Shortly ahead of the release of a brand new Queen album featuring four brand new Freddie Mercury-included tracks (there’s a great article about it in the Guardian – http://www.theguardian.com/music/2014/sep/19/queen-unveil-full-details-of-new-album-featuring-unheard-mercury-tracks) I just have to share my memories of this stunning band.
My love affair with the music of Queen began because I was something of pretentious little thing when I was just coming up to my teens (I’ve grown out of it, honest) – I fell in love with just one word and wasn’t exactly sure of the meaning. The word? ‘Fastidious’.
What sort of song could possibly have such an esoteric word (I didn’t know the meaning of esoteric back then, either)? This, my little mind thought, must be a very intelligent, very creative band – I’d better listen to more. And, for those of you who don’t know, before you start frantically (as if) Googling it, the word is used to describe the Killer Queen (…fastidious and precise, she’s a…).
I listened to more and was hooked – despite the band’s lack of popularity among my peers, and the ‘dubious’ nature of Freddie M’s sexuality (believe it or not, it really was something strange back then to some). I left them to go listen to their super-straight Elton John and Michel Jackson albums (probably all introduced to them by Jimmy Savile) and for my part, wore Sheer Heart Attack down so much it probably counted as one of the first ever see-through albums.
My peers soon changed their tune (often literally) in the Autumn of 1975, though. Suddenly everyone was taking about the most amazing track they’d ever heard and I sat back, secure in the knowledge that they were both right, and that this was my band. As teenagers only can, I ‘owned’ them. I’d told all of them about how amazing Queen were long before Bohemian Rhapsody made all of them sit up and take notice. I imagine one or two of them even stopped their new-found bodily experiments long enough to listen to this stunning piece of art-cum-rock.
Lately, it should be noted, the magic track (in modern parlance, apparently ‘BoHo’) even has healing powers, acknowledged by the great and good. Just this week most of the major newspapers and television channels in the UK were publishing articles on the music’s benefits to mankind – two examples being http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/29775972 and http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/music-news/11188740/Bohemian-Rhapsody-the-song-that-will-cure-your-illness.html.
The more sceptical of my peers decided that I had got lucky with Bohemian Rhapsody and that this was a one-off, but I wouldn’t let go of my adoration. A Night at the Opera was followed a year later by another Marx Brothers film, A Day at the Races, and the sceptics were to be found fuming at Somebody to Love. To make matters worse for them and even better for me, News of the World appeared in 1977, heralded by the double-A single We Are The Champions and We Will Rock You – which everyone reluctantly agreed was anthemic in the extreme.
My own love-affair with their music rumbled on like the happiest of marriages, and even my parents – steeped in the sounds of the big jazz bands and the Big O (dad and mum, respectively) – were content enough to let me play the music at home as loud as I liked. Although that was on the condition that I wore proper headphones* and stopped trying to sing along with Freddie… Both of them even, in one case rather grudgingly, at one point or another admitted that they actually quite liked some of the sounds this flamboyant, loud, band came up with.
I was a true fan by then – by ‘true’ I mean that I went to see the band in concert – and was delighted to discover new facts and material about the group or their members. I recall discovering that one particular band member had once recorded under the highly appropriate name of ‘Larry Lurex’ (need you ask?) and remember the equally horrified look that little fact produced on one or two faces.
I shared the band’s skills and creativity at every opportunity and was even fussy enough (despite the natural teenage desperation) to only choose girlfriends who liked their music as well. To be fair, I was a teenage male so I would accept any young female who just pretended to like Queen. Proper girlfriends even got invited along to see them perform live. I sometimes went alone, though – even to a teenage male, the band were the thing.
I had just turned twenty when I woke up one December morning to hear the, to the young me, almost unbelievable news that John Lennon had been shot and that he had subsequently died. I’ve already written about the Queen concert that I attended later that night (see my ‘A Constant Companion’ post at https://john333money.wordpress.com/2014/09/13/a-constant-companion/) and perhaps as much as anything, the band’s jaw-dropping tribute to the former Beatle cemented them in my heart.
As my twenties wore on (and began the inevitable process of wearing me down) I continued to follow the band with avid enthusiasm, even allowing them a little slip (in not just my mind) when Hot Space made its dubious appearance. I got married in 1984 and maybe should have known better – the young lady (ahem) was a Springsteen fan and her Queen knowledge was sketchy – and the band had been through a relatively quiet period. My new circle of (slightly more) adult friends found my ongoing adoration of the group a little odd, but then The Works introduced them to new classics.
Of course, it was a year later when so many of them truly realised what I had been on about for so many years. The Live Aid concert, held on that gloriously hot July day in 1985, was headlined by someone or other here and in the United States – but it was the performance of Queen which captured so many people’s attention. My band stole the show and guess who was there loving every second of it?
Putting my own adoration aside for a few seconds (any longer and I start to get withdrawal symptoms), I’ve never known a single, short performance to lodge so firmly in the collective conscious of so many fans and non-fans alike. To this day the phrase ‘Live Aid’ is inexorably linked to the band’s name. My only negative comment on Queen’s sudden rise in popularity was that it made tickets to see them much harder to get hold of!
The eighties whirled on and became the nineties (who’d have guessed…) and in January and February of 1991 we were treated to the release of Innuendo, both the single and the album, respectively. It was a return to the Queen roots, reminiscent of A Night… in many ways and I was overjoyed. But then we could all see the promotional videos and those that accompanied many of the new tracks.
Freddie’s illness was so obvious, even to those who hadn’t grown up watching his stunning, captivating stage performances. Real fans knew that he was really Farrokh Bulsara, knew that he was as flamboyant as he appeared (and yet, truly shy), knew that he was a musical genius. The announcement of his death in November of that year was, to me, still a shock and, without doubt, one of the saddest days I have ever experienced.
That Queen returned to the top of the charts, that ‘BoHo’ featured in Wayne’s World, or that Radio One announced that the track was the most played band in the channels’s history – all of these things would have delighted the teenage me. But the knowledge that these were posthumous honours in one of the band members’ cases made them almost hard to bear.
It seems almost unbelievable to me that Freddie’s sad demise was twenty-three years ago – longer than I knew the band with him present – and yet the love affair goes on. It gives me a strange sort of pride when I hear compliments to the band, and I comfort myself with the knowledge that the Queen of the Mercury days will live on in so many minds, just as The Beatles and Elvis do.
It’s not just Freddie M, of course. I have solo music recorded by Brian May and I’m an avid fan of the quirky productions of Roger (Meddows – don’t confuse him with the Duran Duran guy) Taylor. I’ve watched Paul Rodgers and now Adam Lambert taking the Mercury role, but it’s just not the same. Lambert in particular is fun and has a great stage presence but… It certainly gives you an idea of just how great Freddie was.
My love affair with Queen has outlasted my turbulent teens, one turbulent and one quiet marriage, and it’s accompanying me through a third marriage and into my dotage. The music comforts me, excites me still, makes me think and feel. No wonder doctors are prescribing Rhapsody as a pick-me-up.
Queen will live on with me (and so many more) forever.
* I could play the music at deafening volumes but only if I wore big, proper ‘bins’, nothing like the silly little ear plugs you get a lot these days. You know the ones, often bought to go with tiny music-playing phones that cost several hundred pounds and which are worth about ten pence to judge by how they let everyone close to said-phones share the tinny squeaks that the said-music appears to be made up of.