In the '70s, Queen Was King
There are no new interviews with Queen members on this DVD biography, which ought to make you at least a little suspicious of its true intentions. Nevertheless, it is by no means the negative hatchet job you might have expected. Instead, it is a relatively loving appraisal of Queen’s recorded work during the ‘70s.
At first, it seems a little strange that this program limits its coverage to just seven years of the group’s career. This is especially odd when you consider how Queen made perhaps its most triumphant concert appearance at Live Aid in 1986. It’s also a deficient overview, in that singer Freddie Mercury’s 1992 AIDS death is not mentioned at all. But to its credit, Queen unquestionably made its greatest recorded music in the ‘70s, so it can safely be stated that this DVD covers the highpoints of the group’s studio career.
Much like British music journalism in general, this documentary takes its subject matter deadly seriously. If an American producer had made this project, for instance, there might have been an equal amount of focus on, say, the band members’ personal lives. But this work is strictly about the music, and little else.
This DVD is broken down into chapters, which are dedicated to each individual studio album. It begins in 1973, which marks the band’s self-titled debut, and ends with 1980’s The Game. Within these separated chapters, each album is broken down by various singles and significant tracks. Also, the chart positions of different songs are discussed. This factor is also very much a British thing, because we Americans might be much more likely to talk about sales figures, for example, instead. The disc’s panel includes journalists, like Chris Welch, and guitarist Malcolm Dome.
Much dedicated attention is naturally paid to the song “Bohemian Rhapsody” from 1975’s A Night at the Opera, which may well be Queen’s greatest recorded moment. It’s amazing—even now, with all of our advanced recording techniques—how Mercury turned one single song into a rock-opera, and it’s equally incredible that radio actually played this 5:55 song. It not only played it, but classic rock stations continue to play it—sometimes to death—to this day.
As proof positive that this disc is not merely a Queen love fest, the discussion panel is clearly in agreement that 1977’s News of the World is far less than Queen’s best studio effort. In fact, this album—it is suggested here—marks the turning point where the band began to lose touch, if you will, with the art of creating consistently great albums. Even so, this sub-par release is praised for its artwork, which was provided by esteemed science fiction artist Frank Kelly Freas. Who can forget its cover image of a metallic giant holding the bloody corpses of Queen members? Furthermore, this is the same album that contained the double A-sided single, “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions”, which—next to “Bohemian Rhapsody”—may be Queen’s signature radio sounds.
If News of the World was a disappointment, Queen’s next album, Jazz, was just dreadful. The title didn’t help as Jazz didn’t even contain a lick of jazz music. At the time, Queen was already regularly criticized by the emerging punk generation for its hedonistic excesses, but this album, with garish songs like “Fat Bottomed Girls”, as well as the nudie video for “Bicycle Race” reveled in such overblown gratuities. This was not a smart move.
Although The Game, the last album discussed here, was equally inconsistent, it nevertheless contained a few notable singles. This panel is blunt that “Another One Bites the Dust” rips off Chic’s “Good Times”. Not surprisingly given the dominant bass groove, this hit was also written by bassist John Deacon. Yet due to its catch phrase title, it was still a fine single, as pop singles go. Better still was “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, which found the group hearkening back to a simpler time in rock music history. It was an especially bold step for Queen, which had a well-established reputation for being so excessive sonically.
This package would have been much better, had it also included the participation of surviving Queen members. It wouldn’t have hurt to see a few of its musical contemporaries on the screen, either. But for what its, which is a limited overview at best, this is still an intelligent examination of a unique rock act. It’s hard to imagine today’s stadium rock extravaganzas without Queen: It was (and is) true rock & roll royalty.