by David Chiu
An expanded edition of 1995’s Queen at the BBC, the 2-CD On Air finally collects Queen’s six radio sessions for the BBC between 1973 and 1977, tracing the band’s rise from relative unknowns to a hot act. With regards to Queen and Queen II, the 1973-1974 performances of tracks from those records (“Keep Yourself Alive,” “Ogre Battle,” “Liar,” “White Queen”) for the BBC don’t really depart much sonically from the originals with some exceptions both subtle and noticeable—for instance drummer Roger Taylor sings a verse on “Doing Alright”; and the originally three-minute “Son and Daughter” turns into an seven-minute number and features an extended Brian May guitar solo. Queen returned to the BBC studio with live renditions of some of the hard rocking numbers from the breakthrough album Sheer Heart Attack, including the concert standby “Now I’m Here” and the blistering “Stone Cold Crazy”
Finally the band made their one last BBC radio visit in 1977 this time as superstars thanks to the mammoth success of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” delivering some cuts from the News of the World album. For this session, they stretch out a bit–most notably a fast version of “We Will Rock You” and an abbreviated rendition of the recognizable slow version with an unusual spoken word coda towards the end; an exuberant jam at the end of “Spread Your Wings”. which the band would normally being their shows with during the late 70s and early ’80s; and “It’s Late” that incorporates the mid-section of “Get Down Make Love” with its sonic and vocal effects. (The deluxe edition also contains radio broadcasts of Queen shows from 1973, 1981 and 1986 as well as interviews with the band members between 1976 and 1992). While certainly the performances are almost letter perfect to the originals, they also feel somewhat looser and spontaneous away from the studio perfection the band has been notorious for. On Air improves on Queen at the BBC in painting a fuller portrait of the band’s radio performances—definitely for completists.