KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Thirty Year Thursday – QUEEN “A KIND OF MAGIC”

[Welcome to Thirty Year Thursday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1986]

Artist: QUEEN
Album: A KIND OF MAGIC

Queen - A Kind Of MagicThe records that Queen released in the ‘80s don’t get the same respect as the landmark albums they released in the prior decade, especially in the U.S., but fans who dismiss that era are missing out on some great music. I briefly lost interest in them during the Hot Space and The Works era (two albums I later grew to appreciate in a big way), and it took the 1985 single “One Vision” to reignite my interest in Queen. That aggressive, hard-rockin’ song appeared in a slightly different version on their next album, A Kind Of Magic. Most of the songs were written for the movie Highlander, making this a quasi-soundtrack to that movie although, ironically, “One Vision” was featured in another motion picture, Iron Eagle. Perhaps these movie connections kept American fans away, not realizing that this was a full-fledged Queen studio album. While UK fans embraced it, sending the multi-platinum A Kind Of Magic to the top of the charts, in the U.S. it was their lowest charting album since 1974’s Queen II.

I’m not suggesting that this is a lost classic but it has been unfairly overlooked for 30 years and a number of songs should be more highly regarded. The super-catchy “A Kind Of Magic” features not one but two of Brian May’s most playful & melodic guitar solos. The symphonic “Who Wants To Live Forever” is a bombastic ballad (for most bands “bombastic” would be a criticism, but not for Queen) featuring a powerful Freddie Mercury vocal performance. “Friends Will Be Friends,” a rare collaboration between Mercury and bassist John Deacon, is a great lighter-waving anthem. Deacon’s sappy ballad “One Year Of Love,” a personal favorite, is saved by Mercury’s incredible vocal acrobatics. Drummer Roger Taylor delivered the percussive “Don’t Lose Your Head,” which is reviled by some fans but I’ve always enjoyed it. Even hard rockers like “Gimme The Prize (Kurgan’s Theme)” and “Princes Of The Universe” are fun if ultimately lightweight. These come across as more fleshed-out versions of music from their 1980 Flash Gordon soundtrack. Hopefully this post will help raise awareness of A Kind Of Magic for people who either dismissed it or weren’t aware of it, and they will share the love with other fans. Then I recommend doing the same thing with its follow-up, 1989’s The Miracle, but that’s a discussion for another day.

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47 comments on “Thirty Year Thursday – QUEEN “A KIND OF MAGIC”

  1. stephen1001
    February 18, 2016

    Great word choices here Rich to describe the performances, bombastic & vocal acrobatics, that’s Queen & I wouldn’t want Queen any other way!

    Like

  2. Pete R
    February 18, 2016

    I always felt the title track was a worthy successor to Radio Ga Ga, and that Friends WIll Be Friends would have felt at home on A Day At The Races. Loved this from the start. Fried Chicken!

    Like

    • Good call on the Radio Ga Ga/A Kind Of Magic similarities. Weren’t both of them written by Roger Taylor?

      Hmm, could this be the “Pete R” who had the “One Vision” single the day it was released, and we played it over & over through “gimme gimme gimme fried chicken”? If so, I thought of you as I put this post together. 😀

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      • Pete R
        February 18, 2016

        dude…. I will neither confirm nor deny that memory of listening to this together in the BAMM dorms THIRTY YEARS AGO!!!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Haha. You get full credit for bringing me back into the wonderful world of Queen in ’85. Well, you and their amazing performance at Live Aid.

        Like

  3. ianbalentine
    February 18, 2016

    I really like this album, Rich, and appreciate you shining a light on it. I had always heard this was a bit hobbled together, kind of like the Tattoo You of the Queen discography (film songs, rejected and/or reworked cuts from prior albums, etc), but it doesn’t sound that way to me.

    Boy are you ever right when you say that Mercury has a way of lifting up Deacon’s sometimes sappy lyrics (Spread Your Wings, In Only Seven Days, You’re My Best Friend, and your example here One Year Of Love) to make them something more than poignant. Deacon’s compositions have always been some of my favorites, but with a band like Queen where all four members happen to be excellent writers (I think that at least 3 have penned a #1…May being the exception) it must have been difficult to stand out. Mercury always gave it his all, even if the song he was singing was written by someone else.

    Like you I left after The Works, but came back to this one, then Innuendo, then The Miracle and have found much to love on each one.

    If hard pressed to name a favorite band of all time I think Queen would be on the short list for me.

    Like

    • I’m pleased to hear that you’re also a fan of A Kind Of Magic, Ian, and I really like your comparison to Tattoo You. The best artists can take recordings from different sources, eras, etc and make them sound cohesive.

      I’ve long been under the impression that all four of them wrote at least one #1 single, but a quick search of the always-reliable Wikipedia indicates that this might not be the case. At the very least they all wrote huge hit singles and massively popular album tracks, so they didn’t have to worry about one or two guys getting the bulk of the publishing earnings. If I remember correctly, The Miracle is the only album where all songs were credited as “Written By Queen.”

