Jun 11

QUEEN – “Bohemian Rhapsody”/”These Are The Days Of Our Lives”

Popular70 comments • 6,095 views

#672, 21st December 1991

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.



  1. 1
    Matthew H on 8 Jun 2011 #

    You can’t disentangle it from circumstance, but I really like ‘These Are The Days Of Our Lives’, the soft tones, the swoops of the verse. Couple it with the video and Freddie looking so frail, it’s devastating. Ever the shrewd showman, he’s playing out his last months for all they’re worth – I don’t mean that cynically; he’d want a neat, touching document, and it’s not as if he’d need to milk his situation for financial gain. It just feels like a goodbye, and as dignified as he could be.

    Don’t know the other song.

  2. 2
    punctum on 8 Jun 2011 #

    No comment – category C.

  3. 3
    will on 8 Jun 2011 #

    According to last week’s BBC doc Roger Taylor wrote These Are The Days, but it fitted perfectly, almost frighteningly so, as Mercury’s official farewell. I still find it moving, especially as I can relate more to its air of middle aged regret these days.

  4. 4
    jim5et on 8 Jun 2011 #

    One thing I love about this whole project is yr even-handed, affectionate treatment of Queen who so often get treated as a mad gin-soaked auntie. Though obviously they kind of are a mad gin-soaked auntie.

    This was my first term at Sussex, and I have 2 really strong memories of overheard music from then. In the first couple of weeks I remember walking across he campus and it seemed like every bedroom had a different track from Screamadelica at full whack (this was a couple of weeks before their Escape gig which was the single busiest train I ever got from Falmer to Brighton). The other one is the day Freddie died, which I discovered by hearing BoRap 27 times – at different points in the song – walking past a couple of halls. I can’t think of another star whose death brought the same affection from such a wide cross-section of 18 year olds.

  5. 5
    Cumbrian on 8 Jun 2011 #

    Not really a load of point talking about Bohemian Rhapsody to an extent – it’s already got it’s own entry and there is more than enough worthwhile material there I would have thought.

    TATDOOL is an interesting one. I really enjoyed the recent two part Queen documentary shown on the BBC. By this point in their career, Queen had decided to share song writing credits equally between all four members – presumably to quieten down some of the issues that they’d had in the early 80s around creative control of the group (issues that are most apparent from the reaction of the two public members of the group to the Hot Space album and some of Freddie’s comments around the time of his Mr Bad Guy album). It was interesting, to me at least, that the originator of this song was Roger Taylor, presumably talking about his own children who would have been on the cusp of adolescence at this point (i.e. before they got to be sulky teenagers!). It should be remembered that the song itself is not necessarily about death. It’s actually about parenthood and getting older and realising that partying is not the be all and end all – both ends of which it would seem Roger Taylor had extensive first hand experience.

    Nevertheless, Tom is right, to an extent, that the emotional value that might be have been placed on this was all subtext – brought staggeringly home with the behind the scenes footage of the final video shoot shown in the recent documentary. The video itself, shot in soft focus black and white to try and hide just how ill Mercury was, does a hell of a job, as the full colour footage literally made me exclaim “bloody hell” to the screen. I’ve not been close to anyone who has died of AIDS, so it did a certain job of educating me – credit to the band that they kept working right up until the point when Freddie had definitely had enough.

    The song itself is pleasant but, on its own merits, hardly shattering. The solo is one of Brian May’s more tasteful efforts and, I think, demonstrates the difference between a decent guitarist and the session guy that manages to kill the momentum in 1991’s earlier Everything I Do. May starts slow and brings the solo to a crescendo that, as a result, makes the last chorus more celebratory than wistful – only for it to be undercut by the final whispered “I still love you” – reminding us all, one final time, just what the subtext of all this is.

  6. 6
    Chelovek na lune on 8 Jun 2011 #

    A beautiful and sensitive song. And a fitting tribute.

  7. 7
    MikeMCSG on 8 Jun 2011 #

    This is the last genuinely Queen number one ; the last couple of singles with Freddie’s vocals not quite getting there in 95. “A Winter’s Tale” is Freddie’s real farewell but alas didn’t have much of a tune to go with its poignant lyrics.

    People have said that Queen’s quality control wasn’t that great but when you listen to Roger Taylor’s solo stuff – “Nazis” being the prime example – you realise that it probably worked quite well.

    Should Brian and Rog still be trading under the Queen banner ? I don’t know. On the one hand you think they’re both smart and rich enough to do somethig else. On the other they didn’t kill Freddie, the songs belong to them just as much and if not them some awful tribute band would be cashing in.

  8. 8
    wichita lineman on 8 Jun 2011 #

    Queen are certainly loved by mad gin-soaked aunties. And mums. They aren’t loved in any circles I move in (bar this one), nobody I knew was gutted when Freddie died, and I still struggle with their right wing panto. Sorry.

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  10. 10
    punctum on 8 Jun 2011 #

    Panto, fair enough, but right wing? Freddie almost certainly voted Tory and so until recently did Brian May but I don’t see how any of that comes into their music; they’re hardly Skrewdriver.

