Freddie Mercury – Never Boring & Solo Collection – Box Set Reviews

Cover of the Never Boring box set by Freddie Mercury. The image shows Freddie, topless and pouting his lips, as he dances between another person's legs, which are clad in fishnet stockings beneath a green and pink skirt. Freddie's signature is in white in the bottom right corner of the cover, above the title Never Boring.

I’ve been a massive Queen fan ever since I was a teenager, and the shining light at the heart of the band is of course the late, great Freddie Mercury. I’ve never come across another artist with such a range of talent, he was a real one-off. And he was taken from us far too soon, which does make you wonder what delights he’d be producing today if he were still with us.

His legacy lives on though. Primarily because of Queen, of course, as their fabulous music is still extremely popular today, as proven yet again by this week’s fan collaboration videos for Don’t Stop Me Now, A Kind Of Magic and Bohemian Rhapsody.

But Freddie himself was also an accomplished and successful solo artist, and that can easily be overlooked by those who haven’t dug a bit deeper. Last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody film drew a bit of attention to it, which was great, and now we have a new compilation celebrating the best of his solo work.

So in this rather epic post I’m going to review the new Never Boring box set that I purchased recently, along with a bonus review of the original Solo Collection box set that I got as a present after it came out in 2000, which is still by far the best collection of Freddie’s work that has ever been issued. I’ve also made an unboxing video covering both sets as well. In both cases, these are all my own personal opinions. I’m not sponsored or endorsed by anybody involved with the production of these sets, I’m just a huge Freddie Mercury fan. So I hope you enjoy.

Never Boring

“You can do anything with my work, but never make me boring.” – Freddie Mercury

Given that benchmark, I think Freddie would be happy with this set. It doesn’t contain every song he ever recorded, but it has a decent selection of them, and is a good introduction for anybody looking to explore his work. It’s also a nice addition to the collection of any existing Freddie Fan, if you can afford it. I got it for £79.99 from Amazon, while it’s currently on the Queen store for £77.99 as I write this, and you may be able to get it cheaper elsewhere. The 3 albums in the set are also available separately if you prefer.

All of the songs on Mr. Bad Guy, and a few songs on Never Boring, have been specially remastered for this new set, while Barcelona is the previously released 2012 Special Edition with full orchestra. The original versions of all of these tracks are still great, and arguably still the best, so you need to keep them if you have them. I would say these new mixes are an addition to the collection, not a replacement. But opinions are likely to vary. There will be some people who prefer the originals, some who prefer the updated mixes, and some who like both, and that’s fine. I happen to like both. I have a great fondness and appreciation for the original mixes, but I see no harm in trying to update them either.

So here the production team have created new mixes, going back to the original multi-track tapes in the process. This has resulted in tracks that, in their words, are “true to Freddie’s original versions”. And I think they’ve achieved that goal. The songs have a very full and clear sound and are clearly a bit different to the originals, sometimes more noticeably than others. Yet they’re still very faithful to what Freddie created, retaining the same arrangements and structures of the original songs. They just have a more modern sound, ultimately, perhaps as if Freddie had produced them in the studio today.

Expert audiophiles can explain the changes better than me, but things like the percussion and bass in many of the tracks seem stronger, for instance, giving them a bit more power and energy, while other backing elements have also been brought forward so they can be heard more clearly. Some bits of instrumentation have been replaced or re-recorded in the process, and occasional enhancements been added that weren’t there before. But in any case, Freddie’s vocals still remain forefront in the mix, they haven’t been drowned out. He just has a fuller soundscape around him.

CD 1 – Never Boring (Compilation)

This CD contains some of Freddie’s greatest solo hits, and one or two lesser known tracks.

  1. The Great Pretender (2019 Special Edition)
  2. I Was Born To Love You (2019 Special Edition)
  3. Barcelona (2012 Orchestrated Edition)
  4. In My Defence (2000 Remix)
  5. Love Kills (2019 Special Edition)
  6. How Can I Go On? (2012 Orchestrated Single Version)
  7. Love Me Like There’s No Tomorrow (2019 Special Edition)
  8. Living On My Own (1993 No More Brothers Radio Mix)
  9. The Golden Boy (2012 Orchestrated Single Edit)
  10. Time Waits For No One
  11. She Blows Hot And Cold (2019 Special Edition)
  12. Made In Heaven (2019 Special Edition)

CD for the Never Boring compilation. The white disc contains green text, including Freddie Mercury's signature, the title Never Boring, and the list of tracks.

