Posts Tagged ‘Freddie Mercury’

Masterpiece: Queen’s Greatest Hits

12 August 2010

[Today: Flamboyance with a capital F...]

While studying at London’s Royal Imperial College, guitarist Brian May formed a band with bassist Tim Staffell and drummer Roger Taylor. They called themselves Smile, and their biggest fan was a Parsi student from Zanzibar named Farrokh Bulsara. When Staffell left to join a group called Humpy Bong (you couldn’t make this stuff up), Bulsara stepped into the void and became the band’s frontman. At his urging, Smile changed their name to Queen, and with bassist John Deacon, went on to become one of the best selling bands of the 70s. Bulsara adopted the stage name Freddie Mercury and became one of the most important and flamboyant singers in the history of rock.

Between their self-titled debut in 1973 and Mercury’s death from AIDS-related pneumonia in 1991, Queen enjoyed 18 (!!!) #1 albums and shifted more than 30 million units. The best of the best of their output can be found in the 14 tracks on their Greatest Hits. From ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ to ‘Under Pressure’ to ‘We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions’, the music compiled here formed one of the strongest pillars of popular music in the 70s. If you’re not familiar with every word of these songs, you were definitely not listening to the radio during the decade of polyester and plaid.

But Queen’s Greatest Hits would be a masterpiece if it contained just one song. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is composed of six distinct sections, most notably a blatantly operatic passage that makes it unlike anything on the radio before or since. Song producer Roy Thomas Baker remembered Mercury playing an early version of the song for him: “He played the beginning on the piano, then stopped and said, ‘And this is where the opera section comes in!’ Then we went out to eat dinner.” ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is the third-best selling single in UK history, and spent three separate stints on the charts (upon release, after Mercury’s death, and behind the movie Wayne’s World).

Queen was a great band with outstanding individual parts (Brian May, for instance, is widely considered a guitar hero), but their massive success is down to Mercury, one of the most fearless, charismatic performers of his time. Of Indian decent, with bad teeth and a receding hairline, Mercury was the most unlikely of candidates to become a Rock God. But his preening stage presence set a prime example for the next generation of star-quality frontmen, including Axl Rose and Kurt Cobain. His work with Queen will always ring out, and Freddie Mercury will always wear the crown…

Listen: Bohemian Rhapsody

Listen: Another One Bites The Dust

Listen: Under Pressure

Stuck In My Head: Poker Face

31 March 2010

I never, ever listen to the radio. The Bay Area has few good stations, and really, why would I bother with the amount of portable CDs and CDRs floating around the house? But last week I found myself running errands with only an AM/FM radio at my disposal, and tuning into the local “Contemporary Urban” station (KMEL for those of you scoring) I was suddenly confronted with Lady Gaga. Most of us have seen the photos, the crazy outfits, the 22nd century fashion sense, but I hadn’t heard the music. The experience went something like this: …okay, this isn’t bad…[bobbing head]…hey, this is pretty good…[bobbing]…wow, I actually like this…[bobbing]…MAH MAH MAH POKER FACE!…[pumping fist out car window]…

Not pretty, I know, but therein lies my essential quandry with Lady Gaga – I’m either an old curmudgeon who doesn’t get it, or a hopeless dork slumming two musical generations below where I ought to be. Lady Gaga is clearly a flashy offshoot of the disco that I know and love, so I’m going with hopeless dork plus a splash of curmudgeon. ‘Poker Face’ has some great hooks and is worth repeat listens, but the fashion stuff makes me very suspicious. It’s not even the superficial nature of the gloss and glitz, but the sense that music is just one small part of Gaga Inc.

By all accounts, the woman born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta is sharp and saavy. She took her stage name from the Queen song ‘Radio Gaga’ and has spent the last several years seeking to outdo Freddie Mercury as a shockingly flamboyant rock star diva. Clearly comfortable with her own nudity, Gaga has worn plenty of outfits that make me feel like a mommy-what-are-those 5 year-old kid. And like Amy Winehouse, Lady Gaga’s music seems secondary to her function as a publicity machine.

She has claimed that her favorite philospher is Rilke – a weird declaration that is yet another red flag for my inner curmudgeon. Rilke was a German poet who wrote mainly on two topics: the quest for success and the meaning of true love. With her camera-friendly outfits and catchy hooks, Lady Gaga would appear to have mastered the former, while the lyrics of ‘Poker Face’ indicate that she’s taking the scenic route to the latter. “No great art has ever been made without the artist having known danger,” wrote Rilke. I don’t know if Lady Gaga is making great art, but those lobster shoes look pretty dangerous…

Listen: Poker Face

10 Fabulous Male Divas

24 July 2008

Repeated listens to Hercules And Love Affair last night left the P and I discussing the concept of the “male diva”. Antony Hegarty’s transformation into a sultry disco queen had us both amazed, and got us talking about who else fits into the ‘male diva’ category. The P wasn’t sure that male divas can exist outside of disco, but I disagree. For me, the term means more than a disco queen, a ‘prima donna’ or an androgynous character. Male divas project a flamboyant, stylish personality that’s larger than life and beyond rock star. Some are androgynous, and many are difficult, but all of these figures are shining beacons – attention magnets that demand you take notice…


Freddie Mercury | The undisputed champion male diva naturally fronted a band called Queen. In spite of bad teeth and a state trooper ‘stache, Mercury was one of the most glamorous rock stars of his day.


Sir Monti Rock III | The voice of Disco Tex & His Sex-O-lettes, Sir Monti had all the props any good male diva needs: fly hats, big fur coats, and tons of jewelry. His chiffon is wet, darling.


Prince | If Prince Rogers Nelson was just your average midwestern funkateer, he’d still make this list just for changing his name to that unpronounceable symbol for nearly a decade.


Sylvester | Nicknamed the “Queen of Disco”, Sylvester James was a transvestite hit-machine (‘You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)’ ‘Dance (Disco Heat)’ and more) who set the bar for disco queens who followed.


Mick Jagger | Nobody prances like Mick.


Elton John | “I’m the Connie Francis of rock ‘n’ roll” – Sir Elton John


Axl Rose | Forget the skin tight bicycle shorts, the habitual tardiness, and those adorable dreadlocks – only a true diva can take 10 years and spend $15 million on a single album. And besides, how could I squander this chance to put Axl and Liberace back-to-back?


Liberace | He wore more bling than the entire Wu Tang Clan, and might have had more chutzpah as well. It’s quite possible that he invented this category…


Robert Plant | He’s got the flowing, curly locks, and a falsetto that can crack bulletproof glass, but when Percy referred to himself as a “golden god”, he cemented his place in this Top 10.


RuPaul | Is he really a musician? Does it really matter? This list is no doubt incomplete without the man born RuPaul Andre Charles.

*****

And a half dozen runners-up…

Kanye West
David Lee Roth
Tom Jones
Johnny Rotten
David Johansen
David Bowie

*****

Listen: It’s Raining Men


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