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Queen in concert, 1984.
John Deacon (far left), Freddie Mercury (centre stage), Brian May (foreground), Roger Taylor (drums)
|Labels||Capitol, Parlophone, EMI, Hollywood, Island, Elektra|
|Associated acts||Smile, The Cross, Queen + Paul Rodgers, David Bowie, Ibex, Mott the Hoople|
Queen is a British rock band formed in London in 1971, originally consisting of Freddie Mercury (lead vocals, piano), Brian May (guitar, vocals), John Deacon (bass guitar, vocals), and Roger Taylor (drums, vocals). Queen’s earliest works were influenced by progressive rock, but the band gradually ventured into more conventional and radio-friendly works, incorporating more diverse and innovative styles in their music.
Before joining Queen, Brian May and Roger Taylor had been playing together in a band named Smile with bassist Tim Staffell. Freddie Mercury (then known by his birth name of Farrokh/ Freddie Bulsara) was a fan of Smile, and encouraged them to experiment with more elaborate stage and recording techniques after Staffell’s departure in 1970. Mercury himself joined the band shortly thereafter, changed the name of the band to ‘Queen’, and adopted his familiar stage name. John Deacon was recruited prior to recording their eponymous debut album (1973). Queen enjoyed success in the UK with their debut and its follow-up, Queen II (1974), but it was the release of Sheer Heart Attack (1974) and A Night at the Opera (1975) that gained the band international success. The latter featured “Bohemian Rhapsody“, which stayed at number one in the UK charts for nine weeks; it charted at number one in several other territories, and gave the band their first US top ten hit. Their 1977 album, News of the World, contained two of rock’s most recognisable anthems, “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions“. By the early 1980s, Queen were one of the biggest stadium rock bands in the world, and their performance at 1985’s Live Aid is regarded as one of the greatest in rock history. In 1991, Mercury died of bronchopneumonia, a complication of AIDS, and Deacon retired in 1997. Since then, May and Taylor have infrequently performed together, including a collaboration with Paul Rodgers under the name Queen + Paul Rodgers which ended in May 2009.
The band has released a total of 18 number one albums, 18 number one singles, and 10 number one DVDs, and have sold over 150 million albums, with some estimates in excess of 300 million albums, making them one of the world’s best-selling music artists.
They have been honoured with seven Ivor Novello awards and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001
Early days (1968–1974)
In 1968, guitarist Brian May, a student at London’s Imperial College, and bassist Tim Staffell decided to form a band. May placed an advertisement on the college notice board for a “Mitch Mitchell/Ginger Baker type” drummer; Roger Taylor, a young dental student, auditioned and got the job. The group called themselves Smile.
While attending Ealing Art College, Tim Staffell became friends with Farrokh Bulsara, a fellow student who had assumed the English name of Freddie. Bulsara felt that he and the band had the same tastes and soon became a keen fan of Smile. In late 1970, after Staffell left to join the band Humpy Bong, the remaining Smile members, encouraged by Bulsara, changed their name to “Queen” and continued working together. When asked about the name, Bulsara explained, “I thought up the name Queen. It’s just a name, but it’s very regal obviously, and it sounds splendid. It’s a strong name, very universal and immediate. It had a lot of visual potential and was open to all sorts of interpretations. I was certainly aware of gay connotations, but that was just one facet of it.”
The band had a number of bass players during this period who did not fit with the band’s chemistry. It was not until February 1971 that they settled on John Deacon and began to rehearse for their first album. They recorded four of their own songs, “Liar”, “Keep Yourself Alive”, “The Night Comes Down” and “Jesus”, for a demo tape; no record companies were interested. It was also around this time Freddie changed his surname to ‘Mercury’, inspired by the line “Mother Mercury, look what they’ve done to me,” in the song My Fairy King.
Having attended art college, Mercury also designed Queen’s logo, called the Queen crest, shortly before the release of the band’s first album. The logo combines the zodiac signs of all four members: two lions for Leo (Deacon and Taylor), a crab for Cancer (May), and two fairies for Virgo (Mercury). The lions embrace a stylised letter Q, the crab rests atop the letter with flames rising directly above it, and the fairies are each sheltering below a lion. There is also a crown inside the Q and the whole logo is over-shadowed by an enormous phoenix. The whole symbol bears a passing resemblance to the Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom, particularly with the lion supporters. The original logo, as found on the reverse-side of the first album cover, was a simple line drawing but more intricate colour versions were used on later sleeves.
In 1973, after a series of delays, Queen released their eponymous debut album, an effort influenced by the heavy metal and progressive rock of the day. The album was received well by critics; Gordon Fletcher of Rolling Stone said “their debut album is superb”, and Chicago’s Daily Herald called it an “above average debut”. It drew little mainstream attention, and the lead single “Keep Yourself Alive“, a Brian May composition, sold poorly. Retrospectively, “Keep Yourself Alive” is cited as the highlight of the album, and in 2008 Rolling Stone ranked it 31st in the “100 Greatest Guitar Songs Of All Time”, describing it as “an entire album’s worth of riffs crammed into a single song”. The album was certified gold in the UK and the US.
