After the Magic Tour ended in 1986, which was supporting the album ‘A Kind of Magic’, the band took a break. Not much happened in 1987 and the band went its longest time between albums. They finally did start recording a new album in January 1988 and it took a whole year before they were finally finished in January 1989. The band was going through a lot during this time period. Brian May was going through a very tumultuous marital problems that actually put him in to depression. And to make matters worse, Freddie had been diagnosed with HIV and suffering through the effects of that illness. At the time, there had been speculation of Freddie’s illness but at the time, it wasn’t confirmed publicly although the band was well aware of the diagnosis.
The album was finished and was finally released on May 22, 1989 and titled ‘The Miracle’ which sounds like that is exactly what it was to get the album finished. At one time, the album title was going to be ‘The Invisible Men’ but was changed suddenly at the last minute. I think the final title fits what was going on in their lives. Thankfully, we got another album from the band. The album went to #1 in several countries, including the UK, but only hit #24 in the US. It was certified Platinum in the UK, but I don’t believe has ever been certified Gold or anything in the US. For me, it was a day one purchase so I know they sold at least one copy in the US.
The band did something different with this album as well. All the songs were credited to the band ‘Queen’ and not to each individual member that actually wrote the song. The band was being more collaborative and felt this was the right thing to do. Now, however, we know who actually wrote each song but I liked the fact at this point in their career, they felt that crediting it to each member was the right thing to do. The album cover with the faces morphed together as one is in line with the collaborative feeling.
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.
For 1983, the band decided they weren’t playing any live shows and they took a little break. Roger Taylor released his second solo album called ‘Strange Frontier’ and Brian May released an E.P. titled ‘Star Fleet Project’ and in that project was some little known guitarist by the name of Eddie Van Halen…maybe you’ve heard of him. Freddie even worked on his solo album ‘Mr. Bad Guy’, but his didn’t get released until a couple years later. John did whatever he wanted as I don’t know if he worked on a project. And in August of that year, they started working on their 11th Studio album, ‘The Works’. The band recorded at the Record Plant in L.A. and Musicland studio in Munich. It was a global affair.
The band still held on to the electro-pop stylings of ‘Jazz’, but did bring back some of the rock sound they are known for and thank the Heavens for that. But I don’t think it was enough to save this album. As you will see, the songs are good…but they aren’t great. For me, Queen seemed like a lost ship at sea and no one could read the stars to help them find their way and you would think with an astrophysicist on board, that would help, but nope. The band finished up the album around January 1984 and then released the album on February 24, 1984 to little success. It did go to #2 in the UK, but only #23 in the US which was disappointing for them.
First up is “Radio Ga Ga” which was written by Roger Taylor and he thought it would work great on his solo. The band heard and thought this could be a hit and suddenly it became a Queen song. Roger’s inspiration came from his son and hearing him say “Radio Ca Ca”. He took that and turned it in to a commentary on how TV and Music Videos were changing the way we listened to music and the radio. Radio was becoming less important, but he wanted to wax poetic about its greatness. The song actually makes reference to a couple of major radio events such as Winston Churchill’s “This is their finest hour” speech to the House of Commons in 1940 and to Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds” in 1938.
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.
Queen was never one to do things the standard, normal way. Nope, they thought outside the box constantly. Who am I kidding, they threw the freaking box into the recycle bin never to be seen or heard from again. In secret, Queen worked on an album that no one would expect from them. They did a movie soundtrack. Yes, Queen did the music for the movie Flash Gordon. They jumped in to right after finishing up the album, ‘The Game’ and before that tour sometime around February-March 1980. And after the tour, they quickly went back in and finished up the soundtrack around October-November 1980. The album would come out on December 8, 1980 to everyone’s surprise. Why did they keep it a secret? Because they didn’t want the news to overshadow the movie because let’s be honest, Queen doing a movie soundtrack would make some news for sure.
The movie Flash Gordon is a cult classic. Mainly because it is so bad, it is actually a little good. The acting is horrible, the sets are cheap, I mean it screams B-Movie. And like the movie, the soundtrack is just as campy. It is quirky at times, it rocks out at times and it is a little bit awful at times…just like the movie. Freddie had the bright idea of including some of the film’s dialogue in with the songs to help give the songs some context considering most of the songs were strictly instrumental pieces. That is right. Freddie only sings on 2 songs with minor vocals on 3 others. This is not your typical Queen album. You expect to hear Freddie…well..you don’t get many opportunities for that. Back to the dialogue. As hokey as it sounds, it actually does help having the dialogue. It helps make the album pure campy fun. Doesn’t mean I like it, but it has its moments.
The album kicks of with “Flash’s Theme” which is the only single off the album…however, this isn’t really the single version as that seems to be pieces from a couple songs on the album blended together. This is one of the few songs to include Freddie’s vocals and it has Brian May also doing vocals. John Deacon’s bass and Roger Taylor’s drumming are the driving beat to the song. It is one of the few songs that sounds like Queen especially when May’s guitar comes in. It is anthemic and over-the-top and bizarre. Next up is “In the Space Capsule (The Love Them)” which was written by Roger Taylor. It is feels like outerspace and atmospheric with the synths. There is some great drum beats by Taylor to give it a tribal feel. And the song sounds grand and regal. Overall, not bad for a movie score, but doesn’t sound anything like Queen.
