Queen was one of the most iconic, exciting and influential rock bands of all time. Nobody was doing what Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon were doing in the 70’s-80’s. They were unique, theatrical, extravagant and did not hesitate to break any possible barrier of what rock could be. They put everything they could into their music and live shows, and it all certainly paid off. Their popularity is unwavering and multi-generational and their music is timeless. So many people around the globe grew up listening to their music, and the fact that their music is still being played everywhere, on any platform, on different scenes, as well as the fact they’re still selling out stadiums all over the world (with singer Adam Lambert) and having their music speak to so many ecstatic fans across all generations, makes me incredibly happy as a fan.
Queen started off as a band called Smile
The band Smile was formed in 1968, when guitarist Brian May, then an undergraduate studying physics at London’s Imperial College, reached out to his friend Tim Staffell who had previously been in another band with him called 1984. They posted an ad on the board looking for a “Ginger Baker/Mitch Mitchell-type drummer.” that ad drew the notice of drummer Roger Taylor, who was in another band at the time and studying at London Hospital Medical School to become a dentist. Smile lasted about only 2 years and made a few recordings only, but it launched the professional careers of Brian and Roger- a remarkable collaboration and a beautiful true friendship that still continues five decades later.
Smile’s sound drew from the blues and progressive rock of peers like Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
When the lead singer Tim left the band in 1970 Brian and Roger were worried and considered giving up, until young singer Farrokh Bulsara, who had been a keen Smile fan, arrived on the scene and told them “c’mon, you can’t give up. I want to sing.”
And that’s where Smile evolved and turned into the magic that is Queen.
At Freddie’s request, they changed the name to Queen, which referenced his flamboyant nature and aspirations for success. He also aspired to transform from shy London immigrant to rock star, with a nod to the Roman mythological messenger of the gods, therefore he adopted the stage name Freddie Mercury.
Once in the band, Freddie pushed even harder for musical experimentation, he developed a striking stage presence, and along with Brian and Roger, he innovated in the recording studio and they all established different sounds and harmonies.
Later on, in early 1971 they came across bassist John Deacon at a London disco, who was studying electronics at the time.
It took them over two years until they released their self-titled debut album in 1973, which set the stage for the emergence of one of the most innovative and popular rocks bands of all time.
This is the first ever recording of Queen performing live, in 1973. It was the original promo for their first ever single “Keep Yourself Alive”, which is personally one of my all time favourite Queen songs.
Queen was rather a straight metal album and failed to receive much acclaim, but their 2nd album Queen II became an unexpected British breakthrough early in 1974.
Before its release, the band played Top of the Pops (iconic British music show), performing “Seven Seas of Rhye.” Both the song and the electrifying performance were smash successes, and the single rocketed into the Top Ten, setting the stage for Queen II to reach number five. Then they embarked on their first American tour.
Sheer Heart Attack
This is the title of their 3rd album, which embodies the album’s dazzling rock n roll essence. Queen released it in 1974, shortly after their success with Seven Seas of Rhye.
“Killer Queen”, the album’s outstanding single, was an instant classic that soared to #2 in the UK chart and #12 on the Billboard chart in America. May described Killer Queen as the band’s turning point, said it was the song that best summed up their kind of music. That’s where most people first recognized the band’s knack for stratospheric 4-part harmonies and for incredible studio wizardry.
Queen performing Killer Queen on Top of the Pops in ’74.
A Night at the Opera
The UK tour to support the release of Sheer Heart Attack got underway during the autumn of 1974, and after taking in Europe and America, it finished in Tokyo, Japan, in mid 1975. Between the band’s return and the start of another UK tour in late 1975, Queen recorded their 4th album which would turn them from big stars to superstars.
It’s a proper f****** masterpiece.
Everything from its whimsical title (that’s inspired by a Marx Brothers movie of the same name), to the phenomenal songs, the album’s artwork and the overall package is absolutely majestic.
The album’s signature song is the outrageously complex “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and quite frankly, it is the band’s eternal signature song.
