It’s hard to believe that it’s been 40 years since Freddie Mercury ,Brian May , John Deacon ,and Roger Taylor formed Queen in London, England. At first they were heavily influence by progressive rock but by the time Farrokh/ Freddie Bulsara had changed his name to Freddie Mercury and asserted himself as front man and leader of the band, they had started playing more conventional, radio friendly tunes. That all changed.
They released their first album in ‘73, Queen followed by Queen II (1974), Sheer Heart Attack (1974) and A Night at the Opera (1975) Sheer Heart Attack saw the band gain some commercial success and "Bohemian Rhapsody", off of A Night At The Opera cemented them as a force to be reckoned with both commercially and creatively. A Day At the Races in ‘76, consider as a sequel to Opera, gave the band yet another international hit with "Somebody to Love", a gospel-inspired song in which Mercury, May, and Taylor multi-tracked their voices to create a 100-voice gospel choir.
For me, and arguably, the most influential, successful, creative and ‘serious’ rock n roll bands of the 70’s were The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd and Queen. By the end of the decade all but Queen had come to the end of the road as cohesive units. Queen was just getting started.
Between 1977 and 1982 Queen officially became the most successful band in the world, releasing some of the biggest and best songs of all time including ‘Tie Your Mother Down’, ‘Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy’, ‘We Are The Champions’, ‘We Will Rock You’, ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’, ‘Bicycle Race’, ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’, ‘Save Me’, ‘Play The Game’, ‘Another One Bites The Dust’, ‘Flash’ and ‘Under Pressure’ which features David Bowie.
To celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the band, Hollywood Records has issued deluxe editions of the bands albums in three five record box sets. The First volume, as do the next two, contain rare bonus material as well as remasters using the latest technology which Rolling Stone gave their highest 5 Star praise. Also included in each box set is a 24 panel posters. I was lucky enough to receive Queen 40 Limited Edition Collector's Box Set Volume 2 [Amazon.com Exclusive] and Queen 40 Limited Edition Collector's Box Set Volume 3 [Amazon.com Exclusive] to review, and I’d like to thank Sharrin Summers at Hollywood Records for that honor. Monster releases like this are usually reserved for much larger music writers and publication than The Dirty Lowdown.
What I can say is that the remastered albums are jaw dropping. I am always leery of “remastered” masterpieces. The engineers always try and make them better by changing the original mixes, in editing the song lengths for a modern radio audience, in balancing or compressing the loud and soft parts.
The engineers at Hollywood Records are to be commended for restraining themselves on these must have sets. There simply are none of those shenanigans here.It is loud where it is supposed to be loud and quiet where it is supposed to be quiet with no hiss or hum. Further the engineers didn’t mess with the song lengths or mixes or otherwise edit the originals.
They were wise enough to know that you could not improve on Freddies powerful vocals or tweak a voice that covered a full four octaves and required no auto-tuning. An amazing feat technically to bring this music back to life. Further, each box set includes ‘extras, and this is in ways where you will strike gold. These include demos from the original albums, gems culled from BBC sessions and concerts, alternate takes that until now have not even made it to bootlegs.They were pulled from the only existing copy on the planet, acetates from May's personal archives. Not even his bandmates had a copy.
So here it is, 40 years later and just as amazingly original now as then. Only better in all the right ways. The first five volumes cover the band during the years they were establishing themselves as a hard rocking outfit and one of the biggest forces in rock. Songs like "Keep Yourself Alive", one of the greatest guitar songs in rock tho’ it was ignored upon release. Other somewhat commercially successful songs are "Seven Seas of Rhye", "The March of the Black Queen", which aside from it’s decidedly non-pop song structure, lacking a chorus or other typical song structure also featured the band's distinctive layered sound, and features long complex instrumental passages, fantasy-themed lyrics, and musical virtuosity. All personality traits that were to define the band later on.
Other gems include "Killer Queen", the hard rockers "Now I'm Here","Stone Cold Crazy" , "The Prophet's Song",The Mercury penned ballad, "Love of My Life", and of course "Bohemian Rhapsody". During a studio session at Wessex Studios, Sid Vicious bumped into Freddie Mercury where both The Sex Pistols and Queen were recording. The conversation went something like this: “ 'Ullo Fred - I see you've bought ballet to the masses then!” Says Sid, eyeing up Freddie's legendary ballet pumps, “Ah Mr Ferocious. Yes, doing my best dear” says Freddie.
If the first five albums defined the band as amongst the best hard rocking bands, the the second five albums, all included here, earns it’s subtitle of “EXCESS ALL AREAS”. It showcases the band during that time when their competition for greatest rock band were fragmenting.And Queen was presenting the most outrageously flamboyant live shows on earth. During this period Queen was just coming into their own. Included on Queen 40 Limited Edition Collector's Box Set Volume 2 [Amazon.com Exclusive] some of the biggest and best songs of all time including ‘Tie Your Mother Down’, ‘Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy’, ‘We Are The Champions’, ‘We Will Rock You’, ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’, ‘Bicycle Race’, ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’, ‘Save Me’, ‘Play The Game’, ‘Another One Bites The Dust’, ‘Flash’ and ‘Under Pressure’ which features David Bowie. All of these hits were from the albums ‘News of the World’, ‘Jazz’, ’The Game’, ‘Flash Gordon’ and ‘Hot Space’.
Queen 40 Limited Edition Collector's Box Set Volume 3 [Amazon.com Exclusive] continues the rise from 1984 until 1995 when the band cemented their place in rock history as the biggest, brashest and boldest band on the planet. A period that witnessed Queen reach untold of live heights and set the bar so high with the awe inspiring performance of the century at Live Aid. Songs from the last five studio albums (The Works, A Kind Of Magic, The Miracle, Innuendo and Made In Heaven) include “Radio Gaga” the tune Lady Gaga took her name from, “I Want To Break Free”, “One Vision”, “A Kind Of Magic”, “I Want It All”, “The Miracle” and “These Are The Days Of Our Lives” which was Freddies last appearance on video before his death. Not only did they set the bar high with the Live Aid performance (1.9 billion viewers on TV),during this era Queen also played the first ever stadium gig in eastern Europe at Nepstadium in Budapest in front of fans that hitchhiked from all over the Eastern Block to see them. Additionally they twice drew over 300,000 fans for Rock In Rio. On the Magic tour they sold over a million tickets as they accomplished world domination, rock band style.
Freddie Mercury died in 1991 bringing an end to an era that never really saw a dip in Queen’s popularity nor in the ever increasing metamorphoses creatively; it was all up and up to new heights, like Icarus in flight. But even in death Freddie continues to be relevant through the Mercury Phoenix Trust which distributes money for AIDS awareness and research.
The trust has just created the “Freddie For A Day Global Charity Network” which fights AIDS world wide. Freddie For A Day (FFAD) was the brainchild of Liz Swanton, web editor of the Mercury Phoenix Trust, the AIDS charity set up in Freddie's name in 1992. In real life she's a City of London Banker and she raised over £1,200 by spending a working day dressed as Freddie. It was such a wonderfully whacky idea that they decided to make it an annual event coinciding with Freddie’s birthday (5th September). It’s fun, it’s slightly crazy AND it raises money for the charity which is spent fighting HIV/AIDS worldwide. Check out the site to get involved in a fun, and worthwhile cause.
Oh, and if you are a casual or serious fan of music, then you’ll want this collection of masterfully crafted and definitive chronicles of one of the most important rock bands of all time.
Copyright © 2011 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved