Today is Imbolc, the midpoint of Winter. That’s Groundhog Day to you secular/non-pagan types (and yeah, P-Phil peeped his shadow, so throw another blanket on the bed). It’s also my birthday, and my good friend Dr. Mike Pecaut has offered up a fine present – lots of concert footage from one of my all-time favorite bands, the unparalleled Queen! I got to see them live on The Game tour, and my only regret is that this was in the Greensboro Coliseum before they did the renovation. Which meant that the acoustics were roughly that of a quonset hut in a hail storm. Still, I got to see the most amazing band in the world in person.
Let’s kick the Dr. Slammy Day festivities off in style with – what else? – “Bohemian Rhapsody.” If we don’t get it out of the way now you’re just going to be rushing through the rest and missing out on some spectacular moments in the process, right? If you never saw Queen in concert, you may not know that they didn’t even try to do the operatic movement. No way they could have. So they simply get up, leave the stage, play the record and let the lights go nuts. You don’t see that here because they intercut footage from the vid. Still, thought you should know.
Now let’s go way back for a little ditty from Queen II. If you’re not familiar with anything the band did before “Bohemian Rhapsody,” you should know that early on they were very self-consciously dramatic. Brace yourself for … “Ogre Battle”!
Next up is “White Queen,” one of my favorite tunes from Queen II.
Queen was given to moments of silliness, as with “Bring Back That Leroy Brown.” Even when they were fucking around, though, they made clear that they could by god play.
This is Freddie’s hate song for a lawyer who’d done him wrong, “Death on Two Legs.”
“Doin’ Alright” is from the very first record, 1973’s Queen.
A lot of people realize what a stellar talent Freddie Mercury was, but the rest of the band rarely gets the credit it deserves. Roger Taylor and John Deacon comprised one of the greatest rhythm sections in rock history and I’ve always said that Brian May is perhaps the most underrated guitarist of all time. Not that he gets no credit – just that people who think he’s god are still understating the case. Here, on “Brighton Rock” (the lead track on Sheer Heart Attack and always one of my favorite Queen songs), you get to see him having a bit of fun. Enjoy.
Another thing a lot of people don’t realize is that Freddie wasn’t the only songwriter in the band. Arguably, he wasn’t even the best – I’ve always thought Brian was perhaps better, if not as prolific. This is his gorgeous “’39,” easily one of the three or four best things the band ever recorded. The only disappointing part is that live they chose to have Freddie sing it. Brian did the vox on the album, and his voice is simpler and more plaintive, which better fits the tenor of the tune.
Another non-Freddie number now. “You’re My Best Friend” was actually written by John, who was good for one usually fantastic) song per album.
Roger was the hardest rocker in the band. He was also the guy with the highest range (when you hear those insane multi-part harmonies, that one voice soaring an octave above everything else wasn’t Freddie, it was Roger. Here’s he blasts out his signature rocker, “I’m in Love With My Car.”
The first Queen song I ever heard – “Killer Queen.” Back then stuff like this got played on the radio, you know. It remains one of my favorites.
This is one of Freddie’s better numbers, “The Millionaire Waltz.”
While everybody else was (justifiably) worshiping “Bohemian Rhapsody,” the song on A Night at the Opera that blew me away was the epic “A Prophet’s Song.” Here Freddie performs some tech-enhanced freelance vocal wizardry with it. Damn.
Here in America Queen ceased to exist after the booming success of 1980’s The Game. As this footage from Live Aid demonstrates, they remained very much alive in their native Britain. Want to see what happens when somebody was born to be a front man? Pay attention to the crowd during the choruses, starting at about the 1:48 mark or so.
A Day at the Races closes with the achingly beautiful love song, “Teo Torriate.” Here Brian handles the piano, leaving Freddie alone with the spotlight.
Teo torriate konomama iko
Shizukana yoi ni
Itoshiki oshieo idaki
Let us cling together as the years go by
Oh my love, my love
In the quiet of the night
Let our candle always burn
Let us never lose the lessons we have learned
Let’s leave it there, shall we?
Happy Imbolc, and we’ll see you next week.