The songs that aren’t duplicated on the other 2 discs include:

  • The Great Pretender – This wonderful cover of the Platters hit has been given a very strong new mix here, and is a great opener to the album.
  • In My Defence – Here we get the 2000 remix which, while not radically different to the original, is still good. So I can understand them not tinkering with that beautiful song any further, as it didn’t need it. Freddie’s vocals do everything necessary as it is, he gives a superb performance.
  • Love Kills – Freddie’s first solo single (not counting the Larry Lurex one I’ll mention in my next post) has been given a very new mix, with additional enhancements that complement it nicely.  The vocals are still lovely and clear too, which is just as well considering the words in the new lyrics video are often impossible to read, due to the flashing lights, blurred text or poorly contrasted colours. Nonetheless, the video, like the song, has a delightfully 80s feel to it.
  • Living On My Own – Interestingly we don’t get a duplication of the Special Edition mix from disc 2 here, but instead we have the 1993 No More Brothers Radio Mix, which is a great mix to be fair. So you’re getting 2 versions of the song in this set.
  • She Blows Hot And Cold – This is a pleasant surprise, as this was originally only released as the B-side of the 1985 Made In Heaven single, and never appeared on an album. Since then it’s only surfaced in the 2000 Solo Collection box set and the 2016 Messenger Of The Gods compilation, so it’s great to see it getting a new lease of life here with an updated mix.
  • Time Waits For No One – This is the most notable and beautiful track on the entire release. Using a recently rediscovered demo vocal, Dave Clark and Mike Moran have created a brand new acoustic version of the song Time, featuring just Freddie’s vocals and a newly recorded piano track, without any of the additional voices or instruments that featured on the original. The result is a very moving rendition that showcases Freddie’s singing ability in an incredible way.

CD 2 – Mr. Bad Guy (Special Edition)

  1. Let’s Turn It On
  2. Made In Heaven
  3. I Was Born To Love You
  4. Foolin’ Around
  5. Your Kind Of Lover
  6. Mr Bad Guy
  7. Man Made Paradise
  8. There Must Be More To Life Than This
  9. Living On My Own
  10. My Love Is Dangerous
  11. Love Me Like There’s No Tomorrow

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The Mr. Bad Guy album doesn’t get favourable reviews in some quarters, but I really like it, I think it’s a great mix of songs. As I said earlier, the original mixes are already great, and I will certainly be keeping them. But this edition does add a new bit of life to the tracks for the modern age, and I don’t think Freddie would have any complaints if he heard this. All of the tracks seem to be a bit more powerful as far as I can tell, especially upbeat songs like Mr. Bad Guy, I Was Born To Love You, Foolin’ Around & Man Made Paradise. The beautiful ballads There Must Be More To Life Than This and Love Me Like There’s No Tomorrow also sound really good too.

CD 3 – Barcelona (Special Edition)

  1. Barcelona
  2. La Japonaise
  3. The Fallen Priest
  4. Ensueño
  5. The Golden Boy
  6. Guide Me Home
  7. How Can I Go On?
  8. Overture Piccante

CD for Barcelona, Special Edition. The white disc contains dark blue text, including Freddie Mercury's signature, the title of the album, and the list of tracks.

This is the previously released 2012 edition of the Barcelona album by Freddie Mercury & Montserrat Caballé, with brand new arrangements recorded by a full symphony orchestra, instead of the synthesisers and drum machines on the original album. Again, the original album still sounds wonderful, but with a proper symphony orchestra, as Freddie would surely have always wanted, the songs on this revised edition sound magnificent. So it’s very exciting to hear the songs in this form.

It was a very unusual album for anyone to produce at the time, and you wouldn’t necessarily expect a rock star collaborating with an opera singer to work. But if anyone could pull it off, it was Freddie, and he certainly did. The combination of his and Monserrat’s voices is just magical. The title track was of course particularly iconic for its use during the 1992 Summer Olympics, a year after Freddie’s passing, but the whole album is gorgeous, in both its original and orchestral iterations.

Incidentally, I also have the special 4-disc Special Edition box set for this album released in 2012, containing 3 CDs and 1 DVD:

  • CD 1 is of course the Special Edition version of the album. Interestingly, however, it contains a bonus track that’s been left off the album in the Never Boring set – a lovely alternate version of How Can I Go On?, featuring violinist David Garrett. It’s a shame they didn’t carry that over to the new box set. Another track that’s missing – both from the 2012 set and this year’s Never Boring set – is The Golden Boy [Horn Remix], which was only issued on the 2012 promo single of Barcelona. So it would have been great to have that too, as even though it’s a much shorter version of the song, the horn section makes it even more lively than it already was.
  • CD 2 contains the best of the sessions and rarities, which I’ll cover in my review of the Solo Collection below.
  • CD 3 contains the instrumental orchestral tracks, so you can hear the new arrangements without vocals, which is very cool.
  • The DVD contains all the relevant promotional videos, including both the classic and 2012 edits of the Barcelona music video, the live (mimed) performances and a mini-documentary about the creation of the Special Edition album. Most of these videos also appear on the Never Boring DVD, but not all of them, as noted below.

Cover of the 2012 Special Edition Deluxe 4-disc set of the Barcelona album. The image shows the handwritten letters of the word Barcelona spread over a background of squares and rectangles painted in yellow, blue, orange and red.

DVD & Blu-ray – Promo Videos

The promo videos on the Never Boring DVD & Blu-ray discs look and sound brilliant, as most of them have been remastered from the original 35mm rushes and use the updated audio remixes where available as well. So it’s great to have the videos in their best possible quality.

