Pick of the Week
“Crazy Little Thing Called Love” by Queen (1980)
He was born to be a showman. With his flamboyant charismatic presence, the soaring, brilliant, multi-octave voice of Freddie Mercury is easily worthy of being called one of the top male voices in rock ever.
His lives on in videos, DVDs, records, CDs, Mp3s and millions of people’s memories all over the world.
Born Farrokh Bulsara he was born in Zanzibar, Tasmania and was raised in India till he was a teen. In Bombay he had already started playing piano when he entered St. Peter’s British-style boarding school at age 8. Soon to be called Freddie, he formed his first band when he was 12 and did Cliff Richard and Little Richard tunes.
After school he returned to the family home in Zanzibar only to leave again for England due to the Zanzibar revolution that saw thousands of Arabs and Indians killed. In Felltham, Middlesex he enrolled in Islesworth Polytechnic where he studied, what else, art. His diploma in Arts and Graphics was later put to good use when he designed the ‘Queen’ logo.
After kicking around with a few bands he teamed up with Brian May and Rodger Taylor who were a bit nervous about the name “Queen”, but reluctantly agreed. It was about this time that Freddei changed his surname from Balsara to Mercury.
Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballe with whom Mercury recorded an album, said of him, “The difference between Freddie and almost all the other rock stars was that he was selling the voice. His technique was astonishing. No problem of tempo, he sung with an incisive sense of rhythm, his vocal placement was very good and he was able to glide effortlessly from a register to another. He also had a great musicality. His phrasing was subtle, delicate and sweet or energetic and slamming. He was able to find the right colouring or expressive nuance for each word.”
Queen’s success was not only due to the unusual music the inventive Brian May was coming up with but the lyrics Freddie wrote and the fact that the styles of music ranged from rockabilly, progressive rock, to heavy metal, to even disco, so it never got boring.
In the stadium anthem heyday of the 70’s, Freddie was among the best for live delivery of songs. (See DVDs live at Wembley or Montreal for some great examples). Their performance in 1985’s Live Aid is considered one of the best rock performances ever.
In 1973 bassist John Deacon was added to the line-up when they recorded their first album: ‘Queen’. That album and the follow-up Queen II (1974) did quite well in the U.K. I remember Dan Brown, (yes that really was his name) brought Queen II to school and somehow we got a school phonograph (I’m sorry I have to call it that it was so institutional looking) and we sat around musing about what this band was all about.
It was really “Night at the Opera” that spawned one of the most enduring love affairs between an artist and its fans. The album, is one of those albums you can actually play through, with its brilliant high point of course, “Bohemian Rhapsody” with full us e of the fuel-injected voice of Freddie leaping around over four full octaves.
I recall it was this very album I was listening to when I got pulled over on the way to school for speeding (again) and having the cop ask me to turn it down with a bit of an angry expression on his face. I mean there was no chance of doing the classic routine – “Do you know why I am standing here son?” – to which I think, but not dare say, “Because you got all ‘C’s in school?” It was too loud.
We are introduced on the album to Freddie’s piano playing and one of Brian’s “orchestral backdrops”. I mean what the hell are all those instruments anyway? Blasting into something vaguely reminiscent of the sounds of kindergarten complete with bicycle bells on “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon”. It is hard to believe as they claim in the credits to have no use of synthesizers on the album as they cruise into “I’m In Love with My Car”. The classic radio hits “You’re My Best Friend” seemed a bit un-Queen like but nonetheless endure quite well. Of course the anthem “Bohemian Rhapsody” was an instant classic – dipping and diving seas of teenage angst.
The Queen machine would kick out the jams after that and make a full-throttle stadium tour of the world. Following ‘Night’, the next album, ‘Day at the Races’ was not remarkable from a chart perspective but contained the cool, bombastic, “Tie Your Mother Down”, which is still one of my favorites. “Somebody to Love”, like a follow-up to ‘Bohemian’, was a chart-topper.
In 1977 they seemed to divine the mystical pop music formula for success with the album “News of the World”. I would be surprised to know if there was a soul alive that did not hear “We Will Rock You”, “We Are the Champions”. Gawd knows we needed something to help us to stop freaking out, and get some self respect after the disco duck was ringing our bell and knocking on our wood. Recovering from boogie fever was not easy. Queen was refreshing; like getting a really good glass of lemonade at a little kid’s lemonade stand – you know the kind – where Mom actually made really lemonade. You are like, “Wow kid here is another two bits!”
On they went – bigger and bigger events – arena tours extraordinaire. “The Game” came out at the beginning of the eighties. Again solid classics like, “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” soothed us a disco slowly burned down behind us in the distance.
After more albums and more tours, fans started to notice that by 1988 Freddy was looking gaunt and sickly. He insisted he was just tired and busy. In 1990 he made his last public appearance to receive the ‘Brit Award’ for Outstanding Contribution to British rock. He died of pneumonia brought on by AIDS in November of 1991.
Some of my favorite Queen songs are (in no particular order):
1. I’m In love with My Car
2. Tie Your Mother Down
3. Killer Queen
4. I Want to Break Free
5. Crazy Little Thing Called Love
6. You're My Best Friend
7. Who Wants to Live Forever
8. Death on Two Legs
9. Body Language
10. Don’t Try Suicide
Yes it was sort of decadent and over-the-top, but there was something self-revealing that could be detected there. We were not entirely liberated in the seventies. We were not quite sure what to do with this band called Queen with its prancing front man, but the music, when it was good - popped.