Queen? Really? Yes really, Queen was my first real big music love, which genuinely felt mine. No Tommy, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway or Hot August Night, great records, no doubt about that, but in essence my father’s music, not mine. From the moment I saw Killer Queen (at Toppop, the Dutch equivalent of Top Of The Pops, minus the abuse) I was fascinated. After hearing and seeing Bohemian Rhapsody I was sold. Nowadays I can’t listen to that song anymore, but at the time it was sensational.
Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon. I can utter those names in my sleep. I will never forget them. Queen’s band members, the band that occupied me in my childhood years. The first time I saw Queen was during a Toppop broadcast: Killer Queen. I thought it was a great song and the band was okay.
One year later Bohemian Rhapsody was released and couldn’t believe my ears (and eyes). The clip accompanying the song was a revelation as well. Weird video effects and moving images to the whole song. The first videoclip; I thought it was great. The single was soon acquired. It contained the B-side I’m In Love With My Car. A loud song, which I adored completely. This wasn’t sung by Mercury, but by the band’s drummer: Roger Taylor (my band favorite).
My father bought the corresponding album: A Night At The Opera. What a record! I thought everything was equally good, beautiful and interesting, but the highlight was The Prophet’s Song. A piece of music which contained several different pieces (just like Bohemian Rahpsody), filled with (studio)tricks and a big a-capella piece at the center of the song: stunning!
A year later Somebody To Love was released (also see paragraph The best song), off the album A Day At The Races, a record I immediately owned myself. Just the beginning: Tie Your Mother Down, a classic Queen song; heavy. It was, right away, followed by one of the most moving Queen songs, You Take My Breath Away. Add to that Somebody To Love and Drowse all on one record: such wealth!
I don’t remember exactly when the album Sheer Heart Attack came into my life, but it was the quintessential Queen album for me (still is). The variety, the dynamics and the songs: everything joined into, as far as I was concerned, the best album I knew.
End 1977 the album News Of the World was released, which contained We Are The Champions. I didn’t particularly like that song, but We Will Rock You, Spread Your Wings, It’s Late, Get Down, Make Love and (especially) the song Sheer Heart Attack were absolutely great! I received the album as a gift during Sinterklaas Day (a Dutch children’s holiday), 1977.
Mid-’78 I started (attempting to) play the guitar. After a while I could play It’s Late in its entirety, which made me feel (very) proud.
Jazz followed next (Don’t Stop Me Now), but my interest started to wane. I didn’t like Crazy Little Thing Called Love, but despite that Queen was still my no. 1. After the release of Live Killers and (particularly) The Game it was over. Ska was the new craze and I really, really liked the new music that came with it.
But during a period of 3 to 4 years, Queen was the most important band to me. A number of things made the band special to me:
- all band members wrote songs (and good ones too), which all have led to hit(single)s;
- up to and including the album Jazz Queen took pride in the fact that no synthesizers were used on their albums. The liner notes to the albums always contained: No synthesizers!. It served as a kind of quality label;
- despite the spectacular breadth of the music, Queen music had a number of specific features. Besides the special voice of Mercury, there also was the distinguishing guitar sound of Brian May, who, using his custom desgined and built guitar, could produce sounds from his instrument, which were extremely identifiable and unique. Drummer Roger Taylor also had a specific way of drumming, by accentuating the third count of the Queen rhythms using his hi-hat.
Unfortunately I never got to see Queen live. During their heyday I was too young and later too indifferent. The Queen shows were spectacular containing, besides fantastic music performed by fantastic musicians, lots of theater, lights, smoke and more. I contemplated about going to see them last year at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam, even though Freddie Mercury and John Deacon are missing. (Happy to say) I didn’t.
My love for Queen also introduced me to a new phenomenon: being a fan.
That meant everything that comes with the territory. My room was decorated with Queen posters, scarfs, buttons, you name it. I joined the (Dutch) Queen fan club, which sent out letters on a very regular basis. I even joined the The International Queen fanclub for one year. That was housed all the way in London! It was a treat receiving mail from them.
I also had a subscription to Popfoto, a Dutch music magazine that gave a lot of attention to my favorite band. Pictures, posters, popularity polls (which Queen always seemed to win), biographies: I devoured it all and kept it all. I made a number of scrapbooks containing all my Queen material.
