Sunday, June 19, 2011

Queen is the King

I’m just going to get this one rock group out of the way right now and get it out of my system.  (I hope)  No, it’s not the Beatles. Although I do love the Beatles they are not the one band that I lose my perspective over.  The greatest rock band of all time? – Queen.

The Boys in the Band

How bad is it? Of course I had them all on Vinyl (wish I had kept them), bought the import CD’s, bought the initial Universal  US release (with the remixes), all of the band’s solo work, bootlegs, rarities collections, greatest hit collections, singles, a vinyl transfer of the Star Fleet Project , The Crown Jewels re-masters, We will Rock You cast recording, Numerous tribute (covers) albums. I will probably get the 2011 remasters as well, even though I am hearing some disturbing stuff about compression.  About the only things I am missing are a solo single released by John Deacon that I have never seen and two of the interview discs (Taylor and Deacon)

There is a 21 inch model of Freddie Mercury circa Kind of Magic tour watching me type this. Every year I throw a Freddie Birthday party in his honor, I have friends over, dress up glam style, play Queen music, concerts and toast him with Champagne (not Cristal, too expensive).
Freddie Statue with Cake from a few years back.
August 5th 2011 - Save the Date!
I recognize my bias and embrace it. I’m sure that they put a wrong foot somewhere and did a bad album but you couldn’t tell it by me. That’s right; I even like Hot Space, the much maligned follow up to The Game. It’s a rock album built around dance as a theme, specifically disco. In the US it went down like a lead balloon and that was the end of Queen on the charts in the US until Wayne’s world. The fact that the rest of world continued to buy Queen albums and attend Queen concerts making them one of the bestselling and influential artists of the last century was a matter of complete indifference to the American audiences.

I would assert that The Game has plenty of dance inflected tracks and that Hot Space was an evolution moving away from their more Hard and Prog Rock past toward more esoteric styles. Listen to Another One Bites the Dust.  The disco influence is plain in the back beat and the bass line.

Some in the US had already written them off when they released Jazz despite the fact that the bar I go to still has Fat Bottomed Girls on the Jukebox.  Why? Well they started using synths. That’s right. Night at The Opera and every album before was recorded using nothing but tape and analog audio.  Some people are very strict in their definition of what is acceptable in late 70’s early 80’s rock albums.

I tried once to make a greatest hits album on my own, it ended up as an 8 CD set. Even with that, I left some songs off I really enjoy.

What is it about this group that works so well for me? It’s a number of things. First, Freddie is arguably the best front man in Rock history.  Queen’s live shows were phenomenal and even on DVD you feel like he is including you in the action. Second, there is an extraordinary level of musicianship here. They could all write and sing and play multiple instruments well. Brian May is an incredible guitarist and gets a unique sound out of his Red Special, a guitar that he and his father built out of a fireplace mantle. The music itself is filled with incredible harmonies and vaudevillian showmanship at times. They could and did record just about any type of music they wanted.

God Save Queen...And all the Albums too!

Punk?  - Sheer Heart Attack.  Queen actually stated that this was in reply to rise of Punk Rock and Punks saying that basically Queen didn’t get it. True and False at the same time. They certainly got the musical aspect of it but the “fuck off” aspect of it escaped them.

Romantic Ballad? –  Love of My Life.  Written by Freddie for his then girlfriend and lifelong friend Mary Austin you can hear the love he has for her, although after 6 years he decided that he preferred male bed partners.  They remained close and he left her most of his estate. Take a listen to the vocals. That’s all Freddie. He recorded each individual part on tape and then multi-tracked them so masterfully that sound like a large chorus.

Blues? – My Melancholy Blues. Piano carries the melody and blues base line and a simple snare make this work.

Jazz? – Good Company. Brian May plays Ukelele throughout but if you listen carefully you can hear him imitating a Dixieland jazz Band all played on his electric guitar and it really opens up about 40 seconds from the of the track.

Hard Rock? – Ogre Battle – This is 4 minutes of early 70’s rock that can easily stand up with Zeppelin (taking into account the blues inspirations that drove the Zepp). Probably their heaviest piece.

Prog? – March of the Black Queen – nearly 7 minutes of mastery that uses vocal harmonies and guitars to tell a fantasy/medieval ballad. In addition they use two different time signatures  12/8 & 8/8 This is called and polyrhythm/polymeter and made the piece so complicated that they couldn’t perform it live. It doesn’t get much more prog than that.

Opera? – Bohemian Rhapsody certainly has operatic aspirations but Freddie actually sang opera with  Montserrat Caballé on the Barcelona. Bohemian Rhapsody is another piece that couldn’t be played live without resorting to tape to cover some of the complex harmonies created by multi-tracking.

Film Score? - Flash Gordon - A real gem from 1980 (nothing says quality like Dino De Laurentis), Queen recorded not only the main title song but also a large hunk of the underscore. The Battle is an absolute rocking track that can really get you engergized. (He'll save every one of us)

Flash - a-ah - saviour of the universe
You know - I haven’t even scratched the surface of Queen. Guess I was lying when I said I was going to get Queen out of the way. I guess I will just have to suffice with periodical adoration.

Wanna get started with Queen? Well, the greatest Hits will give you some of their best work, but only as singles. Most of what Queen recorded were meant to be heard as part of a longer program. So I recommend Queen II and Night at The Opera (which is probably just about as good as I think it is) Here’s some links! (Mammon will love you if you click my links and buy something)
Battle Theme



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  2. No mentioned of the Highlander soundtrack? That was the first time I remember being blown away by Queen. The raw energy really grabbed me.