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Apr 12

FREDDIE MERCURY – “Living On My Own”

Popular26 comments • 3,515 views

#693, 14th August 1993

The original “Living On My Own” was a highlight of 1985’s uneven but likeable Mr Bad Guy album, one of the tracks where the disco backing had enough muscle to carry Mercury’s imagination. That track rides on a steady, ambulatory pulse, creating the space for Freddie to run free, scatting and shrieking. For its 1992 remix, on the posthumous Freddie Mercury Album, the skibbedy-bobbedy stuff was pruned back and the mix focused on the track’s whoops and war cries, leading off with a swaggering yodel. And then for this release – carrying the song to the top of the charts – “Living On My Own” was remixed further, turned a little more sombre, that triumphant opening shout replaced with a slow synth build, in case we’d somehow forgotten that Freddie Mercury wasn’t with us any more.

Would he have enjoyed the reverence? Who knows. Later in the 90s I worked in a bookshop in Notting Hill, and it was known that Freddie Mercury had a house nearby. Each summer we would field enquiries from three or four tourists a week looking for it – usually Spanish or Italian, always very serious. Freddie seemed set to become the boring, pilgrimage-inducing kind of icon, Jim Morrison in medallion and white flares, which felt a little sad. For all its absurd ghastliness I think We Will Rock You derailed that, so there’s something in its favour.

And it’s nice that almost the last we see of Freddie Mercury comes from his solo career, where he wriggled free of his pomp rock obligations. It lets you imagine a parallel world and lost future where Mercury lived. Because – for all that this is a by-the-books remix of an old track – “Living On My Own” works. Queen never dabbled in it, but Mercury sounds terrific over house music, even when it’s not terribly creative house music. I can easily imagine him in semi-retirement, contributing the occasional show-stealing guest vocal to lucky producers. A shame it could never happen, but this is a fine, idiosyncratic way to take a bow.

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Comments

  1. 1
    JLucas on 27 Apr 2012 #

    I like this song a lot but it’s a funny little #1. Definitely a case of (belated) sentiment over genuine crossover appeal.

    As a child of the late 80s/early 90s, Barcelona made a much, much bigger impression. I sort of wish that had been his chart-topping swansong, it would have been more fitting.

  2. 2
    DanielW on 27 Apr 2012 #

    I’ve been missing the No.2 watch as well, so here goes:

    2 weeks for “The Key: The Secret” by Urban Cookie Collective – not as good as Living On My Own but about 5000 times better than the next No.1 which I absolutely detest

  3. 3
    Cumbrian on 27 Apr 2012 #

    Broadly agree – but not much more to add to be honest. He sounds like he’s having fun – filling in bits here and there with scatting and generally doing what he likes which gives this a bit of a lift (indeed, the Mr Bad Guy album was an opportunity for him to get on with doing stuff that inspired arguments from the rock duo of May/Taylor when Hot Space was being recorded – so he probably was having fun, or at least more than he might otherwise have been having).

    Pondering what he would have done if he hadn’t died: I imagine he might have given house a bit of a go, though it probably would have depended on whether he would have still gone clubbing. I can equally see him coming on as the super-sub for duets with boy bands, to show them how it’s actually done (a good example of that straining at the spolier bunny’s hutch door). Otherwise, difficult to say really – I realise that’s quite boring and fence sitty – but the bloke seemed as interested in opera, ballet, hard rock, funk and anything else he could lay his hands on at various points in his career, so he’d probably have gone off and done something utterly left field if he’d lived.

    I can only think of a couple of (near) certainties if he’d lived:
    – John Deacon would probably still be in the music industry (even if just waiting for the call to do some stuff with Queen);
    – We probably wouldn’t have got Driven By You by Brian May.

    Tragedy might be putting it a bit strongly, but Mercury’s death was a bit of a blow.

  4. 4
    thefatgit on 27 Apr 2012 #

    I suppose “what if’s” are part of what makes pop fandom interesting. I’m sure back in the 50’s you could draw comparisons with Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochrane. Imagining their career development and benchmark it against the career of Elvis. Would they have become part of some revival movement? Or would they have adapted to changes in the direction music was taking? Maybe it would have been a case of disappearing into obscurity.
    In the 60’s when Rock became a standard-bearer for virtually everything, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix would have undoubtedly eventually become derided as Rock curmudgeons and held up as examples of why the hippie dream f*cked us all up, in much the same way Waters and Clapton have been, despite a small army of over-protective fans defending their corner. Better then, to have passed on and their respective legacies remain pretty much intact (although many would vociferously argue their legacies are and should be fair game).

    Freddie however, is intriguing because he embraced so many different genres of music. Had he survived, would Queen have made another half-dozen albums of varying quality? I suspect that his desire to break out of the Rock straitjacket would have marked a creative renaissance with collaborations across the music spectrum. Anyway, it’s fun to speculate, if only to keep the flame of fandom alive.

    “Living On My Own” as a stand-alone work, is a good example of where Freddie might have preferred to go in an artistic sense. The dancey stuff would have allowed him to camp it up even more, if it were even possible to out-camp Queen (or himself, for that matter), maybe verging on self-parody. Above all, it was for me a bittersweet #1. You can’t really begrudge him coming back for one more encore.

