Queen - Biography

Queen (Band)

Queen are an English rock band formed by Freddie Mercury, Brian May and Roger Taylor in London, England around 1970 from the remains of Smile, with John Deacon completing the lineup the following year. Britain's most consistently successful band of the past three decades, the band became popular during the mid-to-late 1970s and to this day retains an extremely large international fan base.

Although formerly overlooked by critics, especially those in the United States, Queen has more recently been acclaimed as pioneers of arena rock, glam rock, hard rock, heavy metal, and progressive rock. In the Music Of The Millenium poll conducted by Channel 4 in 1999, Queen was voted the second greatest band in music history.

The band have also been cited as a strong influence on many later artists and in 2001 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. In 2003 Queen became the first and only band to be inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2004 the band was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame, and in 2006 was the first inductee in to the VH1 Rock Honors. Queen has also been inducted into the Rock Walk of Fame (at Guitar Center on Hollywood's Sunset Boulevard), and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Queen have had a total of eighteen #1 albums, seventeen #1 singles, and eight #1 DVDs worldwide.

Members

  • John Deacon (born 1951) bass, rhythm guitar and synthesizer: Deacon was the bass player with the group. He auditioned as bass player after the band went through three other unsuitable bass players (Mike Grose, Barry Mitchell, and Doug Bogie). The only member never to sing vocals on a Queen album, he was the last member to join the band in 1971. He wrote the fewest songs of any individual member, but composed some of the band's biggest worldwide hits such as "Another One Bites The Dust", "You're My Best Friend", and "I Want To Break Free." Deacon retired and chose not to participate in the [[Queen + Paul Rodgers]] tour.
  • Brian May CBE (born 1947) guitar, piano, synthesizer and vocals: May is the lead guitarist of the group. While often providing harmonizing and backing vocals, he occasionally played piano. May occasionally sang lead vocals on a number of tracks such as "'39", "Sleeping On The Sidewalk", "Good Company", and "Sail Away Sweet Sister" As a boy, he and his father built the Red Special, a guitar he continues to use to this day.
  • Freddie Mercury (1946–1991) vocals, piano, synthesizer and sometimes guitar: Among the general public, Mercury is perhaps best known as the lead vocalist and front man of the group, with such roles placing a shadow over his skill as a pianist and songwriter. He wrote the majority of the songs found on Queen's Greatest Hits. As a singer, he had a distinctive voice and a tenor vocal range.
  • Roger Taylor (born 1949) drums, percussion, synthesizer and vocals: Taylor is the drummer of Queen. Like May, he provided backing vocals; in the 70s, he sang lead vocals on songs such as "I'm In Love With My Car", "Fight From The Inside", and "Modern Times Rock 'n' Roll." In addition to drums, Taylor would often take on guitar and bass duties on his own songs.

As instrumentalists

Typically, for most of their songs, Deacon played bass, May played guitar, Mercury played piano, and Taylor played drums. But, like their heroes The Beatles, Queen members explored different kinds of instrumental functions throughout their careers.

John Deacon played guitar in addition to bass, taking over rhythm parts in many albums, as well as several acoustic performances. Much of the guitar work on Hot Space is the work of Deacon. Reportedly he could keep basic drum patterns and, even if he never mastered his keyboard abilities, he would occasionally play synthesizers on his own compositions and often composed at the piano, playing an electric one on his top ten hit "You're My Best Friend". He can also be seen playing the grand piano in the video to "Spread Your Wings", although he didn't play it on the studio version. He played double-bass on two occasions; reportedly Brian May had told him to play it on "'39" as a joke, but some days later Deacon appeared at the studio with the instrument and he had already figured out how to play it.

