Queen

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Mar 312009
 

Queen was my first musical love and, re-listening to these tunes for this post, I remember why. Few dispute Freddie Mercury’s position as one of the greatest frontmen of all time, but Brian May’s absurd guitar playing and Roger Taylor’s rock-solid drumming helped propel these tunes to another dimension. As a kid I never went beyond the greatest hits, and I never needed to. They’re that good. So here are some of said hits, done different.

Electric Six – Radio Ga Ga
The Detroit six-piece behind the über-catchy Danger! High Voltage! brings their electro-rock to this Metropolis-themed Queen hit. It’s loud, brash and sassy, and doesn’t forget to include the tune’s signature double-clap-along. [Buy]

Hayseed Dixie – Fat Bottomed Girls
This bluegrass tribute act is about as tongue-in-cheek as you can get (Hayseed Dixie = AC/DC. Get it?) and brings some down-home hootenanny fun to this ode to larger ladies everywhere. Queen hit publicity gold with double single for this and “Bicycle Race,” staging a naked bicycle race with plenty of, you guessed it, fat bottom girls. Check it. [Buy]

Xiu Xiu ft. Michael Gira – Under Pressure
This one at once clings to the original arrangement and pulls away from it, coming apart at the seams even while the performers take it very seriously. Having a female vocalist brings a new swagger to it (inspired perhaps by Annie Lenox’s masterful turn at the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert) while some dissonant horns threatens to bring the whole thing down. [Buy]

Beach House – Play the Game
Left off the indie-tastic Dark Was the Night compilation for some sort of licensing reasons (did Queen really not approve an AIDS benefit disc??), the wavering synths back some neo-folk singing, fragile even with the drum machine. [Buy]

Tenacious D – Flash
Jack Black and Kyle Gass aren’t exactly known for their covers, but this live one is a real gem. The song is just absurd enough as is to count as comedy, so their masterful acoustic playing is put on the spotlight to propel a wry take. If you wonder why it cuts off so suddenly, it’s because it’s an intro to their own “Wonderboy.” Watch the whole thing here. [Buy]

Ingram Hill – ‘39
It’s an irresistible chord progression, showing guitarist Brian May was no slouch at writing songs either, and does it justice with thumping drums, choir harmonies, and a bit of accordion. This comes off Killer Queen, the only Queen tribute comp worth getting, which includes Joss Stone’s slow-burn “Under Pressure” and the Flaming Lips’ spastic “Bohemian Rhapsody.” [Buy]

Laibach – One Vision
German Industrial giant Laibach lets loose with a stomping translation called “Geburt Einer Nation” (Birth of a Nation) that Wire magazine proclaimed one of the greatest covers ever. It’s definitely different, as if the song’s optimism was on the war path for your head. [Buy]

Upsilon Acrux – Bicycle Race
Some sort of low-fi, toy-piano freakout, this one can’t help make you smile at the A.D.D. absurdity of these guys. Like ten covers in one, they transfer from grunge to lounge without flinching, adding some space-age effects en route. [Buy]

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – Killer Queen
Known as “Britain’s national orchestra,” London’s Philharmonic doesn’t just churn out the standard boring “classical” take on rock music. Their tribute discs are arranged and performed by the very finest composers and players England has to offer, and you can hear the difference. Off of their Passing Open Windows Queen tribute, “Killer Queen” blasts out with horns, drums, and…what is that familiar interlude? “Good bye, everybody…” [Buy]

The Busters – We Are the Champions
True story: In high school my band decided at the last minute to close one of our shows with this one. The only problem: none of us were particularly good, and we didn’t have time to learn the chords. So we just got the audience singing loud enough to mask out dissonance. Thankfully, the samba-reggae Busters did their homework. [Buy]

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