Queen take off. It appears that Queen's impact on the public last year was stronger than expected. They're voted 3rd Best New British Artist and 9th Best New International Artist in the annual Sounds Readers' Poll. In the NME Poll, they're voted 2nd to Leo Sayer in the Most Promising Act category. The press suddenly find plenty to say about the band; their degrees, Brian's teaching, Roger's cute blue-eyed appeal and, of course, Freddie's 'gayness'. The latter, once hinted at, is of course immediately developed by Freddie, who starts camping up his image even more!
Queen fly to Australia in January '74 and appear twice at the three-day Sunbury Music Fesitval in Melbourne. Upon arriving back in London, they're greeted by a team of twelve photographers - who promtly leave when they realise it is not the Queen arriving at the airport.
The single 'Seven Seas Of Rhye' is released on February 25th as a taster for the forthcoming album (a shorter version can be found on the first album). Its catchy but intense mixture of Yes and Led Zeppelin finds a foothold amongs the current predictabiltiy of the singles charts (the New Seekers, Mud and Suzi Quatro). It enters the charts on March 9th at No 45, rising to its peak at No 10, and Queen appear on Top Of The Pops for the first time (thanks to David Bowie, who failed to turn up to promote 'Rebel Rebel'). The extraordinary sight of Freddie Mercury, cald in black and strutting pompously across the stage sets off an explosion of fanmail.
Freddie: "When I look back on all that black nail varnish and stuff, I think, 'God, what did I do? I used to feel a need for all that on stage. It made me feel more secure."
Queen start their first full-scale headline tour at Blackpool Winter Gardens on March 1st, supproted by Nutz. As fate has it, the gig is jeopardised when the band's lighting van breaks down miles from the venue, but the show goes on. The tour continues... and when Queen keep the crowd waiting at Plymouth Guildhall on March 3rd, the fans start chanting 'God Save The Queen'. It heralds the beginning of a regular feature at Queen gigs.
'Queen II' is released on March 8th to coincide with the tour (EMI have got it right this time). By this time, 'Seven Seas Of Rhye' has started to snowball Queen's popularity in the States and Japan, as well as Europe. The album shoots up to No 5 on 29th April in the UK charts - and establishes Queen as the governors of glam hard rock. On the basis of such undeniable success, EMI re-release 'Queen' - and this time, it reaches No 24.
Of course, there are still journalists obsessed with sharpening their pencils on the band with comments like: 'Queen's on-stage presence was an almost laughably bizarre mish-mash of every other more successful band of their genre', 'They are doing nothing special. There are moments when they sound influenced by The Who and moments when they are nearer Led Zeppelin' and 'Limited and unoriginal'.
Roger: "It's very difficult to choose one album I prefer out of all of them. But I do like a lot of the work on the second album, second side. It all runs into one, very epic. Musically, it's quite daring because we did lots of counter seven-part harmonies and things."
For the first time, Queen are faced with crowd hysteria. At Stirling University on March 16th, the Scottish audience refuse to let them go after three encores. In the ensuing riots, two people are stabbed, and two of Queen's road crew are carted off to hospital, one with bad cuts, the other with concussion. As a result, the following night's gig at Barbarella's in Birmingham is postponed until April 2nd.
Promoter Mel Bush convinces Queen that they're big enough to sell out The Rainbow, Finsbury Park, London, and the band agree to do the gig, on March 31st.
In May '74, after a week at the Uris Theater, Broadway, New York, bad luck hits the band. Upon arrival in Boston for the next stage of the tour, Brian May contracts a severe attack of hepatitis. The rest of the tour is scrapped (Kansas stand in for the band), and Brian is flown back to London on the 16th.
Meanwhile, Freddie, Roger, John, road crew and anyone else who may have come into contact with Brian hastily inoculate themselves.
"When he turned yellow, we thought he had food poisoning.", said Freddie in an NME interview in June. Sadly for Brian, the hepatitis is to become a regular feature of his life.
There is nothing for the band to do but start writing songs for the third album. After rehearsing for a week at Rockfield Studios, Monmouthshire, they immerse themselves at Trident on July 15th and start recording. But it just isn't Brian's year. On August 2nd, he is rushed to hospital with a duodenal ulcer - and straight onto the operating table. Queen have to cancel their US tour planned for September, but assure their British fans they'll still be gigging in England in November.