Brian May played piano and ukulele in addition to guitar. He played rhythm instruments less than the other Queen members, but occasionally he did some bass or drum parts in his solo albums, and within the band he composed some parts for those instruments, as in "Sweet Lady" or "Teo Torriatte". Due to the uniqueness of his guitar, the Red Special, which he built himself, May was often able to create strange and unusual sound effects. For example, he was able to imitate an orchestra in the song "Procession", the opening track of Queen II; in "Get Down, Make Love", he was able to create sound effects with his guitar that were so unusual that many thought a synthesizer was being used. In "Good Company" he used his guitar to mimic a trombone, a piccolo and several other instruments for the song's Dixieland jazz band feel. He added some special instruments here and there, but most of them were via studio tricks; for instance, to nail the harp parts of "Love Of My Life", he played each chord separately in a different take, then the producer merged them to form the entire part. In addition to these instruments, he played a toy koto in "The Prophet's Song".

Freddie Mercury was a pianist with the ability to cover many different styles. For the most part, he played grand pianos, but throughout the years he occasionally played electric piano and also upright jangle, as in the song "Seaside Rendezvous" and the #2 hit "Killer Queen" . He was an experienced synth player and programmer as well: the orchestral interludes of "Was It All Worth It" were completely composed, arranged and played by him on a Korg M1 keyboard, as well as the string sections of "Bijou".

Mercury was often self-deprecating about his guitar skills (when performing live, he often introduced "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" by stating "This shitty guitar only knows three chords", such as in the Live at Wembley '86 concert, or by saying "Ten years ago I knew about three chords on the guitar. Now, in 1982, I know three chords on the guitar.", as done in the Live at the Bowl concert); however, he would write on guitar frequently, especially in the early days. In fact, he wrote the riff from "Ogre Battle" and the rock section in "Bohemian Rhapsody" on guitar. In an interview, Brian May stated that "when Freddie used to pick up a guitar he'd have a great frenetic energy. It was kind of like a very nervy animal playing the guitar. He was a very impatient person and was very impatient with his own technique. He didn't have a great technical ability on the guitar but had it in his head. And you could feel this stuff bursting to get out. His right hand would move incredibly fast. He wrote a lot of good stuff for the guitar. A lot of it was stuff which I would not have thought of, because it would be in weird keys. He had this penchant for playing in E flat and A flat and F."

It's unknown if he could play bass or drums to any extent, but it's been confirmed that he came up with very elaborate parts for them on various songs; he composed the bass line of Taylor's "A Kind Of Magic", and programmed many rhythm parts in his first solo album, Mr. Bad Guy.

Roger Taylor is the drummer for Queen, and possesses a sound which involves several trademarks including an involuntary opening of the hi-hat on every back beat for a rhythm emphasis. He has played a great deal of percussion along with his standard drum kit, the most famous piece being the timpani during the operatic section of "Bohemian Rhapsody", also doing the timpani solos during live shows. In addition to his drum work, he routinely played the guitars and bass on his own songs, and, during the 1980s, he formed a parallel band known as The Cross in which he was the singer and rhythm guitarist. Taylor was supposedly not the best keyboardist, and thus many of his piano-based musical ideas are considered uniquely different. He was also quite good when it came to percussion synthesizers which he used during live shows.

Logo

Queen's logo, known as the Queen Crest, was designed by Mercury. One of the most recognizable symbols in rock and roll, the logo includes the zodiac signs of all four members: two lions for Leo (Deacon and Taylor), a crab for Cancer (May), and two fairies for Virgo (Mercury). The lions are holding a large letter Q, with the crab on top of it while on fire, and the fairies below on either side. The whole logo is topped by a phoenix.

History

Brian May and Roger Taylor were playing in a semi-professional band called Smile with Tim Staffell. Mercury was Staffell's roommate at Ealing Arts College and followed Smile's music closely; Mercury was a singer in other bands, such as Ibex in 1969 and Sour Milk Sea in 1970. Still, he was very eager to share his ideas so Smile could develop. Staffell left Smile to join another band, Humpy Bong, because he felt the style of music Smile played was a flash in the pan. Smile split up but Mercury persuaded May and Taylor to continue, changing the band's name from Smile to Queen in the process.

