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Apr 15

FIVE + QUEEN – “We Will Rock You”

Popular42 comments • 4,209 views

#867, 29th July 2000

five queen rock 2014 saw Queen reach an unfortunate milestone – they’ve now been going for longer without Freddie Mercury than with him. It’s been an odd 23 years. John Deacon bowed out with some dignity in 1997, but Brian May and Roger Taylor remain remorselessly active. Sometimes their stewardship has been a great public success – pioneering the jukebox musical, for instance – and sometimes it’s felt more like the most dogged but pointless of May’s many hobbies. This single, their only No.1 since the initial post-Freddie tribute era, surely falls into the former category. But hold on – the official Queen website has no mention of it. Nor does the band’s quite thorough Wikipedia history. What’s up?

A listen to “We Will Rock You” dispels any mystery. This is very much the sort of single you hope slips discreetly out of your discography. You could say it’s the band’s – and our – bad luck that it exists in the first place, since the record seems to rest on several terrible misconceptions, any of which should have been enough for one of Queen’s advisors to veto Five from doing it. The idea, for instance, that “We Will Rock You” would carry more weight with its empty spaces filled by rapping. The idea that J from Five was the MC to do this job. And the idea that his band should drop their endearing goofball act and talk tough, matching the record’s aggression blow for blow.

Being charitable, you can see a point here. The kind of old school hip-hop flow J adopts is a sort-of cousin to the boot-boy chanting of “We Will Rock You”’s verses. And some of the rap he evokes rests on similarly primal beats – the Disco Four even had a song called “Stomp, Stomp, Clap” and plenty of hip-hop has sampled or evoked the song. But let’s not be too generous: this record is a shambles, and the best explanation for J’s style isn’t a deliberate retro move but a man whose idea of rapping and its content is showing off to mates in a Year 6 lunch break. His enthusiasm – often the saving grace of Five’s clumsy, likeable pop – turns deluded here as he and his group adopt a ludicrous swagger. “Watch your back / We got Queen on this track!”

To which the only response – rubbernecking aside – is “why?”. “We Will Rock You” is an odd fish even within Queen’s varied and wayward catalogue. The track’s mass adoption by professional sport has completely eaten its context, leaving something that’s less a song than a rite, a kind of off-the-peg haka. Covering it catapults Five into a world of sweat and testosterone they’re too callow for. The gurning, desperate face of Ritchie Nevile on the sleeve is a summary of the whole foolish endeavour (and this review).

It’s tempting to look beyond the band, and identify the dread hand of Cowell in all this: in the X-Factor world,. “We Will Rock You” is no better quality, but a rather better fit. It’s the kind of farrago that no-hopers in ‘the groups’ might trot out for ‘Queen Week’ before the public tires of them. The natural fate of this is three minutes of hooting, pointing and tweeting on a Saturday night. In that sense alone, “We Will Rock You” is a single ahead of its time.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    Ronnie on 9 Apr 2015 #

    Stomp stomp clap
    Stomp stomp clap
    Stomp stomp clap stomp
    Stomp stomp *DJ scratches*

    This song is amazing, though only in the rubbernecking sense Tom mentioned.

    Speaking of Cowell, I distinctly remember on American Idol, during one particular Queen Week, where an entrant (Ace Young) wanted to do the 5ive version of “We Will Rock You” before being solidly, intractably vetoed by Brian May. It seems the shame Tom perceived about this record is indeed real.

  2. 2
    lonepilgrim on 9 Apr 2015 #

    I’m pretty sure that there are other songs where I get annoyed with myself for being sucked into tapping my feet or humming the melody and thinking “This isn’t as bad as I remembered” but with WWRY in any form it only takes a few seconds before I come to my senses. Five manage to add several other layers of sh!t to the sandwich with squealing vocals and a lumpen rap that really do suggest nothing less than runners up in the school talent contest.

  3. 3
    Kinitawowi on 9 Apr 2015 #

    This really isn’t a song that works well on disc in any form, to be honest. It needs the stomp-stomp-clap, the push and pull of the live audience and the participation to make it work (it was double A-sided with We Are The Champions in its original form, for good reason). And that includes the Queen original.

