The first thing you must know in order to truly understand Queen is that frontman Freddie Mercury was shy.
Yeah, that Freddie Mercury—the man born Farrokh Bulsara, the guy with the Lycra catsuits who'd regularly get up in front of 100,000 people and sing "I'm a shooting star leaping through the sky like a tiger." Shrinking violet.
Whether or not he had some sort of internal switch he could flip to become that guy, Mercury—along with his bandmates Brian May, John Deacon, and Roger Taylor—is the poster child for that fling-yourself-into-the-deep-end, fake-it-’til-you-make-it brand of confidence. As May sang on "Leaving Home Ain't Easy," "I take a step outside / And I breathe the air / And I slam the door / And I'm on my way."
None of Queen's music would have succeeded had they not taken a quick breath, slammed the door behind them, and decided to, to quote the shoe company who borrowed "We Are the Champions" in 1988, just do it. There's no room to be tentative when you're planning a six-minute, chorus-less single with an operatic section. And ultimately, that's why we love them; when you listen, you feel like you can be as glamorous and powerful as you want to be if you just go for it. If Farrokh Bulsara can be Freddie Mercury, you can be, too.
Rami Malek will try his hand at being Freddie Mercury when the Bohemian Rhapsody biopic hits theaters November 2, and this Friday, the film's soundtrack—which includes previously unreleased audio from the band's iconic 1985 Live Aid performance—will be released. Whether you're a Queen novice or just need a quick refresher on their catalog before catching the movie, we've put together a few entry points to help you prepare.
So you want to get into: Classic Queen?
As it turns out, when you've got one of the best vocalists of all time as your frontman and one of the greatest guitarists to ever live in your band, you can do whatever the hell you want. Arena-ready anthems ("We Are the Champions," "We Will Rock You"), hard rock ("Stone Cold Crazy,” "Tie Your Mother Down"), vaudeville ("Killer Queen"), rockabilly ("Crazy Little Thing Called Love"), gospel ("Somebody to Love"), and of course, the operatic declaration that Beelzebub has a devil put aside for our protagonist—Queen did it all, and they did so more effectively than most bands could dream of.
Albums like Queen II, Sheer Heart Attack, A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races, and News of the World are all absolutely worth deep dives, but if you're just getting into Queen, there's no shame in starting with the obvious. There's a reason their Greatest Hits record has been certified platinum eight times in the US.
And while the Bohemian Rhapsody biopic will help ensure Queen’s impact will be felt by a future generation of music fans, the band never really left pop culture. Their classic songs have been featured for decades in movies and television, often becoming part of the story itself. Most famously, Mike Myers and Dana Carvey kicked off 1992’s Wayne’s World with their iconic carpool karaoke version of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” again proving that anyone could be Freddie Mercury if they believed—even Garth. 2001’s A Knight’s Tale also began with a medieval audience stomping along to “We Will Rock You,” assigning Queen a timeless quality. And most recently, 2017’s Baby Driver, a movie built around its soundtrack, climaxed with a chase scene centered on the lead character’s go-to “killer track,” “Brighton Rock.”
Playlist: "Bohemian Rhapsody" / "Killer Queen" / "Don't Stop Me Now" / "We Will Rock You" / "We Are the Champions" / "Somebody to Love" / "Fat-Bottomed Girls" / "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" / "You're My Best Friend" / "Now I'm Here" / "Stone Cold Crazy" / "Tie Your Mother Down" / "Bicycle Race" / “Brighton Rock”
So you want to get into: Drama Queen?
To say Queen had a flair for theatrics is a gross understatement. Most every Queen song could fit here to some degree, but these are the tracks that lean especially hard into the drama, whether it's the arpeggiated piano and swirling guitar of their first hit single, "Seven Seas of Rhye," the trills and the harp on "Love of My Life," or Mercury's vicious takedown of the band's former manager Norman Sheffield on "Death on Two Legs" ("You suck my blood like a leech / You break the law and you preach / Screw my brain till it hurts / You've taken all my money / And you want more").
But "dramatic" doesn't necessarily mean "big" (although when we're talking Queen, it does in most cases); on "My Melancholy Blues," Mercury is the closest he ever gets to being understated, offering a laidback, jazzy performance that feels like it'd fit in just as well on Broadway as it would in a dimly lit lounge.
Playlist: "In the Lap of the Gods" / "Seven Seas of Rhye" / "Keep Yourself Alive" / "My Fairy King" / "My Melancholy Blues" / "Death on Two Legs" / "Love of My Life" / "You Take My Breath Away" / "Lily of the Valley" / "The March of the Black Queen" / "Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy"
So you want to get into: 80s Queen?
It's hard to imagine a band leveling up after "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "We Are the Champions," but that's exactly what Queen did in the 80s, moving towards a more pop-influenced sound and enjoying a commercial success that saw them performing to record-setting crowds. (The Latin American leg of their The Game tour drew approximately 700,000 people over just 13 shows, and their Buenos Aires show in front of 300,000 people became the largest single concert crowd in Argentine history.) Enormous hits like "Another One Bites the Dust" and "Under Pressure," their collaboration with David Bowie, were highlights of not only the decade but the group's career as a whole. But being the biggest band in the world didn't prevent Queen from branching out. They contributed soundtracks to Highlander and Flash Gordon, gave Lady Gaga her namesake, and even released a Christmas single.
Playlist: "Radio Ga Ga" / "Under Pressure" ft. David Bowie / "Another One Bites the Dust" / "Body Language" / "Who Wants to Live Forever" / "I Want It All" / "Save Me" / "Hammer to Fall" / "A Kind of Magic" / "One Vision" / "Thank God It's Christmas" / "Friends Will Be Friends"
So you want to get into: The Last of Freddie Mercury Queen?
Though he would publicly deny being ill all the way up until the day before he died, Freddie Mercury was diagnosed as being HIV positive in 1987, and—unsurprisingly—he and his bandmates decided to continue recording together as long as they possibly could, churning out The Miracle and Innuendo before Mercury ultimately succumbed to the disease in 1991. Mercury's vocals remained impressive up until the end; "The Show Must Go On," recorded in 1990 while he was reportedly too weak to walk, serves as both a mission statement for the band in this period ("my makeup may be flaking but my smile still stays on") and a stunning testament to Mercury's talent.
After his death, the remaining members of Queen combed through his final recordings from 1991 and eventually released the posthumous Made In Heaven in 1995. Featuring the power ballad "Too Much Love Will Kill You," "Heaven for Everyone," and Mercury's final recording, "Mother Love," it sold over 20 million copies worldwide and went on to become the band's best-selling studio album. ("Mother Love" features an assist from Brian May on the last verse because Mercury, not feeling well, left the studio before its completion to go "have a rest," promising he'd return to finish it later. Sadly, he never made it back.)
Playlist: "The Show Must Go On" / "These Are the Days of Our Lives" / "The Miracle" / "Innuendo" / "Breakthru" / "Too Much Love Will Kill You" / "Heaven for Everyone" / "Let Me Live" / "Mother Love"