A few days ago I received my copy of 40 Years of Queen, a coffee-table book that chronicles the British band’s history from its inception (from the ashes of Smile) until its final recordings with the late Freddie Mercury, who was arguably one of the most flamboyant front men in the history of rock and roll. The book includes detailed biographies of each member, details about each of their albums, their most important tours and individual gigs (whole sections are dedicated to Rock In Rio and the original Live Aid concert), their history with movie soundtracks and the band’s evolution from their college days to the very end as they struggled to make music as Freddie grew sicker and sicker from AIDS.
For the die-hard Queen fan, the best thing about the book are all the memorabilia that was included with the book – there are facsimiles of concert tickets, press releases from different eras, autographed posters and even handwritten lyrics of some of their tunes. The one thing I missed would be the inclusion of the infamous insert from 1978’s Jazz Album that featured a bevy of naked girls on bikes – a very ‘clear’ picture of Freddie’s “Bicycle Race,” one of the hits from that album.
I remember purchasing that record in Brazil. I must have been in my teens, and of course as a horny young man I loved staring at that display of naked female flesh before me. As the story goes, the poster was never included on the album’s US release (instead, fans had to order it by mail after purchasing it). The poster was lost over my many moves, and it is now just a memory of days gone by.
The one thing that did not impress me at all was the written part.
The text was written by veteran music journalist Harry Doherty, who is a longtime friend of the band members (and one of the few journalists who actually traveled with the band during their tours). Though he had full freedom on what he wrote – or at least that is what Brian May leads us to believe on his foreword, Doherty doesn’t give us any new information on the band. It seems that he wrote with the need of Queen’s surviving members’ approval in his mind.
As I read, I expected deep insights about their chemistry in the studio as they worked out arrangement for songs or at least a deeper insight on how their personal lives were affected by their fame. Heck, I got more with an unauthorized booklet I bought years ago than this one. So there are many questions I’ve always had about the band that remain unanswered even after going through the entire tome.
That does not, however, make me less of a Queen fan. In fact, as I read it I reached out to my collection and reminded myself of songs I hadn’t listened to in a while – stuff like Brian May’s “39,” Mercury’s “In Only Seven Days” or even later material like “Life Is Real” or “Gimmie The Prize.”
In spite of the weak writing, I do recommend it for new and old fans – even if it is a way to go down memory lane.