I’m not quite sure when I discovered the music of British rock band Queen. As far as I can remember, I was turned into them in the early 80s, when singles from their 1980 LP The Game began to hit the airwaves. Sure, I knew songs like “We Are The Champions,” but I hadn’t yet turned into a fan. But it was that album that really got me hooked.
While most of my peers were into bands like Black Sabbath or KISS, I couldn’t really appreciate them. Sure, some of their songs were fun, but they lacked the melodic quality – and the great harmonies – that Queen’s songs had. I guess it was because I was so influenced by vocal bands like The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel (them and all those 50s doo-wop groups – but I’ll get into that some other time), Queen’s intricate harmonies struck a chord with me. That and Brian May’s great guitar playing.
You see, while most Queen fans were mostly about Freddie Mercury’s flamboyant performance, voice and piano chops, it was Brian May that really made me a fan. I thought it was incredible that he could come up with the cleverest riffs even when the songs weren’t that great. I also loved his technique of multi-layering his guitar to create all kinds of textures, including a ragtime jazz band on his “Good Company,” one of the most criminally overlooked tracks on the seminal A Night at The Opera (1975).
May also has a great voice, but he was obviously overshadowed by Freddie there. I always wondered why he never sang during live concerts – even ceding the lead vocal to Mercury on tunes he’d sang in the studio. It was worse with John Deacon, who I think is one of the best bass players in the history of rock and roll – right up there with Paul McCartney, Chris Squire and John Entwistle. His bass lines – especially on Queen’s early discs – are nothing short of amazing. Just listen to what he does on tunes like “Millionaire Waltz” or “These Are The Days of Our Lives” – not to mention his immortal lines on “Under Pressure” and “Another one Bites The Dust.” And of course, there’s Roger Taylor, a gifted drummer, singer and songwriter who penned quite a few hits for the band.
To say I was saddened when Freddie died almost two decades ago isn’t enough. I was devastated – just as sad as I was when John Lennon died. But alas, I was a bit prepared – having seen his final videos – and hearing the words to “Show Must Go On,” I sort of knew the end was near. But I was sad nevertheless.