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Friday, January 11, 2008

Friday Nite Retro

Goooooood evening Aboite! Welcome to another rousing edition of Friday Nite Retro - my weekly excuse to surf You Tube for hours on end! Tonight I'm highlighting the work of a band that drew inspiration from many different genres of music, often with a tongue-in-cheek attitude. This quartet was famous for it's vocal harmonies and often used multi-tracking voices to imitate the sound of a large choir through overdubs. Indeed, their biggest selling single featured over 180 vocal overdubs! Who are these musicians? Brian May, Roger Taylor, Farrokh Bulsara and John Deacon. You likely know Mr.Bulsara by his stage name. . .Freddie Mercury, and the band as Queen.

I thought up the name Queen. It's just a name, but it's very regal obviously, and it sounds splendid. It's a strong name, very universal and immediate. It had a lot of visual potential and was open to all sorts of interpretations.

—Freddie Mercury

In 1969, guitarist Brian May and bassist Tim Staffell formed a group called Smile, which served as a support act for bands such as Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Yes, and Genesis. Smile were signed to Mercury Records in 1969, and had their first session in a recording studio in Trident Studios that year. Staffell was attending Ealing Art College with Farrokh Bulsara, later known as Freddie Mercury, and introduced him to the band. Bulsara soon became a keen fan. When Staffell left in 1970 to join another band,the remaining Smile members, encouraged by Bulsara, changed their name to "Queen" and continued working together. The band had a number of bass players during this period who did not fit with the band's chemistry. It was not until February 1971 that they settled on John Deacon and began to rehearse for the first album.

In 1973, after a series of delays, Queen released their first album, a self-titled project influenced by the heavy metal and progressive rock of the day. The album was received well by critics; Gordon Fletcher of Rolling Stone said "their debut album is superb," and Chicago's Daily Herald called it an "above average debut". However, it drew little mainstream attention and the lead single "Keep Yourself Alive," a Brian May composition, sold poorly. Greg Prato of All Music Guide called it "one of the most underrated hard rock debuts of all time."

The album Queen II was released in 1974. The album reached number five on the British album charts, while the Freddie Mercury-written lead single "Seven Seas of Rhye," reached number ten in the UK, giving the band their first hit. However, album sales in the US were, like its predecessor, low.

Their third album, Sheer Heart Attack, released in 1974, reached number two in the United Kingdom, sold well throughout Europe, and went gold in the United States. It gave the band their first real taste of commercial success. At this point Queen started to move away from the progressive tendencies of their first two releases into a more radio-friendly, song-oriented style. Sheer Heart Attack introduced new sound and melody patterns that would be refined on their next album A Night at the Opera.

The single "Killer Queen" reached number two on the British charts,and became their first U.S. hit, reaching number twelve in the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits.

Killer Queen

In 1975, the band recorded and released A Night at the Opera. At the time, it was the most expensive album ever produced. Like its predecessor, the album featured diverse musical styles and experimentation with stereo sound. The album went triple platinum and is considered their magnum opus. In 2003, it was ranked number 230 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

The album also featured the hit single "Bohemian Rhapsody", which was number one in the UK for nine weeks, is Britain’s third-best-selling single of all time, and reached number nine in the US (a 1992 re-release reached number two). Bohemian Rhapsody has been voted, several times, the greatest song of all time. The band decided to make a video to go with the single.

Bohemian Rhapsody

The second single from the album, "You're My Best Friend", peaked at sixteen in the United States and went on to become a worldwide Top Ten hit.

You're My Best Friend

By 1976, Queen was back in the studio, where they recorded A Day at the Races, what may be mistaken simply as a companion album to A Night at the Opera. It again borrowed the name of a Marx Brothers' movie, and its cover was similar to that of A Night at the Opera, a variation on the same Queen Crest. Musically, the album was a strong effort, and reached number one on the British charts. The major hit on the album was "Somebody to Love", a gospel-inspired song in which Mercury, May, and Taylor multi-tracked their voices to make a 100-voice gospel choir. The song went to number two in the UK, and number thirteen on the US singles chart.

Somebody to Love

News of the World was released a year later. It contained many songs tailor-made for live performance, including "We Will Rock You" and the rock ballad "We Are the Champions", both of which reached number four in the United States and became enduring international sports anthems.

We are the Champions/We Will Rock You

In 1978 the band released Jazz, including the hit singles "Fat Bottomed Girls" and "Bicycle Race" which were also released as a double-A-side single. The word "jazz" was not used in a strict sense, and the album was noted by critics for its collection of different styles, jazz not being one of them.

