Apr 15

FIVE + QUEEN – “We Will Rock You”

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#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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  1. 31
    Izzy on 11 Apr 2015 #

    29: nice. It also brings to mind Billy Squier’s The Stroke, which together take us halfway to that mythical playlist.

  2. 32
    Phil on 11 Apr 2015 #

    #29 – is LGATW a remix? Wonderful whatever it is – really quite punk.

  3. 33
    Ronnie on 13 Apr 2015 #

    A thought: This is basically the same song as New Kids on the Block’s “Hangin’ Tough”

  4. 34
    anto on 16 Apr 2015 #

    The reason why I’ve never really warmed to Queen is because of their general thoughtlessness as a group – these foot-stomping, synchronised hand-clapping songs, phrases like ‘the race that lasts a thousand years’, the tour of South Africa (to be fair to Roger Taylor, he has acknowledged this was a mistake, Brian May goes along with the ‘if-you-avoided-touring-any-country-with-a-dodgy-government-there-wouldn’t-be-many-places-you-could-go’ line – a massive cop-out), the whole ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ on bikes publicity thing, the ‘legendary’ parties involving pole-vaulting dwarves and naked ladies opening bottles with their you-know-whats etc which are fondly remembered by idiotic hangers-on but which were clearly rather seedy and horrible, and of course the whole never-ending post-Freddie Mercury career which for all it’s best efforts just seems tawdry and ghoulish – the really painful thing is that unlike certain other rock bands with excessive reputations the members of Queen seem like decent, educated men, so why do they also seem so perennially misguided?

  5. 35
    Tommy Mack on 17 Apr 2015 #

    Did they actually play South Africa? I thought they played at Sun City which is obviously tantamount to the same thing but why is always Queen who get mentioned for Sun City? Did they go one further and actually play in Apartheid SA?

  6. 36
    Phil on 17 Apr 2015 #

    To me, playing Sun City was worse, if anything, than playing SA – Sun City was in Bophuthatswana, the madey-uppy “tribal homeland” to which SA hoped to confine much of its Black population, & which had no international recognition.

    As for why Queen were singled out, run your eyes over this list of people who played Sun City:

    The Beach Boys
    Frank Sinatra
    Paul Anka
    Status Quo
    Rod Stewart
    Elton John

    By 1984 Queen weren’t exactly cutting-edge, but they were quite a bit hipper than anyone else on that list; getting them was a bit of a coup for Sun City management. It was also bad timing: pressure to observe the UN boycott of the bantustans had been growing for several years by the time Queen went there; it was the following year when Steve Van Zandt organised the “Ain’t gonna play Sun City” single.

  7. 37

    further (ie earlier) discussion of queen in sun city here

    (i don’t imagine it’ll change anyone’s stance on them but there is some interesting granular detail in it i think)

    (fwiw i like queen a LOT — i think they’re an interesting curiosity of a band at all times — and their plainly rubbishy politics doesn’t really change this for me) (if anything it makes them more interesting) (if yuckier) (obviously brian may is a colossal twerp but he is also a DOCTOR OF COSMIC DUST)

  8. 38
    Mark M on 17 Apr 2015 #

    Re36: Queen, of course, are also the only one of those acts (as far as I know) featuring someone who was African-born and would have limited rights under apartheid (Indian South African had more rights than black South Africans by that point, but were still nowhere near being granted full equality with whites). Whether that constituted a PR coup along the lines of the West Indies rebel cricket tours is doubtful though, because Mercury was hardly assertively Asian.

  9. 39
    ciaran on 23 Jun 2015 #

    Never really liked Queen I have to say. A band that may sound enjoyable at 100db levels of noise but not suited for bedroom listening. Back in the Every Breath You Take thread someone mentioned how they thought ‘The Police’ were the worst Big Band Ever. Well Queen would get my vote if push came to shove.

    With the exceptions of the ‘4 for the price of 1’ Bohemian Rhapsody and maybe Another One Bites the Dust there’s little else to appreciate for a band that release so much and they’ve always struck me as a triumph of image over everything else.I could easily take to other 70s acts like Bolan, Slade, Led Zep but Queen does little for me.

    WWRY was well before my time but even by 2000 I was a bit sick of hearing it erm…all over the place.The Soundtrack to either Gladiators, a baseball home run, a juvenile sports team gloating to themselves after a victory, or a stag party at 1 or 2 o clock in the morning punching the air after a couple of cans.

    Its hard to fathom was was in it for both parties. You had say former US boyband members and rap artists coming together in the 00s but at least they complimented each other in a way. Joining forces with a short term boyband would always end badly for Queen.

    I like 5 over most boy bands but they are more sinning than sinned against here. Their own bits are done at a snails pace and very much phoned in before they drag the chorus down to new depths. You might be forgiven it was a commercial

    For all that though I would cut Five some slack as its a more interesting failure than the coupious amounts of boyband ballad bores we have had to deal with since 1995.3

  10. 40
    Phil on 24 Jun 2015 #

    “Little else to appreciate”? Having grown up with Queen, I still think of them as a singles band – and in the early years they released some amazing singles. That said, looking at their discography now I’m surprised to see how few years their great period covered – by 1976 they were already getting flabby and novelty-ish. Still odd flashes later, though. Not sure about image, either – a runty little drummer with a high voice, a guitarist with awful hair and a bassist who had even worse hair & looked like he knew it; it’s not exactly Kiss.

  11. 41
    MUSICALITY on 24 Apr 2017 #

    It’s ok and of a faster tempo which I liked more than the original.

  12. 42
    Mark G on 1 Mar 2019 #

    A terrible “gotcha” of trivia quiz nights is “Who reached Number One with “We Will Rock You” ? ”

    “Queen” will not get you the points…

  13. 43
    Gareth Parker on 31 May 2021 #

    Blimey, this is grim stuff. I’m tempted by the 1/10.

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