Queen is a British Glam rock band which was popular during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s; even to this day they remain loved by millions. The group is well known for its sports anthems (although most were not written to be such) and classic rock radio staples, particularly the hits "We Are the Champions", "We Will Rock You", and "Bohemian Rhapsody"; the band promoted the latter, first released in 1975, with one of the earliest successful music videos, and later re-released it for the soundtrack album from the movie Wayne's World. Queen are widely recognised as pioneers of heavy metal, glam rock, and stadium rock, even crossing over into progressive rock at times. Their official crest, seen pictured, includes the zodiac signs of all four members surrounding a Phoenix - two lions, to represent two Leos, a crab for Cancer and fairies representing Virgo.
The beginnings of Queen can be traced to 1968 in England, when Brian May and Roger Taylor formed the trio Smile. After the group's bassist and lead singer Tim Staffell departed in the spring of 1970, May and Taylor took on vocalist Freddie Mercury in April 1970 to form Queen. In 1971 John Deacon completed the lineup as bass guitarist.
Though Freddie Mercury's personality always dominated in the press, all four members of the group actually wrote huge hits:
Freddie Mercury, piano & vocals ("Bohemian Rhapsody," "We Are the Champions," "Somebody to Love," "Killer Queen", "Crazy Little Thing Called Love")
Brian May CBE, guitars ("We Will Rock You," "Tie Your Mother Down," "The Show Must Go On," "Hammer to Fall," "Fat-Bottomed Girls")
Roger Taylor, drums & percussion ("Radio Ga Ga," "A Kind of Magic," "The Invisible Man," "These Are The Days Of Our Lives")
John Deacon, bass guitar, rhythm guitar ("Another One Bites The Dust," "I Want to Break Free," "You're My Best Friend")
Though Mercury penned many of Queen's hits, he was by no means the dominant songwriter; indeed, the group considered themselves creative equals, and quiet bassist John Deacon wrote one of their biggest hits, "Another One Bites The Dust". In their later years, two or three or even all four band members commonly contributed to individual songs; after arguments over the attribution of these cooperative efforts, the band agreed to simply credit "Queen" rather than single members (from The Miracle onwards).
Brian May and Roger Taylor were playing in a band called Smile with bass player/singer Tim Staffell. Freddie was Tim's roommate in Ealing Arts College and followed Smile's rehearsals and concerts closely. At that time Freddie was a singer in other bands, such as Wreckage and Ibex. Still, he was very eager to share his ideas in which musical direction Smile should develop. At some point Tim Staffell decided Smile was not going anywhere and he decided to join a band called Humpy Bong. Freddie quickly stepped in for Tim and they started to search for a bass player. The first one was Mike Grose, soon replaced by Barry Mitchell. It was not until 1971 that they found John Deacon and started to rehearse for the first album, Queen.
In 1973 Queen released their first album, a self-titled effort. It drew little attention, but succeeded in giving the band an FM radio anthem "Keep Yourself Alive." In hindsight, it's considered to be a strong first album.
1974 saw two releases; the first being of Queen II, which had the hit "Seven Seas of Rhye" on it. The album was highly experimental, so it garnered little mainstream attention, but the single got them on to the charts in Britain.
Later that same year, Sheer Heart Attack was released. The album was huge in the UK and throughout Europe; it went gold in the United States. Considered one of their greatest efforts, Queen made a surprisingly cohesive album with a wide variety of different types of music; British music hall to heavy metal tunes like "Stone Cold Crazy" (which Metallica would later cover and earn a Grammy for) and "Now I'm Here" (a live concert favourite); ballads ("Lily of the Valley"), ragtime ("Bring Back That Leroy Brown"), even Caribbean ("Misfire").
The standout track was "Killer Queen" a British Top Ten and which got as high as number 11 on the U.S. charts. It combined campy, vaudeville British music hall with Led Zeppelin-like sound and Brian May's virtuosity on the guitar.
If Sheer Heart Attack's blend of eclectic styles and heavy-metal was considered to be gamut-running, their 1975 effort A Night at the Opera was all-encompassing. Considered by many to be their greatest effort (some call it Queen's Led Zeppelin IV), this is the album that featured the huge worldwide hit, "Bohemian Rhapsody". "Bohemian Rhapsody" was number one in the UK for nine weeks, and another five weeks in 1991 when it was re-released after Mercury's death. It originally reached number 9 in the U.S, and number 2 when re-released in 1992. The album also featured "You're My Best Friend" (which peaked at 14 on the U.S. charts), a sweet, pure pop gem that was unlike anything Queen had ever done to that point. "I'm In Love With My Car" was a hard-rock tune, written and sung by drummer Roger Taylor, which was used in Jaguar car commercials.
The album was a smash in Britain, and went three times platinum in the United States. It was official; Queen had hit the popular music scene.
Back in the studio and unable to really top A Night At The Opera in sales or quality, Queen recorded what essentially was a companion album, A Day At The Races, also in keeping with the Marx Brothers' movie theme for the title. The cover was similar to that of Opera, a variation on the same Queen Crest. Plans were made to eventually release the two together as a package, but those plans never came to fruition.