    5ive’s attempts to add to it only succeed in taking away. Freddie’s proto-rap at least sounded like it was trying to fight against something, even if it’s never entirely clear what or who exactly; 5ive’s efforts mostly amount to admitting how lucky they are to be making the song in the first place.

    So what are Queen doing here? I honestly don’t know. May and Taylor surely can’t be light on funds; I can only suspect it’s a weird addiction to the charts, that desire to keep popping back in and maybe nicking a number one in a quiet week if they get lucky. On the one hand, surely they should have known better; on the other hand, by this point they looked like they’d have gone along to the opening of a fridge (they accepted co-credit on the Vanguard version of Flash, and that was dire).

    But yeah. Lousy song, performed badly. A textbook 1.

  4. 4
    Izzy on 9 Apr 2015 #

    The gurning, desperate face of Ritchie Nevile on the sleeve is a summary of the whole foolish endeavour

    Haha. Headset microphones though, it’s an ageless look.

    For the record I adore the original, which looks like it’s shaping up for a kicking here. I sometimes toy with putting together a playlist for the minigenre – stompy beat, shouty proto-rap, even shoutier crowd chorus, no instrumentation to speak of – but I’ve only ever managed to think of two other examples: Hollaback Girl and Give Peace A Chance. You can do me a service here.

  5. 5
    Tom on 9 Apr 2015 #

    I have no objections to the original, but I couldn’t imagine myself listening to it – like Kinitawow! suggests, it’s a song that feels very deliberately designed for a particular use. (And has been a roaring success at that.) Kind of unrateable, for me. Unlike this.

  6. 6
    mapman132 on 9 Apr 2015 #

    Ouch! I heard this for the first time the other night and to be honest, don’t mind it at all. Not as good as the original of course, but the rapping at least follows Mapman’s First Rule of Cover Versions: Do something different with it to make it your own. 8/10 for the original, but 6/10 for 5+Q.

    Side note: In the US, you will never hear Queen’s WWRY without it segueing into “We Are The Champions” at the end. And the only time you ever hear WATC without WWRY is if someone’s actually just won a championship, although WATC hit #4 by itself back in 1978.

  7. 7
    Jack Feerick on 9 Apr 2015 #

    Headset microphones though, it’s an ageless look.

    “We are 5ive! Thanks for coming to our TED Talk!”

  8. 8
    JLucas on 9 Apr 2015 #

    This strand of Queen’s music – grandstanding, bombastic, wedding disco pop – has always been by far my least favourite string to their bow. Songs like We Will Rock You and Don’t Stop Me Now just set my teeth on edge.

    As Tom discussed, it was also a terrible fit for 5ive, whose whole USP was their whole tongue-in-cheek, ‘we don’t take ourselves too seriously’ vibe. (Which incidentally I usually hate in pop music because it feels like the artists are trying to have their cake and eat it, but 5ive had the charisma and the tunes to make it endearing). There’s no room for humour or levity here, which doesn’t work for either group. It fails on just about every conceivable level, and it’s a shame to see it at #1, because both groups have so much better material in their respective catalogues.

    Ronan Keating slips down to #2 this week, but a new entry at #3 is a career peak for Louise Nurding/Redknapp with ‘2 Faced’, a record I would have absolutely loved to see at #1, if only for the endlessly quotable spoken-word intro. “Hi Girls!” “HI LOUISE!”

  9. 9
    chelovek na lune on 9 Apr 2015 #

    I met this group on Monday,
    They took me to a club on Tuesday
    They let me do a rap on Wednesday
    And screw up one of their old songs on Thursday Friday and Saturday and Sunday

    Painful, rather purposeless, and its way, rather sad. God knows I am no fan of 5ive, but maybe, just maybe their style might have successfully complemented the funkier style of some of the rather underrated and overlooked tracks off Queen ‘s “Hot Space” album – Queen tracks that, unlike this one, both warrant and deserve a wider airing. “Back Chat” might just have worked well reinvented this way (although, hmm, perhaps the loss of Freddy makes it too tough…), “Body Language” would have been a challenge, but I fear the young scamps would have overplayed their hand there, too macho and too little playful. DON’T TALK don’t talk DON’T TALK….but just maybe…it might have led to something of note being created…

    A reinvention of either of those tracks by the players here involved would surely have been (succeed or fail) immeasurably more interesting than this, which really is sad waste of talent, time, music, vinyl, CD or bytes. Just a very bored and unimpressed 1 from me.

