Along with Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll," Queen's "We Are The Champions/We Will Rock You" is probably the most played song at sporting events. Unlike Glitter, the Queen story doesn't end there.
Fredrick Bulsara was born in Zanzibar. His family later immigrated to England and while in an English boarding school he picked up the name Freddie. Year's later, when he was starting to eye a singing career he figured Bulsara wouldn't cut it so he changed his name to Mercury, after the winged messenger.
Brian May showed an early musical aptitude, first on the ukulele, then guitar and piano. Since he could not afford an electric guitar, Brian and his dad made one - May's "Red Special." Brian began a succession of bands in the '60s with names like Reaction and Smile. He eventually hooked up with drummer Roger Taylor and Freddie Mercury.
Mercury came up with the name Queen. He thought it was regal and splendid. And yes, it could possibly have a gay connotation.
Rock bands are often mired trying to find the missing link. For Queen it was bass guitar. The band went through several bass players before finally finding John Deacon. Their first single "Keep Yourself Alive" was rejected by Britain's Radio One five times. However, the song did get some exposure and the band went on tour opening for Mott The Hoople.
It was "Killer Queen" that broke through in both the UK and US markets. Next they created "Bohemian Rhapsody." Six minutes in length, record people figured it was far too long for the three-minute standard of commercial radio (even after all the '60s extended songs). The band held firm and was rewarded with a hit.
Queen, probably more than any '70s group, showed diversity and a willingness to change. While "Killer Queen" was straight ahead, "Bohemian Rhapsody" had operatic overtones. Contrast that with the stripped down, bass riff driven "Another One Bites The Dust," and the truly retro - from Phil Spector's basement - production of "Crazy Little Thing Called Love." Queen occasionally made mistakes like the "Flash Gordon" soundtrack, but they were always able to bounce back.
On the day before his death in '91 Mercury publicly announced he was suffering from AIDS. His death effectively put an end to the group - for the time being.
May continued with guitar drenched solo CDs. He, Deacon and Taylor also joined forces, here and there, usually for charity related gigs. But legendary bands never die, they just mutate. In what seemed like an odd pairing, Queen drafted ex-Bad Company/Free/The Firm vocalist Paul Rodgers as their frontman in '05. Rodgers, a bare-knuckles Blues-Rock singer, could put drama into a song but lacked Mercury's vocal range and theatrics. Since Rodgers was not Mercury's replacement this outfit was called Queen + Paul Rodgers. Though some quipped a more accurate name might be The Firm II.
Also, Deacon decided to stay retired and not participate. Danny Miranda from Blue Oyster Cult replaced him. To beef up the sound, keyboardist Spike Edney, a backing musician for Queen live shows since '84, and guitarist Jamie Moses, who had worked on May's solo albums, were added. This line-up undertook an extensive tour.
Bang! - The Complete History of the Universe, co-authored by May (with Patrick Moore and Chris Lintott), was published in '06. Next, May completed his doctoral thesis (he'd abandoned his studies to join Queen), titled A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud (sounds like an easy read) and obtained the formal conferment of the degree. So now he was Dr. May. '08 saw May begin his tenure as chancellor of England's Liverpool John Moores University. "I am passionate about education and lifelong learning," said May in a statement. "It is never, ever too late to start learning. I proved that by completing my Ph.D., 30 years after I started it."
Queen + Paul Rodgers performed at the 90th birthday celebration for former South African President Nelson Mandela in London's Hyde Park. The concert helped call attention to Mandela's 46664 campaign to raise awareness about the AIDS epidemic. The group also headlined a free outdoor benefit concert in Kharkov, Ukraine, for the ANTIAIDS Foundation's "On the Edge" campaign. The show also kicked off the group's '08 European tour.
Later in the year, the Queen + Paul Rodgers collaborative album, "The Cosmos Rocks" (playing on May's astronomical interests), with the lead single, "C-Lebrity," rolled out. Rodgers, May and Taylor co-wrote and co-produced the collection. The trio also played all the instruments on the 14-track disc and dedicated the album to Mercury.
With the schedule winding down, word came that Rodgers' relationship with Queen had ended. "We did two world tours and a couple of live recordings, and . . . made a studio album ["The Cosmos Rocks"]," said the singer. "It was quite an achievement."
Rodgers closed by saying the venture was never meant to be permanent. Guess not. Next up for Rodgers was a Bad Company reunion.
But the Queen + Paul Rodgers saga didn't quite end there. They subsequently issued "Live In Ukraine," a DVD/2-CD set with audio/video performances from the band's '08, concert in Kharkov, Ukraine. Attended by more than 350,000 the concert supported the AntiAids Foundation.
Adam Lambert, a runner-up in the '09 edition of the singing competition American Idol, seemed to be one of the few performers to possess something close to Mercury's showmanship and vocal range. It was so obvious that Lambert performed with Queen during the Idol finals and at the '11 MTV Europe Music Awards.
Returning to their core legacy, Queen, in '11, reissued remastered versions of their first five studio albums through Island Records. There were more than two dozen bonus tracks, several of which weren't included when the music was first reissued in '91 by Hollywood Records.
