Top 10 Brian May Queen Songs
Queen are one of the few classic-rock bands in which all four members individually contributed to the songwriting process. As the legendary group's guitarist, Brian May was responsible for penning more of them than anyone else in the band besides singer Freddie Mercury. May wrote many of Queen's most popular songs (several of them were hit singles) over the years, which made it tough to compile our list of the Top 10 Brian May Queen Songs.
Four singles -- each written by a different member of Queen -- were released from 1984's The Works album. May's "Hammer to Fall" distilled all the innate musicality and hard-rock crunch that had become his trademark into an irresistible track. Not even the downer lyrics (about the looming threat of nuclear holocaust that hung over several Cold War generations) can stop euphoric air guitarists all over the world from shredding to this one.
Queen's 1986 album A Kind of Magic doubled as a soundtrack to the movie Highlander and, of all the memorable May contributions on display, none captures the film's underlying theme, or proved as lasting, as the poignant "Who Wants to Live Forever." Tender balladry, lush symphonic backing and a rare co-lead vocal with Freddie Mercury all build toward a rousing heavy-rock climax featuring May's guitar in the starring role.
Queen's very first single, and the opening track on their 1973 debut album, was a song written by May. Neither "Keep Yourself Alive" nor Queen made much of a dent on the U.K. charts, but the song's complex, effects-laden guitar work and sculpted multi-track orchestrations give notice of the band's perfection in the studio and hints at its grand future ambitions, which would continue to flourish in the years to come.
With all due respect to the bombastic but overlong "The Prophet's Song" and the folksy sci-fi of "39," the coolest showcase for May's vast talents to be found on A Night at the Opera is the infectious sonic curiosity "Good Company." Written as a tribute to May's father, the song is mostly performed on a ukulele-banjo and accompanied by what appears to be a 10-piece Dixieland jazz band. But that band is actually May and his guitar, multi-tracked with all the effects painstakingly arranged. Astounding.
Queen's laser-focused devotion to sculpting great songs didn't always leave much room for May to showcase the sort of self-indulgent, over-the-top guitar wizardry conjured by other '70s guitar heroes. But on the extended Live Killers version of "Brighton Rock," May finally cuts loose and transforms the Sheer Heart Attack opener into a veritable six-string tour de force (with a little help from drummer Roger Taylor), masterfully exploring the extreme limits of soft and heavy sounds.
The halfway point on our list of the Top 10 Brian May Queen Songs, "Tie Your Mother Down" was their concert opener for years, thanks to May's electrifying introductory lick (which was written on Spanish guitar, if you can believe that). Maybe even more noteworthy, the song's laugh-out-loud lyrics take meddling relatives to task with ruthless hilarity, proving that May could be as mischievous as Freddie Mercury when the mood struck him.
May, who holds a PhD in astrophysics, is an inveterate sci-fi geek who found a labor of love in 1981's Flash Gordon soundtrack. He was the one who captained the rocket that blasted Queen to the planet Mongo, where they defeated the merciless Emperor Ming with their musical weapons. While the LP makes room for brief musical themes and even spoken-word sections to accommodate the movie's occasionally convoluted plot, Flash Gordon is a true Queen album. May's energetic "Flash's Theme' became a hugely popular single in the U.K.
Another blushing example of the guitarist's cheeky sense of humor (see No. 5 on our list of the Top 10 Brian May Queen Songs), "Fat Bottomed Girls" features some searing guitar fireworks. The song was a hit, even if it drew some criticism from women's-lib groups. The dropped D tuning gives "Fat Bottom Girls" a somewhat menacing tone and possibly influenced Spinal Tap's even more comical treatment of the same subject in "Big Bottom."
One of the most beloved May compositions, "Now I'm Here" seamlessly contrasts quiet and loud passages to display Queen at their most explosive and dramatic. Not bad for a song that May started putting together in the hospital while recovering from hepatitis. In concert, "Now I'm Here" took full advantage of Queen's clever light show while capturing the band at its absolute heaviest.
Why settle for just one track to cap our list of the Top 10 Brian May Queen Songs when "We Will Rock You" comes in two very different versions? The first is the foot-stomping, hand-clapping and chart-topping anthem that's usually paired with Freddie Mercury's "We Are the Champions." The second is a more conventional stage-bound hard rocker, drenched in May's guitar. It's this version that opened many Queen concerts in the late '70s. But either one definitively seals May's legend.