American Pop Presents: Golden Voices
FREDDY MERCURY: Requiem of a Legend in Black and White
UNCOMMON QUEEN. BOHEMIAN KING. FLAMBOYANT PRINCE
He was a human being blessed with the kind of transcendent ‘4-Octave’ voice talent that was bold enough to insist, and rare enough to dare the future ghosts of history to duplicate it. Much more than simply a man gifted with a golden voice, Freddy Mercury was a human being of remarkable character, imbued with a special brand of magnetic charisma, that he expressed with jovial flamboyance. Indeed, almost indistinguishable from the man, Freddy Mercury the performer enchanted audiences with the gravity of his talent. His musical legacy insists that the world will not soon forget, while his legend insists that we always remember. Indeed, the legacy of British super group ‘Queen’ is inextricably linked to their musical impresario, Freddy Mercury …
September 5th 1946 // November 24th 1991
Did You Know?
There is an exceedingly high probability that ‘QUEEN’ legendary lead vocalist and flamboyant frontman, Freddy Mercury is the only Rock and Roll Superstar in history, whose biography names the now defunct African territory of Sultanate of Zanzibar‘ … as their nation of origin and/or geography. (Yeah, that was our reaction also). Indeed, this strange but true circumstance exists as much as impressive trivia answer, as it does Sunday brunch anecdote. Full disclosure, the geography known as the ‘Zanzibar Archipelago’ is located on Africa’s eastern coastline, as part of the ‘Swahili Coast’, which bordered the nation we identify today as Kenya.
Studio Session circa 1980
QUEEN circa 1980
The Band: Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon
The Once and Future Voice for the Ages …
The history of ‘Rock and Roll’ can easily lay claim to myriad examples of era defining sounds, cultural influences, and musical innovations. These realities have co-existed over time, with proverbial tales of music industry drama, and volatility that have long tested the tensile strength recording artists souls. Indeed, in addition to the music itself, the historical tapestry of ‘Rock and Roll’ is inhabited equally by colorful, individual personalities, animated stories of triumph, and anecdotal tales of discord. Without question, the fabled institution of ‘Rock and Roll’ can claim more than it’s fair share of ‘pop culture legends’, ‘burn outs’, ‘fade aways‘, ‘not quite(s)’, and realities that for one reason or another, ‘never happened’.
QUEEN circa 1981
However, what ‘Rock and Roll’ cannot claim with reasonable certainty, is the existence of a comparable recording artist, stage performer, and band, as uniquely transcendent, and flamboyant, as Freddy Mercury and Queen.
In the plainest of expository terms, Mercury’s voice contained primal power that was deftly harnessed by a compelling harmony that spoke directly to the soul. To suggest that his vocal stylings were analogous to ‘magic’, is to risk crossing the literary Rubicon into the realm of ‘trite’. American Pop understands this jeopardy and readily accepts the risk. Indeed, it could be argued that Mercury’s ability to harmonically manipulate the idiosyncratic nature of his scream, into classic lyrics of musical expressionist gold, may very well be … magic.
In listening to Freddy Mercury sing, one is likely to routinely witness it’s movement through a dazzlingly diverse set of octave ranges. As ‘Queen’ grew in popularity and influence throughout the mid to late 1970’s on their way to the pinnacle majesty of the 1980’s, they became one of the biggest, most commercially successful stadium rock bands in the world. Discerning live audiences who were part of the era became accustomed to the live show auspices of the ‘Queen experience’. Those halcyon days, like the days of Freddy Mercury’s mortality, have since passed. However, the music, his memory, and that of the illustrious by-gone era, continue to exist as an integral part of the bedrock nostalgia … of the stadium rock era.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2001) // Songwriters Hall of Fame (2003)
‘Queen’ released their freshman album (eponymous titled) in 1973, which was a modest success though without any charted releases. In March of 1974 they released their sophomore effort, ‘Queen II‘, this album performed moderately better commercially, and gave Queen its first foray onto the U.K. Charts. However, by November of 1974 Queen released their junior album effort ‘Sheer Heart Attack‘. It was this, Queen’s 3rd album, that put them on the rock music map, internationally. ‘Sheer Heart Attack’ was Queen’s first album to break into the U.S. Billboard Top 20 Album Charts. peaking at number 12 in 1975.
The first single release from their ‘‘Sheer Heart Attack’ album, ‘Killer Queen’ became Queen’s first charted top 10 single in the U.K. (#2) and their first top 20 single in the U.S. (#12). By the end of 1974, Queen had arrived on rock’s main stage, albeit still at opening act level, however, it was also clear that Freddy Mercury was becoming a significant frontman, and the band appeared to be hitting their musical stride through touring experience, and the maturation of their sound/identity, all while the Queen phenomenon was still was still in low gear infancy.
