A double-sided tombstone – you get to choose how you want to remember Freddie Mercury. His finest – most famous, anyway – six minutes, or a new song that felt in context like a farewell note? Or perhaps neither of them really work? “Bohemian Rhapsody” is the obvious choice for a reissue, but it would have become the band’s memorial anyhow – it didn’t need to be specifically squeezed into a suit for the funeral. Though maybe Mercury would have approved – if you’re lured into taking the opening section seriously, as a dread kitsch premonition, the rest of the record becomes even more awkward, absurd, and marvellous.
“Those Were The Days Of Our Lives” is an apparently simpler proposition: this man, who the newspapers always called “intensely private”, lets us in on what he’s thinking as the end of his life approaches. Well, maybe: the song’s as artfully presented as “Bohemian Rhapsody” in its way, everything from those padding drums to the ruminatory solo pointing towards intimacy. If Bo Rhap is comic opera, this is a single-spotlight monologue. “Nothing really matters to me” versus “I still love you” – why trust one any more than the other?
As a song? It’s a sentimental cousin of the Pet Shop Boys’ “Being Boring”, with the devastating payoff moved from text to subtext. And it’s just about strong enough to wriggle free of all its emotional cues and breathe, thanks mostly to Mercury’s avuncular delivery, which makes me miss him more than most of the words.
A couple of months after this was number one, I went and saw Waynes World, which ripped the shroud from “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the most useful and emphatic way possible. I saw it with my wife, though at the time she wasn’t my wife, she was a girl I’d met at a disco, and the first conversation I remember having with her was about “Bohemian Rhapsody”. It was number one, the DJ played it, and I said I didn’t think you could dance to this, and she said no, she didn’t think you could either.
So there’s one line that gets me in “These Were The Days Of Our Lives”. It’s the bit about sitting back and enjoying life through the kids – because it’s half true. But also it’s a sentiment you’d only expect in pop if it came laced with contempt, yet Mercury sings it with fondness and regret. Queen could be thrilling, ridiculous, heavy, florid – all sorts of things. They could also be unusually generous.