Queen was formed in 1971 when Brian May and Roger Taylor’s college band Smile broke up, and they recruited first vocalist Freddie Mercury, and later bassist John Deacon. This line-up was to remain unchanged until Mercury’s death, from AIDS-related pneumonia in 1991.
One of the band’s peculiarities is their academic success prior to entering the music industry. All four gained tertiary qualifications – Degrees for May, Taylor and Deacon in Astrophysics, Dentistry and Electrical Engineering respectively, and a Diploma in Commercial Art for Mercury – any one of them could have had lucrative careers in their original fields, had they not chosen music.
Queen were signed by EMI in late 1972 and their first recording project together was actually a “solo” single for Freddie, performing as Larry Lurex I Can Hear Music/Going Back . After this, the band was launched in a gig at London’s Marquee club in spring 1973. The single Keep Yourself Alive and their first, self-titled album followed swiftly. The single failed, but the album – an interesting mix of pomp and rock -- spent 18 weeks on the chart, and the sleeve notes contained something that was going to be the trademark of several following albums, a comment that no synthesisers were used.
After an extensive tour, the band’s 1974 second album, Queen II reached the UK Top 5 and Seven Seas Of Rhye became their first hit single. The sleeve notes for this album included a quirky credit for Roy Baker – “virtuoso castanets” this was to become another feature of the band’s albums with lines like “Freddie Mercury: vocals, vocals, Bechstein Debauchery and more vocals”, “Brian May - Guitars, Vocals, Leader of the Orchestra”, “Roger Taylor - Drums, Vocal, Percussion, Pandemonium”, etc.
Sheer Heart Attack, also in 1974, provided the classic Killer Queen and the title track gave the band their first US hit. Already Freddie’s combination of outrageous costuming, camp theatrics, and incredible range, taken together with the rock solid musicianship of the rest of the band was making Queen one of the bands to see.
1975 was the year that established the band as “superstars” beyond any doubt. They toured the Far East, with huge success, and then recorded the album A Night at the Opera The first single from this album was pronounced on the Radio One Round Table programme(which reviewed and showcased new releases) as “far too long to be successful as a single”. However, the six-minute plus rock and opera epic which was Bohemian Rhapsody dominated the charts over Christmas and the New Year, remaining number one for an almost unprecedented nine weeks. An elaborate and innovative video went with the song, and probably kick-started the music video industry – an area where Queen always remained at the forefront.
In 1976 Queen followed A Night at the Opera with A Day at the Races (named for another Marx Brothers movie) which was launched to half a million advance orders in the UK alone. Somebody to Love and Good Old-Fashioned Lover boy were both hits, and in September the band played a free concert in Hyde Park, London, to an audience of 150,000.
In 1977, the band toured the US for two months to a less than a ecstatic reception – their support band, Thin Lizzy, were far better received – although We are the Champions gave them their biggest selling US single at the time, reaching number 4. The single, which reached number 2 in the UK launched their annual album -- News of The World. The singles Spread your Wings and classic We Will Rock You were also taken from this album.
Jazz, released in 1978, had two hit singles, the frantic Don’t Stop Me Now and the double A side containing the outrageous pomp of Bicycle Race and the rocking Fat-Bottomed Girls (My theme tune, then and ever after). It was the video that went with this release – and the poster inside the LP – that caused the biggest furore with this album though, since it featured 100+ nude girls riding bicycles.
In 1979, Live Killers was recorded as the band toured Europe, giving many people their first taste of the phenomenon which was a Queen Concert – duets with the audience, vocal challenges, long, incredibly complex guitar solos… the double album reached Number 3 in the UK charts. Freddie was also invited to take part in a dance interpretation of a couple of the band’s songs at the Royal Ballet, and the band played one night at the benefit concerts for Kampuchea.
1980 brought The Game, the first Queen album to feature synthesisers, with hits in Another One Bites the Dust which was their first American number 1, Crazy Little Thing Called Love and Play the Game which had another highly innovative video, featuring animation morphing to life. The band also recorded the soundtrack for Flash Gordon and toured at both ends of the year. This was the year I finally got to see them live, on 8th December – the day John Lennon was assassinated. These two events are inextricably linked in my mind: such a high, coming down with the hardest and cruellest of bumps.
In February 1981, Queen launched into uncharted waters, with an 8 date stadium tour of South America – they played to more than half a million fans. Their tenth anniversary was celebrated with a book Greatest Pics , a video, Greatest Flix and, of course, a Greatest Hits album (which eventually spent 406 weeks on the UK chart – that’s nearly eight years). This year also saw the band’s second number one single, the product of an impromptu recording session with David Bowie, Under Pressure.
