Go big or go home. Why buy the 2 CD version of Queen On Air when you can go for the 6 CD smorgasbord? If you love Queen, it is the only way to do it. Having said that, if you only “like” Queen and wouldn’t give your own blood to buy a box set, then the simple 2 disc standard edition will probably suffice. The first two discs in this set are the same as the standard edition. Everything else is a bonus.
The contents of the first two discs are The Complete BBC Sessions, 24 songs in total plus some disc jockey chit chat. Because these tracks come from multiple BBC appearances, some songs are played more than once, such as “Keep Yourself Alive”, “Modern Times Rock ‘n’ Roll” and the epic “Liar”. Most of the recordings are from the very early 70s — 1973 and 1974. Queen were a rough and ready beast back then, but these versions are really not too far off from the original album tracks. Because it’s the BBC, the recordings and fidelity are excellent. This is a treasure trove of early Queen, all the best tracks, captured perfectly. Any fan of the first three Queen albums will be more than satisfied with these discs. Then, there’s a gap. After the Sheer Heart Attack (1974) era, there is nothing until 1977’s News of the World. That album is represented by four of the best tracks: the fast and guitar-heavy version of “We Will Rock You”, plus “It’s Late”, “My Melancholy Blues”, and “Spread Your Wings”.
According to the liner notes, even though they were a new band, Queen were afforded unusual leeway at the BBC. Everyone knew they were talented and capable, and so when Freddie Mercury demanded very high standards and everything just so, he was accommodated. The pay off is that these recordings are stunningly good, and rival the official album versions for quality. Apparently the BBC sessions were heavily bootlegged, and you will understand why.
Disc 3 contains portions of three concerts. Shame it’s not the full shows. I’m sure those will come one day. In the meantime, enjoy this CD. You will hear highlights from concerts in 1973, 1981 and 1986, again recorded by the BBC. This makes for a diverse listen, including guitar solos and covers. The 1981 recording from Sao Paulo, Brazil is the weakest in terms of sound, but still perfectly listenable. The 1986 material from Germany is fabulous. Freddie dropped an “F” bomb in “Under Pressure” as he was being recorded for radio!
This might be where most listeners have to check out. The final three CDs are interviews with all four members of Queen — 210 minutes of interviews. Did you know Freddie Mercury could speak Japanese? Full concerts would be better than interviews, but here they are. Also among the interviews is a chat with producer Roy Thomas Baker. The interviews range from 1976 to 1992 and the tribute concert. Queen never reveal too much, but the timeline of interviews provides a lot of detail surrounding Queen’s most celebrated albums.
The problem with the interviews isn’t so much the quality, but a matter of “when am I going to listen to all this” and “how often”. The music is the meat of it. This box set can be found affordably, so be aware of what’s inside and don’t pay too much.