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On each disc you get:

  • Made In Heaven, The Great Pretender, Living On My Own & I Was Born To Love You – These seem to be using the 2019 remastered audio tracks, instead of the original audio you can hear in those links. They’re all great to watch in any case, as Freddie was as elaborate with his videos as he was with his songs. Made In Heaven has Freddie quite literally on top of the world like a god, The Great Pretender sees him recreating moments from some of his previous Queen and solo videos and walking among a hundred cardboard cutouts of himself, Living On My Own uses footage from his 39th birthday party in which the guests dressed up in all sorts of weird and wonderful outfits, and I Was Born To Love You has him chasing after a woman, dancing in front of moving mirrors and commanding an army of marching Amazons. They’re all typical of Freddie’s style, and all a delight to watch.
  • Time Waits For No One – This is the new video from 2019. It’s a very simple video, with Freddie standing under lights on the set of the Time musical at the Dominion Theatre in London. Unfortunately you don’t get the original Time video as well, featuring the other people that joined in with him, which is a shame.
  • Barcelona – The official music video, using the 2012 orchestral track. It’s a beautiful video of Freddie and Montserrat singing together.
  • In My Defence – This is a lovely collage video featuring many rare snippets of footage of Freddie from across his career. It really does feel as if the song was written for him, even though it wasn’t. The version in this set is the original video – it’s not the 2000 re-edit, that includes brief clips of Freddie speaking throughout, which was on the original Video Collection and would have been nice to include here as an extra.
  • Living On My Own – The 1993 No More Brothers Radio Mix remastered (yes, you get 2 different videos for this song). It uses alternative visuals from the party too.
  • The Golden Boy, How Can I Go On? & Barcelona (Live At La Nit) – Freddie and Montserrat are miming their vocals, but they’re still nice performances to watch, especially with the beautiful backdrop of Montjurich Castle The other live performance of Barcelona from Ku Klub is also included in the extras, again with mimed vocals.
  • The Great Pretender (Extended Version) – This is really fun, because there’s a lot of behind the scenes footage of Freddie and the team having a good laugh while getting dressed up. It’s one of my favourite videos of his.
  • A short but interesting interview with Freddie Mercury & Dave Clark about the Time project is the final bonus feature.

Subtitles in multiple languages are available for the Dave Clark interview, and the spoken elements in the extended Great Pretender video. There are no other extras.

If you’ve got the previous DVDs of The Video Collection and/or Lover Of Life, Singer Of Songs then you’ll want to hold on to those, as they contain the older surround sound mixes, the videos for Time and the 2000 edit of In My Defence, and extra features that haven’t been carried over to the Never Boring set. But I’ll mention those discs more when I talk about the DVDs in the Solo Collection below.

Poster

In addition to the CDs, you also get a big poster with a photo of Freddie Mercury on the front, wearing sunglasses and a vest as he sits in sunshine. It’s a black and white version of the image used for the Mr. Bad Guy album cover. On the back there is a colourful image by an artist called Jack Coulter. He has synesthesia, which causes him to see sounds as colours, so the artwork is his interpretation of the song Mr. Bad Guy. So it is nice to know that context behind it, as it would seem rather random otherwise. But it is nice and colourful, and parts of it are used for the cardboard folders containing the discs in the set.

Large poster featuring a black and white photo of Freddie Mercury, sitting outside in the sunshine wearing a vest and sunglasses.

Poster showing a painting by Jack Coulter, who has synesthesia, translating the Mr Bad Guy song into colours. While the paint is spread seemingly at random, large areas of white and blue dominate, particularly in the vertical middle third of the painting, which graduates from blue at the top to white at the bottom. The sides have varying degrees of light brown, along with blue and white patches.

Book

Finally the set is accompanied by a gorgeous book full of photos of Freddie, accompanied by many of his best quotes. There’s also a nice foreword by Rami Malek, who played Freddie in the Bohemian Rhapsody movie, and lyrics for all of the songs are included near the end. So it’s wonderful to be able to look through that book while listening to the music.

A 2-page spread from the Never Boring book about Freddie Mercury. The left page shows Freddie fanning out a red cape behind him as he stands on a tall model of a mountain or volcano, while people gather around the bottom as if trying to reach him and worship him.

A 2-page spread from the Never Boring book about Freddie Mercury. On the right page, against a black background, a topless Freddie stands triumphant, ams raised up and outwards above his head and his legs spread, giving him a star shape.A guitar hangs around his waist from a strap over his neck, and his mouth is open as if shouting. White text on the left page reads I'd like the whole world to listen to my music, and I'd like everybody to listen to me and look at me.

Photo of a young Freddie Mercury, wearing an orange t-shirt and black trousers and nothing on his feet, sitting cross-legged on the floor as he plays the guitar.

Conclusion

All in all, I’m very pleased with this new set. The new mixes might not be to everyone’s taste necessarily, but I personally think they really help the tracks sound as good as they possibly can. The songs are still the same, they just have a bit more energy and a more modern sound to them now. And the new song Time Waits For No One is absolutely beautiful. It’s also nice to have Freddie’s promo videos remastered, although it’s a shame a couple of alternative edits are missed off, and they didn’t bring across the extras from previous releases. But we can be very thankful for what we have got.

So it’s a nice addition to my existing collection, and it’s a great set to buy for people who aren’t so familiar with Freddie’s solo work and want to explore further. It’s a great celebration of a great man’s legacy.


