By Benoît Clerc
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A lovingly thorough dissection of every album and every song ever released by the beloved rock group, Queen All the Songs follows Freddie, Brian, Roger, and John from their self-titled debut album in 1973 through the untimely passing of Freddie, all the way up to their latest releases and the Oscar-winning film, Bohemian Rhapsody. The writing and recording process of each track is discussed and analyzed by author Benoît Clerc, and page-after-page features captivating and sometimes rarely seen images of the band.
Queen All the Songs delves deep into the history and origins of the band and their music. This one-of-a-kind book draws upon decades of research and is a must-have for any true fan of classic rock.
Queen has never been one of those rock bands with a small but devoted following. The band is beloved by millions, first finding its footing in the small concert halls of London in the 1970s and then going on to play in stadiums with enough seating for 100,000 spectators. While Queen has enjoyed a massive fan following, they were never particularly celebrated by the music press, and the four members of the band didn’t really adhere to the preconceived notions of how rock stars should behave. No hotel rooms were destroyed, and there was no ubiquitous drug use within the group. Far from rock ’n’ roll caricatures, the members of Queen forged a reputation as hard workers who loved to spend their time recording in the studio and performing onstage. The group recorded an astonishing fifteen albums, often driving themselves (and their producers and technicians) to exhaustion.
Although carried by a lead singer known for his legendary charisma and stage presence, Queen was a collective made up of four personalities with boundless creativity: Brian May on guitar, John Deacon on bass, Roger Taylor on drums, and Freddie Mercury on vocals. Each member of the group participated in the writing of Queen’s unforgettable catalog of songs, and all four men played an equally important role in shaping Queen’s lasting musical legacy.
Since the release of their first album in 1973, the group has sold more than 300 million albums worldwide. The sheer number of hits can make you dizzy: “I Want to Break Free,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” “Radio Ga Ga,” “Killer Queen,” “We Are the Champions,” “We Will Rock You,” “Don’t Stop Me Now,” “The Show Must Go On,” and of course the group’s masterpiece, “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Generations of fans have followed the band, and the teenagers who flocked to the group in the early 1970s have passed their love of Queen on to their children, and to their children’s children. Thanks to the phenomenal success of Bryan Singer’s 2018 film Bohemian Rhapsody, young music lovers around the world have rediscovered the timeless songs written by the four brothers in arms. As further proof that time has done nothing to dampen Queen’s legacy, the original music video for “BoRap” (as fans call it) now has over a billion views on YouTube.
Queen All the Songs celebrates the work of May, Mercury, Deacon, and Taylor, analyzing each song recorded by the quartet with love for the process and respect for the group. Some demos that the group recorded are not referenced in this book (including “Feelings” and “Silver Salmon”) in order to focus on the titles that the musicians themselves deemed worthy of refining, recording, and presenting to the public as part of an album.
This book focuses on the adventures of the four men who made Queen into a legendary band. Special attention is paid to the writing and recording process of the group’s classic songs and albums, with sidebars offering deep dives into the lives and loves of each of the four original band members. For this reason, Queen All the Songs offers smaller overviews on the group’s side projects, including The Cosmos Rocks (the only studio album released by Queen + Paul Rogers), and the group’s latest collaborations with Adam Lambert. Though these new recordings have introduced Queen to an entirely new generation of fans, they were created after Freddie’s passing and are therefore given shorter analysis.
No study of Queen’s repertoire, no matter how thorough, could be long enough and complete enough to fully bear witness to the major accomplishments achieved by these four gifted musicians. Instead, the book you have in your hands intends to shed light on the hidden stories behind the creation of these classic songs, offering behind-the-scenes secrets that can now be revealed.
FREDDIE MERCURY: THE BIRTH OF A STAR
Farrokh Bulsara was born on September 5, 1946, in Zanzibar, not far from the coast of what is now Tanzania. The little island offered the young boy the perfect setting for a gentle and peaceful childhood, until his departure for India at the age of seven. It was to this far-off continent that his parents, who were of Indian origin, sent him to study at the prestigious St. Peter’s School in Panchgani, located approximately thirty miles from Bombay (now Mumbai). Far from his family, the young Farrokh mastered English and discovered sports, including English boxing and running. He spent the following eight years at this school, where his teachers nicknamed him Freddie. He learned discipline and rigor, and soon joined the school choir and took up piano lessons and dramatic art classes, which he attended assiduously. In 1963, after eight years of study, Farrokh failed his exams. He then returned to his family in Zanzibar, where serious ethnic and religious tensions were emerging. After the massacre of an estimated ten thousand people during the so-called Zanzibar Revolution on the nights of January 11 and 12, 1964, the Bulsaras fled their island home for the relative safety of London.
