When referencing Queen and the group’s top ten songs, which first comes to mind? While Freddie Mercury was the lead vocalist most of the time, sometimes John Deacon, Brian May, and Roger Taylor would do the honors. However, what makes a good song become even greater doesn’t always come from the person belting out the lyrics. Unless a songwriter has brought forth something truly spectacular, along with a music score to back it up, the song will fade as quickly into obscurity as the length of time it took to play it. Speaking of John Deacon, which of his ten songs would you say is his best? How many of them became some of Queen’s biggest hits?
As brilliant as Freddie Mercury was as Queen’s lead vocalist, no band is truly complete without a great team who support each other. Since 1970, Brian May served as the group’s lead guitarist while Roger Taylor was the drummer. As for Mercury, sometimes he’d play behind the piano. Aside from their assigned instruments, May, Mercury, and Taylor were able to play others as well. But, what about the bass guitarist? Well, that’s where John Deacon comes in.
When Deacon joined Queen’s lineup in 1971, he became the youngest member of this four-man band. Born on August 19, 1951, Deacon grew up in a working-class family environment in Leicester, England. Aside from his interest in music, Deacon was also a fan of electronics. This came in handy as he got older, learning how to modify tape decks to record music directly from the radio. While growing up, he became a fan of soul music.
When he was fourteen years old, Deacon joined his first school band, playing rhythm guitar. Named Opposition, it went through a series of lineup changes before Deacon decided to enroll in Chelsea College in 1969. When he was finished, he earned a First Class Honours degree in Electronics. Immediately after this, he looked in Queen’s direction upon realizing there was an opening for a bass guitarist. This came about after Deacon was inspired after watching one of his favorite groups, Deep Purple, perform in a live concert. At first, he wasn’t really a fan of Queen but this changed after he won an audition to join the lineup. Now as a contributor to Queen’s musical repertoire, Deacon played his role in not only sculpting the band’s future but the rock and roll genre as well.
When Queen’s debut album was released in 1973, John Deacon was credited as Deacon John. The idea behind this was to make his name seem more interesting. However, he ultimately preferred to be credited as John Deacon. From 1974’s Queen II onward, the bass guitarist’s wishes were honored.
1974 also marked the year Queen released its third studio album, Sheer Heart Attack. It would be the first to feature John Deacon’s songwriting skills. This was also the album where he stepped up while bandmate Brian May was hospitalized with hepatitis. Deacon’s first song was “Misfire,” which had a tropical theme. This became the first of many songs he’d write on his own or in a collaborative effort with his bandmates. Some of Queen’s biggest hits came from Deacon’s penmanship while Freddie Mercury was often the main man to use his incredible vocal talent to bring the lyrics to life.
In 1982, Queen’s brief dance into light disco music featured John Deacon and Freddie Mercury working together on the album, Hot Space. When this venture proved to be an unsuccessful one, Queen returned to the rock roots that made them a global fan favorite, to begin with. As for Deacon, the desire to tap further into the type of soul music that instrumentally influenced him to become a musician led him to play with other bands going into the mid-1980s. He also worked with Freddie Mercury as his bass guitarist when he embarked on a solo career. For Deacon, he felt it was important to be more than simply a bass player in a rock band. He also wanted to contribute as a songwriter and visionary. It worked with Queen and it worked with the various musical projects he became involved with on his own.
As bandmates and as friends, John Deacon and Freddie Mercury were close. When Mercury died on November 24, 1991, a piece of Deacon’s soul died with him. As far as he was concerned, Queen was done. How can this band carry on without Mercury? This bitter pill of reality caused Deacon to look into retiring as a performer. Aside from playing live with Queen in a few benefit concerts, Deacon did indeed retire from music as a performer.
He also retired from the public spotlight. When Queen was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, he chose not to join Brian May and Roger Taylor publicly accepting it. When Bohemian Rhapsody was conceived as a movie that looked into the life of Freddie Mercury, Deacon did agree to it. His role was played by actor Joseph Mazzello. When asked about his potential return to Queen, Deacon admitted he’d love to play again but felt today’s musical direction isn’t going in a direction that works with his personal preferences as a musician. Once upon a time, it was music that often shaped the cultural direction of society. For the most part, it was a stress-free environment.
As far as he’s concerned, it’s now the other way around. In an industry that used to brace artists for individualism and creativity, it now appears to him as yet another victim in a world that seems bent on behaving like a cyborg collective. As a member of Queen, Deacon was often regarded as the quietest member of this four-man group. While Queen was notorious for hashing out their creative differences with each other in classic shouting matches, Deacon often made a point to avoid the arguments. Aside from his creative input in 1982’s Hot Space, he often kept to himself.
