Wednesday, 15 December 2010
Queen - The 21st Century Singles Box Sets
Over the last couple of years, Queen have been quietly issuing a series of Singles Box Sets, which between them, include “every major hit the band have had worldwide”. Or something like that. The box sets cover the period from 1973 to 1999, the date at which the last “official” pre-Queen & Paul Rodgers single was released. Each box includes 13 singles, and everything was a hit somewhere in the world, with the exception of disc 1 of box 1,”Keep Yourself Alive”, included purely because, being the band’s debut single, it is of historical importance. Several foreign releases are included, but not all - I assume the ones not included were simply not big enough “hits” to merit inclusion.
Go onto Amazon, and you will see a barrage of abuse aimed at EMI and the band over these box sets. Why? What is wrong with them? What do they include, or not include? Well, in this blog, I shall attempt to look at each box from a fresh perspective, seeing where each box achieves something good, and where (and how bad) the faults are.
Singles Collection 1
EMI 50999 243358
Covering all of the singles from 1973’s “Queen” through to 1978’s “Jazz”, this set actually includes 12 singles and an EP, the brilliantly titled “Queen’s First EP”. Strangely, the band never got round to doing a second one. All of these singles were issued in the UK, but there is very little in the way of rarities. Queen were never that prolific at doing non-album B-sides, and there is only one “true” B-side on this set, “See What A Fool I’ve Been” which appears on the flip of “Seven Seas Of Rhye”.
The band did opt to include, at times, tracks which in their original album form, cross-faded or segued into (or from) another song, so had to be edited for inclusion on 45. Thus, the versions of “Flick On The Wrist”, “Lily Of The Valley”, “Tenement Funster” and “White Queen” differed from their UK editions. “Fat Bottomed Girls” was edited for release as an A-side, whilst “I’m In Love With My Car” featured a completely different intro and outro from that which appeared on the “A Night At The Opera” LP, fascinating to hear the first time you listen to it.
Freddie Mercury or Freddie Laker?
Is it any good? Well, in terms of sleeve designs, only three of the releases in the box that appeared in a picture sleeve when originally released appear here in the same sleeve. Most of these singles were released at a time when UK labels thought releasing a single in a sleeve was sheer folly, so most of the singles this time around come in fancy overseas sleeves, which - if you like that sort of thing - make the box a worthy purchase. “Bohemian Rhapsody” appears in it’s limited edition industry only 1978 picture sleeve, used on a special Purple Vinyl pressing, but given that original copies of that version sell for a small fortune, this is your best way (and possibly only chance) to own this sleeve. Some might bemoan the decision not to include the “buxom blonde” sleeve that was used for the Bicycle Race/Fat Bottomed Girls Double A side, but what you do get here instead is a slightly surreal Hungarian sleeve with a drawing of a girl, with a bicycle riding across her…erm…fat bottom. As regards the box set musically, somebody did rant on Amazon about the version of “Tenement Funster” being “the wrong version”, but I am not sure what that means, as it sounds alright to me.
UK Singles reissued in UK sleeve: Somebody To Love, Queen’s First EP, Don’t Stop Me Now
UK Singles reissued in “New” sleeve: Keep Yourself Alive, Seven Seas Of Rhye, Killer Queen, Now I’m Here, Bohemian Rhapsody, You’re My Best Friend, Tie Your Mother Down, We Are The Champions, Spread Your Wings, Bicycle Race
Singles Collection 2
EMI 50999 654972
With 13 singles in each box, this means that in some instances, the singles in each set might start or end mid-way through the promo campaign for a particular LP. This one, therefore, runs from 1979’s “Live Killers” to part-way through the releases from 1984’s “The Works”. “The Works” saw Queen using their band name as part of the prefix of the catalogue number - the final disc in this set, “I Want To Break Free”, was originally QUEEN2.
