What can you say about the Flash Gordon soundtrack? It certainly is an oddity in the Queen catalogue. It consists of a lot of synth heavy instrumentals, with only two actual songs with lyrics. The album also has a lot of dialogue snippets from the movie inserted at various points. While this is not one of the more important Queen albums, it is campy fun. A useless remix of “Flash’s Theme” has been added to the CD as a bonus track. It would have been better if the single version of “Flash’s Theme aka Flash” had been included as a bonus track, instead.
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If you’re not a Queen fan, don’t start with this album. If your’re looking for goofy fun and a great album to drive to you could do worse. I would like to call your attention to to one track and other than the title song, the only other song with lyrics. The Hero is a hard driving metal extravaganza. One of Queen’s hardest songs and often overlooked because it’s on a sound track. But like Highlander, who of us doesn’t get a few goosebumps when the credits roll and we see “Music by QUEEN” Enjoy being a kid again.
Oh my. To say this Queen album was full of good cheezy fun is quite the understatement. In essance, this album typifies the big budget movies of the late 70’s/early 80’s quite well with it’s hugely dramatic and sprawling guitar riffs akin to that of some kind of electrified opera. It’s as if their hit BOHEIMIAN RHAPSODY had spawned an entire album, or more to the point, it’s as if it was THIS album that actually produced it, because most of the music on this album is just that kind of kitschy, grand drama that we loved as kids of the time period. We loved that about Queen… ready to do opera at a moment’s notice, if only someone would give the fat lady a Fender electric guitar.This soundtrack is of the type i love most… the muscial score trimmed with bits of dialogue from the film itsself. It’s like listening to a condensed version of the film, with all the good stuff left in. In fact, when I was a young lad, I had actually recorded parts of the movie on my old boombox for listening later, and was VERY surprised to find that in comparison, both my recording and the actual soundtrack were damn near IDENTICAL. Perhaps the album contains the most interesting bits of the film after all?I have to admit, to fully enjoy this Queen offering, you really do have to like the movie. If you don’t, you will simply be bored to tears.The best tracks for me are “In The Space Capsule” with a driving drum beat, “In The Death Cell” with it’s dream like simplicity and any of the tracks dealing with the battle scenes at the end of the film. I admit, it’s kinda hard to describe this album in terms of tracks, because any individual track doesn’t seem to stand up on it’s own as a song, and isn’t terribly interesting to listen to out of sequence or without knowledge of the film’s storyline.Even when Freddie Mercury makes a vocal appearance on the album it feels like a last minute thing, like somehow it’s being revealed that Queen was indeed the providers of music. It’s not his best…even the “Boheimian Rhapsody”-ish “The Hero” is just a gentle rip-off of the far superior source material.This album was re-released on cd in 1991 with a bonus track by Mista Lawnge, which if you ask me, is totally pointless and totally uniteresting. If we needed a bonus track for this album why didn’t we include the Queen single “Flash Gordon” which did get airplay and was what got me interested in the movie in the first place? It’s nowhere to be seen. Personally, I have programmed my cd player to skip the Mista Lawnge offering with minimal effort.Basically, this album is probably for either total Queen-philes or anyone who really enjoyed the goofy movie… of which I am both. You may want to weigh this before purchasing.
As a pre-teen fan of Queen in the late 70’s with vigilant parents, acquiring their music was difficult. While Queen’s lyric text is largely harmless, their generally adult-themed and possibly homoerotic subtext (i.e. “Don’t Try Suicide”, “Killer Queen”) was not deemed appropriate for my nine year old ears. I yearned to own “The Game,” but in the end my parents and I compromised on the largely instrumental “Flash Gordon” soundtrack. Strangely, this fit quite well into youthful musical conception. I had been exposed to musical storytelling by way of Rick Wakeman’s “Journey to the Centre of the Earth” as well as becoming healthily obsessed with the “Star Wars” soundtrack. “Flash Gordon” seemed to fit neatly somewhere between these two. Ultimately, it was cool to be nine in 1980 and own a Queen album, despite the fact that my friends thought it was totally lame.
Nostalgia aside, the average listener would definitely consider “Flash Gordon” a “fan-only” release by todays standards (although genuinely I like it more than “The Works”). As a soundtrack to a movie from the late 70s/early 80s camp fantasy movement (think “Krull” and “Conan”), “Flash Gordon” features an effectual if basic use of leitmotif. Queen gets a respectable amount of instrumental mileage from a small reservoir of melodic material, but more importantly they create an ambience that immediately references the movie. Outside of its instrumental aspect, the album also features the party-stoppin’ vocal track “Flash” and the end credit anthem “Hero”. These are both fun listens, but they do not represent the best of Queen’s radio-friendly repertoire.
However, Queen was a band with a highly complex and multifaceted identity. The theatrical style that they were so effectively developing on “Night at the Opera” was falling out of favor during the late 70s punk movement. As a result, their radio-friendly side was becoming increasingly streamlined with (great) songs like “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”. Indulging in their symphonic and experimental side on the “Flash Gordon” soundtrack must have been a welcome release from the worries of the next big single. One cannot help but think that Mercury and crew got a good laugh at indulging in this more experimental component of their work, which would later result in songs like “Who Wants to Live Forever” and “Bijou”.
I also find the presentation of “Flash Gordon’s” text interesting. Outside of the aforementioned vocal tracks, the instrumental portions of this release feature quotes from the movie that (in a very general and effective fashion) sum up its loose plot. Today, I see this text as inextricably bound to the more ambient and theme-driven portions of the “Flash Gordon” soundtrack. This most assuredly led to my easy acceptance of the X-Files “Truth and the Light” recording many years later. However, without reference to the original text of the movie, the nostalgic value of this text is probably lost.
The lowdown: Many of the subtleties of “Flash Gordon” were lost on me in my youth. Besides the vocal tracks, I only ever remember energetically thrashing about in my nine year old room to “Football Fight”. However, new and old fans of the “Flash Gordon” movie may gain a greater understanding of Queen’s self realization of themselves as rock musicians with high aesthetic aspirations as the `80s came to pass.
It’s important to evaluate this album for what it IS and not what you would have it be. It is NOT a collection of Queen tracks that were dropped into a movie and then thrown together in album format and called a “soundtrack.” It IS, in the truest sense, a film score, of and inspired by Flash Gordon. It works simbiotically with the film which dictates its structure. That makes it superior to something like the Highlander soundtrack, where Queen songs are sporadically tossed in for effect in a fractured fashion. Not to put down the Kind of Magic album (AKA Highlander soundrack), which is quite good in that standard rock, album-oriented way. The Flash Gordon album functions more as a single work – one 50-minute track, as it were. Anyone who goes in examining track by track like a standard-issue rock album will come away scratching thier head. This music fits the film like a glove and some of the synth work is very reminiscent of Vangelis’s “Blade Runner” music, which this predates by a couple years. I also enjoy the movie dialog which is sprinkled throughout. That has the potential to be very annoying if done improperly or excessively, but they chose their spots well here (“For God’s sake, strap yourselves down! “).