Friday, 9 September 2011

Queen On CD


2011 makes the 40th anniversary of Queen’s “official” formation. 1971 was the year that the band recorded a number of songs that would eventually appear on their 1973 debut album, “Queen”, most in re-recorded form but one in “remixed” form only. To celebrate, the fifteen studio albums the band released before the Queen & Paul Rodgers “reunion” have been re-released on CD.

The reissues appeared on Island - signed to EMI for most of their lifetime, there has been a recent falling out, hence the change of label. As well as appearing as a set of pointless one-disc reissues, all have resurfaced as 2-CD sets, with a bonus CD EP of rarities and unreleased tracks.

It’s not the first time that the albums have been available on Compact Disc. All of them were issued in the early 90’s, but with no extras - if it was a ten track vinyl LP when first released, it was a ten track CD you got. And whilst it is the first time (“A Night At The Opera” excepted) that the albums are surfacing in the UK in expanded form, it is not the first time some of them have been released with bonus tracks.

Queen, at one point, were huge in the States, and in 1991, to celebrate the release of the “Innuendo” album, the band’s US label Hollywood Records reissued all of the band’s studio albums released between 1973 and 1989 with extra tracks. But some of the bonus tracks were - well, questionable. In this article, I shall detail Queen’s album releases, looking specifically at the CD editions that started to surface in the 80’s, and how the Hollywood reissues fit in.

Vinyl Days

The band’s debut album was finished in 1972, part of it having being recorded at Trident Studios. Trident were a fan of the band, and helped them try and secure a record deal. Nobody seemed interested, and in the end Trident made arrangements to release it themselves the following year, but managed to get the album released on the EMI label, with a “Trident Audio Production” credit on the label. EMI would be home to the band for the rest of their recording career. The album concluded with a short version of an at-the-time unfinished track called “Seven Seas Of Rhye”, which then made it - in full and completed form - onto the 1974 follow up, “Queen II”.

“Queen II” used the same logo on the cover as it’s predecessor, whilst the superb “Queen Crest” logo found on the back of the “Queen“ sleeve, later to be used on other Queen albums as the front cover, appeared again on the back of “Queen II”. The album came in a cover featuring an image of the band which was later “reinterpreted” in the “Bohemian Rhapsody” video, and was housed in a gatefold sleeve that was printed at right angles - so that the spine was at the bottom, and not on the left, of the cover. The cover image was on a black background, inside the band were photographed against a white image, and these colours were a central theme of the album - the album sides were not numbered but were called “Side White” and “Side Black” and the song titles included “White Queen” and “The March Of The Black Queen”.

1974’s “Sheer Heart Attack” omitted the Queen logos; the album title was later re-used for a song of the same name on the “News Of The World” album. 1975’s “A Night At The Opera” used the Crest logo as it’s main front cover image, and although it’s claim to fame is the inclusion of “Bo Rhap” on side 2, it’s a superb album even without that song, arguably the highpoint of the band’s career. 1976’s companion release, “A Day At the Races”, used a “new” crest logo, this time against a black cover, but struggled to top the genius of the record that preceeded it, and has always seemed - to me - to be a bit of a patchy affair. It was the last Queen album to famously proclaim that the record contained “No Synths”.

1977’s “News Of The World”, far from being threatened by punk, took the baton and ran with it, and featured some far punchier material than had been found on “A Day At The Races”. 1978’s “Jazz” saw the band go slightly off course again, although they could still produce a hit single or three when they tried. The album included the AA side single “Fat Bottomed Girls” and “Bicycle Race”, the latter famously featuring a video clip consisting of 65 naked women cycling around Wimbledon Greyhound stadium. Initial copies of the "Jazz” LP came with a free poster featuring a photo of the girls taken on set, but after complaints were received, later editions came instead with a flyer which gave details of how fans could send off for a copy of the poster. I understand that the most collectable versions of “Jazz” are later poster-less pressings, with the insert intact and unblemished.

The band’s first live LP, the incendiary “Live Killers” was released in 1979. It was reissued by Hollywood in 1991, but with no bonus tracks, and although it has been released on CD in the UK, it is not being released this time around. 1980’s “The Game” came in a shiny reflective sleeve, and was followed by the band’s ninth studio effort, the soundtrack to the “Flash Gordon” movie. “Flash’s Theme”, one of Queen’s campest and most brilliant moments, was issued in edited form as a single, where it was retitled simply “Flash”.

