A Queen Six-Pack

In light of the fact that there’s a (not particularly well-received) biopic named Bohemian Rhapsody about Queen, let’s do a six-pack of the lads, shall we? For those new to this series, I don’t purport that these six-packs necessarily represent a band’s best, just six that popped into my head. Could be a different six on a different week. 

A (very brief) history: In 1968, 21-year old guitarist Brian May placed an advert on a college bulletin board seeking a Ginger Baker/Mitch Mitchell-type drummer and met a young dental student named Roger Taylor. (May attained a Bachelor of Science in Physics and in 2007, went back to Imperial College London and got his Ph.D. in astrophysics. So both of these guys potentially had fallback jobs that didn’t involve slinging pizza.)

With bassist Tim Staffell, they formed the band Smile. Smile played around London a fair bit for a couple of years, even managing to record a grand total of six songs. Those songs have been released and while somewhat poppy, don’t sound too bad. If you’re curious, you can check them out on YouTube, for example, here. (Staffell on vocals.)

Arguably, Staffell’s greatest contribution to the band was his introduction to them of a guy from Zanzibar named Farrokh Bulsara. Per Rolling Stone: Farrokh’s father, Bomi, was a high-court cashier for the British government, which meant that his family lived in cultural privilege. Farrokh, a shy kid with a hell of an overbite went to boarding school in India and quickly got the nickname “Bucky” from fellow students. He preferred the nickname “Freddie” bestowed on him by teachers.

In 1970, Stafell left Smile for fame and fortune with everybody’s favorite band Humpy Bong (!) leaving them short of a lead singer and bass player. Freddie, a fan of Smile, joined the band and after going through a succession of bass players, in 1971 found bassist/electronics whiz John Deacon. (Deacon built an amp called the Deacy Amp which May used to create a bunch of his sounds.) Freddie suggested they change the name of the band to Queen and the former art school student even designed their logo. (Are these guys talented or what?)

“It’s ever so regal,” Freddie said of the name Queen. “It was a strong name, very universal and very immediate,” he added years later. “It had a lot of visual potential and was open to all sorts of interpretations, but that was just one facet of it.”

It took them a couple of years to land a deal but they got a contract with EMI and in 1973 released their eponymous album which, BTW, included a Staffell/May tune called “Doing All Right.” Freddie wrote a song called “My Fairy King” which included the lyrics:

Mother Mercury Mercury
Look what they’ve done to me
I cannot run, I cannot hide

And thus was Freddie Mercury, and effectively Queen –  born..

The kickoff song from Queen is called “Keep Yourself Alive” and it was ME’s introduction to the band. It’s a great rock tune and is notable not only for the terrific playing but also for the vocals with Mercury, May, and Taylor all singing. And May’s riff in the beginning is a great way to kick off an album. (Jeff Beck once referred to Brian May as the guv’nor and, well, that sounds about right to me):

Spotify link

These six-packs are not necessarily chronological, allowing me to jump hither and yon. So I am going to time travel to 1977, epicenter of punk at which point Queen said, Fuck it, that’s not who we are and released the epochal album News of the World.

World contained two songs you have probably heard of, namely “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.” I am not going to feature either of those because if I hear either one of them one more time my head will explode. If you feel the need to listen to either of those, turn on any classic rock FM station anywhere in America and one or both of them will be playing.

Instead, I’ll turn to Mercury’s ode to lust, “Get Down. Make Love.” To my knowledge, there ain’t no deeper meaning here than let’s get it on. Bluesy, nasty:

Spotify link

Freddie Mercury: “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” took me five or ten minutes. I did that on the guitar, which I can’t play for nuts, and in one way it was quite a good thing because I was restricted, knowing only a few chords. It’s a good discipline because I simply had to write within a small framework. I couldn’t work through too many chords and because of that restriction I wrote a good song, I think.”

A terrific song, I think. It’s a straight-up rockabilly tune and an homage to Elvis Presley. We used to play it in a band I was in and I can still nail May’s perfect little solo if I concentrate really hard. This tune comes from the 1980 album The Game and is notable – to me anyway – for coming totally out of nowhere, in terms of the type of song you’d expect from them, seven years into their run:

Spotify link

Back to 1974 and the album Sheer Heart Attack. All four of the guys are credited with writing this vicious rocker. Wikipedia: Music magazine described “Stone Cold Crazy” as “thrash metal before the term was invented.”

DRUM! Magazine called it an “early blisteringly fast song”, describing Taylor’s performance as “straight-up punk-rock drumming. […] In essence, Taylor’s groove is a double-stroke roll split between his bass drum and snare drum with some cool accents played on his crash cymbals.” I don’t know exactly what any of that means but I know it kicks some serious booty:

Spotify link

I featured “Somebody to Love” a while back in a post. I went looking for another Queen ballad like that to add to this six-pack and you know, I just couldn’t find one I liked better or that fit in to this six-pack better. So, encore:

Spotify link

I had a couple of choices for the final tune. But how can you resist a song whose lyric is “Tie your mother down, give me all your love tonight.” You can’t, not even on your worst day.

From 1976’s A Day at the Races (same as “Somebody to Love”), this one’s written by Brian (Oedipus) May who, well, has a lot to answer for young man! (Actually it was just a throwaway line that Mercury liked and so, there’s that:

Spotify link

17 thoughts on “A Queen Six-Pack

  1. Out of these, ‘Somebody To Love’ is the one that’s among my favourites. I like them singing gospel style – the only other example I can think of is ‘Let Me Live’ from their posthumous album, Made in Heaven, which I also enjoy.

