Queen in the 80s, Part 1: The Game

A series talking about that era of Queen music that most fans tend to avoid, the years between 1979 and 1990, when the band raised their international profile while making music less significant than their ’70s output.

Our first entry is 1980’s The Game, the band’s eighth album and the first to include synthesizers after seven years and albums bearing proud declarations that “nobody played synthesizer”. It was also the first Queen album to be recorded digitally and part of that is probably due to new producer Reinhold Mack, who would continue to work with the band through 1986’s A Kind Of Magic.

The band ran two sets of sessions, the first during the summer of 1979 (pre-Mercury moustache) which produced guitarist Brian May’s power ballad “Save Me” and their first #1 song in the US, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”. The next set of sessions, from February to May 1980 (post-Mercury mustache), provided bassist John Deacon’s “Another One Bites The Dust”, the other Queen song to go #1 in the US.

Synthesizers open the album with the fade up to Freddie’s “Play The Game”, one of the best tracks on a very good album. Mercury also contributes the aforementioned “Crazy Little Thing” and an off-beat number titled “Don’t Try Suicide”  with lyrics “Nobody’s worth it, nobody cares, you’re just gonna hate it, nobody gives a damn!”

If “Don’t Try Suicide” was Freddie’s way of seeing how many times he could put the word “suicide” in a Queen song (nineteen, smashing the previous record of once in “Death On Two Legs” from A Night At The Opera), fair play to him.

Warning: Do not play “Don’t Try Suicide” to a suicidal person. It rarely helps.

Drummer Roger Taylor comes through with two tracks, the new-wavish “Coming Soon” and the Cars-esque “Rock It (Prime Jive)” which features Roger on vocals after an brief intro by Freddie. The worst point on the album is Roger singing “you really think they like to rock in space? Well, I don’t know! What do you know?” This is followed immediately a bleep-bloop synth that wants to sound like Devo but sounds more like Synthesizer Patel on “Look Around You”.

I am now imagining the Cars playing “Coming Soon” and Devo playing “Rock It” and I can’t believe these songs turned out this well. Credit to the band for a vital performance on songs that couldn’t even make it as B-sides.

John Deacon’s other contribution to The Game is “Need Your Loving Tonight”, a breezy bit of power-pop not unlike Taylor’s songs except that Deacon actually knew how to write songs so there you go.

Brian May sad songs are nothing like Freddie Mercury sad songs. With Freddie, you get high drama, tension, desperation, peaks and valleys. With Brian, a sad song is just sad and especially if Brian sings lead like this album’s “Sail Away Sweet Sister”. Past examples include “Leaving Home Aint Easy” from Jazz and “All Dead, All Dead” before that from News Of The World.

Mercury adds vocals to the bridge of “Sail Away” and sings lead on Brian’s “Save Me” which livens it up a bit. Confusingly, Brian also writes “Dragon Attack”, which is as funky as he ever got and features a rare John Deacon bass solo.

The first half of The Game is front loaded with their US singles, with “Dragon Attack” being the lone exception. The “no synthesizers” rule is broken sparingly on “Play The Game” but not until “Rock It” opens the second half do the synths take over. It should be noted that during the 1980 sessions, the band (mostly May) worked on the Flash Gordon soundtrack which is mostly synths and it was inevitable that there would be a bit of crossover.

The Game is one of the band’s finest albums, a collection of smash singles and good album tracks. The new engineer/producer Mack seems to be working well, as is the new digital recording and the synths. Enjoy this brief moment of restraint from Queen because from here on out it gets heavy on synths and at times downright embarrassing.

In part two, we will skip the Flash Gordon soundtrack and look at the band’s second most ill-conceived venture, 1982’s Hot Space.