The Solo Collection

Head and shoulders photo of Freddie Mercury wearing a leather jacket, above his signature in silver writing, from the cover of the book in his Solo Collection box set.

As lovely as this year’s Never Boring set is, it’s still nowhere near as comprehensive and exciting as the original Solo Collection box set released in 2000, which is an absolute treasure trove of his work. Its 10 CDs and 2 DVDs provide an incredibly thorough journey through his solo career. containing pretty much everything you could hope for.

I got it as a present from my family not long after its release, either for Christmas or my birthday, I can’t quite remember. But it’s had pride of place in my collection ever since, and I’ve never found another box set to rival it, for any artist. The Solo Collection box set hasn’t been on sale for quite some time either apart from a few second hand copies that seem to be listed online, so there will be people who have never had the joy of going through it. So I thought I’d give you an in-depth review here, to show you just how much of a contrast it is to this year’s set.

Section of the outer cover sheet of the Freddie Mercury Solo Collection box set. Photos show Freddie and the covers of his albums Mr. Bad Guy, Barcelona and The Great Pretender. Black text on the silver background says that it is a 10 CD and 2 DVD set, in a deluxe 120 page hardback book, featuring his albums, the singles, and many rare and previously unreleased tracks, plus the David Wigg interviews.

The first 6 discs in the Freddie Mercury Solo Collection, 1 disc each for the Mr. Bad Guy, Barcelona and Great Pretender albums, 2 discs for the singles, and a disc of instrumentals. The 3 album discs have the album artwork on them, the singles discs each have a collage of the single covers, and the instrumentals disc has a photo of a piano on it.

CD 1 & 2 – Mr. Bad Guy & Barcelona

Mr Bad Guy:

  1. Let’s Turn It On
  2. Made In Heaven
  3. I Was Born To Love You
  4. Foolin’ Around
  5. Your Kind Of Lover
  6. Mr Bad Guy
  7. Man Made Paradise
  8. There Must Be More To Life Than This
  9. Living On My Own
  10. My Love Is Dangerous
  11. Love Me Like There’s No Tomorrow

Barcelona (Freddie Mercury & Montserrat Caballé):

  1. Barcelona
  2. La Japonaise
  3. The Fallen Priest
  4. Ensueño
  5. The Golden Boy
  6. Guide Me Home
  7. How Can I Go On?
  8. Overture Piccante

These are Freddie’s 2 solo studio albums. While the remixed and remastered versions in the Never Boring set do sound good, I still love the original mixes here.

It’s hard to pinpoint favourite tracks, because it’s tempting just to list all of them. But from Mr. Bad Guy I particularly like the title trackMade In Heaven, I Was Born To Love You, There Must Be More To Life Than This and Living On My Own, if I had to pick a top 5. Queen also used Freddie’s vocals to produce their own great versions of Made In Heaven and I Was Born To Love You for their Made In Heaven album after his death. And from Barcelona my top 3 are the title track, The Golden Boy and How Can I Go On?. But there isn’t a bad track on either album, ultimately.

CD 3 – The Great Pretender

This album, released a year after Freddie’s passing, is a set of remixes. It’s the American equivalent of The Freddie Mercury Album released in Europe. The albums are similar, though not quite identical, as indicated below. The replaced tracks are elsewhere in this set anyway, so we’re not missing anything.

  1. The Great Pretender (Brian Malouf Mix) [The European edition has the original version]
  2. Foolin’ Around (Steve Brown Mix)
  3. Time (Nile Rodgers Mix)
  4. Your Kind of Lover (Steve Brown Mix)
  5. Exercises in Free Love
  6. In My Defence (Ron Nevison Mix)
  7. Mr. Bad Guy (Brian Malouf Mix)
  8. Let’s Turn It On (Jeff Lord-Alge Mix)
  9. Living on My Own (Julian Raymond Mix)
  10. My Love Is Dangerous (Jeff Lord-Alge Mix) [The European edition has the album version of Barcelona instead of this track]
  11. Love Kills (Richard Wolf Mix) [This is the Original Wolf Mix, not the Euro Wolf Mix, as they are slightly different. The European album has the original single version of the track.]

My top 5 remixes here are those for The Great Pretender, Foolin’ Around, Living On My Own, Mr. Bad Guy and My Love Is Dangerous, but they’re all pretty good versions to be honest. It’s the sort of thing that not everyone will be a fan of, but I like them. The one track that isn’t remixed is the beautiful Exercises In Free Love, which eloquently demonstrates the range of Freddie’s voice without the need for any lyrics or remixing.