In the British capital, a new life awaited Freddie, who studied fine art at Isleworth Polytechnic. Then in 1966 he went to Ealing Art College, with the goal of becoming an illustrator. He soon tired of this new objective and took an interest in a young guitarist named Jimi Hendrix. Freddie attended a large number of Hendrix’s London concerts. Before long, he got to know Tim Staffell, a fellow student at Ealing and singer for the group 1984.
Freddie Bulsara envisaged a new future for himself with Tim. He also became friends with Roger and Brian, 1984’s drummer and guitarist, and then he met Mary Austin, a nineteen-year-old woman who worked at Biba, which at that time was a very fashionable London department store. Freddie and Mary established a love and friendship that lasted until his death.
Freddie was interested in fashion and literature. He wore provocative and eccentric clothes, and sang in a group called Ibex, with which he performed for the first time onstage on August 23, 1969, in Bolton, near Manchester. In the autumn of that year Freddie also sang with a band called Wreckage, then with a band called Sour Milk Sea, whose drummer, Boris Williams, would go on to found the Cure. Freddie was very motivated by the idea of joining a new group that had already established itself as the opening act for Deep Purple. He was so nervous on the day of the audition that he asked Roger Taylor and John Harris (who, at that time, was sound engineer for Smile) to go with him. Pretending to be assistants to the aspiring lead singer, Taylor and Harris carried a wooden box containing his microphone. While Freddie’s makeshift entourage must have had a certain impact, it was his vocal performance that convinced the members of Sour Milk Sea. But after a few concerts, Freddie grew tired of the group and departed, preferring to focus on the secondhand clothes shop that he helped to run with Roger. It was at this time that he grew close to the members of Smile, whose own lead singer was set to depart the group in April 1970.
BRIAN MAY: THE ROCK ’N’ ROLL ACADEMIC
The son of Ruth and Harold May, Brian May was born on July 19, 1947, in Hampton Hill, in the outskirts of London. He grew up in a modest neighborhood and went to primary school in Feltham, not far from the street where Freddie Mercury and his family had moved after fleeing Zanzibar. This was a surprising coincidence, but Brian and Freddie did not meet at the time. Brian’s father, Harold, who was a radio operator during World War II, was then working as a draughtsman for the Ministry of Aviation. Among other things, he was involved in the design of the Blind Landing System for aircraft, which would eventually be used for the future supersonic aircraft, the Concorde. Brian was introduced to music at a very young age by his parents, particularly his mother. His father helped him to make a crystal radio receiver, or galena crystal detector radio—on which he listened to Radio Luxembourg with some old wartime German headphones. He reluctantly attended piano lessons but seemed to genuinely enjoy the ukulele lessons given by his father. On his seventh birthday his parents gave him his first acoustic guitar, an inexpensive Egmond, which he treasured; he even presented it to the public at a press conference on October 1, 2014, when his book Brian May’s Red Special was launched. The Red Special is the electric guitar he made with his father and which he used throughout his career, only very rarely bringing on another model for a music video, or for a concert. As Harold did not have the means to give his son a Fender Stratocaster—which was the guitar used by Hank Marvin (leader of the Shadows) and Buddy Holly—Harold decided to set about making a unique model, designed using recycled materials, so that he could help his young son realize his dreams. It should be said that they had already constructed a telescope together, and that father and son were very close. The guitar construction project still further cemented this closeness between Brian and his father. In the autumn of 1963, the Red Special was completed, and from then on Brian was never without it. Even though music was only a hobby for Brian, it increasingly gained an important place in his life. With his fascination for astronomy, he was brilliantly successful in his studies at the prestigious Hampton Grammar School, and then he attended the no less prestigious Imperial College London. His college studies began in the autumn of 1965, and he studied astrophysics. His great passion for the subject was further materialized in his doctoral thesis: A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud in 2007, and he was awarded his doctorate forty-two years after he started his studies.
