All hail the Queen! The rock band made UK chart history this week by becoming the first act to sell six million copies of an individual album. To mark the occasion The Guardian searched the vaults of Rock Backpages for these pages from 1974 Melody Maker.
12 February 2014 by Chris Welch
FREDDIE: “People think I’m an ogre at times. Some girls hissed at me in the street…‘You devil.’ They think we’re really nasty. But that’s only onstage. Off stage, well, I’m certainly not an ogre.”
Freddie Mercury is a star nevertheless. The first real rock supremo since Robert Plant or Rod Stewart. Exuding élan, arrogance and stagecraft he has emerged at the head of Queen to claim his crown. And step aside all ye who scoff or mock, for Queen are trundling ahead with inexorable momentum.
Freddie was shouting at me in the deserted bar of a Liverpool hotel at 11 am on Saturday. No – he wasn’t expressing anger at recent Melody Maker criticisms of the band. He was just trying to make himself heard above the noise of a woman sucking at a carpet full of cigarette ash with her Holiday Inn vacuum cleaner.
“Oh my dear, she’s coming this way.” Freddie sighed as the din grew louder. Fastidious and elegant, he maintained an even temper despite the ravages of last night’s celebrations. Many bottles of champagne had been consumed in the aftermath of a riotous reception for the boys at Liverpool’s stately if somewhat battered Empire.
Inevitably, thoughts had turned to another group of long ago, who caused similar scenes as they trod those hallowed boards. Oddly enough, Brian May, Queen’s fleet-fingered lead guitarist, uses AC 30 watt amplifiers, just like the Beatles.
But Queen’s music is from the Seventies – not the Sixties. Cleverly arranged, carefully timed, delivered with maximum effort to create the greatest impact, it works on a young and receptive audience like a bombshell. Forget eight-year-olds screaming at the Osmonds. Their big brothers and sisters are learning how to yell again.
“Yes, I like an audience to respond like that,” Freddie was saying. “Maybe we’d like them to sit down and listen to some of the songs, but I get a lot more from them when they’re going wild, and it brings more out of me.”
Queen are a strange, refreshing bunch. They are in that happy position in a band’s history when the first wave of excitement and success is breaking over them. Events are moving rapidly. Singles and album hits in Britain. America is within their grasp and beckoning seductively. Yet their image may have served to confuse and sow seeds of suspicion.
Like any band achieving success too quickly for the media’s liking, they are under fire, although they seem more disappointed with the critics than hostile. The whole situation is an exact replica of Led Zeppelin back in 1969, when they were first deluged with self-righteous cries of abuse. Perhaps Queen have gone about the business of forming a successful group with too much skill and intelligence. And yet they cannot be blamed for wanting to avoid the mistakes of their forebears. They have the example of the last ten years of triumph and failure in the world of rock music to study, and they have profited from the examination.
Like many of Britain’s most significant rock talents, Queen are collegians who have abandoned their degree courses for the lure of showbiz.
Freddie Mercury in fact has a degree in graphic art. Roger Meddows-Taylor, their drummer, studied dentistry and has a degree in biology, Brian May, incredibly, is an infra-red astronomer and could become a doctor if he completed his studies. When Concorde raced the sun to study an eclipse, he was in line to join the team of scientists on board.
John Deacon, their bass guitarist, has a degree in electronics. If ever the band’s stage equipment presents a problem, then the roadies are tempted to call on him for expert advice.
Their amiable, efficient American manager, Jack Nelson, is somewhat in awe of them. “Freddie designed the group’s logia y’know, and he never even told me. If you look, you’ll see it encompasses the four astrological signs of the group. Freddie’s a Virgo.” Jack has managed the band since they first emerged from London’s Trident Studios. “They go to Japan after they’ve been to the States in April. It’s funny, they are the number one group in Japan, above Jethro Tull, Yes and ELP – and even Deep Purple, and they used to own Japan. But they’ve never seen Queen yet – it’s all through the Queen II album.”
Meanwhile the vacuum cleaner roared in ever-decreasing circles. “I’m feeling less than sparkling this morning,” said Freddie, who admitted that the concert had been exhausting, even before the champagne took its toll.
Sheer Heart Attack, their third album, just released, had already received a dose of press abuse. How did Mercury react?
“The album is very varied, we took it to extreme I suppose, but we are very interested in studio techniques and wanted to use what was available. We learned a lot about technique while we were making the first two albums. Of course there has been some criticism, and the constructive criticism has been very good for us. But to be frank, I’m not that keen on the British music press, and they’ve been pretty unfair to us. I feel that up-and-coming journalists, by and large, put themselves above the artists.
“They’ve certainly been under a misconception about us. We’ve been called a supermarket hype. But if you see us up on a stage, that’s what we’re all about. We are basically a rock band. All the lights and all the paraphernalia are only there to enhance what we do.
“I think we are good writers – and we want to play good music, no matter how much of a slagging we get. The music is the most important factor. This is our first headline tour, and the buzz has got around, without any support from the media. I suppose they like to find their own bands, and we’ve been too quick for them.
“You see, when we started out we wanted to try for the best. The best management, the best record deal. We didn’t want any compromise, and we didn’t want to get ripped-off. So far, it has paid-off. In America, we’ve broken the ice already. As you know, we started a tour there last year, supporting Mott the Hoople, but Brian was taken ill and we had to come back. But we had a top thirty album hit there, we’ve undertaken a huge project, but it’s all good fun.”
How long did Queen spend in planning their project of world domination?
“You make it sound so preconceived!” Freddie protested. Mercifully the cleaning device wailed to a halt and helped dampen a threatened Mercurial outburst.
“Believe it or not – it was spontaneous! It grew and grew, and remember, we had all been in various bands before, so we had plenty of experience of what NOT to do, and not be flabbergasted by the first rosy offer. That’s how much planning went info it. This isn’t overnight success you know, we’ve been going for four years! We just got the right people to work for us, and the right company, and it’s taken a long time.
“And yet we’ve been accused of being a hype, compared to bands we’ve never even heard of, and then finally told that we didn’t even write our own songs. That hurt. Right from the start we have been writing our own songs, and that was the whole point – to come up with some original songs. In this country, to gain respect in a short while seems very difficult, and the papers like to feel they have you in their grasp.
Well – we slipped out of their grasp.” However, Freddie is the first to admit that there can be dissent within the group, as well as without.
“We tend to work well under pressure. But do we row? Oh my dear, we’re the bitchiest band on earth. You’ll have to spend a couple of days with us. We’re at each other’s throats. But if we didn’t disagree, we’d just be yes-men, and we do get the cream in the end.” Read more HERE
© Chris Welch, 1974