The year was 1992 and I was off with my best friend at the time and his Dad in their Saturn for a week long summer vacation to Sebago Lake, Maine and the soundtrack for the drive was Classic Queen on cassette. I already knew Queen from wearing out my parents 8-track of Flash Gordon and, of course, was familiar with all of their radio singles through my local rock stations at the time. But there was something about that mix, starting with “A Kind Of Magic” then jumping into “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Ridiculously overplayed in 1992 due to Wayne’s World but more on that later) and “Under Pressure”. Talk about a way to start a compilation!
And that’s the beauty when Brian May, Freddie Mercury, Roger Taylor and John Deacon made music together. You get a ballad that’s still a groove-laden stream of consciousness thinkpiece, a friggin’ rock opera as a lead single, and the pairing of two of the most iconic front people of the 20th Century (“It’s pretty much like two divas in the studio singing their asses off” according to Daniel Nester, who, besides being a “Queen super fan”, is also an author, writing professor, and podcaster) yet all of it is undeniably Queen.
But I digress. A whole lot!
It’s our second review of a Martin Popoff Album By Album book and this one focuses on, you guessed it, Queen! What you are about to visually consume if you’re just coming to the Popoff party now has a formula that’s easy to follow, delightful to read, and yields an amazing amount of insight and knowledge you didn’t know you needed. This time Popoff has assembled a cast of characters with their own nuggets of Queen wisdom and includes everyone from Dee Snider (II is a desert island album for him!) and Dave Ellefson (“Queen is their own genre”, “Sheer Heart Attack” was the template for thrash metal!) to Darius Rucker and SIR FREAKIN’ PAUL MCCARTNEY! You also have folks like Nina Noir and Patrick Myers who front the tribute acts Killer Queens and Killer Queen respectively alongside longtime producer Reinhold Mack (Who worked on two of my most favorites, A Kind Of Magic and Flash Gordon) and a slew of others.
Through their commentary and the fabulous array of photos throughout, fans get a rare glimpse into the history, process and mindset for each album session in sequential order. It’s pointed out early on how Queen, unlike most newer bands, introduced some of their sonic trademarks as early as their debut. And speaking of their debut, how many bands stay together with their original line up for fourteen albums?!?! Then there’s the leaps and bounds from one album to the next as Savatage’s Chris Caffery points out during the chapter for A Night At The Opera saying that album “is like going from Paranoid to Sabotage“.
And as a huge fan of A Kind Of Magic and Flash Gordon to read that, to my surprise, those albums weren’t the most beloved of Queen’s discography?!? What?!?! And everyone loves “Bohemian Rhapsody”??? Bizzaro World, people. That’s what we’re living in. But seriously (Except for the bit about …Magic. I honestly had no idea the Highlander soundtrack was so low on the Queen quality scale), despite my general disdain for the track you have to applaud that this six minute mini-opera broke through so many barriers when it was released and then did so AGAIN when Wayne and Garth brought it back into the collective consciousness once again fifteen years after it was released.
Later, The Works keeps being referred to as the “tail-between-its-legs” album in response to Hot Space (Despite housing “Under Pressure” within) while the lyrics to “These Are The Days Of Our Lives” are dissected and compared to David Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, with Mercury similarly facing his own mortality while recording Innuendo.
If you’re a fan of rock bios and music history then, like the other books in Popoff’s series, you need to own this. And it goes without saying that if you’re an old fan of Queen, a new fan of Queen, or just like Rami Malek a lot and want to see what he’s singing about in his new flick then you definitely need this in your library.
Queen: Album By Album will be released on November 27th through Voyageur Press. You can head here to order yours now. For the latest on Martin Popoff, including what’s coming and what came before, head on over here.