Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



UK rock band, lineup unchanged for 20 years: Freddie Mercury (b Faroukh Bulsara, 5 Sep. '46, Zanzibar; d 24 Nov. '91 of AIDS-related illness), vocals; Brian May (b 19 July '47, Hampton, Middlesex), guitar; John Deacon (b 19 Aug. '51, Leicester), bass; Roger Taylor (b Roger Meadows-Taylor, 26 July '49, Norfolk), drums. One of UK's most enduring bands despite entrenched critical hostility was formed '71 after the demise of Smile, which featured May and Taylor. Mercury grew up near Bombay, attending an English-style school, and came to Britain '64 to wash dishes at Heathrow airport. His greatest influence was Lata Mangeshkar (see Filmi); in retrospect he was the first great Asian pop star in the West, combining the florid style of 'the Nightingale of India' with the stage persona of a Jimi Hendrix. He came to Queen from Wreckage on recommendation of Smile vocalist Tim Staffel; Deacon was recruited by an advert in music press. Unlike many contemporaries, they opted not to go on the thankless pub and club circuit, started out on showcase gigs, leading to early record contract. First LP Queen '73 smacked of hyperbole and earned the enmity of the music press, but Mott the Hoople gave them valuable exposure on tours of UK/USA. Queen II '74 incl. needed hit single, ambitious 'Seven Seas Of Rhye'; Sheer Heart Attack '74 incl. 'Killer Queen'. They plugged a gap in pre-punk UK pop scene, built following with Mercury the obvious centrepiece, May as guitar hero, Deacon and Taylor contributing hit songs. Breakthrough came with A Night At The Opera '75, believed to be the most expensive UK LP production since the Beatles' Sgt Pepper '67; its hit 'Bohemian Rhapsody' was a six-minute magnum opus with balladry, hard rock, heavy metal: something for everybody made longest-running UK no. 1 for 20 years (no. 9 USA), helped inaugurate the video age with promo regarded as seminal. (The enduring popularity of 'Rhapsody' is a mystery to music lovers; it is to music as a tabloid is to a newspaper.)

A Day At The Races '76 followed up well with US/UK hits 'You're My Best Friend', 'Somebody To Love'; News Of The World '77 and Jazz '78 continued successful. Killers '79 was a live two-disc set; that year they appeared as one of the few 'old guard' outfits at charity concerts for Kampuchea (later issued on Concerts For The People Of Kampuchea '81, the same year they attracted adverse criticism by appearing in South Africa's Sun City). The Game '80 incl. Deacon's 'Another One Bites The Dust', no. 1 USA, while Mercury's 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love' was infectious in rockabilly style. With soundtrack to Flash Gordon '80 they became first band to score a major film; Greatest Hits '81 remained in UK charts for several years; Hot Space '82 incl. a tribute to John Lennon and duet with David Bowie 'Under Pressure', a UK no. 1. The Works '84 was a hard- edged set incl. world-wide no. 1 in Taylor's 'Radio Ga-Ga', several other hits; A Kind Of Magic '86 by contrast was disjointed, featuring the band's songs from film Highlander, as well as more hits. Live Magic '86 recorded during Queen's European tour, seen by 500,000 fans at a time in UK. Taylor made solo LPs Fun In Space '82, Strange Frontier '84, prod. hits for Jimmy Nail, Feargal Sharkey; May made Starfleet Project '84; Mercury Mr Bad Guy '85, contributed to films Metropolis, Electric Dreams '85, London show Time '86; had solo UK hit '87 with Platters' classic 'The Great Pretender', made single and album Barcelona with opera star Montserrat Caball‚ '88. Queen's The Miracle '89 and Innuendo '91 were no. 1 UK, the latter's title single also no. 1, over six minutes long. The Miracle had gruesome cover artwork, four morphing faces with five eyes; David Sinclair in The Times asked 'How much bad taste is it possible to cram on to one album?' At The Beeb '89 collected their BBC radio highlights. May scored a production of Macbeth '90, took part in Comic Relief charity single 'The Stonk' and in a Guitar Legends concert in Seville '91. A great many Queen products recharted when Mercury died. Live At Wembley '86, The Freddie Mercury Album '92 and Five Live '91 (from a concert with Queen and George Michael, an EP in UK, and album in USA) all made money. The Brian May Band toured UK and USA '93; May played on Paul Rodgers's Tribute To Muddy Waters. Parts written and recorded by Mercury in his last year resulted in Made In Heaven '95, and what could have been a last gasp was a strong album for Queen fans.