Though it’s been decades since the original lineup of Queen were writing and performing together, the band remain the most important in music history thanks to their creation of dramatic, anthemic and inspiring songs which never get old no matter how many times you’ve heard them.
Whether it’s Don’t Stop Me Now, We Are The Champions or We Will Rock You, Queen’s songs have a certain way of making you want to sing along at the top of your voice – or at least to the best of your ability when it comes to something like Bohemian Rhapsody.
Despite ever-changing popular genres and new forms of music being introduced, their music has remained timeless, and you never have to wait too long before one of the iconic songs returns to the radio or is featured in a TV advert, making your spirits rise and your head bop.
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David Mallet's memorable promo video for Radio Ga Ga was filmed at Carlton TV Studios and Shepperton Studios in London in November 1983. The single was released in January 1984, became a huge international hit, and because of the video, started off the Queen concert phenomenon of the overhead clapping during the choruses. No Queen concert is complete without the Ga Ga clapping, still to this day. Photo by Simon Fowler • #Queen #gaga #80s #london #pop #rock
The classic lineup for the band included Freddie Mercury as the lead vocalist, Brian May on lead guitar, Roger Taylor on drums, and John Deacon on bass.
May and Taylor had played together in a band called Smile, of which Mercury was a fan. He encouraged Smile to experiment more with music and joined May and Taylor in 1970 to form what became Queen.
UNILAD spoke to Gennaro Castaldo, who works for the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), about the qualities of Queen’s music which have allowed it to stand the test of time while other music becomes lost to certain eras or generations.
The simple truth is that Queen’s music, and their back story, which is now burnished with the legend surrounding Freddie, enjoys truly timeless appeal.
Their music speaks to all ages and across different generations, while also connecting with cultures around the world – they are adored in South America and Southern Europe, for example.
Like The Beatles, they are one of the most accessible and immediately recognisable acts in music history.
Queen’s music evolved over time as they developed as a band, so there was/is something new there for everyone.
Their music was ground-breaking and innovative, and the band wrote such distinct, iconic songs, performing them in their own idiosyncratic way, including via their now classic music videos, that they always stood out.
Queen’s legendary live performances, led by Freddie, also added to their universal appeal, not least their show-stealing performance at Live Aid in 1985, which underlined their status as global superstars, particularly in the US.
Mercury’s incredible stage presence and ideas for more elaborate recording techniques are some of the most memorable things about Queen’s success throughout the years, and many artists have admitted how much they have been inspired by Mercury and his influence on the band.
According to Gigwise, pop star Katy Perry once said:
Freddie Mercury was – and remains – my biggest influence. The combination of his sarcastic approach to writing lyrics and his ‘I don’t give a f*ck’ attitude really inspired my music.
Similarly, Lady Gaga explained how Queen’s song Radio Gaga helped her choose her stage name:
I adored Freddie Mercury and Queen had a song called Radio Gaga. That’s why I love the name. Freddie was unique – one of the biggest personalities in the whole of pop music. He was not only a singer but also a fantastic performer.
In short: A Genius.
Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain once said of the British Rock icons:
I used to take a nap in the van and listen to Queen. Over and over again and drain the battery on the van. We’d be stuck with a dead battery because I’d listened to Queen too much.
Though many musical artists have said they were influenced by Queen’s music, in some cases artists have chosen to show their love for the band by recreating their songs.
Covers and samples of Queen’s music has seen their sound appear across genres, taking them from classic rock and spreading their sound throughout the music scene and each genre’s listeners.
Take a look at the Foo Fighters covering Under Pressure, with Rufus Taylor, Queen-drummer Roger’s son, following in his father’s footsteps:
Queen have been heard by younger generations who might not have otherwise come across them through their appearances in other genres. Vanilla Ice infamously sampled Under Pressure for Ice Ice Baby, and Panic! At The Disco took on the lofty task of covering Bohemian Rhapsody.
