Even for a band as seasoned as Queen, a new tour presents certain tribulations. For example, as they resume their Rhapsody World Tour – including a 10-date residency at London’s O2 Arena – Brian May, Roger Taylor and Adam Lambert are facing a familiar conundrum. Just how do you adequately represent Queen’s capacious back catalogue in a single live set? “We do just over two hours, which is time for just over 30 songs,” says Taylor. “There’s that constant challenge – to fit in big hit singles alongside slightly deeper cuts. God help anyone trying to whittle our back catalogue down to a Top 30!”
As it transpires, both Taylor and May are fascinated by Uncut’s entirely impartial and scientific list of Queen’s best songs. “That looks like a good mix of hits, live favourites and album tracks,” admits Brian May. “I can imagine that lots of fans will argue for days about this selection! But it’s heartening that there is such depth in our catalogue. There are so many deep cuts we’d love to do live again. Part of me would love to do a whole set of obscure album tracks. But you can’t afford to do that when you have so many hit singles that people expect to hear. As Prince used to say: ‘There are too many hits, darling!’”
Over the last 50 years, Queen have recorded nearly 200 songs – including 40 hit singles. As a consequence, many of the band’s biggest singles don’t make the setlist – songs like “Flash”, “You’re My Best Friend”, “Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy”, “Play The Game” and “A Kind Of Magic” haven’t been played in years.
Too many hits? Not a bad problem to have. But what Brian May is uncomfortable about is explaining what some of those hits mean… “I’m so glad that Freddie was never grilled by journalists, asking him the exact meaning of “Bicycle Race” or whatever,” says May. “Part of me is uncomfortable about analysing what these songs mean. I love that no-one understands “Bohemian Rhapsody”. It means that anyone is free to put their own interpretation to the song. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that the intention of the writer is just a small part of what a song means. There is always an autobiographical element to every song, but so much is in the eye – or the ear – of the beholder, of the interpreter. That’s how music should be.”