CDs 4 & 5 – The Singles

These 2 discs contain all of Freddie’s singles, including extended versions, B-sides and non-album tracks, while leaving out any tracks that are identical to the album versions,

  • First Singles:
    • I Can Hear Music / Goin’ Back – 1973 Larry Lurex Single
    • Love Kills – 1984 Single & Extended Versions
  • Mr. Bad Guy Singles:
    • I Was Born To Love You – 1985 Extended Version
    • Stop All The Fighting – 1985 Non-Album B-Side – Single & Extended Versions
    • Made In Heaven – 1985 Extended Version
    • She Blows Hot And Cold – 1985 Non-Album B-Side – Single & Extended Versions
    • Living On My Own – 1985 Extended Version
    • My Love Is Dangerous – 1985 Extended Version
    • Love Me Like There’s No Tomorrow – 1985 Extended Version
    • Let’s Turn It On – 1985 Extended Version
  • Time Singles:
    • Time – 1986 Single, Extended & Instrumental Versions
    • In My Defence – 1986 Single
  • The Great Pretender Single:
    • The Great Pretender – 1987 Single & Extended Versions
    • Exercises In Free Love – 1987 Non-Album B-Side
  • Barcelona Singles:
    • Barcelona – 1987 Single & Extended Versions
    • How Can I Go On? – 1989 Single Version
  • Living On My Own Remixes:
    • Living On My Own – 1993 Extended, Radio, Club & Underground Solution Mixes

I Can Hear Music and Goin’ Back are two cover versions that formed a single Freddie released under the name of Larry Lurex in 1973. It was a project he was invited to sing on by Trident Studios engineer Robin Cable, who was trying to replicate the Phil Spector Wall Of Sound effect. The Larry Lurex pseudonym, a parody of the name Gary Glitter, was chosen to avoid confusion with the imminent release of Queen’s debut album. Brian May and Roger Taylor joined Freddie on the single too. It didn’t sell well though, especially because people didn’t know it was Freddie. It’s hard to imagine a time when he wasn’t very well known to the public, but this was it.

So the Solo Collection was the first appearance of this hidden gem on CD, and both tracks are enjoyable to listen to. Freddie sings really well on what was ultimately his first proper recording ever to be released. This fact was given extra poignancy when an extract from Goin’ Back was used on Freddie’s last ever recording, Mother Love, on Queen’s Made In Heaven album. It was a nice touch by the group to bookend Freddie’s recording career in that way.

I also love the various 12″ mixes included here, particularly I Was Born To Love You, Made In Heaven, Living On My Own, Love Me Like There’s No Tomorrow and The Great Pretender. And She Blows Hot & Cold is my favourite of the 2 non-album B-sides from 1985.

Meanwhile Love Kills, from the 1984 Metropolis soundtrack, is notable for being the first solo single credited properly to Freddie Mercury, as well as being a cool song. Freddie’s contributions to the soundtrack of the Time musical are also great, because Time and In My Defence are absolutely beautiful songs. Reading about the Time recording sessions in the book is very interesting too. And finally, these two discs conclude with 4 of the remixes from 1993 of Living On My Own. They didn’t have room for all of them, as explained in the book, but they’ve chosen the best ones I think, having heard the others online since tthen.

CD 6 – The Instrumentals

  • Barcelona Tracks:
    1. Barcelona
    2. La Japonaise
    3. The Fallen Priest
    4. Ensueño
    5. The Golden Boy
    6. Guide Me Home
    7. How Can I Go On?
  • Mr. Bad Guy Tracks:
    1. Love Me Like There’s No Tomorrow
    2. Made In Heaven
    3. Mr Bad Guy
    4. There Must Be More To Life Than This
  • Other Singles:
    1. In My Defence
    2. The Great Pretender

Freddie’s skills as a musician extend far beyond his amazing vocals, and this disc demonstrates his flair for sublime and complex musical arrangements. By taking out the lead vocals, you get to hear the tracks in a completely new way, noticing all sorts of things that you just weren’t aware of or had never paid proper attention to before. It’s a real eye-opener, or indeed ear-opener.

To start with, the entire Barcelona album is presented in this way. Particularly notable here are The Fallen Priest and The Golden Boy, which fully expose the wonderful backing vocals amongst the beautiful score, along with How Can I Go On? and the album’s title track.

The rest of the disc is made up of a few instrumentals from the Mr. Bad Guy album and a couple of Freddie’s other singles, with highlights for me being Made In Heaven, Mr. Bad Guy, There Must Be More To Life Than This and In My Defence.

In addition, the instrumental of Time is on the second Singles disc (as it was released as a B-side), while the instrumentals of Foolin’ Around and Love Kills are on the Rarities discs.

Freddie Mercury - Solo Collection - Discs

CD 7 – Rarities 1 – Mr. Bad Guy Sessions

Now we really get deep into the meaty goodness of this set, with 3 discs of fabulous rarities – one disc each for the 2 studio albums, then another disc of miscellaneous wonders. So this is the first disc, giving an insight into the development of each track on the Mr. Bad Guy album.

  • Let’s Turn It On (A Capella) – Another superb example of Freddie’s vocal ability. You get very different vocals in the left and right channels throughout, so it’s well worth listening with headphones, and even listening to each side in isolation. The high notes he reaches are incredible.
  • Made In Heaven (Alternative Version) – There’s a fair bit of improvisation from Freddie in this early attempt at the track.
  • I Was Born To Love You (Vocals & Piano Version) – This fun stripped back edit was also released as a bonus track on the reissue of Queen’s Made In Heaven album in 2011.
  • Foolin’ Around (Early Version, Original 12″ Mix & Instrumental Version) – These are very interesting variations, particularly the early version, which has very different lyrics to the final song. The extended mix was never released, so it’s fun to get it here. The instrumental version isn’t as amazing as some of the tracks on the main Instrumentals disc, but it’s still very nice to have it included here.
  • Your Kind Of Lover (Earlier Version & Vocals And Piano Version) – Interesting variations on this track, with slightly different lyrics and piano backing in the earlier iteration. And the stripped back version without the percussion track gives the track a different feel.
  • Mr. Bad Guy (Orchestral Outtake & Early Version) – Again, we have an early version with alternative lyrics and a basic instrumental backing track, which is very interesting. The outtake, meanwhile, is just a very brief snippet from the recording session, but a nice inclusion for the sake of curiosity.
  • There Must Be More To Life Than This (Piano Outtakes) – This is an enjoyable insight into the recording session as Freddie struggles to play the piano part correctly, getting a little bit frustrated along the way.
  • Living On My Own (Hybrid Edit of Early & Later Versions) – An incomplete early demo fades into a later recording, giving a great sense of the track’s development. As well as alternative lyrics, Freddie’s scatting on this version is even crazier than on the finished track.
  • Love Is Dangerous (Early Version) – This is similar to the final version, but has drum machines and a real bass guitar that are replaced in the later mix. The word “My” isn’t part of the title at this point either, though it is in the lyrics.
  • Love Me Like There’s No Tomorrow (Early Versions & Instrumental Live Take) – A fascinating journey into the evolution of this track, starting out quite differently to the album version, but gradually becoming more familiar, as Freddie experiments with the lyrics and music in his search for perfection. It illustrates Freddie’s working process really well, and how much effort he alway put into things.
  • She Blows Hot And Cold (Alternative Version featuring Brian May) – Freddie didn’t want to use his Queen bandmates on the Mr. Bad Guy album, or the singles generated from it, so Brian didn’t feature on the final version of this non-album B-side. So it’s wonderful to hear this version with him involved. If it were faded out before the abrupt ending, it could easily have been released in its own right, as it rivals the final edit, given the energy of Brian’s guitar playing, Freddie’s ad-libbing and the accompanying piano and percussion. They were clearly having a great time recording this.
  • Demos – Gazelle, Money Can’t Buy Happiness, Love Makin’ Love, God Is Heavy & New York – These are fun and fascinating experiments that were sadly never finished. It’s a great shame, as they’re all really lovely ideas, especially Money Can’t Buy Happiness, Love Makin’ Love and, my favourite of these, New York.

On a related note, there’s actually another rare version of There Must Be More To Life Than This that’s worth looking out for – specifically the recording Freddie made with Michael Jackson. It’s one of three duets they made together, and is the only one ever to get an official release, appearing on the Queen Forever compilation in 2014. Known as the William Orbit Mix, it features a backing track produced by Queen during the Hot Space sessions in 1981, coupled with Freddie and Michael’s vocals, and it does sound very nice. But Freddie’s solo version is still the best one of course.

CD 8 – Rarities 2 – Barcelona Sessions

The magical partnership of Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé is explored in wonderful detail with this disc, giving an unprecedented insight into their development of the Barcelona album. Some tracks feature both of them, while others feature Freddie developing ideas by himself, even recording guide vocals for Montserrat as well, thus further demonstrating his amazing vocal range as well as his songwriting ability. And it has to be said that Montserrat Caballé also has a stunning voice too.

  • Garden Lodge Extracts (Duet for The Fallen Priest & 2 Ideas for Barcelona– These are from a recording made during Freddie and Montserrat’s first time singing together at Garden Lodge, Freddie’s home. They had a 6 hour jam session, of which about an hour’s worth was captured on tape, so to get these little excerpts from such a special and historic occasion is an absolute delight. We get to hear a little banter between them as Montserrat teases Freddie about leaving, before they start working on the early ideas for a couple of songs, with the vocals and piano playing already sounding incredible. From this it’s obvious they had something special going from the outset.
  • Barcelona (Early Version) – This features Freddie singing his own vocal part, along with a guide vocal for Montserrat, who he does a rather good impression of. There are alternative lyrics and improvisation in this demo too.
  • Barcelona (Freddie’s Vocal Slave) – This combines multiple vocal takes from the working tapes used in the studios, and is fascinating listening. Sometimes it highlights the differences where Freddie improvises or changes the lyrics, while at other times it’s astonishing how well he matches himself, considering each recording was made independently without hearing the others.
  • Barcelona (Later Version) – This is a more developed version of the song, featuring Freddie’s lead and backing vocals, leaving gaps for Montserrat. A few lyrics are still a bit different to the final recording too.
  • La Japonaise (Freddie’s Demo Vocal & A Capella) – The demo by Freddie shows how the backing track was developed first, as he is improvising the lyrics at this point. The A Capella track, meanwhile, is taken from the final recording, and is a stunning duet between Freddie and Montserrat.
  • Rachmaninov’s Revenge (Early & Later Versions) – These are early attempts by Freddie at the track that eventually became The Fallen Priest. You can really hear the song taking shape across these two performances, and there are interesting differences in music and lyrics that are later changed or dropped.
  • Ensueño (Montserrat’s Live Takes) – A lovely glimpse into Montserrat recording her vocals for this piece.
  • The Golden Boy (Early Versions & A Capella) – Here we get 2 early demos by Freddie, singing Montserrat’s parts as well as his own. They’re notably different from the final recording, with different lyrics and musical arrangements in parts, and the  Then we get another incredible a capella duet with him and Montserrat from the final version.
  • Guide Me Home & How Can I Go On? (Alternative Versions) – Another work-in-progress recording by Freddie, where he’s singing both his part and Montserrat’s, again with some improvisation and lyrics that are different to the final tracks.
  • How Can I Go On? (Outtake) – In this extract, Freddie starts singing before the producer has time to set the tape rolling, so the recording starts halfway through. Blissfully unaware of that, and rather pleased with his performance, Freddie learns the truth when he asks to hear it played back. His reaction is great.
  • How Can I Go On? (Alternative Piano Version) – Freddie’s ideas could take very different forms before he settled on his final arrangement of a song, and the alternative piano instrumental here is a prime example, and a very interesting one at that.
  • When This Old Tired Body Wants To Sing (Late Night Jam) – This is brilliant fun, with Freddie Mercury on vocals and Mike Moran on piano. Mike does his best to keep up with Freddie, but has to give up at one point, leaving Freddie to cut loose with his rapid scatting improvisations, which in parts is a similar to his scatting on Living On My Own. Part of the fast piano playing was also used in Overture Piccante on the Barcelona album.  Things slow down later on though, and the jam becomes very soulful. It seems safe to assume that a fair amount of alcohol has been consumed by this point, as they’re clearly just having fun at the end of their evening together, yet Freddie still sounds amazing. And his final words close their recording session and this disc perfectly, in true Freddie style.

