I’m a fan of a lot of different bands and musicians, but there are two bands that have a bigger meaning to me. These are bands that I grew up with, and continue to cherish what they’ve brought to my life. One of those bands is Megadeth. The other is Queen. They couldn’t be any more different, but that’s the remarkable thing about music! Everyone has a story to tell and they do it in different ways…
I found out about Queen when I was only 10 years old. My dad wasn’t a huge rock fan, but he knew of some bands and liked listening to some classic rock. One day, one of his colleagues at the time gave him a compilation CD that included some of Freddie Mercury’s solo hits. It was called The Freddie Mercury Album. He was super busy with work at that time, but I was only 10 years old… I didn’t have that much to do… Sounded like the perfect time to check out that new CD we got… And it was the only introduction I needed. I found out shortly after that Queen had just released Made In Heaven and immediately bought the album. That was it! I was hooked. Queen was going to be in my life forever.
Here we are in 2018, and I am still a huge Queen fan. I’m a fan because I don’t just listen to the hits, I love everything they did. Sure, I like some albums more than others; but what kept them interesting was the fact that they were never afraid to try something new. I mean, Tie Your Mother Down, Another One Bites the Dust, and Crazy Little Thing Called Love could not be more different than one another – but that’s exactly why I love them. Queen is way more exciting than any other rock band for me. There’s no “formula” – whatever their mood called for, that’s what they wrote. When you stick to a formula, however great it might be at first, at some point things will start sounding the same. That was never the case with Queen. All 4 members had different tastes in music and together they were able to use that to their advantage.
I’m not going to suggest that Queen as a band is underrated. They don’t always get the credit they deserve, but they are one of the most popular bands that ever existed. Furthermore, thanks to Brian and Roger’s efforts, their legacy is as strong as it ever was. But we are talking about underrated albums; so, let me get right to it! I think Queen’s ‘70s stuff gets a lot of praise, as it should, but when it comes to their ‘80s material, lots of people tend to overlook their great work. The Miracle (1989) is an album that never gets the praise it deserves. It’s a remarkable album with lots of creativity, and I think it’s time listeners gave it the attention it should have received from the beginning…
When I read other people’s reviews of Queen, or of one of their albums, it’s clear to me that their ‘80s output is not as well liked as their ‘70s stuff. Understandable. The band embraced synthesizers in the ‘80s and even tried some disco and funk in 1982 with Hot Space. That alienated a lot of fans and continues to spark debate in online forums. I agree that the band had a stronger set of albums in the ‘70s. To me, Queen did no wrong in that decade; everything just sounds interesting, refreshing, and inspiring both musically and lyrically. But one side effect of Hot Space (1982), and to a degree the soundtrack to Flash Gordon (1980), was fans and reviewers treated all ‘80s output with the same brush. This is why I think The Miracle is incredibly underrated. I’ve even read some reviews from back in 1989 and I couldn’t believe how unfairly harsh they were.
After an incredibly successful decade, Queen started the 1980s with The Game. They’d already released Freddie’s rock’n roll extravaganza Crazy Little Thing Called Love the previous year, but the album also featured some other hits like Another One Bites the Dust and Play the Game. I personally rate this album highly. The production is solid, and along with the hits mentioned earlier, every other song also offers something unique but musically refreshing. But I don’t think I’m in the majority in thinking this way. Most reviewers frown upon this album mostly because Queen started using synths here and the sound was already getting into pop territory. Genre doesn’t bother me if the songs are good; and I think they are in here!
But where things went downhill for Queen, in terms of fan perception, started with Flash Gordon. Obviously, it’s the soundtrack to the film; so I’m sure there were some criteria they had to follow. But even so, you’d expect a more rock-oriented sound from the band. There is some amazing guitar work, but overall the album embraced synths heavily and presented a completely different sound – even for a band that was as diverse in songwriting as Queen was! And then we got Hot Space in 1982… Look, I’m a big fan and I love everything they did, including this one; but no one can deny that this album alienated a lot of fans at the time. Why? Because a band that used to set their own trends was now following the market. We were getting disco and funk and pop… and despite the fact that the songs still had the Queen magic, it just didn’t have the genius spark of the previous releases. Thus began an era of people doubting whether Queen would ever go back to their “roots”.
Queen’s response was 1984’s The Works, which was a huge improvement and gave us some great tracks like Hammer to Fall, Radio GaGa, I Want to Break Free and Is This the World We Created. Some of these were instant hits too! Fan opinion, however, was still divided. I don’t know for sure, but I think people were still under the shock of Hot Space and didn’t give this album enough attention. Though, I wouldn’t go so far as to say this was a “return to roots” album. Just listen to the drum sound and that alone will tell you the album still had some ‘80s pop and disco influences.