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  2. I have a… mixed relationship with Queen. For the longest time I couldn’t tolerate them. I guess they were too omnipresent on the radio here growing up and maybe too showy for me… so I would always change the radio station within a couple of bars. But my wife’s father really liked them and after he was killed a couple of years ago I’ve found myself unable to hit the button to change station. I guess as a combination of my own semi-mellowing with age but also in figuring if I guy I admired so much liked them they can’t be that bad… so yeah; the more I listen and work against my instinct not to, the more I find to like and you selected six such tunes here.

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    1. Well, a sad story with a (somewhat) happy and even perhaps inspirational ending as well. I had no real baggage coming to Queen so they always sounded good to me. A friend of mine and I were texting about the movie and them and he said, there’s never really been a band like them, has there? And I said no, no there hasn’t. They are yes, terribly overexposed but to a certain extent, that is a testimony to the universality of some of their stuff. (“Bohemian Rhapsody” is their “Stairway” I think.) But they were (and are) in many respects a virtuosic band (Mercury had a 4-octave range) and well, they just plain kick fucking ass. Glad you dug those tunes. I tried to pick six that were not so overbaked (“Crazy Little Thing” notwithstanding) but that showed off their chops and what was so good and ballsy about them.

      As to overcoming one’s instincts, i believe I’ve confessed before that I had the same instinct about the Clash, from “punk sucks” to “ok, maybe these guys aren’t bad” to “I love the Clash.” I see it too many times where people visit here and have an attitude about a band that seemingly has nothing to do with the band’s quality. It’s just some personal thing they have against the band, blinding them to the group’s quality. Their problem I think.

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  3. This is a great six pack, Jim. BTW, I’m glad you included “Tie Your Mother Down” – it’s a simple tune, but this sucker just rocks and is definitely one of my favorite Queen songs. I also dig “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” an infectious tune that makes you snip your fingers right along!

    I feel you and your buddy are right, there’s really no other band I can think of that sounds like Queen – not even close. If you consider how many bands there are, that in and of itself is remarkable.

    At the same time, Queen was also somewhat weird – oftentimes over the top bombastic. A bit like ELO in that sense. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is probably the best example; it’s just massive, and yet it’s fucking brilliant!

    I also think Freddie Mercury was one of the strongest live performers.

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    1. That lick in “Tie Your Mother,” is great but couldn’t possibly be easier to play. “Stone Cold Crazy” would probably surprise a lot of casual Queen fans as it’s way more thrash than much of their other stuff. When “Rhapsody” was out, I remember thinking about how far pop music had come from say, the Fifties when it would have been literally Impossible to imagine. What’s your take on seeing the movie?

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      1. When it comes to riffs like”Tie Your Mother,” I feel like it’s similar to “Highway To Hell” or “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” – simple yet brilliant!

        As for the movie, I guess I’d be somewhat curious to watch it. While I haven’t read any reviews, I saw a clip of a TV interview with the guy who is playing Freddie Mercury. It sounded like he went through remarkable lengths to prepare for the role over an extended period of time, including singing lessons and work with some movement trainer. Apparently, some of the singing in the movie is the actor’s voice mixed in with Mercury’s voice. I kind of wonder what the result is. Plus, even if film isn’t that great, the music should be.

        Didn’t Val Kilmer also do some of Jim Morrison’s vocals in that Oliver Stone picture about the Doors? He certainly looked strikingly similar to Morrison.

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        1. Right. Like “Whole Lotta Love.” Why didn’t I think of that riff? As to the movie, the comparison to “The Doors” is apt. I didn’t care about that one either. I wasn’t even pumped to see the aborted Gregg Allman movie. All that said, have you ever seen “Nowhere Boy” about the Beatles but mostly about Lennon? Really liked that one.. I think you’re right about Kilmer. Whatever happened to him, BTW?

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        2. I don’t know “Nowhere Boy.” Given the subject, I’m naturally intrigued! As for Kilmer, good question. I do seem to vaguely recall having read something about health issues. Not even sure whether he’s still acting.

          That being said, my knowledge about Hollywood is rather dismal. I wonder whether our common friend CB might be able to enlighten us.

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        3. “Nowhere Boy” has a lot about the young Lennon and his relationship with his mother. Check it out. I think you will dig it. I heard that Kilmer wasn’t the easiest guy to work with.

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  4. My oldest guy (Moon Boy) went to the flick. He loved it. He likes the big screen experience. Queen was always a band that I heard on the radio. Not familiar with their library but they sure played them a lot. That rockabilly number is always catchy. Plus I like fat bottomed girls.

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  5. I’m familiar with the hits and the A Day / A Night and Innuendo albums. Wayne’s World was the in for me – that scene. Bought a greatest hits and enjoyed it enough, but I didn’t really stay the course with them. Anyhoo, this is a good selection and pals are telling me I need to explore a few more albums (pretty much all of them).

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    1. As much as I like Queen, I don’t even have a whole lot of their albums. More of a radio band for me. I’ll have to go back and listen to some of those too. The point here, of course, is they are a tight, rockin’ band whose overhyped image sometimes obscures that.

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