Live performances

Queen's live performances were truly ground-breaking, employing massive lighting rigs, pyrotechnics, and other special effects to make their shows into engaging theatrical events. Mercury immersed himself in the crowd's adulation and thrived off their excitement, a trait for which many, including Kurt Cobain (in his suicide note), have expressed admiration.

The digital realm

In conjunction with Electronic Arts, Queen released the computer game Queen: The Eye in 1998, to commercial and critical failure. The music itself - Queen tracks from its vast catalogue, in many cases remixed into new instrumental versions - was by and large well received, but the game experience was hampered by poor game play. Adding to the problem was an extremely long development time, resulting in graphic elements that already seemed outdated by the time of release.

Under the supervision of Brian May and Roger Taylor, numerous restoration projects have been underway involving Queen's lengthy audio and video catalogue. DVD releases of their famous 1986 Wembley concert (titled Live At Wembley Stadium) and 1982 Milton Keynes concert (Queen On Fire: Live At The Bowl), and two Greatest Video Hits (Volumes 1 and 2, spanning the '70s and '80s) have seen the band's music remixed into 5.1 and DTS Surround Sound. So far, two of Queen's most acclaimed albums, A Night At The Opera and The Game, have been fully remixed into DTS Surround on DVD-Audio albums. Known for their densely layered arrangements and backing, this medium seems tailor-made for Queen's music. Brian May has said he would like to see the entire Queen catalogue reproduced in this format, as it is closer to what the band envisaged for their work years ago. A new 5.1 mix of A Night At The Opera, including the first surround versions of The Prophet's Song and God Save The Queen, was created in 2005 for the 30th anniversary of the album's original release (CD+DVD set).

In film

Queen contributed music directly to the movies Flash Gordon and Highlander (the original film directed by Russell Mulcahy).

Several other films have prominently featured their songs, including Iron Eagle, National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon, Wayne's World, Small Soldiers, Super Size Me, A Knight's Tale, The Girl Next Door, Revenge of the Nerds, and Shaun of the Dead. A cover of "Somebody to Love" by Anne Hathaway was recorded for the 2004 film Ella Enchanted. In 2001, a version of "The Show Must Go On" was performed by Jim Broadbent and Nicole Kidman in the movie musical Moulin Rouge!. "Bohemian Rhapsody" was re-released after appearing in Wayne's World, and subsequently made number 2 on the US billboard chart.

Keeping in the tradition (since Season 5) of naming each season's episodes after songs from a famous '70s era rock band (Led Zeppelin for the fifth season, The Who for the sixth and The Rolling Stones for the seventh), the eighth and final season of That '70s Show consisted of episodes named after Queen songs. "Bohemian Rhapsody" served as the season premiere.

In musical theatre

In 2002, a musical or "rock theatrical" based on the songs of Queen, entitled We Will Rock You, opened at the Dominion Theatre on London's West End. The musical was written by British comedian and author Ben Elton in collaboration with Brian May and Roger Taylor. It has since been staged in Madrid and Barcelona, Spain; Melbourne, Sydney, Perth, and Brisbane, Australia; Cologne, Germany; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and Las Vegas, Nevada. The original London production was scheduled to close on Saturday 7th October 2006 at the Dominion Theatre. Due to public demand, however, the show has now been extended indefinitely. We Will Rock You has become the longest running musical ever to run at this prime London theatre, overtaking the previous record holder, the Grease musical.

The launch of the musical coincided with Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee. As part of the Jubilee celebrations Brian May performed a guitar solo of God Save the Queen, as featured on Queen's A Night at the Opera, from the roof of Buckingham Palace. The recording of this performance was used as video for the same song on the 30th Anniversary DVD edition of A Night at the Opera.

Sean Bovim created "Queen at the Ballet", a tribute to Freddie Mercury, which uses Queen's music as a soundtrack for the show’s dancers, interpret the stories behind tracks such as Bohemian Rhapsody, Radio Ga Ga and Killer Queen.

