Thursday, May 1, 2014

They Did Rock Me.

Queen: Greatest Hits (1982)

Here it is, the first album I ever bought.

Well, the first musical album I ever bought. That wasn't based on a TV series about two "good old boys". Sod it, this is the first album I ever bought, and it's the first one that mattered.

I am eleven, and thanks to an imaginative intermediate school teacher’s class session I have bought with my own pocket money my first step into a music collection - this album, on vinyl. The song of the lesson is Bohemian Rhapsody. Of course it is. It would be everybody's favourite song on the album if Queen’s Greatest Hits wasn't already an album's worth of nearly as great to equally as great Queen anthems. Another One Bites the Dust, Fat Bottomed Girls, Somebody to Love, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Flash, Bicycle Race, Killer Queen... and Under Pressure, the newly-minted single that would kickstart Queen and collaborator David Bowie into the Eighties, each on their own trajectory.

It was an album I owned, and others quickly followed – Thriller, Off the Wall (my first cassette) and… others. They were all vital and absolutely not embarrassing, no sir. Yes, of course they are, and very few remain from those early, formative days, not even the inevitable Various Artists compilations, which will surely fill a future post. QGH was the important one because it represented two sides of a commitment to one group; greatest hits or not, I was planting my flag in the sand and saying “I like Queen, and six weeks of lawnmowing will attest to my desire to have their new record above lollies, comics, action figures or other childish pursuits.” It was not, I hasten to add, a lifelong love, and in fact probably lasted a couple of years before other artists and groups muscled their way in, but I never got rid of it – at least, not intentionally. 

This is a sound introductory album, eschewing chronological order to instead present a solid transition between new songs, to old standards, to new songs again - only Queen II misses out in having a representative on my initial vinyl release, and Hot Space's saving grace, the aforementioned Under Pressure rounds out the setlist. The album was an especial discovery to me: I'd never paid much attention to bass guitars before John Deacon's depth-plumbing intro to Another One Bites the Dust, and this is the earliest instance where I can clearly recall devouring an album's liner notes, poring over the reduced album cover reproductions (News of the World was especially gripping, for obvious reasons), and picking up 'knowledge' along the way.  As it goes with first purchases, the album was played and played and played until I had an approximation of every lyric (a sibling’s sneering at my interpretation “gunpowder gelatine” in Killer Queen has since been debunked – thanks, internet!), and for years afterwards my brain would be able to reproduce the entire album in order for its own amusement, meaning I never needed to dip any further into the group’s discography – and, in point of fact, still haven’t to this day. 

Truly an album that will last through time, and though the band’s future would necessarily dictate a follow-up (I’ve been curious but never dipped in, despite liking Works’, Magic’s and Innuendo’s singles) , to me later, longer editions, revisitations and remixes dilute the earlier version's impact - to say less of the ill-advised Volume III

Jet Junior has now discovered this album through an old cassette of his mum's, my original vinyl having long since been nicked to furnish my brother's record collection (booo!), and he loves it. Where once he stomped around the lounge miming along to Freddie's legendary Live Aid performance, now he acquaints himself with this decrepit technology, queuing up replays of Flash, Crazy Little Thing and, of course, Under Pressure. Touchingly, if not a little worryingly, he plays the tape with its plastic case meticulously placed front-on atop our old cassette player, mirrored at the other end by ‘his’ other prized cassette, a selection of James Bond themes in which his only interest is really Live and Let Die. Truly a chip off the old block.


  1. I can't remember what exactly my first cassette was... which means the repression is working...

  2. And they rocked me too!
    My first album was Flash Gordon, because Queen’s Greatest Hits was already everywhere (any cassette can eventually metamorphose into this album if left in a glove box for long enough, as we know).
    In the late nineties I remember buying a 'double CD set' of Queen's Greatest Hits volumes one and two (I already had both on tape) and was horrified to find that for some inexplicable reason the track order on the first had been changed. Same songs, mostly, but it seemed nothing short of blasphemy. It was no longer 'Queen's Greatest Hits', just a jumble of singles - you just don't mess around with a magic formula like this album.

  3. Yeah, you'll notice I resisted making the 'Good Omens' reference, but it's telling just how ubiquitous that bets of was - such a great package!

    Speaking of blasphemy (and that's a clear case), what's up with subsequent inclusions of Under Pressure being cut short one "this is our last chance"? It interrupts the scheme of the song - and even the Bowie compilations do it. Grrr!