I could care less about Queen's popularity in the USA in the '80's. Popularity often has little to do with actual talent, as evidenced by the recent and seemingly undying wave of crappy boy-bands and bubblegum pop divas. If Queen were ever interested in popularity it was probably on an esoteric level, because no matter what they always churned out some brilliant and amazing music. "A Kind of Magic" is perhaps their best album of the '80's, mainly because of its connection with "Highlander," one of the best films of the decade. Only a band of such musical grandeur and classical pomposity like Queen could produce such amazing music for such a film.
"One Vision" as well its extended version (vision) were featured on the "Iron Eagle" soundtrack, and its claim to fame is that it was written before Live Aid, though recorded after it. A good epic song with amazing interplay of guitars and synths, as well as Freddie's little joke at the end.
"A Kind of Magic," the title track, and taken from a line in "Highlander" definitely fits the bill as one of Queen's best pop-rock songs. Brian May never ceases to amaze with his interweaving guitar lines. Roger Taylor's lyrics tie in perfectly with the film, and John Deacon's basslines, while simple, are infectious. A song so good, it's the only one featured in the sequel.
"One Year of Love" is a simple little love song, with Freddie giving one of his best vocal performances. The saxophone solo complements nicely.
"Pain is So Close to Pleasure" is an okay song, though not one of my favorites. I'll give points to Freddie for an amazing falsetto vocal, but the song contains little else to keep my interest.
"Friends Will Be Friends" is also one I could have done without, although it became a bit of a live staple. It's simplicity of theme and lyric probably made it the perfect pop feel-good song.
Brian May has outdone himself with "Who Wants to Live Forever," one of the saddest and most beautiful songs ever written. The orchestra by Michael Kamen ties it in with the film's score seamlessly, and the vocal interplay between Brian and Freddie will bring tears to the eyes. A previous reviewer remarked that all "Highlander" fans would want this played at their funeral...I won't argue.
Things get kicking into high gear with "Gimme the Prize," also known as "Kurgan's Theme." Loud, bombastic, thundering, and just plain evil sounding, this song captures the character of Kurgan. One can sense from the sound of this song the man's evil and his thirst for death. The samples from the movie showcasing some of the character's best lines certainly add to the overall atmosphere, and the guitar solo sounds oddly Scottish with an almost electric bagpipe sound. The drum and guitar riffs also tie in nicely with "Princes of the Universe." Great song.
"Don't Lose Your Head" might've been better on this album if it was featured in a version that was closer to how it sounded in the film. Its synth bassline was only used briefly in the film, but it worked. Here, it just sounds like a regular darkwave song, which isn't really bad, but not great either. Joan Armatrading's backup vocal is nothing to speak of either as far as I'm concerned.
And now the "Highlander" theme, the ultimate musical and lyrical complement to the film, Freddie Mercury's short but epic "Princes of the Universe." The song is chock full of Queen's trademark vocal melodies and choruses, layers upon layers upon layers of guitars and vocals. Roger's drumming is top-notch on this song, just powerful and loud. Deacon's bass keeps the sound grounded, while May's guitar licks just soar to unbelievable heights. Did I mention the vocals, the opening vocal chorus is probably the best Queen has ever sounded. Easily my favorite Queen song...period!
"Forever" is probably filler, but a solo piano rendition of "Who Wants to Live Forever" just adds one more sweet touch to link the album to the film.
I honestly think this is Queens' best album of the '80's, and not just because of the "Highlander" connection. I really think these songs are the best Queen has written since 1977, and they would not write an album so good until 1991's "Innuendo." I will miss Freddie Mercury and Queen, but with albums so great as this, they left a wonderful legacy. There have been far too many "Highlander" spinoffs since the original film, and only the TV-series came close to getting it right, but for me nothing will beat the original film, and no sound will ever be "Highlander" more than Queen's "A Kind of Magic."