QUEEN circa 1977
In November of 1975, the ‘Queen’ band that had exited 1974 as ‘warm’ and ‘getting hot’, exploded as a band of full combustion, with the release of their 4th album, ”A Night at the Opera’. This album was a smash success with the aide of the legendary hit operatic single, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, which hit number (#1) in the U.K. and remained in that top dog position for over 9 weeks. At the time of its release, Queen’s thematic concept rock album ‘A Night at the Opera‘ was the most expensive studio production album … ever. In addition, for as much time. money, and effort that went into the album, the guys spent little effort in formulating its title, instead, they chose the 1935 Marx Brothers film title of the same name.
‘A Night at the Opera’ went on an assault of the U.S. charts and its corresponding commercial market. To wit, it peaked at number (#4) on the US Billboard 200 chart, on its way to becoming Queen’s first RIAA Certified Platinum album in U.S. sales. A remarkable showing for an album that went on to achieve worldwide sales well in excess of 6 million units. As mentioned earlier, a large part of this album’s astronomical success was the impact of what could be argued as Queen’s greatest single (along with the genre historic, ground-breaking music video) “Bohemian Rhapsody”. In fact, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ exists today as one of the best-selling singles in the history of music. As a result, ‘A Night at the Opera’ is usually involved in critical conversations about Queen and their ‘greatest album’. As an example of its critical acclaim, ‘A Night at the Opera’ is also mentioned in conversations regarding best concept albums of all-time.
The only way that Queen could equal and/or surpass the commercial success and legendary impact of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody‘, and ‘A Night at the Opera’, would be to release a follow-up album of equal of better critical and commercial gravitas. As it turns out, in October of 1977, Queen did exactly that with their release of their 6th studio album release, ‘News of the World’. There were many music critics who were disappointed in Queen’s meandering over to the more commercially viable mainstream arena rock sound, as such some panned the album, as for everyone else? It was a smash hit. Indeed, as if they were intentionally doubling down on the inclusion of timeless classics on their albums, ‘News of the World’ contained not one but two anthem singles that have been part of American pop culture, specifically, American sporting culture. ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘We Are The Champions’ have become ubiquitous musical anthems in the world of sports virtually since their release back in 1977.
Freddy Mercury and Michael Jackson circa 1978
In addition to the all-time contributions of hit singles,“We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions”, sales of the ‘News of the World’ album was meteoric. The album went on to achieve RIAA Certified 4X Platinum status in the United States alone. With all-time sales estimated to be in far excess of 10 million copies, ‘News of the World’ remains today what it achieved back in the late 1970’s, and that is the distinction as being Queen’s most successful studio album of all-time.
‘News of the World’ (1977)
To date, the Freddy Mercury fronted Queen has sold approximately 200 million albums world-wide, with an estimated range that may very well raise that total to heights in excess of 300 million. With absolute certainty, it can be asserted that Queen shares the rarefied air that comes with being one of the best-selling music bands/artists, in the history of rock music.
Legacy of Achievement
In 1990, Queen was awarded the ‘Outstanding Contribution to British Music Award‘. Followed by their 2001 honored induction into the ‘Rock and Roll Hall of Fame‘. Additionally, in 2003 all four members of the band were inducted into the ‘Songwriters Hall of Fame’. Then in 2005, Queen received the ‘Ivor Novello Award‘ for Outstanding Song Catalog. Lastly, in 2018 Queen’s musical legacy became cemented in history, when they were presented a ‘Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award‘.
The Day the ‘Golden Voice’ Faded into the Ages …
Sadly, in late October of 1986, the media reported that Freddy Mercury had undergone testing for exposure to the HIV/AIDS virus. Despite Mercury’s repeated denials, and strict secrecy, it was revealed that Mercury had indeed been diagnosed with AIDS sometime late in the month of April, 1987. The voice was embroiled in the grips of a terminal illness. On November 24th of 1991, Freddy Mercury passed away while at his Kensington, England home. Freddy Mercury was just 45 years old.
Freddy Mercury blessed the world with the power and influence of his legendary ‘voice’. His musical legacy with Queen and beyond is cemented in the annals of rock history for the ages to admire. Although, there will likely never be another quite like him, the music he left behind with Queen maintains their legend and ensures his immortality. Indeed, Freddy made us all feel like champions … if only for a moment.
American Pop Bonus Photo Gallery : Freddy Mercury