Check out Vanilla Ice talking about the creation of Ice Ice Baby here:
Though covers might not live up to the originals, the influence of Queen’s music is clear and it allows their songs to be heard in new ways, opening their sound up to wider audiences and keeping it alive. With the way the band has inspired musicians over the years some artists would sound quite different if it weren’t for Queen.
People choose to honour their love for Queen in different ways – like the way these airport workers performed an impressive tribute to the band:
UNILAD spoke to music professor Nick Braae about why he thinks the music Queen created has managed to remain so popular through the decades.
Nick works at the Waikato Institute of Technology in Hamilton, New Zealand and has studied Queen’s music in the past. He also plays as a session pianist for a number of bands and musicals.
I think for many musicians and listeners Queen’s songs hold a long-lasting appeal because they are often so intricate and rich in their details. The layers of guitars, the sheer number of voices and the studio bells-and-whistles (sometimes literally) mean there’s always something new to discover.
The songs reward those who listen to them a lot.
In terms of the song lyrics, I’m not sure that they say anything particularly profound, but Queen frequently sing about themes that have a universal quality; searching for love, family and relationship challenges, growing up, understanding one’s identity – none of which are confined to a particular historical time.
What’s more, each of the band’s singers had particular vocal qualities that allowed the song’s message to come across as authentic.
This is particularly true of Mercury; he could use the different tones and colours in his singing voice to bring out the meaning of a lyric – think of his light melancholy voice moving to an impassioned rawness through the single line, ‘Now I’ve gone and thrown it all away’, in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’.
As listeners, I think we empathise a lot with the songs of Queen; they invite us to emotionally invest in them, and because the singers seem real and genuine, we are only too willing to go along for the ride.
Personally one of the things I think has made the band’s songs so important is the fact that they are, ultimately, inimitable.
Queen pushed the boundaries of songwriting, experimenting with sounds that many people originally doubted would work.
In 1978 the New York Times reviewed the band, writing:
Lyrically, Queen’s songs manage to be pretentious and irrelevant. Musically, for all the virtuosity, the songs still sound mostly pretty empty, all flash and calculation.
With this sort of (seemingly deliberate, but who can say?) pandering to an obvious need in the late‐teen and early 20’s rock market, Queen has won an audience, and that audience’s more flamboyant members certainly gave every sign of rapture Thursday.
But it will be hard for the band to reach a really huge market this way, and at the same time, it will be equally hard for many people to take them seriously in “artistic” terms, or even pop‐artistic terms. Still, it’s a living.
Of course, this opinion turned out to be a minority one and their experimenting ended up paying off with the band enjoying a huge share of the market. Since Queen, I don’t think there has been a band that has succeeded in creating such an interesting and engaging range of music.
The songwriters took music in new directions, making their tunes incredibly catchy and, especially in the case of We Will Rock You, managing to make the listener feel as though they can be an integral part of the song even if they’re sat alone listening in their car.
Even more impressive, the band took on the task of writing themselves, rather than leaving the the creation of their art to an anonymous musician behind the scenes.
Speaking at an interview with Sound Unlimited in 1976, bassist Deacon explained how the band members’ songwriting skills affected their sound.
We all do write, which lends to the variety of our albums. It’s a very good thing I think.
One of the most obviously successful cases of the band’s inventive approach to music is Bohemian Rhapsody.
The five minute, 55-second-long track takes listeners’ ears on a rollercoaster, jumping from gentle, high pitched harmonies to dramatic drum-filled choir verses, soothing piano solos to head-bang-worthy guitar interludes in a whirlwind of genius.
The song is unique in the way it has very little repetition; something which a lot of songs rely on in order to become catchy. But despite its lack of a repeating chorus, many people have the lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody memorised and usually can’t wait to impress people by belting it out word for word.
The iconic song is almost twice the length of songs typically played on the radio, but it defied expectations of failure and became one of the greatest singles of all time, rising to the top of the charts and holding on to the UK number one spot for nine weeks.