The group’s second LP, Queen II, was released in 1974, and features rock photographer Mick Rock‘s iconic image of the band on the cover. This image would be used as the basis for the 1975 “Bohemian Rhapsody” music video production. The album reached number five on the British album chart and became the first Queen album to chart in the UK. The Freddie Mercury-written lead single “Seven Seas of Rhye” reached number ten in the UK, giving the band their first hit. The album features long complex instrumental passages, fantasy-themed lyrics, and musical virtuosity. Aside from its only single, the album also included the song “The March of the Black Queen“, a six-minute epic which lacks a chorus or song structure, bearing similarity to Queen’s later work, “Bohemian Rhapsody”. The Daily Vault described the number as “menacing”. Critical reaction was mixed; the Winnipeg Free Press describing the record as a “monstrosity”. Allmusic has described the album as a favourite among the band’s hardcore fans, and it is the first of three Queen albums to feature in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
Sheer Heart Attack to A Night at the Opera (1974–1976)
Brian May was initially absent (due to hepatitis) when the band started work on their third album, but he returned midway through the recording process. Released in 1974, Sheer Heart Attack reached number two in the United Kingdom, sold well throughout Europe, and went gold in the United States. It gave the band their first real experience of international success, and was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. The album experimented with a variety of musical genres, including British music hall, heavy metal, ballads, ragtime, and Caribbean. At this point, Queen started to move away from the progressive tendencies of their first two releases into a more radio-friendly, song-orientated style. Sheer Heart Attack introduced new sound and melody patterns that would be refined on their next album, A Night at the Opera.
The single “Killer Queen” reached number two on the British charts, and became their first US hit, reaching number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. It combines camp, vaudeville, and British music hall with May’s guitar virtuosity. The album’s second single, “Now I’m Here“, a more traditional hard rock composition, was a number eleven hit in Britain, while the high speed rocker “Stone Cold Crazy” featuring May’s uptempo riffs is a precursor to speed metal. In recent years, the album has received acclaim from music publications: In 2006, Classic Rock ranked it number 28 in “The 100 Greatest British Rock Albums Ever”, and in 2007, Mojo ranked it No.88 in “The 100 Records That Changed the World”. It is also the second of three Queen albums to feature in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
In 1975, the band left for a world tour with each member in Zandra Rhodes-created costumes and accompanied with banks of lights and effects. They toured the US as headliners, and played in Canada for the first time. While the band toured Japan in April, the band’s manager, Jim Beach, successfully negotiated the band out of their Trident Studios contract. One of the options they considered was an offer from Led Zeppelin‘s manager, Peter Grant. Grant wanted them to sign with Led Zeppelin’s own production company, Swan Song Records. The band found the contract unacceptable and instead contacted Elton John‘s manager, John Reid, who accepted the position.
In late 1975, Queen recorded and released A Night at the Opera, taking its name from the popular Marx Brothers movie. At the time, it was the most expensive album ever produced. Like its predecessor, the album features diverse musical styles and experimentation with stereo sound. In “The Prophet’s Song“, an eight-minute epic, the middle section is a canon, with simple phrases layered to create a full-choral sound. The Mercury penned ballad, “Love of My Life“, featured a harp and overdubbed vocal harmonies. The album was very successful in Britain, and went triple platinum in the United States. The British public voted it the 13th greatest album of all time in a 2004 Channel 4 poll. It has also ranked highly in international polls; in a worldwide Guinness poll, it was voted the 19th greatest of all time, while an ABC poll saw the Australian public vote it the 28th greatest of all time. A Night at the Opera has frequently appeared in “greatest albums” lists reflecting the opinions of critics. Among other accolades, it was ranked number 16 in Q Magazine‘s “The 50 Best British Albums Ever” in 2004, and number 11 in Rolling Stone’s “The 100 Greatest Albums of All Time” as featured in their Mexican edition in 2004. It was also placed at #230 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” in 2003. A Night at the Opera is the third and final Queen album to be featured in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
The album also featured the hit single “Bohemian Rhapsody“, which was number one in the UK for nine weeks and is the third-best-selling single of all time in the UK, surpassed only by Band Aid‘s “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and Elton John‘s “Candle in the Wind 1997“—making it the best selling commercial single in the UK. It also reached number nine in the United States (a 1992 re-release reached number two on Billboard for five weeks). It is the only single ever to sell a million copies on two separate occasions, and became the Christmas number one twice in the UK, the only single ever to do so. Bohemian Rhapsody has been voted numerous times the greatest song of all time. The band decided to make a video to go with the single; the result is generally considered to have been the first “true” music video ever produced. Although other bands, including The Beatles, had made short promotional films or videos of songs prior to this, generally, those were specifically made to be aired on specific television shows. The second single from the album, “You’re My Best Friend“, the second song composed by John Deacon, and his first single, peaked at number sixteen in the United States and went on to become a worldwide Top Ten hit. The band’s A Night at the Opera Tour began in November 1975, and covered Europe, the United States, Japan, and Australia.
A Day at the Races to Live Killers (1976–1979)
By 1976, Queen were back in the studio recording A Day at the Races, which is often regarded as a sequel album to A Night at the Opera. It again borrowed the name of a Marx Brothers movie, and its cover was similar to that of A Night at the Opera, a variation on the same Queen Crest. The most recognizable of the Marx Brothers, Groucho Marx, invited Queen to visit him in his Los Angeles home in March 1977, and the band thanked him in person, and performed “’39” a cappella. Musically, A Day at the Races was by both fans’ and critics’ standards a strong effort, reaching number one in the UK and Japan, and number five in the US. The major hit on the album was “Somebody to Love“, a gospel-inspired song in which Mercury, May, and Taylor multi-tracked their voices to create a 100-voice gospel choir. The song went to number two in the United Kingdom, and number thirteen on the US singles chart. The album also featured one of the band’s heaviest songs, Brian May’s “Tie Your Mother Down“, which became a staple of their live shows.
During the same year, Queen played one of their most famous gigs, a 1976 free concert in Hyde Park, London. It set an attendance record, with 150,000 people confirmed in the audience. During the A Day at the Races Tour in 1977, Queen performed sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden, New York, in February, and Earls Court, London, in June.
