Queen - Best Bootlegs
Are you an avid Queen fan? You have listened to everything that's been officially released and you still want more? Well, then bootlegs might be the way to go! But sometimes it may seem scaringly overwhelming to go through literally hundreds of recordings just to find something that is not only interesting, but also have an acceptable sound quality.
So here I'll try to give you an overview on some of the best Queen bootlegs, in chronological order. I've tried to pick those that have some point of interest in the setlist, the performance, and the sound quality. And if you still want more after all that, there will be some honorable mentions at the end, that will surely have worse sound quality, or they are less essential, but they could be interesting nonetheless.
Also, keep in mind that new bootlegs come out all the time, so this list can obvoiusly change in the future.
One last important thing before we go: I won't put links to places where you can find these bootlegs, but if you are interested you can easily find all of these on YouTube.
1 – Golder's Green Hippodrome, London 13/09/1973
This is the earliest known recording of Queen live, and that is enough for it to be of interest. Done by the BBC, actually right now this is not really a bootleg anymore, being that most of it (not in its entirety) has been released as part of the 6 CD version of On Air in 2016. Still, if you want the complete version of this relatively short live set, you still need to find the bootleg. The sound quality is actually very good, the only problem being Freddie Mercury's voice which is sadly buried in the mix at a very low volume. It's also interesting to hear tracks from the Queen II album (Ogre Battle and Father To Son) before being recorded.
2 – Budokan, Tokyo 01/05/1975
I skipped 1974 mainly because there isn't much in good audio quality from then, and also because that year is now very well represented by the release of Live At The Rainbow '74. So now we are right at the end of their first Japanese tour, and while there are multiple recordings from that tour that sound fairly good, this one is particularly interesting because of the setlist and the great performance by the band. It's the best chance to hear the unreleased track Hangman, along with others like Great King Rat e Doing All Right, all rarely played live. The sound quality is not perfect, being an audience recording, but I find it to be still very enjoyable.
3 – Music Hall, Boston 30/01/1976
So, I know that it may seem redundant to have a show from just a month after the officially released A Night At The Odeon (which itself has been a bootleg for decades), but actually this might easily be one of the best bootlegs I've ever heard. The first reason why you might find this interesting is because of the setlist, which obviously has quite a few similarities with the Hammersmith Odeon concert from December 1975, but because that was a BBC special, it was actually shorter. On here we also have things like Sweet Lady, Flick Of The Wrist, The Prophet's Song and Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon; and if you add to that an impressive sound quality considering we are talking about an audience recording (that actually sounds better than some soundboards), you have a winner. Also, everyone on here is on top form, much better than Hammersmith '75 in my opinion.
4 – Hyde Park, London 18/10/1976
This is not one of the best Queen concerts both in performance and audio quality, but it's undoubtedly one of the most famous unofficial recordings of them. The reason is because, along with a few other concerts I will talk about later, this is one of the few that has also a video. It has never been released officially in its entirety, but we've seen snippets on documentaries, and it can look very good with a bit of work. Sadly, for now we only have a shaky soundboard recording and a washed out looking video. But it's still better than nothing! And surely a great chance to see them and not just listen.
5 – Earls Court, London 06/06/1977
Again one of the most famous unofficial recordings and again also with a video! This one I find it to be much better than Hyde Park, being longer and in an overall better quality. The concert is around two hours long, it looks and sounds very good, and it has songs like Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy, The Millionaire Waltz, You Take My Breath Away and White Man. Also interesting to hear the full Death On Two Legs before it became part of a medley, the return of Doing All Right, and the improvised Elton John's classic Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting. Freddie's voice might not be on top form, and there are also a few problems with his microphone at the beginning, but all the rest (and his costumes) make up for it.
6 – The Summit, Houston 11/12/1977
While being still in 1977, this concert is actually part of another tour, promoting News Of The World. So the setlist has some differencies (Brighton Rock, Get Down Make Love, Love Of My Life, a sublime My Melancholy Blues, Sheer Heart Attack and the new entries We Will Rock You, in two versions, and We Are The Champions), but the main point of interest here is that this one, again, has a full video. And if that isn't enough, the audio quality is even better than Earls Court '77 (if we get over Freddie's low volume here), and the video, although a bit dark, is simply wonderful. Sadly the setlist is a bit shorter compared to other shows of that same tour. So if you want to hear other songs played on that tour, such as It's Late and Spread Your Wings, you can go straight to “Honorable Mentions”, because the audio quality goes down a bit on those other recordings.
