Rock Rhapsodies: Top Ten Classic Guitar Solos By Queen’s Brian May
Many of May’s great solos have not only complemented but transformed the songs they’ve appeared in.
“The best solos are something which you can sing as well as the melody line,” says Brian May, guitarist for rock icons Queen. “The kind of solos I enjoy are where there’s a line which reflects the melody line, but subtly changes it in some way which adds to the song.”
As often, Dr. May (surely the only guitar hero with a PhD in astrophysics) is being a little too modest: many of his great solos have not only complemented but transformed the songs they’ve appeared in. By way of celebrating a phenomenal player and all round good guy, born on July 19, 1947, we’ve picked ten of his greatest guitar performances on record with Queen.
It seems only right to open with “Bohemian Rhapsody,” to which May contributes not only a remarkable, timeless solo but some of the most brilliant guitar textures to augment the rest of the band, particularly Freddie Mercury’s lead vocals.
“For me, the guitar is a lead instrument and can be a voice, but it has to be always playing underneath the vocal,” Brian May explained to Guitar Player in 2012. “This is what I tell my guitarists all around the world who play in [the musical] We Will Rock You – be free and be creative, but always remember that if you’re doing something that messes up the vocal, you’re in the wrong playing field.”
Then there’s “Keep Yourself Alive,” track one on Queen’s self-titled first album, and their debut single; and “Stone Cold Crazy,” now often seen as a proto-thrash metal track, which came from 1974’s Sheer Heart Attack, and was a live favorite of the band’s in the 70s.
“Stone Cold Crazy” was one of Queen’s earliest live staples, introduced as early as 1970 but not recorded until their third album Sheer Heart Attack. In just two minutes and 13 seconds, it captured the very essence of the band, and of May’s visceral rock attack. Classic Rock called it “the very essence of 70s Queen: loud, silly, bombastic and fun.”
From 1976’s A Day At The Races comes the great Queen rocker “Tie Your Mother Down,” written by Brian May before the band even existed, improbably on Spanish guitar. “People jump up when they hear it, which is a good feeling,” Brian told Guitar World in 2013.
Big hits underpinned by Brian May’s guitar heroics include the Freddie Mercury song “It’s A Hard Life,” Queen’s third consecutive UK Top 10 success from the album The Miracle in 1984. The dazzling video features Brian playing a unique skull and crossbones guitar.
“Killer Queen,” again from 1973’s Sheer Heart Attack, served early notice of the way that Queen would make May’s incredible sound an integral part of some of their biggest singles. Brian himself described the single as a turning point, heaping praise on Freddie’s performance and those of Roger Taylor and John Deacon. “Of course, I like the solo,” he added, ” with that three-part section, where each part has its own voice. What can I say? It’s vintage Queen.”
The rock’n’roll-flavored “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” became Queen’s first American No.1 single, a wonderful tribute to the music of their forebears and a showcase for Mercury’s sheer sense of showbusiness and fun. But it also highlighted May’s ability to channel his early heroes, notably on a memorable solo that complemented Freddie’s acoustic guitar.
Widely-admired album tracks spotlighting May’s peerless style include “Bijou,” from 1991’s Innuendoand introduced by a searing, evocative figure by the guitar hero. It was said to have been the result of a session he had with Mercury at the piano that lasted just one hour.
No such list would be complete without an example of the band in their live pomp. To capture the flavor of a Queen show, we’ve chosen the version of “Brighton Rock” that was included on the soundtrack of the smash-hit film Bohemian Rhapsody.
The playlist concludes with the solo that Brian himself has said is his own favorite, from “Was It All Worth It,” the Freddie Mercury composition on 1989’s The Miracle. “It’s got a killer solo on it,” May observed. “I pick up and down on those arpeggios. I can do it for short periods, but after that my brain short-circuits and my hand gets confused. I actually like those rising lines. I like lines that suggest harmonic content. I tend to play across chords rather than along lines,” he reflected.
“I don’t think as a guitar player my technique changed that much from the beginning to the end,” May told Guitar Player. “What changed was just the experience in getting the ideas to their fruition.”
Listen to the best of Queen on Apple Music and Spotify for more of Brian May’s phenomenal work with this most legendary of bands.
July 25, 2015 at 7:57 pm
was hoping hammer to fall would be in the top ten,
July 26, 2015 at 1:13 am
“Star Fleet” from Brian May and Friends.
July 26, 2015 at 2:00 pm
For me, “It’s Late” 😉
July 19, 2016 at 4:00 pm
I always loved “It’s Late”. It was the hit that was ignored.
October 25, 2016 at 9:22 pm
Yes yes yes yes yes. A thousand times, yes.
October 26, 2016 at 8:51 am
That’s more a Roger Taylor mental drum track…
May 19, 2016 at 1:49 pm
Happy Birthday Brian.(Stone cold crazy) does it for me.
May 19, 2016 at 2:31 pm
Need me some Dragon Attack
May 20, 2016 at 12:58 am
The solo from “It’s Late” on News of the World always gives me goosebumps.
May 20, 2016 at 1:33 pm
White Queen/as it began, white man, father to son and it’s a kind of magic. Those are the best Brian May moments for me.