  11. 11
    Cumbrian on 8 Jun 2011 #

    10: I want to know when Brian May, Freddie Mercury et al would have found the time to vote Tory – do you reckon they organised their postal vote diligently before going on tour and, subsequently, when working abroad as tax exiles or what have you?

    I’m not disputing the crux of what you’re saying but the thought of international rock stars getting their butlers to proxy vote for them or some such is quite amusing.

  12. 12
    Billy Hicks on 8 Jun 2011 #

    jim5et – Certainly a notable death in June 2009 brought similar affection from my wide cross-section of 20 year olds. I guess that’s the following decade’s equivalent to Mercury’s.

    The first song I’ve already talked about in its first Popular entry, how it blew me away in 2000 in my first year of secondary school. Days Of Our Lives? I’m not the right age to appreciate it yet, the talk of how great things were “when we were young” – it’s a similar reason why I don’t quite ‘get’ Being Boring yet. Those days haven’t ‘all gone’ yet, but ask me again in a decade or two. Both this and PSB’s are still beautiful and always worth a listen, I just don’t share that emotional sentiment yet.

    So yes, RIP Freddie, you deserved a posthumous #1 and this is a fitting tribute. But it kept off what would have been two of the best number 1s ever in January 1992 – ‘Everybody In The Place’ by The Prodigy, and ‘Justified & Ancient’ by The KLF (and Tammy Wynette) both stalled at #2 behind this. What a monumental start to the year they would have been!!

  13. 13
    MikeMCSG on 8 Jun 2011 #

    Doesn’t the right wing thing come from the refusal to apologise for Sun City and playing in South American dictatorships ?

    I would acquit them but it seems being apolitical is tantamount to being “right wing” among our present day commissars.

  14. 14
    punctum on 8 Jun 2011 #

    They were maybe naive to play Sun City but that doesn’t make them apologists for fascism.

  15. 15
    Cumbrian on 8 Jun 2011 #

    13: They address the Sun City thing in the second part of the documentary. Funnily enough, it presents the Queen side of the story rather than both sides but for what it’s worth they claim that they insisted on non-segregated audiences (when asked how white the audiences were, Taylor concedes, mostly white), that they made an effort to visit non-white areas of the country and financially supported a school for the handicapped for victims of apartheid from the time of the visit onwards.

    I would say it was a pretty silly thing for them to do – and Taylor seems to agree, stating he wished he’d “never heard of the bloody place”. Does it make them right wing? Dunno. Were the members of the band right wing? Again, dunno really. As Marcello points out, Brian May seems to be anti-Tory now, though I think this is a one issue thing (treatment of animals). He might well be right wing in all other senses but I haven’t a clue whether he is or not.

  16. 16

    “our present day commissars” — you are a comical fellow sometimes, mike

  17. 17
    thefatgit on 8 Jun 2011 #

    He stood in monotone, soft focus, pancake make-up hiding the blotchiness of his skin, looking like Bogarde in “Death In Venice”…but his eyes still sparkled. They’re the last to go. When all of your being screams in pain, and the thin, gaunt figure you see in the mirror echoes an avatar created by your “good friend” a good few years back, you know that chilling hand is already reaching for your shoulder, then it’s time to make way, to say your goodbyes and thank everybody for a wonderful time. The life and soul of the party was leaving.

    And when the door closed shut and the taxi whisked him off, we returned to remember his moment of triumph, toast his memory and flip over to listen to that instant, that moment when he said he loved us and meant it.

    Only, you never got the sense from anyone that this was someone “gone to soon”. Rock & Roll deaths are events that spawn death cults and legend-creation. Freddie was different. The stigma associated with AIDS and HIV robbed us of the opportunity to lionise Mercury, as we had with Lennon or Elvis. And here was a performer that could easily outshine legends onstage. Yes, we were all sad. Yes, we all missed that vitality and joie de vivre, that was absent from all subsequent Queen output. A Freddie-shaped hole. This was perhaps the saddest posthumous hit this (Popular) side of “You Know You’re Right”.

  18. 18
    enitharmon on 8 Jun 2011 #

    I’ve said something about how I felt about Mercury’s death a couple of entries back (when it happened) and I’m not going to repeat myself now.

    I first heard Queen at the Mountford Hall, Liverpool University, when they were not yet widely known. I was blown away, especially by Mercury’s stagecraft. Whatever political stances are reflected in their repertoire are no more relevant to me, a fly-blown trot, and my enjoyment of their work than those of Evelyn Waugh, or T S Eliot. Or, for that matter, Mick Jagger.

  19. 19
    Jimmy the Swede on 8 Jun 2011 #

    I’m afraid I personally don’t give a stuff if they are/were Tories or not, aside from the curiosity (if they were) of someone in the industry not being naturally alligned to the Left, either in truth or for show. Queen were certainly not apologists for fascism for playing Sun City and other places, though, as Marcello says.

    But I do agree entirely with Mike’s (“I would acquit them but it seems being apolitical is tantamount to being “right wing” among our present day commissars”). I’m assuming he’s referring to that bastion of impartiality, the BBC.

  20. 20
    wichita lineman on 8 Jun 2011 #

    Yes, Queen voted Tory. Queen were apologists for fascism. That’s exactly what I said. No, I said ‘right wing panto’ – they played Sun City, they didn’t apologise for their naive mistake.