  10. 10
    JoeWiz on 9 Apr 2015 #

    This is on obviously terrible on just about any level you care to mention, but didn’t damage the Queen brand quite as much as the exerable 2009 album ‘Cosmos Rocks’ with Paul Rodgers. Anyone that’s ever listened to ‘C-lebrity’ will think this 5ive collaboration a divine union.
    What do you think John Deacon makes of all this? Musicals, Adam Lambert, Kerry Ellis, he must be aware of this stuff, has he ever commented on it after his retirement?

  11. 11
    Andrew on 9 Apr 2015 #

    ‘I Want to Break Free’, ‘Under Pressure’, ‘One Vision’ and ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ on the WWRY soundtrack will have seen a tidy stream of royalties for Deacon, given its enduring global success.

    Doesn’t stop it being a woeful show, though. One of the worst pieces of theatre I’ve ever sat through, despite a formidably professional and enthusiastic ensemble cast.

    As for Adam Lambert, he’s done a very good job of the near-impossible, I’d say.

  12. 12
    Shiny Dave on 9 Apr 2015 #

    The review mentions how WWRY has been devoured by its role in sport (and it really is a heck of a song for that context). This reached its illogical conclusion with an utterly awkward mashup with the CBS NFL theme music for a trailer at the end of the Super Bowl pre-game coverage in 2013. It wasn’t nearly as good as the same idea done three years earlier, but the basis of that is a 2009 bunny.

    This wasn’t 5ive’s only detour into dredging the 70s – “Everybody Get Up” throws a legitimately hilarious rap over the top of the “I Love Rock and Roll” riff, whilst “Rock The Party” does much the same thing with a sample of “Grease.” I have an unreasonable degree of affection for both of these (especially unreasonable for “Rock The Party,” the rap for which is teeming with casual sexism), but both of those at least bring one great hook in the sample and another in the chorus.

    About all I can say good about this is that it’s faster than the original so it ends quicker. Except there’s so much added rapping that it still extends a minute past the original’s runtime. The production really weighs down a song that basically exists to sound big and intimidating, and for that alone it’s worth a 2.

  13. 13
    James BC on 9 Apr 2015 #

    I could see this getting votes in a poll for worst number 1 of all time. I don’t like the original Queen enough to really loathe it myself, but yeah, it’s pretty bad. It seems Will Smith’s formula only works when used on old disco hits, and when Will Smith is doing the rap.

  14. 14
    AMZ1981 on 9 Apr 2015 #

    It’s interesting how the majority of comments so far have focused on Queen in the context that this is primarily a 5ive record and the presence of May and Taylor is really just a cameo. It was 5ive who made this song a hit. The only thing I’ve really got to say about the actual record is that We Will Rock You was never my favourite Queen record in the first place and I can live with it being slaughtered here.

    At a rough count this is the sixth (and final as of 2014) chart topper to feature the Queen name (three in their own right, one duet and two collaborations – you could stretch a point and say Living On My Own makes seven). As has been noted Queen (or what remained of them) didn’t exactly treat the legacy well. It’s ironic that they produced a musical where the plot involved real music being forced underground by manufactured pop (okay in mitigation the plot mainly exists to hang the songs on) and then promptly featured on a 5ive record – how is that supposed to work? The two combined meant that Queen were tarred as a corporate rock act and almost a comedy one at that. There wasn’t really any shame in the Paul Rodgers collaboration; all long in the tooth rock acts have the right to take something out on the road for those who still want to hear it and it’s hardly Queen’s fault there was enough demand to sell out stadiums. The excretable album was a step too far and needs to be seen in the context that May and Taylor have managed a few decent solo tracks between them. Maybe the problem was that within the band it was Freddie Mercury who brought the pomp and May and Taylor who added the rock – maybe they were trying to be something they weren’t.