7 – Montreal Forum, Montreal 01/12/1978
There are many great recordings from the Jazz Tour, it's very hard to choose. It wasn't the best tour for Freddie's voice, but obviously earlier dates like this one show him in better shape than the officially released Live Killers (that is actually recorded in Europe between February and March 1979). The setlist is overall the same as on Live Killers, apart from the absence of Don' Stop Me Now (it wasn't played in the American tour, it was just hinted in Chicago, a few days after Montreal); but you actually get songs that were left off of that album because there wasn't enough space. So it's great to hear Somebody To Love, Fat Bottomed Girl, If You Can't Beat Them and It's Late. The sound quality is very good for an audience recording, and performance-wise is solid. Of similar quality and identical setlist, I also strongly suggest Providence 14/11/1978 and Chicago 07/12/1978. A tight competition here, it's really a matter of personal preferences. Also, there are some really good quality recordings from the Japanese leg of the tour in April and May 1979, but Freddie's voice was literally gone by then, so they can be painful to listen to, even if the band played at their best.
8 – Hammersmith Odeon, London 26/12/1979
After the tragic end of the Japanese leg of the Jazz Tour, Freddie's voice came back stronger than ever for the Crazy Tour. This is actually the last date of this tour, and I will suggest another recording in the Honorable Mentions section at the end. It was part of a series of charity shows organized by Paul McCartney for Kampuchea. Part of the soundboard recording exists, along with part of the video (around 80 minutes), but there is also a good quality complete audience recording which, in my opinion, is the way to go in this case. The setlist is overall the same as on the Jazz tour, but on here we have Mustapha, Crazy Little Thing Called Love and Save Me. Also, this concert has the best live version of Don't Stop Me now: spectacular.
9 – Estádio do Morumbi, Sao Paulo 20/03/1981
Yes, there are recordings from 1980 and some of them are even very good and yes, there are also other great recordings from this South American tour, but if I had to choose… Here we have a great performance and a decent quality due to the fact that this has been recorded for radio broadcast. I will name some other great bootlegs from The Game tour at the end of the article, but this one, if you forgive Brian May's mistake in Somebody To Love, is a winner. We also have a video of this one.
10 - Hokkaidouritsu Sangyou Kyoushin Kaijyou, Sapporo 29/10/1982
The Hot Space tour is well represented by the release of Queen On Fire – Live At The Bowl, which also contains around 20 minutes of a video from Tokorozawa 03/11/1982, the show after this one in Sapporo. However on this one we can listen to songs from Hot Space like Calling All Girls, Body Language and Put Out The Fire, along with the best live version of Teo Toriatte, all in a very good quality audience recording. So that's something!
11 – Nippon Budokan, Tokyo 09/05/1985
One of the last dates of the not-so-perfect Works tour, turns out to be actually one of the best ones. Earlier dates, apart from the very first in Brussels, show Freddie struggling with his voice, along with questionable choices of sounds such as electronic drum pads. So, overall a step down compared to the previous tour; but once they get to Japan, it all finally falls into place. Sadly songs like Stone Cold Crazy, Staying Power and Great King Rat are gone from the medleys (unlike the earlier dates), but we still can hear one of the best versions of It's A Hard Life and a very strong performance all the way through. The next date, the 11/05/1985 Yoyogi Gimnasium show, exist in both audio and video, so it may be better to some, but I've always felt the 9/05 show to be a bit stronger, even if it's just an audience recording. A very good one actually.