  21. 21
    punctum on 8 Jun 2011 #

    I see you still overrate absolute truth.

  22. 22
    MikeMCSG on 8 Jun 2011 #

    # 19 Not specifically. Basically anyone who would take Howard Kirk as a role model rather than a villain. No doubt there are plenty of them at the BBC as elsewhere !

  23. 23
    Erithian on 8 Jun 2011 #

    Not many records can have been made in such circumstances – the singer dying, and only he and a select entourage know about it, but as soon as people see the video they’re going to realise that something is seriously wrong with him. So it’s inevitably going to be seen as a leave-taking, if not immediately then soon and forever afterwards (that’s not meant to sound like Bogart, sorry!). And what a beautiful one – sensitively put together, with a wonderfully appropriate and tasteful guitar solo, lovely understated percussion and so many pretty flourishes (that line “the days were endless, we were crazy, we were young” delivered with a little leap of energy, you can almost hear Liza Minnelli singing it).

    Even in Queen’s early days, nearly two decades before he wrote this, differences in perspective between generations were a common lyrical theme in Roger Taylor’s songs. “The Loser in the End” from “Queen II” addresses “mothers everywhere” with the words “you’ll get forgotten on the way/if you don’t let them have their fun/Forget regrets and just remember/it’s not so long since you were young”. In “Drowse” from “A Day at the Races”, which looks back to a childhood where you’re asked “to waste all your good times/in thoughts of your middle-aged years”, he concludes “there’s all the more reason for living or dying/when you’re young and your troubles are all very small”. “Tenement Funster” and “I’m In Love With My Car” are both keenly aware of the narrator’s youth facilitating the lifestyle he’s enjoying. Even in “Radio Ga Ga” there’s the wistful comparison between his generation’s consumption of radio, his parents’ and his children’s. You get glimpses of his Truro upbringing and the sense that he’d have been pretty well-adjusted even without the wealth the band brought him. Drummers with a catalogue of songs this good, anyone?

  24. 24
    Cumbrian on 8 Jun 2011 #

    #23 Don Henley?

  25. 25
    hardtogethits on 8 Jun 2011 #

    It’s fascinating that this originated from Roger Taylor. On first hearing, it was beautiful and moving, and seemed like a poignant and sincere farewell note from Freddie Mercury. I think it remains so, and it has evaded airplay, which helps. What surprised me the very first time I heard it, in some or other TV broadcast noting Freddie Mercury’s death, was that its poignancy and sincerity were amplified by the use of such an unusual phrase “Those Were The Days Of Our Lives.” This is a phrase which does not belong in the vernacular. In common use, the phrase is elliptical: “Those were the days…” Whether any further qualification may help is moot; no-one ever says “Those Were The Days Of Our Lives”.

    But it’s obvious what was meant here. It was not an attempt to contrast the current period of time with a former one (though the use of “these” and “those” suggests it). There isn’t any disrespect when he sings “Those Were The Days”. Instead, it is a gentle reminder that “You Only Live Once” – and by writing / singing so much of the song (but not all of it) in first person plural, clearly someone else is involved and being implored to make the most of their short time on earth. “Fine. Youy may have had happy times and it’s ok to say “Those Were The Days…”, but I urge you to enjoy the present. “These Are The Days…”, please.”

    Maybe some folk at this point (or well before it) think “yeah – duh”. But still, I think there’s more to it than that. At the time, there was a sense that Mercury’s enunciation and lyrics were inseparable; both slightly odd and largely loveable – one a consequence of the other.

    As a farewell from the “intensely private” Freddie, one might have wanted the final outpouring to be the most frank and revealing yet – for us to feel the human touch from Planet Popstar, for us to hear him express himself in the way that all of us do. We didn’t, but we got the next best thing, a stylised and dignified statement of what he’d always been like, and we knew what he meant.

    This is why Roger Taylor’s involvement is so fascinating: was his writing so brilliant that he managed to punctuate it with the kind of oddities and mannerisms that suited Freddie Mercury so well they seemed like his own? Or did Freddie Mercury take over writing the song at a certain point? Not having seen the recent documentary (yet), these questions are not rhetorical, and I’d love to know the answers. But when I do, it won’t diminish my regard for an incredibly apt valedictory speech.

  26. 26
    23 Daves on 8 Jun 2011 #

    I’m probably one of the very few people who actually prefers “These Are The Days of Our Lives” to “Bohemian Rhapsody”. There again, I prefer a lot of Queen songs to BR, which is the source of a lot of bemusement. Whenever I tell almost anyone that I don’t really like “Bohemian Rhapsody”, I’m on the receiving end of aghast expressions and people insisting that I’m trying to wind them up. However, I genuinely don’t get it. I find the Gilbert and Sullivanisms combined with the rockisms and melodrama downright confusing and distracting, like having a perfectly good song trapped amongst punched fists and tomfoolery. To me, it always sounded disjointed and jarring, whereas clearly to the rest of the world it made total and absolute sense from day one. Maybe one day it will make complete sense to me.