Back to 1965, which was when Brian met Tim Staffell, a student at Ealing Art College in London. Together they formed the group 1984, which had May on guitar, Staffell on vocals, Dave Dilloway on bass, Richard Thompson on drums, John Sanger on piano, and John Garnham as second guitar. Brian involved himself in this project while continuing his studies, and the group began to line up many concerts, eventually booking themselves as the opening band for May’s idol, Jimi Hendrix, on May 13, 1967, at Imperial College. Despite these opportunities and the recording of an initial demo, the young May decided to focus on his academic work and left the group at the beginning of 1968. Elements of family pressure, and the desire not to let his father down, were probably contributing factors in his decision-making. Fortunately for music lovers everywhere, Brian revised his decision in the fall of 1968 when he founded Smile with Tim Staffell. He was once again ready to do battle on the stage, and he was always equipped with his trusted Red Special.
ROGER TAYLOR: THE “LEGENDARY CORNISH DRUMMER”
During a concert tour for Smile that passed through his childhood town, Taylor mockingly nicknamed himself the “Legendary Cornish Drummer.” It was this sense of humor and fiery temperament, along with his compositional talent and inimitable drumming abilities, that came to characterize Roger as a member of Queen.
Roger Meddows Taylor was born on July 26, 1949, in King’s Lynn, in East Anglia, northeast of London. He and his family soon moved to Truro, in Cornwall in the southwest of the country. Very early on he learned to play the ukulele, and at the age of ten he joined his first group, the Bubblingover Boys, where they played a mix of rock (influenced by Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard) and jazz. In 1960 he attended the prestigious Truro Cathedral School, where he was required to be actively involved in the choir. This was his opportunity to discover vocal harmonization, which would prove valuable as a member of Queen. At the age of twelve he officially became a drummer. He built his first drum kit using a tom and a bass drum given to him by his father, then added other elements that he acquired gradually. He pursued his musical path with the support of his family, playing guitar in the group the Cousin Jacks before joining Johnny Quale and the Reaction in 1965. They played numerous concerts, until the departure of Johnny Quale in 1966, which left the group without a lead singer. Roger Taylor filled this vacancy, drumsticks in hand, confidently placing his drum kit at the front of stage during the Reaction concerts. Taylor moved to London in the fall of 1967 and began a course in dental surgery at the London Hospital Medical School. A few months later, Taylor was still thinking of ways to get himself back onstage when his roommate, Les Brown, showed him a little advertisement he’d found in the hallways of Imperial College. Roger responded to the ad and shortly afterward was called to audition for the group, Smile. This was the start of a big adventure for the already very accomplished Roger Taylor, then aged nineteen.
JOHN DEACON: THE SOFT POWER
John Richard Deacon was born on August 10, 1951, in Leicester, England. He grew up on the outskirts of the city, initially in Evington, then in Oadby, where he moved in 1960 with his sister and parents, Arthur and Lillian. The young boy was quiet and reserved, but he was also fascinated by electronics, and he spent much of his time tinkering and making gadgets from spare parts. In 1965, just before he turned fourteen, John went to Beauchamp Grammar School, in the south of Leicester. Alongside his studies, he joined the group the Opposition, where he played guitar with bassist Clive Castledine, lead singer/guitarist Richard Young, and drummer Nigel Bullen. The Opposition played covers of songs by the Yardbirds and the Animals, and Deacon found himself attracted to the soul sounds of Detroit’s Motown label, which was created by Berry Gordy in 1959 under the name of Tamla. The Opposition followed the traditional path of adolescent rock bands of the period, opportunistically taking whatever gigs they could get. In 1966, when Clive Castledine left the group, John took up the bass. The lineup changed, and the group renamed themselves the New Opposition before changing their name to Art in 1968.
This musical adventure lasted only a while, and John remained focused on his studies. His life changed when he met Brian May and Roger Taylor in 1971, and he joined Queen, becoming its final bassist. Quiet and inventive, Deacon played a key role in the group. Although it took him a year or so before he felt completely part of the band, he went on to compose some of Queen’s greatest hits: “Another One Bites the Dust,” “I Want to Break Free,” and “You’re My Best Friend,” as well as many other successful but less well-known songs, including “Cool Cat” and “Rain Must Fall,” which he co-wrote with Mercury.