  5. 5
    lonepilgrim on 27 Apr 2012 #

    It’s OK – Freddie’s voice adds some interest to an otherwise competent dance track – it sounds good on the radio – I quite like it when I hear it – I don’t miss it or feel compelled to seek it out otherwise.

  6. 6
    punctum on 27 Apr 2012 #

    Freddie nearly had his second posthumous number one in 1992, when his 1987 Montserrat Caballé duet “Barcelona” was revived as the BBC’s theme for their Olympics coverage, but unexpectedly went on to achieve it via the dancefloor. “Living On My Own” originally appeared on his 1985 solo album Mr Bad Guy, an outlet for him to indulge in dance music while Queen were in between albums and tours (and also as partial recompense for the relative failure of Hot Space, Queen’s own New Pop album which appeared in 1982 to a confused fanbase; apart from “Under Pressure,” the only track to appear on any of the three volumes of Greatest Hits is the relatively conventional power ballad “Las Palabras De Amor”). The song did little business on its initial single release but returned eight years later somewhat “rearranged” by Belgian-based dance production team the No More Brothers.

    The central paradox of “Living On My Own,” however, is not banished (even if the remix makes one wish that Mercury had collaborated with the Pet Shop Boys); here is one of Mercury’s most acidly alienated lyrics, hurting with loneliness and emptiness (“Somewhere I feel I’m gonna break down and cry/Nowhere to go, nothing to do with my time”), set against a bright Hi-NRG pulse and a vocal performance which, despite the repeated cries of “Lonely, lonely, lonely, lonely, yeah!” in the choruses, seems positively ebullient and brimming with life – all those “dee do de de”s and episodes of joyously playful scat singing – and its video largely consists of riotous footage from Mercury’s 39th birthday party in which he appears anything but cold and/or lonely. Again, in spite of the final, semi-desperate rhetorical question of “Got to be some good times ahead?” the distance between thought and expression is difficult to bridge; is he playing with the concept of (or even desire for?) loneliness, or does all the colour and light fail to mask an essential emptiness? Since his next solo single, in 1987, was a straight(ish) reading of “The Great Pretender,” however, the listener may be inclined towards the latter viewpoint.

  7. 7
    Tommy Mack on 27 Apr 2012 #

    I misheard ‘don’t have no time for no monkey business’ as ‘don’t have no time for your monthly visits’ and thus thought that this was a song about a man in prison. Which it sort of is. Cracking single, liked it then, like it now and I’ve always been a bit ‘take it or leave it’ about most Queen stuff.

  8. 8
    SpecialGirlAKA on 27 Apr 2012 #

    I like to think that the scat bit (dedodaydo? Veedolayo?) is a premonition of the public’s love of a future top 5 hit: Scatman (skeebabopbadopbop) by Scatman John. I like Mercury’s brand of scat singing; more call-and-response with the audience than purely virtuoso showing off (although clearly there was a large element of showing off…)

  9. 9
    swanstep on 27 Apr 2012 #

    Track’s new to me. It’s great to hear Freddie’s voice slicing through everything again, and the odd tasty chord that you’d never get in House from anyone else reminds us that, yes, Freddie really wrote this. Still, I find the song overall quite uninvolving and, I suspect, unmemorable (those surprising chords mean that I can’t completely rule out LOMO being a long-term grower). As things stand though, this is a 4 or 5 in my books. (Unwanted Comparative Remark: Giving LOMO the same grade as Careless Whisper, Saving All My Love for You, Help!, and You Really Got Me drives me insane!)

  10. 10
    chelovek na lune on 28 Apr 2012 #

    Irritated the hell out of me at the time, but with sober reflection – it’s great (contradiction between lyrics and general almost joyous tone notwithstanding)

    I’d not made the connection with Hot Space before, but it does make a lot of sense.

    Immeasurably better than bloody Scatman John! Living in South-Eastern Europe in the mid-90s his atrocious and increasingly inane singles (most of which I think thankfully passed the UK by) were almost inescapable.

  11. 11
    Special Girl AKA on 28 Apr 2012 #

    #10 You’re right, the UK soon tired of Scatman John, he had a No. 10 with Scatman’s World and disappeared from the charts (and soon after, this mortal coil).

  12. 12
    JonnyB on 28 Apr 2012 #

    A mentor on ‘The Voice UK’…?

  13. 13
    Reggae Makossa Man on 28 Apr 2012 #

    #8 – You may not have implied that Scatman was merely showing off. But John Larkin only turned to scat and piano playing because he suffered from serious stuttering ever since he was a child and it helped him with his communication problems. The lyrics to ‘Scatman’ actually attempt to encourage stutterers everywhere.

  14. 14
    wichita lineman on 28 Apr 2012 #

    Scatman’s World was a melancholy tune with a “welcome to my world” lyric, the reverse of Living On My Own.

    I initially thought he was singing “got to be some guitars ahead”, as if Brian May was waiting in the wings, desperate to add his converted place to the song. I really liked this at the time, surprised that I haven’t heard it (or thought about it) in years.