    “These Are The Days”, on the other hand, genuinely made me well up when I first saw the video, and would have been a fine track to bow out on in itself. One wonders why they couldn’t have let it stand alone, perhaps reissuing “Bohemian Rhapsody” at a later date to prevent it from becoming too much of a distraction. I’m sure that at this point any Queen related product would have stormed the top of the charts. I’m sure all concerned had their own reasons (not least, as suggested above, that the intentions behind the Taylor-penned track weren’t really Freddie-related).

  27. 27
    wichita lineman on 8 Jun 2011 #

    Re 23: Dave Clark

  28. 28
    lonepilgrim on 8 Jun 2011 #

    It’s not a bad way to sign off – the lyrics are direct and don’t attempt to be overly clever – Freddie’s performance reminds me of Judy Garland a little, the diva battling to the end.

  29. 29
    thefatgit on 8 Jun 2011 #

    #23 er…P**l C****ns.

  30. 30
    anto on 8 Jun 2011 #

    As my Mum put it he’s just the sort of person you would miss having around. Indeed if that Queen documentary told us one thing it’s why so many of us miss Freddie. Whatever your views on Queens records people with that sense of self and charisma don’t come along every day not to mention the talent(there’s no voice quite like it), the rapport with an audience and humour! I had forgotten what a funny guy he was.
    That brief clip from a seventies concert where he turns to the audience in his harlequin leotard and says ” I love to pose ” in a casual camp tone.
    Not quite the first musical death I remember but the first time I really noticed an absence in pop. Having never suffered a loss up to that point his passing did signal one of the tougher life lessons to follow and clearly the generation who didn’t remember Bohemian Rhapsody first time around picked up something of the spirit. There is a reason why pops current queen calls herself Gaga. These Are The Days Of Our Lives is a touching song where the simple joy of being alive is clutched lovingly even as it slips away.
    Maybe Queen were very silly about politics with a capital P but I would also vouch for Freddie Mercury as one of the bravest rock singers. An openly gay man who became a hero to countless hetero rock fans and refused to be bowed by some agressive homophobia in the press. No wonder he grew to dread interviews.

  31. 31
    Wheedly on 8 Jun 2011 #

    #23 Dennis Wilson? Dave Grohl? Bill Berry?

    As for These Are the Days of Our Lives, a fine song, well sung. As with so many Queen records, though, it’s a good record that might have been a better one.
    In this case the drum programming and keyboard-sound choices make the record somewhat claustrophobic when a lighter and more airy touch might have suited the song’s wistfulness better. The percussion that hops between left and right speakers tends to distract me and stop me giving full attention to the vocal.
    Maybe it’s just a reflection of my own tastes, but I’d love to hear a simpler treatment.

  32. 32
    Wheedly on 8 Jun 2011 #

    #23 again – Pretty sure that Marvin Gaye’s first gig at Motown was playing drums with the Miracles. Does he count?

  33. 33
    Jimmy the Swede on 8 Jun 2011 #

    # 23 still – Karen Carpenter had to be dragged screaming away from her drum kit, they say. Does she count?

  34. 34
    wichita lineman on 8 Jun 2011 #

    Ahh. What a fine evening, celebrating Lord P Sukrat’s birthday over a few cold drinks. If only we could have all been there. A pleasure to meet Punctum and Lena for the first time after three years (for me) of chatting here. Queen took second place to Arnold Bax. And absent friends were very much missed.

  35. 35
    weej on 9 Jun 2011 #

    I spent the Christmas of ’91 at my Grandma’s house in Liverpool, and Queen seemed to be everywhere. When Top Of The Pops was on Grandma said “Ever since I first heard that song, I knew he was going to die young.” My mum told her to stop being silly. My main impression was that Freddie looked very toothy and gawky in the video to Bohemian Rhapsody, which was a good thing.
    TATDOOL went perhaps a little over my head at the time, but listening now it’s as simple and effective as everyone else has said, a fitting note to finish a career on.

  36. 36
    punctum on 9 Jun 2011 #

    #34: Indeed. What a real pleasure it was for L and myself finally to meet WL – an absolute gentleman.

    Just to clear up a few matters: subsequent advanced doctoral research (i.e. checked record collection/Google when we got home) has shown that Arnold Bax wrote the London Pageant, that Vaughan Williams’ A London Symphony was his second, that the film Scott Of The Antarctic was indeed released in 1948 and that VW’s music for same formed the basis of his seventh symphony, the Sinfonia Antarctica. Oh, and the album that I recommended is actually entitled Barbra Streisand…And Other Musical Instruments.

    And I completely forgot to mention Eric Coates, who not only composed the London Suite but also the London Again Suite.

    When/if Desmond Carrington decides to retire I’m putting my name forward for sure.

  37. 37
    JonnyB on 9 Jun 2011 #

    #23 – Robert Wyatt?

    Fitting epitaphs. Bo Rap obviously stands on its own two feet regardless of circumstances. People tend to describe the song as in three sections: ballad/mad opera bit/heavy metal – but of course there’s that final grandeur of the ooh yeahs and that sustained, understated guitar playing on the wistful bit that takes it to the gong. Whatever you think of the lyrics, those dynamics bring in one hell of a sadness when put alongside Freddie’s death.

    In contrast, I’ve never been a fan of TTTDOOL. For me, Queen never seemed to know what to do with keyboards, and too often headed for the MOR setting; with all of them having a go at it they also lost many of the interesting passing chords, inversions an’ stuff that the previous full-time piano player had dropped in. But as people have pointed out – given the video and the context… wow.

