"You brought me fame and fortune and everything that goes with it."
Queen: The Lives and Legends
Most bands stick to just one genre, releasing songs from just a single musical category. Yet there are also musical acts that dabble in anything and everything, running the whole gamut of sounds and styles. Queen was one such band, and they're best known for trying out most of the rock styles available during their years of activity.
Queen's Top 10
- Bohemian RhapsodyDownload
- The Show Must Go OnDownload
- I Want to Break Free Download
- Somebody to Love Download
- We Will Rock You Download
- We Are the Champions Download
- Radio Ga Ga Download
- Under Pressure Download
- Another one Bites the Dust Download
- Love of My Life Download
Queen's early days sound like those of most bands. A couple of guys - in this case bass guitarist Tim Staffell and lead guitarist Brian May, both still students - met up and decided to form their own band in 1969. They posted ads for a drummer - one who could work like The Jimi Hendrix Experience's Mitch Mitchell or Cream's Ginger Baker - and thus found their third member, Roger Taylor. The three-man group called itself Smile.
The Ascent to the Throne
That same year, the band had already gotten a contract with Mercury Records. Staffell, who was going to college at the time, introduced the band to a Farrokh Bulsara, a guy from school. Bulsara quickly became a fan, while Staffell left the group the next year for another band. Smile continued working together with Bulsara (who had taken on the name Freddie Mercury) as the lead singer and John Deacon, a bassist they found in 1971.
Bulsara was also the one responsible for the band's new name. In the days after Staffell's departure in 1971, Bulsara encouraged May and Taylor to change the group's name to Queen. He later went on to say that he suggested the name because of its regency and the strength of the image it presented.
Finally, in 1973, Queen released its debut self-titled album, a progressive rock project with heavy metal influences. Critics loved it, but the market apparently didn't. Despite much praise from most music commentators at the time, Queen's freshman album met with middling commercial success.
1974 saw the release of Queen II, which was considerably more popular with the mainstream crowd than their first album. This second album climbed up to the Top 10 of the British charts, putting Queen on the British rock map for the first time. A revised version of Freddie Mercury's Seven Seas of Rhye, a song about a fantasy world of his, also became the band's first major hit.
Critics and Queen fans alike credit this album as the beginnings of both Queen's fantasy-themed material and their liking for complicated bars of instrumentals. Others have also noted how dark and strong this particular album was, especially when compared to the band's previous effort.
It was at this time that Queen began garnering attention on the other side of the Atlantic as the energetic front act for 1970's rock band Mott the Hoople, which toured in the U.K. and the U.S. Sales on American soil, however, were low as they were not yet very widely known there.Earning the CrownQueen's third album, Sheer Heart Attack from 1974, was the one that brought the band into the mainstream music market's consciousness. It was a major hit on both Atlantic shores, getting the #2 spot on the British charts and getting certified Gold status in the States.
Sheer Heart Attack would mark the band's first album where they experimented and explored a very diverse set of styles. While the heavy metal of previous albums was in tracks like Brighton Rock, there were also ballads like Dear Friends and ragtime tunes like Bring Back That Leroy Brown. The mixed-up new Queen became a bigger favorite on radio playlists in the United Kingdom.
By 1975, the reputation of the band had already begun spreading to other countries. Queen toured in the United States for the first time that year, and then played in Canada in April 1975. After a quick manager change from Peter Grant to John Reid, the band packed its bags and toured Japan.
Expanding the Reign
A Night at the Opera, the controversial album named after a Marx Brothers film, was also released later that year. Aside from some issues with a former manager that quickly made the tabloids, the online music guide Allmusic also credited the album as the costliest album ever produced at the time.
Opera worked on the same ground that Queen had explored in Sheer Heart Attack. It also featured a very wide variety of musical styles and sounds, and played around with some very complicated guitar work. The chart-topping Bohemian Rhapsody, at the time one of Queen's most unusual and most complex songs, was also included in this album.
In 1976, the band already had A Day at the Races, which many saw as a follow-up or companion album to A Night at the Opera. Like Opera, Races made the top of the music charts and established some Queen hits. The multi-tracked Somebody to Love and the Queen concert staple Tie Your Mother Down were both part of this record. They showed both too, particularly in the record-breaking Hyde Park free concert that year.
Afterwards, Queen released album after hit album like
- News of the World (1977), which carried We Are the Champions and We Will Rock You, two songs that are often sung at sporting events all over the world.
- Jazz (1978), which didn't contain a single note of jazz music, carried tracks like the unusually Arabian-themed Mustapha.
- Live Killers (1979), which carried the Elvis-style Crazy Little Thing Called Love, which was their first American #1 single and a chart-topper all over the world.
Going into the 1980's, the band was practically a recording machine churning out album after album. It was during this time that they did work like
Decades in Power
- The album The Game (1980), which featured the chart-toppers Another One Bites the Dust and Crazy Little Thing Called Love. The Game marked a lot of firsts, including the band's first use of a synthesizer (they hadn't needed it before this album) as well as the title of being the first (and only) one to top three different Billboard charts at the same time.