The band’s sixth studio album News of the World was released in 1977, which has gone four times platinum in the United States, and twice in the UK. The album contained many songs tailor-made for live performance, including two of rock’s most recognisable anthems, “We Will Rock You” and the rock ballad “We Are the Champions“, both of which became enduring international sports anthems, and the latter reached number four in the United States. Queen commenced the News of the World Tour in October 1977, and Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times called this concert tour the band’s “most spectacularly staged and finely honed show yet”.
In 1978, the band released Jazz, which included the hit singles “Fat Bottomed Girls” and “Bicycle Race” on a double-sided record. The album reached number two in the UK and number six on the Billboard 200 in the US. This album was “the target of a bizarre marketing campaign, in which sixty-five naked women were perched atop bicycles rented from Halford’s Cycles and sent racing around Wimbledon Stadium.” The word “jazz” was not used in a strict sense, and the album was noted by critics for its collection of different styles, jazz not being one of them. Rolling Stone Magazine criticised it for being “dull”, saying “Queen hasn’t the imagination to play jazz – Queen hasn’t the imagination, for that matter, to play rock & roll.” Reviews of the album in recent years have been more favourable. Another notable track from Jazz, “Don’t Stop Me Now“, provides another example of the band’s exuberant vocal harmonies.
In 1978, Queen toured the US and Canada, and spent much of 1979 touring in Europe and Japan. They released their first live album, Live Killers, in 1979; it went platinum twice in the United States. Queen also released the very successful single “Crazy Little Thing Called Love“, a rockabilly inspired song done in the style of Elvis Presley. The song made the top 10 in many countries, topped the Australian ARIA Charts for seven consecutive weeks, and was the band’s first number one single in the United States where it topped the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks. Having written the song on guitar and played rhythm on the record, Mercury played rhythm guitar while performing the song live, which was the first time he ever played guitar in concert. In December 1979, Queen played the opening night at the Concert for the People of Kampuchea in London, having accepted a request by the event’s organiser Paul McCartney.
The Game to The Works (1980–1984)
Queen began their 1980s career with The Game. It featured the singles “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “Another One Bites the Dust“, both of which reached number one in the United States. After attending a Queen concert in Los Angeles, Michael Jackson suggested to Mercury backstage that “Another One Bites the Dust” be released as a single, and in October 1980 it spent three weeks at number one. The album topped the Billboard 200 for five weeks, and sold over four million copies in the US. It was also the first appearance of a synthesiser on a Queen album. Heretofore, their albums featured a distinctive “No Synthesisers!” sleeve note. The note is widely assumed to reflect an anti-synth, pro-“hard”-rock stance by the band, but was later revealed by producer Roy Thomas Baker to be an attempt to clarify that those albums’ multi-layered solos were created with guitars, not synths, as record company executives kept assuming at the time. In September 1980, Queen performed three sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden. In 1980, Queen also released the soundtrack they had recorded for Flash Gordon.
In 1981, Queen traveled to South America as part of The Game Tour, and became the first major rock band to play in Latin American stadiums. The tour included five shows in Argentina, one of which drew the largest single concert crowd in Argentine history with an audience of 300,000 in Buenos Aires and two concerts at the Morumbi Stadium in São Paulo, Brazil, where they played to an audience of more than 131,000 people in the first night (then the largest paying audience for a single band anywhere in the world) and more than 120,000 people the following night. In October of the same year, Queen performed for more than 150,000 fans on 9 October at Monterrey (Estadio Universitario) and 17 and 18 at Puebla (Estadio Zaragoza), Mexico. On 24 and 25 November, Queen played two sell out nights at the Montreal Forum, Quebec, Canada. One of Mercury’s most notable performances of The Game’s final track, “Save Me“, took place in Montreal, and the concert is recorded in the live album, Queen Rock Montreal.
Queen worked with David Bowie on the single “Under Pressure“. The first-time collaboration with another artist was spontaneous, as Bowie happened to drop by the studio while Queen were recording. Upon its release, the song was extremely successful, reaching number one in the UK and featuring at number 31 on VH1‘s 100 Greatest Songs of the ’80s.
Later in 1981, Queen released their first compilation album, entitled Greatest Hits, which showcased the group’s highlights from 1974–1981. It is the best-selling album in UK Chart history, and has spent 450 weeks in the UK Album Chart. The album is certified eight times platinum in the United States, and has sold over 25 million copies worldwide. Taylor became the first member of the band to release his own solo album in 1981, entitled Fun in Space.
In 1982, the band released the album Hot Space, a departure from their trademark seventies sound, this time being a mixture of rock, pop rock, dance, funk, and R&B. Most of the album was recorded in Munich during the most turbulent period in the band’s history, and Taylor and May lamented the new sound, with both being very critical of the influence Mercury’s personal manager Paul Prenter had on the singer. May was also scathing of Prenter, who was Mercury’s manager from the early 1980s to 1984, for being dismissive of the importance of radio stations, such as the US networks, and their vital connection between the artist and the community, and for denying them access to Mercury. The band stopped touring North America after their Hot Space Tour, as their success there had waned, although they would perform on American television for the only time during the eighth season premiere of Saturday Night Live. Queen left Elektra Records, their label in the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, and signed onto EMI/Capitol Records.
After working steadily for over ten years, Queen decided that they would not perform any live shows in 1983. During this time, they recorded a new album, and several members of the band explored side projects and solo work. May released a mini-album entitled Star Fleet Project, on which he collaborated with Eddie Van Halen.