CD 9 – Rarities 3 – Other Sessions

The last CD of music contains various other rarities from across Freddie’s career. Firstly, there are a couple of tracks from bands he was in before Queen:

  • Ibex – Rain (Liverpool Sink Club, 9 September 1969) – This song, a Beatles cover, is performed by Freddie Bulsara, before his name change. It’s one of 9 songs Ibex played at the club that night. The last 2 songs included Roger Taylor and Brian May on drums and guitar, and is the first time they and Freddie played together on a public stage. Sadly the recordings of those 2 songs weren’t good enough quality to be included. Rain isn’t in great quality either, but it’s still fascinating to listen to nonetheless, as it gives you a good sense of how special Freddie’s singing voice already was at the age of just 23.
  • Wreckage – Green (Rehearsal at Freddie’s Flat, October 1969) – Again, the sound quality isn’t perfect, but this only surviving recording of Wreckage is another important step in Freddie’s development. As the book explains, it was thanks to a show he did with this band that he ended up using the microphone stand as a key part of his act in later concert.

Then there are a number of tracks by other artists on which Freddie made guest appearances:

  • Eddie Howell – The Man From Manhattan – A delightfully catchy song, featuring Freddie on backing vocals and piano, and Brian May on guitar. The book explains how Freddie put his own stamp on the song from the outset, changing it from Eddie’s original vision (with his agreement), and includes comments from Howell himself about working with Freddie.
  • Billy Squier – Love Is The Hero (12″ Version) – Another track where Freddie was involved heavily in the song’s composition, and also provided backing vocals and piano on the record. The 12″ version is included here, as it has a beautiful vocal introduction from Freddie that isn’t on the album version.
  • Billy Squier – Lady With A Tenor Sax (Work In Progress) – Freddie co-wrote this song with Billy and came up with the title, but didn’t sing on the final record. He did, however, record some guide vocals on an earlier version, and that’s what you get to hear with this track. So this is very rare and very cool, it’s another great catchy song.
  • Jo Dare & Freddie Mercury – Hold On – This enjoyable duet, featuring American actress Jo Dare, appears on the soundtrack for German film Zabou (and only appears very briefly in the film on a radio in the background). This Solo Collection was its first official release outside of Germany, so it’s very much a rarity. Jo Dare also appeared in the Living On My Own video though, dressed as a cat at Freddie’s 39th birthday party.
  • The Cross – Heaven For Everyone (Freddie’s Vocal Version) – This wonderful ong is best known for appearing on Queen’s Made In Heaven album. But Roger Taylor’s band The Cross made it first, and there were 2 versions made, with vocals by Roger and Freddie respectively. So this is Freddie’s version.

Then there are a few miscellaneous tracks that didn’t fit on the other 2 rarities discs:

  • Love Kills (Rock Mix & Instrumental Version) – There have been many remixes of this song, and the Rock Mix is good fun, as it’s made to feel like Freddie is performing it at a live rock concert, with dubbed on sounds of a live crowd and some nice guitar work. This remix was produced by the Fugitive Brothers, who also produced Jazzy, SymphonySymthesized mixes that were never released. I also like the Rank 1, Sunshine People and Star Rider remixes as well. Of course the original track will always be best, but it’s fun to hear variations of it. The instrumental version isn’t as elaborate as some of the tracks on the instrumentals disc, but the song does sound unusual when heard without the  lead vocals.
  • The Great Pretender (Demo) – An interesting early attempt at the track, with a much more basic arrangement compared to the final version.
  • Barcelona Sessions Demos – Holding On, It’s So You, I Can’t Dance / Keep Smilin’, Horns Of Doom & Yellow Breezes – These fascinating demos wouldn’t fit on the Rarities 2 disc, so are included here instead. Again, it’s a pity these never got completed, as Freddie would have made great tracks out of all of them.
  • Have A Nice Day (Fan Club Message) – A short but enjoyable track that Freddie made for the Queen Fan Club Convention in 1987, to apologise for his absence. It’s a lovely way to conclude the selection of music in the whole set.