Following a life devoted to rock ’n’ roll, John Deacon—nicknamed Deaky by his musician friends—decided to leave Queen in 1997 and to live outside of the show business limelight, close to his wife and children. Even now, at a distance, Deacon is still the member of the group most focused on the business side of things, just as he was during the glory days of Queen.
NORMAN SHEFFIELD: A VISIONARY BUSINESSMAN
By the time Queen met Norman Sheffield in the fall of 1971, he was already an established player in the world of British music. As the owner of Trident Productions Ltd.—which has its offices at 17 St. Anne’s Court, in the heart of London’s fashionable Soho neighborhood—the businessman managed an impressive mix of renowned recording studios that gave birth to a litany of famous albums, including The Beatles’ Abbey Road. A former drummer himself, Sheffield gave up the instrument and opened a record store in the suburbs of London when he decided to start a family. Shortly after the store opened, he was able to install a small recording studio above the shop with the help of his brother, Barry. Together, the two brothers began recording local young artists after the store had closed for the day. Norman’s own history as a working musician undoubtedly informed his gift for discovering new talent. Word of mouth soon spread, and the roster of artists hoping to record with the Sheffield brothers grew. In March 1968, Norman and Barry decided to move their operation to Soho, where they officially formed Trident Studios and began to build a small music empire. The Beatles hastened to the studios so they could finish the recording of Abbey Road, impatient to use the eight-track tape recorder that the Sheffields had just installed. This new piece of technology was one of the first eight-tracks in all of Europe! As their operation grew, the Sheffields began to play a larger role in the professional development of the groups they took on, eventually taking over talent management as well as recording and production duties under the umbrella of Trident Productions Ltd.
A Tumultuous Relationship with Queen
After listening to Queen’s early recordings, which were laid down at De Lane Lea Studios in September 1971, Norman Sheffield offered the group a global management, production, and publishing contract. He made studio space available for the group during Trident’s off-peak recording hours, and he also offered the fledgling group the expertise of two in-house producers: John Anthony and Roy Thomas Baker.
This working relationship would last through Queen’s first three albums, but tensions grew between the group and their management team as the band became more and more successful. It seemed to the members of Queen that most of their profits were going to Trident instead of to the band members, who continued to live in a state of relative squalor. As negotiations over money grew tense, Norman Sheffield became the group’s sworn enemy, with Freddie Mercury even going so far as to write a song about the terrible working relationship. The resulting track, “Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to…)” became the lead cut from A Night at the Opera. After much back and forth, and a significant amount of legal pain, Queen officially parted ways with Trident in August 1975.
A Considerable Legacy
The break with Queen came as a bitter shock for Norman Sheffield, who felt humiliated and betrayed after all the work he put in to help the group succeed. In later years, Brian May and Norman Sheffield would agree that the real problem had been a simple breakdown in communication between the group and Trident. Perhaps if certain discussions had taken place, and if certain assurances had been made, the situation would not have deteriorated so quickly or gotten so ugly. In the end, the businessman who was once so loathed by Freddie and the rest of the band went on to be appreciated and celebrated for his immense talent and his innate kindness.
Sadly, Norman Sheffield died in 2014, leaving behind an incredible musical legacy that made him a pillar of the international rock scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many classic albums of the era were recorded at Trident Studios, including Transformer by Lou Reed, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars by David Bowie, and Elton John’s self-titled second album, which includes the timeless track “Your Song.”
MARY AUSTIN: FREDDIE MERCURY’S MUSE
When Freddie Mercury met Mary Austin in 1970, she was a saleswoman at the fashionable Biba department store on Kensington High Street in London. All four members of Queen shopped at Biba regularly, as it was considered to be on the cutting edge of fashion. Brian May first noticed Mary and the two soon began dating. Eventually, Brian and Mary’s short-lived fling came to an end and Freddie, who had become quite enamored with Mary during his visits to the store, made his intentions known.
The two lovebirds quickly moved in together in a tiny flat on Victoria Road. They shared a strong love for decorative objects, pretty tableware, and fashion, and the two soon made their new house into a home with a flair that was distinctly their own. Mary felt safe with Freddie, and all their friends from the time have testified to the happiness and tranquility that reigned in their small apartment.