And speaking of the band's core legacy, an '11 poll conducted by the British Forces Broadcasting Service found that "Bohemian Rhapsody," was the favorite song of the British Army. "It's fantastic . . . it makes me feel very, very proud," said Taylor in a statement. "I'd like to wish all the forces the very best - and especially to those who voted for "Bohemian Rhapsody" - from the very bottom of our hearts."
Lambert was penciled in to perform with Queen at the '12 edition of the Sonishphere Festival in the U.K. That fell through (other shows were scheduled, including a pair at London's Hammersmith Apollo).
When not trying to fit into Lambert's schedule, Queen (May and Taylor) kept the American Idol connection going with an appearance on the show to perform with the six finalists. Queen's official tribute band, The Queen Extravaganza, performed on the results show the following night.
Okay, as much as possible let's get back to reality. "The Great Pretender," a documentary about Mercury, won the International Emmy Award for Best Arts Program at the 41st International Emmys ('13) in New York.
Still reviving the past, "Queen Forever," a '14 compilation included "There Must Be More To Life Than This," a long lost duet with Queen's Freddie Mercury and Michael Jackson plus "Let Me In Your Heart Again," a previously unheard track featuring Mercury. Prior to the set's release, Queen made the latter song available via iTunes to benefit the RED campaign, which supports the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. 2014
1974 Queen II
1974 Sheer Heart Attack
1975 A Night At The Opera
1976 A Day At The Races
1977 News Of The World
1980 The Game
1982 Hot Space
1984 The Works
1986 A Kind Of Magic
1989 The Miracle
1995 Made In Heaven
2014 Queen Forever (compilation)
After the contracts were signed, the record company exec must have walked away thinking Queen would either make millions or crash big time. Queen took a bit to develop. But by their third album, "Sheer Heart Attack," they were on top in their native U.K. and getting noticed in the U.S. The next two albums "A Night At The Opera" and "A Day At The Races" (the titles taken from two of the Marx Brothers' more popular films) show Queen at their peak with Freddie Mercury's intense but layered vocals and Brian May's scorching guitar. "Opera" has "You're My Best Friend" and the classic or classical "Bohemian Rhapsody." "Races" features "Tie Your Mother Down" and "Somebody To Love." "News of the World" follows in '77 containing "We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions." In '80, Queen came out with "The Game" which contains two hit singles, the throbbing "Another One Bites The Dust" and the Rock revival "Crazy Little Thing Called Love." Next up, the dreadful "Flash Gordon" soundtrack. Weird year. From that point on, the band limped along, as a Rock institution.
Now jump 13 years to Queen + Paul Rodgers. There's no quibbling with the talent on "The Cosmos Rocks." The combination of May and Rodgers sounds too good to be true. And in a way, it is. It's just too hard to comprehend a Queen without Mercury (not to mention Deacon). Rodgers is an incredible singer but the Queen name carries certain expectations - which aren't met. But still, Queen (May and Taylor) + Paul Rodgers is pretty good.
The cosmos may Rock - but here, not so much. What's surprising is the number of ballads. Of them, the 'peace/understanding' "We Believe" works best though "Time To Shine" goes for the grandeur.
The single "C-Lebrity" is a tough, muscular track that gets going but doesn't soar like stellar Queen. You'd think May and Taylor could accomplish that in their sleep. One can't help but wonder what Mercury would do with the topic of fame. The track is closer to "Radioactive" than "Killer Queen. May also seems unnecessarily restrained limiting the pyrotechnics. But there's "Call Me," an acoustic Rock n' Roll track, that could have sat comfortably on the flip side of "Crazy Little Thing Called Love."
A Night At The Opera 1975
Many people have argued the Rock became excessive and bloated in the '70s. For the most part that's probably true. But Queen was one of the few bands who could turn excess into a virtue. The Rock opera concept had been around for years but those were merely Rock songs strung around a single concept. Queen really merged Rock and opera. Mercury's multi-tracked vocals were masterfully arranged and precisely delivered for maximum effect. Then there was May's guitar shooting through like fireworks.
Stunning in its concept and brilliant in its execution "Bohemian Rhapsody" is the album's highlight.
A Day At The Races 1976
The album features another of Queen's operatic triumphs "Somebody To Love." But it also has the rousing Rocker "Tie Your Mother Down." Most groups start with a basic sound and then, as their career progresses, build and enhance it. Queen started as a fully produced group with Mercury's multi-tracked vocals creating that "chorus" sound. Initially, everything was larger and louder than life. But as they went on, they stripped their sound to basic Hard Rock elements as in "Tie Your Mother Down." They would continue this pattern with later recordings like "We Will Rock You," "Another One Bites The Dust" and the infectious "Crazy Little Thing Called Love."
"A Day At The Races" shows Queen's mastery of music styles and arrangements. They tackle everything from their trademark mock-opera to basic Rock and pull it off. They cover the gambit from majestic to gut rattling. The musical chops and versatility shines through.