Sunday, January 5, 2014

Queen - A Biography

When you ask about the origins of the power pop genre, several bands have to be mentioned. One of the most important of them is Queen.

Queen Logo

Queen: John Deacon, Brian May, Roger Taylor, Freddie Mercury (from left to right)

The 70s

In 1970 Queen was formed, with its four members Freddie Mercury (lead vocals, piano), Brian May (guitar, vocals), John Deacon (bass guitar), and Roger Taylor (drums, vocals).

May and Taylor had a band named Smile with Tim Staffell. In 1970 Staffell left Smile, Freddie Mercury (which was born as Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar) joined the band and they renamed it to Queen. Before their first record John Deacon was recruited.

After the release of their first two records Queen and Queen II the band gained international success by Sheer Heart Attack in 1974 and especially A Night at the Opera in 1975.

Bohemian Rhapsody (from A Night at the Opera) stayed at number one in the UK Singles chart for nine weeks and is the third-best-selling single of all time in the UK. The song re-entered the UK Charts at number one in 1991 and the US charts in 1992 by the release of Wayne’s World and reached number two for five weeks.
The video for Bohemian Rhapsody is generally considered to have been the first "true" music video ever produced.

Queen II artwork

Bohemian Rhapsody

In 1977 Queen released with their 6th record News of the World two of the most important anthems of modern music: We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions.

The 80s

In 1980 The Game featured Crazy Little Thing Called Love and Another One Bites the Dust, both reached number one in the US.

By the early 1980s, Queen were one of the biggest stadium rock bands in the world (in 1981 Queen’s concert in Argentine / Buenos Aires had the largest single concert crowd history of the country with an audience of 300,000 people)

Queen’s appearance at 1985's Live Aid (with the biggest-ever TV audience of 1.9 billion) is widely regarded as one of the greatest performances in rock history.

Bob Geldof: "Queen were absolutely the best band of the day... they just went and smashed one hit after another... it was the perfect stage for Freddie: the whole world"

Brian May about the Radio Ga Ga performance at Live Aid: "I'd never seen anything like that in my life and it wasn't calculated either. We understood our audience and played to them but that was one of those weird accidents because of the (music) video. I remember thinking 'oh great, they've picked it up' and then I thought 'this is not a Queen audience'. This is a general audience who've bought tickets before they even knew we were on the bill. And they all did it. How did they know? Nobody told them to do it."

Live Aid performance (1985)

After A Kind Of Magic (1986) the band released The Miracle in 1989.
The Miracle began a change in direction of Queen's songwriting philosophy. Since the band's beginning, nearly all songs had been written by and credited to a single member, with other members adding minimally. With The Miracle, the band's songwriting became more collaborative, and they vowed to credit the final product only to Queen as a group.

Breakthru (from "The Miracle", 1989)

I Want It All (from "The Miracle", 1989)

The 90s

In the late 80s rumors began to spread that Freddie Mercury was suffering from AIDS.
In early 1991 Innuendo - the final Queen album with Freddie Mercury - was released. The videos stated undoubtedly that Mercury was seriously ill.
For the last two albums made while Mercury was still alive, the band credited all songs to Queen, rather than specific members of the group, freeing them of internal conflict and differences.

Innuendo artworks
Innuendo sessions

Innuendo (from "Innuendo", 1991)

I'm Going Slightly Mad (from "Innuendo", 1991)

On 23 November 1991 Freddie Mercury confirmed that he had AIDS.
One day later - on 24 November 1991 he died.

The video for These Are the Days of Our Lives show Freddie Mercury's final scenes in front of a camera.

These Are The Days Of Our Lives (from "Innuendo", 1991)

The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert took place at London's Wembley Stadium in 1992. 
Def Leppard, Robert Plant, Guns N' Roses, Elton John, David Bowie, George Michael, Annie Lennox, Seal, Extreme, and Metallica performed Queen songs with the remaining Queen members. The concert was televised to over 1.2 billion viewers worldwide. It raised over £20,000,000 for AIDS charities.