  38. 38
    Mark G on 9 Jun 2011 #

    Hmm, BR has five sections: 1) acapella intro 2) ballad 3) madopera 4) hmetal 5) closing oohyeah and end.

  39. 39
    JonnyB on 9 Jun 2011 #

    Oh er yeah I knew that of course, honest guv. But I’ve seen it described as a three-act thing so many times. (Wasn’t reading Popular when the original went #1 – may have to check back and find myself so totally isolated on this one…)

  40. 40
    wichita lineman on 9 Jun 2011 #

    Re 36: Thanks! Yes, Eric Coates, of course. I think a few of those names crop up in the first chapters of Electric Eden, but there’s definitely a book/long essay to be written.

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    Erithian on 9 Jun 2011 #

    #26 – TATD certainly would have stood alone as a fine tribute. On the other hand, wasn’t this single raising money for AIDS charities like the George and Elton one had been? If you’re looking to maximise the yield to the charity, it’s not a bad idea to tie in the farewell single with the band’s best-known song which hasn’t been out as a single for 15 years. In terms of the all-time best selling singles in the UK, combining this re-issue with the original release took Bo Rhap from just outside the top ten to number two, overtaking “Mull of Kintyre” and second only to Band Aid, where it would stay until another notable premature death nearly six years hence.

    Thanks for the songwriting drummers, a choice collection. I was thinking of Dave Grohl and Karen Carpenter when I posted the original question. You could also mention Kevin Godley and, if you’re counting Marvin Gaye’s first gig as playing drums, you’d have to include Madonna (and maybe that bloke who played drums on The Ballad of John and Yoko…).
    Dave Grohl once listed his favourite drummer jokes for a magazine interview, which included:
    Q: What’s the last thing a drummer says before he leaves the band?
    A: “Hey guys, why don’t we do one of MY songs?”

    Oh, and happy belated birthday P*nk Lord. Maybe you can advertise next year’s bash on this site?!

  42. 42
    wichita lineman on 9 Jun 2011 #

    What did Karen Carpenter write?

  43. 43
    thefatgit on 9 Jun 2011 #

    ^^ You beat me to it, Wichita. Her ill-fated solo album never had a single writing credit attributed to Karen. And Richard wrote for The Carpenters didn’t he?

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    Erithian on 9 Jun 2011 #

    Indeed he did, I (and no doubt Jimmy at #33) thought she might have picked up a joint credit here or there.

  45. 45
    wichita lineman on 9 Jun 2011 #

    Most of the time it was outside writers, but Richard wrote Goodbye To Love, Top Of The World, Yesterday Once More and Only Yesterday.

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    Mark G on 9 Jun 2011 #


  47. 47
    Cumbrian on 9 Jun 2011 #

    @25: My understanding of the Queen writing process prior to the sharing of the song credits was that the originator of the song would bring it to the group, stuff would be suggested by all members and the originator had final say over whether these ideas would be included or not (apparently this was the major source of tension in Hot Space, with May and Taylor desperate to add rock bits to Deacon and Mercury’s songs, with them steadfastly refusing, as they wanted to make more of a disco/funk record).

    When they started sharing credits, I think a similar situation obtained but with time limited due to Freddie’s ill health, there was less worrying and more collaboration. I suspect that Freddie’s hand is in there on TATDOOL though I have not seen concrete proof of that (and more is the point, given his ill health and how many decent takes he would have been capable of, I’ll bet that he would have been able to sing it as he wanted on the grounds that that was what he was physically able to do). On his vocals near the end of his life, the documentary repeats the well known story about the recording of The Show Must Go On but also reveals that for his last few vocals for Made In Heaven, he did three different takes and that was what the rest of the band were going to get to work with, end of story (understandably).

    If you still haven’t seen it, I really recommend the documentary. The story Brian May tells about his Dad coming to see them perform is a good one besides all the other stuff they talk about.

  48. 48
    AndyPandy on 9 Jun 2011 #

    re 36, 40
    I think theres a very good book to be written about the Light music genre (Coates, Haydn Wood, Albert Ketelbey, Eric Fenby, Arthur Wood, Sidney Torch etc) as a whole. A movement which in its heyday 1920s-mid 50s evokes the England of that time like no other and with most if not all of the composers coming from working-class/lower middle class backgrounds usually in the provinces many also having interesting life-stories. In fact I’ve only recently found out Haydn Wood was born in a hotel (now demolished) about 2 miles from where I currently work in a small town called Slaithwaite near Huddersfield.

