WITH ALL THE HYPE around the new Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, and a new book about their music, Queen: Album By Album, coming out soon, I’ve naturally been listening to a lot of the legendary band’s music, lately.
As readers of this blog and listeners of the Weapon of Self-Distraction Podcast know, as much as I love any of my favorite bands’ music that made them great, I’m also a fan of nearly every/any band’s later and latest music. The hits, the classics…I’ve heard them so many times, since my youth…I’m not necessarily tired of those big radio hits, but how many more times do I need to hear them? With most bands, there’s so much more great music to really dig into, including lesser-known hits and album cuts that a lot of fans might never have heard, or, remember. In the case of Queen, I really don’t need to hear “We Will Rock You” a lot anymore, though there are plenty of Queen songs that I will never tire of: “Tie Your Mother Down,” “It’s Late,” and “You’re My Best Friend” come immediately to mind.
FOR A LOT of Queen fans, especially those who grew up in the 70’s and early 80’s, the last hit that really made an impact, at least in North America, might be “Radio Gaga” from the album The Works in 1984. Many might not know that Queen released some really strong albums after that, until Freddie Mercury’s death in 1991; this included the last album recorded with Freddie, Innuendo and, posthumously, Made In Heaven.
PRIOR TO THOSE last albums, the band released the album The Miracle, in 1989. A huge hit around the world. it didn’t do huge numbers in the U.S., peaking at #24 on the Billboard album chart. Fans in the states likely know just one song from the album that got a good amount of radio play here, “I Want It All.” While that’s a killer song, there’s another from the album that stands far above all the others, that should have been a single. This particular song is not only the best song on the album but I think its at the very least one of Queen’s twenty best songs – I might put it in their top ten.
“WAS IT ALL WORTH IT” is credited as written by Freddie, though the entire band contributed bits. Amazing and powerful, autobiographical and incredible, the huge sound and orchestration reminds me a lot of their best 70’s songs. The song goes through a winding sonic journey: starting with a fanfare-like keyboard motif, then…BAM: a simply monstrous riff from Brian May, that’s giving me chills as I write this. Freddie’s lyrics immediately announce and asks some existential questions:
What is there left for me to do in this life? Did I achieve what I had set in my sights?
Am I a happy man, or is this sinking sand ? Was it all worth it? Was it all worth it?
From there, to me at least, Freddie tells the story of the band: “Yeah, now hear my story, let me tell you about it/We bought a drum kit, I blew my own trumpet/Played the circuit, thought we were perfect…” and “Staying up all night, was it all worth it (hey yeah)/Living breathing rock ‘n’ roll (ah), a Godforsaken life.”
And reminding people that that, “yes, we were vicious, yes we could kill/Yes we were hungry, yes we were brill…” Oh yes, Queen certainly were! And “Was It All Worth It” is a reminder that this late in their career they still killed. And rocked, too, because at 3:42 Brian comes in with an amazing solo that should remove any doubt about that.
There’s the huge chorus, with a hook you won’t forget; there’s Brian’s so-familiar guitar tone and muscular flourishes throughout. The song harkens back to their 70’s best, with operatic, multi-layered vocals, and crazy orchestration – yes that’s a timpani, in the symphony (!) – in the bridge that follows the guitar solo.
In the end, before another huge guitar solo (and the riffs underneath these solos simply destroy), as if we didn’t already know the answer to Freddie’s question, he exclaims:
“Ooh living breathing rock ‘n’ roll this never ending fight/Was it all worth it, was it all worth it?/Yes it was a worthwhile experience/Ha ha ha ha haa/It was worth it.”
“Was It All Worth It” is five minutes and nearly fifty seconds of brilliance that includes everything that made Queen amazing, wonderful and powerful.
Read about The Miracle, and every album Queen recorded, in the new book by rock journalist Martin Popoff, QUEEN: ALBUM BY ALBUM. Popoff convenes a cast of 19 Queen experts, rock journalists and superfans – including Paul McCartney, Dee Snider, and Queen producer Mack – to discuss all 15 of the band’s studio albums. The results are freewheeling discussions delving into the individual songs, the circumstances that surrounded the recording of each album, the band and contemporary rock contexts into which they were released, and more.