Fat Bottom Girls

Bicycle Race

The band’s first live album, Live Killers, was released in 1979; it went platinum twice in the United States. They also released the very successful single "Crazy Little Thing Called Love", a rockabilly song done in the style of Elvis Presley. The song made the top 10 in many countries, and was the band’s first number one single in the United States.

Crazy Little Thing Called Love

Queen began the 1980s with The Game. It featured the singles "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and "Another One Bites the Dust", both of which reached number one in the United States. The album stayed number one for four weeks in the United States, and sold over four million copies. It was also the only album to ever top the Billboard rock, dance, and R&B charts simultaneously. The album also marked the first appearance of a synthesizer on a Queen album.

Play the Game

Another One Bites the Dust

1980 also saw the release of the soundtrack Queen had recorded for Flash Gordon.


In 1981, Queen worked with David Bowie on the single "Under Pressure". The first-time collaboration with another artist was spontaneous, as Bowie happened to drop by the studio while Queen were recording.The band were immediately pleased with the results. Upon its release, the song was extremely successful, reaching number one in Britain. The bass line was later used for Vanilla Ice's 1990 hit "Ice Ice Baby", prompting the threat of a lawsuit over the use of the sample. The lawsuit did not make it to court and was settled for an undisclosed amount.

Under Pressure

Calling All Girls

In 1984, Queen released The Works, which included the successful singles "Radio Ga Ga" and "I Want to Break Free". Despite these hit singles, the album failed to do well in the United States. "Radio Ga Ga" was the band's last original Stateside Top Forty hit until 1989's "I Want It All".

Radio Ga Ga

I Want it All

There was all that time when we knew Freddie was on the way out, we kept our heads down.

—Brian May

Rumors began to spread in the tabloid press and elsewhere in 1988 that Mercury was suffering from AIDS. Although the rumors were true, Mercury flatly denied them at the time. However, the band decided to continue making albums free of internal conflict and differences, starting with The Miracle and continuing with 1991's Innuendo. Although his health was deteriorating, Mercury continued to contribute, working in a creative fervor. The band released their second Greatest Hits compilation, Greatest Hits II, in October 1991.

On 23 November 1991, in a prepared statement made on his deathbed, Mercury finally confirmed that he had AIDS. Within twenty-four hours of the announcement, Mercury died. His funeral services were private, held in accordance with the Zoroastrian religious faith of his family.

Queen never actually disbanded, although their last album of original material, Made in Heaven, was released in 1995, four years after Mercury's death. It was constructed from Mercury's final recording sessions in 1991, plus material left over from their previous studio albums. In addition, re-worked material from Mercury's solo album Mr. Bad Guy and a track originally featured on the first album of Taylor's side-project The Cross were included. May and Taylor have often been involved in projects related to raising money for AIDS research. John Deacon's last involvement with the band was in 1997, when the band recorded the track "No-One but You (Only the Good Die Young)". It was the last original song recorded by all three remaining members of Queen, and it was released as a bonus track on the Queen Rocks compilation album later that year.

Check out the band's official website for even more information.

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Blogger betmo said...

i love queen!!!! all of these songs rock but fat bottomed girls is my anthem :)

title="comment permalink">January 11, 2008 11:36 PM  
Blogger Stan Matuska said...

John, you know I am not big into music, especially artists and song titles, but... Queen I know. They are one of the few groups that I loved back in the day; and I recognize probably every one of their songs.

Memories...light the corner of my mind, misty water-color memories, of the way we were - wait, that was someone else, but I know and love Queen!!!

title="comment permalink">January 12, 2008 9:02 AM  
Blogger Kody Tinnel said...

Great post John.

Queen is definitely one of the greatest bands ever, and by far has the best front man.

title="comment permalink">January 12, 2008 1:40 PM  
Blogger Parson said...

One of the First rock album I ever had was Killer Queen Live (I think it was called).

title="comment permalink">January 12, 2008 7:00 PM  
Blogger John Good said...

Betmo - Each one of these songs was like a direct trigger to the memories of my life!

Stan - They were amazing! It's too bad we lost Mercury so early, just when he was making a big comeback. .

Kody - Thank you. FNR has been sorta hit and miss as of late; I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Parson - Kody may not know what an album was! Do you feel old now?? ;)

title="comment permalink">January 12, 2008 11:36 PM  

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