      Although I like Innuendo a lot, I think its reputation among fans is a little skewed because it was the first album released after their post-Wayne’s World resurgence, and then Freddie’s death drew even more people to it. I’m glad they tried to recapture some of the grandeur of their ’70s albums again but in places it sounded like they were trying too hard to sound like their old selves…if that makes any sense. One of the things I loved about The Miracle is that it was very modern-sounding yet it was still clearly Queen.

      Like

  4. mikeladano
    February 18, 2016

    This was one of the last Queen albums I got — because I was going back and collecting out of order. It was also hard to come by. I had a lot of customers who wanted the Highlander songs, so this CD was always scarce used.

    I especially enjoy the two lightweight hard rockers! Gimme the Prize and Princes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think I bought this on vinyl when it was first released, probably because not every album was issued on CD immediately. I don’t remember it being hard to find once it did appear on CD, but I know a chunk of their catalog was out of print briefly before the first reissues on Hollywood Records (in ’91?). I think that’s when I finally got it on CD. Had a feeling you would enjoy those two songs in particular, but I also expected you to love “One Vision.” Any thoughts on that one?

      Liked by 1 person

      • mikeladano
        February 19, 2016

        Oh I love One Vision. The first time I heard it, was in a live Queen TV concert…Live Magic, I believe. It jumped out at me then and I still love it today.

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      • I never saw the “Live Magic” concert and I couldn’t find the CD for a reasonable price at the time. I’m glad they eventually released the Wembley 2-CD set so I was able to hear how powerful they still were. Of course, after Live Aid that was pretty obvious.

        Liked by 1 person

      • mikeladano
        February 19, 2016

        I found Live Magic for $14.99…in my own store, so discount on top of that…and I failed to buy it. I was a student. Bad decision though. But I do have Wembley remastered with bonus cuts. Not to mention the many other live Queen releases since!

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      • Ooh, $14.99 less employee discount would have been impossible for me to pass up. I don’t think I ever saw it for less than $20. It’s amazing how many great live recordings (audio AND video) have been released over the last 20 years. For a long time it was Live Killers and that was it. Now nearly every one of their tours has been documented by a live show.

        Liked by 1 person

      • mikeladano
        February 19, 2016

        Indeed, going way back too. I remember when Live at the Beeb was out of print. Now you buy numerous discs from back in the day. I still don’t have the newest one. The Odeon I believe.

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      • All of their archive concert recordings have been amazing, proving that they were one of the all-time great live bands. I have a series brewing on my favorite live albums, but I’ll be focusing on the ones released during each artist’s lifetime and not archive releases. I hope to get to that sometime this year.

        Liked by 1 person

      • mikeladano
        February 19, 2016

        That oughta be a good series. I look forward to that. With my Purple series I’m working on, 95% of the reviews are live.

        I really wish I’d bought that Live Magic CD.

        I think it was the Live Magic TV special, when Freddie said on the stage: “There are a lot of people in the press talking about a certain band called Queen. And they’re saying we’re going to break up, what do you think about that? They’re talking from HERE!” And he bends over and points directly at his ass.

        Like

      • Maybe I eventually saw the Live Magic TV special because I definitely remember that stage banter from Freddie.

        Does it ever get tedious listening to so much live Purple? I love those guys but there are only a handful of artists whose live recordings I want to hear that much of. I guess it helps that they’ve had so many lineup changes and their set lists change so frequently.

        Liked by 1 person

      • mikeladano
        February 20, 2016

        Yes it does Rich. I’m on a Purple break right now. I do want to jump and do another binge. I’ve loaded a bunch more Purple on my flash drive for the car.

        And yes the lineup changes absolutely help, it gives me enough variety to bounce around.

        I remember more Freddie stage banter, do you remember this one? Crazy Little Thing Called Love. Freddie gets out a guitar and he says he “Only knows three chords, but I really wanted to play it, so I’m going to play it.”

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      • I don’t recall that specific Freddie banter. Was that from The Game tour? I love how defensive he gets (and rightly so) during the Hot Space tour when they do some of the disco/dance songs, sensing a reluctance of their mostly white audience to embrace “black music” (even though “Another One Bites The Dust” was a huge hit in a variety of radio formats just a year or two earlier). At the time I hated that stuff (my mind wasn’t that open at the age of 15) but several years later I came to love songs like “Body Language” and especially “Back Chat.”

        Liked by 1 person

      • mikeladano
        February 21, 2016

        I think that banter was also from Live Magic.

        I don’t know if “Get Down Make Love” would be one of the songs influenced by “black music” but it’s unorthodox and I just love that tune. Just stunning.

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      • I think the “black music” Freddie referred to was the stuff he was hearing at the gay dance clubs in the early 80s. Back then there were very few rock fans who liked that stuff, or if they liked it they wouldn’t admit it. In hindsight it must have been frustrating to them that a big chunk of their audience weren’t embracing the stuff they were getting into.

        I completely agree about “Get Down Make Love.” An absolute killer.