    Against the odds the Adam Lambert collaboration has undone a lot of the damage. I’ve been twice and my review of their show at First Direct Arena can be found here https://amz1981.wordpress.com/2015/01/27/queen-adam-lambert-first-direct-arena-2012015/

  15. 15
    Tommy Mack on 9 Apr 2015 #

    Surprised by the love for Adam Lambert. I’ve seen him on telly with Queen and he just seems obnoxious, all puffed-up over-confidence and no charisma. Technically a decent singer iirc but no edge or character to his voice to really interest me in his singing. Still, probably a better choice than Paul Rogers who, within the pantheon of 70s rock is probably just about the opposite of Freddie Mercury.

    PS. My favourite 5ive song is the Inspector Gadget one where the rap sounds like a small child explaining to a grandparent who Inspector Gadget is.

  16. 16
    swanstep on 10 Apr 2015 #

    Maybe I’m crazy, but I don’t mind this too much. Obviously one would rather have more accomplished, bigger-personality rappers dishing it back to Queen between the beats, e.g., compare with a profane Ludacris vs Black Sabbath’s War Pigs at the beginning of Girl Talk’s mashup Oh No, but Five and their producers do give their all. The track’s not boring, there’s always something busting through the mix, or exploding, or I dunno, spitting – it’s way too much at every point, but that maximalism is broadly in Queen’s wheelhouse (or Jim Steinman’s) so I find myself relatively happy to go along with all of the blimin’ nonsense here. The shaping of the song into something more conventional with a middle 8 and a final resolving chorus sounds OK, even fresh to me, perhaps because I never watch any of the Idols and Factors and their ‘Queen Weeks’. To me this does actually sound like a #1 (and not a million miles removed from N-trance’s late ’90s guilty pleasure, ’70s do-overs/mash-ups):
    5

  17. 17
    Ed on 10 Apr 2015 #

    I am with Swanstep @16: I find this mildly entertaining. May and Taylor are the worst thing about it: both the guitar and the beat are very conspicuously inferior to the original. Five would have been better off using a sample. Presumably some grim financial calculation mandated the appearance of the actual real-life Queen.

    The only other truly heinous crime committed by the reboot is to mess with the structure, putting the guitar solo before the third verse rather than at the end. I am not a huge fan of the original, but to the extent that it works, it works mostly because of the build-up of tension that is finally released in the solo.

  18. 18
    lmm on 10 Apr 2015 #

    I didn’t dare say this yesterday, but after a re-listen… yeah, as I remembered, it’s pretty fun. I have a soft spot for this kind of simple rap, and to my ears 5ive are still doing what they do best – enjoying themselves, doing what we’d all do if we had the chance. And thanks to the commenter who reminded me of Everybody Get Up, which is just sublime.

  19. 19
    Steve Williams on 10 Apr 2015 #

    That sleeve is brilliantly bad, it looks like the kind of thing a provincial theatre knocks up to promote a show. I think #17 is right because I think they were doing a cover of We Will Rock You on tour and clearly someone had the brainwave to get the actual Queen on board and release it as a single.

    This had a bit of a trial run at number one because when The Real Slim Shady was number one, it wasn’t played on the primetime edition of Top of the Pops, only the repeat, because it was apparently too offensive for 7.30. So in its place they played this, as a potential future number one.

  20. 20
    will on 10 Apr 2015 #

    Re 18: I loved Everybody Get Up! And Rock The Party. And If You’re Getting Down. When Five (or rather their producer, Richard Stannard, I think) alighted on a decent sample and worked it they produced some of the best pop music of this era.

    But this is just horrible, ugly and undignified. 2 from me.

  21. 21
    Andrew on 10 Apr 2015 #

    #14 WWRY was still in development when this hit number one. You’d presume the broad storyline for a major West End musical would be in place for quite a while, but it all (unsurprisingly) seems to have come together rather quickly…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_Will_Rock_You_%28musical%29#Development

  22. 22
    Phil on 10 Apr 2015 #

    #19 – or else 5ive’s people talked to Queen’s people about the rights, and May & Taylor actually volunteered to be on it.

