Queen is a British rock band which was popular in the 1970s and 1980s. The group is well known for its sports anthems and classic rock radio staples, particularly the hits "We Are the Champions" and "Bohemian Rhapsody;" the band promoted the latter, first released in 1975, with one of the earliest successful music videos, and later re-released it for the soundtrack album from the movie Wayne's World. Queen are widely recognised as pioneers of heavy metal, glam rock, and stadium rock.
The beginnings of Queen can be traced to 1968, when Brian May and Roger Taylor formed the trio Smile, at Imperial College, London, where they were both students. After the group's bassist and lead singer Tim Staffell departed in the spring of 1970, May and Taylor took on vocalist Freddie Mercury in April 1970 to form Queen. In 1971 John Deacon completed the lineup as bass guitarist.
Left to right: Deacon, May, Mercury, Taylor
Though Freddie Mercury's personality always dominated in the press, all four members of the group actually wrote huge hits:
Most of the group's albums contained at least one song written by each member, and though Mercury penned a lot of Queen's hits, he was by no means the dominant songwriter; indeed, the group considered themselves creative equals, and quiet bassist John Deacon wrote one of their biggest hits, "Another One Bites the Dust." In their later years, two or three or even all four band members commonly contributed to individual songs; after arguments over the attribution of these cooperative efforts, the band agreed to simply credit "Queen" rather than single members (from The Miracle onwards).
Brian May and Roger Taylor were playing on a band called Smile with bass player/singer Tim Staffell. Freddie was Tim's roommate in Ealing Arts College and followed Smile's rehearsals and concerts closely. At that time Freddie was a singer in other bands, such as Wreckage and Ibex. Still, he was very eager to share his ideas in which musical direction Smile should develop. At some point Tim Staffell decided Smile was not going anywhere and he decided to join a band called Humpy Bong. Freddie quickly stepped in for Tim and they started to search for a bass player. One of the first was Barry Mitchell. It was not until 1972 that they found John Deacon and started to rehearse for the first album, Queen.
In 1973 Queen released their first album, a self-titled effort. It drew little attention, but succeeded in giving the band an FM radio anthem "Keep Yourself Alive." In hindsight, it's considered to be a strong first album.
1974 saw two releases; the first being of Queen II, which had the hit "Seven Seas of Rhye" on it. The album was highly experimental, so it garnered little mainstream attention, but the single got them on to the charts in Britain.
Later that same year, Sheer Heart Attack was released. The album was huge in the UK and throughout Europe; it went gold in the United States. Considered one of their very greatest efforts, Queen made a surprisingly cohesive album with a wide variety of different types of music; British music hall to heavy metal tunes like "Stone Cold Crazy" (which Metallica would later cover and earn a Grammy for) and "Now I'm Here" (a live concert favorite); ballads ("Lily of the Valley"), ragtime ("Bring Back That Leroy Brown"), even Caribbean ("Misfire")
The standout track was "Killer Queen" a British Top Ten and hitting number 11 in the U.S.. It combined campy, vaudeville British music hall with Led Zeppelin-like sound and Brian May's virtuosity on the guitar.
If Sheer Heart Attack's blend of eclectic styles and heavy-metal was considered to be gamut-running, their 1975 effort A Night At The Opera was all-encompassing. Considered by many to be their greatest effort (some call it Queen's Led Zeppelin IV), this is the album that featured the huge worldwide hit, "Bohemian Rhapsody." "Bohemian Rhapsody" was number one in the UK for nine weeks, breaking the record set by Paul Anka's "Diana." It reached number 9 in the U.S.; when it was rereleased in 1992, it reached number one in the UK again, and hit number 2 in America. The album also featured "You're My Best Friend" (which peaked at 14 on the U.S. charts), a sweet, pure pop gem that was unlike anything Queen had ever done to that point. "I'm In Love With My Car " was a hard-rock tune, written and sung by drummer Roger Taylor, which is currently being used in Lexus commercials.
The album was a smash in Britain, and went three times platinum in America. It was official; Queen had hit the popular music scene.
