A Kind of Magic is the musical backbone of the film Highlander and I can’t listen to it without my mind conjuring up images of Connor MacLeod fighting the Kurgan. It wasn’t an official soundtrack like their album Flash Gordon was, but most of the songs appeared in the film along with a bit of “Hammer to Fall” that plays on a radio and a cover of “New York, New York” which isn’t on the album. It’s not one of my favourite Queen albums by a long chalk but still has some memorable tracks.
Highlander was once my favourite film when such a concept had any meaning to me. These days, when I watch at least two or three films a week, it’s hard to have favourites. I should try and cobble together a top ten list sometime. In the meantime here’s what I had to say about Highlander earlier on in this blog and here’s my thoughts on this Queen album.
“One Vision” had already appeared in the film Iron Eagle and so wasn’t in Highlander . It was released in 1985 as a stopgap single before the album came out in the middle of 1986. I never associate this track with the album and keep being surprised that it is the first track. I think it is one of the first Queen singles I ever bought and as a twelve inch too.
I love the long build up mixing synths and guitar chords and then the big opening riffs although the production makes it sound like everything before Mercury’s opening ‘hey’ is bolted on. The song also contains some rather odd lyrics that could be open to misinterpretation. It’s all very well talking about uniting the world but is ‘one true religion’ really the best way to go about this – is this something anyone really would want? In some ways the song paints a rather scary picture before ending on the truly awful line ‘just gimme fried chicken’.
“A Kind of Magic” with its colourful state-of-the-art video with Disney cartoons is a typical Queen song of the period with a great bass line. I bought it on seven inch when it came out helping it to almost but not quite get to number one in the UK (it stalled at number three). The title is a line straight from the film delivered expertly by Christopher Lambert and twisted into a rather cheesy song. In pointing to one day when sanity will reign it seems to carry some of the messaging over from “One Vision” but is more related to the plot of the film than anything else.
I was totally dismayed to hear the track being used on a Furniture Village advert on television recently. There seems to be more and more Queen used in adverts and to me it devalues the band’s canon of work. Roger and Brian should be ashamed of themselves imo.
“One Year of Love” was written by Deacon who seemed to come out of his shell in this era and mucked in with the writing process a lot more than previously – perhaps buoyed by the success of earlier singles he wrote. The track seems to hark back to Hot Space with the use of saxophone and synths instead of May’s guitar. It’s very laid back and bluesy and reminds me of some of the stuff George Michael did when he went solo after Wham! It’s a lot more Mercury than it is Queen imo.
“Pain Is So Close to Pleasure” is also reminiscent of Hot Space with Mercury’s falsetto vocals verging on sounding like one of the Bee Gees in places. It reminds me also of “Chain Reaction” by Diana Ross but maybe only because that track was released the year before A Kind of Magic.
“Friends Will Be Friends” was my least favourite single at the time of release – perhaps because a lot of my so-called (and no longer) friends were consistently letting me down in 1986. Now I actually really enjoy listening to it. I think that’s because the friends I have now are the real deal. The song has a good story, good advice and while it will never be as good as some of their full-on anthems (being rather too laid back) it has some delightful guitar segments, perhaps a bit too Dire Straits and not enough Sabbath in its pacing.
“Who Wants to Live Forever” written by Brian May and featuring a still of a windswept MacLeod and his beau on the cover of the single was for me a killer ballad and a stand out track on the album. I think it’s no surprise that this gentle but powerful lament has had so much coverage on the X Factor in recent years because when it’s delivered well it can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. The whole idea from Highlander of a love that has to die no matter how strong it is must have had May jumping up and down in glee. Given his past melancholy ridden love songs this is right up his street and the orchestral arrangement that builds with Mercury’s vocals is sublime. The sorrowful guitar and drums at around the two minute mark feel very like “Brothers in Arms” which is no bad thing. The song just builds and builds and then drops back into the realms of a moody soundtrack with long sustained chords until reaching another musical crescendo followed by a flourish of strings.
“Gimme the Prize (Kurgan’s Theme)” is probably the heaviest rock track on the album and is a bit of a shock to the system after the dreamy ballad. As a fan of the band’s approach for “Flash” I loved the use of dialogue samples from Highlander and it is something that appeals to me still –when listening to the likes of Pop Will Eat Itself and Prince’s Batman album. The opening guitar work up to the point of the quote ‘I know his name’ is fantastic and then Mercury is in full cock-rock mode for the vocals. For me it’s almost a reprise of “Seven Seas of Rhye” in terms of the sentiment but obviously again relates very clearly to the film.
“Don’t Lose Your Head” is somewhat of a filler track in my opinion and a bit of a low point on the album sandwiched as it is between two rocking upbeat tracks. I prefer the b-side of the “A Kind of Magic” single called “A Dozen Red Roses for My Darling” which is an instrumental version emphasizing the drum patterns and synthesized sequences. Their progression into new musical areas is such that with the absence of vocals it is hard to identify it as a Queen track. With the vocals it harks back to some of the stuff on The Works and the lyrics are pretty woeful although well delivered.
“Princes of the Universe” is very much Freddie inspired pomp rock of the highest order – the kind of thing Muse are so good at emulating these days. It has a big kind of “We Will Rock You” drum stomping vibe with some excellent supporting guitars and a clever temporary change of pace at around 1:29 leading into a slower ‘woo woo woo’ segment before going back into the driving rock mode. Then a couple of high tempo guitar bits leading up to the crescendo. It’s actually one of the more complicated songs in terms of production and editing and a good way to finish the album.
I’ve just spotted A Night At The Odeon on Spotify which I’m now listening to. I much prefer the 1970s period of Queen, but I’ll persevere with this CD marathon even though it is becoming increasingly anachronistic as time moves on. At some point next year I’ll be waffling about RATM and the Red Hot Chili Peppers although I have a few more Queen CDs to get through.