In 1970, Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon decided to get together and form a band. They might not have realized it at the time, but they were about to change the face of popular music forever. The most commercially successful band in history, Queen has sold over 300 million records, influenced countless other artists, and inspired more karaoke singalongs than they probably want to know about. Following Mercury’s tragic death in 1991, Deacon retired from the industry. Taylor and May didn’t, and are still performing to this day. In tribute to the ultimate anthem-makers, here are the 20 best Queen songs of all time.
20. Fat Bottomed Girls
As Billboard says, Queen’s celebration of the prominent posterior came with a wink, a nudge, and a sense of glee that helped transform this most unlikely of subjects into one of their biggest, if most politically incorrect, hits.
19. Hammer To Fall
Queen killed it at Live Aid and Hammer to Fall, the third song they performed that night, was part of the reason. The Brian May penned hard-rocker, which was written as tensions between the US and Soviet Union were coming close to boiling point, deals with the realities of growing up “in the shadow of the mushroom cloud.” Even taking politics out of the equation, it’s an epic tune.
18. You’re My Best Friend
The John Deacon composed You’re My Best Friend was written by the bassist for and about his wife, Veronica Tetzlaff. A sweet little love song, it did well in the charts, peaking at number seven in the UK Singles Chart and number 16 on the US Billboard Hot 100.
Innuendo is Roger Taylor’s masterpiece. The title track to the last Queen album released in Mercury’s lifetime is a darkly complex beast, with a bolero-type rhythm, arresting lyrics, and, as guest guitarist Steve Howe noted, the quality of a “heavy metal flamenco.” Reminiscent of Bohemian Rhapsody in its prog-rock sensibilities, it gave the band their first UK number 1 single since Under Pressure.
16. Under Pressure
Roger Taylor called the Queen and David Bowie collaboration Under Pressure “one of the very best things Queen have done.” He wasn’t wrong. When you put two of rock’s greatest showmen in the same room at the same time and in front of the same mic, the result will either be disastrous or epic. Under Pressure is the latter. Sure, Mercury and Bowie seem to be competing more than harmonizing, but it doesn’t detract from the song’s infectious sense of spontaneity even slightly. It sailed to the top of the charts in 1982, and was later revisited by Bowie when he performed a deeply affecting version at a tribute concert to Mercury in 1992.
15. Killer Queen
A lot of people have claimed to be the inspiration behind Killer Queen, including Eric ‘Monster! Monster!’ Hall, the flamboyant football agent who at the time of the song’s recording, was working as the band’s radio plugger. Mercury denied it all, saying the Killer Queen in question was a work of pure fiction. Whatever the truth is, it’s a stunning song, with flamboyant arrangements, astonishing harmonies, and a divine solo from May. It also has lines like “Gunpowder, gelatine/Dynamite with a laser beam/Guaranteed to blow your mind,” which, even taking away everything else, would earn it a place on our list of the 20 best Queen songs of all time.
14. Who Wants To Live Forever
Brian May isn’t just a rock star. He’s an author, astrophysicist, Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University, and recipient of the Lawrence J. Burpee Medal of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society for outstanding contributions to the advancement of geography. He also has a Ph.D. in something terrifyingly important that we couldn’t explain even if we wanted to. Basically, he’s smart, and when he decides to put his brain into gear, the results can be mind-blowing. His rebuttal of the dream of eternal life on Who Wants To Live Forever is exactly that. It’s got pomp, circumstance, astonishingly intelligent lyrics, and the backing off the National Philharmonic Orchestra – what could be more glorious?
13. Crazy Little Thing Called Love
According to Songfacts, Mercury wrote Crazy Little Thing Called Love while taking a bubble bath at the Munich Hilton while Queen were recording The Game in Germany. Speaking to Mojo magazine in 2009, Peter Hince, who was at the time was working as part of the band’s road crew, recalled “The idea for the song came to him while he was in the bath. He emerged, wrapped in a towel, I handed him the guitar and he worked out the chords there and then.” Legend has it that it took just half an hour to record the entire song. It proved a massive hit, peaking at No.2 in the UK and giving the band their first No.1 on the US Billboard Hot 100. It’s since become one of Queen’s most covered songs, with Robert Plant, Diana Ross, Michael Bublé, Dwight Yoakam, and Showaddywaddy all taking a stab at the classic.
12. Love Of My Life
A favorite at live shows, Love Of My Life is quite possibly one of the most unabashedly romantic, gorgeous songs in Queen’s songbook. According to Justrandomthings, the song, which is written as a lover’s plea for their partner not to abandon them, was written for Mercury’s then-girlfriend (but soon to be ex), Mary Austin. Tinged with sadness and deeply affecting, it’s nothing short of sublime.
11. I Want It All
By 1989, Brian May’s first marriage had ended and he was in a relationship with Anita Dobson, an actress famous for her oft-repeated line of “I want it all and I want it now” on the BBC soap opera, “Eastenders.” Using the line as his starting point, May built a dazzling anthem that cast a damning light on the Yuppie culture of the 80s. Big, anthemic, and undercut by the keen intelligence of May’s lyrics, it peaked at No.3 in the charts and quickly established itself as a fan favorite.
