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This two-disc set collects thirty-three promotional clips from Queen, bundled into one package for the first time. Greatest Video Hits provides both an overview of Queen’s catalog and a telling time capsule of the 1980s. It may be easier to simply dial up the songs on your iPhone, but having guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor on hand to join the experience via commentary is worth the price of admission.
Disc one begins with avowed classic “Bohemian Rhapsody.” May recalls the painstaking process of creating a surround mix (included here) for the song, while Taylor notes that the video shoot only took four hours. Interview audio is also included from the late Freddie Mercury, who describes the challenge of releasing “Bohemian Rhapsody” as a single in its uncut six minute length.
The remainder of the first disc carries the band through 1980 and the Flash soundtrack. Highlights include the performance video for “Another One Bites the Dust,” shot in just half an hour. May expresses great fondness for the cheeky romp “Fat Bottomed Girls,” but admits enduring disappointment with the video. “It’s just so static,” he says. Thankfully, the recollections of May and Taylor provide ample color. While the first disc is dominated by performance videos filmed on a concert stage set, “Bicycle Race” includes titillating clips from the nude bicycle race shot at Wimbeldon Stadium for the Jazz artwork.
Taylor laughs as he remembers the travails endured while filming “You’re My Best Friend.” The group were ensconced in a barn next to a pig farm on a blistering summer evening, and the shoot was lit by six thousand candles. “The heat was incredible,” agrees May, to say nothing of the odor. Bassist John Deacon talks about the song’s origin on electric piano, while Mercury asks, “Why play those things when you’ve got a lovely super grand piano?” Ultimately, Mercury praises Deacon’s songwriting and the diversity it brought to the band. “John didn’t right many songs, but most of them sure counted,” says May during commentary for “I Want to Break Free.”
The video for “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” broke tradition for the band by including dancers and props. Mercury explains that it was all meant to have fun, with expectation that if he was enjoying himself, it would translate to the audience. Brian Grant, director of “Play the Game,” experimented with visual effects that were cutting edge at the time. May and Taylor note that resulting images with the band performing in front of a wall of fire appear artificial and sterile now, but were pretty fab in 1980. May also notes his use of a cheap Fender-copy guitar for the video, stating flatly that there was no way he was going to throw his real guitar across the studio.
Disc two covers territory from the band’s often-maligned, club-friendly album Hot Space through 1989’s critically lauded The Miracle. May and Taylor squirm a bit during the racy video to “Body Language,” though May respectfully identifies the clip as a creative stretch for Mercury (who directed) and fulfillment of a fantasy. “Not my favorite video, actually,” quips Taylor. Hard rocker “Hammer to Fall” returns to the band’s performance video roots, but features a staggering light rig that serves as evidence of the band’s status in 1984. May describes the reality of his generation growing up “in the shadow of the mushroom cloud,” and childhood nightmares about nuclear destruction.
During the video for Taylor’s synth-heavy hit “Radio Ga Ga,” the band borrows concepts and interacts with footage from Fritz Lang‘s 1927 film Metropolis. May and Taylor both consider this to be the high point of the band’s visual output. May notes the common theme between Lang’s totalitarian future-vision and his own concerns regarding oppression and loss of the individual’s voice within society. According to May, the video is also responsible for training the audience at Live Aid (whether Queen fan or not) when and how to clap, fueling a powerful collective experience. The film is also notable for John Deacon’s gravity-defying afro.
“Under Pressure,” a collaborative effort between Queen and David Bowie, is represented by a montage from director David Mallet. The film was widely rejected by television outlets due to its political overtones and use of newsreel footage. Themes of urban decay and joblessness are reflected in the clip, which has stood the test of time both musically and (unfortunately) conceptually. The Miracle track “Breakthru” features the band playing atop a charging steam train.
The video for “I Want to Break Free” begins as a comical Coronation Street pastiche, with the band in drag as characters from the British soap opera. The song’s middle section features an indulgent ballet sequence, casting Mercury as Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. May notes with some sadness that American programmers did not get the joke, resulting in the video’s relative unfamiliarity on this side of the Atlantic. “I do believe I still have that green jacket somewhere,” adds Taylor, chuckling. “I must throw it out.”
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