1982 saw the release of the heavily disco indebted “Hot Space”, referred to by many as the moment that Queen lost the plot. Mercury was the driving force behind it, having been influenced by the music he was hearing in the Gay Club scene, and the album baffled critics and fans. It was the polar opposite of the “no synthesizers” period, and Taylor admitted he hated it, although the pop/dance sound would actually become a central ingredient in the albums that followed. 1984’s “The Works”, despite sounding quite mainstream, was regarded as a return to form - even I admit, that as rubbish as it first sounded, “Radio Ga Ga” is actually quite an impressive pop 45. By the time Queen stole the show at Live Aid, they were one of the biggest bands in the UK - despite still failing to top the likes of “Sheer Heart Attack” in terms of quality.

The CD Era

1986’s “A Kind Of Magic” was the first Queen album to be released on CD with additional tracks, thereby taking advantage of the extended playing time the format offered. The extra tracks included alternate versions of “A Kind Of Magic” and “Friends Will Be Friends”, the former of which remains exclusive to this release. Another live album, the rather patchy “Live Magic” was issued at the end of 86, and although nobody knew it at the time, turned out to be a momento of what was Queen’s final tour.

1989’s “The Miracle” was a return to the guitar based sound of the 70’s, with a few slightly bonkers moments, and was something of a hidden gem. With Mercury now starting to show signs of his (ultimately) fatal illness, touring was a no no. The CD edition added three extra songs, including the “I Want It All” flip side “Hang On In There” and an extended mix of “The Invisible Man” which was later released as a single.

Later the same year saw the release on the Band Of Joy label of “Queen At The Beeb”, a thrilling 8 song set consisting of two BBC Radio sessions the band taped in 1973. Queen’s final album release before Freddie’s death was 1991’s “Innuendo”, the title track of which - a sort of 1990’s “Bo Rhap” - was released as a single trailing the album release, and which was unedited for single release, despite being six and a half minutes long. A video was filmed for the track “These Are The Days Of Our Lives”, which was issued as a single in the US in September 91, by which time Mercury’s condition was faltering, resulting in the video being shot in black and white to try and “cover up” his illness. The song - and video - famously ended with the line, “I Still Love You”, seen as an obvious ’goodbye’ from Freddie to the fans. Mercury passed away in November, and the track was released as a AA side in the UK with “Bohemian Rhapsody” as a Christmas Single, which - like it did in 1975 - hit the top spot.

1992 saw the release of the “Live At Wembley” double CD, which did a better job of commemorating the 1986 tour than “Live Magic” did, and 1995 saw the release of the fifteenth and final studio record, “Made In Heaven”, consisting of unfinished songs taped during the “Innuendo” sessions, fleshed out by the remaining trio. It took until late 93 for the rest of the band to do this, as they found it too upsetting to try and finish the songs beforehand. The trio would record a Freddie-less song, “No One But You” in 1997, which was included on a compilation called “Queen Rocks”, and was released as a single in January 1998. Two more live albums, both from the early 80’s were released after the millennium - “Queen At The Bowl” in 2004 (taped in 1982) and “Queen Rock Montreal” in 2007 (taped in 1981).

The Hollywood Reissues

For a band so quintessentially “British” as Queen, it seems strange to think that it was their US label that decided to try and produce “special” editions of the band’s studio output. Indeed, in the UK, bonus track-less editions of the albums continued to be the standard versions available in the shops even after the US editions had turned up Stateside.

But the bonus tracks were - in most instances - baffling. A series of specially conducted “new” mixes of a handful of songs were created, which in some instances sounded almost the same as the original (“Fat Bottomed Girls”), and in others were the sound of somebody seemingly attempting to destroy something that didn’t need remixing in the first place (“Bicycle Race”).

In some instances, the Hollywood reissues included genuine rarities. “Queen” included an outtake from the early years called “Mad The Swine”, although the track had appeared as a B-side in the UK before 1991 and also appears (in slightly remixed form) on the recent Island reissue. It also included a re-recorded version of “Keep Yourself Alive”, taped in 75, which is now also available on the expanded UK version of “A Night At The Opera”. The b-side of “Seven Seas Of Rhye”, “See What A Fool”, was on the “Queen II” reissue, and also appears on the recent Island reissue.

“Hot Space” included the non-album 45, “Under Pressure”, whilst “The Works” was the first of the Hollywood reissues to not include bonus remixes, but instead offered up the B-side of “Radio Ga Ga”, “I Go Crazy”, and a couple of previously issued 12” mixes. “The Miracle” included four extras compared to the UK vinyl pressing, three of which had also made the UK CD edition.

The overall feeling, though, for anybody who had these albums already, was that they were now being asked to shell out for some slightly dubious bonus material. Queen weren’t the only act doing this at the time (some 1991 remixes turned up on a couple of David Bowie reissues the same year), but the lack of genuine rarities on the Queen CD’s was an unavoidable issue. Suffice to say, when the UK Island reissues program kicked off this year, these bonus remixes were absent.