This was the first box to include a foreign A-side - “Calling All Girls” was only released as a single in the USA, whilst only one single appeared in a “new” sleeve; “Love Of My Life”, from the “Live Killers” album, was only ever issued in a die cut sleeve when first released, but appears here in a full colour picture sleeve originating from Japan. Again, B-sides are a bit thin on the ground, but “A Human Body”, “Soul Brother” and “I Go Crazy” make an appearance here, whilst the versions of “Flash”, “Radio Ga Ga” and “I Want To Break Free” are slightly different to their original LP mixes. “Back Chat” was also remixed for single release, and makes a rare appearance on CD here.
Brian May or Bryan McFadden?
Well, this is where the controversy starts. The album before “The Works”, 1982’s “Hot Space”, was when Queen ‘went disco’. The final single from that LP, the aforementioned “Back Chat”, was released on 12”, with extended remixes of both the A-side and the B-side, the latter being another track off the album called “Staying Power”. Thereafter, Queen would issue just about every one of their singles on 12”, often with extra tracks or extended mixes of the A-sides. But for some reason, the powers that be at EMI decided that these box sets should be based around the original 7” versions, primarily because that was the format upon which the band made their debut. But by doing this, it’s a wasted opportunity. The 12” editions of “Radio Ga Ga” and “I Want To Break Free” also included tracks not on the 7” versions - and hence, fail to also make this box set. The whole point of a box set is surely to make available long lost rarities - after all, the amount of extra tracks that have appeared on other EMI Singles Box Set by other bands were designed so that not ONE B-side or remix was missing (see the Blondie and Duran Duran boxes). OK, if you have never bought a Queen single in your life, this is a good way to get the first ten singles in this set, but it ultimately set the flawed precedent for the boxes that followed.
UK Singles reissued in UK sleeve: Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Save Me, Play The Game, Another One Bites The Dust, Flash, Under Pressure, Body Language, Las Palabras De Amor, Back Chat, Radio Ga Ga, I Want To Break Free
UK Singles reissued in “New” sleeve: Love Of My Life
Foreign Singles in Box: Calling All Girls
Note: “I Want To Break Free” was originally issued on four different 7” singles, with a different band member on the cover. All four images were printed on the front of the 12”, and that is the actual sleeve used here.
Singles Collection 3
EMI 50999 684839
The lunacy of basing a singles box set around 7” pressings, when (nearly) every single contained within was also pressed on 12” is none more noticeable than here. The third box covered the remaining singles from “The Works”, and ran through to releases from 1989’s “The Miracle”.
The set included edited mixes of several songs - “Hammer To Fall”, “One Vision”, “Who Wants To Live Forever” and “I Want It All”, whilst there were also a pair of overseas singles in the form of “One Year Of Love”, and “Pain Is So Close To Pleasure”, the latter being remixed for 45 release, and thus seems to be making it’s CD debut here. There were B-sides too, in the form of “Blurred Vision”, “A Dozen Red Roses For My Darling”, “Forever”, “Hang On In There”, “Stealin’”, “Hijack My Heart” and “My Life Has Been Saved”, whilst “Thank God It’s Christmas” was a stand alone 45.
If picture sleeves are your thing, then this set is an essential buy - “Hammer To Fall” appeared in it’s “live” sleeve, a shot of the band on stage. When first released, the single was withdrawn almost immediately and placed instead in a basic red sleeve with the band name and title on the front with no photo at all. Quite why the “live” sleeve was withdrawn, I don’t know, but almost immediately, both the 7” and 12” versions started to sell for a ton. So, as long as you pay no more than £99 for this box, then you should be quids in.
John Deacon or John Major?
It depends. If you are not too fussed about rare picture sleeves, then it’s not a great purchase. Of the 13 singles on here, no less than ten of them were issued on 12” singles which included at least one rarity each that fails to appear in the box - even “Pain Is So Close To Pleasure“ came as a 12“ with an exclusive extended mix. Most of the edited mixes noted above are easily available on the multitude of Greatest Hits albums knocking about, so don’t go buying it for that reason.
It’s not all doom and gloom. The extended play versions of “I Want It All” and “Who Wants To Love Forever” simply added extra tracks that are easily available on normal studio records, whilst only the 7” edition of “It’s A Hard Life” came in a picture sleeve (the US variant is included in this set) - the 12” came in a black die cut sleeve instead. But £40 can be a lot to pay for three “collectible” singles, so I would err on the side of caution - especially when it might be possible to get all these records on 12” for only a few quid a go in the right second-hand shops.
