Since Queen officially began as a rock band in 1970, Brian May was one of the founders who teamed up with Freddie Mercury, and Roger Taylor to produce one iconic hit song after another. Born and raised as an only child as of July 19, 1947, Brian May grew up with an aptitude for mathematics and science. He also had a knack for learning musical instruments. The first he learned was the banjolele, then the classic piano, before picking up the guitar. When he was eleven years old, he earned a scholarship to attend Hampton Grammar School. As a school student May put together his first band with Tim Staffell. Together, the duo called themselves 1984. The inspiration came from George Orwell’s novel, 1984, which was published in 1949. At the time, as interested as May was in performing music, he also had his sights set on a career in science. In 1968, he graduated with a BSc degree in physics from Imperial College London, England. Immediately after this, he was offered a position at the Jodrell Bank Observatory. Instead of accepting, May turned it down so he could continue his studies at the college. He also did this so he could keep playing music with Staffell. At this time, the band’s name was changed to Smile.
When Tim Staffell left Smile, Brian May, Freddie Mercury, and Roger Taylor brought on board John Deacon to replace him. The band also changed their name to Queen just prior to his 1971 arrival. When the group released its debut album in 1973, it was all smiles as this was their first big step to achieve the superstardom status they rightfully deserved. From the mid-1970s until the 1990s, Queen dominated the world’s rock music scene. This was really made evident when Queen stood out in 1985’s Live Aid as that one act that literally stole the show. As impressive as the roster was that performed in this multi-band, multi-location weekend concert, Queen became the Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock equivalent when they performed on stage at London’s Wembley Stadium.
Leading up to that iconic 1985 moment, Brian May wrote a series of hits that became some of Queen’s best-selling classics of all time. He was one of the group’s most prolific composers and songwriters throughout their run as a recording artist. In addition to his career with Queen, Brian May also enjoyed a solo career. Not long after Freddie Mercury’s November 24, 1991 death, Brian May and Roger Taylor teamed up with their former bandmate, Tim Staffell, to revive Smile. In 1992 and 2018, the trio performed music with the nine-song material they had prior to Staffell leaving in 1970. In fact, 2018’s re-recording of ‘Doing All Right” was featured in the Queen-themed movie, Bohemian Rhapsody. May and Taylor shared the lead vocals, along with the original recording of Staffell’s vocals. “Doing All Right” was also one of the songs featured on Queen’s debut album.
Paging Dr. May
In 2007, Brian May earned a Ph.D. degree from Imperial College in astrophysics. This came about thirty-six years after he began his studies while performing as Queen’s lead guitarist. From 2008 until 2013, Dr. Brian May was Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University. The impact May had in the scientific community was just as profound as the one he made as Queen’s leading guitarist. There was even an asteroid named after him, 52665 Brianmay. He also happens to be the co-founder of Asteroid Day, an awareness campaign, as well as a former collaborator of NASA’s New Horizons Pluto space mission.
Aside from making a name for himself in science, Brian May also has one in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Queen. They were inducted in 2001. Two years later, they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2018, they also received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. How many rockin’ scientists do you know of that have these honors? May has also been consistently ranked as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. He thanked Eric Cliff Richard, Rory Gallagher, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and The Who as key influences in his desire to pick up and learn the guitar. As far as May was concerned, Jimmy Page was a brilliant rock god.
Top 10 Brian May Songs with Queen
#10 – Keep Yourself Alive
Written by Brian May, “Keep Yourself Alive” was Queen’s debut single released in 1973. It came from their self-titled debut album. At the time of its release, it was mainly ignored by the radio stations so it failed to make a chart appearance. Nowadays, it’s regarded as one of the greatest guitar songs of all time, at least according to music critics. This was a song May and Freddie Mercury shared as lead vocalists. The first version of “Keep Yourself Alive” was recorded in 1971 as a conversational song that took place between Brian May, Freddie Mercury, and Roger Taylor. “Keep Yourself Alive” became a live performance staple at Queen’s concerts. For the group, it was a great song that told the tale of the band.
