They were big. They were brash. They were camp. The guitarist had a bouffant like Anita Dobson (now there’s a thing…). The drummer could sing higher than the vocalist. The bass player looked like the kind of guy who hangs around school playgrounds with a bag of sweets. Above all, they were ROCK. Seven reasons why maybe Queen never once featured in the Festive Fifty, although they survived punk to become a stadium act to be reckoned with, and Freddie Mercury’s death from AIDS in 1991 caused an outpouring of affection, huge record sales and the only track to be Christmas Number One in the UK twice in exactly the same version (but that’s already been covered somewhere else). Yet I still confess an affection for their music and an icy thrill that courses through my veins every time I hear one of their over-the-top, overproduced and cliched offerings.
For a long time, they were the only band for me, and seeing them at the Brighton Dome in 1979 cemented that, so that I never lost faith, even when they abandoned their early dictum of ‘no synthesizers’ and Another One Bites The Dust thumped mercilessly from my radio and signalled the fact that my favourite rock group had reinvented itself. I never cared for bandwagon efforts like Hot Space (my college magazine described it as ‘Motorhead play your favourite disco tracks’): no, I wanted the band that toyed with the audience for two hours, laid bare their debt to rock’n’roll with a version of Jailhouse Rock and then proceeded to demolish the crowd with one singalong epic after another.
The image became inseparable from the content. Freddie was the natural showman (and an accomplished pianist: the opening to All Dead All Dead is nothing less than Chopin recreated and brings a lump to my throat every time). Brian May became the spokesman for the band in the wake of his demise, but at that time spoke little, and preferred to show off his considerable ability with metallic, visceral scales. Roger Taylor drummed like a man possessed, hit the highest notes and wrote the occasional good song (I’m In Love With My Car is truly superb). Then there was the band’s own Ringo, Roger Deacon: the guy with the rock-steady bass who never got the credit he deserved for shaping the band’s sounds. A package, then, to cherish.
Selecting representative songs for a Peel-based blog is difficult, but what better way to demonstrate their affiliation with the show than to include all their Peel Sessions. The first two sessions are merely remakes of tracks from the prog cum glam albums Queen and Queen II neither of which I really got into, but which have monumental slabs of grandeur that should be reinvestigated (even though their later live shows abandoned this material).
Peel Session 3, however, is the real deal. The final song is an all-out, slam-dunk recreation of the anthemic We Will Rock You that swiftly abandons the ‘stomp stomp clap’ opening to link a Radio 4 programme that was playing when they were recording it with a full-on 12-bar blues that is one of the most exciting things they ever did. The first two sessions come from the Queen At The Beeb disc, but the last has never been commercially released.
News Of The World contains a track that, if Peel never played, he should have done. I stated that they survived punk, but Sheer Heart Attack proves that they were not totally uninfluenced by it. An adrenaline rush indeed.
The follow-up LP to A Night At The Opera, A Day At The Races was led off by a truly massive rocker, Tie Your Mother Down. This was not an enormous chart hit, neither did it feature on their Greatest Hits collections. However, Peel played it (15 December 1976, if you’re interested) and they were not averse to playing it live, and so it’s worthy of inclusion here too.
Finally, the thoroughly camp 50s recreation Crazy Little Thing Called Love was reputedly played by JP as a tribute after Freddie’s death. What he saw in the song is unclear, but it’s a lot of fun in the Queen pastiche style. Why shouldn’t music just be there for fun sometimes?
The band have continued in one form or another, despite Deacon retiring from music in the nineties. Currently, ex-Free and Bad Company vocalist Paul Rodgers fills Mercury’s role, perpetuating a legend that, by taking the basic format of rock music and extending it, influenced many others.
Queen, First Peel Session
1. My Fairy King
2. Keep Yourself Alive
3. Doin’ Alright
Queen, Second Peel Session
1. Ogre Battle
2. Great King Rat
3. Modern Times Rock’n’Roll
4. Son And Daughter
Queen, Third Peel Session
1. Spread Your Wings
2. It’s Late
3. Melancholy Blues
4. We Will Rock You