Around this time, some members were also exploring solo albums. It is no secret that the members of Queen didn’t always see eye to eye when it came to songwriting, and picking singles could sometimes be difficult. Also, if you are in this vicious cycle of tour-release album-tour-release album, etc… then it’s easy to have the urge to take a step back and focus on your own thing. Freddie released Mr. Bad Guy in 1985 (he thanked his band members “for not interfering” in the album’s liner notes), and Roger Taylor released his second solo album Strange Frontier a year before. A part of the reason for these solo works was the desire to release some songs that would have never found space on Queen albums. It’s also understandable that they may have wanted some space from each other. Their personalities, just like their songwriting, were so different that it’s not hard to imagine the kind of tension that existed at some point in the mid-‘80s. Anyway, whatever the reason was, all of these solo works were fueling rumors about the band splitting up.
The band’s response to these rumors was a brand new album in 1986. In reality, they weren’t even supposed to record anything in that year. But two things made the band members realize their collective identity was stronger than those of their individual ones: Live Aid in 1985 and working on One Vision in the same year. When Queen agreed to do Live Aid, I’m not sure if they realized this was going to be hailed as one of the best performances from any rock band ever, but that’s what they delivered. If you haven’t seen it already, go watch it on YouTube, you’ll be amazed what Queen was able to do with such a short amount of time. Then, when they collaborated on One Vision, which ended up becoming a part of the Iron Eagle film soundtrack, they felt reinvigorated. It was time to enter the studio again! What came out was A Kind of Magic. Some people think this is another soundtrack album, but it actually isn’t, even though one song was used on Iron Eagle and a lot of others were used in Highlander. This album got Queen closer to their “roots”, and it delivered some major hits, including the title track, One Vision, and Who Wants to Live Forever; but you’d rarely see A Kind of Magic mentioned as one of people’s favorite Queen albums. Some pop feeling still persists in here, and even though there were some strong tracks (Gimme the Prize is also a criminally underrated song!), I think Queen was saving that “magic” for their next release…
So, let’s get to The Miracle… I know it’s taken us a long time before we got our main subject, but I really wanted to give you a background because it’s hard to appreciate the significance of this record otherwise.
In the ‘80s, Queen partied, experienced the benefits – and pitfalls – of their fame, explored solo material, fueled rumors about splitting up, argued over songs… but by the time the late ‘80s arrived, they were now older, wiser, and more focused. It was time to crown this new-found maturity.
Of course, the recording sessions didn’t immediately begin. After A Kind of Magic, Freddie worked with Montserrat Caballé and released Barcelona, Roger released the first album with his side band The Cross, and Brian started working on his first solo album that wouldn’t be released until 1992. It was important for the band to explore all these venues; but by the time 1988 arrived, they were ready to hit the studio.
I should also mention here that right around this time (lots of sites cite 1987 as the year), Freddie was diagnosed with AIDS. And Brian was dealing with some personal issues as his father passed away in ’88 and his relationship with his wife Chrissy wasn’t going so well. Every rumor gave the paparazzi new excuses to haunt the members of the band (read the lyrics to Scandal…). But despite all the hardships and tough news, the guys persevered and started what eventually became The Miracle (1989).
The Miracle, to me, is one of their best albums. It’s right up there with their ‘70s work and Innuendo (1991) as far as I’m concerned. But as someone who’s read anything related to Queen I could get my hands on, I don’t really see this album getting the credit it deserves. Too often it’s grouped with the rest of their ‘80s input and I don’t think that that’s fair.
First of all, with The Miracle, the band opted to credit every single song to the entire band for the first time. They were probably sick of arguing over whose song gets to become a single or what even makes it to the album… This way, the band’s collective success took the front seat. Of course, every song originated from one particular member, but they all collaborated. So those songwriting credits were not lies – they really did write together as much as they could! And when they found out about Freddie’s terminal illness, it brought them even closer together. Freddie faced his illness with such strength and courage that he told his bandmates he did not want anything to be different. He just wanted to keep recording. And so they did. If you look at interviews with members of the bands from this era, you’ll notice that they really enjoyed these sessions.
From a production standpoint, this was very different than the earlier ‘80s material. Gone was the electronic snare sound that was so dominant in that decade. There were some synths in the sound, but instead of being the main driver of the songs, it was just there to provide an extra layer if the music called for it. And while some fans don’t consider this as a return to roots, I certainly do. This was bare-bones Queen right here! No gimmicks. No signs of “popular” trends. Just new Queen material.
Of course, some fans would criticize My Baby Does Me and Rain Must Fall, two songs Mercury and Deacon mainly wrote, because they sound different (i.e. not as heavy) than the rest of the songs. But that was exactly the point. Freddie and John wanted to break the cycle and introduce something different to the album. That way, it wouldn’t get too predictable. These songs are not my favorites on the album either, but I think some fans are definitely overreacting by not giving them a chance. Rain Must Fall, in particular, has a great melody, lyrical depth, and some fantastic guitar work from Brian May.
