A beginner’s guide to the queen

Opera song

Chances are you’re not totally new to the world of Queen. Excerpt from the 2018 biopic Bohemian Rhapsody (which won Rami Malek an Oscar) at seemingly every sporting event and karaoke bar, it’s not like pop culture has forgotten the power of frontman Freddie Mercury and the gang. Their rate of success production is unmatched (53 Top 40 singles on the official chart, including six at number one), and their influence is enduring. From Lady Gaga taking her stage name from Queen’s hit “Radio Ga Ga” to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ love of a good costume, to the very existence of Adam Lambert (who joined Queen as a singer replacement), if you like your pop with a glittery edge, you might be a fan of Queen.

That’s why, on the anniversary of what would have been Mercury’s 76th birthday, we choose to celebrate. From an argument to rebrand to a powerful legacy — and of course, the songs we can’t stop humming — here’s why we’ll always love Queen.


Become king

Of course Brian May, Roger Taylor and a young Freddie Bulsara could have been called anything. But when Bulsara swapped her surname for Mercury — a nod to both Queen’s song “My Fairy King” and the mythical messenger of the gods — and the trio dropped the Smile moniker in favor of the much flashier queen, their flamboyant future officially began.

But wait…there’s more

Mercury was a creative polymath who used skills learned at Ealing Art College London to design Queen’s royal coat of arms, which featured the zodiac signs of the four limbs, a cheeky pair of fairies, a phoenix and a large, elegant letter” Q.”

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Embracing their bohemian side

Although it sold over a million copies by the time it was one year old, A night at the opera The track “Bohemian Rhapsody” wasn’t always a surefire hit. During its three-week recording process, the rock opera continued to grow as Mercury added additional “Galileos” as the song blossomed into the six-minute epic to sing. (To the delight of everyone involved.) However, it was British DJ Kenny Everett who ultimately sealed the song’s fate, playing the song “not for air” 14 times in one weekend. Based on the biography of Lesley-Ann Jones MercuryEverett justified the move by “claiming to his boss every play that ‘his finger slipped’.”

Rock you (and all of us)

Buoyed by the success of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, Queen were left shocked when an audience at a concert in the West Midlands erupted in football chants at the end of their show. And honestly, who wouldn’t want to encourage that kind of devotion? The quest to give the public a little more to do resulted in “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions”, a punch that thrilled Queens fans and changed the soundtrack of sporting events forever.

Escape to Munich

Once you’re one of the biggest and most flamboyant pop stars in the world, it makes sense that you might want to take a break from that title sometimes. For Mercury, Munich, Germany became the sanctuary where he could lay down the mantle without sacrificing decadence (and have a good time in the process, despite the downtrodden setting depicted in Bohemian Rhapsody). Between 1979 and 1985 he was a frequent visitor to the German city, largely drawn to Musicland studios, where everyone from Elton John to Iggy Pop frequently recorded. It was a place where queer nightlife allowed Mercury to hang out before he got out, and tales of his exploits in the city’s bathhouses and clubs were rife. Among his regular stops was Paradiso, where the video of “live by myselfwas filmed at his 39th birthday celebration, and at the Hotel Bayerischer Hof, where he allegedly wrote “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” in a bathtub.

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Thrive under pressure

When David Bowie initially stopped at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland, where Queen was recording, the plan was originally to record backing vocals on “Cool Cat.” But when you put multiple creative talents in the same room, things happen, including impulsive collaborations. Based on the book by writer Mark Blake Is this real life? : The Untold Story of Freddie Mercury and Queen, Bowie and Mercury jumped into the vocal booth and sang melodic lines off the top of their heads. It wasn’t exactly painless – imagine putting two creative talents like Bowie and Mercury in the same room, both of whom fought over their ideas for so long that the release almost happened. But with their musical powers combined, Queen and Bowie rose from the chaos to create what many consider to be one of the greatest pop anthems of all time.

A leading man makeover

Mercury’s gaze was blazing enough that he could escort Lady Diana to a nightclub without her getting a second look. (Impressive, given that rumor has it that she was also in drag.) But by the early 1980s, he had had enough of the flamboyance, opting instead for a more streamlined look, complete with cropped hair, athletic outfits and his (now signature) mustache. Fans were less than thrilled, throwing razor blades on stage during the band’s 1980s tours, and former member John Deacon even said rolling stone“Some of us hate it. … But it’s him, and you can’t stop him.

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Live help

It’s impossible to discuss Queen without Live Aid, the 1985 fundraising festival where they undeniably stole the show from other hard-hitting bands, including Madonna, U2, Elton John and David Bowie, among others. Their previous three albums failed to crack the Top 20, but you’d be hard-pressed to remember as they ripped through ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘Radio Ga Ga’, ‘Hammer to Fall’, ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions”, significantly increased famine relief donations for African nations during their time on stage.

Freddie’s death

Although Freddie Mercury never officially came out, he was clear about his pro-LGBTQ stance, once even going so far as to call out an audience member for a homophobic slur. However, the day before he died in 1991, he released a statement admitting he had AIDS – then thought to be a disease exclusive to gay men. “Following tremendous speculation in the press, I wish to confirm that I have tested HIV positive and have AIDS,” he said in a statement. “I felt it was okay to keep this information private in order to protect the privacy of those around me. However, now is the time for my friends and fans around the world to know the truth, and I hope everyone will join me, my doctors and everyone around the world in the fight against this terrible disease.

Five months later, a group of artists, including Elton John, David Bowie and George Michael, united to give him “the greatest farewell in history”, a concert attended by 72,000 people and broadcast in 76 countries, raising millions for AIDS. research into the process, not to mention removing the early 1990s stigma surrounding the disease. The other members of Queen will also form the Mercury Phoenix Trustwhich continues to fund HIV/AIDS research.


Laura Studarus is a Los Angeles-based travel writer who has contributed to fast business, BBC trip, and Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter at @Laura_Studarus.

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