Bohemian Rhapsody, the legendary rock song, is what many people- professional or not, consider to be the greatest song ever written and produced. This exceptional song was different for its time and still is today. Unlike most pop hits that lasted around three minutes, it was a 6-minute pop-rock single that has an operatic section right in the middle of the song. The song is neither an a cappella, a ballad, an opera or rock- it’s actually all of them in one song. It can actually be divided into five different sections: an a cappella intro, ballad, opera, hard rock, and finally a reflective coda. And no chorus! It was no doubt a mind blowing genre bender.
Ultimately, it embodies what every musical piece should be: the talent and the drive to push boundaries and create something that brings people together, even decades later.
Bohemian Rhapsody, along with the album A Night at the Opera redefined the music industry.
A Day at the Races
Queen once more took inspiration from the Marx Brothers and replicated the chronology of their movies, naming their 5th album A Day at the Races, and it was released late 1976. Freddie was now the proud recipient of 2 prestigious awards for Killer Queen and Bohemian Rhapsody. This was the kind of recognition from peers that opened further doors.
Brian’s opening song, “Tie Your Mother Down”, was the perfect rock overture, Freddie’s “You Take My Breath Away” delighted fans with its multi-layered vocals and piano accompaniment, but Queen took their multi-layered vocal approach to a whole new level with the heavenly song “Somebody To Love”, this song became an instant fan favourite and is a track loved by everyone.
’77 had seen the band tour America to huge success and it ended with two huge shows at London’s Earls Court. This is a recording of Queen Somebody to Love at Earls Court. One of the very few recordings in which you could hear John’s pure voice.
News of the World
Queen released their 6th album in 1977, which was well embellished with rich multi-tracked arrangements and crazy tunes. The album opened with a song that contained foot stomps and one hell of a guitar solo from Brian, which grabbed your attention and didn’t let go. It’s obviously “We Will Rock You”. Following that iconic stadium anthem, the 2nd track on the album is WWRY’s triumphant companion, “We Are the Champions”.
The band wanted to come up with an anthem that fans could sing along to… or even stomp along to. Freddie and Brian both wrote songs they thought would nail it. Freddie’s contribution was the grandiose We Are The Champions, his own attempt at a self-confident ballad like My Way, whereas Brian went for a more instinctive approach, and came up with We Will Rock You. These 2 songs were meant to be a pair- an ideal way of getting the crowd excited, and the ideal way of kicking off their new album, and it has surely proven itself as the greatest stadium anthems of all time.
Queen performing We Will Rock You + WE Are The Champions at Live Aid 1985. We’ve all seen that recording and heard of that masterful, extraordinary concert I’m sure.
Queen released their 7th album in 1978, they were aware that topping the anthems on News of the World would take some doing and decided to return to a more eclectic approach, hence the title Jazz.
But you ain’t gonna find jazz on Jazz (you would find some Disco however).
The album opened with an interesting, oddly beautiful song called “Mustapha”, one magazine described it as an up-tempo “Hebrew rocker”- but we hebrews know it’s really not the case. Following it is the hit “Fat Bottomed Girls” which is a crowd pleaser song that’s full of fun, then you get Bicycle Race, which is another timeless hit, and then you get Don’t Stop Me Now, which needs no introduction.
After rampaging through the ‘70s, consistently redefining the rules of rock n roll imagination and extravagance, Queen proved themselves as British rock royalty.
As such, they had no idea they were about to face the greatest turning point in their career with the release of their 8th album The Game in 1980. The album’s credits contained a word never before seen on any prior Queen album: synthesisers.
It was a best seller around the world and the songwriting on this album was very diversified, with all songs written individually by all 4 members, each one writing at least two tracks. It also features a tribute to Elvis written by Freddie, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”.
The hit song “Another One Bites the Dust” was composed by John and is largely built on his simple bass riff. Later, the song takes a funky turn when Brian adds guitar in the second verse before it goes “pure disco” during a bridge which features synth sound effects. The formula worked really well as you might have guessed.
