I’ve been to “Rock and Roll Heaven on Earth,” and it can be described in three words: Greatest Video Hits. What more needs to be said? Goodnight everyone, thanks for coming. End of review.
Okay, I can’t get away with that. But I suspect it won’t take much salesmanship to persuade rock fans they should snap up this collection of three hours of 33 Queen videos on two DVDs in glorious DTS 5.1 Surround Sound. Well, there are folks who already have this material on previously released packages—it’s everyone else who needs to get caught up. Perhaps I should press the point that those still listening to their favorite music on their computers and not through five speakers properly placed around their living rooms now have the ultimate excuse to upgrade their systems.
Consider: If you want to experience “Bohemian Rhapsody” anew and once again feel the chills racing over your body, this is the disc for you. See the young Queen debuting on Top of the Pops lip-syncing “Killer Queen.” Toss in the remastered “Another One Bites the Dust,” “Fat Bottomed Girls,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “Somebody to Love,” “Tie Your Mother Down,” “We Will Rock You,” and “We Are the Champions.” That’s just a few of the titles on disc one.
While billed as containing three hours of music, this set is actually double that. After feeling the full wave of Queen’s first video decade, you can start all over and watch the iconic imagery accompanied by the commentary of guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor with occasional clips from interviews with singer Freddie Mercury and bassist John Deacon. Throughout each track, they recall the circumstances of creating those videos as well as sharing their opinions of what we’re seeing. With the exception of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Taylor and May feel many early Queen videos were assembled by filmmakers with minimal input from the band. We hear adjectives like contrived, artificial, and sterile. It doesn’t appear they enjoyed the tedious task of making films created for the sole purpose of getting their music on television.
Ironically, it’s on disc two where Taylor and May get more animated describing the videos of their second era. While many critics either downplay or dismiss outright Queen’s music from 1982 to 1989, May and Taylor have much to say about the videos for their songs. They’re justifiably proud of “Radio Ga Ga” with its use of footage from Fritz Lang’s 1927 Metropolis. They explain the humor in “I Want to Break Free,” a cross-dressing spoof of the British TV series Coronation Street that few Americans understood. They share insights both in filming and in the recording studio regarding hits like “A Kind of Magic,” “I Want It All,” and “Under Pressure” including who they felt were the better directors and how the lighting and colors were chosen.
It’s interesting to hear their very different perspectives on songs like “Breakthru” and “Scandal” which May likes, Taylor doesn’t. I was a bit surprised both praised “The Invisible Man” as I thought that one was near the bottom of the Queen barrel. Then again, I enjoy “Body Language,” although I agree with the gents it was un-Queen as a song could get. Did you know that the band was surprised “Friends Will Be Friends” didn’t rise to the anthem status so many of their earlier songs achieved?
Well, there are seven more tunes I didn’t mention, but a six-hour treasure trove like this can only be summarized, not recapitulated in full. I must admit that disc one is pure magic, joyous, exuberant, affirming, dramatic—as good as rock has ever been. Disc two has its moments, many moments, but it’s not as magical or as engaging from start to finish. There’s songs with the added poignancy of knowing Freddie Mercury is dying but you can’t tell it from his energetic performances. But when Queen’s drummer admits some of the latter songs bore him, I can’t feel bad for agreeing with him.
It’s important to note all of this material appeared in two best-selling volumes back in 2002 and 2003 in both stereo and Surround Sound editions. In fact, those sets had many features not included on this package. In this form, Greatest Video Hits is essentially a re-issue of the earlier sets, putting the videos together in one place and dumping all the featurettes and alternate versions. So listeners now have a new option that doesn’t supersede the original releases but might be just the right addition to libraries without them.