Back in the studio and unable to really top A Night At The Opera in sales or quality, Queen recorded what essentially was a companion album, A Day At The Races, also in keeping with the Marx Brothers' movie theme for the title. The cover was the same as Operas, only with the colors inverted. Plans were made to eventually release the two together as a package, but those plans never came to fruition.
The album was done very much in the vein of Opera musically as well. Although it was by both fans' and critics' standards superb, it was unable to eclipse its predecessor, and thus as a result has been somewhat overrated.
The standout tracks were "Somebody to Love" and "Tie Your Mother Down." "Somebody" was an incredible rock ballad, on which Freddie Mercury mulitracked his voice to make a 100-voice gospel choir. Staying true to their guitar-driven style, it was filled with Brian May's virtuoso harmony, and it went to number 11 on the U.S. singles chart and number 2 on the U.K. charts. "Tie Your Mother Down" was a typical Queen hard-rocker that produced a very recognizable riff and displayed Queen's trademark sense of humor.
1977 saw the release of News of the World, an album that was critically panned at the time but has gained recognition over time. This album had more of a sonic punch to it, as well as songs that were tailor-made to be performed (and subsequently have their greatest effect) live. This album produced the anthemic "We Will Rock You" and the famous rock ballad "We Are The Champions", as well as the punchy, near-punk sound of "Sheer Heart Attack" (not to be confused with the album of the same name released three years earlier).
In 1978 the band released the Jazz album, including the hit singles "Fat Bottomed Girls" and "Bicycle Race", being a double-A-side single. The album cover was inspired by a painting on the Berlin wall. Important tracks of the album were "Dead on Time", "Let Me Entertain You" or "Mustapha", a song by Freddie, which had a very Arabian sound combined with heavy rock guitar.
Fan response was lukewarm to Jazz and for the first time Queen's sales saw a bit of a dip. All band members, especially Mercury, noted frustration and disappointment with the album, and as a result, took a break from the breakneck schedule of one or more albums a year, and focused during the year of 1979 totally on a new album to come out in 1980.
They did, however, release their first-ever live album, in response to the exorbitant amounts of money Queen bootlegs were fetching. The album, entitled Live Killers, went platinum (twice in the U.S.) in most developed countries. They also released the very successful single, "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," a song done in the style of Elvis Presley; the single made the top 10 in most countries and was the band's first number one single in the U.S.
Queen kicked off the 1980's with the hugely successful album, The Game. The album turned out to be their highest selling non-greatest hits. The album featured the "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" single, as well as the monster hit "Another One Bites the Dust" a track that was released in 1981 after Michael Jackson suggested it would make a great single. It combined Queen's rock sensibilities with a funky minamalism that resulted in a discofied rock classic. It stayed at number one for four weeks in the United States, and the album went four times platinum States-side. The album also featured two of Queen's greatest ballads; "Play the Game" and the fan-favorite "Save Me," both of which were hits in Britain and well-remembered by rock fans in the States.
1980 also saw them due the innovative and critically-acclaimed soundtrack for the movie Flash Gordon. The album sold poorly, but served as a showcase for Queen in a different light.
1981 saw Queen collaborate with David Bowie for the single "Under Pressure". The single netted a number one in Britain and a well-remembered rock anthem, a fan-favorite of both Queen and Bowie legionnaires. The group also released a widely successful greatest hits CD, their first, which showcased their rock highlights during the first phase of their career.
The response to "Another One Bites the Dust" was overwhelming, so the band decided to do an entire album of disco/funk influenced songs. The result was the 1982 album Hot Space, an album which, either fairly or not, has been almost unanimously regarded by critics and die-hard, loyal fans alike as being one of their worst. The album was especially disappointing to the hard-rock faithful that followed them through the 70s since their first album and their breakthrough success "Sheer Heart Attack." Nonetheless, the album included "Under Pressure," the only real highlight, and "Body Language," a single that only gained attention in the U.S., netting a surprise number 11 hit.
