XIV. QUEEN 1974-1982.

For every revolutionary pop record they created, there is at least one that falls a bit flat, given they were a true democracy with all four members contributing songs to every album they ever made. In theory, this is commendable, but the quality of the compositions is varied. Across the board, the best Queen songs were by their lightning rod of a lead singer, the indelible Freddie Mercury, arguably the very best vocalist/performer in rock history and an underrated and supple piano player as well. Lead guitarist extraordinaire Brian May also came up with some of their most enduring songs, as did bassist John Deacon, including the timeless "You’re My Best Friend" and the maniacally great "Another One Bites The Dust." This band also boasted two other singers almost as good as Freddie in May and the foxy eternal rock cherub Roger Taylor on drums and pout.

When they were on, nobody could touch them. They just weren’t on all the time. Their records are all spotty, and all great in their way. Most of this music will leave you breathless.

The first two albums, QUEEN and QUEEN II, are full of fancy, sometimes charming prog-rock indulgence; the band had yet to find itself. It’s on the masterful third album, SHEER HEART ATTACK, that things start cookin'. From there on, it’s tumbling masterpieces of pop pinache and singing you cannot believe. The guitar orchestrations and solos of Brian May also rank as some of the very greatest in Rock, and certainly the most unique. And while the rhythm section of Deacon and Taylor might not have worked in any other band, they brought a special dynamic to this quartet that was entirely their own. Great bands are all about idiosyncrasies, and Queen was nothing if not idiosyncratic.

SHEER HEART ATTACK, 1974, produced by Roy Thomas Baker and Queen.

The closest any rock group has come to the McCartney charm of SGT. PEPPER and THE WHITE ALBUM. An amphetamine ABBEY ROAD orgasm. Especially "Bring Back Leroy Brown" and the effervescent "Killer Queen" in which Brian May makes his guitar squeal like an actual pussycat. (A-)

A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, 1975, produced by Roy Thomas Baker and Queen.

"Bohemian Rhapsody" is only the tip of this iceberg. Dig the sweetness of Brian May's vocal on the charming folk of "’39" and the mind trip of Freddie and Roger Taylor playing all the horns with their throats on "Seaside Rendezvous." Never has outright gayness sounded so right on a rock and roll record. Thus, the transcendence of Freddie. Throw in "Death On Two Legs," "You're My Best Friend," and the amazing "Love Of My Life" and you've got their masterwork. (A)

A DAY AT THE RACES, 1976, produced by Queen.

The followup to the grandest pop record ever was proof that nothing could stop Freddie's pouring creativity. The choir and guitar solo on "Somebody To Love" is worth the price of admission alone. This is also popular singing at its very best. The mixture of cartoonish melodrama and wry winking humour is at the heart of this genius. Also of note for the horny sister-romp to Zep's "Whole Lotta Love" in the churning "Tie Your Mother Down" and the breathless wonder of "You Take My Breath Away." And they should knight Brian May for his guitar work on "Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy." (B+)

NEWS OF THE WORLD, 1977, produced by Queen.

They were really a singles band, as "We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions" can attest. And few better, really. "My Melancholy Blues" shows the sadder side of the man who seemingly had it all. Except somebody to love. "Get Down Make Love" is worth a few hundred go-arounds with someone you lust. (B+)

JAZZ, 1978, produced by Roy Thomas Baker and Queen.

A slightly ironic title; there’s not a note of jazz on the whole album. Freddie reaches an absurd peak here, covered in riches and handsome muscular boys to do his bidding. He also likes buxom women with fat asses on bicycles. And who doesn’t? The coolest thing about Freddie and his band is they did nothing halfway. It’s all totally absurd and over the top, as pomp should be. "Bicycle Race" is pure pop genius. As good as Jaws or Star Wars. Maybe better. And the sleeper keeper is Brian May's gorgeous "Leaving Home Ain't Easy." (A-)

THE GAME, 1980, produced by Mack and Queen.

The pop pinnacle of a great pop group. Check out the greatest rock record ever in Roger Taylor's ridiculous "Prime Jive (Rock It)". They’re firing on all cylinders here, especially the guitarist, who injects the protean title track with drama of an operatic intensity. And then there's the vocal in "Save Me." A masterpiece. (A)

HOT SPACE, 1982, produced by Mack and Queen.

Their last truly great work, and the very best single to not reach the top ten, "Under Pressure" is as good as pop music ever got. And the Lennon tribute "Life Is Real" is one of the better examples of one genius paying respects to another genius. Ranks easily with Elton's "Empty Garden" and McCartney's "Here Today." Aside from the orgiastic camp of "Body Language," the rest of HOT SPACE falls into a queer, early '80's funk. It was all about "dancing" at the time for Freddie and this rubbed off on his fellow songwriters not in the best way. George Michael's Wham! thing begins right here. (B-)

The band continued through the '80's with minor hits and gargantuan stadium performances, highlighted by the best set of the entire Live Aid show on July 13th, 1985. The void left by Freddie's passing grows with each year, as it becomes clearer and clearer that aside from Prince and Bono, noone can sing or command a large stage nearly as well. American Idol's Season Five "Queen Night" was proof enough of that. God rest him, he was something. We shant see his like again.

Don't play hard to get. It's a free world. All you have to do is fall in love.