Hey guys, Brendan here. Since I’m taking a break from my reviewing, I thought I’d finally start using the staff blog! Even though I’m five months late, I say: “better late than never.” So, as an extension from my Video Game Nostalgia series, I’m going to take a retrospective look at some of my favorite childhood musical artists and talk about how well they hold up today. Enjoy!
It all started with one album and one trip. When I was just a kid, around 10 years old or so, I was riding from California with my family to see my grandparents out in Arizona. Going out there for Christmas was a yearly thing we’d do, gathering the entire family for our traditional holiday-related festivities. A nice dinner, great movies, the joy of opening presents on Christmas morning while eating some large cinnamon rolls… great times all around. But, for this one particular trip, I brought my old portable CD player and a copy I had of Queen’s greatest hits – unfortunately the Hollywood edition and not the original version that contained the classic “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Even with the exclusion of their most famous song, I was still putting this album on repeat during the entirety of the trip.
Why? Because Queen’s music was unlike anything I’d heard up to that point.
I was listening to bands like Journey and Foreigner at the time, so while I was already taking piano lessons during this time, my knowledge of more eclectic forms of rock music was incredibly limited. Suddenly, the a cappella vocals and stomp/clap combo of “We Will Rock You” burst through the headphones and I was hooked. The bombast, the genre-bending variety, and an endless bounty of charisma this band displayed quickly converted me and influenced much of my musical journey from then on out. This was my big foray into metal, progressive rock, music hall, ragtime, and numerous other genres – many not even normally associated with rock in the first place. While Journey was the first band I got into, Queen were truly “ground zero” for where I’d eventually head with this art form. That’s why it was so fun to return to the group for my discography review on this site; I was listening to what eventually brought me to a website like this in the first place… it gave me the genuine passion and drive to listen to more music and expand my palette for the first time in my life.
In many cases, nostalgia tends to alter peoples’ views on certain artists – good or bad – which is why an objective retrospective view can be really tough to convey. Just look at my old Journey write-ups and opinions on here for a solid example, in which I was handing out numerous 4s for the group primarily because of my fond memories of their work. I was blinded in a sense by my fandom and didn’t give some of those records their due criticism; however, Queen remains one of the only cases in which I love them just as much now as I did back then. Freddie’s vocals? Varied, charismatic, and powerful. The guitar work by Brian May? Precise, passionate, and tasteful. The rhythm work by John Deacon and Roger Taylor? A great way to reliably anchor the other members while taking on a life and personality of its own. In Queen, everyone mattered. Just like in The Beatles, each member was absolutely integral to the signature Queen “experience.” Things wouldn’t have felt the same without each member’s musical personality shining through at different moments. Whether it be John Deacon’s bass runs in songs like “Millionaire Waltz” or “You’re My Best Friend,” or Roger Taylor’s hard rock aggression displayed in his compositions, or the intimate chemistry between Freddie and Brian’s roles and collaborative works, the band kicked the most ass when working as a full and cohesive unit.
And unfortunately, that’s why the 80s weren’t the kindest decade to the band. Even as a huge fan, it’s tough to recommend albums like The Works or Flash Gordon to anyone but the most hardcore Queen diehards because of how “separate” the band members sounded and how rehashed things were starting to sound. While they’d ultimately recover with a bang during the late 80s and early 90s before Freddie’s tragic death, it’s a bit unfortunate to know that there are some weak black sheep among the band’s impressive catalog. Regardless, the band’s best aspects are enough to triumph over the darker times of their career. Besides, when has a really lengthy career ever stayed consistently fantastic? Queen’s classic records remain amazing to this day, everything from 1973 to 1980 being completely worthy of a recommendation. The way the group would fluidly combine such a multitude of genres and still craft their own distinct sound is just crazy, and it shows when you hear just how many bands are trying to imitate their sound to this day.
Remember when Muse was trying to be Queen with “United States of Eurasia?” How about when Fall Out Boy was attempting their bombastic style and harmonized vocal melodies with “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark” just last year? Remember how many bands absolutely failed at trying to be Queen because of how forced their attempts sounded? That’s because Queen’s style is so distinct that they were clearly pulling it off in the most natural way. Plus, of course, there’s Freddie Mercury’s stage presence – something that people like Matt Bellamy and Patrick Stump can most likely never achieve in their entire careers.
But enough of comparing apples and oranges here, so let me wrap this up. If you haven’t listened to Queen, or have only listened to their singles, I urge you to dig deeper. Some of classic rock and progressive rock’s best tunes lie in the band’s early 70s work, and even in some later works such as Innuendo as well. They had their faults and failures, but remain one of rock’s all-time greats. The music is well-composed, complex, charismatic, dynamic, you name it. And, of course, they carried legendary live performances as well.
Long live Queen… and Freddie, may you continue to rest in peace.