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Queen and I

May 1, 2011

Queen and I.

Most women of my age (25 soon to be 26 for anyone interested) found themselves obsessed musically with two bands during our formative years growing up in the 90s: Take That and The Spice Girls.  Now, this is not going to be a post of musical snobbery; that is one thing I don’t believe in as music is subjective to the ears of the listener and I will admit to still “throwing a few shapes” on the dance floor when ever someone sticks the Spice Girls on (yes I am that uncool but what are you going to do about it?). It is a form of nostalgia for my early teenage years which are moving ever further away and as I get older I become less shackled by the snobbery of youth and the quiet desperation we all go through in order to be seen as cool no matter what we perceive that to be. But I am not talking about those bastions of 1990s pop music in this musical ramble. My first musical love and the one band that I have never wavered in my love for is: Queen. The pompous, big haired riff loving operatic vocal titans of British rock music.

I first came across them, if Wikipedia and my birth certificate is to believed, when I was five (almost six) and my father told me about a man named Freddie who had just died and how he was “one of the greats” and what a shame it was. Not long after that on a sunny afternoon (or that’s how I remember it being) I sat down to watch the memorial concert, probably because nothing else was on and we had no money to be doing anything else on a Saturday afternoon. I don’t remember much about the concert itself, just a poor bloke in the crowd who had this woman on his shoulders for pretty much the duration and feeling sorry for him having to carry this great lump of a woman around just so she could see better.

Sometime after this I inherited my father’s combined turntable and cassette player; he had just bought himself a brand new stereo complete with CD player, which at the time seemed like a vast extravagance and a technological leap forward not seen in the house of Gallear since we acquired our first Video player. Now my dad no longer had any use for his record player and decided he would pass it onto one of his children. He had first acquired it in the 1970s when my mother had given it to him as an engagement present. My father said I could have it to listen to the radio and also because he was loath to throw anything away with a plug which still worked just incase he might want it again. My first portable TV was of the same 70s vintage. Somehow he managed to make space for it in my tiny box room and once it was safely stowed away he pressed a cassette tape he had made me into my hands. He had recorded it for me from a CD he had just bought to go with his new stereo and had made it for me as I liked to listen to his tapes when he let me and I could not afford any of my own on my pocket money of 10p a week.

That tape was to change my life and became the start of my longest running musical affair: Queen: Greatest Hits Volume 1, all the titles written neatly on side A and B by my father starting with Bohemian Rhapsody and ending in We Are The Champions – the break from side A to B coming after Save Me. I stuck it in pressed play and dropped into a world of glorious sonic sound.

I have tried over the years to pinpoint why I like Queen so much. First, the vocals, whether they are going for full operatic or quieter moments, their voices are beautiful, strong and compliment each other well. Listen to some of the Brian May and Roger Taylor solo tracks on the albums and you will realise it was not just Freddie who was a bloody good singer in Queen. Roger Taylor especially has a great vocal growl – just listen to I’m In love With My Car from A Night At The Opera. Then there is the production of the music itself. For me it is good, very good in fact, the guitars are clear and sharp and you just know you are listening to a Brian May riff, thanks in part to his hand built guitar, which, reportedly, he has always used since he was a teenager. With a voice like Freddie’s it would be easy for the music to be about him and nothing else but the tracks are never dominated or taken over by Freddie’s magnificent vocals, they are allowed equal prominence within the music and complement each other with their own grandiose style as the bass and drums hum along clear and dominant within the mix, providing HMS Queen with its engine room to keep the old war horse going. Then there are the lyrics. As a fan I can admit that a lot of the early tracks are full of 1970s progressive pomp with vague references to a fantastical kingdoms just beyond our sight and sound as mortal human beings, but when they come back down to earth and put pen to paper in a world a little more realistic, they are brilliant song writers, authors of many-a-classic in the British song writers’ book. Another thing about the bands song writing is that all four members were equally good at it. There are no “Lennon and McCartney”s here, just four talented guys sharing the fruits of their creation with each other to glorious effect; for example: Freddie has Killer Queen to bring to the table, Brian’s contribution is We Will Rock You, Roger is responsible for Radio GaGa and John throws Another One Bites The Dust into their music box.

I kept hold of that tape and listened to it for years. I knew all the words, I even had my own little dance routines for the songs (I was very strange as a child) and I would still have that tape now if it had not met an unfortunate end in the brand new stereo my brother Paul had received. I lent it to him for a listen and he gave it back to me chewed up and broken beyond repair. I don’t blame him for this; he was only interested in listening to some decent music. I like to believe my tape was unable to stand the mechanics of a brand new tape player, or perhaps it could see the writing on the wall – my soon to be purchased CD player and eventual Ipod and decided to commit suicide as I began to leave my childhood behind and not because I had played the thing to death and it was probably on its last legs when I gave it to him. As I got older and no matter how I tried or how many other bands I discovered and came to love I have never been able to turn my back on my first and longest musical relationship. No matter where I am in life, I always comeback to Queen. There is always a welcome space for them on my Ipod and I have just started to do what I should have done years ago and buy their back catalogue.

So on Friday 29th April I shall be saluting Queen the band and not HRH. They are perhaps the greatest band ever to have troubled my musical shores, only somehow I cannot see Kate Middleton walking down the isle to The Wedding Theme from the Flash Gordon soundtrack, even though that would certainly make the Royal wedding for me.

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