The album was done very much in the vein of Opera musically as well. Although it was by both fans' and critics' standards superb, it was unable to eclipse its predecessor, and thus as a result has been somewhat underrated.
The standout tracks were "Somebody to Love" and "Tie Your Mother Down." "Somebody" was an incredible rock ballad, on which Freddie Mercury, Brian May and Roger Taylor multi-tracked their voices to make a 100-voice gospel choir. Staying true to their guitar-driven style, it was filled with Brian May's virtuoso harmony, and it went to number 11 on the U.S. singles chart and number 2 on the U.K. charts. "Tie Your Mother Down" was a typical Queen hard-rocker that produced a very recognizable riff and displayed Queen's trademark sense of humour.
1977 saw the release of News of the World, an album that was critically panned at the time but has gained recognition over time. This album had more of a sonic punch to it, as well as songs that were tailor-made to be performed (and subsequently have their greatest effect) live. This album produced the anthemic "We Will Rock You" and the famous rock ballad "We Are The Champions" (both of which combined together reached number 4 in the U.S.), as well as the punchy, near-punk sound of "Sheer Heart Attack" (not to be confused with the album of the same name released three years earlier) - and possibly an influence on Queens Of The Stone Age's "Feelgood Hit of the Summer" which features an alarmingly similar guitar riff.
In 1978 the band released the Jazz album, including the hit singles "Fat Bottomed Girls" and "Bicycle Race", being a double-A-side single. The album cover was inspired by a painting on the Berlin wall. Important tracks of the album were "Dead on Time", "Let Me Entertain You" or "Mustapha", a song by Freddie, which had a very Arabian sound combined with heavy rock guitar.
Fan response was lukewarm to Jazz and for the first time Queen's sales saw a bit of a dip. All band members, especially Mercury, noted frustration and disappointment with the album, and as a result, took a break from the breakneck schedule of one or more albums a year, and focused during the year of 1979 totally on a new album to come out in 1980.
They did, however, release their first-ever live album, in response to the exorbitant amounts of money Queen bootlegs were fetching. The album, entitled Live Killers, went platinum (twice in the U.S.) in most developed countries. They also released the very successful single, "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," a song done in the style of Elvis Presley; the single made the top 10 in most countries and was the band's second number one single in the U.S.
Queen kicked off the 1980s with the hugely successful album, The Game. The album turned out to be their highest selling (barring greatest hits collections). The album featured the "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" single, as well as the monster hit "Another One Bites The Dust" a track that was released in 1981 after Michael Jackson suggested it would make a great single. Inspired by both the Sugar Hill Gang rap, "Rapper's Delight" and the guitar riffs of the group Chic (which themselves inspired the work of the Sugar Hill Gang), it combined Queen's rock sensibilities with a funky minimalism that resulted in a discofied rock classic. It stayed at number one for four weeks in the United States, and the album went four times platinum States-side. The album also featured two of Queen's greatest ballads; "Play the Game" and the fan-favourite "Save Me," both of which were hits in Britain and well-remembered by rock fans in the States. Significantly, the album marked the first appearance of a synthesizer on any Queen record. (Many of their previous efforts proudly called attention to the absence of synthesizers.)
1980 also saw them do the innovative and critically-acclaimed soundtrack for the movie Flash Gordon. The album sold poorly, but served as a showcase for Queen in a different light.
1981 saw Queen collaborate with David Bowie for the single "Under Pressure". The single netted a number one in Britain and a well-remembered rock anthem, a fan-favourite of both Queen and Bowie legionnaires. The memorable riff showed up for Vanilla Ice's 1990 hit, "Ice Ice Baby", prompting a lawsuit over the use of the sample. The group also released a widely successful greatest hits album, their first, which showcased their rock highlights during the first phase of their career.
The response to "Another One Bites The Dust" was overwhelming, so the band decided to do an entire album of disco/funk influenced songs. The result was the 1982 album Hot Space, an album which, either fairly or not, has been almost unanimously regarded by critics and die-hard, loyal fans alike as being one of their worst. The album was especially disappointing to the hard-rock faithful that followed them through the 70s since their first album and their breakthrough success "Sheer Heart Attack." Nonetheless, the album included "Under Pressure," the only real highlight, and "Body Language," a single that only gained attention in the U.S., netting a surprise number 11 hit.
In 1984, Queen successfully bridged the gap between hard rock and pop with the album The Works, which included the incredibly successful glitzy rock anthem "Radio Ga-Ga," the gorgeous pop of "I Want to Break Free" (a song that later be used both as an anthem of the democracy movement in Brazil and later in commercials for the Coca-Cola C2 soda), and the heavy, hard-rock live favourites "Hammer to Fall" (a poetic commentary on the Cold War) and "Tear It Up." Despite these hit singles and live barn-burners, the album failed to sell well, contributing to tensions within the band.
The music video for "I Want to Break Free" parodied Coronation Street, a British soap opera, and was popular there, but as it showed the band in drag, was thought to work against them elsewhere, where viewers did not get the joke. Mercury was booed when he performed the song at the Rock in Rio concert wearing stockings and suspenders as in the video, because he was seen to be degrading the democratic anthem. Many claimed that the video hurt the band's sales in the United States in subsequent years.