In 1984, Queen successfully bridged the gap between hard rock and pop with the album The Works, which included the incredibly successful glitzy rock anthem "Radio Ga-Ga," the gorgeous pop of "I Want to Break Free ," (a song that would become an anthem of the supressed left-wing of Brazil and later Coca-Cola "C2" Commercials), the heavy, hard-rock live favorites "Hammer to Fall" (a poetic commentary on the Cold War) and "Tear It Up." Despite these hit singles and live barn-burners, the album failed to sell well, and the band was beginning to experience great tensions, and band members began to branch off onto solo projects.
Then came 1985, and the benefit concert Live Aid, which Queen were invited to perform at. In the eyes of critics and fans alike, the group stole the show at the worldwide extravaganza, performing some of their greatest hits and wowing audiences with their energy and superb musicianry and showmanship.
In 1986, Queen went on a sold-out final tour, which culminated at Wembley Stadium in London. Freddie teased the capacity crowd of 89,000 that Queen might be breaking up, only to tell the crowd that it was just a silly rumor, and that Queen would be together until "we fucking well die, I'm sure!" much to the delight of the crowd. It is rumored that Freddie contracted AIDS that year as well.
On this tour, Queen performed for the last time together. They couldn't book Wembley for a third night because it was already booked, but they managed to get Knebworth Park. It sold out within 2 hours, and over 120,000 fans packed the park to get a glimpse of Queen one last time live.
After working in various solo projects during 1988 (including Mercury´s collaboration with Montserrat Caballé, "Barcelona") the band released The Miracle in 1989. This record continued the direction of A Kind of Magic with a polished pop-rock sound and hits like "Invisible Man", "The Miracle" and "Breakthru".
In 1991, rumors started spreading that Freddie Mercury was suffering from AIDS. Even tabloids worldwide got in on the news. Mercury flatly denied these rumors, but knowing the actual truth as his other bandmates did, they decided to make an album free of conflict and differences. That album became Innuendo. Although his health began to deteriorate, Mercury was courageous in handling his contributions. Highlights of the album were the the epic title track, reminiscent of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir"; the hard-rocking, rollicking powerhouse "Headlong"; and the anthems "The Show Must Go On" and "These Are The Days Of Our Lives".
On November 23 1991, in a prepared statement made on his deathbed, Freddie Mercury finally acknowledged he had AIDS. Within 24 hours of the announcement, Mercury was dead at the age of 45. His funeral services were private, held in accordance with the Zoroastrian religious faith of his family.
On April 20 1992, the public shared in the mourning of Mercury's passing at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, held at London's Wembley Stadium in Mercury's honor. Musicians such as Annie Lennox, Guns n' Roses, Def Leppard, Elton John, George Michael, David Bowie, Metallica and Liza Minnelli (along with the three surviving members of Queen) perfomed most of Queen's major hits.
Queen never actually disbanded, although their last album of original material (not including compilations) was released in 1995, titled Made In Heaven, put out four years after Freddie Mercury's death, and constructed from Freddie's final recording sessions in 1991, plus material leftover from their previous studio albums. The band still appear from time to time, minus bassist John Deacon (whose few public appearances are normally to pour cold water on any rumours of a Queen get-together) making "Queen & ..." projects with various guest musicians. A tribute album has appeared, but not with musicians of note. The album is entitled "Dragon Attack" after one of Queen's earlier recordings.
At the end of 2004, it was announced that Queen will reunite and return to touring in 2005, with Paul Rodgers (founder and former lead singer of Free and Bad Company) who will be singing in Freddie Mercury's place, as frontman, but will not be in the band as Brian May has announced recently to the Queen fan club, that Paul Rodgers will be "featured with" Queen, not replacing the late Freddie Mercury. This would be the first time since the release of the album Made In Heaven that surviving original Queen members have performed in concert; John Deacon declined to participate, having more or less retired from the music scene (it is unknown who will replace him as bassist).
Influence on modern music
Queen is remembered for its never-seen-before theatrics, showmanship, camp and bombast so much that critics have since classified the band as a major player in the evolution of rock music. Queen is noted in particular for its musical eclecticism and groundbreaking live shows. Queen is credited by artists like AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Guns n' Roses, Def Leppard, Trent Reznor, George Michael, Metallica, The Smashing Pumpkins, and The Darkness as having a major influence on their sound.