For the next three months, recording continues at Trident, but it is a frustrating, sporadic process. Sessions are frequently cancelled when May is too sick to attend, and when he does manage to turn up, his contribution is so below par that it has to be scrapped. As a result, the band decide it would be better to continue recording without Brian, and let him play his parts when his health improves. Against all the odds, the album is finished to a standard acceptable to all.
Brian: "For some strange reason, we seemed to get rather a diferent feel on 'Sheer Heart Attack' because of the way we were forced to record it, and even allowing for all the problems we had, none of us were really displeased with the final result."
By September, 'Queen II' has reached the £75,000 sales mark - Silver status and, at the Cafe Royale on the 5th, the band are presented with their award by the Queen's lookalike, Jeanette Charles. Queen say they tried to hire Buckingham Palace for the occasion, but they were politely turned down...! This is their first appearance in public since the US tour in May (apart from the EMI/Radio Luxembourg motor-racing rally at Brands Hatch which Roger and John attended on August 11th).
On October 11th 'Killer Queen' from the forthcoming album, is unleashed and, after entering the charts on October 26th, reaches No 2, its only obstacle from reaching No 1 being David Essex's 'I'm Gonna Make You A Star'.
...Freddie receives an Ivor Novello Award for composing the single (instantly rubbishing the above review), a song "... about a high class call girl!" explains Freddie, "I'm trying to say that classy people can be whores as well!"
Brian: "'Killer Queen' in 1974 was the turning point. It was the song that best summed-up our kind of music, and a big hit, and we desperately needed it as a mark of something successful happening for us."
Just to emphasise Queen's almighty success in 1974, their publishers, Feldmans, present them with engraved tankards to mark their success in Britain and America, on October 18th.
On October 30th, Queen embark on their long-awaited second headline tour at Manchester Palace, with support band Hustler. The album, 'Sheer Heart Attack' thunders up the charts to No 2 on November 1st, after entering on October 23rd.
At Liverpool Empire and Leeds University on 1st and 2nd November, hysteria reigns again. Fans storm the stage, and bouncers start getting heavy - but good old Freddie stops the gig and calms everyone down. At Glasgow Apollo on the 8th, the manager awards Queen with a silver statuette for selling out the venue - a rare occurrence.
The tour ends with two nights at the Rainbow. The second night is added when, as with the rest of the tour, the 19th is sold out in two days. The 20th is videoed for a 33-minute screening, 'Queen At The Rainbow'.
Shortly ater the tour, Mel Bush gives Queen a gold plaque for selling out the entire tour.
Meanwhile, news of the band's success in Japan is causing uproar in the Queen camp. Although the band have never set foot in the country, their albums - particularly 'Queen II' - are selling like hot cakes. Not only that, but in 'Music Life', Japan's leading music magazine, Queen have been voted third in the category 'Best In the World!'
On November 23rd, Queen's first European tour kicks off in Gothenburg, Sweden, continuing throughout Scandinavia, onto Belgium, Germany, Holland and finally ending in Barcelon on December 10th. The last two gigs in Scandinavia are cancelled when Queen's equipment lorry is involved in an accident. Fortunately, the disaster is sorted out in time for the tour to resume in Belgium.
1974 ends on a happy note, when Queen appear on a special Christmas Day, broadcast of Granada TV's '45'.
It has proved to be an eventful year for Queen. Brian's illness brought about an unintentional stroke of luck for the band - six months in hiding gave them valuable time to organise the album tour, and start work on 'Sheer Heart Attack' earlier than originally planned. When they returned with both album and tour after such a long wait, the reaction was phenomenal. Never mind the press, feel the power of the public!
Taking his chance while he can, Brian flies out to Tenerife for a much-needed holiday. He and the rest of the band have a feeling that they're going to be pretty busy this year.
When Brian returns, the band spend a few weeks editing the Rainbow video.
'Now I'm Here', written by Brian May in hosptial last year for the 'Sheer Heart Attack' album, is released on January 17th. It reaches No 11. Not one of Queen's most memorable singles, but its chart position is respectable enough.
On January 18th, John Deacon marries Veronica Tetzlaff, a teacher. On January 31st, with fingers crossed, Queen cross the Atlantic to settle some unfinished business. To date, their albums have been received well in the US, which is surprising cosidering the short time they've spent there. But they have a very efficient record company over there, Elektra, another Trident find, who are pulling out all the stops on 'Sheer Heart Attack' and 'Killer Queen'.
