Live Killers, goodbye to my childhood heroes Queen

Queen - Live 1979 (ayushakti.com)

Queen – Live 1979

Introduction

In 1979 Queen were my idols. At the time, musical bombast and clever sentiment were the ultimate junk food for my musical brain. By the end of that year I would say my final goodbye to my heroes. Live Killers was the last feat I would consciously etch on my retina.

Queen

In 1978 Queen had released their latest album Jazz. Besides the easy and predictable reactions from the press, which were downright hostile, especially in the UK, Queen’s star was still on the rise. The US beckoned more strongly than ever before. It would take another two years before Queen really broke through there, following the 1980 release of the Crazy Little Thing Called Love and Another One Bites The Dust singles, but the US tours were becoming more elaborate (and successful) from 1978 onwards.

Queen - Pizza Oven (Jazz/Live Killers tour) (diogenescommunications.co.uk)

Queen – Pizza Oven (Jazz/Live Killers tour)

Jazz tour 1978/1979

After completing the Jazz tour in the US, which ran from October 18 to December 20, 1978, Europe was next. The tour, which was called the Live Killers tour, consisted of 28 shows. For details about the tour, see the sub article Queen – Live Killers tour – Europe January-March 1979. After Europe, the band closed the entire tour off with 15 concerts in Japan (from April 13 to May 6, 1979).

The tour was a resounding success. The light show was particularly impressive and of a size seldom seen before. Named Pizza Oven the main part consisted of a construction containing no less than 320 lights. During the show it could be lifted and tilted for optimal effect. Next to the rig, there were several follow spots and 15 lights surrounding Roger Taylor’s drumkit gong. The installation got its name due to the incredible amount of heat it generated every night.

Unfortunately, Freddie Mercury’s voice was the weakest link during this tour. This was a first (and by all accounts the last). The recording sessions for the Jazz album had been intense and were prolonged so much that Mercury had had insufficient time to rest his voice, which he had used intensively in the studio.

The majority of the European concerts were taped. The record company pressured Queen for new material. Even though the band never really committed to the idea, a live album would be released. That meant the band had to spend a considerable amount of time compiling a (double) live album. In the meantime the band also worked on a new album (The Game) and a soundtrack (Flash Gordon).

Queen - Live Killers (spotify.com)

Queen – Live Killers

Live Killers

On June 22, 1979, the double live album Live Killers was released. Even though the release of a live album had been contemplated earlier in their career, Live Killers was Queen’s first live album.

The order of the European tour’s setlist was ignored in some parts, probably caused by limitations in time on vinyl albums. Somebody To Love, Fat Bottomed Girls, If You Can’t Beat Them and It’s Late were (sadly) discarded, most likely because of the same reasons.

The band spent a lot of time on compiling the album and choosing which bits in the recordings were the best ones to use. Unfortunately, the origin of the used recordings wasn’t documented, which was a task in itself, as multiple sources were used, oftentimes within the span of one song as well. As is the custom with so-called live albums, studio overdubs were done. Roger Taylor is reported to have jokingly said in 1979 that “the only thing live about Live Killers is the bass drum”, which likely was a huge exaggeration, but it does show that overdubs were done, and maybe quite extensively.

Live Killers was the first album the band had produced and mixed by themselves. The activities took place at the Mountain Studios in Montreux, the studio the band had recently bought.

As usual, the album was ill received by the (inter)national press, with few exceptions. The era, where punk had come and gone and new-wave and ska were the next big thing, a double live album, which included a drum and guitar solo, was yet again ultimate proof that Queen were nothing more than a fat-gutted relic living in the past, unable to restrain their inflated egos.

And, equally predictable, nowadays Queen is viewed completely different. This also applies to Live Killers. Today the album is generally hailed as a sincere (re)presentation of a band who were at the top of their game.

Queen - Live Killers - Freddie Mercury & John Etchells mix at the Montreux Studios (brianmay.com)

Queen – Live Killers – Freddie Mercury & John Etchells mix at the Montreux Studios

Queen reaction

Queen themselves were unhappy with the album, the mix they had done and their perfectionism. Brian May says in a 1981 interview:

I am never really satisfied with anything I do. I’m a non-conformist. I think the live album was only a testimony of what we were doing on stage at that time. I am somehow unsatisfied, because we had to work hard in every concert and there were serious sound problems to solve. Sometimes the concerts sound very good, but when you listen to the recording you want to kill yourself because of how awful everything sounds. Out of ten or fifteen concerts we recorded, we could only use the tapes of three or four of them to edit Live Killers. Anyway, the sound of live albums is never good. The main reason is that the audience has to be included and the crowd noise affects the instruments. As you may notice, Live Killers is not my favourite album at all.

