Queen – ‘A Kind of Magic’ (1986) – Album Review (The Studio Album Series)

During 1985, Queen performed at the Live Aid on July 13th in the UK at Wembley Stadium. Their performance is legendary and actually helped catapult the band back in to the limelight. The Live Aid performance was one of the biggest scenes for the film, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, in 2018. Still high from the performance, in September 1985, Freddie called the band together to write songs and work was begun on the band’s 12th studio album, ‘A Kind of Magic’.

The band continued recording until April of 1986 and in that time, they were also working on songs for the upcoming Sci-fi cult classic, ‘Highlander’, starring Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery. The album that would become basically an unofficial soundtrack to the movie as no official soundtrack was ever released. A lot of the songs on the album were from the movie and the rest were other songs the band was working on at the time. The album is noted for also being the first album the band had ever recorded in digital and not analog. It was one of the few CDs I had at the time that was truly ‘DDD’ which was on the back of the CD case. ‘DDD’ basically it was recorded, mixed and mastered all in digital and it was one of the best sounding CDs I owned at the time.

The album was released on June 2, 1986 and in the UK, the album went straight to #1 and sold over 600,000 copies making it 2X platinum. In the U.S., it only went to #46 and barely made Gold selling around 500,000 copies…yes, the U.S. requires sells of over 1,000,000 to be platinum. The U.K., not as strict. For me, this album was my first real dive in to Queen. It was the first Queen album I bought and it would start a fandom that has lasted for 35 years. With that, I think it is time to get in to the music.

The album opens with the first song written for the album, “One Vision”. This is the song Freddie reconvened the band to write and what a song to kick off the album and was the only song on the album credited to everyone (even though Roger claims he did most of it). Queen’s rock edge was back and in a big way. The song opens quietly then we get a kick drum and some keys and it just builds to the crescendo and explodes. If you had any doubts that Queen could still kick ass, they were quickly shot down. Freddie’s vocals were agressive and smooth as silk and Brian May’s guitar was screaming. The band still used some synths, but now it was to enhance the song not drown it. The song was even used in the movie ‘Iron Eagle’ which as a kid at the time that it came out, I loved that movie as the soundtrack was incredible. Plus it ends with a lyric change from “One Vision” to “Fried Chicken”. Why, I have no idea, but funny nonetheless.

The next track was from the movie, ‘Highlander’. “A Kind of Magic” was a line in the movie that inspired Roger Taylor to write the song. Freddie took the song and re-arranged it and added a new bass line to help the flow of the song and what you have hear is a wonderful pop/rock song. That new bass line sounds killer by John Deacon. There is a “magical” feel to the song as it seems to float and dance in the air around you effortlessly and spectacularly. The song was a global success, but barely missed the Top 40 in the U.S. stopping at #42. Still, it is a great song.

Then John Deacon gets in on the act with a very sexy song called “One Year of Love”. The song is also from ‘Highlander’ and was playing in a bar scene in the movie. The song does not have a guitar solo and Brian May isn’t even on the song. Instead of a guitar solo you get a sensual sax solo which turns the song into a sultry little song. There is also a string orchestration added that adds to the sexiness of the song. And then you add Freddie’s emotive vocals and it is elevated the ballad in to quite a beautiful song.

“Pain is So Close to Pleasure” was written by Deacon and Mercury and Freddie actually sings it all in falsetto and I believe is the last time he ever does that in a Queen song. It is a little heavier on the keyboards but it ain’t a disco song, no. It is more soulful and more Motown and Deacon’s bass is quite prominent in the background as he lays down a nice funky little groove.

Mercury and Deacon team up again for the next track, “Friends Will Be Friends”. It opens with a brief guitar solo and turns in to more of a piano based song. I’ve seen this compared as a modern update to “We Are the Champions”, but sadly no where near as good. It isn’t a bad song at all, just a little cheesy and over the top in its lyrics. Too sappy and I grew a little tired of this one over the years. Maybe if I was drunk and with a bunch of friends and we were singing karaoke, this might be a good one to play.

“Who Wants to Live Forever” is one of my all time favorite Queen songs. It was written by Brian May and sung by both him and Freddie. It is a love song from the movie ‘Highlander’ and is nothing short of sensational. With heavy orchestration by the great Michael Kamen, it is haunting at times and quite elegant at others. The songs feels epic and atmospheric as it dances through heaven’s in your mind and your heart. The song builds up throughout and and is capped off by one of Freddie’s best vocal performances he has ever given. Wow! is the best way to sum it all up…Wow!!

The band completely turns it up a notch and Brian May lays it all on the table delivering one of his most incredible guitar performances he has in years. He completely shreds on this metal song from the movie, ‘Highlander’ called “Gimme the Prize (Kurgan’s Theme)”. I also love how they intersperse lines from the movie into the song as it takes me back to the movie every time. Freddie rocks it out vocally as well and I love it when Queen goes all nuts and full on metal!! The movie phrase, “There can be only one” by Connor MacLeod ends the song with a huge explosion and what a way to go out.

“Don’t Lose Your Head” is another rocking song that was inspired by a line in the movie as well was written by Roger Taylor. Freddie sings with this one but he has some outside help on this one as Joan Armatrading sings some background vocals on it. I like the upbeat tempo and the fact it is more rocking at night, but it is also one of the weaker songs on the album. A lot of electronica elements in it as well which water it down as well. It is decent enough not to be deleted, but somedays I’m not in to it.

