A Kind of Magic by Queen
By Eamon O'Neill
Queen’s appearance at Live Aid in 1985 is the stuff of legend. Ask almost anyone who the top band at the historic event was and there's only one answer. U2 came close, but from Elton John who also performed on the day to organiser Bob Geldof, it was clear; Queen owned it.
A show-stopping masterclass of performance, charisma, and some of the greatest pop songs ever written, their twenty minute set’s legend was only heightened when it was used as the thrilling crescendo to their 2018 film 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. It was a perfect Hollywood ending, and although the rise, fall, and rise again timeline of events featured in the movie was given some poetic licence, one thing they did get right was just what that one performance did to reaffirm to the band members themselves - Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon - just how special Queen was.
The 1980s had started well for the band. The release of their ‘Greatest Hits’ album that to this day sells in such quantities that it was the best-selling rock album on vinyl in the U.K. in 2022, saw them draw a line under their bombastic first era. But the band were fracturing, and what followed was their first misstep in 1982’s ‘Hot Space’; an album routinely rated as their worst.
After some time off and a tangent into solo and side projects, 'The Works' in 1984 re-established Queen as a hit-making singles band, with 'Radio Gaga' and 'I Want to Break Free' charting highly. However it was the Live Aid appearance that really galvanised the four-piece.
With four proven songwriters in the band - Mercury had penned the likes of ‘Killer Queen’ and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’; May, ‘Now I’m Here’ and ‘Tie Your Mother Down’; Taylor the aforementioned ‘Radio Gaga’; and Deacon ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ and ‘I Want to Break Free’ - collaboration by this stage was rare, and indeed, unnecessary.
Their first post-Live Aid single however, saw them working as a unit to create something that captured their newfound spirit. Credited to all four members, and coming at the halfway point between Live Aid and the release of their twelfth album, the irresistible ‘One Vision’ bode well for the future. An anthem with a singular message, ‘One Vision’ would not only open the new album, but the landmark live shows that would follow.
Titled ‘A Kind of Magic’, the set wouldn’t appear until the summer of 1986, and would find Queen finding inspiration on the silver screen. Back in the soundtrack business having scored ‘Flash Gordon’ in 1980, ‘A Kind of Magic’ served as the soundtrack to sci-fi epic ‘Highlander’. It could have all been so different though, as the band weren’t in fact the first choice for the job. Speaking to the author in 2014, Marillion guitarist Steve Rothery said; “we were offered the Highlander soundtrack but we couldn’t do it because we were on tour at the time”. It was then offered to EMI labelmates Queen, with the guitarist confessing; “that was a really stupid thing for us to turn down”. Much like Highlander itself, the rest is history.
With an incredible six of its nine tracks appearing in the film, Queen and Highlander are intrinsically linked. This was none more evident than with next single, ‘A Kind of Magic’, which referenced the film directly in not only its title but in its lyrical content, with references to the ‘prize’ and ‘there can be only one’ lifted directly from the flick. A slice of pop perfection, the Taylor-penned track still sounds, well, magic, despite its overt eighties production sensibilities. Gliding along on a programmed beat, its subtle synths allow singular talent Mercury to tower, while May’s dizzying guitars dazzle without ever getting in the way.
Indeed, May is arguably the album’s shining light, with his lead licks, scales and accents elevating the title track, and its centrepiece, the grandiose ‘Who Wants to Live Forever’ written by the guitarist. Fittingly cinematic, it’s huge in scope, with its Michael Kamen orchestration. Genuinely tear-jerking, it's one of the band’s most moving pieces.
Deacon meanwhile, provided the love song ‘One Year of Love’, which along with metal workout ‘Gimmie the Prize’ (Kurgen’s Theme’), ‘Don’t Lose Your Head’ featuring Joan Armatrading - one of only two musicians to have guested on a Queen album, the other being Yes guitarist Steve Howe on 1991’s ‘Innuendo’ - and Mercury’s thunderous ‘Princes of the Universe’ - a criminally underrated Queen gem - round out the sizable Highlander portion of the album.
'A Kind of Magic's release was followed by the ‘Magic Tour’, which would sadly prove to be the band’s last. It has however, been preserved with the ‘Live at Wembley’ audio and visual releases available in various formats continuing to remind the world just what a force the band, and in particular Mercury was.
Two more albums would follow; 1989’s ‘The Miracle’ and 1991’s ‘Innuendo’, before Mercury’s untimely passing, and in the spirit of ‘One Vision’, both would be credited in their entirety as being written by Queen as a whole.
Although 'A Kind of Magic' is never going to rank as Queen’s best album while ‘A Night at the Opera’ and ‘Sheer Heart Attack’ exist, it should be given credit for reviving the band and ensuring their future. An overlooked classic of the electro pop era.
A Kind of Magic was released on 2nd June 1986 and is available to buy on standard vinyl at Vinyl8.com
- One Vision
- A Kind of Magic
- One Year of Love
- Pain Is So Close to Pleasure
- Friends Will Be Friends
- Who Wants to Live Forever
- Gimme the Prize (Kurgan's Theme)
- Don't Lose Your Head
- Princes of the Universe