Monday, April 28, 2008

The Best Queen Song

I had to take The Boy out to practice driving yesterday. He's just turned 16 and will be getting his license soon and it falls on me to be the one to teach him that you have to stop at a red light even when a right turn on red is allowed. You would think that it would fall on the driver's education class to teach him that, but, there you go.

To distract me from impending doom, I mentioned to The Boy as we were driving that this week I wanted to get some "Best of Everythings" for letters I hadn't used yet -- Q, X, and Z. So I said to him, "Give me some things that start with Q." Here is the entire list The Boy gave me, in order and verbatim:

"Quaker Steak & Lube."
Quitters, like people who quit smoking.
Thirst quenchers.
"Swing Heil," like they said in the movie "Swing Kids" with Christian Bale.
"Quinn Gray, the best backup quarterback on the Jaguars."

He then had one more thing to add to the list, and he added it like this:

The Boy: That famous Quincy guy.
Me: Quincy?
The Boy: No.
Me: Quincy Jones?
The Boy: No. No. The one that was president. Quincy Adams.
Me: John Quincy Adams?
The Boy: Yeah.

I liked that in listing things that start with "Q" The Boy did not feel bound to actually list things that start with "Q." You can't teach that kind of creative thinking. Just ask his teachers. Or maybe you shouldn't ask his teachers, since they're responsible for him thinking the president was named Quincy Adams.

I gave serious consideration to going with "Quakers." But what are they The Best at? Being on oatmeal boxes? So I picked out of that list Queen, and decided that I'd pick The Best Queen Song for you. And I also decided that it was not going to be "Bohemian Rhapsody" because that song has been overplayed since "Wayne's World." In fact, as I mulled over the songs that could qualify, I rejected most of them quickly and for easy reasons:

We Will Rock You? Overplayed. We Are The Champions? Same, plus, pleh. All Dead, All Dead? Too depressing. Fat-Bottomed Girls? Well, I thought about that, but rejected it for the same reason I rejected Bicycle Race -- Queen seems to be trying a bit too hard on those to be campy and fun and cool, and the reference to "Vietnam or Watergate" seems a bit dated in Bicycle Race. Same with the whole rest of that era.

I also rejected Another One Bites The Dust for two reasons: 1. I used to rollerskate to it at "Skate World" and 2. "Weird Al" parodied it. And I rejected all the rest that didn't make the short list because most of them I've never heard and if I've never heard them they're not very good. Sorry, but that's the way it is. If Queen, or Queen fans, wanted me to consider them, they should have made sure I listened to them before today. I can't be responsible for their lack of diligence.

That left me with the short list: Don't Stop Me Now, A Kind of Magic, I Want To Break Free and Radio Ga-Ga.

Let's look at each of them. Here's Don't Stop Me Now:

Plusses: It was in Shaun of the Dead, which was an awesome movie. Plus it's fast and if you put it on your "running" playlist on your iPod and it comes on when you're getting to the end where you've got to get up that humongous hill, it might give you that little bit of adrenaline that you need. (Common People by William Shatner is also good for that, but I digress.) And it's got that middle part with the drums and chanting and then it goes crazy.

Minuses: It was in Shaun of the Dead, which means a bunch of people know it who aren't really Queen fans, and that sort of waters it down. Posers. And what does it mean that Freddy Mercury wants to make supersonic men and women out of us? Not clear.

Next, consider A Kind of Magic:

Plusses: That video is really kind of awesome. Shouldn't Queen get credit for that? The beagle at 2:50 looks a lot like a beagle I had named "Sam." We had to give him away because he couldn't be housebroken. That alligator also is phenomenal. (It's an alligator because of the nose, you know.

Minuses: Isn't this song kind of Dungeons & Dragons-y? Also, Freddy asks Is this a kind of magic? but then says There can be only one. So if there's only one kind of magic, then the song should be The Kind of Magic.

On to I Want To Break Free.

Plusses: Listen to that guitar midway through. That's great. That's so un-Queen-like that it really sets you back. The song as a whole is really very stirring, isn't it? Listen to this the day that you're going to go in and tell your boss it's either a raise or you walk, dammit.

Minuses: Or, don't. Because as I listen to it more and more, I think it's about leaving someone you're living with and going off with a new love. But being broken up about it because the life he's got is pretty comfortable now. So you might go in to ask for a raise and instead break up your happy family for what turns out to be a passing fancy. Think this through! Take your time! Don't make major life decisions in the course of three minutes of guitar and synthesizer.

And, finally, Radio Ga-Ga.

Plusses: I chose that video for a reason. Did you see that? Freddy and Queen made the entire freakin' world rock. They were all clapping along and doing every single thing Freddy asked them to. They even at the end repeated his "Ay-oh" chants and those weren't even part of the song -- they tried the yodel. You kids think your "Maroon 5" and 50-Cents are stars and all, but they don't have one-one-billionth the charisma and magnetism and talent that Freddy Mercury demonstrated at Live Aid with this song.

And they did it to a song that has the words ga-ga right in the title. Was that supposed to be a prank on us? Rock stars in the 70s and 80s were always lamenting how radio was dying and videos were taking over and otherwise writing odes to radio, but rarely did they rise to such a stirring, anthemic level as this -- the feeling and music combining to overcome what otherwise would be a kind of inane topic. This song made me care about radio, too.

Finally, let's give some credit for this rhyme: "Stick around, 'cause we might miss you/when we grow tired of all this visual."

Minuses: I can't find a single flaw with this song.

Radio Ga Ga hits all the marks you want from a Queen song: great guitar, anthemic chorus, weird topic, synthesizer, swelling crescendos of chords and emotions at the same time... when it comes to Queen, all you should want to hear is Radio Ga Ga.

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