  15. 15
    Special Girl AKA on 28 Apr 2012 #

    #13 I read Scatman John’s backstory/sobstory on Wikipedia: inspirational. I think it makes him posthumously eligible for a place in the live finals of The Voice. I would imagine Will.I.Am to be his chosen mentor.

  16. 16
    Special Girl AKA on 28 Apr 2012 #

    #14 Gawsh, I just YouTubed Scatman’s World. Astonishingly bad. I honestly thought it would trigger a memory, considering that I had a Longwave Atlantic 252 fixation, but I’ve sublimated it.

    Sorry, Freddie, for invoking a far-less-noteworthy heavenly presence on your final moment in the sun.

  17. 17
    chelovek na lune on 28 Apr 2012 #

    Freddie would never have come up with a lyric both so well-intentioned and so painful as this…

    “Scatman, fat man, black and white and brown man
    Tell me ’bout the colour of your soul.
    If part of your solution isn’t ending the pollution
    Then I don’t want to hear your stories told.”

    Which must rival this bit from Twenty 4 Seven’s “Are You Dreaming?”

    “Dreaming of that the world was right
    Peace between black and white
    Love for the animals
    Prayer for all of us”

    as top bits of evidence from the 90s that pop music is frequently not geared to touch on serious political, as opposed to personal, issues (not that I am seeking to open a debate on the exact division and relation between the two)

    One of a few notable exceptions that springs to mind: “Don’t Touch My Friend” by Working Week – which was successfully adopted as an anti-racist anthem,as well as being a pretty lovely song – perhaps in part because it did approach the general through the personal,as well as being a proficient composition by talented musicians. Of course it didn’t even sneak into the top 100 in the UK, though.

    Freddie’s talent was in an altogether different league, however.

  18. 18
    Billy Smart on 29 Apr 2012 #

    #17. I think that my favourite well-intentioned regrettable lyrics of the early 1990s are Gary Clail’s ‘Human Nature’, with its redundant repetitions and curious bathos.

    “What IS IT in the nature of man that makes us hate and cheat and steal and kill?
    Why do people get off on bigotry, intolerance and racial intolerance?

    What IS IT that makes a man gaze down from his penthouse suite
    Watching THOSE young children sleeping rough on the streets?
    Sometimes people do the strangest things”

  19. 19
    Faloola Chong on 29 Apr 2012 #

    Isn’t the contrast between upbeat music and downbeat lyrics the hallmark of some of the best disco and hiNRG though? Take as just two examples Lord Sir Fred’s collab with disco God Giorgio Moroder on 1984’s ‘Love Kills’ or the contemporaneous to ‘Living On My Own’ Haddaway hit ‘What Is Love’ where he repeatedly sings ‘Lady don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me no more’ “while some woman wails disconsolately in the background” (copyright some music mag from ’93).

    It’s a shame Fred didn’t do more of this stuff, but ‘Mr Bad Guy’ wasn’t really much of a success…I guess Queen fans wouldn’t know what to make of it and the HiNRG cognoscenti wouldn’t take it seriously. ‘I Was Born To Love You’ was quite the explosion of OTT HiNRG joy and far more fun than the overblown campery of the likes of ‘Barcelona’ (in my insignificant opinion).

  20. 20
    weej on 30 Apr 2012 #

    Eid already? The year’s just flown by.

  21. 21
    MikeMCSG on 30 Apr 2012 #

    Anyone know why “Mr Bad Guy” is so difficult to obtain now ? You’d have thought there was some demand out there.

  22. 22
    anto on 30 Apr 2012 #

    I’m glad this has been given a high mark because its one of my favourite songs which Freddie Mercury was involved with. One of the main points of musical interest in the recent BBC documentary about Queen was the schism that arose within the band at the turn of the eighties when dance music fans Mercury and Deacon were keen to push the towards a funk/disco sound while founder members May and Taylor were still of the opinion that they were a rock band with the drummer in particular holding firm to spirit-of-69 principles. The sucesses of Another One Bites The Dust/Under Pressure gave the dancefloor shift the upper hand for a little while at least.
    As someone who’s spent some time living on their own I appreciate how this song contradicts itself. Its true lonliness does creep but other times you think well actually its not so bad. It varies.

  23. 23
    Tom on 1 May 2012 #

    Admin: I’ve cocked up and not sent the right “Popular Entries.doc” to my work email so the next one will have to wait until I get home. Call me Mr.Wrong.

  24. 24
    Special Girl AKA on 1 May 2012 #

    I know what I want, and I want it NOW!

  25. 25
    Pinstripe Hourglass on 2 May 2012 #

    I don’t think a pilgrimage-inducing idol is boring by necessity, though. For example, Marc Bolan still has that aura of rebellion and excitement, at least for me. I can’t imagine Freddie ever becoming an icon so dull as Morrison. He was too exciting, too fabulous, too flamboyant.

    His status as a queer icon also changes things.

  26. 26
    mintness on 12 Jan 2013 #

    Best Scatman John fact: his biggest hit was an ideal match for the BPM required by Haile Gebrselassie on his world record-breaking long-distance runs, and hence was played over stadium PAs around the world.

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