The crowning achievement of the Queen catalog is that despite the band’s dozens of hit singles, there’s a deep bench of album tracks that are nearly as good.
You know the hits, but how familiar are you with the best of the rest?
In honor of today’s opening of the band’s biographic film “Bohemian Rhapsody,” we thought it appropriate to do a deep dive of the Queen canon. Here’s our ranking of the top 15 non-hit Queen songs that you may, or may not, be familiar with.
15. “Mustapha” (from “Jazz”)
Maybe you’ve heard the claim that Freddie Mercury was so talented that he could sing the phone book and make it interesting. Well, we offer up “Mustapha” as supporting evidence. This rocker with a Mideastern flair features Arabic, Persian, English and reportedly some made up words for lyrics. Despite having no clue what the song is about, it’s still a great listen — well, for most people.
I purchased the cassette tape of this album when it came out in 1978. One morning, while purchasing gas for my 30-minute drive to college, I was approached by a couple teenage boys asking for a ride to the local high school. I said sure, and they hopped in. (Kids don't try this at home!) As we left the gas station, I pushed in Queen's “Jazz” cassette, which opens with “Mustapha.” I admit to being slightly self-conscious as I glanced over at my temporary passengers and could tell they were quite incredulous over my choice of music. I was hoping that the ensuing track, “Fat Bottomed Girls,” would restore my rock street cred, but alas, it was too late. As I dropped the boys at school a few minutes later, they hurriedly piled out of the car. Instead of offering thanks, one of the boys leaned in and exclaimed, “You might want to think about listening to better music!” before slamming the door and running off.
I never saw the boys again, but I still love “Mustapha.”
14. “You and I” (from “A Day at the Races”)
Bassist John Deacon ended up writing some of the best songs Queen ever recorded. This song has a great melody, a catchy tune and some of Mercury’s most pure vocals. It’s always a pleasure to listen to.
13. “ ‘39” (from “A Night at the Opera”)
This beautiful acoustic song about a sci-fi mission gone awry due to time dilation from Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was sung by guitarist Brian May on the album, but Freddie Mercury took over vocals live when the band would perform this song as part of an acoustic set. May has a fantastic voice of his own, but how do you compete with Mercury? Still, I’m not quite sure which version I prefer. Bonus points for the science fiction lyrical angle.
12. “I’m in Love With My Car” (from “A Night at the Opera”)
Drummer Roger Taylor penned this classic rocker about a man’s feel for his automobile. Taylor’s voice, with a bit of a rasp, is intrinsic to the Queen sound — most prominently as a background vocalist, but occasionally in the lead slot as well, as evidenced here. This song is the subject of some ribbing in the film, but it ended up being the B side to the “Bohemian Rhapsody” single, so in addition to Taylor’s thrill at hearing his radials squeal, he also heard the “ka-ching” of accelerated publishing royalty profits.
11. “Love of My Life” (from “A Night at the Opera”)
As documented in the “Bohemian Rhapsody” film, Freddie Mercury wrote this song for his then-girlfriend, and lifelong best friend, Mary Austin. Honestly, I wasn’t that enthralled with this song on my many listens of “A Night at the Opera” when it was first released. It wasn’t until seeing the song performed live, in an even more-stripped down acoustic version featuring just Mercury and Brian May that it really grew on me. The song became an in-concert favorite, with Mercury often letting the crowd take over in singalong fashion. Over the years, this has become one of my favorite Queen tracks.
10. “White Man” (from “A Day at the Races”)
Looking back, it seems obvious that “A Night at the Opera” and “A Day at the Races” were almost companion pieces, not only coming back to back as they did, but also it’s easy to link up certain songs from the two albums as cut from the same cloth. To me, “White Man” is linked with “The Prophet’s Song.” Both songs start slowly, reach an incendiary middle and then depart with a whisper. “White Man” is Brian May’s scathing take on the historical plight of Native Americans in the United States. His main guitar riff pairs perfectly with Mercury’s intense first-verse vocals before the full band jumps in with the first chorus. Mercury’s vocals offer a sneering rebuke throughout. I am always left with pause at the song’s haunting final lines: “What is left of your dream? Just some words on a stone. A man who learned how to teach, then forgot how to learn. Ohhh, yeah.”
9. “Was It All Worth It” (from “The Miracle”)
This is perhaps the first real evidence of Freddie Mercury contemplating his mortality from his battle with AIDS. Coming in 1989, two years before his death, Mercury opens this fantastic tune by exclaiming, “What is there left for me to do in this life? Did I achieve what I had set in my sights?” The song then goes on to clearly chronicle the band’s initial struggles and eventual rise, while still asking if it was all worth it. In the end, he answers in the affirmative. You know how occasionally there will appear a small part of a song that is so great that you wish an entire song had been built around it? Listen to the guitar riff from 1:34 to 1:44 in this song. That is pure gold. Whenever I hear it, I can’t help but think it could have powered a hit song on its own.
8. “Stone Cold Crazy” (from “Sheer Heart Attack”)
This song is two minutes and 16 seconds of pure adrenalized thrash metal. Distortion, frenetic pace, great riff all offset by the guitar dropping off for Mercury’s rapid-fire verse vocals, this song was a highlight of Queen live shows through 1978. Metallica did a decent cover of it as well.
