Regular readers (ah, hello…!?) will know that I am not really a fan of Queen’s music. I grew up with those compilations Greatest Hits and Greatest Hits II being all but forced down my throat. My brother was a fan. My parents were fans. And, early on, so was I.
I’d rather down ipecac than listen to Queen’s Greatest Hits/Greatest Hits II these days. Well, the effect of so much of the music is much the same anyway. The pomp and bombast – two selling points for Queen I guess – just do my head in. And, as I’ve previously explored, it isn’t really Queen that I vehemently dislike, it’s Queen fans – all this “Freddie was the greatest” talk. Queen fans are a special breed. They can walk upright, unassisted, for longer periods than, say, KISS fans. But they suffer from a similar affliction, so engrossed in music that is often so thoroughly mediocre. So incapable of understanding the real worth of this group.
Queen remains something of an anomaly – a successful band, loved by many, that appears to have had no real influence on any music that has followed. Well, not on any decent music anyway. You could spin that around and say that Queen was unique; a one-off. Sure, you could do that. You could also convince yourself, as the blindly faithful tend to do, that this was actually a good thing. Or you could cherry-pick from the band’s career. Find a few of the early gems and leave the cliché “hits” to be enjoyed as sporting themes, stadium-audience singalong fodder and songs George Michael had hits with. Universal Music picked up the Queen catalogue – sold to them, presumably, because EMI is broke. So then all of the Queen albums were re-released, each with a bonus EP of live versions, demos, outtakes. You know, the usual – all the things you didn’t need the first time but might be enough to entice you to part with cash to re-experience the album even though you’ll never play the bonus content through more than once.
In other words the last resort of CD marketing.
There was a batch of Queen albums in a row then another handful arrived.
News Of The World. An album I loved. I have to be honest, I’d all but forgotten about it – wasn’t worried about ever hearing it again – but News Of The World was one of my all-time favourite albums for a while there. And it’s probably still on the longer list now. Especially after re-engaging with it. Released in 1977, Queen’s sixth album kicks off with two giant hits – We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions. Two of the Queen songs that bring on the ipecac reaction. But they did the business at the time. Sure. In fact these are the two big sports anthems now; hardly Queen’s fault I know. I was always more interested in the rest of the album. And only because it was the first Queen material – outside of the greatest hits albums – that I got to hear. We had this live album too. It was blasted often but News Of The World was the first original album by Queen that I experienced. I bought the tape in the early 1990s, maybe just before Freddie went off to that big S&M party in the sky.
And I became fascinated with all the different versions of Queen I got to hear.
News Of The World still makes sense to me – as an album. It showcases Brian May and Roger Taylor and John Deacon and of course Freddie Mercury as writers and as performers. Taylor and May handle some of the lead vocals; there’s at least one track where Freddie doesn’t even feature. There’s a near-punk song that is also a comment on the genre. There’s the most erotically overcharged song the group ever recorded. There’s a blues/boogie jam that pretty much falls apart while it’s trying, still, to hang together. There’s my favourite Freddie Mercury song; one that feels like it gets as close as possible to presenting a real version of Freddie to his fans or is it just another character (anyone else out there see parallels between Freddie Mercury and Peter Sellers – or is that just me?) And I think two of the best songs Freddie ever sang – that play to his strengths – were this one composed by Deacon. And this one composed by May. And Brian May’s All Dead, All Dead is my favourite Queen song ever. The fact he wrote it about his cat seems to sum up how brilliantly absurd this band could be.
And how, just as often, the brilliance comes from studiously over-zealous fans. Actually, this band was often just absurd. I’m sure you could spin this around and talk about News Of The World being stupid, being full of weird direction-changes, a blatant reach for the mainstream and a shunning of the harder rock and prog areas the band had explored. I will certainly agree it is the beginning of the slide. But for me it is the best Queen album – the one that introduced me to the band as players and to their composing personalities; the one that made me look past the show-pony that strutted and fretted his hours on the stage, a limelight hog that for both good and bad was overtly the Queen image/voice/icon.