In 1984, Queen released the album The Works, which included the successful singles “Radio Ga Ga“, “Hammer to Fall” and “I Want to Break Free“. Despite these hit singles, the album failed to do well in the United States, while in the UK it went triple platinum and remained in the album chart for two years.
That year, Queen began The Works Tour, the first tour to feature keyboardist Spike Edney as an extra live musician. The tour featured nine sold-out dates in Bophuthatswana, South Africa, at the arena in Sun City. Upon returning to England, they were the subject of outrage, having played there during the height of apartheid and in violation of worldwide divestment efforts. The band responded to the critics by stating that they were playing music for fans in that country, and they also stressed that the concerts were played before integrated audiences.
Live Aid and later years (1985–1990)
In January 1985, the band headlined two nights of the first Rock in Rio festival at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and played in front of over 300,000 people each night. The Boston Globe described it as a “mesmerising performance”. A selection of highlights of both nights was released on VHS with the title Queen: Live in Rio, and was later broadcast on MTV in the US. In April and May 1985, Queen completed the Works Tour with sold-out shows in Australia and Japan.
At Live Aid, held at Wembley on 13 July 1985, in front of the biggest-ever TV audience of 1.9 billion, Queen performed some of their greatest hits, during which the sold-out stadium audience of 72,000 people clapped, sang, and swayed in unison. The show’s organiser, Bob Geldof, other musicians such as Elton John and Dave Grohl, and various music journalists commented that Queen stole the show. An industry poll in 2005 named it the greatest rock performance of all time. The band, now revitalised by the response to Live Aid and the ensuing increase in record sales, ended 1985 by releasing the single “One Vision“, which was the first time all four bandmembers had co-written a song. Also, a limited-edition boxed set containing all Queen albums to date was released under the title of The Complete Works. The package included previously unreleased material, most notably Queen’s non-album single of Christmas 1984, titled “Thank God It’s Christmas“.
In early 1986, Queen recorded the album A Kind of Magic, containing several reworkings of songs written for the Russell Mulcahy film Highlander. The album was very successful, producing a string of hits, including the title track, “A Kind of Magic“. Also charting from the album were “Friends Will Be Friends“, “Who Wants to Live Forever?” (featuring an orchestra conducted by Michael Kamen), and the de facto theme from Highlander, “Princes of the Universe“.
In summer of 1986, Queen went on their final tour with Freddie Mercury. A sold-out tour in support of A Kind of Magic, once again they hired Spike Edney, leading to him being dubbed the unofficial fifth member. The Magic Tour’s highlight was at Wembley Stadium in London and resulted in the live double album, Queen at Wembley, released on CD and as a live concert DVD, which has gone five times platinum in the US and four times platinum in the UK. Queen could not book Wembley for a third night, but they did play at Knebworth Park. The show sold out within two hours and over 120,000 fans packed the park for what was Queen’s final live performance with Mercury. During the tour, Queen performed a concert at Slane Castle, Ireland, infront of an audience of 95,000, which broke the venue’s attendance record. The band also played behind the Iron Curtain when they performed to a crowd of 80,000 in Budapest, in what was one of the biggest rock concerts ever held in Eastern Europe. More than one million people saw Queen on the tour—400,000 in the United Kingdom alone, a record at the time.
After working on various solo projects during 1988 (including Mercury’s collaboration with Montserrat Caballé, Barcelona), the band released The Miracle in 1989. The album continued the direction of A Kind of Magic, using a pop-rock sound mixed with a few heavy numbers. It spawned the European hits “I Want It All“, “Breakthru“, “The Invisible Man“, “Scandal“, and “The Miracle“.
The Miracle also began a change in direction of Queen’s songwriting philosophy. Since the band’s beginning, nearly all songs had been written by and credited to a single member, with other members adding minimally. With The Miracle, the band’s songwriting became more collaborative, and they vowed to credit the final product only to Queen as a group.
Mercury: illness, death, and tribute (1988–1992)
After fans noticed Mercury’s increasingly gaunt appearance in 1988, rumours began to spread that Mercury was suffering from AIDS. Mercury flatly denied this, insisting he was merely “exhausted” and too busy to provide interviews. The band decided to continue making albums, starting with The Miracle in 1989 and continuing with Innuendo in 1991. Despite his deteriorating health, the lead singer continued to contribute. For the last two albums made while Mercury was still alive, the band credited all songs to Queen, rather than specific members of the group, freeing them of internal conflict and differences. In 1990, Mercury made his final public appearance when he joined the rest of Queen to collect the BRIT Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music. Innuendo was released in early 1991 with an eponymous number 1 UK hit and three other charting singles, “I’m Going Slightly Mad“, “Headlong“, and “The Show Must Go On“. The band’s second greatest hits compilation, Greatest Hits II, followed in October of the same year, which is the eighth best-selling album of all time in the UK, and has sold 16 million copies worldwide.
On 23 November 1991, in a prepared statement made on his deathbed, Mercury confirmed that he had AIDS. Within 24 hours of the statement, he died of bronchial pneumonia, which was brought on as a complication of AIDS. His funeral service on 27 November in Kensal Green, West London was private, and held in accordance with the Zoroastrian religious faith of his family. “Bohemian Rhapsody” was re-released as a single shortly after Mercury’s death, with “These Are the Days of Our Lives” as the double A-side. The music video for “These Are the Days of Our Lives” contain Mercury’s final scenes in front of the camera. The single went to number one in the UK, remaining there for five weeks – the only recording to top the Christmas chart twice and the only one to be number one in four different years (1975, 1976, 1991, and 1992). Initial proceeds from the single – approximately £1,000,000 – were donated to the Terrence Higgins Trust.