July 19, 2016 at 2:38 pm
Can’t agree with the list to be very honest.
One of BM’s best work was in “Too much love will kill you”
Many more are missing too. Nevertheless Happy Birthday Legend.
July 19, 2016 at 3:25 pm
Great King Rat,Death on 2 Legs,Let Me Entertain You,Sheer Heart Attack
July 19, 2016 at 4:04 pm
O yes, he is/was mindblowingly good at summarising a song in a solo!
He has the marvellous ability in finding the balance between melody, rhythm, timing and (sound of) tone. Much of his solos sound very simple and logical, but if you really (really!) listen well to them, analysing how he operates from tone to tone and hearing how the next sub-melody line of which you think it just started, actually already sprouted in the previous melody (line), you’ll be mind blowed by the sophistication that lies in there. The solo of Crazy Little Thing Called Love, for instance!
He’s one of the few who gives you the feeling he really is his guitar sound and tone, certainly mid-end seventies live. Listen to the last to Queen live releases (Live At The Rainbow ’74 and A Night At The Odeon) to found this confirmed.
And to name just a few other songs with great solos:
You Don’t Fool Me, The Millionaire Waltz, Play The Game, Back Chat, The Miracle, Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy and of course the studio version of Brighton Rock, which feels as it’s almost a guitar solo on itself.
And of course.2: Good Company! Any list on Brian’s guitar playing, cannot be complete without this song.
Oh and what a marvellous piece of music The Prophet’s Song is…
Comunità Queeniana Italiana
July 19, 2016 at 5:07 pm
H E R O
July 19, 2016 at 11:26 pm
just one more lovely solo “Last horizon” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=frube9ra07Y
September 16, 2016 at 7:06 am
Last Horizon is one of my favorites. It is, quite simply, one of the most beautifully composed pieces I’ve ever heard from Queen/May… And that’s obviously saying quite a bit!
October 25, 2016 at 11:35 am
Songs that make me break out the air guitar are missing. Folds up, fits in your back pocket, feels like you’re sitting on nothing. It’s quite nice. Top Ten lists are goofy anyway.
October 25, 2016 at 3:22 pm
March of the Black Queen should be there!
October 25, 2016 at 7:03 pm
The best Brian May solo for me will always be A winter’s tale. It send a shiver down my spine whenever I hear it. It sets the mood for the song so well, the guitar just speaks to me.
October 25, 2016 at 8:33 pm
Although not a guitarist myself, I often read interviews and articles about the greats and had the opportunity to see Queen in the original line up back in 1982. Another famous guitarist recently stated that while many of the greats are copied, Brian May’s sound is the most unique and hardest to imitate. There is a great Queen Tribute out of LA named “Queen Nation”, check them out, they are great and very authentic. The left handed guitarist playing the part of May is exceptionally wonderful. Lastly, I agree with some of the comments here that “It’s Late” is truly the hit that never was. A great Brian May piece that was part of that huge “News of the World” album.
October 25, 2016 at 10:21 pm
October 25, 2016 at 11:00 pm
Dragon attack !!!!!
October 26, 2016 at 4:19 am
Great King Rat should be there. I like “Sail Away Sweet Sister”.
October 26, 2016 at 8:58 am
We Will Rock You! – Here we have the best brian-may-solo … imo 😉
October 29, 2016 at 4:38 am
What about These Are The Days Of Our Lives? It´s an Amazing song, but the incredible solo almost makes me cry!!!
May 4, 2017 at 4:51 am
Every Brian May solo stirs me.
His sound is groundbreaking and inestimably unique.
From the first time I heard the maddeningly-brief and stunningly-explosive blasts in “Killer Queen” (on AM radio), I was a disciple.
May 18, 2017 at 3:13 pm
For me Brian’s best single is ‘Brighton Rock’ but I really like the drama that Brian gives to each solo as ‘Last Horizon’, ‘It’s A Hard Life’, and ‘The Prophet’s song’ … They take you to another world … Thanks Brian !.
May 18, 2017 at 8:06 pm
As a guitarist I am in love with Brian’s guitar playing. Songs like Dragon Attack, Brighton Rock, Was It All Worth It or Breakthrou are excellent. But please listen carefully and multiple times to Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy – that’s the true masterpiece.
May 19, 2017 at 9:55 am
I want it all for sure
May 26, 2017 at 8:35 pm
You don’t fool me hava a great solo
May 24, 2018 at 9:15 am
You forgot the best solo of all – I want it all !!! Brian’s playing in that song is amongst his finest work
May 25, 2018 at 7:21 pm
Everyone forgets Flash theme the tone is out of this world very similar to Tom Schulz but better with Diatonic harmony’s Way ahead of its time
May 29, 2018 at 3:01 pm
Spread your wings (Live Killers) an amazing dialogue with the piano
July 19, 2018 at 2:15 pm
The solo in I Want To Break Free is skilfully performed by Fred Mandel on synth! It sounds very guitarish however 😉
July 20, 2018 at 8:48 am
You Don’t Fool Me
August 17, 2018 at 9:53 pm
I bought news of the world when it came out….I always loved we we will rock you ..that’s the reason I bought it. Simply put I believe the lead in we will rock you is way up there and just as powerful as any other May has played…