Synopsis of Pop Music
“I’ve paid my dues,
Time after time…”
Gather ‘round, you leather-clad headbangers, you mascara-wearing fops, and let us share together the one band we can all agree on—the most bombastic, fab-tastic, career-elastic (okay, that last one’s a stretch) band in rock. It’s time to give hail to the Queen.
There’s an old saying, “Nothing succeeds like excess” (or something like that), and nobody proved it better than Queen. How else could you account for a band that wrote mini-operas, rockabilly ditties and vaudeville musical numbers, yet still rocked hard enough to inspire a Metallica cover tune? Whether the fist-pounding arena throb of “We Will Rock You,” the disco/funk groove of “Another One Bites the Dust,” the new wave technos of “Under Pressure” or the full-blown opera of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” one thing remained constant: Queen was always bigger-than-life, orchestrating some of the most elaborate musical theater rock had ever seen.
The band’s roots went back to Imperial College, London, where guitarist/astronomy student Brian May joined drummer Roger Taylor and bassist Tim Staffell to form the band Smile. By the early 70’s, Staffell had exited the band, but not before turning May and Taylor on to his flatmate/vocalist, the Tanzania-born Freddie Mercury. Bassist Roger Deacon joined in early 1971, and Queen’s permanent lineup was solidly in place.
The band played only smaller, local gigs at first, as each member pursued his respective higher education, but academics were put aside in 1972 when the band signed a recording deal with EMI. Queen, the band’s self-titled debut album, hit the U.K. in 1973, but despite the release of eventual concert favorite “Keep Yourself Alive” as a single, the band found little love in its homeland or elsewhere.
1974’s Queen II woke British fans up to the new stars in their midst. With the help of a crowd-rocking appearance on BBC-1’s Top of the Pops, the single “Seven Seas of Rhye” reached U.K. #10, and the album became the first of many long-lasting hits on the U.K. album charts. A U.S. tour with Mott the Hoople gave the Queenies a little stateside exposure, letting American audiences in on the outlandish theatrics and huge stage presence of Freddie Mercury, along with the orchestral guitar work of May and the solid rhythm section of Deacon and Taylor.
At the end of 1974, Sheer Heart Attack gave the band another British smash, as well as its first U.S. Top-20 single in “Killer Queen,” but the definitive Queen work wouldn’t arrive until the following year. Released in 1975, A Night at the Opera was the apex of the band’s studio puffery, a wildly ambitious rock album that knew that too much was never enough. Nowhere on the album was this on better display than in “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a nearly six-minute opus that went from multi-part opera to headbanging rocker without even batting a false eyelash. Accompanied by a conceptual promo film (one of the earliest music videos), the song shot to a 9-week run at #1 in Britain and was a #9 hit in the U.S.
Queen continued its golden run with 1976’s A Day at the Races and 1977’s News of the World, the latter of which featured the double-A-side single (and still-used sports anthems) “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions.” 1978’s Jazz gave the world another double-A-side, “Bicycle Race/Fat Bottomed Girls,” along with an infamous inner sleeve poster of a Queen-staged nude bicycle race.
The band captured the musical spectacle and audience interaction of its live shows in 1979’s double album, Live Killers, then took a new musical turn in 1980’s The Game. Featuring two U.S. (and worldwide) #1 singles in the rockabilly “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and the disco-flavored “Another One Bites the Dust,” the album hit the top of both the U.K. and U.S. album charts. Surprisingly, this was the only #1 U.S. album for the band (though several others hit the Top-10). Despite its string of hit singles and flamboyant live shows, Queen never seemed to reach the same level of success in the U.S. as it did elsewhere.
Not that it seemed to matter to Queen. Still ruling the throne in their homeland, the boys in the band decided that the sun should never set on the Queen empire. Playing to record-breaking crowds in South America, Asia, Europe and Africa, the band became a true international phenomenon. The albums kept coming, from the 1981 Flash Gordon film soundtrack to 1982’s Hot Space to The Works in 1984, while a 1981 Greatest Hits album stayed on the U.K. charts for an astounding 312 straight weeks.
A memorable 1985 'Live Aid' performance solidified Queen’s reputation as one of the biggest bands in the world, and the group continued to turn out albums into the early 1990’s—A Kind of Magic (1986), The Miracle (1989) and Innuendo (1991). Tragically, the band’s career was cut short in November of 1991, as Freddie Mercury succumbed to complications from AIDS. The group had kept Mercury’s bisexuality a sort of open secret (though prevalent in the frontman’s cheeky lyrics and song titles), choosing instead to focus on the music. May, Deacon and Taylor decided to pay tribute to their fallen comrade in the same way, staging the AIDS fundraiser 'A Concert for Life,' featuring Elton John, Guns ‘N Roses, George Michael, Annie Lennox and others, in 1992.
That same year, the movie Wayne’s World introduced a new generation to the over-the-top pleasures of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” sending the single back up to #2 on the U.S. charts and spawning a new line of highly successful greatest hits albums. A final studio album, Made in Heaven, arrived in 1995, featuring songs for which Mercury had recorded vocals on his deathbed.
Queen quit recording original material as a band after this last offering from Mercury. Though the group had never been a one-man show (each member had written at least one of the band’s Top-10 singles), it just wouldn’t have been the same without the wild theatrics of its one true diva. May, Deacon and Taylor continue to record solo projects, and the group occasionally reunites for a good cause, but with the extinguishing of Mercury’s bright flame, the world lost its bridge between rock and opera, between metal and crushed velvet, between headbangers and fops.
Artist Release History1973 - Queen
1974 - Queen II
1974 - Sheer Heart Attack
1975 - A Night at the Opera
1976 - A Day at the Races
1977 - News of the World
1978 - Jazz
1979 - Live Killers
1980 - The Game
1981 - Flash Gordon
1981 - Greatest Hits (UK)
1982 - Hot Space
1984 - The Works
1986 - A Kind of Magic
1986 - Live Magic
1989 - The Miracle
1989 - Queen at the Beeb (At the BBC, US)
1991 - Innuendo
1991 - Greatest Hits, Vol. 2 (UK)
1992 - Classic Queen
1992 - Greatest Hits (US)
1992 - Live at Wembley '86
1995 - Greatest Hits I & II
1997 - Rocks, Vol. 1
1998 - The Crown Jewels
1999 - Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 (US)
1995 - Made in Heaven
Pop Sub Categoriesrock
Essential Music AlbumsClassic Queen (Hollywood)
Greatest Hits (Hollywood)
Band MembersFreddie Mercury vocals
Brian May guitar
John Deacon bass
Roger Taylor drums