyo show in November 1982. First up is “Action This Day” and live they rock it out. Roger and Freddie on vocals dueling it out. It is a more uptempo track and a total blast. As much as I do like the studio track, this is pretty great. Then we get “Calling All Girls” and the crowd goes nuts when Freddie tells them it was written by Roger Taylor. It is quite funny at Freddie’s reaction as he goes “You Bet” and gets right back to what he was going to say. Another great live performance from the band as do they ever sound bad live? The answer to that question is a resounding NO!
And there you have it. We are not 2/3’s of the way through their catalog. We will see you in two weeks for the next review…