I had the privilege of seeing Queen twice in concert back in the Eighties, specifically on the band’s triumphant 1980 North American Tour behind the album The Game and then again on their trouble-plagued Hot Space North American Tour in 1982. Both concerts were outstanding though for different reasons. In one case, the mood was celebratory, while the other had the band’s backs pinned to the wall, and they were taking no prisoners that night. And, to fully get your mind around the Queen experience, you HAD to see them live.
While live albums by artists can be transcendent for those artists (Kiss, Peter Frampton and Cheap Trick all released career altering albums, making it difficult for the artists to duplicate their live success in the studio, for whatever reasons), while others who were known to be fantastic live performers have often released lackluster live albums, much as Queen did, especially during their actual run of popularity. Overall, the band has released eight live albums, with four of then posthumous releases and one recorded when guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor temporarily joined forces with rock powerhouse singer Paul Rogers, formerly of Bad Company and Free. I will NEVER count any of the albums released by the Queen + Paul Rodgers lineup that released a live and a studio album. So, this ranking will be about those live recordings with the late great Freddie Mercury holding the microphone.
So, let’s get this thing rolling.
1. Queen Rock Montreal (2007) – This was the album the band should have released as soon as the band knew Hot Space was becoming their first commercial flop. If the band had released this document from their 1980 North American tour, when Queen might have actually become the biggest band in the world after spending the better part of a decade acting like they were. Maybe, this live album could have righted the ship, so to speak. Instead, the USA quickly turned their backs on Freddie and the boys just because their new music made people want to dance instead of ROCK.
2. Live at Wembley ’86 (1990). I do not know whether the band knew this concert was going to be their last or not. Yet, they came out and just slayed the audience just a year after their show-stealing performance at Live Aid. However, as this double-CD set proves, Queen were masterful musicians and Freddie was the greatest frontman of all-time.
3. A Night at the Odeon: Hammersmith 1975 (2015). This album documents Queen’s rise to the upper echelon of rock-dom as they toured behind their classic A Night at the Opera. I will never understand why this double-album set was never released during the band’s heyday. Then again, they never really needed a recording break until 1979, so what do I know? This album proves the band were finally reaching the audience they always deserved.
4. Live at the Rainbow ’74 (2014). During 1974, the band released two great albums: Queen II and Sheer Heart Attack. For the UK tours in support of these albums, they ended both tours with the band playing sold-out shows at London’s old famous Rainbow This album has both shows, displaying Queen’s growth throughout their most important year. By the end of the last show on the Sheer Heart Attack Tour, once can hear a confident band buoyed by their artistic growth through these two albums and back tours.
5. On Fire: Live at the Bowl (2004). Once again, the band’s label dipped into their archives to find a live record. However, they stuck to a very good show from the band’s latter days, so nothing on this album is particularly revelatory. Basically, it is a solid live set, but since it is taken from the same tour as three other albums, I get a little bored with yet another tour document from the Kind of Magic tour.
6. Live Killers (1979). This was Queen’s first live album, released in the summer of 1979, to cash in during a little down time for the band. Set-wise, nearly all of it contains their pre-The Game hits, except for “Somebody to Love.” Unfortunately, the album does not capture Queen’s majesty in concert. I am not sure why, but this album is just plain lackluster.
7. Live Magic (1986). The band released this live album after A Kind of Magic flopped in the US in an attempt to rally their US fan base. Unfortunately, this live album was flatter than a pancake. As a matter of fact, I was just listening to this CD as I tried to type this blog and literally, have been fighting sleep the whole time! Man, is this one boring album.
So, folks, there you have it. My own ranking of Queen’s seven live albums, ranked from best to worst. Let me know what your order is in the space below. Until next time, stay frosty everyone!
PS – Just got word that legendary comic book creator Stan Lee has passed away at the aged of 95. He made cameo appearances in most, if not all of the Marvel Universe movies. He actually created Spider Man, the Fantastic Four, and my personal favorite from my youth, the X-Men. RIP Stan Lee!