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):
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:
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:
Back to 1974 and the album Sheer Heart Attack. All four of the guys are credited with writing this vicious rocker. Wikipedia: Music magazine Q 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:
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:
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: