Queen still split opinion in the rock world, despite their palatial achievements and show-stealing performances across a simply stunning career. There remain doubters who refuse to recognise their magnificence, and if you do happen to be such a naysayer, then these five isolated tracks prove why you should, at the very least, put some respect on Brian May’s name.
Before Queen formed in 1970, May and Roger Taylor played together in previous outfit Smile, but the band evaded any scale of success. When their singer, Tim Staffell, left the group, Taylor and May were ready to hang up their instruments. However, super fan Farrokh Bulsara intervened and convinced the duo to form a new group with him as the lead singer.
Around this time, Bulsara adopted the Freddie Mercury persona, and Queen was born out of Smile’s ashes. Mercury had that star power they needed, and over the next couple of years, the band would lock themselves away, working tirelessly in the studio honing their chemistry before sharing their eponymous debut album in 1973.
Each member of the group brought a unique sprinkling of magic to their sound, and over the next few years, the world collectively ascended into a state of Queenmania.
While Mercury rightly receives praise from every thinkable angle, May’s role in Queen’s fairytale story is understated. May etched out guitar solo’s that remains stamped in the minds of the hoi polloi and added an abundance of rock credibility to the group. To put it into perspective, Sammy Hagar from Van Halen once said, “I think Brian May has one of the great guitar tones on the planet, and I really, really love his guitar work.”
Here are five spellbinding isolated tracks that support Hagar’s statement and prove why May is one of the greatest to ever pick up a guitar.
5 isolated Queen guitar tracks
Queen – ‘One Vision’
‘One Vision’ is a testament to the meritocracy which was Queen and how they operated in an atypical way to every other rock group. All four band members worked together on the lyrics to the track for the first time, and the title of the song couldn’t have been any more fitting.
It wasn’t the usual way that Queen worked, but Mercury wanted to try something new, and his eminent attitude reaped the rewards on ‘One Vision’. May’s imitable guitar sound kicks in within the first moments of the track, and there’s no escaping its sheer magnetism from that point in. Hearing his part isolated is a bonafide treat.
Queen – ‘Killer Queen’
‘Killer Queen’ was the group’s second hit in their native country and made America embrace them. The sumptuous way that May makes his guitar weep on the track is an opulent delight and showcases his clever craftsmanship.
“This is a perfect pop record and one of Freddie’s greatest songs,” May told Q in 2008. “It’s beautifully constructed, and it’s also got one of the solos I’m most proud of.”
In the Days of our Lives documentary, May commented: “Every slice of that record is pure pop perfection. Little things that visit once and come again, like the little bell in the second verse.”
Queen – ‘We Are The Champions’
Queen are feasibly the most grandiose rock band in history, and ‘We Are The Champions’ is the perfect example of this side of their artistry. A song as imposing as ‘We Are The Champions’ is hand-crafted for sold-out sports stadiums, and the isolated guitar version makes you hear the track in a whole new light.
May’s role in the track is surprisingly subtle, and his hair-splittingly precise technique creates a sound that lends itself idyllically for Mercury to turn into something majestic.
Queen – ‘The Show Must Go On’
‘The Show Must Go On’ is unequivocally Queen’s most emotional hour and provided the finale on Innuendo, the last album released with Mercury. At the time of recording, the singer’s battle with AIDS had worsened, and May wrote this track as an ode to Mercury’s tenacity as he continued to plough on with the band despite his ill health.
“At the beginning, it was just this chord sequence, but I had this strange feeling that it could be somehow important, and I got very impassioned and went and beavered away at it, ” May said in 1994.
He added: “I sat down with Freddie, and we decided what the theme should be and wrote the first verse. It’s a long story, that song, but I always felt it would be important because we were dealing with things that were hard to talk about at the time, but in the world of music, you could do it.”
Queen – ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’
There’s no doubt that Brian May and Queen’s epitaph will be ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Often a rock band’s most famous song isn’t one that truly reflects their mastery, but with Queen, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It originally came from the luminous mind of Mercury, and the group then pieced it together to create a track that turned out to be their magnum opus.
‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is lodged fervently in the mind of millions, and there’s a reason why it amassed such universal appeal. Hearing Brian May’s efforts on the track isolated gives you a newfound respect for his part in drawing the best out of Mercury and helping to create Queen’s pièce de résistance.
“That was a great moment, but the biggest thrill for us was actually creating the music in the first place,” May recalled to Q in 2008. “I remember Freddie coming in with loads of bits of paper from his dad’s work, like Post-it notes, and pounding on the piano. He played the piano like most people play the drums. And this song he had was full of gaps where he explained that something operatic would happen here and so on. He’d worked out the harmonies in his head.”