Why I still love Queen, even after my discovery of good music.
I had cause to reflect on Freddy Mercury tonight. My father sent me an email begging me to turn on my television which he knows is only used for films. Not much will convince me to turn on my TV but the lure of Freddy Mercury did it.
I think of myself as having a rather delayed reaction to music. Like many young girls, I sang jazz when I was a teenager and still performed into my late twenties. I had a pedestrian relationship after that, keeping loosely in touch with trends but staying relatively on the edges. Then I got work in the Indie music scene and that revived my interest, but not my gut level response. However I like to say it wasn’t until I was introduced to sound art and avant garde music that I really developed a passion for sound that now is a huge part of every day for me.
But that assessment is not strictly true, because I was very passionate as a teenager about Queen. I came in on their tail end a bit. They were into the stuff I don’t love by the time I discovered them. However, I did get to see them live – which I now consider to be something very special. I also wore black the day Freddy Mercury died, as if that means anything. At the time I was just a fan girl, but when I look back on some of their music, I can see some groundwork being laid for the fantastic music that is so precious to me now.
So here is a little collection of their music that meant a great deal to me, and as it turned out, meant a great deal to the world.
I loved Stone Cold Crazy to the point of desperate passion when I was a teenager, deeply distressed that I couldn’t listen to it in clubs. (born at the wrong time) This song introduced me to thrash – and as it turns out introduced the world to it. Stone Cold Crazy came out in 1974, a year before Black Sabbaths System of the Universe Thrash before even thrash knew what thrash was.
Sheer Heart Attack was the first time I’d ever understood a set of musicians criticise Punk. Roger Taylor felt punk had little to contribute and wasn’t doing much for music generally. Although I have my own favourite moments from the genre, controversially I rather agree with him. Punk has a passionate fan base and a badd-ass image I don’t think it deserves – it tends to be the gathering of wannabees more often than not. Sheer Heart Attack was Queens way of saying Punk is giving us nothing and has nothing to say. I thought this was amazingly subversive at the time!
The story goes, Freddy was so inspired by the line from Fairy King “Mother Mercury look what they’ve done to me” (written by himself) that he decides to change his name to Freddy Mercury. I was entranced by that audacity as a teenager and became determined to change my name to something marvellous I’d written myself – but of course grew lazy and stayed with the name Dad gave me. If that act of Freddy’s not audacious enough, imagine trying to sell your first album to studios with My Fairy King as one of the tracks? No wonder they couldn’t find a buyer – but look at this song now!
Like many hard core Queen fan’s my favourite of their albums is the one that really tanked. Well, maybe not tanked, but it is one of their lesser known albums and contains almost none of their famous songs – Seven Seas of Rye being the only one. I still have a passion for Prog and when I listen to Queen 2 I can totally see where my fondness for the concept album came from. This album makes Bohemian Rhapsody seem like a simplified pared down version of what they were trying to do – which it was. The March of the Black Queen goes for 6 minutes 33 seconds – just 33 seconds longer than Bo-Rap and yet for me this was a much more complex and interesting song. I never quite got the passion for Bohemian Rhapsody in the face of the rest of Queens oeuvre but then that’s the price you pay for being a hard core fan I guess.
Of course there is more to say, but that is my meagre defence for leaving my reading and my writing for 1 hour tonight and watching a special on Freddy Mercury largely filled with footage I have seen many many times before. Queen are camp and pretty much redefine glam in the worst possible way, but underneath all the bullshit are four enormously talented musicians. Not to mention a little fact I always loved; Brian May is an astrophysicist, John Deacon has a first class honours degree in electronics and Roger Taylor has a degree in biology. There’s brains behind all that glitter.
Personally I think it shows.