#9 – Too Much Love Will Kill You
Written by Brian May, “Too Much Love Will Kill You” also received songwriting assistance from Elizabeth Larners and Frank Musker. This song was a reflection of May’s first marriage he had with Anita Dobson. What started out as wedded bliss ended in divorce. Although recorded in 1988, it wasn’t included in The Miracle’s album tracklist that was released in 1989. There were legal issues in place at the time that wouldn’t see this song released as a single until after Freddy Mercury’s death in 1991. As a solo number, “Too Much Love Will Kill You” became a number-five hit on the UK Singles Chart for Brian May. Throughout many European nations, it was at least a top-ten hit.
When this song was performed as a solo act at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert on April 20, 1992, many fans assumed this was a song about Mercury as his death came after losing his battle with AIDS. However, this wasn’t the case as May made this perfectly clear. As for the 1989 recording of “Too Much Love Will Kill You,” this finally made its way on a Queen album. In 1995, it appeared on Made in Heaven before that version was released as a single. Although it didn’t chart quite as high as May’s version did, this became a 1996 Novello Award winner as Best Song Musically and Lyrically. It also became certified silver with the British Phonographic Industry. May’s solo version was also able to achieve this, as well as gold in the Netherlands.
#8 – Save Me
“Save Me” was a power ballad written by Brian May, and sung by Freddie Mercury. From the 1980 album, The Game, this song was released as a single six months before the album itself came out. On the UK Singles Chart, it became a number-one hit. This was a song May wrote about Queen’s main frontman, just as Mercury ended his relationship with Joe Fanelli. It was May’s effort to put himself in Mercury’s situation as a man who had to endure one of the lowest points of his life. On the UK Singles Chart, “Save Me” became a number eleven hit. It peaked as high as number five in the Netherlands, and at number seven in Norway.
#7 – Hammer to Fall
Released as a single in 1984, “Hammer to Fall” came from Queen’s album, The Works. On the UK Singles Chart, it peaked as high as number thirteen. It was also a top ten hit in South Africa, peaking as high as number three. This song about the band’s earliest roots also found a spot in the 1986 movie, Highlander. Written by Brian May, “Hammer to Fall” was a power-hitting favorite that also served as a political statement as John Deacon, Brian May, Freddie Mercury, and Roger Taylor all grew up while the infamous Cold War was still raging on among some of the nations. The raw energy poured into “Hammer to Fall” dealt with the issues of life in death only Freddie Mercury could deliver as lead vocalist and Brian May as lead guitarist. Roger Taylor’s drum performance, as well as John Deacon’s bass guitar, added that special fuel to “Hammer to Fall” to hammer their story home, along with their views about life and how it should be respected.
#6 – Fat Bottomed Girls
From Queen’s seventh studio album, Jazz, “Fat Bottomed Girls” was released as a single. Written by Brian May, the song peaked at number twenty-four on the US Billboard Hot 100, and at number eleven on the UK Singles Chart. It was at least a top twenty hit among the nations of Canada, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Norway. It was released on the same record as “Bicycle Race,” which plays off “Fat Bottomed Girls” as much as May’s written single plays off of the song written by Freddie Mercury. The popularity of this appreciative song of shapely women was enough to become certified platinum with the British Phonographic Industry, as well as double platinum with the Recording Industry Association of America.
#5 – Flash
In 1980, Flash Gordon was a superhero-themed movie that was released in theaters. “Flash” was the theme song that played in the movie and on the soundtrack. The single featured bits of movie dialogue while Brian May and Freddie Mercury sang “Flash” as a duet. Written by May, “Flash” became a number ten hit on the UK Singles Chart, as well as a number forty-two hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. In Austria, it was a number one hit while it was at least a top twenty favorite among the nations of Australia, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, and Sweden. It also became certified silver with the UK’s British Phonographic Industry. Should you ever put together a hero-based soundtrack of your own, it wouldn’t be complete without Queen’s “Flash” in it.