‘Highlanders’ theme song is the final rock track, “Princes of the Universe”. Played at the opening credits, the song is a bombastic, explosive track that is full of the power of the immortals from the movie. Brian’s guitar playing on this one is crazy and he puts his all in every note. Taylor’s drums are heavy and thunderous and Freddie is fully invested in the drama of the song and is in full on rock god mode. The May solo is some of the fasting shredding he has ever done and is way too short. That solo should’ve be drawn out longer. The song is perfect and might be my favorite on the album next to “Who Wants to Live Forever”.

Track Listing:

  1. One Vision – Keeper
  2. A Kind of Magic – Keeper
  3. One Year of Love – Keeper
  4. Pain Is So Close to Pleasure – Keeper
  5. Friends Will Be Friends – Delete
  6. Who Wants to Live Forever – Keeper
  7. Gimme the Prize (Kurgan’s Theme) – Keeper
  8. Don’t Lose Your Head – Keeper (1/2 Point)
  9. Princes of the Universe – Keeper

The Track Score is 7.5 out of 9.0 or 83%. I think this is s solid effort from Queen and more than a step up after the last few releases. But this album holds a special place in my heart so the score might be surprising to some. As I said earlier, this was my gateway in to the band. I knew the hits from the past, but this was the first album of theirs I bought and have bought many times. I love the fact they went back to being a pure rock band with this one and the connection to a cult classic movie I loved (well two movies actually), I simply never tire of this album. It isn’t perfect, but for me it is pretty darn close. I give it a 4.5 out of 5.0 Stars as the songs that are good on here are actually great and the misses are only slight blemishes. This for me was the start of it all and so, that is how it is. It was a kind of a magical moment for me.

BONUS E.P.

The bonus E.P. has 7 tracks on it which might the most of any in the series. And some great ones as well. It kicks off “A Kind of Magic” and the version from the movie which has a different opening and seems a little slower in tempo then picks up, but it is not the same pop song from the album. The guitar solo and works is also varied from the album track. It all has a very different vibe entirely and I think I like the album version better. Next up is the single version of “One Vision” and the biggest difference is it has been shortened by over a minute cutting back on the instrumental pieces of the song including a shorter solo but leaves in the “Fried Chicken” line.

“Pain is so Close to Pleasure” is also the Single Remix which cuts off about 30 seconds to the song and also turns it in to more of a dance number. I’ll take the album version over this one. Then we get the incredibly beautiful piano version of “Who Wants to Live Forever” simply called “Forever”. It is all piano and no vocals and is stunningly brilliant. It leaves some orchestration in and it feels like a dream. Wonderful. Next we get a demo from August 1985 which is before they technically started working on the album. The song is “A Kind of Vision” and is what would become “One Vision” on the album. It is a very different animal as it isn’t very rocking and recorded using a drum track and synths. It is still a very cool demo to see where the song began. I guess they liked the “A Kind of” part as they would reuse that. This is the coolest track on the bonus disc.

Next we get a live version of “One Vision” from Wembley Stadium recorded on July 11, 1986 only about a month after the album’s release. The build up of the opening gets the audience clapping, but they suck and can’t keep time properly. It sounds like it was the opening track to the show which it is a cool opening song. Then we get an extended version of “Friends Will Be Friends” called “Friends Will Be Friends Will Be Friends…” Yes, if you extend the song you should extend the title as well, why not. The song has been completely turned around and is a strange remix. Choruses moved around, verses excluded and moved, more effects added and they took a song I’m not a fan on and gave me something to like even less. Cool!!

And there you have it. I hope you enjoyed and we will see you for the next one…I now have a hankering for some fried chicken…strange.

UP NEXT: ‘The Miracle’ (1989)

THE STUDIO ALBUM SERIES:

  1. Queen (1973)
  2. Queen II (1974)
  3. Sheer Heart Attack (1974)
  4. A Night at the Opera (1975)
  5. A Day at the Races (1976)
  6. News of the World (1977)
  7. Jazz (1978)
  8. The Game (1980)
  9. Flash Gordon (1980)
  10. Hot Space (1982)
  11. The Works (1984)
  12. A Kind of Magic (1986)
  13. The Miracle (1989)
  14. Innuendo (1991)
  15. Made in Heaven (1995)

33 thoughts on “Queen – ‘A Kind of Magic’ (1986) – Album Review (The Studio Album Series)

  1. “One Vision” is a cranking track to open a Queen concert. Freddie sounds so bada** on “Gimme the Prize” and I love it! “One Year of Love” is such an underrated track in the band’s catalog. When I ordered the Queen 40 box sets, I purposely didn’t search up that track because I wanted to listen to it on the album and see if it was as beautiful as I remembered it (I took a break from the band for about two years), which it was. What made you decide to get ‘A Kind of Magic’ by the way, the first time?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This making of documentary on “One Vision” might answer your fried chicken question. They were originally different lines they were trying out. Some of my favorites were “One sex position”, and “Two tits, John Deacon”.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Excellent review. Thanks for including the videos. “Who Wants to Live Forever” seems like it could be from “Phantom of the Opera,” or, more likely, from the less famous sequel, “Love Never Dies.”

    Like

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