10. We Will Rock You
Like We Are the Champions, We Will Rock You was designed to be sung from the rooftops and the stadiums. It helped establish Queen as a rock anthem band, and as purveyors of some of the catchiest beats in rock history. Released as a double A-side with We Are the Champions in 1977, it took the band to No.2 in the UK and No.4 in the US. In 2000, Roger Taylor and Brian May teamed up with boy band 5ive to record a cover – somehow, it managed to beat the original, peaking at No.1 on the UK charts. The first is still the best though.
9. Was It All Worth It
Taken from the 1989 album The Miracle, Was It All Worth It finds the band in a mood of self reflection. Moody, somber, and quite, quite moving, it takes a withering look at the life of the rock ‘n’ roll star and finds it wanting. Although primarily masterminded by Mercury, each of the band’s members took a shot at the lyrics. Never released as a single, it nevertheless proved a huge hit with fans.
8. Another One Bites The Dust
Another One Bites The Dust was written by John Deacon for the band’s eighth album, The Game. Legend has it, the band never intended to release it as a single, but were convinced by a certain Michael Jackson (who’d somehow managed to wangle a backstage pass at a Queen concert in LA) that it had the makings of a hit. He was right – released in October 1980, it strolled to the top of the charts and stayed there for the next three weeks.
7. We Are The Champions
We Are The Champions is less of a song, more of an anthem. Like We Will Rock You, it’s instantly known, recognized, and loved throughout the world as one of the most quintessential Queen songs ever made. Embraced as much by sports fans as by music lovers, it was even adopted as the official theme song for the 1994 World Cup. Insanely catchy (and scientifically so – In 2011, a team of scientific researchers decided after extensive research that the song was the catchiest in the history of pop music), this is a song that demands audience participation.
6. Radio Ga Ga
When Roger Taylor heard his three-year-old son saying “radio poo-poo,” he knew it would only take a small amount of poetic license to change his words into a hit. He was right. Released in 1984, the anthemic Radio Ga Ga was a highlight of the album The Works, and a year later, helped the band stage their epic comeback at Live Aid, where, stripped of all their usual gimmicks and tricks, they got 72000 pairs of hands clapping along as they sang this most enduring of hits.
5. I Want To Break Free
The video alone would be enough to make the John Deacon penned Want To Break Free a classic. The sight of Roger Taylor dressed up as a schoolgirl and a mustachioed Freddie Mercury dancing around with a vacuum cleaner in full drag is something no one can forget in a hurry. But even leaving the video aside, it’s still an outstanding song, with some soaring guitar work from May and a blistering vocal performance from Mercury. As May himself said in 2003, “John didn’t write many songs, but most of them sure counted.”
4. Don’t Stop Me Now
If you’re feeling low, underappreciated, or in need of a boost, give Don’t Stop Me Now a listen. Bursting with bonhomie, confidence, and energy, it’s guaranteed to lift your spirits. A showcase for Mercury’s showmanship and vocal versatility, the song, as udiscovermusic.com puts it, is Mercury’s unfettered celebration of pleasure-seeking. Strangely, not all of the band were as keen on the song as Mercury, with Brian May recalling “It’s very much Freddie’s pop side. And I remember thinking, ‘I’m not quite sure if this is what we should be doing.’ He was wrong, Freddie was right – over 40 years after its release, it’s still as joyous as ever.
3. The Show Must Go On
By 1991, Mercury’s rapidly ailing health led some of the band to question whether he’d even be able to complete the recording of The Show Must Go On. He did, naturally, and he did it proud, delivering a grandstanding performance that’s perfectly complemented by the dramatic arrangements and May’s remarkably controlled solo. As Mercury sang, ‘My make-up may be flaking but my smile still stays on’ – swansongs don’t get much better than this.
2. Somebody To Love
Taken from the 1976 album A Day At The Races, Somebody To Love is a gospel-flavored piece of pop mastery. Blessed with a stunning vocal arrangement that sees Mercury, May and Taylor transform into a mini gospel choir, the song finds the band digging deep into their love for soul music and coming up with something even Aretha Franklin would have been proud to stamp her name to. The songwriting, meanwhile, is outstanding, with some critics (and even Mercury himself) claiming it even bests Bohemian Rhapsody.
1. Bohemian Rhapsody
Obviously, Bohemian Rhapsody had to take the number one spot. A six-minute masterpiece, it’s Queen’s magnum opus. Mercury’s vocals dazzle as he bounces from one octave to the next like an over-caffeinated kangaroo. The complexity of the arrangement is astonishing, veering from operatic passages to hard rock segments effortlessly. Nothing like it had ever been heard before and nothing like it has ever been heard since. All these years after its release, it still stands as one of the greatest and most original pieces of music ever recorded.