It’s a warm sunny afternoon in school, and your chemistry teacher drones on about a plum pudding model. How she expects you to study henceforth without the thought of food on your mind remains a mystery. A forty minute class suddenly turns into chaos as the restless backbencher slowly thumps his feet twice and slams the table. Everyone knows what’s coming—the teacher is being ousted by a unified off-pitch scream of wrong lyrics, but the high energy words ‘We Will Rock You’. While the exact scenario might not have taken place in your life, the story is somewhat relatable; Queen still echo in our hearts twenty years after Freddie’s demise.
But who are they and why did Rami Malek bother putting in countless hours of practice for his role? If you’re here to find out whether skipping study time to watch Bohemian Rhapsody is worth it, your answer is here.
Possibly one of the greatest artists of all time, Queen are a British rock band formed in London in the year 1970. Personifying the word ‘extra’, the band were known for their incredibly theatrical performances and largely extravagant lifestyle. Their legacy started when lead guitarist Brian May put out a flyer looking for drummers to join his band Smile, with their former bassist Tim Staffell. The auditions witnessed a few turnouts, and the band settled for Roger Taylor who went on to become instrumental in Queen’s success.
Farrokh Bulsara, popularly known as Freddie Mercury was introduced to the band through Tim Staffell, whom he met while attending Ealing Art College. With Staffell quitting the band to join Humpy Bong, Mercury swooped in to take his position as the lead singer and transformed the group entirely. Having studied graphic design, he not only designed Queen’s iconic logo but also suggested the change in band name.
The initial years saw Queen performing at various local college bars, with their first performance on 18th July 1970. The band’s promiscuous relationship with their bassist changed when John Deacon hopped on in 1971, and they promptly started working on their first album. Having recorded four of their original compositions “Jesus”, “Keep Yourself Alive”, “The Night Comes Down”, and “Liar” for a demo tape, they were rejected by almost all of the popular music labels at the time. However, as fortune favours the bold, they were spotted at De La Lane Studios by John Anthony who went on to refer them to Trident Studios. In 1973, they were signed to Trident/EMI and by July had their debut album out.
Studio Albums and Rise to Fame
“I have seen the future of pop music, and it is a band called Queen.”
A company memo, circa 1972, by Jac Holzman, Elektra Records founder.
The band’s self-titled debut album remains one of the most underrated of all time, partly because of being overshadowed by the success of Sheer Heart Attack, A Night At The Opera, News of The World, and The Game. This album showcased the band’s progressive rock influences while also bringing Freddie’s powerful four-octave vocal range to the spotlight for the first time. Their preference for painstakingly perfect production and sound contributed immensely to the popularity of “Keep Yourself Alive”.
“That album had the youth and freshness which was never regained because you’re only young once. It had a lot of rough edges, a lot of bad playing, a lot of bad production but we didn’t have the time to spend on it that we did subsequently. But I would never think of going back and redoing it, or anything like that, because I think it has a freshness we won’t have again.”
Brian May, in the 2011 book 40 Years of Queen
With their first studio album not taking off as successfully as they might have hoped, the Queen II promised more. Its initial mixed review went on to garner critical acclaim once the band rose to fame, and the album’s cover photograph had been recreated by the band for Bohemian Rhapsody’s music video. Being known for their multilayered overdubs, Queen II was the first album that gave the audience a taste of their versatility. The most famous song from the album remains “Seven Seas of Rhye”, and the lyrical brilliance of the band arguably shines through the most in this studio production.
Winnipeg Free Press
With a gold album in the US, number two in the UK, and massive sales throughout Europe, Sheer Heart Attack gave the band their first real taste of international stardom. With the first two albums being heavily inclined towards heavy rock, it was time for the band to pump out some commercial success. “Killer Queen” went on to top the pop charts all around the globe, and the stark contrast between “Lily of the Valley” and the aforementioned showcases their brilliantly bonkers style of music.
