The best Freddie Mercury songs reveal an artist committed to exploring all avenues of expression. “I can dream up all kinds of things,” he said.
Freddie Mercury loved writing songs and said inspiration came to him with such force sometimes that he was “known to scribble down lyrics in the middle of the night without even putting the light on”. From his earliest songs with Queen, Mercury built a reputation as one of the most popular songwriters of his generation, and the best Freddie Mercury songs reveal an artist committed to exploring every musical avenue open to him.
“A lot of my songs are fantasy, I can dream up all kinds of things,” said the singer, who wrote some of the rock band’s most memorable songs. He also went on to pen songs for an acclaimed solo album, Mr Bad Guy, in 1985.
Here is our pick of the 20 best Freddie Mercury songs, chosen to provide a rounded view of his work both with Queen and as a solo artist.
20: ‘Let’s Turn It On’
After his hugely successful career with Queen, Freddie Mercury took a break in the mid-80s to record his solo album, Mr Bad Guy. “I was always keen to do a solo album,” explained Mercury. “I just wanted it to be the right time and the right place so that I could actually work properly on the songs that I wanted to do before I got too old. I had a lot of ideas bursting to get out and there were a lot of musical territories I wanted to explore which I really couldn’t do within Queen.” The album opened with his fast-paced, synthesiser-driven dance song ‘Let’s Turn It On’. Mercury played synthesisers on the record, along with Canadian session musician Fred Mandel.
19: ‘Foolin’ Around’
One of Mercury’s regular sayings was “we’re fooling around” – it was how the singer described his collaboration with David Bowie for ‘Under Pressure’ – and he used it to explain his behaviour on stage. For his first solo album, Mercury wrote ‘Foolin’ Around’, a disco song about a “foxy lady” (“You’re the catch of the season every night and day”) which also served as a vehicle for Paul Vincent’s funky guitar playing.
18: ‘Guide Me Home’
“With the Barcelona album, I had a little bit more freedom and a bit of scope to actually try out some of my crazy ideas,” said Mercury. One result was the sweeping ballad ‘Guide Me Home’, one of the last songs he wrote (with the help of Mike Moran). The song, which opens with the lines “Now my heart begins to bleed/Who will find me?”, was originally titled ‘Freddie’s Overture’. The single version was first released in Japan and proved a superb song to showcase his powerful duet singing with Spanish operatic soprano Montserrat Caballé.
17: ‘Your Kind Of Lover’
‘Your Kind Of Lover’, an upbeat love song from Mr Bad Guy, features some vibrant fast piano playing from Mercury, mixed with the driving bass work of Stephan Wissnet. “I like to write nice little catchy tunes. It’s just something that I have to keep doing, but I do enjoy it, too. It’s a kind of hobby, in a funny way,” said Mercury.
16: ‘Seven Seas Of Rhye’
By the time Mercury did his solo project, he had been writing songs for nearly two decades. He got into his stride on Queen’s eponymous 1973 debut album, with five completely solo-written songs, including the instrumental ‘Seven Seas Of Rhye’. The tune proved so appealing that it was resurrected, with lyrics, for Queen II, the band’s second album, in 1974. “At that time, I was learning about a lot of things in songwriting, like song structure – I was just learning different techniques all the time,” admitted Mercury.
15: ‘My Love Is Dangerous’
It took Mercury more than two years to complete Mr Bad Guy, and his attention to detail comes across in the personal song narratives. “I once wrote a song called ‘My Love Is Dangerous’,” the singer recalled in Freddie Mercury: A Life, In His Own Words. “I feel that maybe that’s what my love is – dangerous. I haven’t actually analysed myself, but after all these years I just feel I’m not a very good partner for anybody, and I think that’s what my love is… Who wants their love to be safe, anyway? Can you imagine writing a song called ‘My Love Is Safe’? It would never sell.”