We are slap dab in the middle of the Queen Studio Album Series. We are on album #8. We’ve done 7 and have 7 more to go after this one. I can’t believe it is going by so fast. We are also in to a new decade…the 80’s. This was also the time where my musical taste started to develop on my own without input from my siblings. I remember a couple of these songs on the radio so this album is a little special for me, but yet still years away before I bought one on my own. In 1980, I was just starting middle school so had no job and no money.
The band started recording in June/July of 1979 and a few songs were done, but things were brought to a halt because Queen went back out on the road in late 1979 on the Crazy Tour. When that ended, they went back in the studio on February and finished up the album by March 1980. The album came out on June 30, 1980 and was a massive success. The album went to #1 in the US and sold well over 4 million copies in the US alone. There were 5 singles so we have a lot to discuss. The line-up is unchanged as we still have Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon. Not many bands make it this far without a line-up change and Queen wouldn’t for years and years to come.
The album kicks off with “Play the Game” which was the third single off the album. It didn’t do as well as a couple other singles on the album as it only went to #42 just missing the Top 40. The song is also famous because it is the first song to feature a synthesizer. Queen had notoriously put on their previous albums that they didn’t use synthesizers. People thought that it was a knock against synthesizers, but reality is they wanted to let the world know that all those cools sounds that they made were actually done by guitar. It really wasn’t a knock on that instrument. Anyway, the song was written by Freddie Mercury and it is Queen being Queen. They don’t do anything simple and it has to be huge and grand and that is what this song is. Freddie’s vocal range on this song is insane. It has Freddie on piano and synthesizer for this one with Brian laying down a great solo that was played for the song and not all showboaty. It is a killer opening track.
After the success of their album ‘News of the World’ and a very successful tour for that album, Queen quickly went back to work for the band’s seventh album, ‘Jazz’. They started recording the album in July 1978 in France and didn’t finish until October 1978. The album saw its release a month later on November 10, 1978 around a year after their last album. Upon its release, it wasn’t a critical darling, but the album did go to #2 in the UK and #6 in the US. The funny thing is that over the years, the critics have warmed up to this album and they usually rank it within the Top 5 Queen albums ever made. I don’t know about that, but we will see when I finally rank them at the end of the series.
The band is still Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon and that won’t change ever during these reviews as they are one of the few bands to not change their line-up during their studio album run. Not many bands can say that. We know after Freddie’s death, that will change, but it is really a touring band at that point, no more studio albums. Okay, we are getting a little sidetracked…by we, I mean me.
As Queen prepared for their follow-up album to ‘A Day at the Races’, the musical landscape was changing in the UK. The Punk scene was starting to takeover so Queen decided to adapt to the times. No, they didn’t make a punk album, but what they did was drop the grandiose ideas of the previous albums and strip it all back to their rock roots and made it a little more raw. As a result, the band put out their most popular album they ever released.
It was released on October 28, 1977 and the band saw the album go to #4 in the UK and #3 in the US and the album went quickly to platinum status. In fact, the album has sold over 10,000,000 copies around the world marking it as their best selling studio album. With 3 official singles (4 if you count the B-side success of “We Will Rock You”), the band was ready to take over the world
The band was still in tact with Freddie Mercury, Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor. However, Brian and Freddie didn’t write the majority of the songs as usual. John and Roger both contributed 2 songs each this time around instead of their usual 1 song (well not usual for John as he had only one credit prior to this album). The band worked more as a band this time around. As a result, we get an album that completely feels like a full band contribution and we get a beast of an album.
For Queen’s fifth studio album, ‘A Day at the Races’ is considered a sort of companion piece to the preview album ‘A Night at the Opera’. The only connection I feel really is the fact both are titled after Marx Brother movies. Outside of that, they don’t feel connected to me at all. The album was recorded between July 1976 and November 1976 and get its release on December 10, 1976. The album was self-produced by Queen which is the first time they had done that and I am not so sure it worked as well as they hoped. Now their long time producer might be gone, but the band was still in tact. Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon are still going strong.
The album did ship Gold. went to #1 in the UK and #5 in the US and would go on to Platinum status so the band did something right. They released 5 singles and their popularity kept growing with each album release. However, this is not an album I ever really connected to and I gave it enough listens. I actually ended up skipping a couple songs on later listens of the album and that is never a good sign. Now, I am not saying the album is horrible, no as they do make worse ones down the road, I am only saying that I didn’t find this one to be as good as a lot of people say it is. Don’t shoot me, it is only my opinion and plus, I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about half the time anyway.
Before the band could record their fourth album, they had to go through a lot of a business crap. Money was becoming an issue in the fact they weren’t getting any. They were extremely disappointed, to say the least, with their current management and record label, Trident. The hired a lawyer and for nine months, battled back and forth until they were successful in getting released from the Trident deal. But it was costly. They were able to get ownership back of their first few albums, but it cost them 1% royalty on the next 6 as well as pay £100,000 and the tour that was scheduled had to be cancelled because it was set up by the old management. Now this was 1975, so that is a lot of freaking money.
Queen was able to get new management and they singed with EMI (UK) / Elektra (US) and were set to create their next masterpiece. This album would be the most expensive album ever to be made (at the time of 1975). It cost £40,000 (or $338,000 in today’s dollars). It was so expensive due to the fact they recorded the album in seven different studios, over 4 months and required a lot of multi-tracking and they ended up using a 24-Track set up. Their last album only used a 16-Track tape. Queen was going big or going home. And if you know them at all, going big is the only way they know.