The Digital Realm
Under the supervision of Brian May and Roger Taylor, numerous restoration projects have been underway involving Queen's lengthy audio and video catalogue. DVD releases of their famous 1986 Wembley concert (titled Live At Wembley Stadium) and 1982 Milton Keynes concert, and two Greatest Video Hits (Volumes 1 and 2, spanning the 70's and 80's) have seen the band's music remixed into 5.1 and DTS Surround Sound. So far, two of Queen's most acclaimed albums, A Night At The Opera and The Game, have been fully remixed into DTS Surround on DVD-Audio albums. Known for their densely layered arrangments and backing, this medium seems tailor-made for Queen's music. Brian May has said he would like to see the entire Queen catalogue reproduced in this format, as it is closer to what the band envisaged for their work years ago.
The Queen camp continues to work on future concert releases, at least one more video collection (Volume 3) and the rest of album catalogue in the DVD-Audio format. True to form, Taylor and May are in constant communication with fans, collectors and industry experts to find out where demand lies for future releases and where the industry and new technology is headed.
Queen's live performances were truly groundbreaking, employing massive lighting rigs, pyrotechnics, and other special effects to make their shows into engaging theatrical events. Along with their contemporaries KISS, they changed live concerts forever from the staid, stodgy events that had prevailed since the time of the Beatles, where performers would merely stand around and play their instruments. The energy with which they performed, the excitement, enthusiasm and pure adrenaline Freddie Mercury brought with his vocal performance, was so natural and so genuine that the audience almost always joined in and sang. Mercury immersed himself in the crowd's adulation and thrived off their excitement, a trait for which many, including Kurt Cobain (in his suicide note), have expressed admiration. Beginning with "News Of The World" in 1977, Queen began to write songs with the specific purpose of involving the crowd, like "We Will Rock You" and "We Are The Champions," and tailored some songs, like "Radio Ga Ga" to involve claps. This resulted in a stunning moment at Live Aid at which almost 100,000 people at Wembley Stadium clapped their hands over their head in unison to "Radio Ga-Ga."
Queen embarked upon many popular tours, with memorable shows (including the historic Live Aid concert) held at Wembley Stadium in England, and Maracanã, for the Rock in Rio festival in Brazil, although only the group's final tour, in support of the album "A Kind of Magic", ever actually made any money.
The Wembley concert, part of a UK tour in 1986, attracted 150,000 people over two nights. A memorable and prophetic moment occurred when Freddie Mercury told the audience: "There's been a lot of rumors lately about a certain band called Queen... the rumors are that we're gonna split up. What do you think?" Audience: "No!" Freddie: "Forget those rumors, we're gonna stay together 'till we fucking well die, I'm sure!".
At the Knebworth concert two days later, Freddie makes the following statement:
"...and earlier on, there were rumours of us splitting up, but I mean, fuck 'em!. I mean, really, look at this! (cheers). I mean, how can you split up when you have an audience like this, I mean, really! We're not that stupid!"
Ironically, the band were to hardly meet for another 3 years, during which time Freddie Mercury did some solo work and Roger Taylor did some work with The Cross.
It is unknown whether or not Mercury was aware he had AIDS at this time.
- "Killer Queen" from Sheer Heart Attack featured May's virtuosity on the guitar and first brought attention to the band.
- "Bohemian Rhapsody" is a classic song that was the focus of one of the first music videos ever. It first appeared on the 1975 album A Night At The Opera. After Mercury's death, the single was rereleased in the UK as a double A-Side with "These are the days of our lives". It became the 1991 Christmas number one and the first single to reach number one on the charts on two separate occasions (the only other single to have done this is George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord"). The single was rereleased in the US in 1992 following its feature in the film Wayne's World.
- "Tie Your Mother Down" was not one of Queen's biggest hits - it came in number 33 in the UK charts and peaked at 49 in the US - which pales in comparison to many of their other singles. Because of Queen's stringent Greatest Hits standards (if it wasn't in the top 30 in the UK they would not include it) it hasn't enjoyed a resurgence like many of their other classics. However, it has one of rock music's most recognisable riffs, and while many people cannot identify the song or who played, they are familiar with the riff. From the 1976 album A Day at the Races.