They will be spending the next two months in the States before continuing round the world - a total of eighty days on the road. And, of course, this is to be Queen's first headline tour outside Europe.
Well, it seems that history is to repeat itself as the American critics start to barrage Queen with poor comparisons to Led Zeppelin and every other hard rock band they can think of. But, as in Britain, the press reports turn out to be totally out of step with the public's reaction. As the tour progresses, both 'Sheer Heart Attack' and 'Killer Queen' hit the US charts, the album eventually peaking at No 20, the single at no 12.
One writer does at least admit the gaping chasm between press and public: "It is only fair to point out that my view of the concert appeared to be that of the minority and the majority went home satisfied."(Chris Charlesworth)
Unfortunately, the press isn't Queen's only problem on this particular tour. It seems that every time the band try and tour the States, illness rears its ulgly head. This time, it is Fredddie that's struck down. After playing Washington John F Kennedy Centre on February 24th, the band have to cancel a string of dates - in Pittsburg, Kitztown, Buffalo, Toronto, Kitchener, London and Davenport - because of nodules on Freddie's vocal chords. Whispers of him needing laser-beam treatment are found to be exaggerated reports (probably dreamed up by some eager journalist). Freddie is taken to a specialist and ordered to rest.
Fortunately, Freddie's throat problem is not a serious one (a common enough complaint among vocalists), and Queen resume their tour at Mary E Sawyer Auditorium, La Cross, Wisconsin on March 5th. There are a couple of hiccups when Freddie loses his voice again but, on the whole, the remaining dates progress smoothly.
Queen play their last American gig in Seattle on April 6th. The proposed final gig in Portland, Oregon, is cancelled due to further throat problems. The exhausted band fly out to Hawaii for a ten-day sabbatical before resuming their mammoth world trek at the Budokan in Tokyo, Japan on April 19th.
Upon arrival at Tokyo Airport, Queen are astounded to find 3,000 screaming fans waiting for them. It seems the adulation shown towards Queen in Japan has reached Beatles proportions. 'Killer Queen' and 'Sheer Heart Attack' top the singles and albums charts respectively, and the entire tour, from April 19th to May 1st is sold out. Queen experience their first real taste of international success - the Japanese go totally overboard for the band. And for once the fanaticism is mirrored in the press, unlike the sour British and US media.
Japan leaves a lasting impression on the band, especially Freddie (who still spends vast amounts of money on Japanese antiques, kimonos, etc). Even before leaving Tokyo, Freddie is heard to remark: "I am looking forward to going... all those geisha boys and girls...!"
Queen return to England to find that they've swept the polls in yet another music magazine 'Disc', but they're usd to it by now...
The band spend June sketching songs or their next album. 'Sheer Heart Attack' has been such a success that they know everyone is expecting at least an equal standard for its follow-up. But 'equal' won't be good enough for Queen... August sees the start of three months' obsessive search for perfection, spending vast amounts of time in five diffeent studios before deciding that 'A Night At The Opera' is fit for public consumption. "It isn't paranoia!" reply the band whenever they're quizzed about this perfectionism, "we just want to get it right."
Queen are determined that this album should be a total state-of-the art project, and each track is checked and re-checked with a fine tooth comb. The drum tracks are recorded at Newport's Rockfield Studios (specialists in drum sound, and famous for their association with Dave Edmunds), multi-track vocals at the Roundhouse Studios and May's multiple guitar layers are pefected at Sarm. The band also use Olympic, Scorpio and Lansdowne Studios during recording. Roy Thomas Baker is at the helm again, and patiently guides the band through their most painstaking performance yet.
During the summer, the band somehow find time to try their hand at contributing their talents to other acts - soul band Trax and vocalist Eddie Howell. Brian turns up at the annual Melody Maker National Folk/Rock contest as a judge on the panel!
By now, the band have had enough of Trident. So unsatisfactory is their relationship with the company, in particular Jack Nelson (their self-titled 'manager') that Freddie actually dedicates a song to him on the new album, 'Death On Two Legs (Dedicated To)'! But, even though the hated Nelson leaves in July, Queen still want out of their contract with the companay. Trident are merely an obstacle between the band and their record companies, EMI in the UK and Elektra in US and Jpan. The contract is forcibly terminated in September and a triumphant Freddie declares to a red-faced NME reporter: "As far as Queen are conerned our old management is deceased. They cease to exist in any capacity with us whatsoever. One leaves them behind like one leave excreta. We feel so relieved!"
