If you have any rock inside your soul, the music of QUEEN should course automatically through your veins. At worst, we can say that the second half of QUEEN's esteemed career had a few hiccups from 1986's "A Kind of Magic" on through the band's final studio album, "Innuendo" in '91. No matter how loud, how progressive or even how left-of-center QUEEN's music unraveled from their debut album in 1973, the band's showmen Freddie Mercury and Brian May remain figureheads of rock ?n roll class along with their bandmates. As theatrical as their sound, it was only natural QUEEN evolve visually, and not just through their enormous light cascades onstage.
Originally released in two separate volumes on DVD back in 2003, QUEEN's "Greatest Video Hits" was subdivided between their renowned Seventies staples and their avant garde, sometimes quirky body of work through the Eighties. Now Eagle Vision condenses both installments into one package with all thirty-three video tracks and with 5.1 Surround Sound.
From "Bohemian Rhapsody" to "We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions", the first half of "Greatest Video Hits" offers a cleaner look at pre-MTV promotional video cuts of QUEEN's best-known songs. The eminent chiaroscuro of Mercury, May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon leading off "Bohemian Rhapsody" and the subsequent light-up of their diamond-shaped facial formation has become a momentous visual in the history of rock 'n' roll. Even the comical sight of QUEEN banging and stomping through "We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions", (and "Tie Your Mother Down") in a cold, wooded setting carries its own peculiar aesthetic in the rock videoverse.
What's interesting about the first disc of "Greatest Video Hits" is to see how effectively QUEEN used the video medium prior to its commercialized expansion into the Eighties. "Fat Bottomed Girls", "You're My Best Friend", "Another One Bites the Dust" and "Somebody to Love" all reveal the band in wide-open and intimate live simulations. Massive at times, cozy at others, the band largely holds their stage positions while Freddie Mercury circulates like an ion. Sometimes Mercury is snug at the piano for much of the time before springing into action. The "Killer Queen" segment is a bit of a rarity as it's culled from the long-ago British music variety show, "Top of the Pops". Though guests on that show notoriously lip-synched their spots, Freddie rids the deliberation of the moment by vamping and prowling amongst his bandmates, making the "performance" unforgettable.
If you were a child of the Eighties, you'll no doubt laugh with dumb appreciation when the "Flash" video strikes. Though the "Flash Gordon" flick from 1980 was a turkey, it's weird fun watching QUEEN score along to film segments on the projection screen in their recording studio. Flashhhhh?ahh-ahhhhhhhhhhh?
The highlight of Disc One, by far, has to be the uncensored video of "Bicycle Race". If you've never seen it, you're in for a skin-tacular surprise. A band that pushed the envelope with their songwriting and their overall presentation, it should be no surprise "Bicycle Race" features naked chicks on bikes, yet it still manages to provoke. Taking Freddie Mercury's orientation out of the equation, he and QUEEN knew sex sold and they pushed hard when they felt like it, evidenced as well on the snappy "A Crazy Thing Called Love" and then the lamentable "Body Language" on the second disc.
Say what you will on behalf or in condemnation of QUEEN's years following their profitable "The Game" album, it still yielded the quixotic "Highlander"-inspired ballad "Who Wants to Live Forever" and Freddie Mercury's poignant curtain call "The Show Must Go On". And for better or worse, QUEEN's hilarious anti-FM potshot "Radio Ga Ga" will be forevermore credited as giving birth to the pop diva using it as her inspiration and namesake.
The second disc marks QUEEN's more inventive use of the video medium. "A Kind of Magic" finds the band swapping onscreen roles as musical vagabonds and more contemporary knockabouts. There's a silly air to the video dotted all over the band's expressions, except for the deadly-serious Mercury. In fact, as the years roll on, you see Mercury dogging his brilliant ostentation like his birthright. "Scandal" and "Breakthru" are diehard-only cuts, but the expansive stage set in the former and the open train ride in the latter sets Mercury into motion, while Taylor, May and Deacon toodle along almost for laughs.
"Radio Ga Ga" tributes the silent film masterpiece "Metropolis", while the Bowie-assisted "Under Pressure" ushers in snippets of the vampire classic "Nosferatu" amidst its collision course of optical destruction. "Who Wants to Live Forever" and "Princes of the Universe" were created in correlation with "Highlander 2: The Quickening", complete with a goofy cameo by Christopher Lambert himself in the latter case.
On the other hand, the video for "The Miracle" is one of the second disc's genuine treasures with junior-sized doppelgangers of QUEEN fielding most of it with marvelous acumen. The dragfest of "I Want to Break Free" is still a gut-buster nearly thirty years later, much as it remains an anthem for the browbeaten. "I Want It All" still hits a home run with its fierce stride and its outspoken spike against capitalist greed. "Hammer to Fall" is simply gorgeous with its dazzling stage illumination and banging tempo. Another "Top of the Pops" selection, "Las Palabras de Amor" shows QUEEN at their most distinguished.
Cool we get "It's a Hard Life" in this set and there's a heartwarming sensation watching the crowd sing along with Freddie on "Friends Will Be Friends", yet it's criminal we get nothing to represent "The Show Must Go On". It would've been an even more proper finale than "One Vision", which is also the final track on the "Greatest Hits I & II" album. Of course, neither "Stone Cold Crazy" nor "Great King Rat" made it onto that compilation, so there you have it.
In all, though, this is a mandatory pickup if you're a QUEEN fan and you missed the boat the first time around. It's worth it just for the audio commentary by Brian May and Roger Taylor if not for "Bicycle Race".
- Ray Van Horn, Jr.