- "We Will Rock You" is a staple at sporting events around the world; audience members will stomp and clap along to the rhythm of the song and chant the chorus line of the song, in support of their team. From the 1977 album News of the World.
- "We Are the Champions" is a favorite post-game song for obvious reasons. From the 1977 album News of the World.
- "Another One Bites the Dust" was a huge crossover hit when it was released, topping both the pop and R&B charts. It was a unique brand of discofied funk rock. It was inspired by the bass guitar riffs of the disco group Chic, and ironically released at the tail end of the disco era. It has been one of the songs rumored to have a backwards message, supposedly "It's fun to smoke marijuana." The title phrase of the song does sound vaguely like that when played backwards, but it is most likely a coincidence, since there is nothing about the song that suggests that the lyric was contrived to sound a particular way when played backwards. From the 1980 album The Game.
- "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" was a number one hit in the U.S. and is often mistaken for an Elvis Presley tune. Freddie Mercury wrote the song whilst languishing in a bathtub at a hotel, and put it to rhythm guitar. He recorded it with band members Deacon and Taylor, with May overdubbing lead guitar throughout. It has a unique, rockabilly sound to it not like anything Queen had ever recorded, and Mercury does an absolutely superb job of imitating Presley's voice. Released as a single in 1979 and appeared on the 1980 album The Game.
- "Radio Ga Ga" was an enormous worldwide success for the band; it was in the top 20 of no less than 36 countries, and in 20 of them it reached number one. The song was a commentary of the invention of televison overtaking radio's popularity, and how one would listen to radio for their favorite comedy, drama, sci-fi programs etc... as well as the advent of the music video and MTV. Drummer Roger Taylor wrote this, and it was originally conceived as "Radio Ca-Ca" (apparently from something his toddler son once said), a slam against radio for the decrease in variety of programming and the type of music being played. It was eventually changed to Radio Ga-Ga, because it sounded better, clearer, and rolled off the tongue easier. From the 1984 album The Works.
- "Who Wants To Live Forever ", a rare duet by Freddie and Brian May, featured strongly into the plot and later marketing of the 1986 film Highlander. Reportedly written in a limo while returning to their hotel after seeing a music-less cut of the film, the song played heavily on the theme of loneliness the movie's immortals feel as they watch their loved ones grow old and die, while they remain forever young. The version used within the film itself is sung exclusively by Freddie. Featured on the 1986 album "A Kind of Magic " and performed by Seal at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert.
- "Barcelona", although a solo endeavour by Freddie Mercury, was featured on Queen's Greatest Hits III and Freddie's duet album with Montserrat Caballe. It was an anthem during the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona.
Queen in film
Queen contributed music directly to the movies Flash Gordon and Highlander (the original film directed by Russell Mulcahy). Several other films featured their songs, including Iron Eagle, Wayne's World, Small Soldiers, Super Size Me, A Knight's Tale, and Shaun of the Dead.
Queen in musical theater
In 2002, a musical or "rock theatrical" based on the songs of Queen, entitled We Will Rock You, opened at the Dominion Theatre in the West End of London. The musical was written by British comedian and author Ben Elton in collaboration with Brian May and Roger Taylor. It has since been staged in Barcelona, Spain; Melbourne, Australia; and Las Vegas, Nevada, United States.
The launch of the musical coincided with the Queen's Golden Jubilee. As part of the Jubilee celebrations Brian May performed a guitar solo of God Save the Queen, as featured on Queen's A Night at the Opera, from the roof of Buckingham Palace.
- Official Web site http://www.queenonline.com/
- Queen :: The Videos :: 1973 - 2003 http://www.queenvideos.cjb.net/ Fansite, which lists nearly all clips
- The Queen Lyrics Page http://www.myclassiclyrics.com/queen/queen_lyrics.html
- Musical analysis of many Queen songs http://queen.musichall.cz/index_en.php?s=sa
- Queen Lyrics Collection http://lyrics.rare-lyrics.com/Q/Queen.html
Last updated: 02-07-2005 15:31:33