Mercury's drag antics even alienated South American fans at the Rock in Rio festival. When he performed "I Want to Break Free" in garters, a wig, black panties and strap-on boobs, they pelted him mercilessly with debris. Was Mercury that out of touch with his fans that he didn't know these people had adopted his song as an anthem against military dictatorship? Queen went on to show equal disregard for its devotees throughout the world when it violated the UN ban on performing in South Africa. After the excursion, May was busy backpedaling ("We're totally against apartheid, but I feel we did a lot of bridge building") and Mercury was busy inserting his ballet slipper into his mouth ("But there's so much money to be made, dahling!"). Queen was hardly the champions of the world to the United Nations, which placed the group on its list of unfavored performers.

Meanwhile, back in the States, it mattered little that Queen stopped performing after 1986. The band hadn't set foot on American soil since the "Hot Space" tour in '82. Although the group remained immensely popular throughout the rest of the world, its last three albums charted embarrassingly low here.

Unfortunately, it took Mercury's dying from AIDS in 1991 to remind Americans that Queen was a group it had once taken to heart. Many sought out those later, untried albums like A Kind of Magic, The Miracle and the band's swan song, Innuendo, paying special morbid attention to Mercury's signing-off anthems like "Was It All Worth It," "Love Kills," "Who Wants to Live Forever" and "The Show Must Go On." The excess that ran through Queen's long body of work was no longer a laughing matter when it spilled into Mercury's personal life.

Which brings us up to the present day in back-to-front style. Though Queen at the BBC is certainly no "event," it is an interesting listen, as it bears little resemblance to the overblown act the band would become. There're snippets of decadence, snatches of arrogance, but it's like looking at Caligula's baby pictures. You read too much into a mischievous gleam in the eye. Although it goes against the grain of Queen at the BBC's ridiculously highbrow liner notes, Freddie Mercury didn't set out to change the world with songs like "Keep Yourself Alive," "Great King Rat" or, for that matter, "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Bicycle Race."

"I write songs for fun, for modern consumption," he once remarked. "People can discard them like a used tissue afterwards. You listen to it, like it, discard it, then on to the next. Disposable pop, yes."

Queen is dead. Long live product.

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