Top 10 John Deacon Queen Songs
#10 – Staying Power
Because of John Deacon’s familiarity with Motown music, it was his rhythm guitar that began “Staying Power” as a song that was featured on the 1982 album, Hot Space. Although not charted as a hit, this was a song that saw Queen dabble further into light disco. This was a song that celebrated a couple’s ability to survive in a world that seems to split people apart more often than bring them together. Although this song was designed to glorify a tried and true relationship between two people, this also painted the reality Queen was able to do so as a group. Although this didn’t become a commercially successful song, it did allow Deacon to expose more of himself as an artist. He grew up as a fan of soul music, which was poured into his role as Queen’s bass guitarist.
#9 – Pain Is So Close to Pleasure
1986’s A Kind of Magic featured “Pain Is So Close to Pleasure” as one of the songs parts of its tracklist. Written by the collaborated efforts of John Deacon and Freddie Mercury, this became a modest hit for Queen among the European nations of Germany and the Netherlands. The song peaked at number fifty-six and number forty-three, respectively. The title of this song also played into “One Year of Love,” as the two worked off each other as love songs. This simply was a song about the pain and pleasure that goes into romantic relationships. Whether during intimate moments or living together as a couple, “Pain Is So Close to Pleasure” was a lighthearted musical approach to the typical lifestyle shared by two people who’ve agreed to spend as much time together while they have it.
#8 – Back Chat
“Back Chat” was a song that had John Deacon handle the lead guitar from the start to its end. Among the fans who know a thing or two about Queen, it wasn’t uncommon for the bandmates to engage in heated arguments with each other. Written by Deacon, “Back Chat” was a song that was heavily influenced by soul music. This was Deacon’s specialty and he had a certain vision in mind for the song he felt fellow guitarist, Brian May, wouldn’t be able to handle properly. This didn’t sit well with May as he’s always been Queen’s lead guitarist since the beginning. The only exception came when he was hospitalized for hepatitis in 1974. It was during that time Deacon stepped up while Queen recorded Sheer Heart Attack.
While “Back Pages” and its 1982 Hot Space album weren’t commercially successful at first, this was a song that revealed a bit more about Deacon as a person and as a musician. Although “Back Chat” may not have been a big seller as a single at the time, it did peak as high as number forty on the UK Singles Chart. It was also a number eighteen hit in South Africa and a number nineteen hit in Ireland. Over time, “Back Chat” grew in popularity as a funky tune that worked its way to the dance floor.
#7 – Need Your Loving Tonight
From The Game, “Need Your Loving Tonight” was one of two songs John Deacon wrote for the album in 1980. This came from the viewpoint of a heartbroken man who saw the end of his romantic relationship as a mutual decision. This song of loss was performed by Queen’s lead vocalist, Freddie Mercury, as someone who was partially in denial. What made “Need Your Loving Tonight” so special was the hint of 1960s nostalgia. This would have been the kind of song the likes of John Lennon or Paul McCartney could have written as songwriters. What this song did was highlight the talent of Deacon, as well as the romantic in him that always came through in each song he wrote while he was with Queen.
#6 – One Year of Love
The 1986 movie, Highlander, featured Queen’s music in some of its more dramatic scenes. In it, as well as the soundtrack and A Kind of Magic, “One Year of Love” joined the ranks as a fan favorite from a group that consistently produced one fantastic song after another. Written by John Deacon, “One Year of Love” was played during a bar scene that took place in the movie. This was an emotional ballad that was graced with a saxophone playing in the song which added even more depth to its romantic message. On the official music chart belonging to France, it was enough to earn a spot as high as number fifty-six. Speaking as a fan, “One Year of Love” was a true gem as it revealed certain vulnerabilities most people choose not to show. Usually more flamboyant and carefree, Freddie Mercury’s down-to-earth performance of this song was truly spectacular. Deacon really did Queen justice with a song that also added a bit more soul to a movie that was primarily designed as an action flick.
#5 – Friends Will Be Friends
“Friends Will Be Friends” was a number fourteen hit on the UK Singles Chart after it was released as a single in 1986. Coming from the album, A Kind of Magic, this song was actually co-written by John Deacon and Freddie Mercury in a collaborative effort. Throughout Europe, “Friends Will Be Friends” appeared at least as a top twenty hit in Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. It also peaked as high as number fifty in New Zealand. The appeal behind this song, especially when looking back as a fan, was the friendship that was shared within the core roster of Queen.
When Freddie Mercury died in 1991, John Deacon’s desire to continue with Queen died with him. Also, Queen’s ability to keep themselves together as a band for so long was remarkable. While many bands tend to break apart due to creative differences, Queen used their spats to their advantage. Even though Deacon was considered to be the quiet mouse of this four-man family, when it came to his ability to deliver as a bass guitarist, this spoke volumes. A fan hears this in “Friends Will Be Friends” as a song that had Queen at its best.