- Their album for the sci-fi movie Flash Gordon (1980).
- Tour Latin America in 1981, the first major rock and roll band to do so. They had record-breaking attendance at all their shows in Mexico, Brazil and Argentina.
- The chart-topping Under Pressure, a single collaboration with David Bowie and the band's first with any artist. It was an unplanned project that produced a very successful track that cemented Queen's success.
- Their first Greatest Hits compilation album (1981), which showcased a selected collection of their bestselling tracks up to that point.
- The album Hot Space (1982), which had the band playing more flowing rhythms and experimenting with funk. It was for this record that Queen did their only live American television performance, a one-shot with Saturday Night Live.
In 1983, after almost a decade in the spotlight, the band decided to take a break. They did no live performances for that year, and the members took on smaller personal projects. Mercury, for example, had planned to embark on a solo album. May collaborated with Eddie Van Halen to produce Star Fleet Project.
Queen went back into the spotlight in 1984 with the release of their new album The Works. They also did a controversial tour for The Works in South Africa, which enraged many of their compatriots because of the apartheid issues that were at their height at the time.
Live Aid was organized as a fundraising project to help in the effort of eliminating hunger in Ethiopia. It was planned for just one venue on each side of the Atlantic, but many Live Aid-inspired events took place in other countries, making it a global event.
At the Height of Power
Queen, for its part, performed at the Wembley Stadium in London for the Live Aid effort. The band opened that live performance with Bohemian Rhapsody, and Freddie Mercury's onstage antics got the entire audience singing We Will Rock You word for word in its entirety. A recent poll in the music industry resulted in that performance being voted as the best ever live gig, outstripping even Jimi Hendrix's appearance at Woodstock.
A year later, the band released their album A Kind of Magic, many tracks from which were used in the film Highlander. That same year, the band went on a tour for Magic, which was sold out at every venue. The highest point of the tour was their performance at Wembley Stadium, which sold out in a couple of hours and was the band's last live gig with Mercury on vocals.
It was three years before the band released its next album, 1989's The Miracle, which carried many major hits. There was a slight shift in direction for Miracle, with most of the tracks taking a more pop-friendly sound. The band also decided to shift their crediting scheme from citing just one person per track to crediting the whole band in every song.
By the late 1980's, people were beginning to doubt the health of Freddie Mercury. He is known to have denied many interviews at that time, citing exhaustion as the cause. His health also caused the band's next album Innuendo to get released in 1991 instead of 1990 as originally planned. Mercury, however, kept contributing creatively to the band. Their Greatest Hits II compilation was released the same year as Innuendo.
The Decline of Power
Speaking from his deathbed on November 23 1991, Mercury finally revealed that he was indeed suffering from Auto-Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Within just hours of releasing his statement, Mercury succumbed to bronchial pneumonia, a complication of his condition. A private funeral service was held for him.
After some brief success with the re-release of Bohemian Rhapsody, the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert was the band's next big project. On April 20 1992, numerous artists ranging from George Michael to Guns N' Roses and Liza Minnelli performed the band's greatest hits at London's Wembley Stadium. With over a billion viewers all over the word and over £20,000,000 raised for AIDS charities, the tribute concert holds a place in the Guinness Book of Records as 'the largest rock star benefit concert.'
The band didn't officially dissociate at this point. After a change in label from Capitol Records to Hollywood Records, the band released its last original album in 1995 entitled Made in Heaven. They used content from their last recording sessions with Mercury and some of the excess content they had stored. Deacon's last effort with Queen was the track No-One but You (Only the Good Die Young).
With only half of Queen remaining, the band embarked on collaboration projects starting with their Greatest Hits III album. May and Taylor worked with other artists like Wyclef Jean and Elton John to rework some of their most popular songs from the past. They also worked extensively to help the 46664 campaign against AIDS of Nelson Mandela.
A Graceful Exit
In 2004, May and Taylor officially announced that they would begin working and touring with Paul Rodgers in 2005. They took care to specify that Paul Rodgers would act as an addition to Queen as 'Queen + Paul Rodgers,' and not as a replacement for Mercury. Danny Miranda took over the then-retired John Deacon's post at the bass. The new group released two albums, Return of the Champions (2005) and The Cosmos Rocks (2008).
Queen in its entirety lasted for all of two and a half decades, touching on many musical styles and genres. Few other bands have achieved the kind of global success and acclaim that Queen has reached, and it's few will likely achieve this feat again.
Did you know that...
- ...Brian May used his own, personalized handmade guitar? Nicknamed Red Special, he conceptualized the design when he was just 16 years old.
- ...Freddie Mercury used to sell secondhand clothes at London's Kensington Market to make some money? It was one of the odd jobs he held in between graduating from college and joining Queen.
- ...John Deacon is a qualified electrician? It even helped when auditioning; the band took him because he had those extra skills.
- ...Roger Taylor has a namesake in the world of rock and roll? Because he came first with Queen, however, Duran Duran's drummer became known as the 'other' Roger Taylor.