Discography

I have listed below the important 1991 reissues, which still contain either exclusive material, or included important extra tracks when compared to their UK CD edition as at the end of 2010. Now that all of the fifteen studio LP’s have been re-released, the definitive Queen albums will - in the first instance - be the double-CD editions on Island, whilst the six other “live” albums - if you can find them - have the same track listings that they always did. The list below of the UK albums is based on the most recent pressings of each.

For the latest batch of reissues, the choice of bonus tracks - at times - seems a bit poor. Indeed, as briefly touched on earlier, the reissue of “A Kind Of Magic” omits one of the original exclusive bonus tracks, whilst “The Works” and “The Miracle” seem to offer no unreleased material, as far as I can make out. Try before you buy, etc.

CURRENT QUEEN UK CD’S

Queen (2011 reissue 2-CD edition, Island 276 387 9)
Queen II (2011 reissue 2-CD edition, Island 276 425 0)
Sheer Heart Attack (2011 reissue 2-CD edition, Island 276 441 1)
A Night At The Opera (2011 reissue 2-CD edition, Island 276 442 4)
A Day At The Races (2011 reissue 2-CD edition, Island 276 441 6)
News Of The World (2011 reissue 2-CD edition, Island 277 174 8)
Jazz (2011 reissue 2-CD edition, Island 277 176 8)
Live Killers (2003 2-CD reissue, Parlophone 592 4142. Now deleted, some of the tracks appeared on a nespaper freebie called “Rock You“ in 2009 [Parlophone UPQUEEN 001])
The Game (2011 reissue 2-CD edition, Island 277 175 2)
Flash Gordon (2011 reissue 2-CD edition, Island 277 177 0)
Hot Space (2011 reissue 2-CD edition, Island 277 175 8)
The Works (2011 reissue 2-CD edition, Island 277 176 6)
A Kind Of Magic (2011 reissue 2-CD edition, Island 277 797 4)
Live Magic (1986 CD original, EMI CDP 7 46413 2)
The Miracle (2011 reissue 2-CD edition, Island 277 998 7)
At The Beeb (1989 CD original, Band Of Joy BOJCD 001)
Innuendo (2011 reissue 2-CD edition, Island 278 000 9)
Live At Wembley 86 (1992 2-CD original, Parlophone CDPCSP 725)
Made In Heaven (2011 reissue 2-CD edition, Island 278 001 9)
Queen On Fire: Live At The Bowl (2004 2-CD original, EMI 863 2112)
Rock Montreal (2007 2-CD original, Parlophone 504 0472)

ESSENTIAL AND IMPORTANT HOLLYWOOD 1991 REISSUE CD’S

Queen (1974, Hollywood HR 61064 2, includes bonus 1991 remix of “Liar”)
Queen II (1974, Hollywood HR 61232 2, includes bonus 1991 remixes of “Ogre Battle” and “Seven Seas Of Rhye”)
Sheer Heart Attack (1974, Hollywood HR 61036 2, includes bonus 1991 remix of “Stone Cold Crazy”)
A Night At The Opera (1975, Hollywood HR 61065 2, includes bonus 1991 remixes of “I’m In Love With My Car” and “You’re My Best Friend”)
A Day At The Races (1976, Hollywood HR 61035 2, includes bonus 1991 remixes of “Tie Your Mother Down” and “Somebody To Love”)
Jazz (1978, Hollywood HR 61062 2, includes bonus 1991 remixes of “Fat Bottomed Girls” and “Bicycle Race”)
The Game (1980, Hollywood HR 61063 2, includes bonus 1991 remix of “Dragon Attack”)
Flash Gordon (1980, Hollywood HR 61203 2, includes bonus 1991 remix of “Flash’s Theme”)
Hot Space (1982, Hollywood HR 61038 2, includes bonus 1991 remix of “Body Language”)
The Works (1984, Hollywood HR 61233 2, includes “I Go Crazy” and extended mixes of “Radio Ga Ga” and “I Want To Break Free”)
The Miracle (1989, Hollywood HR 61234 2, includes extra tracks from original UK CD plus “Scandal (12” Mix)”)

The reissue of “News Of The World” included just one extra track, a remix of “We Will Rock You” that later turned up as a B-side of the “No One But You” single, and the reissue of “A Kind Of Magic” neglects to include the UK bonus tracks, so is a slightly pointless release. It does include the 12” mix of “One Vision”, for those of you who like to own such things on Compact Disc, rather than vinyl.

There are plenty of other Queen releases - numerous “Greatest Hits” sets, several box sets and a series of downloadable “official” bootlegs, whilst the current reissue campaign has being plugged via a series of “best of the album tracks” collections under the “Deep Cuts” title.


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