    I really like WWRY, although I don’t think it works structurally – perhaps what it needs is for the final solo to lead to a bridge into the fast version (on which see link below). This version is really dreadful, though, and the video’s worse – a definite 1 from me.

    I don’t think a rap mashup of WWRY is something that could have worked but 5ive do it badly – I think it’s a thoroughly bad idea (WWRY is all about not filling in all the gaps), and 5ive do it badly. I’m going to spend the rest of the day trying to forget the line “We’re gonna rock, gonna rock you baby!”. And probably failing.

    I think the first time I heard WWRY it was this recording, complete with fast version & brief excursion into mindbending hippie cosmology (I wonder if Philip Pullman heard this). I was always surprised never to hear it again, if that makes sense. But apparently the BBC used to reuse tape for recording sessions, and this was a bit of a (R3?) programme that just happened to be on the tape they used.

  23. 23
    Andrew on 10 Apr 2015 #

    #20 ‘If Ya Gettin’ Down’ is marvellous!

    ‘The Five Megamix’ was (and perhaps still is) a highly enjoyable staple on Thursday nights at Manchester’s Cruz 101 some years after the group’s disbandment. Their greatest hits work brilliantly in that 30-seconds-per-song format.

  24. 24
    thefatgit on 10 Apr 2015 #

    Yep, rubberneck value for me too. I do like WWRY, as a curtain raiser for a party or student disco, or sports chant. It would never work at a football match but ice hockey or basketball, where the PA reverberates around the arena…well, that seems the perfect fit.

    DSMN is a fantastic song and I’ll not hear a bad word said against it. OK, I’ll take on board anyone’s criticism, but I really do have a massive soft spot for it after the moving documentary “The Boy Whose Skin Fell Off”, but I digress.

    Add 5ive to this car crash, and I begin to wonder what was so special about WWRY in the first place. This pairing fits like anchovies placed atop a chocolate torte. Eat up! (4)

  25. 25
    James BC on 10 Apr 2015 #

    It does work at football matches – it’s a favourite at Prenton Park, or was when I used to go occasionally. So much so that they played it at Wembley before the ’99 league cup final defeat to Leicester. Great days.

    Not this awful version, obv.

  26. 26
    Rory on 10 Apr 2015 #

    Given the bagging this is getting here I expected to hate it more than I do. The track is pointless, sure, but so are most latterday covers of totemic songs. I was able to ignore all the Five-rapping silliness and concentrate on the meat (for this teenaged Queen fan of old) of Brian May’s mid-song guitar work, which is different enough from the original to spark interest. Won’t prompt me to listen to the thing more than once, but I didn’t actively resent spending 3 minutes on it the once, which is what usually prompts me to give a 1 or a 2. I might give this 4 or 5 – four, I think, for the aforementioned pointlessness.

    I’m struggling to see how WWRY and Don’t Stop Me Now go together, JLucas; I’d have called them two quite different sides of the Queen coin.

  27. 27
    Andrew on 10 Apr 2015 #

    Spurious trend alert!

    Two bunnies in the next three Popular months, like ‘We Will Rock You’:

    – are also by boybands from the British Isles,

    – are also cover versions of big hits from an earlier decade,

    – were also #2 hits in their original incarnations,

    – and also precede at least one further bunnied original composition for the boyband in question.

  28. 28
    onehitwanderer on 10 Apr 2015 #

    We’re a bit unlucky having to discuss this abomination at all – a cock up with one of the CD single formats cost Ronan a 2nd week at number 1…..

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/849367.stm

  29. 29
    Dano on 11 Apr 2015 #

    This 5ive version is truly dire on all too many levels (and wasn’t there also a tragic Brits appearance at the same time?) but #4 reminds me that the best version of this bastardised genre is the Sly Fox remix you can find here which was pretty fly for 1985 and pisses all over the gormless Ritchie & co:
    http://youtu.be/hJ7uiTVz4D4

  30. 30
    DanH on 11 Apr 2015 #

    At sporting events, I remember hearing a remake of “We Will Rock You” with guitar chords in the chorus that weren’t originally there. Perhaps it was this cover????

    I’ve always hated WWRY, so this was no desecration in my ears. Just silly. 4.

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