Queen is an English rock band fronted by the dynamic and charismatic leader, the late Freddie Mercury. Their brand of pseudo-operatic rock and kitschy style and humor in their songs may not always win the critics’ favor, but they helped the band sell hundreds and millions of records worldwide. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is the band’s trademark song and catapulted Queen into rock immortality. Other well-known hits include “We Are The Champions,” “We Will Rock You,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” and many others
The founding of the band
The origins of Queen are found in London, England, from the ashes of the blues-rock band Smile. Would-be Queen members Brian May (guitars/vocals) and Roger Taylor (drums/vocals) were members of that group, with Tim Staffell bassist and lead vocalist. Farrokh (Freddie) Bulsara had been a singer of another band named Wreckage, but had always admired Smile – he was also a friend of Staffell as they had been classmates at Ealing Art College. Soon Bulsara joined Smile as a member after the departure of Staffell, and bestowed a new name on the band, “Queen.”
Farrokh Bulsara also adopted a new stage name, Freddie Mercury, and soon the band recruited a new bassist in John Deacon. Once Queen was complete, they began rehearsing. Over the next couple of years, all four members graduated from college and were ready to focus more on their career as a band.
Queen’s first flush of success
In 1973 Queen released their self-titled debut album which had progressive rock, hard rock and heavy metal influences. It failed to capture the audiences. Their sophomore effort Queen II was a concept album, exploring emotional and fantasy themes. It was an unexpected breakthrough success for the band, thanks to “Seven Seas Of Rhye” which broke into the UK Top 10 in 1974. The success of the single landed Queen a spot to perform on Top Of The Pops. The album peaked at #5 on the UK album charts.
Queen’s third album Sheer Heart Attack (1974) presented a more accessible sound unlike its two predecessors. The album’s single “Killer Queen” landed at #2 on the UK singles charts and also broke into the US Billboard Hot 100 for the first time at #12. The album peaked at #2 on the UK chart while it did well on the US Billboard Hot 100 at #12.
Reaching the peak of success and global superstardom
The greatest achievement was yet to come for Queen when they released their fourth studio album A Night At The Opera in 1975. The group had recorded it for a long time and spent quite a fortune on it, making it Queen’s most expensive album ever made in their career. The single “Bohemian Rhapsody” alone took three weeks to record. Its mock-operatic musical style carried out by overblown, pompous style was accented by heavy guitar riffs. To help promote the single, Queen created its now-classic music video. The singles’ grandiose formula and the band’s iconic music video helped the single to break into the top 10 US Billboard Hot 100 (at #9) and land at #1 on the UK singles chart that year.
A Night At The Opera became Queen’s first #1 album in Britain, and peaked at #4 on the US album chart, helping to establish Queen as bona fide global superstars.
Queen followed the success of A Night At The Opera with A Day At The Races, which scored another #1 position on the UK album chart, and #5 rank on the US Billboard 200 in 1976. News Of The World (1977) reached platinum status in both US and the UK, helped by the double single “We Are The Champions” and “We Will Rock You.” It was followed by Jazz (1978) which also went into platinum as well.
Because of of the massive success and admiration that Queen had been getting, they were the favorite target of panning from the critics.
Into the 1980s, Queen was at still the peak of their popularity. In late 1980 Queen released their eighth studio album, The Game, which was deemed to be the band’s most eclectic album to date, sampled by the singles “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” (1950s-styled rock and roll) and “Another One Bites The Dust” (with disco influences). These two singles both zoomed to #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100, making The Game Queen’s first and only US #1 album.
Queen also got to tour in such regions as Latin America and Asia, places that most rock groups disregarded. Queen’s subsequent albums Flash Gordon, Hot Space, The Works, A Kind of Magic, The Miracle and Innuendo received lukewarm critical and commercial reception, a signal that Queen was starting to fall out of favor in the US although they were still wildly successful and popular in the UK and much of Europe.
Freddie Mercury’s declining health and death
By the late 1980s, fans took notice of Mercury’s increasingly pale and sickly appearance and rumors started to swirl around that he had AIDS. At first Mercury tried to deny this, and went on to be active within the band. But Mercury, who was a bisexual, finally admitted on November 23, 1991 that he had AIDS. Within 24 hours after his public confession, Mercury died from respiratory complications brought about by AIDS. He was 45 years old.
Queen after Mercury’s death, and their impact and legacy
In 1992, the US hit comedy film Wayne’s World featured “Bohemian Rhapsody” as one of its soundtracks, re-igniting Queen’s popularity among American audiences. The re-released edition of the song went to #2 on the US Billboard Hot 100 that year.
After Mercury’s death, Queen’s surviving members recorded songs from vocal tracks that Mercury had made before his death. The result was 1995’s Made In Heaven, the last album to feature Mercury. While the album received mixed critical reviews, it became a success, having sold four million units in the UK and received a gold certification in the US.
Striving to keep the band active, all members of Queen (save for Deacon, who has now been effectively retired) resumed their positions in the band in 2005, with a new member in Paul Rodgers who now filled Mercury’s shoes as the lead vocalist. It lead the band to be called Queen + Paul Rodgers. Queen celebrated their 40th anniversary in 2011 by releasing their first five albums in the UK and other selected regions. The following year Queen played at the London Olympics’ closing ceremony.
Although Queen may not receive the same critical respect their peers have gotten, the band nevertheless became one of the most successful, dynamic and well-loved bands in the history of 20th century music. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 2001.