The surprisingly poor sales of "The Works" led to the members of Queen branching off onto solo projects during this period. Then came 1985, and the benefit concert Live Aid, at which Queen were invited to perform. In the eyes of critics and fans alike, the group stole the show at the worldwide extravaganza, performing some of their greatest hits and wowing audiences with their energy and superb musicianry and showmanship.
Revitalised by the response to Live Aid and the resulting increase in record sales, Queen ended 1985 by releasing the single "One Vision", an uptempo guitar-based song credited, unusually for this period, to the four members of the band. It was used in the film "Iron Eagle".
In early 1986 Queen recorded the album "A Kind of Magic", inspired by the Russell Mulcahy film Highlander of the same year. This album was very successful, producing a string of hits including the title track "A Kind of Magic", "Who Wants To Live Forever?" and "Friends Will Be Friends".
Later that year, Queen went on a sold-out final tour, known as The Magic Tour, in support of A Kind Of Magic, whose highlight was at Wembley Stadium in London and resulted in the triumphant live double album, Queen Live At Wembley Stadium, which has become for many fans and critics, Queen's ultimate live document, released both on CD and as a live concert film on VHS and later DVD. Freddie teased the capacity crowd of 89,000 that Queen might be breaking up, only to tell the crowd that it was just a silly rumour.
On this tour, Queen performed for the last time together. They could not book Wembley for a third night because it was already booked, but they managed to get Knebworth Park. It sold out within 2 hours, and over 120,000 fans packed the park to get a glimpse of Queen one last time live.
After working in various solo projects during 1988 (including Mercury´s collaboration with Montserrat Caballé, "Barcelona") the band released The Miracle in 1989. This record continued the direction of A Kind of Magic with a polished pop-rock sound and hits like "Invisible Man", "The Miracle" and "Breakthru".
In 1991, rumours started spreading in the tabloid press and elsewhere that Freddie Mercury was suffering from AIDS. Although they were true, Mercury flatly denied these rumours. However, the band decided to make an album free of conflict and differences. That album became Innuendo. Although his health began to deteriorate, Mercury was courageous in handling his contributions. Highlights of the album were the epic title track, reminiscent of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir"; the hard-rocking, rollicking powerhouse "Headlong"; and the anthems "The Show Must Go On" and "These Are The Days Of Our Lives".
On November 23, 1991, in a prepared statement made on his deathbed, Freddie Mercury finally acknowledged he had AIDS. Within 24 hours of the announcement, Mercury was dead at the age of 45. His funeral services were private, held in accordance with the Zoroastrian religious faith of his family.
On April 20, 1992, the public shared in the mourning of Mercury's passing at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, held at London's Wembley Stadium in Mercury's honour. Musicians such as Annie Lennox, Guns n' Roses, Def Leppard, Elton John, George Michael, David Bowie, Metallica, and Liza Minnelli (along with the three surviving members of Queen) performed most of Queen's major hits.
Queen never actually disbanded, although their last album of original material (not including compilations) was released in 1995, titled Made In Heaven, put out four years after Freddie Mercury's death, and constructed from Freddie's final recording sessions in 1991, plus material leftover from their previous studio albums. The band still appears from time to time, minus bassist John Deacon (whose few public appearances are normally to pour cold water on any rumours of a Queen get-together involving him) making "Queen & ..." projects with various guest musicians, something which Deacon is said to generally support, even if he displayed strong criticism towards the projects with Five ("We Will Rock You", 2000) and Robbie Williams ("We Are The Champions", 2001).
Dragon Attack was a 1997 tribute album titled after one of Queen's earlier recordings. Put together by Billy Sherwood, it featured musicians including Yngwie Malmsteen, Lemmy Kilmister, Glenn Hughes, Carmine Appice and John Petrucci.
At the end of 2004, it was announced that Queen would reunite and return to touring in 2005, with Paul Rodgers (founder and former lead singer of Free, Bad Company, and The Firm) who will be singing in Freddie Mercury's place, as frontman, but will not be in the band as Brian May has announced recently to the Queen fan club, that Paul Rodgers will be "featured with" Queen, not replacing the late Freddie Mercury. Deacon is again not taking part. The tour which is currently leading the band through Spain, Italy, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Britain, Switzerland, Austria, Portugal, the Czech Republic and Sweden features both classic Queen tracks as well as material from Paul Rodgers. The tour has had a great deal of success in Europe, with many dates selling out. On the heels of this, in June 2005 guitarist Brian May announced that they will do a few U.S. dates in the autumn, and return in the Spring for a full-blown tour.
In June 2005, on the Queen's list of birthday honourees, Brian May was awarded the title of Commander of the British Empire. Other honourees included Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page.
On August 2, 2005, a tribute album of the band, entitled Killer Queen: A Tribute to Queen will be released and include contributors like: Sum 41, Los Lobos, Joss Stone, Nickelback, Jason Mraz, Gavin DeGraw, Eleven and Rooney.