#4 – Spread Your Wings
From the album, News of the World, “Spread Your Wings” was a 1977 release that peaked as high as number twenty in the Netherlands, twenty-nine in Germany and number thirty-four on the UK Singles Chart. Written by John Deacon, this Queen hit lyrically shared a tale about a man named Sammy. This hero character was serving as a janitor for a bar. Among so many fans and upcoming talents who could relate, “Spread Your Wings” was a song about aspiring to do more than simply work for some judgemental boss. For Deacon, this was his first stab at lyrical storytelling, an effort lead singer Freddie Mercury felt was one of his best works as a songwriter.
This song was one of many that also featured Mercury’s piano skills and become an important addition to one of many recordings that made Queen so iconic as a rock band. As a single, “Spread You Wings” was not released in North America. There was, however, a live version that came from Queen’s live album, Live Killers. It was on the same album that featured Queen’s 1979 hit single, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” The live version of “Spread Your Wings” peaked as high as number thirty-four on the UK Singles Chart.
# 3 – I Want to Break Free
“I Want to Break Free” became a major hit for Queen after it was released as a single in 1984. At least this was the case throughout most of the European nations. It topped the official music charts belonging to Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, and South Africa. On the UK Singles Chart, it peaked as high as number three. “I Want to Break Free” was also at least a top ten hit among the nations of Australia, France, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Spain, and Switzerland. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it peaked as high as number forty-five. One of the main reasons why “I Want to Break Free” was so popular among the nations that charted it so high was the fans looked to it as an anthem fighting against oppression.
In North America, not so much, at least not at the time. It was also at this time some of the music critics and fans were put off by Queen’s music video as each band member was dressed in drag. When 2018’s Bohemian Rhapsody as a movie came out, the popularity of “I Want to Break Free” had it appear on some of the music charts again. This time, it peaked as high as number sixteen on the US Billboard Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart. What was heavily frowned upon in the 1980s by Americans now became more acceptable, thanks to the rise of communities that also looked to a song that was written by Queen’s bass guitarist, John Deacon.
#2 – Another One Bites the Dust
“Another One Bites the Dust” was a dance song written by John Deacon in 1980. The inspiration behind the song came from Deacon’s interest in soul music. It was enough to reel him in to embark on a musical career of his own. He, along with lead singer Freddie Mercury, guitarist Brian May, and drummer Roger Taylor, revolutionized the genre of rock and roll with the unique sounds that came from their group, Queen. “Another One Bites the Dust” was one of the band’s best hits as it became so much more than a major hit on the music charts. This song became a cult favorite that still holds its place among fans worldwide. When “Another One Bites the Dust” was released from the album The Game, it wasted no time climbing as high as number one on the US Billboard Hot 100. It also topped the charts belonging to Canada, Israel, and Spain.
“Another One Bites the Dust” was at least a top ten hit among several nations and it was a number seven hit on the UK Singles Chart. For Deacon, the inspiration for Queen’s mega-hit single came from Chic’s disco song, “Good Times.” The 1981 American Music Awards recognized “Another One Bites the Dust” as its Favorite Pop/Rock Single. The metaphorical theme behind this song focused on what happens after two opposing forces meet each other. Whether it’s due to conflict or a sporting event, the losing side always “bites the dust” after the other side scores its triumphant win. Originally, “Another One Bites the Dust” was intended for Rocky III’s musical lineup but it was replaced by Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” instead.
This song also became a source of controversy when some Christian evangelists suggested there was subliminal messaging behind the lyrics that used backmasking. However, this was met with opposition by other Christian leaders who viewed this song as a celebratory dance over an enemy they were stomping into the ground. In the argument, the Christians used a series of bible references that supported “Another One Bites the Dust” as a source of inspiration. This included Mark 12:36’s quote by King David, “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at My right hand until I put your enemies beneath your feet.”
#1 – You’re My Best Friend
John Deacon wrote, “You’re My Best Friend” as a song dedicated to his bride, Veronica Tetzlaff. The two have been married since January 1975 and now have six children together. Performed as a happy love song, “You’re My Best Friend” became a 1976 fan favorite that found its way on a series of official music charts. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it peaked as high as number sixteen. It was a number two hit in Canada, as well as a number seven hit in the UK. This song also charted as high as number three in Ireland, number six in the Netherlands, and number twenty-seven in Belgium and Finland. In sales, “You’re My Best Friend” sold enough copies as a single to become certified platinum with the British Phonographic Industry and the Recorded Industry Association of America. What made this song stand out aside from Mercury’s playful vocals was the Wurlitzer bass performance that had Deacon create its bark-like sound.
Top 10 John Deacon Queen Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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