CD 10 – David Wigg Interviews

This disc features an interesting selection of interviews with Freddie by journalist David Wigg, from 1979 to 1987, recorded in London, Munich and Ibiza. Well worth a listen.

DVDs – Music Videos & Documentary

Section of the outer cover sheet of the Freddie Mercury Solo Collection box set. Various photos of Freddie, from a baby through to his 80s concerts and music videos, surround text that describes the contents of the 2 DVDs in the set, featuring his music videos and a documentary.

The Video Collection – which was also released as a standalone DVD – is a great collection of Freddie’s promotional music videos, so I won’t repeat myself here. This includes various features that are not on the new Never Boring set, namely:

  • The original audio (not remastered or remixed), and in surround sound (Never Boring is stereo only).
  • The original Time video, featuring a very lucky crowd of youngsters who got to join in. The book recalls that day very fondly, including Freddie’s way of distributing ice cream to the audience, during the interval in that evening’s performance of the show. The Never Boring set doesn’t includes this video – it only has the 2019 single Time Waits For No One.
  • The 2000 re-edit of In My Defence, that includes little bits of speech from Freddie.
  • A piano version of Guide Me Home by pianist Thierry Lang over the end credits.
  • Video commentaries by the directors discussing the creation of each video.

The Never Boring set, however, has the Radio Mix of Living On My Own, the Ku Klub performance of Barcelona, and an interview with Dave Clark, none of which appear on the original Video Collection.

Cover for the standalone DVD release of Freddie Mercury, The Video Collection, featuring photos from a few of the videos.

The Untold Story: By Those Who Knew Him Best is the other DVD, and this Is a wonderfully comprehensive documentary, featuring many of the important people in Freddie’s life, giving a fascinating insight.

The documentary disc also includes the Freddie Mercury Photographic Exhibition, a DVD-ROM feature allowing you to explore a £D virtual photo gallery, containing 100 photos of him, accompanied by more piano interpretations of Queen and Freddie songs by Thierry Lang (all are available on his album Guide Me Home). The software doesn’t run on my modern machine, but that doesn’t matter. With the combination of that Solo Collection and the Never Boring set, I’ve probably got the majority of the photos it contains anyway. Someone has also posted a walkthrough of the gallery on Youtube as well.

The Video Collection and The Untold Story were both re-released in 2006 as the DVD set entitled Lover Of Life, Singer Of Songs. The documentary disc had a new edit of The Untold Story, which is about the same length as the original, but with a new narration, and a few different scenes and interviews. For the videos disc, meanwhile, the Radio Mix of Living On My Own was added, and there were audio commentaries by the directors (instead of video commentaries like before). There were also some new featurettes, looking at the unveiling of the Freddie Mercury Statue in Montreux, interviews with a few of the big producers that Freddie worked with, The DVD-ROM photo gallery was also included on the music videos disc, but again I’m unable to run it on my current machine, which I’m not concerned about.

DVD cover for Freddie Mercury, Lover Of Life, Singer Of Songs. Features a drawn image of Freddie wearing a long flowing robe that drapes across the ground, while holding a crown in the air, looking out into space, surrounded by stars.

Incidentally, I also have the documentary entitled The Great Pretender on Blu-ray hat was released in 2012. That’s also brilliant and highly recommended, as it’s all about his solo work outside of Queen. So it’s a great companion piece to The Untold Story.

Book

Finally the huge 120 page book in the set gives a huge amount of material to look through. There are details provided for every disc in the set, including a track by track rundown of all the rarities, along with a lengthy appraisal of Freddie by Seán O’Hagan, all of which is really interesting. There’s also around 80 pages of wonderful photographs from throughout Freddie’s life, a complete set of lyrics, a discography, a list of pre-Queen live performances, and an index to the CD tracks if you want to find a particular version of a song. So, like the discs themselves, the book is extremely comprehensive, and well worth taking them time to go through.

Pages from the Freddie Mercury Solo Collection book about the Mr. Bad Guy and Barcelona albums.

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Conclusion

And so we finally make it to the end. The Solo Collection is a colossal beast of a box set, and a magnificent beast it is too, I love it a lot. There’s just so much to explore and enjoy in it, and it deserves to be re-released one day for others to enjoy. The Never Boring box set is great as well, it shouldn’t be dismissed if you want ti. I’m very happy that I got that set too. But it still pales in comparison to The Solo Collection.

Either way, both of these sets do a great job at celebrating the life and work of a truly great man. There was no one like Freddie Mercury, and I don’t think there ever will be, and these box sets prove that beyond any doubt.

Author: Glen

Love London, love a laugh, love life. Visually impaired blogger & Youtuber with aniridia & nystagmus, posting about my experiences & adventures.

3 thoughts on “Freddie Mercury – Never Boring & Solo Collection – Box Set Reviews”

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