Queen released more iconic hits than any band, even one as long-lived as they were, has a right to expect: “Somebody to Love,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” “Don’t Stop Me Now,” “We Are the Champions,” and of course, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” to name a few. But it all started with their very first album, titled simply Queen, which dropped in 1973 — 50 years ago this year.
If you only know of Queen from those popular hits, you’ll likely be surprised by the music on their debut album. It’s a lot more experimental in terms of both sound and subject matter. You can hear the potential of the group — guitarist Brian May, drummer Roger Taylor, bassist John Deacon, and legendary frontman Freddie Mercury — in their epic-length songs and grand delivery, even if they don’t yet have the spit and polish that made them famous later in the decade.
To celebrate this auspicious anniversary, you could head on over to England and buy some Freddie Mercury memorabilia at auction this September. Or, if you don’t have tens of thousands of dollars lying around, you could just read this list. It features a book or comic book recommendation for each of the songs on this historic album. Happy reading — and happy listening!
“Keep Yourself Alive”
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Right out of the gate, we have a real banger written by May. He apparently intended it to be a sarcastic song about the futility of trying to improve your lot in life. (“Do you think you’re better every day? / No, I just think I’m two steps nearer to my grave.”)
With that sense of humor and irreverence, I’m pairing it with Gideon the Ninth, the first in Tamsyn Muir’s “Locked Tomb” series. I’m sure the characters will consider themselves very lucky to get out of the series alive and not zombified!
“Doing All Right”
Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev
This mellow song goes with Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev, a retelling of Austen’s classic novel set in San Francisco. After attempting to rebel against her traditional Indian family, Trisha tries to convince herself that she is “all right” with following along with her parents’ wishes. But when she meets a handsome man that they would not approve of at all, she finds that she wants to do more than just get by.
“Great King Rat”
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
I paired this one with Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. This may sound like a weird choice for such an energetic song about an “evil,” “dirty old man,” but the more I listened to the lyrics, the more they sounded like Lord Henry Wotton tempting Dorian to the dark side.
There’s even a line about how you shouldn’t “believe all you read in the Bible,” which evoked to me Henry’s successful attempt to lure Dorian away from a virtuous life to a sinful one — though neither of them die “of syphilis forty-four on his birthday” like the rascal in the song.
“My Fairy King”
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
This is a musical fairy tale, pure and simple: everything is going great in the idyllic realm of fairies (“Where lions den with fallow deer,” etc.) until a bunch of invaders show up and ruin everything. The end.
The whole “fairy land gone wrong” angle reminded me of Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series. A mortal woman, Feyre, must find a way to save the faerie realm, all the while navigating her growing feelings for Tamlin, her own “fairy king.”
Loki: Agent of Asgard by Al Ewing, Jason Aaron, Lee Garbett, and Jorge Coelho
What it says on the tin. This song is about a lying liar, or at least someone who is accused of being a lying liar. Interpret as you will.
It has reminded me of Loki, mythology’s most infamous fibber, for years. Loki: Agent of Asgard by Ewing, Aaron, Garbett, and Coehlo is a great fit because it features the trickster making a genuine attempt to become something more than the god of lies, but no one else is willing to give him the chance. Or, as the song goes:
“Liar, liar / They never, ever let you win / Liar, liar / Everything you do is sin”
“The Night Comes Down”
The History of Man by Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu
This one is about a loss of hope and clarity: the narrator talks about how once he saw “the black and the white distinctively,” but now everything is muddled and “gray.”
I recommend The History of Man by Siphiwe Gloria Ndlovu, a truly stunning novel, and part of a trilogy, about Emil, a white man living in southern Africa in the mid- to late 20th century. He spends his whole life convinced he knows who he is and what he’s supposed to be. As he ages, he resists the realization that all of his expectations and morals were founded on lies — until he just can’t.
“Modern Times Rock ‘n’ Roll”
Beck by Harold Sakuishi
Freddie Mercury did most of the singing, but about once per album, May and/or Taylor were allowed to take center stage. Taylor’s offerings tend to sound a lot like this one: straightforward anthems celebrating his car or whatever.
In this case, “Modern Times Rock ‘n’ Roll” is exactly what it sounds like: a hard rock tribute to rock. So I paired it with Beck by Harold Sakuishi, a manga about a directionless teen who learns about the beauty and the power of rock music.
“Son and Daughter”
Captain Marvel: In Pursuit of Flight by Kelly Sue Deconnick, Dexter Soy, and Emma Rios
I’ll be honest, I’m barely sure of what this song is even about. It seems to be about a woman who’s stretching herself too thin to impress a sexist authority figure, perhaps her father or society as a whole. (“Tried to be a son and daughter rolled into one,” says the opening line, and not in a queer way, it seems.)
On that assumption, I will recommend Captain Marvel: In Pursuit of Flight by Deconnick, Soy, and Rios, in which both Carol Danvers and her late idol, the pilot and almost-astronaut Helen Cobb, strive to prove their worth to the men who would limit them — and, more importantly, to themselves.
Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie
Yes, Queen really did a whole song about Jesus. They just did that.
I suppose I could recommend the New Testament, but most people who want to read that have already done so. Since the lyrics mention the Three Wise Men, I’m going to go with a Christmas-themed novel instead: Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie. It gets a little dark in spots, matching the severe tone of the song. And someone definitely meets Jesus by the end.
“Seven Seas of Rhye”
Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
This one is a bit of a cheat, since it’s only a short instrumental of a song that would appear in full on their next (and, in my opinion, best) album, creatively named Queen II. But since I’m probably not going to write a list about that one, I’ll cover it here. Bonus track!
With its veneer of fantasy and badass lyrics about getting revenge against people in power — “Then I’ll defy the laws of nature and come out alive (then I’ll get you!)” — I decided to pair this song with Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda. This gorgeous series features a girl and her psychically-linked monster out to protect themselves against malevolent forces.