Love of My Life
Freddie’s bond with Mary Austin would change over time as the two shifted from a romantic relationship to a platonic friendship. But as Freddie ascended to the heights of rock and roll stardom, Mary would always serve as a source of strength and security, offering Freddie a safe space where he could always be himself. As Queen rose in popularity between 1972 and 1975, Mary was frequently at Freddie’s side. She paid the rent on their Holland Road apartment when they moved in, and she kept their home in working order while Freddie was away on tour with the band. Of course, the matter of Freddie’s sexuality was a constant source of tabloid fodder, and he happily teased journalists who got up the nerve to ask if he was gay. While Mary had her own questions about Freddie’s predilections, the two never discussed the issue.
In the spring of 1975 Freddie met David Minns, who was then working as the manager for singer Eddie Howell. The two fell in love almost immediately, and while Freddie’s sexuality may have remained a taboo subject, Freddie and David began to appear together on numerous occasions. Freddie wrote the song You Take My Breath Away for David, and the track eventually appeared on the album A Day at the Races. At the end of 1976, with Freddie and David spending more and more time together, the romantic relationship between Freddie and Mary finally came to an end.
Although they were no longer romantic partners, Mary and Freddie remained inseparable until the singer’s death in 1991. After Freddie’s passing, Mary was named as the inheritor to half of his considerable fortune. But perhaps the greatest tribute Freddie paid to the great love of his life was the song he wrote for her. Mary served as the inspiration for “Love of My Life,” which appeared on A Night at the Opera.
HER MAJESTY’S FIRST STEPS
In January 1972, Queen began rehearsals of the titles that would make up their first album. Since the contract between the group and Trident Audio Productions had not yet been signed, a tacit partnership was established. Two producers were made available to the musicians: John Anthony and Roy Thomas Baker, but while they were granted access to Trident’s recording studios at 17 St. Anne’s Court, this was solely during slots not used by the other artists.
Laying the Foundations
The recording sessions for the first album began in the summer of 1972. John Anthony, the first producer assigned to its creation, quickly succumbed to the pace imposed by the four musicians. The nighttime recording sessions were held between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m. and took a heavy toll on his health, especially since he was also overseeing the recordings of albums by Home and Al Stewart. Anthony decided to take a break in Greece, and his colleague Roy Thomas Baker took over producing responsibilities. The young producer, who got his start at Decca before joining Trident in 1969, had already achieved success with titles including “All Right Now” by Free and “Bang a Gong (Get It On)” by T. Rex. The pace was ferocious, and like his predecessor John Anthony, Baker soon began to tire, but he was energized by the young group that was hungry to prove itself. May recalls: “We were fighting to find a place where we had technical perfection.”3 Each guitar was recorded four times and the vocal recordings were repeated, so much so that the general sound ended up being deteriorated due to the effect of multiple track bouncing, which is the process of combining multiple track stems into one master mix in order to save space on the console. The group had sixteen tracks, but this didn’t seem to be enough for Baker, especially since the recording settings were lost every day, as Baker was forced to reset the console for the next artists coming in to use the studio. As a result of the excessive layering of tracks, hissing and natural degradation of the sound started to appear, but the group seemed happy with this effect, which unintentionally gave the mix a heavier color. Regarding the recording of the drums, Roger Taylor said: “There were a lot of things on the first album I don’t like, for example, the drum sound.”4 Indeed, the percussion mixing was very muted and kept in the background—which was the fashion at the time. A quick listen to two other sonic masterpieces recorded during this period—The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars by David Bowie (recorded at Trident Studios at the same time as Queen) and Madman Across the Water by Elton John, released in 1971—reveals the diminished role allocated to drums on pop albums in the early 1970s.
After his well-deserved rest in Greece, John Anthony resumed his position as producer alongside Roy Thomas Baker. He was then assisted by Mike Stone, a jack-of-all-trades at Trident Studios, who quickly became Queen’s appointed sound engineer. Anthony taught his young apprentice the method he intended to apply to the mixing of the album: “We [had] to make this sound like a live record. […] I wanted it to show the balls and the energy of Queen’s live show.”2
A Team to Work on the Album
- On Sale
- Oct 20, 2020
- Page Count
- 528 pages
- Black Dog & Leventhal