Queen’s popularity was stimulated in the United States when “Bohemian Rhapsody” was featured in the 1992 comedy film Wayne’s World. Its inclusion helped the song reach number two on the Billboard Hot 100 for five weeks in 1992 (it remained in the Hot 100 for over 40 weeks), and won the band an MTV Award at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards. The compilation album Classic Queen also reached number four on the Billboard 200, and is certified three times platinum in the US. Wayne’s World footage was used to make a new music video for “Bohemian Rhapsody”, with which the band and management were delighted.
On 20 April 1992, The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert was held at London’s Wembley Stadium to a 72,000-strong crowd. Performers, including Def Leppard, Guns N’ Roses, Elton John, David Bowie, George Michael, Annie Lennox, and Metallica performed various Queen songs along with the three remaining Queen members. The concert is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as “The largest rock star benefit concert“, as it was televised to over 1.2 billion viewers worldwide, and raised over £20,000,000 for AIDS charities.
Made in Heaven to 46664 Concert (1995–2003)
Queen’s last album featuring Mercury, titled Made in Heaven, was finally released in 1995, four years after his death. It was constructed from Mercury’s final recordings in 1991, featuring tracks such as “Too Much Love Will Kill You” and “Heaven for Everyone“, plus material left over from their previous studio albums. In addition, re-worked material from May, Taylor, and Mercury’s solo albums were included. Both stages of recording, before and after Mercury’s death, were completed at the band’s studio in Montreux, Switzerland. The album reached No. 1 on the UK charts immediately following its release, and has sold 20 million copies worldwide. On 25 November 1996, a statue of Mercury was unveiled in Montreux overlooking Lake Geneva, almost five years to the day since his death.
In 1997, Queen returned to the studio to record “No-One but You (Only the Good Die Young)“. It was released as a bonus track on the Queen Rocks compilation album later that year. The song was later released as a single, reaching number 13 in the UK chart. In January 1997, Queen performed “The Show Must Go On” live with Elton John and the Berjart Ballet in Paris on a night in which Freddie Mercury was remembered, and it marked the last performance and public appearance of John Deacon, who chose to retire. The Paris concert was only the second time Queen had played live since Mercury’s death, and prompted Elton John to urge them to perform again.
Brian May and Roger Taylor performed together at several award ceremonies and charity concerts, sharing vocals with various guest singers. During this time, they were billed as Queen + followed by the name of the guest singer. In 1998, the duo appeared at Luciano Pavarotti‘s benefit concert with Brian performing “Too Much Love Will Kill You” with Pavarotti, later playing “Radio Ga Ga”, “We Will Rock You”, and “We Are the Champions” with Zucchero. They again attended and performed in 2003. Several of the guest singers recorded new versions of Queen’s hits under the Queen + name, such as Robbie Williams providing vocals for “We Are the Champions” for the soundtrack of A Knight’s Tale (2001).
In 1999, a Greatest Hits III album was released. This featured, among others, “Queen + Wyclef Jean” on a rap version of “Another One Bites the Dust”. A live version of “Somebody to Love” by George Michael and a live version of “The Show Must Go On” with Elton John were also featured in the album. By this point, Queen’s vast amount of record sales made them the second best selling artist in the UK of all time, behind The Beatles. In 2002, Queen were awarded the 2,207th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which is located at 6358 Hollywood Blvd. On 29 November 2003, May and Taylor performed at the 46664 Concert hosted by Nelson Mandela at Green Point Stadium, Cape Town, in order to raise awareness of the spread of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. May and Taylor spent time at Mandela’s home, discussing how Africa’s problems might be approached, and two years later the band was made ambassadors for the 46664 cause.
Queen + Paul Rodgers (2004–2009)
At the end of 2004, May and Taylor announced that they would reunite and return to touring in 2005 with Paul Rodgers (founder and former lead singer of Free and Bad Company). Brian May’s website also stated that Rodgers would be ‘featured with’ Queen as ‘Queen + Paul Rodgers’, not replacing Mercury. The retired John Deacon would not be participating. In November 2004, Queen were among the inaugural inductees into the UK Music Hall of Fame, and the award ceremony was the first event at which Rodgers joined May and Taylor as vocalist.
Between 2005 and 2006, Queen + Paul Rodgers embarked on a world tour. The first leg was in Europe, the second in Japan, and the third in the US in 2006. Queen received the inaugural VH1 Rock Honors at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, on 25 May 2006. The Foo Fighters paid homage to the band in performing “Tie Your Mother Down” to open the ceremony before being joined on stage by May, Taylor, and Paul Rodgers, who played a selection of Queen hits.
On 15 August 2006, Brian May confirmed through his website and fan club that Queen + Paul Rodgers would begin producing their first studio album beginning in October, to be recorded at a “secret location”. Queen + Paul Rodgers performed at the Nelson Mandela 90th Birthday Tribute held in Hyde Park, London on 27 June 2008, to commemorate Mandela’s ninetieth birthday, and again promote awareness of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The first Queen + Paul Rodgers album, titled The Cosmos Rocks, was released in Europe on 12 September 2008 and in the United States on 28 October 2008. Following the release of the album, the band again went on a tour through Europe, opening on Kharkiv’s Freedom Square in front of 350,000 Ukrainian fans. The 12 September concert in Ukraine was later released on DVD. The tour then moved to Russia, and the band performed two sold-out shows at the Moscow Arena. Having completed the first leg of its extensive European tour, which saw the band play 15 sold-out dates across nine countries, the UK leg of the tour sold out within 90 minutes of going on sale and included three London dates, the first of which was The O2 Arena on 13 October. The last leg of the tour took place in South America, and included a sold-out concert at the Estadio José Amalfitani, Buenos Aires.
