For the band’s 40th anniversary, Hollywood Records has reissued deluxe remasters of Queen’s second round of studio albums with bonus EP discs fortifying each release.
This batch of five begins with 1977’s “News of the World,” which proceeds regally with the double A-side single “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.” Besides these two classics of Queen’s back catalogue, the album also features the punk-influenced “Sheer Heart Attack” and drummer Roger Taylor’s “Fight from the Inside,” fueled by a riff that Slash once cited as a personal favorite.
For “News of the World,” the band’s contract with previous producer Roy Thomas Baker had expired, so arrangements were not as elaborate for this LP co-produced with longtime engineer Mike Stone. The production for the back-to-basics recording is relatively sparse. (Guitarist Brian May’s “Sleeping on the Sidewalk” was recorded in a single take, for example, which sharply contrasts with the sessions for “A Night at the Opera” or “A Day at the Races.”)
The recent Google doodle commemorating the 65th birthday of the late Freddie Mercury was set to “Don’t Stop Me Now,” an excellent song showcased on “Jazz,” the second reissue in the bunch. Queen reunited with producer Baker for this 1978 album recorded in Switzerland and France.
Mercury’s Tour de France-inspired “Bicycle Race” is one of his more complex compositions. A topless centerfold of the bicycle race held at Wimbledon Stadium — a real novelty in the pre-Internet 1970s — is included in the reissue for nostalgic fans.
After “Jazz,” Queen ditched the baroque influences and anthems, moved to Musicland Studios in Munich and embraced technology with German producer Reinhold Mack. “The Game,” the quartet’s first LP to include synthesizers, was Queen’s only No. 1 album in America.
The quadruple-platinum record opened with “Play the Game.” For the promotional video, Freddie’s black nail polish was replaced with the “clone” look accented with a moustache and cropped hair.
The genre-busting “Another One Bites the Dust,” built with a minimalist drum loop, hand claps and cymbal crashes, was the band’s biggest U.S. single. Penned by bassist John Deacon, the crossover smash dominated the disco, soul and rock charts. Amazingly, the band released “Dust” as the fourth single from the “The Game” only after the insistence of Michael Jackson.
“The Game” also boasted the No. 1 hit “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” which was released as a pre-album single and featured a rare Telecaster appearance from May. The rollicking rockabilly track was written by Mercury while enjoying a bubble bath.
“Flash Gordon” is a space oddity — a 1981 soundtrack recorded during sessions for “The Game” with May co-producing with Mack. The stellar title track is the best thing about the campy sci-fi flick produced by the grandfather of Giada De Laurentiis. The soundtrack is largely instrumental, with the exception of the theme and the underrated rocker “The Hero.”
The least commercial and most intriguing album Queen in the second wave is 1982’s “Hot Space.” Although it was released as the popularity of disco waned, many consider the record ahead of its time and Jackson claimed it influenced his “Thriller” album.
“Hot Space” remains a hodgepodge: The track “Body Language” was the only Queen single with no guitars. The rocking “Put Out the Fire” was odd man out with traditional guitar, bass, drums and multitracked vocals, but the song’s anti-gun message watered down the testosterone. The legendary David Bowie collaboration “Hot Space” ends the album.
What about the bonus material on the EPs? Many good live performances are included, but I would’ve liked bonus footage like the “Fat Bottomed Girls” video filmed at the Dallas Convention Center in October 1978.
I also wish archivists would’ve included Queen’s cover of “Imagine” that was performed live after John Lennon’s assassination. It would’ve been better than Mercury’s lyrically inferior tribute, the “Life Is Real (Song for Lennon)” album track from “Hot Space.”
Meanwhile, Mercury’s vocals on “Cool Cat” fly solo on the album version, but the often-bootlegged outtake duet featuring Bowie is suspiciously missing. Thankfully, that ill-fated session spawned “Under Pressure.” The Taylor outtake “Feel Like,” which is an earlier version of what became that hit single, is also absent.
Finally, the bonus track “Soul Brother” showcases Freddie’s playful falsetto taking tongue-in-cheek lyrical cues from previous song titles. The shout-outs from some of Queen’s greatest hits serves as appropriate bookend for this second round of reissues.