After releasing their 9th album titled Flash Gordon, that happened to be the soundtrack to the film of the same name, touring all over the world with The Game Tour, and putting out a Greatest Hits compilation album, which was the band’s most commercially successful project, Queen released their 10th album- Hot Space in 1982.
Hot Space was perhaps a bit controversial, many fans hated it, Roger and Brian loathed it, even John and Freddie thought it was a mistake. The album took all the things that Queen were known for and either removed them or belittled them.
But the closing song, “Under Pressure”, is a timeless, fabulous song beloved by many. It’s an impromptu collaboration with David Bowie. Bowie was actually in the studio with them to provide some back-up vocals on a different track- “Cool Cat” (it’s a cool song), but he didn’t like his contribution to that song so his parts were dropped. Though he was intrigued by Queen and enjoyed the session, and after jamming along to John’s bass lines, Freddie and David started exchanging ideas and lyrical lines that ultimately gave birth to Under Pressure as a whole. The song lived up to its title and a magnificent track emerged, it quickly became the band’s 2nd #1 hit in the UK, after Bohemian Rhapsody.
This is a fan made video of what could have been a pumping live performance of Under Pressure, from Queen and David.
Queen had their so-called “comeback” with the release of their 11th album The Works, in 1984. They might have realised that funk and disco tunes had perplexed some of their British and American fans, so this album was a return to fundamentals– it was a rock album.
The album starts off with Radio GaGa, a classic stadium rock favourite written by Roger, it’s poppy and full of synths, but inspired and incredibly catchy- therefore one of the band’s most favourite crowd pleasers. It even set up the emergent of MTV culture. The album also featured a grandiose hard rock tune written by Brian “Hammer to Fall”.
The next true smash was John’s “I Want To Break Free”, a song most people probably imagine to have been written by Freddie, though it was likely penned with him in mind, since the infamous Coronation Street video featured the members in drag.
A Kind of Magic
Queen, having survived for over a decade at the sharp end of the business, were now too canny to care whether they were fashionable or not. It was their iconic gig at the Live Aid concert held in Wembley Stadium in 1985 that gave them national treasure status, exposing them to an audience outside their traditional fan base.
They released their 12th album A Kind of Magic in 1986 during a renaissance for progressive rock music.
The opening song “One Vision” is a Roger song, featuring distorted, sometimes backwards (!) vocals, electronic drums and lyrics loosely based on Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream…” speech. It referenced the band’s Live Aid triumph in typical Queen style (“Give me one heart, one soul, one voice, one vision“) with a final plea for fried chicken. The album features the single of the same name “A Kind of Magic”, that is one of the best known and most loves songs of the band.
Personally, to me, the highlight of the album is the power ballad “Who Wants to Live Forever”, that carries every emotion imaginable.
In 1986, Queen brought their massive summer tour- The Magic Tour, and final tour with Freddie- to a close with a remarkable 120,000+ person concert at famed Cricket stadium Knebworth Park. Queen was at the peak of their powers, and the energy they show throughout the performance proved their greatness.
Following their massive ’86 European stadium tour for the A Kind Of Magic album, Queen took an extended break. Rumors had started spreading around about a possible breakup, but it turned out the break was brought on by a painful divorce for Brian (who subsequently battled depression and contemplated suicide), and Freddie being diagnosed with AIDS. Though the public didn’t know that in 1987 Freddie had already been diagnosed with this illness.
Far from holding them back, this awful illness focused the 4 men’s minds on returning to the studio with an air of renewed solidarity, the band regrouped, worked on each other’s mental state, and recorded one of their most inspired albums, their 13th album titled The Miracle, released in 1989.
Lyrically, the songs tend to reflect on the band’s past accomplishments (“Was It All Worth It”) as well as the state of the world in the late ’80s (“The Miracle”, ”I Want It All”)
Just 20 months after the release of The Miracle, along came Queen’s 14th album titled Innuendo in 1991. It was the shortest wait for a new Queen album in over a decade, and yet the album had a sad side to it, as it was the last to be released during Freddie’s lifetime. It was originally intended for release in time for Christmas 1990, but Freddie’s ailing health inevitably lead to a delayed release, not that you would be able to tell from the quality of the music or the power in Freddie’s vocals and his incredible range in the studio recordings.
