Peerless songs. Great memories. And Freddie’s fab leotards. As it sells a record six-millionth copies….
14 February 2014 by Brian Viner
Like so many whose formative decade was the Seventies, I’ll never forget how my young life collided, like a Chopper bike hitting a tree, with Freddie Mercury and Queen.
I had never heard anything like their astoundingly inventive, madly audacious 1975 hit Bohemian Rhapsody, nor seen anything like the video that played for nine successive weeks on Top Of The Pops (according to the band’s drummer Roger Taylor, they came up with the video idea precisely to avoid an appearance on the show, an ordeal he described as ‘the most boring day known to man’). Bohemian Rhapsody was still part of the soundtrack when my generation became parents. We can’t be the only family to sing it on long car journeys, correcting our children if they get the words wrong.
‘No, darling, it’s “spare him his life from this monstrosity”, not “his mum’s cup of tea”.’
The Muppets covered Bohemian Rhapsody. Ben & Jerry’s has a Bohemian Raspberry flavour of ice-cream. Its influence is everywhere. But so is that of numerous other Queen songs. We Are The Champions is a favourite at triumphalist political rallies all over the world, and is a universal sporting anthem, from the World Cup to the Super Bowl.
Almost as ubiquitous is Another One Bites The Dust.
It resounds whenever the Chicago Bulls basketball team wins a home game, and I was delighted, surrounded by all that Americana at a Bulls game a few years ago, to finish with a little burst of Middle England.
Another One Bites The Dust was written by Queen’s bassist John Deacon, who comes from Oadby in Leicestershire and whose father worked for Norwich Union.
Rare, too, is the loudspeaker at sporting stadiums in the United States that has not blared out We Will Rock You to energise the crowd. The song has also done the opposite. Less wholesomely, the U.S. military has reportedly played it at top volume for hours on end, to break prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
On this side of the Atlantic, we obviously love those exhilarating songs just as much, for it emerged this week that one British household in four (including mine) owns Queen’s Greatest Hits, the 1981, 17-track album which has just topped six million sales in the UK. That confirms it as the nation’s biggest-selling album of all time.
Our enduring affection accounts for nearly a quarter of the Queen album’s worldwide sales, which are estimated at 25 million.
The album’s unique blend of operatic rock and so-called power ballads is as stirring today as it was 33 years ago, and if anyone wants affirmation of the continuing relevance of all those great songs recorded by Brian May, Roger Taylor, Deacon and the aptly mercurial Mercury, they might also look at the long list of movies that have benefited from Queen numbers — from Wayne’s World (Bohemian Rhapsody) to Grosse Pointe Blank (Under Pressure) to Shaun Of The Dead (Don’t Stop Me Now). There are many more. And their songs always pop up on The X Factor.
Back in the Seventies, when they were just a band, rather than a phenomenon, not everybody loved Queen. I had mates who far preferred Genesis, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, more fools them. The biggest Queen nut among my friends was Steve Baxter, who once borrowed his girlfriend’s mother’s skimpy leotard to go to a party dressed as Freddie. But he was living with his grandmother at the time. Unhappy with what he decorously now describes as the ‘contours’ of his outfit, she made him wear her pinny on top.
That’s what Queen does for people of my age: ignites happy memories of our youth. And, marvellously, they will also do the same for our own children. Steve’s youngest son Jeremiah, required to do a verse-speaking performance at primary school some years ago, chose an a capella version of Don’t Stop Me Now, strutting round using a putter as a microphone, unlike the other kids who stood still to read A.A. Milne. ‘I sat at the back with tears of mirth and joy rolling down my face,’ recalls Steve now.
And it is not just the subjective view of fans. These latest figures unequivocally proclaim that wonderful album as the greatest hit of all the greatest hits compilations, well ahead of Abba Gold in second place. Sure, The Winner Takes it All. But Queen are the champions.