    And I’ve thought for a long time that amazing ambient type stuff is waiting to be conjured by the right person from Ketelbey’s ‘In A Monastery Garden’…

    ps as has been mentioned its very hard to summon many (open)Tory voters from the ranks of pop musicians however IMHO 2 of the few Gary Numan (before he went shit in the 90s)and Joy Division’s Ian Curtis made some of their era’s most individualistic music – I don’t know what that proves – if it proves anything…

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    ace inhibitor on 19 Jun 2011 #

    ‘right wing’ panto? Yes. The cultural/sporting boycott of SAfrica was utterly mainstream in political terms in the 80s, encompassing all parliamentary parties (including some softish tories), the sporting establishment blazers, and pretty much every representative of the black majority in South Africa itself. The ‘right wing’ position wasn’t support for apartheid itself – that was only the position of the absolute loons of the far right, including one or two MPs linked to the Tory Monday Club – the mainstream ‘right wing’ position was, well we don’t like apartheid either but boycotts don’t do any good, you can’t interfere with people’s right to make money, and ‘politics’ has nothing to do with sport & showbusiness. pretty much exactly the Queen position, then and after. In context, ‘apolitical’ doesn’t mean anything I’m afraid – to say ‘its not a political issue’ was, precisely, the right wing argument

  50. 50
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 19 Jun 2011 #

    The sporting boycott was indeed mainstream, but the cultural boycott — the extent of it and the nature of it — was really pretty controversial, as witness the flare-up two years after the Sun City incident over Paul Simon’s Graceland. I covered the Graceland story with Terry Staunton for NME, and it simply isn’t true that every chapter of the anti-apartheid org took the same line: there was absolutely a split between the UK and US position on it.

    “I Want to Break Free” had been adopted as a populist liberation anthem in South America in the early 80s, certainly. When FMerc performed it in drag in (I think) Rio, many in the audience were booing and throwing things, because they thought he was mocking the revolutionary spirit of the song — which at the very least underscores the sheer unstable oddness of the phrase “right wing panto” (does crossdressing affirm gender norms or subvert them?)

    Several sources also say it became a black liberation anthem in South Africa (the actual book I first read this in is a v.poorly written Mercury biog, so caveat lector, but wikipedia does give other citations) — I’m less persuaded by this, but their big non-European tours at that time were definitely a response to their huge popularity outside the Anglophone world.

    The scale of their popularity outside America and Europe was such that they were just completely disconnected from rock-cultural norms, I think; they were responding to their fans elsewhere, rather than their non-fans here. Plus they’d been being pretty spitefully attacked by the UK press, music and otherwise, for so long that they simply didn’t pay the bad press over this serious new issue mind until way after the fact. It’s totally a fair claim that Queen playing Sun City was out of step with the times — but they’d never made the slightest attempt to be in step with the times, which is why they’re such a fascinating operation…

    So I’m prepared to cede Sun City as a significant (and stupid) miscalculation rather than a deliberate counter-progressive stance — and to read their non-discussion of it afterwards (and non-apology) as part-and-parcel of their refusal to take the UK press seriously at any time

    “We Are the Champions” is — arguably — a Queen song with actual rightwing content (“No time for losers!”) but it’s *really* unclear the degree to which the song celebrates an attitude or mocks and undermines it. Panto is not an irony-free form.

  51. 51
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 19 Jun 2011 #

    “I Want to Break Free” had been adopted as a populist liberation anthem in South America in the early 80s, certainly: think I’m gnna to amend that last word to “apparently”, since the story seems mainly to come via Brian May himself, in Q… But the main point still stands, that the band are using the (obviously silly) term “apolitical” as a self-justificatory breakwater for “maintaining full ambiguity”… the latter being srs bsns for them, from the outset.

  52. 52
    wichita lineman on 19 Jun 2011 #

    Right wing panto. OK, well I wrote that in haste, but still… Playing Sun City when they did was “out of step with the times”. You could say that. It’s very generous to Queen. Dusty Springfield and Adam Faith had both caused problems by not wanting to play to segregated audiences in the mid 60s. Dusty was deported for her troubles. It wasn’t an apolitical move. It was greedy at best.

    Panto, yes. We Are The Champions and puss-in-jackboots One Vision.

    Playing guitar on the roof of Buckingham Palace in a union jack suit?!? Not exactly the chimes of freedom flashing, is it?

    Side one track one on every Now! comp is a shitty move, too. They don’t seem like generous people.

    I don’t hate Queen, and quite like a few of their singles. I just find them entirely unloveable. They seem more like a corporation than a pop group. I imagine them discussing their new album at an AGM.

    Right wing AND panto might have been more accurate.

  53. 53
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 19 Jun 2011 #

    Well, they claimed on their return to have insisted that the audiences at Sun City NOT be segregated when they played there — though this demand may not have been remotely a realistic one in terms of who was going to be able to turn up. (I can’t actually find any info on this on the internet that doesn’t come more or less via them: but no one seems to be challenging this claim anywhere, either: unless anyone reading knows different.)

    I don’t really have a problem with calling it greedy; certainly it was extremely self-absorbed.

    “Playing guitar on the roof of Buckingham Palace in a union jack suit”: surely this was just Brian May, not Queen? (Freddie was very dead by then, so it really wasn’t Queen…)

  54. 54
    ace inhibitor on 19 Jun 2011 #

    Well, I just thought it was a funny line…

    ‘Graceland’ was controversial within the anti-apartheid/boycott movement itself because it was much harder to see how Simon giving work and publicity to black African musicians was a ‘bad thing’ – Queen taking the Sun City money less ambiguous, surely…. but point taken & was interested by sukrat etc’s observations on US V UK perspectives etc. I suppose my perspective is/was a UK one… I’d stand by the general (maybe fairly banal) point though that the politics of a gesture can’t just be read off from the (professed) intentions & that in context Queen ‘responding to their fans [in SA], rather than their non-fans here’ lined them up, intentionally or not, with what was a right-wing position.