From the very opening bars of the opening track, which is also the album’s title song, the band set out their stall. This is pomp rock, grandiose and huge.
The conga-driven synth ballad “These Are the Days of Our Lives” is the album’s most significant single, given that it was released on Freddie’s 45th birthday. The song was originally written by Roger about his children, Inevitably, the song took on new meaning when it was announced to the public that Freddie had AIDS and knew he was going to die soon when he recorded this. The track’s video was filmed in May 1991, during Freddie’s final stages of his battle with the disease. It was Freddie’s last filmed performance, as he died on November 24 of that year.
This versatile album features so many unique tracks, such as “I’m Going Slightly Mad”. The video, filmed with Freddie very ill, features Brian dressed as a penguin, Roger wears a tea kettle on his head, John is a jester, and Freddie wears a bunch of bananas on his head. “Delilah’ is a homage to Freddie’s cat, that Freddie insisted on including it on the album, Freddie was known to be a great cat person and eventually he had 10 cats.
The closing song is one of the most powerful, empowering songs of all time, “The Show Must Go On”. The perfect way to end an era. It’s also a collaborative number, with all 4 members having a hand in its writing. The song tells the story of Freddie continuing to record and to work, even as the end was approaching. It’s hard not to be overwhelmed when listening to it.
Made in Heaven
With Freddie’s tragic passing on 24/11/1991, everyone assumed that was to be the end of the road for the band. But there was more in store…
Freddie worked incessantly in the months after the release of Innuendo to make sure there was enough material for Queen to continue without him. Even knowing Freddie’s wishes about a follow-up recording, they took nearly two years off to mourn.
Freddie’s death wasn’t the end of Queen’s classic era. Instead, that finale came with Made in Heaven, their15th and final album, released in 1995.
“I have never got over his death,” Roger told The Rolling Stone, “None of us have. I think that we all thought that we could come to terms with it quite quickly, but we underestimated the impact his death had on our lives. I still find it difficult to talk about. For those of us left, it is as though Queen was another lifetime entirely.”
On the track titled “Mother Love” the album we can sense what lays ahead. There are clues in the narrative sense (“I’m a man of the world and they say that I’m strong, But my heart is heavy and my hope is gone”). Brian ended up having to sing the last verse because by then Freddie was gone.
“Too Much Love Will Kill You’, written by Brian, was a universal song with specifically personal connotations, not just for Freddie but also for himself. “I Was Born To Love You” evolved from the single recording Freddie made for Mr. Bad Guy in 1984, the band added their parts and some samples of Freddie’s improvised take on the song “A Kind Of Magic”, and his solo cut “Living On My Own”.
Made In Heaven became Queen’s 4th UK #1 in row, and 7th overall, before John announced his retirement a few years later. “Freddie’s death affected him badly,” Robert Ahwai, a college friend and musical collaborator, later said. “Maybe he thought, ‘Freddie was the band, so what’s the point?’”
Queen after Freddie
In 2002, Queen received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The ceremony kicked off a Queen renaissance, with a whole new generation of fans beginning to discover their incredible songs.
Queen was revived in 2005, but this time with “+ Paul Rodgers appended to its name. After staying active with their own solo projects, Brian and Roger wanted to get back working together, continue Queen’s legacy and keep the band alive.
At first they considered singer Robbie Williams (who I really love) to front the band, they recorded a cover of We are the Champions with him that was featured in the film A Knight’s Tale, but due to Robbie’s demanding global solo career they had to look for someone else.
Paul joined Brian and Roger (John remained retired) for several live shows, a short international tour, and even a new studio album featuring his vocals, released under the “Queen + Paul Rodgers” label. Reception was decidedly mixed and he left Queen in 2009.
