Operatic '70s hard rock superstars Queen ultimately generated nearly as much success during the band's '80s run as it did in its earliest phase, and that's no accident. The venerable British quartet released five full length albums during the latter decade, featuring eclectic music that spanned genres as disparate as funky dance-pop, roots rock, and, of course, arena rock power ballads. Here's a chronological look at Queen's finest tracks of the '80s, with emphasis on the band's amazing depth. Frontman Freddie Mercury's legacy continues to inspire legions of fans, but there's no doubt this is a full band effort.
Queen began the new decade with a series of departures, a trend that would largely continue throughout the '80s. On the other hand, the band had always been an experimental one, so the rockabilly acoustic strains of this worldwide hit shouldn't have come as too much of a surprise. Regardless, the song has earned its reputation not only as one of Queen's most famous singles but also one of its most inspired arrangements. Inventiveness and a pure sense of fun permeate Mercury's vocal performance as well as the entire group performance of an unusual groove that bucked all trends of the time. Justifiably admired and covered throughout the years, this track remains a flashpoint moment among many for one of classic rock's most mercurial acts.
2. "Save Me"
Queen's 1980 hit album The Game features one of pop music's most iconic singles in "Another One Bites the Dust" as well as the quirky roots rock reinvention masterpiece, "Crazy Little Thing Called Love." For most bands, two songs of this stature would dominate any discussion, but the most remarkable thing about this band and this record is that there's so much more to explore than the obvious. "Save Me" is a workout of a tune that celebrates all the classic Queen ingredients from Mercury's soaring vocals to Brian May's guitar alchemy. Once another classic piano opening explodes into orchestrated rock glory in the chorus, it's apparent that Queen had more than positioned itself for continued success during the '80s.
Queen enjoyed a bit more success in America with this single than on predecessor "Save Me," but it still remains an underrated classic from one of the band's clearly top-notch creative periods. Mercury's piano ballad acumen and vocal sophistication combine once again to great effect with May's guitar pyrotechnics, but even more impressively the group makes distinctive use of spacey synthesizers and its trademark, nearly orchestral harmonies to lend this song an unmistakable vibe. "Another One Bites the Bust" certainly helped launch The Game into the stratosphere, but there's plenty of reason beyond merely pop music recognition that the record has held up so well over the years. It's a high-percentage album that sparkles on its deeper cuts.
Queen has never received enough credit for being one of rock and pop music's most accomplished bands in the realm of songwriting both collective and individual. The creative meshing of the group is nothing short of legendary, and yet bassist John Deacon probably isn't bothered too much that perhaps few know he's actually the composer of this unforgettable global Top 10 smash. Everything starts, of course, with Deacon's bass line, but May's effortless funk guitar riffs also lend a surprisingly organic feel to the proceedings. Mercury relishes the chance to ham it up, as always, but it might be impossible to overstate the level of pop perfection on display here. Lyrical bravado overkill aside, this tune deserves its legendary status.
Fans of Queen's driving rock stylings of the past must have loved this track from The Game, which actually failed to chart everywhere except the U.S., where it joined its predecessor as a modest pop hit that fell just short of the Top 40. It also happens to spotlight yet again the underrated songwriting talents of Deacon, who here delves into a more rocking style that belies the groove of his most famous composition. Despite never becoming a staple of the band's live shows or even a particular favorite of hardcore Queen fans, this track supports the remarkable depth of one of rock's most individually and harmoniously gifted quartets of all time. Maybe we're even talking Beatles territory here.
Though I'd like to avoid mentioning Vanilla Ice's notorious sampling of this tune altogether, I'll just go ahead and get that part out of the way. Besides, this track has so much more to offer than its memorable if secondary combination keyboard and bass riff that it's easy to move beyond pop culture associations. Written and recorded in collaboration with David Bowie, the song actually reaches its lofty pinnacle during its transcendent bridge, which represents one of pop music's most staggering melodic lifts of all time. "Cuz love's such an old-fashioned word/And love dares you to care for/The people on the edge of the night," Bowie sings, and Mercury's overarching message of love rides this crest to musical permanence.
Though many remember this song more for its outlandish music video, which featured band members in drag and furthered rumors about not only the sexuality of Mercury but just as frequently the whole group, this tune stands up quite well on its own as an important document of Queen's mid-'80s career. Mercury had always been a master of anthemic arena rock grandeur, but his light touch here helps to give the individual band components a slightly different tone than fans might expect. This element of surprise may not please everyone, but it ensures that Queen's musical offerings, like Mercury's on-stage antics, rarely grow stale. Mercury's vocal performance here adds to a long list of mesmerizing moments from one of rock's greatest frontmen.
Whether by calculation or simply a propensity toward the hard rock genre Queen helped define in the '70s, the band rarely released records without a snarling rocker every few songs. 1984's The Works is no exception to this rule, as this track features plenty of May's patented heavy riffs seasoned by, of course, the unbelievable chameleonic vocal skill of Mercury. The man absolutely never sounds out of place in a hard rock song, and yet his ability to operate in various non-rock pop music styles remains ever apparent. Songs like this always populated Queen's live show over its active two-decade career, and that helped the group maintain one of rock's most fervent fan bases, even nearly 20 years after the tragic premature death of Mercury.
A song like this would be ridiculous and extra ripe for Spinal Tap-variety parody if it weren't composed and passionately delivered by the one and only Freddie Mercury. When it comes down to it, if you're the type of music aficionado who must criticize Queen for the bombast in its sound, then you might as well just not even bother listening to this 1986 track from both the Highlander film soundtrack and Queen's 1986 album A Kind of Magic. Mercury's typically over-the-top onstage gyrations are hardly even able to express the sheer epic arena rock majesty of this track, which is where the singer's three cohorts come into play. Roger Taylor's power drumming could not have a better sparring partner than May's regal guitar riffs.
10. "I Want It All"
By the late '80s it was a bit understandable if some observers had partially forgotten that Queen was still a genuine heavy rock band capable of loud, high-speed, electrifying riffs and rhythms. After all, it had been three years since the group's last album release. So when The Miracle dropped in May 1989, the powerhouse tune "I Want It All" must have felt like a godsend to fans more disposed to Queen's hard rock side. The track is unabashedly a May composition, full of astonishing riffs and leads. However, it also features a courageous and passionate vocal performance from Mercury, who had already begun to suffer the ravages of AIDS by this time. To top things off, the track ends with a breakneck tempo surge that is pure adrenaline.