Queen and Paul Rodgers officially split up without animosity on 12 May 2009. Rodgers stated: “My arrangement with (Queen) was similar to my arrangement with Jimmy (Page) in The Firm in that it was never meant to be a permanent arrangement”. Rodgers did not rule out the possibility of working with Queen again.
Departure from EMI, 40th Anniversary (2009–present)
On 20 May 2009, May and Taylor performed “We Are the Champions” live on the season finale of American Idol with winner Kris Allen and runner-up Adam Lambert providing a vocal duet. In mid-2009, after the split of Queen + Paul Rodgers, the Queen online website announced a new Greatest Hits compilation named Absolute Greatest. It was released on 16 November and peaked at No. 3 in the official UK chart. The album contains 20 of Queen’s biggest hits spanning their entire career and was released in four different formats: single disc, double disc (with commentary), double disc with feature book, and a vinyl record. Prior to its release, a competition was run by Queen online to guess the track listing as a promotion for the album.
On 30 October 2009, May wrote a fanclub letter on his website stating that Queen had no intentions to tour in 2010 but that there was a possibility of a performance. He was quoted as saying, “The greatest debate, though, is always about when we will next play together as Queen. At the moment, in spite of the many rumours that are out there, we do not have plans to tour in 2010. The good news, though, is that Roger and I have a much closer mutual understanding these days—privately and professionally … and all ideas are carefully considered. Music is never far away from us. As I write, there is an important one-off performance on offer, in the USA, and it remains to be decided whether we will take up this particular challenge. Every day, doors seem to open, and every day, we interact, perhaps more than ever before, with the world outside. It is a time of exciting transition in Rock music and in ‘The Business’. It’s good that the pulse still beats”. On 15 November 2009, May and Taylor performed “Bohemian Rhapsody” live on the British TV show The X Factor alongside the finalists.
On 7 May 2010, May and Taylor announced that they were quitting their record label, EMI, after almost 40 years. On 20 August 2010, Queen’s manager Jim Beach put out a Newsletter stating that the band had signed a new contract with Universal Music. During an interview for Hardtalk on the BBC on 22 September, May confirmed that the band’s new deal was with Island Records, a subsidiary of Universal. For the first time since the late 1980s, Queen’s catalogue will have the same distributor worldwide, as their US home, Hollywood Records, is currently distributed by Universal (for a time in the late 1980s, Queen was on EMI-owned Capitol Records in the US).
On 14 March 2011, which marked the band’s 40th anniversary, Queen’s first five albums were re-released in the UK and some other territories as remastered deluxe editions (the US versions were released on 17 May). The second five albums of Queen’s back catalogue were released worldwide on 27 June, with the exception of the US and Canada (27 September). The final five are scheduled for release in the UK on 5 September.
In May 2011, Jane’s Addiction vocalist Perry Farrell noted that Queen are currently scouting their once former and current live bassist Chris Chaney to join the band. Farrell stated: “I have to keep Chris away from Queen, who want him and they’re not gonna get him unless we’re not doing anything. Then they can have him.” In the same month, Paul Rodgers stated he may tour with Queen again in the near future.
The band drew artistic influence from many other British rock acts at the time, such as Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Black Sabbath and David Bowie. Queen composed music that drew inspiration from many different genres of music, often with a tongue-in-cheek attitude. The genres they have been associated with include progressive rock, heavy metal, glam rock, hard rock, pop rock, dance/disco, blues rock and psychedelic rock. Queen also wrote songs that were inspired by genres that are not typically associated with rock, such as ragtime, opera, gospel, vaudeville, and folk.
Sonic experimentation figured heavily in Queen’s songs. A distinctive characteristic of Queen’s music are the vocal harmonies which are usually composed of the voices of May, Mercury, and Taylor best heard on the studio albums A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races. Some of the ground work for the development of this sound can be attributed to their former producer Roy Thomas Baker, and their engineer Mike Stone. Besides vocal harmonies, Queen were also known for multi-tracking voices to imitate the sound of a large choir through overdubs. For instance, according to Brian May, there are over 180 vocal overdubs in “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Many Queen songs were also written with audience participation in mind, such as “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions”.
Queen have been recognised as having made significant contributions to such genres as hard rock, and heavy metal, amongst others. Hence, the band has been cited as an influence by many other musicians. Moreover, like their music, the bands and artists that have claimed to be influenced by Queen are diverse and span different generations, countries, and genres. Some of the musicians that have cited the band as an influence include Anthrax, Ben Folds Five, Nirvana, Def Leppard, Dream Theater, Extreme, Trivium, Foo Fighters, Franz Ferdinand, George Michael, Green Day, Guns N’ Roses, Helloween, Iron Maiden, Kansas, Katy Perry, Keane, Lady Gaga, Manic Street Preachers, Metallica, Mika, Muse, My Chemical Romance, Panic at the Disco, Queensrÿche, Radiohead, Robbie Williams, Trent Reznor, Steve Vai, Sum 41, Styx, The Flaming Lips, The Killers, and The Smashing Pumpkins.
Queen have been cited as a major influence on the “neo-classical metal” genre by Swedish guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen. Metallica recorded a cover version of “Stone Cold Crazy“, which first appeared on the Rubáiyát: Elektra’s 40th Anniversary album in 1990, and won their first Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 1991. In the early 70s, Queen helped spur the heavy metal genre’s evolution by discarding much of its blues influence; the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in addition, they fused the music genre with a punk rock sensibility and an increasing emphasis on speed.