For the following months, Brian and Roger were low-key looking for a new potential lead singer. After performing on the finale of American Idol in 2009, they found the one.
In fact, Brian and Roger came across videos of Adam Lambert auditioning for the show with the song Bohemian Rhapsody, and videos of him performing legendary songs like Whole Lotta Love so well; Adam’s impressive vocal range, outstanding performances, plus his theatrical and campy personality intrigued them enough to make them want to perform with him live, so they performed with him on the finale and you could easily feel the chemistry between them and how well they connected. The next year, Adam embarked on a successful global solo career, delivered some great hits and received a Grammy nomination.
Queen is Alive and well
Queen were honoured with the Global Icon Award at the 2011 MTV European Music Awards. They wanted the show to go on and made a surprise performance with Adam- they did a medley of hits that captivated millions of viewers around the world. At this point I was an enthusiastic 14 year old fan of Adam, Brian and Roger, I remember watching this performance live on TV with friends and fangirling hard, much to my friends’ annoyance.
This magnificent performance propelled the continuing collaboration between Queen and Adam. Brian and Roger wanted Adam to front the band. Adam, who had Freddie Mercury vibes and showmanship, brought a style all his own to the table.
Unlike the collaboration with Rodgers, this one was received tremendously well by fans from all over the world, they’ve gone on 5 phenomenally successful tours worldwide and have been selling out stadiums since 2012, to this very day. They are constantly being praised by all.
“Adam can do all the stuff that Freddie did and more. It doesn’t matter what you throw at Adam- he can do it… He’s a born exhibitionist. He’s not Freddie, and he’s not pretending to be him, but he has a parallel set of equipment.” Brian told GuitarWorld.
“It’s great, with Adam Lambert we’ve found a new lease of life. He’s a perfect fit for us, an incredibly gifted singer and performer – it’s a lot of fun.” Roger told TimeOut.
Queen performing Don’t Stop Me Now with Adam at Rock in Rio Lisbon 2016.
Queen and Adam gave an exceptional concert here in Tel Aviv, infront of 60,000 fans in HaYarkon Park on 12/9/16.
Queen and Adam’s mind-blowing performance of Somebody to Love here in Israel, with some great banter beforehand and an impressive bit of Hebrew from Adam (he’s a cute Jewish boy).
an important extra fact- at 0:55 you can hear my friend scream “can you be my boyfriend???” at Adam.
Their legacy lives on
Bohemian Rhapsody has been named the most streamed song from the 20th century. It broke records as it passed 1.6 billion streams.
Adam has been on tour with Queen for this entire decade, and at this point Queen + Adam Lambert is itself an institution, one that’s enjoying elevated public interest due to 2018’s Oscar-winning Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody.
Now more than ever, following the phenomenal success of the movie, people of all ages in all places, want Queen, and we are lucky that Adam, Brian, and Roger are willing and able to deliver.
Queen and Adam are currently in the midst of their 5th massive world tour, on which Boomers and Gen Z and everyone in between are present to a perfect collection of classic rock songs. Queen always brought together a few different music scenes, and in this extended afterlife they’ve been enjoying, they’re now unifying generations.
Queen + Adam performing Bohemian Rhapsody at the first leg of the tour, the American leg, in July 2019, in Phoenix.
On a personal note
I am a huge fan of Queen and I hope it was evident in this written OurBook of mine.
I grew up listening to their timeless songs and I still listen to them rigorously. Their inspiring, empowering music helped me through different stages in my life and shaped my childhood in many ways.
Freddie is an immortal hero to me, and all 4 incredibly talented members of the band mean a lot to me. They have all inspired me immensely. Adam is my favourite singer alive and is by far the best vocalist of our generation, and all in all I’m glad that Brian and Roger, together with Adam, are able to bring their music back to life, to enthusiastic fans from all over the world, of all age groups, while keeping Queen’s legacy alive and doing Freddie proud.
This is me with Roger, Adam and Brian, before their Park Hayarkon gig. I was a bit too excited to finally get to meet them.