Deep Cuts is a new feature in which we look past the hits and dig into the buried gems of our favorite back catalogs.
Queen’s discography doesn’t just cast an imposing shadow; it hovers over the musical zeitgeist of multiple decades and several movements within rock and pop music. We all know the hits – the infectious ditties and creative permutations that did as much to define rock as they did to inspire – but it’s safe to say there are plenty of songs within the band’s discography that still aren’t getting the attention they deserve. So deep is their discography (15 albums across 22 years) that three separate Deep Cuts compilations were released in 2011 … and they don’t even begin to scratch the surface of what’s buried deep within these records. We’re not going to scratch the surface here either, but we’re still going to do our best to show you the wealth of material available within Queen’s catalog, one whose legend continues to grow and grow.
If you want the hits, no doubt check out Bohemian Rhapsody in theaters. If you’re looking to dig a bit deeper, we’ve got your shovel.
“Son And Daughter”
With ties to the band’s origins and breakout success, “Son And Daughter” isn’t so much a deep cut as it is a case study of Queen’s evolution. Not only was the song performed at the band’s first ever show under the Queen name back on July 18, 1970, but it also became a staple of their live performance, featuring an extended guitar solo that was left off the studio version of the song.
Don’t worry – you’ve heard that solo in another form, re-worked as part of the acclaimed 1973 song “Brighton Rock” that has excited guitarheads for half a century. The song also shows off the band’s early blues rock sound, with a muddy guitar part supported by a bracing rhythm section and Mercury’s golden voice, which was theatrical even then at the band’s inception. –Doug Nunnally
Queen II (1974)
Despite being one of the band’s shortest songs, “Nevermore” from Queen II packs a lot into a brusque 75 seconds. Segueing from the closing three-part vocal harmony of “The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke”, it’s a sublime, stripped-back ballad that some consider to be a thematic precursor to A Night at the Opera highlight “Love of My Life”.
From Freddie Mercury’s swooping vocal harmonies to its piano “ring” effect (a forward-moving technique created by someone plucking the piano strings while Mercury played), the song details the pitfalls of heartache and abandonment (“Even the valleys below where the rays of the sun were so warm and tender/Now haven’t anything to grow”) with unmatched candor and economy. –Brian Coney
Sheer Heart Attack (1974)
The first song penned by bassist John Deacon, who would go on to write the iconic hits “Another One Bites the Dust” and “You’re My Best Friend”, “Misfire” is a tropical-tinged guitar romp with the band offering up some infectious joy over top some … suggestive lyrics (“Don’t you misfire/ Fill me up with the desire/ To carry on”).
Released on a record celebrated for its hard rock riffs and glam rock histrionics, “Misfire” is a jangly and gleaming outlier, along with the subsequent ragtime track “Bring Back That Leroy Brown”, that flaunts the range and dexterity the band had, two qualities that would end up defining Queen as the years and decades rolled on. –Doug Nunnally
“The Prophet’s Song”
A Night At The Opera (1975)
A Night at the Opera is, of course, defined by its sophisticated arrangements and genre-bending acrobatics. And while “Bohemian Rhapsody” will forevermore lay claim to the album’s centerpiece, Brian May’s feature-length forecast of cataclysmic climate change, “The Prophet’s Song”, puts up a valiant challenge.
Veering between mystical prog rock, heavy metal, and classical — and featuring the most ambitious vocal canon in all of rock music – it’s Queen’s longest song (with vocals) at just over eight minutes. And what a journey it serves up. Marrying in-studio wizardry, multitracked harmonies and labyrinthine guitar orchestration, it’s a triumph that — perhaps more than any other Queen song committed to tape — demands to be listened to on a good pair of headphones. –Brian Coney
A Day At The Races (1976)
Perhaps the most pointed song Queen ever penned, “White Man” is a vitriolic takedown of European imperialism and the natives who were caught in their brutal crosshairs. “Leave my body in shame/ Leave my soul in disgrace/ But by every God’s name/ Say your prayers for your race” speaks to the song’s core, with a line that cuts perhaps deeper in 2018 than it did back in 1976.