In the The Guitar Greats book by John Tobler and Stuart Grundy, which was published in 1983, Brian May comments on Live Killers, and live albums in general:

Live albums are inescapable, really. Everyone tells you you have to do them, and when you do, you find that they’re very often not of mass appeal, and in the absence of a fluke condition, you sell your live album to the converted, the people who already know your stuff and come to the concerts. So if you add up the number of people who’ve seen you over the last few years, that’s very roughly the number who’ll buy your live album, unless you have a hit single on it, which we didn’t. Maybe we chose the wrong one, which was ‘Love Of My Life’ in England and America.

Roger Taylor has also publicly stated he is no Live Killers fan, at all.

Around the time Queen celebrated its 40 years’ existence, the message was that Live Killers was nothing more than a demand from the record company, the band was “under pressure to come up with a live album”. In a 2020 interview with Brian May and Roger Taylor, in the wake of the 40-year jubilee of The Game, Live Killers is mentioned:

Brian: I can remember labouring over the Live Killers album and mixing it ourselves and we recorded countless concerts.
Roger: Yeah.
Brian: And we insisted on going through every performance and listening to them all and picking them all. I think we should have just have said to someone: “Hey, mix this album”.
Roger: Absolutely, and I don’t think it actually turned out anywhere near as well as it could have done.
Brian: It wasn’t that great, no, that’s right.

Brian May & Roger Taylor, In The Studio with Redbeard, 2020

It seems that all band members were in agreement on their view on the Live Killers album.

Queen - Live Killers - Gatefold (blackvinylbazar.cz)

Queen – Live Killers – Gatefold

Review

At the time of the Live Killers release I was still a Queen fan, although a shift was already happening. Other music demanded my attention ever more. The rise of ska and 2-Tone would make the shift more palpable in the second half of 1979, but Queen made it permanent with the release of Crazy Little Thing Called Love, a song I hated wholeheartedly; still do by the way.

But in June the love was still there. I knew a double album was coming and I didn’t have the money. My allowance was insufficient, so what was I to do? In the province of Noord Holland in The Netherlands that meant one thing only: working out in the fields. Picking flower-bulbs in my case. The year before I had worked the field for a photo camera and this year’s goal was Live Killers. One day’s work usually would do the trick to gather the required funds. I suspect the album cost about ƒ 20,- to ƒ 25,- at the time (which translates to € 33,50 in 2023), a lot of money for a 13 year old.

I remember collecting my money the day after and racing to record store Diskoland on my bike. I bought the Live Killers album and went straight home. Once I was in my room I immediately placed side A on my record player. The highly enjoyable process of listening and inspecting the album cover could commence. The gatefold was filled with small photos of the recent tour, accompanied by older photos as well. The inner sleeves contained liner notes, which I sifted through. The complete liner notes can be found in the sub article Queen – Live Killers – Liner notes.

The packaging was an experience that can’t be downplayed. The opening of the gatefold, the inner sleeves with the liner notes, the double vinyl with 4 separate labels. What a joy! I vividly recall I loved the album’s opening (the thunder and lightning sounds coming off Jazz‘s Dead On Time). And what was said during those three (censorship) beeps with the introduction of Death On Two Legs? Just recently I found out that the word “motherfucker” was uttered.

I quickly settled on my favorites: We Will Rock You the fast version, the song that opens Live Killers. Let Me Entertain You, Get Down, Make Love, Now I’m Here, Don’t Stop Me Now, Spread Your Wings, Sheer Heart Attack, they were all equally great, but Brighton Rock was the one that really stood out. I thought it was pure magic, particularly the double echo Brian May applied to his guitar solo. Unique and exciting. The way Roger Taylor reintroduces his drums at 09:00 guaranteed goosebumps. I remember listening to Live Killers for hours and hours while seated on my green wicker chair.

And today?

So, at the time I thought it was all fantastic, but how do I view Live Killers nowadays? In short, I can relate to the critique Queen themselves have on the album. But what really sticks out is how awful the sound actually is. It all sounds tinny, more like a decent audience recording, but no soundboard quality, not by a long shot. It does provide the album with some atmosphere, but to call this release indispensable: no, not at all.

Musically some complaints can be made as well. The medley on side A sounds a bit perfunctory, side B is a bit boring with its 3 ballads, side C is still the favorite side, side D is a bit heavier with Tie Your Mother Down and Sheer Heart Attack. But the main complaint is the remarkably bad sound.

