Sunday, 2 July 2017

Long Live Queen!

When my sister was only 4 or 5, she developed what could arguably be described as her first crush.  It wasn't on a youthful kids TV presenter, or a smiley-faced member of a boyband.  Nope, the object of her adoration was none other than Queen's flamboyant lead singer, Freddie Mercury.

Of course, given her young age, it was a very innocent form of love.  It was also one I shared.  Our mum was (and is) a Queen fan and we were familiar with not only the music, but with Freddie's amazing stage presence, even though we'd only ever viewed it through a TV screen.  In fact, such was my admiration for Freddie, that when I was given two rubber ducks to play with in the bath when I was only a pre-schooler myself, I had lovingly named them "Band Aid" and "Fred," in honour of the concert I'd seen snippets of on TV over the years (or rather, the group of musicians behind the Christmas song I adored), and the lead singer of the band I'd loved the most.

When Freddie Mercury passed away, in November 1991, my sister and I were absolutely gutted.  If I remember rightly, we both cried.  My sister hung posters of him in her room and would sadly kiss him goodnight, before bed.  To this day, if you ask her, she'll tell you "Freddie will always be BAE."

He WAS magnifico-oh-oh-oh-ooooh.

But whilst Freddie may have seemed the driving force of Queen - the indescribable showman - the band as a whole were - and arguably still are - a force to be reckoned with.

You need only listen to the likes of Muse, The Darkness and even Lady Gaga, to see how influential Queen continue to be.  Their brand of operatic rock still feels gloriously fresh, all these years later.  It may be a cliché, but I still can't hear that guitar solo from Bohemian Rhapsody, without wanting to break into the kind of head-banging that Wayne and Garth from Wayne's World would be proud of.

That song - still loved and praised several decades after it first burst onto the music scene - has come to sum up the eclectic range of styles Queen experimented with.  They may be seen as essentially a classic "rock" band, but over the years, they played around with everything from metal and glam-rock, to disco and opera.  This was a band clearly unafraid to think outside of the musical box, frequently pushing themselves to reinvent their sound and yet somehow always sounding instantly recognisable.  You can just tell it's a Queen song, no matter what style it takes, from the very first seconds.

Talk to most people about Queen and they'll point to their biggest, brashest hits: Bohemian Rhapsody, Killer Queen or Don't Stop Me Now.  But Queen weren't just good at stadium sing-along hits.  They were able to capture raw emotion in softer songs, such as Who Wants To Live Forever?

Indeed, two of my absolute favourite Queen songs are not the ones that get your hands clapping, but the ones that get you right in the chest; Too Much Love Will Kill You and These Are The Days Of Our Lives.

In fact, the latter brings a lump to my throat every single time I hear it.  From the gut-punch that comes from the knowledge that Freddie is no longer with us, as he sings "these days are all gone now..." to possibly the most devastatingly sad guitar solo of all time, that song is just sheer emotion from start to finish.  If you've ever wondered what it would sound like if a guitar could cry, just listen to Brian May's solo on that track.  His guitar isn't gently weeping, it's wailing.  It's a primal howl and it breaks me every time I hear it.

Combine the heartbreaking melody with Freddie's terribly frail appearance in the music video (his final one) and it's even sadder, still.

I can remember being hugely excited when Made In Heaven came out in 1995.  It was to feature music recorded when Freddie was still alive, completed after his death and so hearing tracks from the album was an incredibly bittersweet experience.  One of the tracks, Heaven For Everyone, became my favourite Queen song (aside from the two previously mentioned tear-jerkers) and seeing the song reach number two in the singles chart and hearing it played at the youth club I attended back in the day, was a glorious experience for a 13 year old kid who had grown up with one heck of a soft spot for the band.

That soft spot has never really dimmed.  I often decide to have a "Queen Day," where I "binge-listen" to as much as their music as I can.  There's something about Queen's music that stirs me in a way that only a select few other bands have ever managed (the Manics being the obvious one).  Their songs still excite me.  Their melodies still take me over completely and leave me smiling and singing along, no matter where I am.

I've never been lucky enough to see Queen live.  Obviously, in their heyday, when Freddie was still strutting his stuff on stage, I was much too young.  Now, tickets for their performances with Adam Lambert sell out so fast that I'll be lucky if ever get the chance to go.  Not that I wouldn't give my right arm for the opportunity...

Queen's music has soundtracked many people's lives, perhaps without those people ever stopping to give it a second thought.  From the football fans singing We Are The Champions on the terraces, to the kids who just seem to instantly know that stamp-stamp-clap motif from We Will Rock You, even if they're not sure how they know it, Queen's music is still seemingly everywhere.  And that's just how it should be.

So, from the girl who named her rubber duck "Fred" all those years ago: Freddie, Brian, Roger and John... I still love you.

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