GETTING MORE TALE #633: Don’t Take Offence At My Innuendo
I didn’t understand Queen until it was almost too late. When I was a highschool hair metal brat, Queen were “too pop” for my tastes. Much of their music seemed to be novelty songs to me. Highschool pep rally music: “We Will Rock You”, “We are the Champions”. In the late 80s, North America had all but given up on Queen. My exposure to them was minimal until 1991.
MuchMusic began playing a new Queen video called “Innuendo”. The animated short was intense with firey guitar histronics (courtesy of Steve Howe from Yes) and an exotic Zeppelin edge. Having just got into Zeppelin big time, this was very appealing. At school, old pal Scott Peddle concurred. “That new Queen is quite the Zeppelin tune,” and I agreed. As far as I was concerned, any band that could homage Zep’s “Kashmir” with their own unique slant, well, I had to check them out!
M.E.A.T Magazine had a new interview with Brian May that year, and so my learning began. It was the first I heard of Freddie’s rumoured health problems. Queen hadn’t toured since 1986 and this raised questions. Little did I know, but the British tabloids were all over Freddie with candid photos and near-death pronouncements. Brian denied the health concerns, but admitted that it was Freddie who didn’t want to tour. This was because as singer, he couldn’t smoke, drink and party with the rest of the band. He had to take care of his voice. So went the interview. Brian assured readers that Queen would continue, as they were already half-way through the next Queen album, eventually released in 1995 as Made in Heaven.
The next chapter in my learning came during the summer. In guitar magazine interview, Brian May ran through all the Queen albums one by one. I drank in every word, as I got a rough outline of what this band was all about. Diversity, mostly, and I liked that. Zeppelin too was diverse, but I sensed that Queen took it to another level. I made plans to begin collecting Queen.
After highschool, I managed to stay in touch with a guy named Andy. Andy had an older brother with an extensive record collection. Andy told me all about this song called “Bohemian Rhapsody”. He was over one night when my mom came downstairs to tell us some bad news. It was the 23rd of November, 1991. Freddie Mercury had made a statement.
“Following the enormous conjecture in the press over the last two weeks, I wish to confirm that I have been tested HIV positive and have AIDS. I felt it correct to keep this information private to date to protect the privacy of those around me. However, the time has come now for my friends and fans around the world to know the truth and I hope that everyone will join with me, my doctors and all those worldwide in the fight against this terrible disease. My privacy has always been very special to me and I am famous for my lack of interviews. Please understand this policy will continue.”
There was such a stigma surrounding AIDS then, more so than today. It is easy to be critical of Freddie’s decision to keep his illness secret. Unless you were there in 1991, then you really can’t know how difficult it was for AIDS sufferers at the time.
Andy and I were shellshocked. The rumours were true. The denials were false. Brian later admitted that he knew early on that Freddie was sick. Still, Andy and I had no idea how serious it was. We talked, we listened to Queen. Freddie died the very next day (the same day as Eric Carr of Kiss). I had hardly got to know him.
My mom was headed to the mall and she asked if I wanted anything. “Yes,” I answered. “The first Queen album please.” She returned that afternoon with Queen, 1973. It was my first Queen. I intended to collect them in order.
Getting all the albums in original order went sideways shortly after. Less than three months after Freddie’s passing, came a worldwide phenomenon: Wayne’s World.
Overnight, Queen were everywhere again. Everyone knew every word to “Bohemian Rhapsody”. The few months’ head start that I had were meaningless. Two weeks later, Hollywood Records released Classic Queen in North America. This was essentially a revised Greatest Hits II from 1991, (which they didn’t even bother to release here) with older hits thrown in. Later that year came a new version of Greatest Hits, with the track listing revamped to avoid overlap with Classic Queen. Confusing? Indeed, it must have been to old fans who already had the old Greatest Hits with the original cover art. That immediately became a collectable. To new guys like me, I was just trying to keep up.
Hollywood Records reissued all the old Queen albums as part of their 20 Years of Queen series. There were bonus tracks. I had begun my Queen collection on cassette, but I was irked to discovery that some of the CD editions had bonus tracks that were not on the cassettes. And so, I already had to re-buy. Interestingly, some of those old 1991 bonus tracks are remixes that are now out of print and not available on the newer Queen reissues.
It was a blessing that I stopped buying them in chronological order. After all, I didn’t want to wait that long to get Innuendo, an album with more than the average amount of heavy Queen rock. Next, I got News of the World. Its bonus tracks was a pretty awful remix of “We Will Rock You” by Rick Rubin and featuring Flea. Fortunately the album itself was much better. Queen’s best? Quite possibly, due to “It’s Late”, a Queen epic as regal as any. The 6:27 Brian May workout is a clear highlight on an album of nothing but. “It’s Late” sunk its hooks in me deep.
As it was difficult for Hollywood Records to to extract new releases from a defunct band, the reissues continued. Queen At the Beeb was out of print, so it was re-released with new cover art as Queen at the BBC in 1995. This collection of live oldies from Queen and Queen II were not what the hit-buying general public were interested in. My copy was a cassette promo from the Record Store, intended for store play. The boss never played it so I claimed it.
Working at the Record Store, I was able to fill in most of the blanks in my collection. A nice find was a version of The Miracle with 14 tracks instead of the more common 13. I still have that. (The additional track was the 12″ remix of “Scandal”.) It was ol’ buddy T-Rev who made sure I knew these things.
As the years passed, Queen releases became less important. The long-awaited final album Made in Heaven became a shelf warmer at Christmas 1995. Regardless of its deep emotional contents, people didn’t want to know. The unfortunate effect of Queen’s sudden comeback in North America is that people lost interest a few years after they gained it.
Not me. Made in Heaven became a dark favourite. Two years later, Queen indicated they weren’t done yet. The trio of Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon regrouped for one last song: the ballad “No-One But You (Only the Good Die Young)”. It was a tribute to Freddie and Princess Diana, and released on a new compilation called Queen Rocks.
John Deacon retired, but then something strange happened. The duo of Brian May and Roger Taylor reconvened as “Queen +”. This moniker was used for a number of remixes on Greatest Hits III: Queen + Wyclef Jean, for example. There was Five + Queen doing a new boy band version of “We Will Rock You”. Queen + Paul Rodgers did an album (The Cosmos Rocks) and a number of tours. But it wasn’t until a former American Idol TV contestant named Adam Lambert came on board that Queen regained mass public awareness. Now, Queen + Adam Lambert are a hot touring commodity.
That might have to be enough. Because nobody bought The Cosmos Rocks, Queen + Adam Lambert are unlikely at this time to record new music. Instead they will be tearing up stages Down Under in 2018. They promise all the favourites, and a few unexpected oldies. Lambert is a versatile singer who can do it all, so Australia and New Zealand are now on alert: Queen + Adam Lambert are coming and are promising a hell of a show.
- Auckland – 17 & 18 February
- Sydney – 21 & 22 February
- Brisbane – 24 February
- Adelaide (first Queen shows since 1984) – 27 & 28 February
- Melbourne – 2 & 3 March
- Perth – 6 March