QUEEN

21 January 2012

[Queen Logo designed by Freddie Mercury]You know, we are all subjected to revisionism in history and manipulation by the media, it’s part and parcel of this brave new world of 24 hour internet, TV and radio.

The odd thing about Queen is that they are never far away. I can honestly say that almost every day I will hear a Queen track somewhere, sometime — and yet this band is  never recognised properly.  It’s a puzzle actually.

It is impossible, for example to speak out against The Beatles (or any of their former members); they are considered sacrosanct.  It has become a religious truth that The Beatles are the best, most successful, most loved band ever in the history of everything. We are always hearing about how they have done everything, won everything and hold the record in everything. And yet I can go for months, if not years, without hearing a Beatles song on TV or radio.

It’s all very odd; by contrast, Queen are not held in the same reverence as The Beatles or [insert favourite  artiste here].  But why are they not revered? I say that they ought to be — and probably moreso than (dare I say it), The Beatles.

For the record, I bought the first Queen album early on.  I cannot claim to have fanatically bought all their albums, or even to have gone to see them in concert, so I’m not a fan per se.  However, I have to stand up and say that Queen are undervalued and under-rated — even by me. I ought to have gone to see them live, but I’ve well-and-truly missed that boat, and, believe me, I regret that a great deal.

OK, so what is the deal with Queen? Well, let’s look at this strange band.  Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon formed the band in the year that The Beatles disbanded, 1970.

Everyone knows that The Rolling Stones played songs by Jagger & Richard, and that The Beatles played Lennon & McCartney songs. Queen were different; they are the only group in which every member has composed more than one chart-topping single — all four members of Queen were inducted into The Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003.

[Famous Queen image - underlit group]Who hasn’t heard of Bohemian Rhapsody? What an impact that song has had!  The video for it, the length of the song, the musicality and scope — all unprecedented. The song has been parodied to death, but it remains so well loved. It is a classic moment in the movie Wayne’s World. This song was voted The UK’s favourite hit of all time in a poll conducted by The Guinness World Records British Hit Singles in 2002, and two years later it was inducted into The Grammy Hall of Fame.

Queen defined stadium rock —  live rock gigs on a huge scale — they didn’t just play at the audience, the audience played a special part — We Will Rock You, and Radio Ga Ga are inspirational in that respect.  A music industry poll ranked Queen’s performance at Live Aid in 1985 as The Best Live Act in History.

But it’s not just live that Queen excelled, there is a very real legacy in tv aderts, in movies, in background muzak, in all sorts of things and in all sorts of ways. For example, in sporting events, Queen are always present with hits like Another One Bites The Dust, We Are The Champions, Don’t Stop Me Now and We Will Rock You. I honestly cannot imagine any competition of any kind where Queen was not involved in some way — these songs capture the emotion perfectly. We Are The Champions was voted The World’s Favourite Song in a global music poll.

[Statue of Freddie Mercury overlooking Lake Geneva]We Are the Champions and We Will Rock You were inducted into The Grammy Hall of Fame. Queen have been inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and were awarded a star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame and on the Rockwalk in LA.There are even statues to Freddie Mercury, most notably overlooking Lake Geneva in Montreux.

Queen have sold a shedload of records over the years as well. The Guinness Book of World Records, stated in 2005 that Queen albums have spent a total of 1322 weeks (twenty-six years) on the UK Album Charts — more time than any other, and since 2006, The Greatest Hits album was the All-Time Best-Selling Album in UK Chart history, with sales over 5.4 million copies. Not only that, but their Greatest Hits II album is the eighth best seller, with sales nearly 4 million!  Some estimates have Queen selling over 300 million records worldwide.

Queen have had a total of 18 number one albums, 18 number one singles, and 10 number one DVDs worldwide.

The are ranked highly in almost every possible list by viewers, listeners, music critics, television channels, polls. Not just the band, but each member individually is recognised as a songwriter or master of their instrument — and all are considered brilliant vocalists.

But it doesn’t stop there; there was a musical called We Will Rock You,  by Ben Elton, Brian May and Roger Taylor, which was produced by Robert De Niro, and has proved to be a record-breaking worldwide hit musical.  There’s even a ballet by Sean Bovim, and a computer game called Queen: The eYe, and they have regularly featured in Guitar Hero and Rockband games and even Karaoke software (Singstar).

The band did the soundtrack for the film, Flash! Featuring their hit, Who Wants To Live Forever?

Their songs are so well-know, yet so varied: Fat Bottomed Girls, The Show Must Go On, Who Wants to Live Forever?, A Kind of Magic, Princes of the Universe, Hammer to Fall, I Want to Break Free, Under Pressure (with David Bowie), Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Bicycle Race, Tie Your Mother Down, Somebody to Love, You’re my Best Friend, Love of My Life, The Prophet’s Song, Seven Seas of Rye, Killer Queen, Keep Yourself Alive, I Want It All, I’m Going Slightly Mad, One Vision, and dozens more.

The odd thing about Queen was that they managed to be heavy metal at the beginning — despite being called Queen and having an outrageously gay front man.  They were forgiven everything for being extremely talented — Freddie’s vocals were in no way run-of-the-mill, he even did a duet with an Opera Diva (Barcelona) — the man could sing. Deacon’s bass lines are just legendary, not merely the obvious ones like Under Pressure, Another One Bites The Dust, but pick a Queen song at random, and you will find a real treat.  Taylor’s extremely high vocal and jazz-class drumming have transformed every single song, and is signature for the band’s sound — along with Brian May’s unique guitar sound and virtuoso playing.

May was — for me– even more brilliant for the intrigue, the air of wonder that he played with an old British sixpenny piece, that his dad made his guitar, Red Special.  This was in no way a band that was cashing in or following any trends or jumping on any bandwagons.  This is probably why they were left alone by the Punks in the ’70s — they were authentic, they were nothing but themselves doing their own thing — and that is perhaps their greatest legacy — the inspiration to create without limitation by manifesto.

Annoyingly, they seemed to do all this effortlessly.  They were self-deprecating, they took the mickey out of themselves. This is so definitively British, that I would hazard to say that there is no more British a band as Queen.

Rhythms, tempo changes, key changes, riffs, melody, harmony, simplicity and complexity — Queen have it all. Originally they shunned synthesisers and sequencers, and relied on overdubbing and production techniques.  They evolved as a band, they grew, and they set the bar. High.

They have been a part of the soundtrack to all our lives since 1972, they have sold, won and done everything. I cannot think of a band that balanced just so — they were bad boys, drinkers and drug-takers, they partied hard, yet everyone loved them. They were respected by hardcore drummers and singers, bassists and guitarists, yet they dressed as women in their promos and Mercury was overtly over the top flamboyantly gay. Genius stuff.

On a personal note, one of the maddest nights I have had was in the Scottish Border town of Annan a decade or more ago, when all the local men in the town dressed up as Freddie Mercury in white vests and false moustaches, to a man carrying floor brooms as mic stands, striking Mercury poses and postures for a charity night at some pub or other.  I had to wipe the tears from my eyes from laughing so hard.

So thus ends my tribute to Queen, unique and mad and very, very, British. The biggest influence on popular music and production anyone could imagine!

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