Aside from baring the indignity of history, the song houses a compelling dichotomy with the intro and outro featuring a sorrowful Mercury singing alongside a simple May electric part and a middle section that unloads a torrid onslaught of guitars and drums that serve as a spark to Mercury’s explosive vocals, which detonate as contemptuously as possible. –Doug Nunnally
“My Melancholy Blues”
News Of The World (1977)
One of the very few Queen songs not to feature the singular sonic presence of Brian May, “My Melancholy Blues” remains one of the band’s most emphatic album closers. With the rest of News of the World genre-leaping from blues and disco to funk and punk, this curtain call opts for a more nuanced, jazz-leaning shuffle.
Essentially a Mercury solo songwriting effort, backed with the gossamer and watertight bass and brush drums of John Deacon and Roger Taylor, “My Melancholy Blues” takes wearing heartache on one’s sleeve (“Let me get in that sinking feeling/ That says my heart is on an all-time low”) and wrangles it into swooning, wistful bliss. As it fades out, and Mercury’s dwindling chord shapes drift out of view, an instant second listen feels all but compulsory. –Brian Coney
“More Of That Jazz”
A hodgepodge creation from the mind of Roger Taylor, the closing track to Jazz is a sauntering climax for the record, creatively summarizing everything before it in a whirlwind bridge that’s sandwiched by caustic declarations and battering rhythms.
Most notable is the bridge that samples clips from songs off the same record. “Bicycle Race”, “Dead on Time”, “Fun It”, “Mustapha”, and “If You Can’t Beat Them” all burst out before the bridge subsides on the chorus of “Fat Bottomed Girls”, subtly supported by the main riff, which slowly gurgles back to the surface to end the record in true Queen fashion: with a blazing guitar lick and the highest of high notes. –Doug Nunnally
“Sail Away Sweet Sister (To The Sister I Never Had)”
The Game (1980)
From “Another One Bites the Dust” to “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, The Game has no scarcity of stone-cold classics. Though it was never released as a single, and while it remains a deep cut for many, “Sail Away Sweet Sister (To the Sister I Never Had)” commands its very own, FM-worthy territory.
Penned and sung by Brian May — with a brief appearance from Mercury in its middle eight — it’s an intoxicating, harmony-laden gem that finds the guitarist wishing an unknown female well in the stormy seas of love. Whether the “sister” in question is hypothetical or real (or whether May’s relationship to her is platonic or romantic) remains unknown. What is certain, though, is that it remains one of Queen’s most earworming lesser-known efforts. –Brian Coney
Hot Space (1982)
By 1982, disco was practically on life support, but that didn’t stop Queen from fusing the divisive sound with some appealing hard rock to produce a gyrating romp. With a crunchy guitar solo, synthesized bass, and euphoric vocals, it finds the common ground between disco and rock, subtly revealing that the genres have more that unites them than separates them.
Helping thread the needle in the rock-disco fusion are Mercury’s simple but sybaritic lines: “I taste your lipstick/ I look in your eyes/ You feel fantastic/ My body cries”. Leaning in on the more hedonistic aspects of disco, the song’s appeal helps show the spirit of disco wasn’t going anywhere, no matter how many records were blown up at Comiskey Park. –Doug Nunnally
“Don’t Try So Hard”
Recorded while Freddie Mercury was seriously ill with AIDS, much of Queen’s 1991 swansong, Innuendo, brims with parting passages of wisdom from the fragile frontman. Asking the listener to “savor every mouthful and treasure every moment,” mid-album peak “Don’t Try So Hard” is a perfect case in point.
Bursting with Mercury’s famed joie de vivre, yet threaded with a somber acceptance of things coming to an end, the instruction here is crystal clear: remember to cut yourself some slack. Together with May, Taylor, and Deacon, it’s a slick, mid-tempo open letter to Queen’s die-hard fans and beyond that, despite the encircling darkness, insists upon celebrating the light. –Brian Coney