In 2002, Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” was voted “the UK’s favourite hit of all time” in a poll conducted by the Guinness World Records British Hit Singles Book, and in 2004 the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Acclaimed for their stadium rock, in 2005 an industry poll ranked Queen’s performance at Live Aid in 1985 as the best live act in history. In 2007, they were also voted the greatest British band in history by BBC Radio 2 listeners.
As of 2005, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, Queen albums have spent a total of 1,322 weeks (twenty-six years) on the UK Album Charts, more time than any other musical act. Also in 2005, with the release of their live album with Paul Rodgers, Queen moved into third place on the list of acts with the most aggregate time spent on the British record charts.
In 2006, the Greatest Hits album was the all-time best-selling album in UK Chart history, with sales upwards of 5,407,587 copies, over 604,295 more copies than its nearest competitor, The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Their Greatest Hits II album is the eighth best seller, with sales upwards of 3,746,404 copies.
The band has released a total of eighteen number one albums, eighteen number one singles, and ten number one DVDs worldwide, making them one of the world’s best-selling music artists. Queen have sold over 150 million albums, with some estimates in excess of 300 million albums worldwide, including 32.5 million in the United States alone as of 2004. Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, the band is also the only group in which every member has composed more than one chart-topping single, and all four members of Queen were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003. In 2009, “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, and the latter was voted the world’s favourite song in a global music poll.
Queen are one of the most bootlegged bands ever, according to Nick Weymouth, who manages the band’s official website. A 2001 survey discovered the existence of 12,225 websites dedicated to Queen bootlegs, the highest number for any band. Bootleg recordings have contributed to the band’s popularity in certain countries where Western music is censored, such as Iran. In a project called Queen: The Top 100 Bootlegs, many of these have been made officially available to download for a nominal fee from Queen’s website, with profits going to the Mercury Phoenix Trust. Rolling Stone ranked Queen at number 52 on its list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”, while ranking Mercury the 18th greatest singer, and May the 39th greatest guitarist. Queen were named 13th on VH1‘s 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock list, and in 2010 were ranked 17th on VH1’s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time list.
In other media
In May 2002, a musical or “rock theatrical” based on the songs of Queen, titled We Will Rock You, opened at the Dominion Theatre on London’s West End. The musical was written by British comedian and author Ben Elton in collaboration with Brian May and Roger Taylor, and produced by Robert De Niro. It has since been staged in many cities around the world. Following the Las Vegas premiere on 8 September 2004, Queen were inducted into the Hollywood RockWalk in Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles.
The original London production was scheduled to close on Saturday, 7 October 2006, at the Dominion Theatre, but due to public demand, the show has now been extended indefinitely. We Will Rock You has become the longest running musical ever to run at this prime London theatre, overtaking the previous record holder, the Grease musical. Brian May has confirmed that they are considering writing a sequel to the musical. The musical toured around the UK in 2009, playing at Manchester Palace Theatre, Sunderland Empire, Birmingham Hippodrome, Bristol Hippodrome, and Edinburgh Playhouse.
The launch of the musical coincided with Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee. As part of the Jubilee celebrations, Brian May performed a guitar solo of “God Save the Queen“, as featured on Queen’s A Night at the Opera, from the roof of Buckingham Palace. The recording of this performance was used as video for the same song on the 30th Anniversary DVD edition of A Night at the Opera.
Sean Bovim created “Queen at the Ballet“, a tribute to Freddie Mercury, which uses Queen’s music as a soundtrack for the show’s dancers, who interpret the stories behind tracks such as “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Radio Ga Ga”, and “Killer Queen”.
Queen’s music also appears in the Off-Broadway production Power Balladz, most notably the song “We Are the Champions“, with the show’s two performers believing the song was “the apex of artistic achievement in its day”.
In conjunction with Electronic Arts, Queen released the computer game Queen: The eYe in 1998. The music itself—tracks from Queen’s vast catalogue, in many cases remixed into new instrumental versions—was by and large well received, but the game experience was hampered by poor game play. Adding to the problem was an extremely long development time, resulting in graphic elements that already seemed outdated by the time of release.
Under the supervision of May and Taylor, numerous restoration projects have been under way involving Queen’s lengthy audio and video catalogue. DVD releases of their 1986 Wembley concert (titled Live At Wembley Stadium), 1982 Milton Keynes concert (Queen on Fire – Live at the Bowl), and two Greatest Video Hits (Volumes 1 and 2, spanning the 1970s and 1980s) have seen the band’s music remixed into 5.1 and DTS surround sound. So far, only two of the band’s albums, A Night at the Opera and The Game, have been fully remixed into high-resolution multichannel surround on DVD-Audio. A Night at the Opera was re-released with some revised 5.1 mixes and accompanying videos in 2005 for the 30th anniversary of the album’s original release (CD+DVD-Video set). In 2007, a Blu-ray edition of Queen’s previously released concerts, Queen Rock Montreal & Live Aid, was released, marking their first project in 1080p HD.
Queen have been featured multiple times in the Guitar Hero franchise: a cover of “Killer Queen” in the original Guitar Hero, “We Are The Champions”, “Fat Bottomed Girls,” and the Paul Rodgers collaboration “C-lebrity” in a track pack for Guitar Hero World Tour, “Under Pressure” with David Bowie in Guitar Hero 5, and “Bohemian Rhapsody” in Guitar Hero: Warriors of Rock. On 13 October 2009, Brian May revealed there was “talk” going on “behind the scenes” about a dedicated Queen Rock Band game.
Queen have also been featured multiple times in the Rock Band franchise: a track pack of 10 songs which are compatible with Rock Band, Rock Band 2, and Rock Band 3 (three of those are also compatible with Lego Rock Band). Their hit “Bohemian Rhapsody” was featured in Rock Band 3 with full harmony and keys support. The band also appeared in the video game Lego Rock Band as playable Lego avatars.
