Added on 11-Nov-2007
Queen’s kind of magic touched a boy like no other.
MUSIC MYTHS & LEGENDS by MARTIN VENGADESAN
MANY times in this column I’ve referred to the fact that it was the rock group Queen that set me looking backwards and not forward, when it comes to music. But I’ve never quite delved into the phase when my world revolved around Freddie Mercury.
Now, music had been around me all my life. Glorious stuff like Simon & Garfunkel and The Beatles were passed on to me, and while still in kindergarten I was further exposed to the disco-era triple threat of Abba, Boney M and the Bee Gees. However, I started to come into my own as a music fan in the mid-1980s when my peers were devouring Madonna and Michael Jackson.
Being something of a poser even then, I gravitated towards “intellec
Not only was the music on those two songs even more impressive than the 1980s stuff, I couldn’t help noticing from the record sleeve that my beloved Freddie was bereft of his moustache and sported long hair, as did the rest of his gang.
I was fascinated and tried to get hold of as much of Queen as I could. In those pre-Internet days, this meant watching or listening to music shows ready to press the record button, cutting out articles to paste in scrapbooks and borrowing and taping stuff from friends.
Another breakthrough moment happened when I borrowed my friend Nick’s copy of Queen’s Greatest Hits. For there was such variety ... the disco of Another One Bites the Dust, the rockabilly Crazy Little Thing Called Love, a lot of clever piano ballads, the odd heavy rocker and an absolute monster called Bohemian Rhapsody.
After trying to decipher this operatic mini-suite, which seemed to change tune, key, beat and mood every few seconds of its six-minute life, I was hooked. Freddie was the man I wanted to be. He had everything, the voice, the flowing long hair, the gestures, and of course, the goofy teeth my sister loved to make fun of. I started practising my piano more diligently in the hope that one day I too could dazzle somebody like Freddie had dazzled me.
The next step in my Queen journey was the clincher. I went to a record store with my father and spotted the first two Queen albums (creatively titled Queen and Queen II) in the bargain bin. I had to beg and plead but I walked out of there a boy over the moon. I had two wonderful-looking albums full of long hair and cool sounding titles.
That night after every one was asleep, I put the albums on, and listened ... in absolute horror. I had no idea Queen could be so loud and rambling, where was the structure, the melody? Only a few songs caught my ear ... The Night Comes Down and Jesus on the first album, and White Queen (As It Began) and Seven Seas of Rhye on the second. The rest was just too damn loud!
I went to sleep crestfallen and let down. How could Freddie and the boys make me waste my parents’ money on such music? Why was Freddie swearing so much (I was reeling from the abusive lyrics of Great King Rat and Son and Daughter)? And why did drummer Roger Taylor and bassist John Deacon look rather pretty in their long hair? Ah, ’twas a confusing time for this 13-year-old.
It took me a day or two before I dared return to those albums. Remembering that I’d been burnt before, I approached them with trepidation. I slowly found myself appreciating the dynamics of, for example, Doin’ All Right (which I had initially thought was a beautiful soft song ruined by mindless heavy rock guitar).
Soon, the magic of the second album struck me. Divided into two sides – White and Black – it was simply epic. Freddie had written all six songs on Side Black and I slowly fell in love with his vision. From the ultra-aggressive fantasy metal piece Ogre Battle with powerful guitar-riffing from guitarist Brian May to the harpsichord-driven curiosity of The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke (inspired by a Richard Dadd painting) and a really beautiful but incredibly brief piano ballad Nevermore, I realised this was thrilling stuff.