Hard to believe it’s been this long, but I was just reminded that we lost Freddie Mercury twenty years ago on November 24, 1991.
His passing is especially tragic in that Queen was finally having its comeback, thanks to Bohemian Rhapsody being revived in the movie Wayne’s World, and that we lost a singular performer who can never be replaced.
Right about the time that Freddie passed, Queen was finally getting some much overdue respect as a band, and I still to this day feel they’re under-rated musicians. Brian May didn’t get his due as a guitarist for many years, even though Eric Clapton once said that May “can do things I could only dream of doing” on the instrument, and bassist John Deacon and drummer Roger Taylor were a hell of a rhythm section.
Not to mention in the live arena Freddie was at one with the stage, and had audiences in the palm of his hand. Watch the Queen Live at Wembley Stadium and Queen Rock Montreal concerts, and you’ll see what remarkable chemistry Queen had as a band, especially in the live arena.
And who else besides Mercury could have the vision to bring together a song like Bohemian Rhapsody, as unlikely a hit single as you could get in those days. (Actually, a song that epic and complicated would probably be an unlikely single even today). There are reportedly over 180 overdubs on the song, with Mercury building dense layers of harmony. Those sections of the song were supposed to be brief, but as recalled in Guitar School magazine, Mercury would come to the studio every day with a new set of lyrics, saying, “I’ve added a few more Galileos dear.”
I can still remember watching the concert tribute for Freddie where everyone from Elton John to George Michael to Spinal Tap and Metallica performed in his memory. One of the most poignant moments was Liza Minnelli closing the show with We Are the Champions.
A photographer who shot the event told me the surviving band members were arguing about this backstage, but then they finally reconsidered. One of the glitziest, glamourous, campy and flamboyant of entertainers closing the show with one of Queen’s greatest classics? It’s what Freddie would have wanted.