UK Singles reissued in UK sleeve: Hammer To Fall, Thank God It’s Christmas, One Vision, Friends Will Be Friends, Who Wants To Live Forever, I Want It All, Breakthru, The Invisble Man, Scandal
UK Singles reissued in “New” sleeve: It’s A Hard Life, A Kind Of Magic
Foreign Singles in Box: Pain Is So Close To Pleasure, One Year Of Love
Singles Collection 4
EMI 50999 092152
The fourth and final CD Singles box set. And whilst - yes - everything in here was issued on 7” (not always on black vinyl, or in picture sleeves, mind you), everything here was also issued on CD. So, we have a CD Singles Box Set with reissues of not CD’s, but 7” singles. Sort of.
The set covers the period from 1989’s “The Miracle” right through to 1999’s “Greatest Hits 3”, with a remixed version of “Under Pressure” being released to coincide. Only singles issued with the “QUEEN” catalogue prefix are included, so the “Wyclef Jean” remix of “Another One Bites The Dust” from 1998 is therefore missing - and if you’ve never heard it, be thankful for small mercies. Other remix singles from after 1999 are missing (another “Another One Bites The Dust”, and the Queen Vs Vanguard “Flash” single) as they didn’t actually appear on Queen’s then label.
What is really odd about this set is that there seems to be a bit of “creative freedom” going on. The reissue of “The Show Must Go On” uses one of the B-sides from the 12”, an interview called “Queen Talks” because there was no accompanying 7” - there was a 2 track cassette single which included “Keep Yourself Alive”, but the decision to use the rarity here over an old album track is a good move. It’s a similar story with 1995’s “A Winter’s Tale”, which was issued on three “extended play” formats, and the final track from two of them appears here because it was a “new” song, “Rock In Rio Blues”, as opposed to the second track from these formats, “Thank God It’s Christmas”.
“Too Much Love Will Kill You” appeared as a 3 track 7” on pink vinyl, but neither of those B-sides are used here (“We Will Rock You“ and “We Are The Champions“, both also on box set one), and instead a totally different album track from “Made In Heaven”, “I Was Born To Love You”, is included instead. “Let Me Live”, originally backed with album tracks or session recordings from the “Queen At The Beeb” LP, appears here with a seemingly random pick of two songs from the “Live At Wembley” LP! Again, a 7” exists, a picture disc, but includes “Fat Bottomed Girls” and “Bicycle Race” instead.
“You Don’t Fool Me” appears here in it’s DUTCH edition - a different sleeve to the original UK single, with an edited mix of the track that was previously unreleased in the UK. “No One But You” appears with both it’s original B-sides, but the track was actually released as a AA side with “Tie Your Mother Down”, which is absent from this pressing. And finally, “Under Pressure”. The original 7”, pressed as a picture disc, came backed with “Bohemian Rhapsody”. But as this track appears in this box set as a single in it’s own right (released in 1991 after Freddie’s death), this edition comes with two different versions of the song that originally appeared on one of the two CD Singles that were also issued at the same time!
In addition to all this madness, there are other B-sides in the form of a live version of “Stone Cold Crazy”, taken from the “Rare Live” VHS and “All God’s People”, whilst the single mix of “Heaven For Everyone” included here was a minute shorter than the original LP mix. The aforementioned “No One But You” was the only post Freddie/pre Paul Rodgers Queen track to be recorded, and at the time, appeared on a compilation called “Queen Rocks”.
Roger Taylor or Roger Whittaker?
This is a strange one. Most of the singles in this set were issued after Freddie had passed away, meaning that Queen could not just pop into the studio to tape some new B-sides. So, many of the extra tracks that padded out the formats were simply lifted from already existing Queen LP’s. Of the 13 singles in this box, only four of them had rarities on the original CD editions - “Innuendo”, “I’m Going Slightly Mad”, “Headlong” and “You Don’t Fool Me”. The CD version of “Innuendo” included an alternate mix of the A-side, new B-sides appeared on the extended play versions of “Mad” and “Headlong”, whilst the “Fool Me” CD offered up remixes absent from this set. So, this box set isn’t quite as bad as it seems. The slightly random choice of B-sides compared to what appeared on the original singles is a bit baffling, but if you don’t own any of these singles, it’s actually worth a purchase.
