While 1980 technically marked the tenth anniversary of Queen, there were a few factors that contributed to putting off celebrations: the first, and most important, was that while Freddie, Brian, and Roger had performed their first concert together as Queen in July 1970, it wasn't until February 1971 that John joined the group; the second, more practical, factor was that Queen had already released a studio album (The Game) and a soundtrack recording (Flash Gordon) that year, so to release a third LP was viewed as flooding the market with product.
What appeared in November 1981 (just in time for the holiday season, naturally) was Greatest Hits, chronicling Queen's climb up the charts from their very first appearance (Seven Seas Of Rhye) to the present day. (Some countries included Under Pressure, but the UK release didn't.) One of the caveats of the compilation was that it was to feature hit singles only; if it didn't appear as the A-side of a single or reach the UK Top 30, then it had no home on the album. Obviously, there were some concessions for overseas tracklists, which can be found here, but for UK pressings, these rules held true for both this release and its follow-up. The appearance of We Will Rock You, which was never a UK A-side until the Five collaboration in 2000, is the only exception to the rule.
The album came during a transitional phase in Queen's career: they had just released the transatlantic hit The Game and just performed their first concerts in South America (February/March 1981) and Mexico (September 1981), which helped exponentially in sales for the album. In 2006, it was reported that the album has sold over 5.4 million copies in the UK alone (making it that country's best-selling album of all time) and over 25 million worldwide.
Greatest Hits remained the only available Queen compilation in the US and the UK (except for the 1984 North American-only release, 15 Of The Best until the second installment, Greatest Hits II, in 1991. Inevitably, various record company switches worldwide meant that several other compilations would appear over the years; most significantly, when Hollywood Records acquired Queen's back catalog in 1990, one of the first orders of business was to come up with an updated greatest hits package, also titled Greatest Hits, which came six months after Classic Queen, a sort of companion release to the UK's Greatest Hits II. Since then, the original UK greatest hits package has been reissued countless times worldwide, leaving many nostalgic for a time when Queen weren't quite so compilation-happy.
Click here for international tracklistings.
Record Mirror, 1981 (5 stars)
Before the picture book, video package and monogrammed tea towels, comes this interesting compilation album culled from the past 10 years.
Queen just had to do something for the home market of course, now that touring South America and drinking tea with local dignitaries has become almost a permanent fixture in the band's life, Christmas is coming as well and every Queen fan will want a copy.
You'll get 17 value packed tracks from the band's struggling early days to their current triumphs. In Queen's case such retrospection is well justified and this album gives us all a chance to take a breath and re-examine the phenomena that is Mercury, May, Deacon and Taylor.
This album isn't arranged in any particular chronological order but it's a well chosen and balanced selection of their meisterworks. An hour or so of continuous nostalgia for the uninitiated, and a heady taster for half believers.
That evergreen classic 'Bohemian Rhapsody' is served up first. Arguably the most enduring song by any act in the last decade, originally it was in danger of never being played as a single because, lasting more than five minutes, it was considered too long for radio play.
The second track 'Another One Bites The Dust', is in total contrast and throughout the album Queen don't rely overmuch on specific groupings of mega hits. Note also how 'Bites' pre-dates the styles supposedly coined by many of our hipper new white soul acts.
Queen's 'Jazz' period isn't one that I'm very partial to and two tracks from the album are included here 'Fat Bottomed Girls' (the track that caused uproar from fat bottomed feminists) and 'Bicycle Race', topped off by that annoying extended bicycle bell chorus.
Side two mainly contrasts a trio from their quirky romantic period - 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love', 'Somebody To Love' and 'Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy' - with the meat and potatoes of tracks like 'Now I'm Here' and 'Seven Seas Of Rhye'. 'Flash' is also included, that superlative futuristic film music that contributed so much to the overall success of the movie 'Flash Gordon'.
Essential listening and I understand that the cover picture was shot by Lord Snowdon. An album with class all the way through.