Die-hard fans know that Roger Taylor’s contributions to Queen is immeasurable, and not just as the band’s drummer. With a distinctive raspy singing voice, Taylor provided many of the harmony and backing vocals on Queen’s songs – including the famous operatic bit in “Bohemian Rhapsody”; he sung the occasional lead vocal on the songs he wrote for the band, including “Modern Times Rock and Roll,” “Tenement Funster,” “I’m in Love With My Car,” “Action this Day,” “Fight from the Inside,” and the B-side single “A Human Body”; and he composed two of the band’s biggest hits “Radio Ga Ga” and “A Kind of Magic.” If Freddie Mercury and John Deacon reflected the pop and funk sides of the band, then Taylor and Brian May were Queen’s rock and roll heart; And especially in the case of Taylor, he was the band’s manic rock and roller with the expansive imagination, as indicated on such heavy hard-hitting songs as “Sheer Heart Attack” and “Ride the Wild Wind.” In 1977, Taylor released his first solo projects, the rocking cover of the Parliaments’ “I Wanna Testify”; he has since released five studio records under his name. In addition to his tenure in Queen, Taylor led the band the Cross during the ’80s, in which he was the lead vocalist and guitarist.
Yet Taylor’s music never really seen a proper release here in the States. At least Mercury’s and May’s own albums had some kind of distribution in America via Hollywood Records during the ’90s. Unless you were living in the U.K., the only channels to access Taylor’s solo music were probably through overseas purchase, eBay, or YouTube.
That oversight has finally been corrected with the recent U.S. release of The Lot, a boxed set of Taylor’s solo works, including material with the Cross; and a single disc 18-track compilation called Best, spanning from his first album 1981’s Fun in Space, to his most recent work 2013’s Fun on Earth. Based on the music from Best it’s no wonder where Queen’s hard-charging rock style comes from. Especially in the first several tracks of set: “I Wanna Testify,” “Man on Fire,” “Strange Frontier,” and “Let’s Get Crazy,” and then later with “A Nation of Haircuts” and “No More Fun”– Taylor sounds like a man possessed and ready to explode, and it’s fabulous. Arguably, they could have found a place on the band’s records as well.
It’s usually common for an artist from a hugely successful band to be set in his ways and not deviate from formula. However, such creative stagnation doesn’t apply to Taylor as his solo music has evolved from album to album; one could notice that the latter half of Best that music becomes sonically eclectic, reflecting a more mature and philosophical point of view lyrically – such as on “Nazis 1994″ and the gut-wrenching “The Unblinking Eye (Everything Is Broken).” While his reputation as a rocker precedes him, Taylor also shows his prowess as a balladeer especially on the lovely and eloquent “Foreign Sand”; the almost Latin-influenced “Tonight,” and the Beatlesque-sounding “Happiness.” As a counterpoint, to “The Unblinking Eye,” the soulful “Sunny Day” closes Best on an optimistic note.
If there is anything that could be taken from this collection is that it represents a nice survey of Taylor’s range as both a musician and songwriter outside of the parent group. Again, it’s a demonstration of how the members of Queen are more than just the sum of the parts. The only question left by the release of Best is why did it take so long for this music to finally see the light of day here in the U.S. – this is pretty good stuff that American Queen fans needed to hear. Then again, it goes back to the cliché of better late than never.