    Not, of course, that that necessarily makes it an illegitimate position. Right-wing is a descriptive term rather than an evaluative one. (I mean, I DO think it makes you a bad person, myself, but thats beside the point.) One of the odd, and funny, things about the reaction to WL’s post was that people seemed to react against the ‘right wing’ bit of it, rather than the more obviously insulting (in this context) ‘panto’, which just seemed to get nodded through…

  55. 55
    wichita lineman on 19 Jun 2011 #

    Re 54: Thanks! And I meant panto as an insult. We Are The Champions is based on a primary school playground chant, after all.

    Yes, being English I’ll have a UK perspective, though the US perspective on certain groups – eg The Clash and Primal Scream – does fascinate me because it means I can point and laugh at weighty West London bores who think ‘Bob G’ is a freaking messiah.

    I think being ‘right wing’ makes you a bad person, too.

    Re Graceland, the Los Lobos story is – looking back – the most offensive aspect of it.

  56. 56
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 19 Jun 2011 #

    Well, certainly the argument Queen were making more or less at the time (though only after the criticism burst all over them) was that it was their black AND white fans they were playing for– cue discussion about “want to break free” as an ANC anthem etc — and that playing for everyone was surely the opposite of apartheid blah blah… Like I say, I’m not very convinced by this — assuming they’re not fibbing themselves about the anthem, who were they talking that was telling them this? (They did play Nelson M’s 90th birthday…!); but the context of their relationship to their Brazilian fans, round the same time, and the politics of THAT, is not irrelevant to their judgment, even if it mostly contributed to their confused self-importance.

    Sun City was opened in the late 70s, in Bophuthatswana, one of the Bantustans, where various things that were illegal in South Africa, including gambling and pole dancing, could go on; it was pretty much a Las Vegas type place, and actually not segregated by law (though to all intents and purposes segregated by economics). Stars who played included Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Elaine Paige, Frank Sinatra, Elton John, Sarah Brightman, Julio Iglesias, The O’Jays, Boney M., Black Sabbath, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Dionne Warwick, Laura Branigan — also I believe Millie Jackson and Ray Charles. The Artists against Apartheid reaction, in particular Little Stevie’s 1985 record, was almost certainly catalysed by Queen playing there in 1984.

    Here’s Roger Taylor discussing the ANC story on youtube, then Brian May — can’t quite work out when this was recorded, in particular whether recorded before or after Live Aid. (RT’s not very fond of the MU, which is arguably also a rightwing issue; or would be if the MU had less of a poor rep with US jazz musicians especially.) Neither RT nor BM is BY ANY MEANS a master of the full political science of the Sun City issue: and I think this is all ex-post-facto stuff, anyway. I’d argue that the main sense in which playing there “helped” (ie helped dismantle apartheid) was that it catalysed a public counterreaction and mobilisation from other musicians, like Little Stevie and Jerry Dammers, which really isn’t a justification Queen can help themselves to.

    But their desire not to be co-opted into the discourse, or be part of anyone else’s “gang”? As I say, I think this is who they always were; and it’s why I find them interesting.

  57. 57
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 19 Jun 2011 #

    MU = Musicians Union btw, not the Justified Ancients…

  58. 58
    Mark G on 19 Jun 2011 #

    We did wonder what the fuck was going on…

  59. 59
    AndyPandy on 20 Jun 2011 #

    and I’m sure I’ve read that another reason for Queen doing it was Freddie Mercury response that he as a person of non-European descent was not being told what to do by whites about issues related to the non-white world and Africa in particular.

    I could be wrong but didn’t Shirley Bassey say something similar?

  60. 60
    Pete on 20 Jun 2011 #

    Sounds a bit like retroactive justification, but then as a Parsi growing up in Africa (and there being a significant Indian population in South Africa) its not a bad post facto scrabble.

  61. 61
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 20 Jun 2011 #

    59/60: certainly that argument is there to be made, though as far as I can find FMerc didn’t actually publicly make it at the time; and May and Taylor don’t exactly make a deft fist of exploring it on his behalf. And the request that people not play Sun City did original came via the ANC, so the “whitey don’t tell me what to do” line is not without its flaws. The very bad biog I actually just read is more or less clueless about the Parsi dimension; it’s a teenytiny bit better on gay politics (ie rubbish but at least aware of the shape of the issue).

    Possibly I actually need to read a better biog.

  62. 62
    Pete on 20 Jun 2011 #

    Or write it.

  63. 63
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 20 Jun 2011 #

    If only there were a way to crowdsource it…

  64. 64
    wichita lineman on 20 Jun 2011 #

    Haha! Get to it, man!

  65. 65
    Mark M on 20 Jun 2011 #

    Re 61: as I think I’ve suggested on one of these Queen discussion before, he always seemed to me much more closeted about his Asianness than the other business. If the fans did think about it all, they seemed to have leant towards exotic angle, describing him as Persian rather than Indian, thus not lumping him in with your neighbourhood Gujarati newsagent. At least one of the recent TV programmes has tried to correct this somewhat, putting the Mumbai years back in the mix.