The main attraction, however, is the heavier tracks. Some of them are such a great glimpse into how Queen would collaborate together. The band members commented in ’89 that while recording The Miracle, they made a conscious decision to reflect the sound of the group rather than of one individual in the group. Like I said before, every track was originated by a particular member, but even if you didn’t know the whole album is credited to the entire band, you could still tell. The vibe is so positive – even though internally the band had a dark secret that they hadn’t told the public yet.
We begin with two super fun songs, Party and Khashoggi’s Ship. The first one has a great vocal line and is just a super upbeat song. The second track, which begins immediately after the opener, sets a much heavier tone. The lyrics are loosely based on Adnan Khashoggi and it’s another upbeat song, but this time Brian May’s guitars are much more at the focus. It’s a short song but it delivers a punch! I especially love the ending – it’s just pure hard rock Queen in one of its best forms!
The title track, The Miracle, is said to have originated from Mercury. It starts mellow as it talks about what things could be constituted as miracles; and one theme is that it would be a miracle if we could have peace on earth. John Deacon described the lyrics as “naive” in the sense that they’re a bit utopian. Musically, it’s a lot more melodic than some of the others on the album and towards the end there’s a cool tempo change. This song grows on you – if you couldn’t get into it at first, give it a few listens. You really appreciate the melody and the well-intentioned lyrics!
Then comes one of my favorite Queen tracks ever: I Want It All. Seriously, does anyone not like this song? It’s the brainchild of Brian May and features a lot of guitar! It is one of the heaviest songs the band has ever recorded. Freddie’s vocals are also incredible – I’ve always thought that Freddie would have made a great heavy metal frontman, as well as a rock frontman, if Queen had dived more into the metal territory. This song is proof of that. There’s a lot of great melody with some aggression in the guitars, the singing is excellent, and there’s some amazing lead work by May. One of my regrets in life is knowing Freddie never got to sing this live. What a treat that would have been!
And we don’t even stop there… There’s The Invisible Man, which keeps a great groove all throughout the song, and there’s Breakthru which pretty much was a combination of an idea from Freddie and one from Roger. The pace and the basslines of Breakthru kept such a cool and steady rhythm that it made the band think they were traveling on a train. Check out the video below!
Another two highlights to me are Scandal and Was It All Worth It, two great tracks with great riffs! Scandal is a slower song but has this dark vibe that works so well with the lyrical concept. As mentioned previously, the members of the band were starting to feel the invasive harassment of the paparazzi. They were witnessing how they could easily turn into just another reading material for the masses; and people who wrote about them wouldn’t even care whose lives they were ruining. It’s a really great, underrated track. Knowing how the media treated Mercury towards the end of his life, the song becomes even more poignant. Was It All Worth It, on the other hand, has a more positive concept. It’s basically the band asking themselves whether it was worth it to start this career and go through all the hardships they did. Spoiler alert: the answer was yes!
I should also add that the band had so much material during these sessions that so many songs didn’t make the cut. I won’t go into all of them because I’d like to keep the Underrated Albums series to the original album release, but I will mention one bonus track for your attention because I think it definitely should have been on the album. It’s called Hang On In There and you can easily find it in current versions of the album. I believe it was a bonus track on the CD versions when the album was first released. It’s a great track that shows some good acoustic work, as well as a great hard rock riff towards the end. I like it because it reminds me of how much fun the band must have had while recording the album. The song talks about never letting go of your hope and always working towards your goal. It sounds like a message to younger people; but I genuinely believe that they were also telling themselves that no matter what happened, there was still lots to be celebrated. You just gotta hang in there…
All in all, I think The Miracle is one of Queen’s best albums. It has a raw energy that some of the earlier ‘80s releases did not have and it served as a great reminder that this band had a lot of creativity among the 4 of them. It marked the first time ever that all songs were credited to the band… they just jammed together and built ideas around that. There’s lots of great guitar playing, lots of solid rock tunes, lots of melodies, interesting new ideas, and a great production that takes you away from the electronic/disco sounds of the decade and back into a solid rock sound. It shows a band who had gone through so much hardship and in-band arguments, yet came out of all of that with a huge respect and admiration for each other. I’ve known this album for more than 20 years now, and it just gets better every time.
So, there you have it… Queen has a few more albums that I consider “underrated”. Maybe I’ll write about them at a later time. But the one that is criminally underrated is The Miracle. Don’t believe reviewers that are so eager to trash Queen’s ‘80s input. But even if they did that, if they are still lumping The Miracle in with the rest of their ‘80s input and paint them with the same brush, it means they didn’t really pay attention. Give this one a full listen and judge for yourself. I’m confident you’ll love it.