7. “Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to ...)” (from “A Night at the Opera”)
The opening track on Queen’s genre-bending “A Night at the Opera” album, “Death on Two Legs” might just be the original diss track. The song, a combination of Freddie Mercury’s pop piano stylings and Brian May’s tasty lead guitar embellishments, is a full-out verbal assault on Queen’s first manager Norman Sheffield, who wasn’t named in the title, but apparently recognized Mercury’s lyrical ire against him enough to file a lawsuit. “A dog with disease, you’re the king of the sleaze, put your money where your mouth is, Mr. Know All ... was the fin on your back part of the deal (shark!)” just may be some of the nicer lines describing the subject. Sheffield felt so strongly about the song that when he put out his autobiography in 2013 he titled it, “Life on Two Legs: Set the Record Straight.” Whatever the circumstances, it all made for a killer song.
6. “March of the Black Queen” (from “Queen II”)
Listen to this amazing romp on “Queen II” and you can clearly see the roots from which “Bohemian Rhapsody” eventually blossomed. With guitar and vocal effects panning from side to side, the song marches through several pace-changing sections and an operatic section (sound familiar?). Just when you think it’s going to end with some delicate guitar, the song frantically picks back up before abruptly fading out.
Coincidentally, I had a conversation about this very song with former Journey vocalist Steve Augeri earlier this year. He credited the song with originally turning him onto Queen.
“What changed my life as a rock fan too, was I was lying down in bed as a teenager with headphones on,” Augeri said. “It was probably 2 in the morning, I couldn’t get to sleep, and all of a sudden ‘March of the Black Queen’ came on, and of course, they had the greatest production and engineering. They had the guitar swirling left and right, back and forth between my ears, you know, I had never heard the band before. I don’t know if I slept that night. I probably stayed up all night and as soon as the record store opened — I mean, this is how it probably should have went down, I should have gone and grabbed the record. I was completely and utterly inspired and blown away by this band, and since that day, I’ve always been the hugest Queen fan. I can’t wait for when that movie comes out.”
His wait is over.
5. “Brighton Rock” (from “Sheer Heart Attack”)
This rollicking number helped set the band’s ever-evolving tone as the leadoff track on Queen’s third studio album. The tale of a holiday dalliance between young lovers is more famously known for Brian May’s guitar solo. In concert, “Brighton Rock” became the host song for May’s expanded solo section, which featured main and echoed signals that ingeniously resulted in the guitarist soloing along with himself.
4. “The Prophet’s Song” (from “A Night at the Opera”)
This extremely experimental song by Brian May ambles in and leaves like a lamb, but in the middle bears witness to Queen’s eventual glory. Aided by a great bit of lyrical storytelling — peppered with Old Testament-style terminology — this raucous tune also features a middle operatic vocal section that is amazing in the context of how groundbreaking this style of rock music was in 1976. The band is firing on all cylinders here. The middle “Now I know” singing section turned into Mercury’s solo vocal showcase on tour at the time. This song, whose origins came to May in a dream, is a great example of what Queen was all about.
3. “Tenement Funster/Flick of the Wrist” (from “Sheer Heart Attack”)
I feel justified in combining these two tunes on my list since they segue directly into each other on record — along with a third tune, “Lily of the Valley” — and I was running out of room to include my favorite songs. Then again, I can’t really imagine listening to these songs separately. “Tenement Funster” is my favorite Roger Taylor-penned song, and his vocals on here are perfect for the lyrical content. My favorite line is: “Oh, give me a good guitar, and you can say that my hair’s a disgrace.” Who wouldn’t agree with that? I realize there is a deep well to draw on, but I believe “Flick of the Wrist” is one of the absolute best examples of the marriage of Freddie Mercury’s vocals and Brian May’s guitar. Mercury is utterly superb throughout this song and I find May’s fretboard gymnastics thoroughly entertaining. One listen is all it takes to get this song — thankfully — stuck in my head for days.
2. “Long Away” (from “A Day at the Races”)
This song may be a bit of a cheat — I was surprised to learn that it had been released as a single, but apparently never charted anywhere. What a crime! I have always loved “Long Away,” with its catchy electric guitar opening and haunting lead vocals throughout by Brian May. It’s songs like this that make me wish May sang more lead — but then again, he was in a band with Freddie Mercury, so it’s completely understandable. I read an interview several years ago in which May specifically mentioned this song, and how he regretted it never became a hit because he felt it was deserving and the public at large kind of missed out. I am with him 100 percent on that sentiment.
1. “Dragon Attack” (from “The Game”)
Not only is this No. 1 on my list of underrated Queen songs, if pinned down I would name it as my favorite overall song by the band. I still vividly remember the very first time I heard it. I was standing at a gas pump in Detroit — and music was blaring out of the station’s garage. I immediately recognized Freddie Mercury’s voice and Brian May’s guitar and refused to leave my perch in front of the pump until the song was over. I listened to it several times this morning, and it still fills me with the same giddy excitement as that very first time. One reason I love this song so much is that every member of the band has a chance to shine. Mercury’s scatting vocals — with lyrics that almost seem made up on the spot — and May’s incendiary riffage are just so catchy. The middle section of the song literally moves through successive solo sections by drummer Roger Taylor, bassist John Deacon and May. The song has the feel of something written quickly at the last minute — but it is just so incredible, that that’s probably not the case.