It goes without saying that I spent (preferably) most my days playing their records and dreaming of meeting them one day….
I lost sight of Queen. I thought the Bowie duet Under Pressue was okay and I thought Body Language was kinda funny, but otherwise I thought Queen were becoming more and more annoying, especially after releasing Radio Ga Ga and I Want To Break Free (although the clip was funny). Queen also became controversial, because they broke the cultural ban, to never play South Africa’s Sun City because of the despicable apartheid regime. Surprise (or better amazement; even better: disapproval) abound when it was publicly stated that Queen would be one of the many (selfless) performing artists during the Live Aid spectacle, which was to be organized on July 13th 1985 to make a (large) contribution to ending the famine that swept across Africa, and Ehtiopia in particular. Of course I watched the whole broadcast and was kind of curious how Queen would do. Without exaggeration Queen were the best band that day (in London as well as Philadelphia). The energy, the drive, the sound (!), everything fit. Also, as one of the very few artists performing that day, they innately knew how to use the 20-minute time-slot reserved for every artist to the fullest. Of course it wasn’t just the altruistic nature that made Queen decide to play Live Aid. It turned out to be one of the defining moments of their career. Queen was “back”.
In 1991 it was suddenly announced that Freddie Mercury had acquired AIDS. The day after (November 24th) he died of the disease, just 45 years old. In April of 1992 The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness took place, the last time that all of the surviving Queen members were seen on a stage together. The day had some fine moments: Metallica doing Stone Cold Crazy, the awkward collaboration between Elton John and Axl Rose (who was known for his homophobic declarations) and George Michael with Queen: the highlight of the night. Mercury was temporarily forgotten. George Michael was impressive.
After Mercury’s death there were tours, albums and reissues. Queen never sold as much, as fast when Mercury was still alive. An ironic observation.
The best album
By far, Sheer Heart Attack, nowadays the only album I occasionally listen to (in its entirety). I remember vividly that during the winter months of 1978 I was at home, sick. It was the last year of my elementary schooldays. It was cold; snow had fallen abundantly, ice was on the ditch in front of our house, wich was heavily used for skating. The pleasant spirit was outside. In my room it was cosy and warm. I was ill, but happy. I could listen to music all day long, and, despite the fact I had gotten News Of The World on Sinterklaas Day just weeks before, I primarily played Sheer Heart Attack.
In my (current) opinion it is the one Queen record that doesn’t seem forcibly varied. Genres abound on this album: from vaudeville to (a precursor of) speedmetal (the stunning Stone Cold Crazy), but the quality is at a constant high, the joy of playing is audible and it’s the first album where Queen find their sound, without the grandiloquence of their latter years. The album where they begin to understand the studio as a tool for implementing their ideas. Regular Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker delivered his first spectacular job in making the countless overdubs and edits sound organic. On top of that: every bandmember brought songs to the table, which didn’t degrade the quality of the album.
The best song
Also, by far. This song in indescribable. The beginning, the choirs, the centrepiece and then the gospel at the song’s closing. Absolutely beautiful!
At the time, a friend of my father’s (named Fred), was employed at record company EMI. Besides being able to acquire albums at the sales price the record company charged to the intermediate trade, it also meant that he could get his hands on items (sometimes) weeks before intended release, be it singles and/or albums. Some of them he took home with him and this one came to our house. We really had a big première in our house when we played this for the first time. I remember very well being in awe of the song. My father couldn’t stop talking about the choirs and how they were able to pull that off. They were a band of four, with three singing members. At times it sounds like a choir of 300! My father’s enthusiasm made me like it even more; my father liked it too, so I had to be right too!
This is the one song on which I always turn up the volume, whenever I hear it. I don’t get the hysteria for Bohemain Rhapsody at all; this song is so much better.
Recently I heard Somebody To Love (youtube, I think), but just the vocal track. Mercury was a lot of things; an absolutely fantastic singer was one of them. Impressive!
What do you think of Queen? Do you have another childhood/first music love?
Let me know!
Queen album images: allmusic.com / apoplife.nl
Live Aid image: huffingtonpost.co.uk
Freddie Mercury Tribute poster: wikipedia.org
Somebody To Love single image: queenvinyls.com