12 – Groenoordhallen, Leiden 11/06/1986
The Magic Tour is maybe a bit over-represented with two Wembley concerts, the Budapest one and a few Knebworth tracks on Live Magic, but believe me: they are very far from being the best shows from that tour. This one in Leiden was actually the second date of the tour, and while they may not sound as tight and solid as on later dates (like the already mentioned Wembley and Budapest), they are much more fresh on here, the atmosphere is great, and Freddie in particular is on fire. Yes, he tries to hit the higher notes on Who Wants To Live Forever and he fails, but go and listen to A Kind Of Magic and compare it to Wembley. Also, this is the only show in which Friends Will be Friends is played in its entirety. The audio quality is not perfect, sadly, but it's worth it.
13 - Maimarktgelände, Mannheim 21/06/1986
Another one from the Magic Tour? Yes. I could have chosen their last show ever at Knebworth, but I find the Mannheim show to be much more interesting. Also, this has been recorded professionally to be broadcast on radio, so you can expect a very good quality for a show that may not be one of their strongest, but still a very good one.
So, if even after all these concerts you still want more, beware that these next few bootlegs may vary in quality.
1 - Kosei Nenkin Kaikan, Osaka, 29/03/1976
There are two shows from this day, both interesting and good quality audience recordings. Although it is said that Freddie was drunk on the second show, that doesn't detract (too much) from the performance.
2 - Brøndby Hallen, Copenhagen 12/05/1977
Another audience recording of one of the best concerts of the A Day At The Races tour. Sadly it's missing the last two encores, but it's still around 100 minutes long. Worth checking it out.
3 - Johanneshovs Isstadion, Stockholm 12/04/1978 - Falkoner Theatre, Copenhagen 13/04/1978
Two very strong consecutive concerts, both audience recordings. The sound is a bit messy sometimes, these are not very high quality recordings, but are easily some of the best shows from '77/'78. Surely the best versions of My Melancholy Blues, It's Late and Spread Your Wings (before the 1979 Crazy Tour) can be found here.
4 – City Hall, Newcastle 04/12/1979
This is the other one I mentioned before from the Crazy Tour. Regarded by many as one of Queen's best concerts ever, is such a shame that it actually sounds pretty bad. Still, if you can get over the sound quality, you can get the best from everyone here, expecially Freddie.
5 – Oakland Coliseum Arena, Oakland, 14/07/1980
I didn't put a 1980 show in the main list simply because it's hard to find one that sounds good. This one however is a very good candidate, being one of their strongest shows ever, it sadly is incomplete, missing the end of the show. Still, the best version of Need Your Loving Tonight is right here.
6 – Milwaukee Arena, Milwaukee 10/09/1980
Again, just like above, but this time the sound is a bit better and it's complete.
7 – Nippon Budokan, Tokyo 16/02/1981
A very good audience recording from this Japanese tour. The reason why I didn't put this in the main list is because I don't find this as essential as others. This is surely the best sounding concert of this tour, and it is interesting if you want to listen to good live versions of Rock It, Vultan's Theme, Battle Theme, Flash and The Hero.
8 - Estadio José Amalfitani, Buenos Aires 08/03/1981
If you want more from the South American tour after Sao Paulo, this sounds even better, but in my opinion is just not as strong. Still, a very good one, also with a video.
9 – Elland Road, Leeds 29/05/1982
This is from just a few days before the officially released Milton Keynes concert. Brian May said that is a shame that they didn't record and film this one instead of Milton Keynes, as it was one of his favourites. Very good performance, same setlist as Milton Keynes, and decent audio quality.
10 – Forest National, Brussels 24/08/1984
The first show of the Works Tour and surely one of the best ones. Freddie's voice still holds on beautifully and the setlist still has snippets of Staying Power, Stone Cold Crazy and Great King Rat. The sound is not very good, so be prepared, but it's worth it.
11 – Super Bowl, Sun City 19/10/1984
A recently surfaced soundboard from one of the infamous Sun City concerts. Important for historical value, it also has some very interesting moments and quite a few highs an lows. Still far better than a lot of other shows from that tour.
12 – Knebworth Park, Stevenage 09/08/1986
A last one from the Magic Tour, this is the last concert ever played by Queen with Freddie Mercury. It's an audience recording and the setlist is identical to Wembley, but I have to mention it for his historical importance.
© 2018 Simone Ercole