Queen II

Unless it turns out to be a good movie, and unless I see it, chances are the only thing Bohemian Rhapsody will ever do for me is reignite my enthusiasm for Queen circa 1974-1975. And that is enough to earn my thanks.

Most people think of Queen as a pop band with a lot of hits. I did. Like many people, I was introduced to Queen by classic rock radio. That led to their 2-disc Greatest Hits set.

But the Greatest Hits I and Greatest Hits II set is an awfully misleading representation. Of the two discs' 34 tracks, only five are from one of Queen's first four albums (and these are mostly poppier numbers, like "Killer Queen," "Now I'm Here," and "You're My Best Friend"). The remainder of the first disc's tracks are the enjoyable, radio-friendly tracks that the band reliably recorded for the rest of the 70s. The second disc collects the band's output from the 80s on: generic pop songs ("A Kind of Magic") and strange, morose numbers ("Innuendo," "The Show Must Go On"). It's sad when the best track on your Greatest Hits is Headlong.

So basically, from 1975 on, Queen was a pop/rock band of uneven quality: lots of highs, lots of lows, but still a cut above most of the crowd.

Before that, though...

The first "early" Queen album I heard was A Night at the Opera, their fourth album and the last of what I would call their classic albums. I was astonished. It had variety and depth that I had never heard from Queen: "Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon," "'39," "Seaside Rendezvous," "Good Company," and "The Prophet's Song." But this was very much a transitional album: the flipside to the variety was that the album feels like a collection of (great) singles, and while many of these tracks aren't radio friendly, on the whole the album is rather poppy and highly polished (it was apparently at the time the most expensive album ever recorded).

The real gem in Queen's early output is Queen II. Compared to their debut album, Queen II is considerably more complex and varied. Yet, in contrast to Sheer Heart Attack and A Night at the Opera, Queen II has a beautifully consistent feel. The music never really departs from the realm of heavy (almost metallic), ornate rock. Yet there's more to the consistency than that. It's not a concept album as such, but every song is about fantasy: white queens, black queens, ogre battles, fairies, magical kingdoms, and so on. There's also a consistent otherworldy, pseudo-medieval atmosphere, like the audio equivalent of an Aubrey Beardsley illustration. But where consistency counts most of all is that Queen II is just consistently good. "Father to Son" is really heavy, even by modern standards, and especially so in 1974. "March of the Black Queen" is arguably Queen's most complex composition, as rich but not nearly as grating as "Bohemian Rhapsody." "Ogre Battle" is a brilliant heavy metal number. "White Queen" is haunting. "Some Day One Day" is sad and beautiful. Laudatory terms can be applied to every song on the album (except, perhaps, "The Loser in the End").

Listening to Queen II right now, I'm enjoying it as much as I did almost 20 years ago. I think I'm on a full-blown Queen II kick. It's my first musical kick since going on a Genesis - Foxtrot/Selling England by the Pound kick last summer.

So, thanks, Bohemian Rhapsody, for reminding me of Queen II. (How did it do that when I didn't even see it? Because it caused a coworker to tell me how Queen was his favorite band, and "Fat Bottomed Girls" his favorite Queen song, which caused me to bite my tongue and think about how much better Queen II is -- even though I hadn't listened to it seriously for quite some time.)