#4 – The Show Must Go On
1991’s “The Show Must Go On” came from the album, Innuendo. Mostly written by Brian May, this was a song about valiantly continuing on despite challenging circumstances. At the time, even though it wasn’t made public yet, Freddie Mercury was dying. Those closest to him knew, which was reflected in May’s songwriting genius that was applied to this song. When this song was recorded in 1990, Mercury’s health was so bad that there were concerns if he’d be able to perform as lead singer. Considering how powerfully he sang “The Show Must Go On,” it’s safe to say he was more than capable.
This was Freddie Mercury’s swan song, beautifully written by May as one of Queen’s most inspirational tunes ever released. Among the fan base who looked at Queen as more than just another rock band, this song had special meaning. It also became a hit on music charts around the world, peaking as high as number two in France. On the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, it was a number forty hit. Even after Mercury’s passing on November 24, 1991, the show went on. April 20, 1992, was the day The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert was held. Hosted by John Deacon, Brian May, and Roger Taylor, they were joined by Elton John. It was he who performed as a lead vocalist while Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi played rhythm guitar.
#3 – Who Wants to Live Forever
Written by Brian May, the first verse behind ‘Who Wants to Live Forever” came from May as lead vocalist. As part of the Highlander movie and soundtrack, “Who Wants to Live Forever” was a beautiful ballad that shared this philosophical question with incredible power. This was also included in Queen’s 1986 album, A Kind of Magic. On the UK Singles Chart, “Who Wants to Live Forever” peaked as high as number twenty-four. It also became certified gold in that nation, as well as Italy. In the movie, the song played while the hero character, Connor MacLeod was an immortal who painstakingly watched his wife, Heather, grow old before him while he maintained his youthful appearance. For May, he watched the scene of Heather’s scene before putting together the lyrics to this power ballad.
#2 – I Want It All
Anita Dobson was the inspiration behind Brian May’s “I Want It All” as a song. The two met in 1986, three years before this hit single by Queen was released. She became May’s second wife as of November 2000. For May, this song was therapeutic as he was still stinging from the divorce he had from his first wife, Christine Mullen. At the time, he felt like he was a failure as a husband, as well as a father of three children. He also just lost his own father. When May met Dobson, it was in 1986 but his separation from his wife didn’t come about until 1988. He was in a state of depression at the time, something Dobson helped pull him out of. It was also during this time he observed Freddie Mercury’s health was deteriorating. Until the day before Mercury’s death, he denied he had contracted the AIDs virus.
For May, the late 1980s going into the early 1990s wasn’t a good time for him. “I Want It All” was a song that reflected this reality. Voicing as a man impatiently wanting everything good in life, Brian May and Freddie Mercury shared the role as lead vocalist in what became one of Queen’s all-time greatest hits. It became certified gold with the Recording Industry Association of America and with Italy’s Federazione Industria Musicale Italiana. It was certified silver by the UK’s British Phonographic Industry. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it became a number fifty-hit. It peaked as high as number three on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, as well as the UK Singles Chart. It was at least a top ten hit among the nations of Australia, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Switzerland.
#1 – We Will Rock You
The moment the heavy beating of Roger Taylor’s drums begins, fans of Queen instantly know “We Will Rock You” is about to overtake their senses as they get caught up in the moment. As fans, we can thank Brian May for this as this was one of the best songs he ever wrote. For the 1977 album, News of the World, this all-time fan favorite classic was often played on radio stations as the first of two songs from this iconic band. “We Are the Champions” was the second. These two were released together and together they became a top ten single worldwide. At first, the 1977 release only saw Belgium chart this single as high as number eight. It was number one in France in 1978. It wasn’t until 1992 “We Will Rock You” was recognized as a hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. It climbed as high number fifty-two. Sporadically, “We Will Rock You” appeared on official music charts from 2003 until as recently as 2020. Globally, this song has proven many times over to be a timeless classic that continues to rock the world as a true cult classic champion.
The appeal of “We Will Rock You’ is so great that the vast majority of sports venues play this song, along with “We Are the Champions” whenever there is a game on. It doesn’t matter what the sport is, this song has established itself as a stadium staple. In 2009, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. One of the highlights of “We Will Rock You” was May’s guitar solo, along with the clapping and stomping that dictated the beat of one of Queen’s greatest hits ever performed as a group.
Top 10 Brian May Queen Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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