UK Singles reissued in UK sleeve: The Miracle, Innuendo, I’m Going Slightly Mad, Headlong, The Show Must Go On, Bohemian Rhapsody, Heaven For Everyone, A Winter’s Tale, Too Much Love Will Kill You, Let Me Live, No One But You, Under Pressue
UK Singles reissued in “New” sleeve: You Don’t Fool Me
Listed below are the essential, “missing”, singles from these box sets. I have not listed the remix singles that were excluded from these box sets, but have only listed 12” or CD Singles where rare mixes or B-sides that were included on the originals are absent from all of the box sets. If a single was issued on 12” and CD, the CD edition is listed.
Any single that appeared in a different sleeve, but with no rare material, is excluded, as a box set would not be able to cover such an item - coloured vinyl and picture disc pressings are also ignored, as all such releases have material otherwise available on black vinyl or compact disc pressings.
ESSENTIAL QUEEN SINGLES 1973-1999
Back Chat (12” Mix)/Staying Power (12” Mix) (12”, EMI 12 EMI 5326)
Radio Ga Ga (Extended Mix)/(Instrumental)/I Go Crazy (12”, EMI 12 QUEEN 1)
I Want To Break Free (Extended Mix)/Machines (12”, EMI 12 QUEEN 2)
It’s A Hard Life/Is This The World We Created/It’s A Hard Life (Extended Mix) (12”, EMI 12 QUEEN 3)
Hammer To Fall (Headbangers Mix)/Tear It Up (12”, EMI 12 QUEEN 4)
Thank God It’s Christmas/Man On The Prowl (Extended)/Keep Passing The Open Windows (Extended) (12”, EMI 12 QUEEN 5)
One Vision (Extended Version)/Blurred Vision (12”, EMI 12 QUEEN 6)
A Kind Of Magic (Extended Version)/A Dozen Red Roses For My Darling (12”, EMI 12 QUEEN 7)
Friends Will Be Friends (Extended Version)/(7” Version)/Seven Seas Of Rhye (12”, EMI 12 QUEEN 8)
Breakthru (12” Version)/Stealin’/Breakthru (Single Version) (CD, EMI CDQUEEN 11)
The Invisble Man (12” Version)/Hijack My Heart/The Invisble Man (Single Version) (CD, EMI CDQUEEN 12)
Scandal (12” Version)/My Life Has Been Saved/Scandal (7” Version) (CD, EMI CDQUEEN 14)
Innuendo (Explosive Version)/Under Pressure/Bijou (CD, EMI CDQUEEN 16)
I’m Going Slightly Mad/The Hitman/Lost Opportunity (CD, EMI CDQUEEN 17)
Headlong/All God’s People/Mad The Swine (CD, EMI CDQUEEN 18)
You Don’t Fool Me (Album Version)/(Dancing Divaz Club Mix)/(Sexy Club Mix)/(Late Mix) (CD, EMI CDQUEEN 25)
The original “RAH” mix edition of “Under Pressure” had an enhanced CD-Rom section, which is absent from the version in “Singles Collection 4”. A Peel Session version of “We Will Rock You” was also issued as a freebie via “The Sun” newspaper a few years ago, and unsurprisingly, is also absent from the box sets.
In the US, the extended mixes "missing" from the box sets appear as bonuses on selected studio albums on CD. These are "Radio Ga Ga" and "I Want To Break Free" (The Works), "One Vision" (A Kind Of Magic) and "The Invisible Man" and "Scandal" (The Miracle).
In a future blog, I hope to look at Queen’s albums in greater depth - and explain why, for some reason, the US editions of virtually all of the others not mentioned here have more tracks than their UK counterparts. A bit strange, for a British band…
Queen Singles: http://www.pcpki.com/queen/discography/queensingles.html
Queen Singles Discography: http://www.queencollector.com/Discograhy/queendisc.html