George Michael & Queen - Somebody To Love (1992)

In 1995, four years after the death of Freddie Mercury Queen’s last record titled Made in Heaven was released.

The songs were built from Mercury’s last recordings and other reworked material from the three remaining members of Queen.

Mercury’s last song Mother Love wasn’t finished by him. Brian May sang the last verse.

Recording Mercury’s last songs before his death and the finalizing of the record in 1994/1995 was done at the band's studio in Montreux, Switzerland.

May says: "By the time we were recording these other tracks after Innuendo, we had had the discussions and we knew that we were totally on borrowed time because Freddie had been told that he would not make it to that point. I think our plan was to go in there whenever Freddie felt well enough, just to make as much use of him as much as possible, we basically lived in the studio for a while and when he would call and say, 'I can come in for a few hours', our plan was to just make as much use of him as we could, you know he told us, 'Get me to sing anything, write me anything and I will sing it and I will leave you as much as I possibly can.' "

Statue of Mercury in Montreux at the Lake Geneva & Made In Heaven cover artwork

The last track ("Track 13", lasting 22 minutes) is kind of a mystery. Brian May and the long time Queen producer David Richards (who sadly died on 20 December 2013) mainly worked on this.
In 2013 May explained they lit up joss sticks and candles in the control room, powered up every machine in the building, and played with synthesizers and samplers for the whole night. Roger was also there and played a solo They thought they could hear Freddie laughing (he's still not sure where that particular sample came from) - and left it in ... 

The Legacy

Till this day Queen had 18 number one albums, 18 number one singles, and 10 number one DVDs.

Their album sales are estimated from 150 million to 300 million albums.

Queen’s Greatest Hits I (released in 1981) is the best-selling album in UK Chart history (it spent 450 weeks in the UK Album Chart, it’s certified eight times platinum in the US, and has sold over 25 million copies worldwide).

Queen inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

Every member wrote several of Queen’s hit records:
  • Brian May (The Show Must Go On, We Will Rock You, Tie Your Mother Down, Hammer To Fall, Who Wants to Live Forever, I Want It All),
  • Roger Taylor (Radio GaGa, Innuendo, Heaven For Everyone, A Kind Of Magic, ),
  • Freddie Mercury (Bohemian Rhapsody, Somebody To Love, We Are The Champions, Don’t Stop Me Now) and
  • John  Deacon (Another One Bites The Dust, I Want To Break Free, You’re My Best Friend)
Brian May and Roger Taylor perform together now and then, highlight was a collaboration with Paul Rodgers under the name Queen + Paul Rodgers, resulting in a full record (The Cosmos Rocks) and two worldwide tours.

The Cosmos Rocks cover artwork

Queen + Paul Rogers Tour, Berlin 2008

In 2011 it was announced that Queen will be recording a new album featuring lost demos of Mercury on vocals and duets of Freddie Mercury and Michael Jackson.

Main discography
  • Queen (1973)
  • Queen II (1974)
  • Sheer Heart Attack (1974)
  • A Night at the Opera (1975)
  • A Day at the Races (1976)
  • News of the World (1977)
  • Jazz (1978)
  • Live Killers (1979)
  • The Game (1980)
  • Flash Gordon (1980)
  • Greatest Hits (1981)
  • Hot Space (1982)
  • The Works (1984)
  • A Kind of Magic (1986)
  • Live Magic (1986)
  • The Miracle (1989)
  • At the Beeb (1989)
  • Innuendo (1991)
  • Greatest Hits II (1991)
  • Live at Wembley '86 (1992)
  • Made in Heaven (1995)
  • Queen Rocks (1997)
  • Greatest Hits III (1999)
  • Queen on Fire – Live at the Bowl (2004)
  • Queen Rock Montreal (2007)
  • Absolute Greatest (2009)
  • Deep Cuts, Volume 1 – 3 (2011)
  • Hungarian Rhapsody: Queen Live in Budapest ’86 (2012)

Queen album covers

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