By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Brian Palmer
Queen became the world's only novelty heavy-metal band with A Night at the Opera. If anything, it was an even more confusing listening experience than Queen II, prompting Creem magazine to write how listening to Opera was like "watching color TV before it was invented." The hard rock that dominates Queen at the BBC was now sidelined in favor of "Fairy King" material like "Bohemian Rhapsody," which featured an incredible 180 vocal overdubs. In the book Wacky Top 40, zany Brian May proudly recalls that "we ran the tape through so many times, it kept wearing out. Once we held the tape to the light and could see straight through it." Most people saw right through A Day at the Races, Opera's shameful look-alike/sound-alike sequel; it sold in the expected droves, anyway. Besides appropriating another Marx Brothers movie title, Races contained yet another mushy Mercury ballad, a "Bohemian" rewrite called "The Millionaire Waltz" (complete with a Strauss swipe and Freddie sending up Julie Andrews and Marlene Dietrich) and a single which went against current fashion and still wound up being a hit. What "Bohemian Rhapsody" did for opera, "Somebody to Love" did for gospel--it made it sound sillier than shit.
Despite its predilection for opulence and ostentatiousness, Queen was instrumental in expediting the punk movement in Britain. When the regal lads canceled a scheduled TV appearance on Bill Grundy's Today program at the last minute, EMI sent Queen's labelmates the Sex Pistols to rattle the host instead. The resulting broadcast touched off a national furor. British dailies had a field day with the punk group's foul language, Grundy lost his job and EMI dropped the Pistols. Under this heady influence of punk, Queen dropped its pearls for swine and began recording its next album.
News of the World was completed in 16 days, a far cry from past lush productions. Though punks continued to slag off Queen as old farts, the veteran poofs proved they could give the Damned and the Buzzcocks a run for their money with speed-punk like Taylor's "Sheer Heart Attack."
Coincidentally, while Queen was finishing up the album, the Sex Pistols were recording "God Save the Queen" in the adjacent studio. Now here's a real EVENT in the annals of rock; when Sid Vicious met Mercury, he graciously congratulated Queen's lead singer for bringing ballet to the masses. Mercury endearingly referred to Sid as "Mr. Ferocious!"
By now Queen's fans had come to expect the unexpected, so it came as no surprise that its seventh album, Jazz, had nothing even remotely resembling jazz on it. Its leadoff track, "Mustapha," was a Middle Eastern muddle that sounded like Freddie had too much baklava caught between his teeth. Having long ago exhausted his desire to write hard rockers, Mercury was churning fluff like "Don't Stop Me Now," which owed more to the Laverne and Shirley theme than Led Zeppelin.
Like News of the World, Jazz also contained a double-sided hit. While the former's "We Are the Champions" and "We Will Rock You" shared a similar "fight, team, fight" theme, there was nothing to link Mercury's infantile "Bicycle Race" with May's offensive "Fat Bottomed Girls" except sheer lunacy.
In 1980, Queen achieved its first two stateside No. 1s with "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and "Another One Bites the Dust." The latter funk tune, written by bassist John Deacon, drew criticism for being nothing more than a rip-off of Chic's "Good Times." It's a credit to Chic that no lawsuit was ever filed. Queen was far less understanding when Vanilla Ice sampled the band's 1981 collaboration with David Bowie "Under Pressure" for his "Ice Ice Baby." After putting pressure on Ice, subsequent pressings of "Ice Ice Baby" carried a Queen/Bowie co-writing credit.
Up until The Game, there were enough head-bangers per LP for people who liked Aerosmith and Zeppelin to still have a soft spot for Queen. But clouds were growing on the pink horizon; the band's success in the field of dance music spelled trouble for the group and its closet homophobic following. Old fans began dropping Queen so rapidly with its next album, it probably should've been named Hot Potato instead of Hot Space. Sure, in the past, Mercury wore nail polish, Cleopatra eye makeup, Zandra Rhodes designer outfits and entertained live audiences with a bump 'n' grind version of "Hey Big Spender." At least the band still rocked! Now Freddie was singing to disco synths and dressing up like one of the Village People.
American fans are funny that way. They abandoned Billy Squier simply for dancing like a flaming tart on his "Rock Me Tonight" video. Who could forget how Elton John's massive popularity in the States shriveled once he admitted to Rolling Stone that he was bisexual? It took a short-lived marriage, two hair transplants and a string of bad records before Yanks would take him back. Mercury remained ambiguous about his sexuality 'til the very end, but few gave him the benefit of the doubt after seeing the 1984 video for "I Want to Break Free." The sight of all four Queen members cross-dressing was too much for weak American hearts to bear.