During Queen's current tidy-up campaign, they also get rid of publicist Tony Brainsby and, after signing new contracts direct with EMI an Elektra, they take on a new manager. It takes John Reid, Elton John's astute but quick-tempered manager, all of 24 hours to decide to handle the band.
Queen celebrate their new contracts in style. At a London reception on September 19th, they're presented with Silver and Gold discs for sales of 'Killer Queen', Silver and Gold for 'Sheer Heart Attack', a Gold for 'Queen II' and a Silver for 'Queen'.
Publicity of the new deals sends a united sigh of relief round the country. The cancellation of an Empire Pool gig in the summer, the band's sudden disappearance from the public eye and rows with management all started rumours of a Queen split. But the band were, of course, just recording.
Business matters in order, Queen are ready to unveil their masterpiece... On October 31st 1975, after endless discussions with EMI as to whether to release it or not, 'Bohemian Rhapsody' is released. 5 minutes and 55 seconds (cut from 7!) of gargantuan operatic-style surrealism, 'Bo Rhap' (as it is later to be coined) is, unsurprisingly, a Freddie composition. So complex is the song that one section even features 180 precision vocal overdubs, and May's guitar is so massively involved, it could drown out an orchestra. (The B-side is the hard-driving rock anthem 'I'm In Love With My Car' by Roger Taylor.) (Before the single's release, Freddie gives a copy to DJ Kenny Everett, telling him not to play it. Naturally he does - fourteen times in two days!)
Roy Thomas Baker: "Bohemian Rhapsody wasn't all recorded in one go. We did the whole of the first section and the rock section, and for the middle part, we just hit some drums now and then, after which it was basically edits - we just lengthened the middle section depending on what vocals were put in, because Freddie would come up with amazing ideas. He'd walk in and say, 'I've got some new ideas for the vocals - we'll stick some Galileos in here...' I'd say that that track, on its own, took getting on for three weeks. People were getting value for money - they were able to buy a single which was seven minutes long, and was three weeks work on the A-side alone!"
Freddie: "Bohemian Rhapsody' didn't just come out of thin air. I did a bit of research, although it was tongue-in-cheek. A lot of people slammed 'Bohemian Rhapsody', but who can you compare it to? Name one group that's done an operatic single. We were adamant that 'Bohemian Rhapsody' could be a hit in its entirety."
The record-breaking single rockets into the charts eight days after its release - and stays at No 1 for eight weeks. The legend of Queen is fortified... Sackloads of post arrive from behind the Iron Curtain, addressed to 'Queen, London'. The Royal Mail delivers them to Buckingham Palace before being tactfully informed that they should be re-directed.
On November 10th, filming takes place for the 'Bohemian Rhapsody' video, directed by Bruce Gowers. It will be the first promo video for a single anywhere, ever. Although it costs £4,500 and four hours to make (in marked contrast to the single), it is pretty revolutionary. It's shown on top Of The Pops and, as years go by, receives inernational acclaim for its daring progressive style.
'A Night At The Opera' (title of a Marx Brothers' film) is released on November 14th and goes to the top of the charts, enjoying nine weeks' reign over the Christmas and New Year period. Freddie's original logo has by now been vamped up, and is used on the front cover. Its lavish production and content (including their own version of the national anthem) couldn't really fail to stun the public into buying the album. Queen deny rumours that they've had to pay £50,000 to 'certain agrieved parties' to prevent injunctions against the issue of one particular track on the album (guess which one?)
Queen celebrate the album's release with the start of their British tour, supported by Mr Big. They play two nights at the Liverpool Empire on November 14th and 15th, moving on to Coventry, Bristol, Cardiff, Taunton, Manchester... pausing for four gigs at Hammersmigh Odeon, their fist as a headline act, from November 29th and December 1st.
Continuing the tour throughout the north of England, they return to the Hammersmith Odeon for a special Christmas Eve gig, which is televised live on 'The Old Grey Whistle Test'. (Backstage after the gig, Brian's and Freddie's parents meet for the first time, even though they've been living vitually next door to each other for the past sixteen years.)