Pick number ten of the great album game (that’s Pick X for Super Bowl fans, wait–– I don’t want to pay the NFL licensing fees–– that’s Pick X for “The Big Game” fans).
My first pick was The Beatles, and I am finishing with Queen. Two British bands, each made an indelible mark in rock history. These bands are also two anchors of fond memories of my best friend Joe Riccitelli, who cancer took from our world on December 30, 1999.
Growing up in Hubbard, Ohio, Joe lived three backyards away. Although I have six brothers, Joe was my seventh.
When we were ten or eleven years old, we were Beatles fanatics. Joe, another neighbor named Ernie Stinson and I would meet in Joe’s garage and pretend we were The Beatles (it was a thing, okay?). Joe would swipe a pack of his father’s cigarettes (
Joe had two badminton racquets. Since we three bandmates trying to play the Fab Four, one of us would be John, one Paul, and one Ringo (there were only TWO guitars–– Rickenbacker badminton racquets!). Joe had a terrific voice, and Ernie’s wasn’t bad. I sounded like a squeaky toy run over by a truck. So I usually got stuck being Ringo. I could pretend to drum and nod my head with a lit ciggy butt dangling from my lips (just like in the Beatles movies!).
We were cool kids. Bad boys.
Fast forward to years later when Joe and I became Queen fanatics (Ernie had moved away–– was he on tour, why didn’t he take us?). Now that we were legitimate teens, we were smoking our own cigarettes, not stolen ones. No coupons for us. We didn’t pretend to be Queen in Joe’s garage. Nope. We’d drive around singing Queen–– like in Wayne’s World.
We even drank beer. We liked beer!
We saw Queen live twice in Cleveland, and the band was phenomenal. Freddie Mercury (birth certificate name: Farrokh Bulsara) was an incredibly charismatic performer who owned the crowd from the moment he stepped on stage. The band was tight as a new olive jar in zero gravity. Brian May created a guitar sound like no other–– crisp, vibrant, spine seducing–– the result of his astrophysicist brain applied to electric guitar electronics.
On vinyl, the first two Queen albums, cleverly titled Queen and Queen II staked the band as a legit hard rock, progressive act. With their third album Sheer Heart Attack, they showed more versatility with all four band members contributing songs. Mercury’s Killer Queen became an international hit. But it was 1975’s A Night At The Opera that busted them wide open. At the time, it was the most expensive album ever produced.
The album opened with Death On Two Legs, an intimate f-u from Mercury to the band’s old manager. From there, the band explores a world of musical genres–– Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon puts Mercury in a time machine as he trips us into the 1920s. Then, it shifts into Roger Taylor’s I’m In Love With My Car, porn for gearheads. Next is one of my favorite Queen songs, John Deacon’s You’re My Best Friend, with a melodic hook that sets itself deep and reels you in. Followed by a Brian May song he described as sci-fi skittle, “39”, then, May’s “Sweet Lady” and completing side one with Mercury’s “Seaside Rendezvous”, another blast to the past complete with muted horns, tap dancing, and a kazoo for good measure. All with the layered harmonies only Queen could do.
Side two opens with the weakest song on the album, Brian May’s The Prophet Song. It’s based on a dream May had while battling hepatitis. It is very prog-rocky, and long at over eight minutes. Cut two is Mercury’s haunting and beautiful Love of My Life, complete with a harp (not played by Harpo, surprising given the Marx Brothers title of this album). Cue the ukulele for the next track, Mercury’s Good Company, with May laying in some sweet guitar licks. This sets up the band’s best-known song, Bohemian Rhapsody. Scaramouche, there has never been a song like this one–– mixing real life with fantasy and offering no escape from reality, etc. The band closes the album with a heroic rendition of God Save The Queen with the Queen Mum playing glockenspiel.
I may have gotten that last part wrong.
A Night At The Opera is a treat. The band would go on to make more great music and deliver amazing performances–– Queen at Live Aid, anyone?
The world lost a great artist when Mercury died in 1991. And whenever I hear Queen, I remember Joe, my great friend who I lost, my bandmate I sang with and shared so many great times.
There you have it–– my ten picks (eleven albums, I cheated a little) and why I love them. Because music is so personal, I also know this list is fluid, an organic process subject to change. I battled with albums and artists that almost made this ten collection but didn’t–– Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde, The Who Quadrophenia, Temptations, Led Zepplin II, Jimi, The Clash London Calling, Ricki Lee Jones debut album, Sam and Dave’s Hold On I’m Comin’, and on and on.
I haven’t even touched jazz, classical, country, western swing, theatre music, blues, or bluegrass.
I’m thankful all these musical styles exist. Any great song can instantly transport one to a time and place and feeling.
Music is a time machine, an audio miracle that moves us, jump starts our emotions and give you a bump of dopamine with a chaser of uncut joy.
Think about your list. Indulge and lose yourself in the soundtrack your life.
Thanks for reading. And fuck cancer!