More popular hits like “I’m In Love With My Car”, “Love of My Life”, “You’re My Best Friend”, and “Bohemian Rhapsody” are a part of the band’s most famous album A Night At The Opera. With preludium-like arpeggios, chromatic descending scales, and a bunch of other technical jargon, the album was not only chart-topping but also musically immaculate. Other hit songs like “Another One Bites The Dust”, “Don’t Stop Me Now”, “We Will Rock You” and ”We Are The Champions” were either released as singles or are a part of the subsequently released albums. Stadium anthems like “We Will Rock You” and ”We Are The Champions” are still performed by crowds of millions worldwide, and the Live Aid performance is notably the band’s as well as rock music’s greatest performance in history. Actor Rami Malek who plays Freddie in the band’s biopic Bohemian Rhapsody delivered nothing short of a fantastic performance and even replicated Freddie’s movements to the T.
Eighteen number one albums, and eighteen number one singles—it’s no surprise that Queen have been deemed as the greatest artists of all time. With having sold over 300 million records worldwide, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001. The individual members, having composed more than one chart-topping single each have also been inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003. Their song “Bohemian Rhapsody” was voted as the UK’s favourite hit of all time, and subsequently was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Queen were placed 52 in the list of “100 Great Artists of All Time” by Rolling Stone, while ranking May as the 26th greatest guitarist and Mercury as the 18th greatest singer. Additional accolades such as Ivor Novello Awards, Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, etc. were presented to the band throughout their active years and well beyond.
A wax statue of Mercury at Madame Tussauds, a statue at Montreux, Switzerland overlooking Lake Geneva, and several other notable tributes have been presented to honour the legacy of Mercury. On the 24th of October, 2018, the band’s biopic Bohemian Rhapsody was released in the UK and received a mixed review. With its release on the 16th of November, 2018 in India, the movie has garnered great appreciation mostly from those unfamiliar with Queen.
Bohemian Rhapsody: A Biopic or a Free Concert?
The making of a Queen biopic was announced as early as 2010 and headlined with actor Sacha Baron Cohen set to play the role of Freddie Mercury owing to his uncanny resemblance to the singer. However, May 2018’s teaser trailer saw Rami Malek portraying the beloved musician which got everyone to speculate as to why Cohen may have dropped out. With gossip afloat and a legacy to maintain, the standard for the film had already been set at a level far too high for a young actor to achieve. However, it can be argued that the movie’s success is owed to Rami Malek’s acting alone.
From the very first scene, Malek showcases an extraordinary variety of expressions—something unknown to fans of Mr Robot, where the only emotion he experiences is confusion. His acting will (for a second) make you forget what the real Freddie looked like, and his captivating presence throughout the movie makes it seem more like a Freddie biopic rather than that of Queen. With western films not having the concept of an interval, the abrupt cutting of the movie is an annoying experience, but helps with the ease of reviewing, for the first half of the film is utterly mediocre. This is no one’s fault, having to squeeze in 60 years of musical history, with a 20 minute Live Aid performance in a mere two and a half hours is nearly impossible. If this were a six-hour movie or had been released in parts, only then could it have done justice to the legacy left behind. But that’s a production horror, and would have been a worse experience—you can’t have the cake and eat it too.
With the first part of the movie jumping through way too many years too quick, the flow can be compared to Honey Singh’s rapping—no one knows what’s happening. The band’s struggles and experiences are not portrayed to the extent they were felt, and the movie seemed to want to rush to the drugs and homosexuality part of it. Here’s where fans had a problem. Mercury’s promiscuous party life was no secret, but the movie tried to straight wash him and make him seem wild but not reckless. While fans asked the question “why?” Brian May spoke about how that was Mercury’s personal life, and this is the band’s biopic and not his. A little weird considering that 90% of the scenes have Mercury’s perspective, but the general idea behind not delving into the explicit details was to honour Mercury’s wish for his private life to be kept as confidential as possible.
The second half of the movie takes a 180 from the first, and has an immaculate flow of timeline and plot, probably because of the lack of huge timeline jumps. This part shows struggles of fame, friendship, talent, and makes the band’s story inspirational in a way. The cast not only looks strikingly similar to the band members, but their hours of effort to replicate legendary performances pay off in every single way. The music will give you chills, and the subtle touches of comedy will have you roaring with laughter, Queen’s biopic is a must watch indeed.
To the newer generation who is unfamiliar with the band and their story, this movie will seem nearly flawless. But if you’re a Queen fan, go with an open mind, and a strong throat for jamming along to the tunes being played. End semester exams aren’t worth it in the long run anyway.
Overall rating: 4/5
Written by Nethraa Kannan for MTTN
Cover Art by Sreerag Mahadevan
Images from Google