Queen Rock History

'This way Sir. We have a selection of midgets who'll be serving your cocaine on silver platters tonight while in the room marked 'Orgy' you can choose from an exotic array of women, er, and men from all over the globe. Mind that swimming pool full of raw liver though Sir. That's for the naked dancers later on.' Anyone invited to one of Queen's parties in the 70s probably wouldn't have forgotten it in a hurry. They were legendary, full of the kind of Bacchanalian excess that would have made Emperor Nero blush. Like their music, the band embodied a flamboyant sense of excess and glamour that was unmatched. Their music too was a fantastically overblown blend of heavy rock, glam, arch-pop and droll, operatic campery. They pioneered the rock video with the ground-breaking No.1 single Bohemian Rhapsody which defined their eccentric brilliance. And in their marvellously egotistical frontman Freddie Mercury, they had one of the greatest stars in rock history. One man, one vest, one moustache. One vision.

Queen were born out of the ashes of Smile - a group formed in 1967 by guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor. The Zanzibar born Freddie Mercury, who had been singing with a heavy metal band, Wreckage, joined in 1970 and Queen were formed in 1971. Electronics student John Deacon on bass, joined soon after and the band were soon signed to EMI.

Queen unleashed their eponymous debut album in 1973 and their debut single, Keep Yourself Alive. From the start it was clear that the band were fashioning a unique sound - drawing on elements of glam rock, stomping, rock bombast and Mercury's histrionic vocals. The album didn't set the charts alight and the band set off on a heavy touring schedule supporting Mott The Hoople. Success would eventually come in 1974 with the release of the single, Seven Seas Of Rhye and the ensuing album, Queen II. The album reached No.5 in the UK charts.

1974's Killer Queen single introduced their audience to Queen's unique brand of jaunty, high camp pop which would become their trademark. Multi-layered harmonies, heavy rock guitar and Freddie Mercury's impassioned, theatrical vocals. The single reached No.2 in the UK charts and their 1974 album, Sheer Heart Attack was regarded as their strongest to date. It contained neo-metal riffs, high camp, and satin clad dynamics that would certainly make The Darkness' Justin Hawkins sit up and take notice.. But it was 1975 single Bohemian Rhapsody that would see Queen crowned as rock royalty. Armed with a pair of satin ballet tights and a roar of 'Bismillah!' Freddie Mercury's masteripiece helped to define Queen's eccentric brilliance and introduced the term %u2018rock opera' into the pop lexicon. Accompanied by the first ever rock video, Rhapsody's 6 minutes of barmy brilliance spent 9 weeks at No.1 spurring Sid Vicious to comment upon meeting Mercury: 'Ello Fred, So you've really brought ballet to the masses then?'

The ensuing album, 1975's A Night At The Opera, was equally ambitious and is widely regarded as Queen's creative peak. Crunching guitar riffs, piano flourishes, Victorian, music hall camp and folkie solemnity was all rolled into one album. Mercury's multi-layered vocals on The Prophet's Song and May's trad-jazz big band sound on Good Company and the pure pop of You're My Best Friend sizzled. The album went Top 5 in the US, confirming the band as a global phenomenon. 1976's follow up album, A Day At The Races, spawned another massive hit in Somebody To Love and featured Queen's, by now, obligatory camp with Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy. The following year, the terrace-like anthem We Are The Champions, coupled with double A-side We Will Rock You, reached No.2 in the charts indicating a shift from droll, camp operatics to more straight-ahead stadium rock.

1977's News Of The World album and 1978's Jazz confirmed the band's new direction. Jazz proved a slightly barmy but successful departure with bizarre vocal harmonies on Bicycle Race, (reported to be about a Tour De France rider that Freddie had slept with), the over the top, unashamedly un-PC Fat Bottomed Girls and the slick multi layered harmonies of Don't Stop Me Now.

But with the advent of punk, Queen were being seen as outmoded dinosaurs. To younger pop fans, they were the camp blokes in satin tights who screamed 'Gallileo' and 'Bismillah!' In an era of dole queues and picket lines, Queen's element of excess seemed out of kilter with the times. Freddie felt it was his duty to live the life of a star. 'People want art,' Freddie would tell one journalist: 'They want to see you rush off in your limousine. I like to spend, spend, spend. Sometimes I could go to Cartiers the jewellers and buy the whole shop!'

Despite his elevated star status, Mercury sensed the band's reign was under threat so they looked to other musical forms to keep their sound fresh. Their 1979 single Crazy Little Thing Called Love drew on 50's rockabilly with Freddie dressed as a camp Hell's Angel in the video - donning biker gear, leather cap and his trademark handlebar moustache. Their next single, Another Bites The Dust, flirted with 70s disco with its Chic-imitation bassline. The song would give the band a US No.1. Both tracks featured on 1980 album The Game, their most consistent album in some years.

After a step into film soundtracks with the partially successful Flash Gordon in 1980, Queen's creative juices were regenerated with the Bowie collaboration, Under Pressure, which reached No.1 in 1981. 1982's Hot Space album, which featured the disco naff Body Language, was one of Queen's weakest albums but with 1984's The Works, they again enjoyed great chart success with the album's singles, Radio Ga-Ga and I Want To Break Free - the accompanying video gave Freddie the chance to dress in black PVC mini-skirt, tights, high heels and a fright wig - again!

Queen had always been a massive live draw but 1985's Live Aid extravaganza gave Freddie Mercury a chance to literally, steal the show. At first reluctant, Mercury was persuaded to take part by a belligerent Bob Geldof who told Queen's manager: 'Tell the old faggot it's gonna be the biggest thing that's ever happened!' Queen's performance at Wembley came to be a defining moment for the band. Queen seemed unfazed by playing to a global TV audience of millions and Mercury conducted the massive crowd with swagger. The group's back catalogue subsequently clogged up the charts until they returned with new material, the stadium friendly but creatively light A Kind Of Magic album in 1986. Queen continued to tour the world playing to massive audiences. They returned to Wembley Stadium in '86 playing two nights to 150,000 people. They returned to the fray in 1989 with The Miracle - An album which featured a We Are The Champions retread with I Want It All.

By the time of the band's next album, 1991's Innuendo, rumours were rife of Freddie's increasingly ailing health. Personal songs such as These Are The Days Of Our Lives and The Show Must Go On were pointers to Freddie's state and on 23rd November 1991, just a few months after the album's release, Freddie died of Aids. He was 45. With his death, Queen's air of invincibility was shattered. A tribute concert was held the following spring at Wembley with the cream of pop's top acts taking part, including Elton John, George Michael, and Guns %u2018N' Roses. Queen split although a posthumous album, Made In Heaven, featuring material Mercury had worked on before his death, was released in 1995 and while it didn't really contribute to Queen's great legacy, it did tie up the loose ends, bringing the saga of one of music's most flamboyantly colourful bands to a dignified close.

In 2002, Deacon, May and Taylor collaborated with comedian and novelist Ben Elton on a stage musical, featuring Queen's songs. We Will Rock You opened at London's Dominion Theatre on 14 May and is still running today.

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