Added on 16-Nov-2006
Exactly why no one has ever thought to compile a ranking of the best-selling albums in UK history is rather a mystery, but here it is, and it comes with the distinct whiff of what is known these days as Pop JusticeGod save Queen!
November 16, 2006 02:00 PM
Exactly why no one has ever thought to compile a ranking of the best-selling albums in UK history is rather a mystery, but here it is, and it comes with the distinct whiff of what is known these days as Pop Justice: no room - even in the Top 100 - for such critics' pets as Dylan, the Rolling Stones and the Sex Pistols, but high placings for the seamless Greatest Hits album that is Abba Gold, Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms (half garbage, but as perfect a deliverer of an 80s Proustian rush as any album from that decade), Pink Floyd's wonderfully dolorous The Dark Side of the Moon and Madonna's peak anthology, The Immaculate Collection.
It's also pleasing to see The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper at No 2, neatly avenging 15 years of consensual drool whereby Revolver has supposedly left it in the shade, whereas: 1) history records that it was the former album that briefly sounded like the hopes of the Western world set to music; and 2) it is as joyous, ambitious and evocative an album as any of the supposedly more accomplished competition. Nice also to discover that Terence Trent D'Arby's Introducing the Hardline According to ... has made it, but I don't have the room to go into that.
Instead, let us take time to praise this nation's incontestable all-time favourite album: Queen's Greatest Hits, issued in 1981, and as titanically great as its placing implies. Even now, simply looking at the track listing is mind-boggling: Bohemian Rhapsody, Another One Bites the Dust, Fat Bottomed Girls, Don't Stop Me Now ... and on into a home straight that takes in Seven Seas Of Rhye, We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions. Throw in a small handful of underrated masterstrokes - John Deacon's You're My Best Friend, the slashing rock of Now I'm Here - and it becomes incontestable: this may actually be the best hits collection ever.
Now may be an appropriate time to restate the point: this elegantly bourgeois quartet, featuring a gay Iranian émigré, a promising astronomy postgrad, a drummer who looked like a girl and a bass player who eventually avenged the idea that he was boring by growing a voluminous whitefro, were a Great Pop Thing - emblematic of the camp wonders wrought on the rock form that could only have been pulled off by British(ish) people, and still unmatched. On the musical front, their best stuff is great enough to mean that I forgive them just about everything: their later propensity to indulge in vapid soft-rock (A Kind of Magic, I Want to Break Free), even the fact that, for reasons that escape me, the death of Mercury was not enough to convince Brian May and Roger Taylor to call time on the Queen brand. Before anyone pipes up, that is an opinion based on evidence rather than prejudice: I went to see the new "Queen", with replacement vocalist Paul Rodgers, and it was truly rotten.
One thing, though - which may be enough to prompt either sharp intakes of breath or accusations of leftie Puritanism. I have pointed this out before and received bucketloads of correspondence (including a lengthy email from May), but once more probably won't hurt: in 1984, at the very height of the alliance between musicians and the anti-apartheid movement, Queen played in South Africa, at the infamous Sun City complex. Making the point at 22 years' remove feels a little churlish, but in a world where musicians of a certain age are often made out to be secular saints - and in the case of a group who were clearly more intelligent than most - it still seems important to make the point. That said, it fails to spoil the music: you keep Queen the boycott-breakers in one part of your brain, and Queen the godlike chart-killers in another.
And anyway, although the dual hangover from punk rock and the 60s counterculture - cemented by the pious extravaganza that was Live Aid - once led people romantically to expe