Historical success

As of 2005, according to The Guinness Book of World Records, Queen albums had spent more time on the UK album charts than those of any other musical act.

Current Rankings:

1.      Queen (1,422 Weeks)

2.      The Beatles (1,293 Weeks)

3.      Elvis Presley (1,280 Weeks)

4.      U2 (1,150 Weeks)

5.      Dire Straits (1,136 weeks)

6.      Simon and Garfunkel (1,114 weeks)

7.      Madonna (1,032 weeks)

8.      David Bowie (1,005 weeks)

9.      Elton John (989 weeks)

10.  Michael Jackson (966 weeks)

Also in 2005, with the release of its live album with Paul Rodgers, Queen moved into third place on the list of acts with the most aggregate time spent on the British record charts; this does not make allowances for the fact that the charts were a smaller list in the 1960s.

Current rankings:

1.      Elvis Presley (2,074 weeks)

2.      Cliff Richard (1,982)

3.      Queen (1,755)

4.      The Beatles (1,749)

5.      Madonna (1,660)

6.      Elton John (1,626)

The band's total sales figures estimates vary greatly. In 2001 it was stated its sales topped 100 million records worldwide; however, according to an official press release two years later, Queen has "accounted for record sales in excess of 150 million across the world". The following year, the figure of "over 190 million albums" was claimed at its UK Music Hall of Fame induction. Several sites also claim a worldwide figure of over 300 million records. According to the RIAA Queen's total U.S. album sales are reported to be 35.5 million as 2004 (at today probably over 40 million.

In August 2006, BBC Radio 2 Music Club and the Official UK Charts Company celebrated the 50th anniversary of the UK Album Chart by running a survey to find the 100 favourite No. 1 albums -- Queen's A Night at the Opera ranked 9th.

Influence on other musicians

Queen is remembered for its never-before-seen theatrics, showmanship, expert musicianship (both live and in studio) camp and bombast so much that critics have since classified the band as a major player in the evolution of rock music. Queen is noted in particular for its musical eclecticism and ground-breaking live shows.

Queen often recorded in many different genres, recording in genres as varied as psychedelic rock (in songs like "The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke" and "Jesus"), hard rock ("Hammer to Fall" and "I Want It All"), funk and disco ("Another One Bites the Dust" and "Staying Power"), country-flavored stomp ("Fat Bottomed Girls"), gospel-esque ballads ("Somebody to Love"), heavy metal ("Stone Cold Crazy" and "Brighton Rock"), progressive rock, ("The March of the Black Queen" and The Prophet's Song"), punk rock ("Sheer Heart Attack"), even ragtime ("Bring Back That Leroy Brown" and "Seaside Rendezvous") and pop ("You're My Best Friend").

Much like its music, the collection of bands influenced by Queen is quite diverse. Bands that cite Queen as an influence include, Judas Priest, Van Halen, Def Leppard, Iron Maiden, Mötley Crüe, Steve Vai, George Michael, Metallica, The Flaming Lips, The Melvins, Guns N' Roses, Dr. Dre, Chris Cornell, Blind Guardian, Nirvana, Ween, Trent Reznor, Extreme, Dream Theater, Jeff Buckley, Green Day, Jellyfish, The Smashing Pumpkins, Robbie Williams, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ben Folds Five, Foo Fighters, Joan Osborne, Davey Havok, Social Distortion, Muse, Keane, The Darkness, Franz Ferdinand, Katie Melua,Say Anything, Pharrell Williams, Nickelback, and Jetliner among others.

Queen has also been cited as major influences on the "neo classical metal" genre, by Swedish- American guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen. Michael Jackson was a friend of the band in the early 1980s and cited Hot Space as the driving influence behind the making of his album Thriller.

Queen Official Website
Brian May Official Website
Paul Rodgers Official Website

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