On 26th October 1981 Queen’s Greatest Hits was released. To many it was just another greatest hits compilation, a thing that usually exists to keep the money coming in when the popularity is waning, but this one was different.
Nearly 40 years later the album is currently no.2 in the UK album charts, it was recently no.1 again, and it has spent 953 weeks in the UK top 100. 953 weeks = 6,671 days = 18.27 years.
That is not normal in any way, but maybe it proves that this album is very special, something that happens very rarely in music.
Another One Bites The Dust
Fat Bottomed Girls
You’re My Best Friend
Don’t Stop Me Now
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
Somebody To Love
Now I’m Here
Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy
Play The Game
Seven Seas Of Rhye
We Will Rock You
We Are The Champions
The track listing above is from the original release and it represents the first 7 years of Queen’s most successful singles. Just look at that list and ask yourself how many of the songs you know, and how many are known around the world. It is an extraordinary body of work and it has been put together in just the right way. The order of the tracks works for one listen and no matter how hard I have tried over the years, I cannot find a way to put them together in a more consistent and pleasing way.
I remember playing snooker at a friend’s house when I was 12 years old and he asked if I had heard of Queen, I hadn’t. My notion of good music at the time was Shakin Stevens and Bucks Fizz (come at me!) and so Queen was not exactly a band I would have been aware of.
Bohemian Rhapsody started playing and, well, everything changed. I made him play that song about 5 times before we moved on and as each track played I was enraptured by what I was listening to. I was vaguely aware of some of the songs (Flash in particular because I had seen the film) and within an hour I knew I had to have the album.
My grandmother was nice and bought it for me the next week, and every birthday and Christmas over the next few years involved a new Queen album as a present until I had them all.
Some say that Queen were a singles band and that is something I completely disagree with. The tracks above are brilliant of course, but listen to any Queen album, especially any of the first 7, and you will find 5 or 6 tracks on each album that are comparable with any of the above. For me, there are probably only 3 or 4 Queen songs I do not like out of +600 and of the rest there are few that I only like. The vast majority I ‘really’ like and I can assure you that this is not mere fanboyism.
The fact that all of the band wrote so many legendary tracks is also unique and highlights the sheer fluke of these 4 getting together; expert musicians in their respective fields, 3 out of the 4 can sing extremely well and they have all written tracks that were worldwide hits (Mercury: Bo Rap, Somebody to Love etc, May: We Will Rock You, Now I’m Here etc, Deacon: Another One Bites The Dust, I Want to Break Free etc and Taylor: Radio Ga Ga, A Kind of Magic etc.)
When I think about my favourite albums of all time I still put A Night At The Opera (Queen) at number 1 and Anthem (Leonard Cohen) at number 2. But then I consider the first Queen’s Greatest Hits album (there are now 3) and I realise that as a body of work it is incomparable. And 40 years later it is still proving this point week after week.