Hot Space , a smoother, jazzier kind of album, was released in 1982. It ws a departure from their usual style, but still sold well, reaching number four in the album charts – even the absolutely appalling Body Language did well. Again, they toured widely – Europe, the US and Japan and they were listed in The Guinness Book of Records as the world’s highest paid executives. Bill Gates was probably still in school.
In 1983 band members concentrating their energies on solo projects and there were rumours of a split, but Queen returned together to the studio in 1984 to record The Works , which featured Radio Gaga and I Want To Break Free (the video that went with this, which featured the band all dressed in female clothing was, apparently, John Deacon’s idea – so much for him being “The quiet one.”). They also sparked controversy, and faced fines for breaking the artist’s boycott of South Africa and playing Sun City, wile apartheid policies endured.
1985 started with two shows at the Rock in Rio festival in January and July saw their performance dominate the Wembley Live Aid concert – it was an incredible sight to watch a sea of hands clap in time to Radio Gaga. At the end of the year, a boxed set of 6 albums Complete Works was released.
1986 was another busy and successful year, with the A Kind of Magic , a European tour which took them behind the Iron Curtain to Budapest where they were received rapturously and, after a couple of shows at Wembley, the band played their last appearance in the UK at the Knebworth Festival, to an audience of 120,000. At the end of the year the entire back catalogue was released on CD, along with the Live Magic album.
No albums were released in 1987 or 1988, although the band were hard at work on solo projects, although the only major success of the period was Freddie’s duet with top operatic soprano Montserrat Caballe -- Barcelona
1989 saw the release of The Miracle which went straight into the charts at number one, and stayed there for 27 weeks. For the first time, the songs on the album were credited to the band, rather than individual members. Queen At The Beeb, an incredible recording of sessions for the BBC from 1973 was also released. It wasn’t a great success, which I’ve always considered shameful – it’s a wonderful, raw, powerful album which clearly captures the energy and excitement that propelled the band to the top, and kept them there so long.
Queen’s appearance at the annual Brits award ceremony where they were honoured for their "outstanding contribution to British music" started a flurry of rumours about Freddie’s health. He looked thin, drawn, almost grey, but the talk died away a little when Innuendo was released, a year later, with great success, and several excellent singles – and videos, which showed Freddie enthusiastic and lively, if not as bursting with energy as in days of yore. The black and white, which seemed an artistic decision covered much of the ravages of AIDS, which was, by then, in a very advanced stage.
On 22nd November 1991, it was announced that Freddie was suffering with the disease, two days later, he died. I think I wept for most of the day – Queen had been my favourite band for eighteen years by then, were the first band I ever went to see live, were the band whose album I bought with the first real money I earned. It was devastating.
Bohemian Rhapsody which was released with Those were the Days of our Lives (a touching song, with an incredibly moving video) on the reverse, with funds donated to AIDS research. It went straight to number one.
A memorial concert for Freddie was held at Wembley Stadium in the spring of the following year, garnering huge funds for AIDS research. Mercury’s death was the first high-profile loss to the disease in the rock world, certainly in the UK, and the awareness raised has benefited care and research charities ever since. A host of stars turned out, and the surprise of the event was George Michael, who proved himself to have a voice that almost rivalled the power and range of Freddie’s – almost. There were rumours of the band reforming, with George replacing Freddie; these were speedily scotched – the band might play, they said, but vocalists would be guests: Queen would never have another lead singer.
Between 1992 and 1994 three albums were released: Greatest Hits II, Classic Queen, and Live at Wembley . These were all collections. However, a new Queen album Made in Heaven was released in 1995. It used previously unrealeased songs, recorded in Freddie’s last year, at studios in Montreux, Switzerland. He recorded right up to his death, according to a documentary, grabbing studio time whenever he felt well enough to work, building up a strong, and surprisingly good collection of work. The album cover features the remaining members of the band, together with a statue of Freddie at his showy, onstage best, which stands outside the studios.
Queen Rocks and Greatest Hits III have been released since, and a new musical inspired by the band’s music We Will Rock You, opens at the Dominion in London on 14 May 2002. This was created by Ben Elton, financed by Robert De Niro’s production company, and involves May, Deacon and Taylor.
Information garnered from the wonderful Jazz Web site at : http://members.iinet.net.au/~stephen/Q/index.html and own experience.