In March 2009, Sony Computer Entertainment released a Queen branded version of the company’s karaoke franchise, SingStar. The game, which is available on PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3, is titled SingStar Queen and has 25 songs on the PS3 and 20 on the PS2. “We Will Rock You” and other songs by Queen also appear in DJ Hero.
Film and television
Queen contributed music directly to the movies Flash Gordon (1980, directed by Mike Hodges) and Highlander (the original 1986 film, directed by Russell Mulcahy). The songs, “A Kind of Magic“, “One Year of Love“, “Who Wants to Live Forever“, “Hammer to Fall“, and the theme “Princes of the Universe” can be heard in the latter film. It was also used in the Highlander TV series (1992–1998). In the United States, “Bohemian Rhapsody” was re-released as a single in 1992 after appearing in the comedy film Wayne’s World. The single subsequently reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 (with “The Show Must Go On” as the first track on the single) and helped rekindle the band’s popularity in North America.
Several films have featured their songs performed by other artists. A version of “Somebody to Love” was done by Anne Hathaway in the 2004 film Ella Enchanted. In 2006, Brittany Murphy also recorded a cover of the same song for the 2006 movie Happy Feet. In 2001, a version of “The Show Must Go On” was performed by Jim Broadbent and Nicole Kidman in the movie musical Moulin Rouge!. The closing credits of A Knight’s Tale, released in 2001, has a version of “We Are the Champions” performed by Robbie Williams and Queen; the introduction to the same movie features We Will Rock You played by the medieval audience. “We Are the Champions” also features in The Mighty Ducks trilogy, Chicken Little (2005), and the 2008 film What Happens in Vegas. In 1992, the film Gladiator featured snippets of “We Will Rock You” performed by Warrant whereas their full version was released as a single. In 2004, “Don’t Stop Me Now” was featured in the bar fight scene in the cult movie Shaun of the Dead, and “You’re My Best Friend” played during the end credits, as well as during the 2006 Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy The Break-Up.
In May 2004, the Japanese live-action version of Sailor Moon, called Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, during Act 29, “Minako’s Rival, Mio Kuroki, is a Transfer Student?”, used “I Was Born To Love You” in a volleyball game scene featuring the shows hero Usagi Tsukino/Sailor Moon. “I Was Born to Love You” was used as the theme song of the Japanese television drama Pride on Fuji Television in 2004, starring Takuya Kimura and Yūko Takeuchi. The show’s soundtrack also contained other songs by Queen, including “We Will Rock You“, “We Are the Champions“, and “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
Since featuring in Grosse Pointe Blank in 1997, “Under Pressure” has appeared in a number of comedies, such as 40 Days and 40 Nights in 2002 and Ben Stiller‘s 2007 film The Heartbreak Kid.
“Don’t Stop Me Now” has featured in the BBC television show Top Gear, and in 2005 the song was voted as “The Greatest Driving Song Ever” by the shows viewers. The song was also featured in Fox’s cartoon series American Dad! during the first season episode “Roger ‘n’ Me” on Fox on 23 April 2006. This was the first of three appearances of Queen songs, the second being “Another One Bites the Dust” in 42-Year-Old Virgin and “Bicycle Race” in Jack’s Back.
Keeping in the tradition (since Season Five) of naming each season’s episodes after songs from a famous 1970s era rock band (Led Zeppelin for the fifth season, The Who for the sixth, and The Rolling Stones for the seventh), the eighth and final season of That ’70s Show consisted of episodes named after Queen songs. “Bohemian Rhapsody” served as the season premiere.
Fox television show The Simpsons has made storylines which have featured Queen songs such as “We Will Rock You”, “We Are the Champions” (both sung by Homer), and “You’re My Best friend”. “We Are the Champions” has also featured in South Park episode “Stanley’s Cup“, season 5 of The Sopranos (Tony‘s ringtone), and the first season of Malcolm in the Middle.
On 11 April 2006, Brian May and Roger Taylor appeared on the American singing contest television show American Idol. Each contestant was required to sing a Queen song during that week of the competition. Songs which appeared on the show included “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Fat Bottomed Girls“, “The Show Must Go On“, “Who Wants to Live Forever“, and “Innuendo“. Brian May later criticised the show for editing specific scenes, one of which made the group’s time with contestant Ace Young look negative, despite it being the opposite. Taylor and May again appeared on the American Idol Season 8 finale in May 2009, performing “We Are the Champions” with finalists Adam Lambert and Kris Allen.
In the autumn of 2009, the Fox television show Glee featured the fictional high school’s show choir singing “Somebody to Love” as their second act performance in the episode The Rhodes Not Taken. The performance was included on the show’s Volume One soundtrack CD, and is available as a single via digital download. In June 2010, the choir performed “Another One Bites the Dust” in the episode Funk.
On 15 November 2009, Brian May and Roger Taylor appeared on the singing contest television show X Factor in the UK. Brian May announced in a BBC interview that Sacha Baron Cohen had been chosen to play Mercury in a film. TIME commented with approval on his singing ability and visual similarity to Mercury. The motion picture is being written by Peter Morgan, who had been nominated for Oscars for his screenplays The Queen and Frost/Nixon. The film, which is being co-produced by Robert De Niro‘s TriBeCa Productions, will focus on Queen’s formative years and the period leading up to the celebrated performance at the 1985 Live Aid concert. Filming is due to begin sometime in 2011.
|Current members||Former members|
|Wikipedia Books are collections of articles that can be downloaded or ordered in print.|
- Queen (1973)
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- Flash Gordon (1980)
- Hot Space (1982)
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