So, I don’t agree with the revisionist opinion that Live Killers is a prime example of a classic 1970s live album. Albums like If You Want Blood You’ve Got It (AC/DC), Cha Cha (Herman Brood & His Wild Romance), At Budokan (Cheap Trick), Live Evil (Miles Davis), Hot August Night (Neil Diamond), Live (Donny Hathaway), Band Of Gypsys (Jimi Hendrix), Alive! (Kiss), Live! (Bob Marley & The Wailers), Babylon By Bus (Bob Marley & The Wailers), Miles Of Aisles (Joni Mitchell), Live: P-Funk Earth Tour (Parliament), It’s Alive (The Ramones), Viva! Roxy Music (Roxy Music), Live And Dangerous (Thin Lizzy), Live At Leeds (The Who), Rust Never Sleeps (Neil Young & Crazy Horse), Roxy & Elsewhere (Frank Zappa) en In New York (Frank Zappa), just to name a few, are all far more deserving of that title.

Queen - Live Killers - Back cover (discogs.com)

Queen – Live Killers – Back cover

Songs

All songs written by Queen, see details.

Side A

  • We Will Rock You (Fast) #
  • Let Me Entertain You $
  • Death On Two Legs $
  • Killer Queen $
  • Bicycle Race $
  • I’m In Love With My Car %
  • Get Down, Make Love $
  • You’re My Best Friend *

Side B

  • Now I’m Here #
  • Dreamer’s Ball #
  • Love Of My Life $
  • ’39 #
  • Keep Yourself Alive #

Side C

  • Don’t Stop Me Now $
  • Spread Your Wings *
  • Brighton Rock #

Side D

  • Bohemian Rhapsody $
  • Tie Your Mother Down #
  • Sheer Heart Attack %
  • We Will Rock You #
  • We Are The Champions $
  • God Save The Queen # (arr.)

Written by:
Freddie Mercury $
Brian May #
Roger Taylor %
John Deacon *

Queen - Live Killers - Album labels - Side A, B, C, D (discogs.com)

Queen – Live Killers – Album labels – Side A, B, C, D

Songs by concert

Even though the band didn’t document which recording of which show was used in which song, that doesn’t mean that it is completely unclear. Several fans have been analyzing the available (bootleg) recordings, figuring out from which concert the Live Killers recordings originated. That has resulted in a table, which can be viewed below. Talk about dedication!

Musicians

  • Freddie Mercury – vocals, piano
  • Brian May – guitar, background vocals
  • Roger Taylor – drums, tambourine, timpani, background vocals; vocals on I’m In Love with My Car
  • John Deacon – bass, background vocals, triangle
Queen - Live Killers - US promotional press kit 1979 (facebook.com)

Queen – Live Killers – US promotional press kit 1979

After Live Killers

Queen closed the 1970s with a worldwide hit: Crazy Little Thing Called Love, which was released as a single on October 12, 1979. It was the first prelude to the album The Game. The US B-side was a live version of Spread Your Wings, in the rest of the world it was We Will Rock You, both stemming from the Live Killers album.

In November and December 1979 Queen hit the road again, this time only playing the UK. The Crazy Tour didn’t deviate too much from the Like Killers tour earlier that year. The two additions were Crazy Little Thing Called Love and another new song, Save Me. This tour marked the last time the Pizza Oven lighting rig was used.

Queen opened the 1980s with the release of two singles. The first was released on January 25, 1980, Save Me, which contained the Live Killers version of Let Me Entertain You as its B-side. The second single was Play The Game, which was released on May 30, 1980. Just like Crazy Little Thing Called Love, both singles were precursors to the album The Game, which was released on June 30, 1980.

The Game signaled the breakthrough in the US. Both Crazy Little Thing Called Love and Another One Bites The Dust singles reached the first position of the American Billboard charts. The subsequent tour was a huge success.

1980 was a particular busy year for Queen. Besides the release of The Game and 4 singles, the soundtrack to the Flash Gordon movie was released late 1980. The music was performed by Queen. On November 24, 1980 , the single Flash was released, two weeks later followed by the Flash Gordon album.

As stated before, for me Queen was over after Live Killers. The 1980s albums that followed all passed me by. I didn’t listen to them and I wasn’t interested . Other music was far more exciting, innovative and better. But then it was July 13, 1985, Live Aid. Queen ruled that day. I was impressed, briefly. Freddie Mercury’s death resulted in a bit of a revival, but it wasn’t the same anymore, and it would never become the same again. But from 1975 to 1979 Queen was my band. Live Killers was my personal farewell and, at the time especially, the goodbye ended on a high note.

Queen - Live Killers - VS gold record (Freddie Mercury copy) (rockartcollection.com)

Queen – Live Killers – VS gold record (Freddie Mercury copy)

In closing

What’s your opinion on Live Killers? Let me know!

Video
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Live Killers, goodbye to my childhood heroes Queen.

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