The first of an ongoing series looking at five songs by classic music acts that made their mark. As it's the 30th anniversary of Queen front-man Freddie Mercury, there is no better group to start with. Feast your ears on rock genius, picked by M J Steel Collins.
How It Started In A Nutshell
The group had it's origins in late 1960's London, beginning when guitarist Brian May advertised for a drummer on his college noticeboard for his group Smile - Roger Taylor duly auditioned and got the job. Meanwhile, Smile's vocalist, Tim Staffell, befriended a fellow student at Ealing Art College by the name of Freddie Bulsara. Freddie, hailing from Zanzibar, became a fan of Smile. Owing to dissatisfaction with the band's direction into rock, Tim Staffell left Smile, to be replaced by Freddie Bulsara as singer in 1970. It was a time of fluctuation for the group, with a number of line-up changes - and a pivotal moment when Freddie suggested changing the group's name from Smile to Queen. His bandmates were somewhat reluctant, to which Bulsara replied "It's wonderful, dear, people will love it." At the same time, Freddie changed his surname to Mercury. John Deacon joined as bassist in February 1971 and the classic Queen line-up was born.
Don't Stop Me Now
This song can be described at pure joy. It's high octane optimism and it's also very hard to remain stuck in the doldrums after playing it. Loud, at volume. The song, written by Freddie Mercury, appears on Queen's 1978 album, Jazz and was released as a single in 1979, reaching no. 9 in the UK charts, but a baffling no. 86 in the American charts. However, history has prevailed and it is now one of the group's most popular songs. Another interesting fact is it's use as the glorious soundtrack to which zombies were annihilated in a pub in the comedy horror of 2004, Shaun Of The Dead.
This song is to put it simply a monster. The most popular of Queen's output, it is also immensely ground-breaking. Written again by Freddie Mercury, it appears on the 1975 album, A Night Of The Opera. A song of many parts, it's safe to say it shook the music industry to the core. With a running time of almost six minutes, everyone who was an expert said there was no way it would get radio play because of it's length. Then producer Roy Thomas Baker played it to DJ Kenny Everett and gave him a reel-to-reel copy on the grounds that Everett promised not to play it. He kept up this promise by teasing various parts of it on air, before going on to play it 14 times in the space of two days. Fans flocked to the record stores to buy it before it was even released. Then it made it's way to American radio. The video itself is also ground-breaking, made in an age when there were very few, if any, music videos. Bohemian Rhapsody has been no 1 in the charts several times, including a 9 week run on it's release, 5 weeks after Freddie's untimely death, and it has also been a Christmas no. 1 twice.
Written by drummer Roger Taylor, this featured on the 1984 album The Works and also on compilations Greatest Hits II and Classic Queen. Chart wise, it was another hit, reaching no. 1 in many countries. It is a commentary on how the radio was being overtaken by tv in popularity and the increasingly visual nature of music after the dawn of MTV. The video to the song is stark, almost cult like, that may be even eerier to watch in contemporary times. However the Live Aid performance is legendary, with Freddie Mercury having 72,000 people in his grasp, so it's the video shown here, a testament indeed to his power as one of the greatest front men of all time.
A Crazy Little Thing Called Love
One thing that springs to mind is that this is Freddie Mercury does Elvis - in fact, it is a tribute written by Freddie in tribute to Presley. It apparently only took somewhere between 5 to 10 minutes to compose the song, Freddie writing it on guitar, an instrument on which he had limited playing knowledge. But still enough to produce this short classic. Playing it live was also the first time Freddie played guitar onstage, providing rhythm. The song appears on the 1980 album The Game and produced Queen's first no. 1 in America, where it spent 4 weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100.
I'm Going Slightly Mad
Taken from 1991's Innuendo album, the song is described as 'a humorous take' on Freddie Mercury's mental decline as his health further deteriorated with AIDS. It was conceived by Freddie as a take on Noel Coward one-liners, as he explained to his friend, Peter Straker. The two then sat up all night coming up with the strangest lines they could think of, Freddie cracking up a several of them. The video itself is surreal. Freddie was unwell at this point, but still able to move around and contribute to it's direction.