14: ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’
One of the curiosities about songwriting is that inspiration can come in a flash or take a long time to come together, said the singer. Mercury admitted that his 1974 song ‘March Of The Black Queen’ “took ages to complete”, but said that the 1979 Queen hit ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ took him less than 10 minutes to complete… and was penned while he was soaking in the bath.
13: ‘Man Made Paradise’
“Come into my life/It’s a man-made paradise,” sings Mercury on the Mr Bad Guy track ‘Man Made Paradise’. It was a song that was originally written and recorded in 1983 during sessions for Queen’s album The Works. Though the song went unreleased at the time, Mercury liked the lyrics and returned to it for his solo album, where it featured drum programming by the producer Reinhold Mack.
12: ‘Death On Two Legs’
Though a lot of Mercury’s songwriting reflects his positive, fun-loving side, he showed that he could pen a visceral song with ‘Death On Two Legs’, which appeared on Queen’s 1975 album, A Night At The Opera. “‘Death On Two Legs’ was the most vicious lyric I ever wrote,” said Mercury. “Just listen to the words carefully, kiddies. It’s a nasty little number which brings out my evil streak. I don’t usually like to explain what I was thinking when I wrote that song, but it’s about a nasty old man that I used to know. The words came very easy to me.”
11: ‘Love Me Like There’s No Tomorrow’
‘Love Me Like There’s No Tomorrow’, which was inspired by Mercury’s relationship with Austrian actress Barbara Valentin, reached No.76 on the UK singles chart in 1985. “One of my favourite tracks is ‘Love Me Like There’s No Tomorrow’, because of the way it came out,” said Mercury. “It was a very personal thing. I wrote it in five minutes and everything just gelled into place. It was just very emotional, very strong. I love that track.”
The title track from the classical-pop crossover album Barcelona, featuring opera singer Montserrat Caballé, is a stirring and dramatic triumph that has proved to be one of Mercury’s biggest successes in the digital age. The track, also written with the help of Mike Moran, peaked at No.8 on its 1987 release. A reissue shortly after Mercury’s death, to coincide with the 1992 Olympic Games, sent the song back into the charts, reaching No.2. By 2019, it had been streamed more than three million times.
9: ‘Made In Heaven’
‘Made in Heaven’ was Mercury’s original choice for the title of his solo album. The song opens with a pulsating piano beat and some of most potent opening lines Mercury composed: “I’m taking my ride with destiny/Willing to play my part/Living with painful memories/Loving with all my heart.” ‘Made in Heaven’ was issued as a single in 1985 and reached No.57 in the charts. Following Mercury’s death, the song’s title provided the name for Queen’s 1995 posthumous album, with the previous vocals used over a newly-recorded instrumental track. “I think my songs are all under the label emotion – love and emotion and feeling,” said Mercury. “Most of the songs I write are love ballads and things to do with sadness and torture and pain.”
8: ‘I Was Born To Love You’
“I’m a true romantic,” said Mercury, whose song ‘I Was Born to Love You’, from Mr Bad Guy, is one of his most catchy disco love songs. The single was accompanied by a stunning video, which was directed by David Mallet and choreographed by Arlene Phillips. The song was a hit in America, breaking into the Billboard Top 100.
7: ‘We Are The Champions’
The 1977 song ‘We Are the Champions’, which appeared on Queen’s album News Of The World, showed that no one wrote a better anthem song than Mercury. “‘We Are the Champions’ is the most egotistical and arrogant song I’ve ever written,” said Mercury. “I was thinking about football when I wrote it. I wanted a participation song, something the fans could latch on to. It was aimed at the masses. I wanted to write something that everyone could sing along to, like a football chant. And at the same time, I thought it would be nice to have a winning song that’s meant for everybody.”
6: ‘Mr Bad Guy’
One constant theme in Mercury’s remarks about his songwriting was that he hated trying to over-analyse his songs. “You should never ask me about my lyrics,” said Mercury. “People ask, ‘Why did you write such-and-such a lyric and what does it mean?’ I don’t like to explain what I was thinking when I wrote a song. I think that’s awful. That’s not what it’s all about. I don’t like to analyse it. I prefer people to put their own interpretation upon it – to read into it whatever they like.” He said he did not want to explain the song ‘Mr Bad Guy’, except to say “Mr Bad Guy is me. I won’t explain that totally, you can take it from there.” In 2019, Belfast-born expressionist artist Jack Coulter produced a painting inspired by the song. It went on display at a Queen exhibition in South Korea.
5: ‘There Must Be More To Life Than This’
‘There Must Be More to Life Than This’, which appeared on Mr Bad Guy, was originally recorded by Queen for 1982’s Hot Space, as a duet with Michael Jackson. The version went unreleased at the time and Mercury returned to the lyrics for his solo album. The song was in part inspired by the songwriting of John Lennon, one of the many formative influences on Mercury’s work. “I wrote a song called ‘There Must Be More to Life Than This’, and that is probably the nearest thing I could cite to a message song – and that’s not even a message as such,” said Mercury at the time. “It’s the nearest I want to go to in terms of talking about world politics or the disasters that are happening in the world. I don’t really like writing songs in that sphere, but there comes a time when I feel emotional in that way and it’s just a very small part of what John Lennon actually did.”
4: ‘Killer Queen’
Mercury always talked about his pride at writing ‘Killer Queen’, which appeared on Queen’s 1974 album Sheer Heart Attack. He said it was written in one night and was a song that he could have imagined Noël Coward singing. The song won Mercury his first Ivor Novello Award from the British Academy Of Songwriters. “It just fell into place, as some songs sometimes do,” said Mercury. “‘Killer Queen’ was one I wrote the words for first. It was one song that was really out of the format that I usually write in. Generally, the music comes first, but that time it was the words, along with the sophisticated style that I wanted to put across.”
3: ‘Living On My Own’
Mercury was honest in his interviews and one of the reasons that ‘Living on My Own’, a single from Mr Bad Guy, is such a fine representation of his songwriting is that it captures his personality, including his scat-singing tribute to jazz star Ella Fitzgerald. “If you listen to ‘Living On My Own’, that is very me,” said Mercury. “It’s living on my own, but having fun. There’s a bit in the middle where I do my scat singing and I’m just saying that when you think about somebody like me, my lifestyle, I have to go around the world and live in hotels and that can be a very lonely life. But I chose it. That song is not dealing with people who are living on their own in basement flats, or situations like that, it’s my living on my own… I’m just saying that I’m living on my own and I’m having a boogie time!” In 1993, after Mercury’s death, the No More Brothers mix of the song struck a chord with the public and topped the UK charts for two weeks, and has since been streamed more than three million times.
2: ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’
In 2011, Queen fans voted the chorus of ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ as the band’s “best ever lyric”. “Don’t stop me now/I’m having such a good time/I’m having a ball,” sang Mercury on a song he penned for the band’s 1978 album,Jazz. “I like to think that I write songs in lots of different ways, depending on my mood,” said Mercury. ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ reflects Mercury at his feel-good, life-affirming best.
1: ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’
‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is regarded as one of the masterpieces of 20th-century popular music – yet Mercury admitted that he almost rejected it in its early stages. “People still ask me what ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is all about, and I say I don’t know. I think it loses the myth and ruins a kind of mystique that people have built up,” said Mercury. “‘Rhapsody’ is one of those songs that has a fantasy feel about it. I think people should just listen to it, think about it, and then decide for themselves what it means to them.” ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, which gave its name to the 2019 biopic about the singer, has an operatic aspect that eventually informed ‘Barcelona’. The song was full of dazzling wordplay, delivered in wonderful harmonies. “Somebody said it was like Cecil B De Mille meets Walt Disney,” said Mercury, who sat at the piano and delivered a section of this tour de force song at the start of Queen’s legendary Live Aid set in 1985, the same year he released his solo album, Mr Bad Guy.
Article originally published on uDiscoverMusic.com