Few bands embodied the pure excess of the 1970s like Queen. Embracing the exaggerated pomp of progressive rock and heavy metal, as well as vaudevillian music hall, the British quartet delved deeply into camp and bombast, creating a huge, mock-operatic sound with layered guitars and overdubbed vocals. Queen’s music was a bizarre yet highly accessible fusion of the macho and the fey.
Lead Vocalist Freddie Mercury brought a sense of extravagance to Queen, pushing them toward kitschy humor and pseudo-classical arrangements as epitomized in the song, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” What would end up becoming their best known song was initially rejected by record producers everywhere who couldn’t grasp the notion of a 6 minute long rock opera. Luckily for fans everywhere Queen stuck to their instincts and threatened to walk from the label and the band was catapulted into rock immortality. They gave us many hits over the years like “We Will Rock You”, “I Want To Break Free” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” among others.
The origins of Queen are found in London, England, from the ashes of the blues-rock band Smile. Would-be Queen members Brian May (guitars/vocals) and Roger Taylor (drums/vocals) were members of that group, with Tim Staffell bassist and lead vocalist. Farrokh (Freddie) Bulsara had been a singer of another band named Wreckage, but had always admired Smile. Soon Bulsara joined Smile as a member after the departure of Staffell, and bestowed a new name on the band, ‘Queen’. Farrokh Bulsara also adopted a new stage name, Freddie Mercury, and soon the band recruited a new bassist in John Deacon. Once Queen was complete, they began rehearsing. Over the next couple of years, all four members graduated from college and were ready to focus more on their career as a band.
In 1973, Queen released their self titled album which failed to garner much success. Their second self titled album was a little different, with its emotional and fantasy themes it became a breakthrough success. The album peaked at number 5 on the UK charts. Queen’s third album ‘Sheer Heart Attack’ in 1974 presented a more accessible sound than its two predecessors. The album’s single ‘Killer Queen’ broke into the US Billboard Hot 100 at number 12 for the first time in the bands history.
Queen’s greatest achievement was yet to come when they released their fourth album ‘A Night At The Opera’ in 1975. The group recorded it for a long time and spent a fortune on the now classic video for the enormous hit ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ which was on the album. The album became Queen’s first number one album on the UK charts making the band members bonafide superstars. Queen followed the success of ‘A Night At The Opera’ with ‘A Day At The Races’, which scored another number one position on the UK Charts. The next two albums ‘News Of The World’ in 1977 and ‘Jazz’ in 1978 reached platinum status in both the US and UK helped by the singles, ‘We Are The Champions’ and ‘We Will Rock You’. Due to their massive success and admiration they were the favourite target of panning from many critics.
Into the 1980’s Queen was still at the peak of their popularity. In late 1980 they released ‘The Game’ their most eclectic album to date. With the rock & roll and disco influenced singles, ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ and ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ this album became their one and only album to zoom to the number one position on the US Billboard charts.
Shortly afterwards, they fell out of favour in the US markets. With the help of David Bowie they were able to complete with the new wave with 1981’s hit single ‘Under Pressure’. Instead of proving the group’s vitality the single felt more like a last gasp. Faced with their decreased popularity in the US and waning popularity in the UK, Queen began touring foreign markets, cultivating a large, dedicated fan base in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, continents that most rock groups ignored.
Queen’s status in the UK was only revived in the wake of their show stopping performance at ‘Live Aid’ in 1985. Attendees at the Wembley Stadium were speechless post Queen’s energetic performance and to this day clips of the performance are streamed daily.
By 1991, Queen heavily scaled back their performances, causing many rumours to circulate about Freddie Mercury’s health. On November 23rd he announced that he was in fact unwell and died the following day. The remaining members of the band held a memorial concert for him that was seen by more than one billion people and raised millions for charity.
Post Mercury’s death, the band strived to keep the band active. First Paul Rodgers and then Adam Lambert from American Idol replaced Mercury on lead vocals. The group continued touring across the world.
In 2018, interest in Queen’s story was piqued with the release of the movie, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. While the movie was an ode to Freddie Mercury it also told the story of the bands astronomical ladder to success. The remaining band members contributed to the movie’s soundtrack and were extremely involved in its production. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ gave Queen a new legion of dedicated millennial fans who weren’t born during the bands peak success.
Although Queen may not receive the same critical respect their peers have gotten, the band nevertheless became one of the most successful, dynamic and well loved bands in the history of 20th century music. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 2001.