    As for Sun City, I know we went into some of this stuff in the thread . But the frankly, the notion of playing to mixed crowds in a luxury resort is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of apartheid – depriving the majority population of any economic power whatsoever was even more important than the most visible signs of separate living like segregated toilets. If there were Queen fans in Soweto, they certainly were going to be able to pop along to see their heroes play at Sun City.

    It’s worth reiterating that – as Lords S mentions – the Anti-Apartheid Movement largely took its lead from the ANC. And the ANC wasn’t some distant thing if you were in Britain: its president, Oliver Tambo, lived in Muswell Hill. If you wanted an actual ANC representative for the opening of your student union’s Nelson Mandela Lounge, you could get one (although they could turn out to be ‘disappointingly’ Jewish rather than Xhosa).
    Obviously, without elections to judge it, it wasn’t unambiguously clear that the ANC represented the will of the South African people, and therefore people playing Sun City could have had some wiggle room. But history has given us a pretty clear answer on this – we were guessing, just as Mrs Thatcher was guessing, but we were right and she was wrong.

  66. 66
    Mark M on 20 Jun 2011 #

    Re 65: Er, that’s obviously not to say that the ANC haven’t done plenty of dodgy things in their time in power, just that they deserved to be regarded as the voice of the South African people more than the National Party, the Progressive Party/Democratic Alliance, the IFP, the PAC or indeed anyone else…

  67. 67
    hectorthebat on 1 Apr 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1-1001
    Blender (USA) – Standout Tracks from the 500 CDs You Must Own (2003)
    Blender (USA) – The Greatest Songs Ever, One Song Added Every Other Month
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Life (USA) – 40 Years of Rock & Roll, 5 Songs for Each Year 1952-91 (Updated 1995)
    Pause & Play (USA) – 10 Songs of the 70’s (2003)
    Popdose (USA) – 100 (+21) Favorite Singles of the Last 50 Years (2008) 9
    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (USA) – 500 Songs That Shaped Rock (1994?)
    Rolling Stone & MTV (USA) – The 100 Greatest Pop Songs Since the Beatles (2000) 29
    Rolling Stone (USA) – 40 Songs That Changed the World (2007)
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2004) 163
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Updated 2010) 166
    Steve Sullivan (USA) – Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings (2013) 501-600
    TIME (USA) – The All-Time 100 Songs (2011)
    The Recording Academy Grammy Hall of Fame Albums and Songs (USA)
    Treble (USA) – The Top 200 Songs of the 1970s (2012) 34
    Ultimate Classic Rock (USA) – Top 100 Classic Rock Songs (2013) 7
    VH1 (USA) – The 100 Greatest Songs of All Time (2000) 27
    2FM (Ireland) – Top 100 Singles of All Time (2003) 8
    BBC Radio2 (UK) – Sold on Song, a Celebration of Great Songs and Songwriting
    Dave Thompson (UK) – 1000 Songs that Rock Your World (2011) 53
    HarperCollins GEM (UK) – Single of the Year 1949-99 (1999)
    Kerrang! (UK) – 100 Greatest Singles of All Time (2002) 22
    Mojo (UK) – The 100 Greatest Singles of All Time (1997) 40
    Mojo (UK) – The Ultimate Jukebox: 100 Singles You Must Own (2003) 47
    NME (UK) – The 100 Best Songs of the 1970s (2012) 52
    Q (UK) – 100 Songs That Changed the World (2003) 32
    Q (UK) – 50 Greatest British Tracks (2005) 5
    Q (UK) – 50 Years of Great British Music, 10 Tracks per Decade (2008)
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 524
    Q (UK) – The 1010 Songs You Must Own (2004)
    Q (UK) – Top 20 Singles from 1970-1979 (2004) 2
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 3
    Musikexpress (Germany) – The 700 Best Songs of All Time (2014) 24
    Rolling Stone (Germany) – The 500 Best Songs of All Time (2004) 240
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Hervé Bourhis (France) – Le Petit Livre Rock: The Juke Box Singles 1950-2009
    Volume (France) – 200 Records that Changed the World, 2008 (38 songs)
    Rocks Musiczine (Spain) – The 100 Best Rock Songs in History (1995) 37
    STM Entertainment (Australia) – The 50 Best Songs Ever (2007) 6
    Toby Creswell (Australia) – 1001 Songs (2005)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    New Musical Express (UK) – Singles of the Year 4
    Record Mirror (UK) – Singles of the Year 9

  68. 68
    Ed on 4 Mar 2019 #

    #2 watch: The Prodigy – Everybody in the Place


  69. 69
    Lee Saunders on 10 Mar 2019 #

    Though their third highest charting hit (and my favourite among them), EITP doesn’t seem as well remembered as Charly, Out of Space, No Good, Voodoo People, Poison et al, which is a shame. When Liam mentioned to an interviewer in 96 that “I think we had a number one before Firestarter” I assume he was thinking of this, but not knowing which song he was thinking about (and that I don’t think it was a part of their sets at the time) seems a bit neglectful on their part. On their best of album it only appears towards the end among the lesser known hits.

  70. 70
    Gareth Parker on 1 May 2021 #

    TATDOOL possesses an elegiac and reflective quality to me. 8/10

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