        Like

  5. Vinyl Connection
    February 18, 2016

    Queen were always a kind of amalgam of muscle and melodrama, weren’t they?

    The album cover is a quintessential bit of 80s design, too!

    Like

    • Good assessment, Bruce. Combine muscle & melodrama with songwriting, incredible vocals, a wicked sense of humor and stellar productions and you end up with one of the all-time great bands. Love ’em or hate ’em, no one sounds quite like ’em.

      I always liked the typical ’80s design of this album cover. Its follow-up also had a memorable cover, but not in a good way. Great music but hideous design.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Heavy Metal Overload
    February 19, 2016

    Hey Rich, totally agree on this. I love this album. Up there with their very best stuff.

    Like

    • Alright, Scott. Nice to know there’s another big fan of “A Kind Of Magic” here. It was hard to find Queen fans in the ’80s who were still listening to their new stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Heavy Metal Overload
        February 19, 2016

        There’s a few of the 80s albums I missed out on back then but I’ve caught up now. Been listening to The Miracle a lot lately. Some great deep cuts on that album.

        Like

      • It’s good to know that those albums can still sound good to someone hearing them for the first time three decades later. The Miracle is so diverse and contains some of May’s sweetest guitar playing.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Heavy Metal Overload
        February 19, 2016

        Absolutely! May totally riffs out on the opening tracks! Was it All Worth It? has a killer riff too. I think Mercury’s voice was at its peak in the 80s too.

        Like

      • I agree about May’s riffs and Mercury’s voice. When we learned how sick he was during the last couple of years, his vocal performances are even more impressive.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. 1537
    February 19, 2016

    Nice one rich, although I LOATHE ‘Friends Will be Friends’, I do love this album. I spent 3 days cleaning out a goat shed to earn the money to buy it too – kids today don’t know they’re born!

    Like

    • That’s a very specific memory of earning the money to buy this album. Sounds like it was worth it, in spite of your dislike for “Friends Will Be Friends.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • 1537
        February 21, 2016

        Oh it was, I think the rest of this one really still sounds good today. I really love ‘One Year of Love’ and ‘Princes of the Universe’ and I’d still like to look as cool as Christophe Lambert did in Highlander.

        Like

      • Good to know you also love “One Year Of Love.” I could see a lot of fans finding it too sappy but, as I mentioned in this post, Freddie’s voice is something to behold on that song. I might have seen Highlander once when I was in college but I don’t remember it. I wonder how effective Queen’s music was in that movie.

        Liked by 1 person

      • 1537
        February 22, 2016

        I haven’t seen it for at least a decade but it was a real cornerstone of the film. I think there are a couple of little soundtrack pieces which weren’t on the LP too.

        Like

      • I must add Highlander to my list of movies to watch. I specifically saw Flash Gordon in a theater in 1980 because of Queen’s music so I’m not sure why I didn’t do the same with Highlander.

        Liked by 1 person

      • 1537
        February 22, 2016

        It’s not a popular choice but Flash really is one of my favourite Queen albums.

        Like

      • I like the Flash Gordon soundtrack but it’s pretty low for me in the Queen discography. What I love about it is how it brings me back to seeing the movie on opening weekend. Nice to know it’s among your favorites. Very interesting choice.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. J.
    February 20, 2016

    Great post, Rich. I picked this up a few months back and considered parting with some cashpennies for a bit before putting it back down. Regretted that a bit afterwards, as I do like a few of the songs here a great deal (thanks to the Greatest Hits tape I had when I was a tad younger!). Regret it more so now, cause I really fancy giving this a spin now. Bah.

    Like

    • Sorry you missed out on A Kind Of Magic but I’m sure you’ll be able to find it again. Hopefully it’ll be even cheaper next time you find it. I’m confident it will live up to the hype.

      Like

      • J.
        February 21, 2016

        I reckon so, Rich. I’m certainly in the mood to revisit those songs and hear how the album sits together, so I’ll be keeping an eye out for it (if all else fails there’s always Discogs!).

        Like

      • In this age when everyone is getting their music digitally or overpaying for 180-gram vinyl reissues, you should be able to easily find a cheap copy of A Kind Of Magic on CD. Good luck with that search.

        Like

  9. Geen Geenie
    March 10, 2016

    Again well done for highlighting the oft overlooked. Jeez, these Queen songs are the back drop of my childhood. I still get choked up over their tracks for the Highlander soundtrack. So good. There is something about Freddie’s commitment to that bombastic delivery that makes him impossible not to love. We’ll never see another one like him. I’m off to bawl my eyes out while I listen to who wants to live forever…….x

    Like

    • I love the fact that some of these songs make you choke up. So many people appreciate Queen’s musicianship & vocal harmonies, but in a catalog filled with stadium-rousing anthems, the emotional heft of many of their songs is probably overlooked by a lot of fans. “One Year Of Love” always gets to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: Forty Year Friday – QUEEN “NEWS OF THE WORLD” | KamerTunesBlog

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