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Queen - The Singles Collection Volume 3 CD (album) cover

THE SINGLES COLLECTION VOLUME 3

Queen

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SouthSideoftheSky
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Symphonic Team
2 stars Hang on in there!

Here is the third singles box set from one of my all time favourite bands. Just like the previous two, this third box set contains 13 discs which are CD versions of another 13 of the band's original singles. The first box set of the series covered the period from 1973 to 1978, the second box covered the years 1979 to 1984 and now this third one covers the years 1984 to 1989. Interestingly, the singles taken from The Works album were split over the second and third installments of this series with Radio Ga Ga and I Want To Break Free making the second box, while It's A Hard Life and Hammer To Fall taken from that same album were held back to be included in the present box set. The reason for this is not quite clear but I guess it has a lot to do with the apparent obsession with having each box set contain exactly 13 singles - no more, no less. Apart from these two singles taken from The Works, this third volume in the singles collection series contains the singles from the A Kind Of Magic and The Miracle albums, as well as the Christmas song Thank God It's Christmas that was never featured on any album. This Christmas song was released only as a single in 1985, in between the releases of The Works and A Kind Of Magic albums. Since the 1989 album The Miracle was not Queen's last album, we should expect a fourth singles box set in the future covering the very successful singles released from the Innuendo and Made In Heaven albums in the 90's. (It has been officially stated that a fourth box will eventually appear, so I'm not just speculating here).

As I noted in my review for box #2, Queen was always both an albums band and a singles band. However, when they first started out in the early 70's they leaned heavily towards being an albums band, even if they did release singles even back then. As time progressed, though, they became more and more of a singles band, topping the charts and giving a bit less attention to their albums as such - they often felt more like collections of their recent singles with a couple of less interesting songs (but there are exceptions, of course). While masterpiece albums like Queen II and A Night At The Opera clearly work best when they are heard in their entirety, as they are supposed to be, albums like The Works and A Kind Of Magic could certainly benefit from a more selective listening. Especially the latter, which is one of the most uneven albums in Queen history, with the highest highs imaginable as well as a few merely decent tracks. I'm thinking, of course, of such brilliant tracks as Who Wants To Live Forever (an absolute masterpiece of a song, in my opinion!) and the marvelous Princes Of The Universe. And on the same album you find such weak tracks as Pain Is So Close To Pleasure, Don't Lose Your Head and, perhaps worst of all, One Year Of Love. (I still the album highly, becasue the great tracks are several and truly excellent).

What is most interesting of all is that every track from the A Kind Of Magic album was released as either an A-side or a B-side of a single! This means that all of the nine tracks from that album are included in this box (in some form or other)! The opportunity to offer a more selective look at this uneven album and highlight the best tracks is thus lost as it is all here! However, the single version of Pain Is So Close To Pleasure is a remix and slightly different from the album version. But how on earth songs like Pain Is So Close To Pleasure and One Year Of Love could be released as singles in the first place is beyond me! On a negative note, I must point out that some of these single A-sides are edited versions, the album versions are thus generally strongly preferable. The aforementioned Who Wants To Live Forever is sadly a such edited "single version".

On a positive note, those who only own the A Kind Of Magic album might not have the other three non-album B-sides from its singles that are featured here: Blurred Vision (B-side to One Vision) and A Dozen Red Roses For My Darling (B-side to A Kind Of Magic) and Forever (B-side to Who Wants To Live Forever). These three are all instrumentals, but while the latter is a wonderful piano piece based on the same melody as its A-side, Blurred Vision is basically an instrumental "Dance" remix of One Vision! A Dozen Red Roses For My Darling too is a Kraftwerk-like remix of Don't Lose Your Head from the same album (also featured in this box). It is very interesting for a hard core fan like myself to hear just how diverse this great band were, but for the casual listener or moderate fan these non-album B-sides are hardly essential. It should be noted that Forever was actually featured as a bonus track on the CD version of the A Kind Of Magic album - so, if you own that album on CD already, you have one less reason to invest in this (presumably expensive - I have heard it only on Spotify) box set.

The three earlier singles, the two taken from The Works and the Christmas single, also offers very little of interest for someone who already own The Works. The single version of Hammer To Fall is, again, an edited version inferior to the album version and the Christmas song itself is not very much to my liking! The B-sides to these three singles were all taken from The Works album, so with the exception of the rather lame Thank God It's Christmas (I never liked Christmas songs!), if you already own The Works, you actually get less, not more here (due to the edited song), than what you already have on that album! It's A Hard Life and Is This The World We Created? are definitely good songs, but Tear It Up, Man On The Prowl and Keep On Passing The Open Windows, are among the least good songs from The Works (which is not a very strong Queen album in the first place despite some very good moments). Needless to say, I much prefer hearing the album over the singles taken from it by themselves and the same goes for A Kind Of Magic and The Miracle.

The singles taken from The Miracle are, thankfully, a bit more interesting, offering more and stronger non-album material. However, the best song here by far - the excellent Hang On In There - was already featured as a bonus track on The Miracle CD. This leaves Stealin', Hijack My Heart and My Life Has Been Saved. The latter is familiar to those who own the Made In Heaven album, but this is the original version. Stealin' reminds me a little bit of the early 70's non-album B-side See What A Fool I've Been (featured in singles box set #1) and is not really that good, in my opinion. Hijack My Heart is a Roger Taylor song with him on lead vocals and it is a good one even if hardly essential.

All this might seem like pretty hard criticism, but this third singles box set is actually the best and most interesting of the three Queen singles boxes that have been released so far! The most important advantage of box #3 over the previous two is that while box #1 contained only one non-album b-side and #2 contained three, this third box features eight non-album tracks. Granted, many of those interested are likely to already have two of these songs as bonus tracks on CD's and another two are basically "remixes" or alternate versions of songs that already appeared on albums rather than fully new songs. But this still leaves enough good non-album material to make this box set worthwhile, or at least more worthwhile than the previous two singles boxes. Non-album B-sides like Stealin' and Hijack My Heart are, to my knowledge at least, not available anywhere else on CD. I would certainly prefer to have all the non-album tracks released on a single disc instead of these massive box sets, but I'm very glad that these previously unavailable songs are finally released on CD.

For anyone who is not a major Queen fan, however, I would certainly recommend sticking with the albums. These box sets are, after all, aimed primarily at fans and collectors. Any fan of the band will want to have the albums from which these singles were taken anyway, and those beginners looking for an introductory compilation album will not want to buy an expensive box set just to get an insight into Queen's late 80's period (but rather go for the much cheaper compilation album Greatest Hits II or their DVD counterparts that feature many of these same songs).

If you don't have the studio albums from which these singles were taken, buy them now! If you already have these studio albums, you might not feel the need to buy these singles box sets. But if you do, this third box is strongly preferable to the previous two in virtue of offering a higher quantity of non-album material. Better and more interesting for sure, but still primarily recommended for fans and collectors. The best and most Prog-relevant tracks are the excellent Who Wants To Live Forever, Princes Of The Universe and Hang On In There, but all of these three are better available elsewhere.

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Posted Tuesday, June 08, 2010 | Review Permalink

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