Following Freddie Mercury’s death, Bohemian Rhapsody re-entered the charts where it remained at number one for another five weeks. The return to number one no doubt allowed the brilliant track to fall on new ears, bringing the band to the forefront of the music scene once again and re-emphasising their importance.
Queen were the first band to have the same single top the UK charts twice, and the song now has over 644 million views on YouTube.
Speaking about Bohemian Rhapsody, Gennaro added:
Bohemian Rhapsody for the powerful impression it made on me as a teenager – the sense of wonderment it provoked; the drama and operatic bombast it became famous for and is now written into our music heritage.
I loved that it seemed it stay at No.1 forever, and every Monday I would tune in to Radio 1 to see if it could keep its run going. I loved the video too. It was all so innovative and just different – like nothing I had ever seen before or since for that matter.
Their music is so popular that according to the Official Charts, their album Queen Greatest Hits is the best selling album of all time in the UK with over 6 million copies sold – a BRIT Certified x20 Platinum album.
Despite the album being first released in 1981, in 2014 the Telegraph revealed one in three families owns a copy of Queen’s Greatest Hits. I know my family are one of the proud owners.
The band excelled both in the studio and in performing, with their iconic Live Aid performance in 1985 being considered by many as one of the greatest rock performances in history.
Despite being under pressure (pun intended) to stand out in their slot between U2 and David Bowie, in just 20 minutes the group covered six songs and won the audience’s hearts and voices as they took over the stadium.
Take a look at Queen performing Radio Gaga at Live Aid here:
Mercury tragically died in 1991, but there’s no doubting he left an incredible mark on the world with his influence on the group and the role he played in making Queen into the band as we know it.
The stage musical We Will Rock You, which is based on Queen’s music, opened in 2002 and is still planning tours into 2020.
The musical has worked both to keep the band and their songs in the public eye and provide a way for fans to continue to show their endless love for Queen’s music.
The musical was performed on London’s West End from 2002-2014, and became one of the longest running musicals in West End history.
27 years after Mercury’s death, the story of both he and Queen is being retold in the film Bohemian Rhapsody, showcasing the rise of the band and some of the highlights of their career.
Check out the trailer for Bohemian Rhapsody here:
Gennaro explained how Queen’s music continues to find its way into our everyday lives, saying:
Ultimately it comes down to the fact Queen’s music receives constant airplay, as well as appearing regularly as ‘sync’ music on tv ads (cue the brilliant cinema-style ad by John Lewis and Partners) and in film soundtracks (Wayne’s World) – so we are constantly reminded of their music and are surrounded by it.
The new Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, will kick start even more demand for their music, and will help create a new fan base for their music.
Brian May spoke to the Mirror about how Rami Malek, who plays Mercury in the film, managed to encompass the mannerisms and characteristics of the iconic singer.
Rami delivers a flawless performance. It’s much more than a simple portrayal of Freddie.
Rami completely inhabited Freddie for months, to the point where we sometimes forgot he was Rami. You can see this in the film.
The four young actors who play the four of us in the movie developed a connective chemistry which mirrored our relationships in the band, seemingly without trying.
Rami, at the fulcrum of it all, instinctively found Freddie’s inner sensitivities and insecurities that balanced and drove the powerful rock star, innovator, and liver of life.
This vision of Freddie and of us as Queen might just stun the world all over again.
Queen’s music is sure to live on for generations, both in its recreations and the endless brilliance of the original songs. Their experimental approach to music will continue to inspire artists and wow listeners in a way that I think other music has just not yet been able to match, helping to establish Queen as the most important band in musical history.
Though years have passed since Queen were performing together in their original lineup, their music is still as prevalent today as it was 30 years ago – so much so that to have a major motion picture about their success is almost a long overdue creation.
The movie will no doubt make viewers fall in love with the band’s awe-inspiring, anthemic music all over again.
Bohemian Rhapsody is in cinemas from today, October 24.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.