Ye Shall Be Entertained, So Sayeth Queen

Music does not always cost money these days, but it always costs time, something just as disappointing when it's wasted. On occasion I've found myself listening to a CD of interesting sonic experiments, yet concurrently wondered if it occurred to the artist to ensure the record was an entertaining experience.

The concept of entertainment in music is one that is often outweighed by the quest for artistic exploration, but it's one that should not be forgotten. The journey should be as rewarding as the destination. Unless there's something provided during the listening experience to make it a rewarding sensation, chances are repeat plays will be few.

Consider that most albums will take an hour out of your day; this is especially important if you're the sort to tune out the world to the detriment of everything else going one around you during the recording's run-time. Live gigs have even more of an imperative to give you sufficient entertainment value. Depending on the type of show you are attending, you pay anywhere from pocket change to a small fortune to get a look at your latest sonic infatuation, and if you're going to be there for an hour and a half (not counting finding parking, entrance queues, the opening acts, and trying to leave at the same time everybody else does) you should come away with a feeling a bit more satisfied than "Ehh, it was alright". No matter what kind of musician and regardless of genre, at the end of the day, you have to ask: has the artist made an effort to entertain you, and can you honestly say that you were entertained?

One group whose chief goal it always was to deliver an entertaining spectacle was Queen, rock's consummate showmen.

There's no question about it: British stadium rock gods Queen always strove to ensure its listeners were thoroughly simulated, enraptured, and enlivened. At the height of their musical powers, vocalist Freddie Mercury, guitarist Brian May, bassist John Deacon, and drummer Roger Taylor drew from the cheeky pomp of glam, the adventurous musicianship of prog rock, and the sheer power of heavy metal (along with whatever else caught their fancy at a given moment, from opera to funk to '50s rockabilly) to create a sonic spectacle meant to leave their listeners dumbstruck with awe. The members of Queen were not above showing off their musical chops, but nonetheless all the Byzantine song structures, glorious harmonies, and keen studio trickery all worked towards the goal of making each Queen record a thrilling listen.

This attitude was best displayed in a live context, where Queen (and especially the late Mercury) particularly flourished. Mercury told British music weekly Melody Maker in 1981 that on stage "whether I'm rich or starving, I want to give my all. I want to go on there and die for the show!" In concert, Queen did not let contemporary limits of stage technology hamper its ability to translate its records into a living, breathing spectacle. Stripped of layers of instrument overdubs, Queen made its music work in a live context in a very simple manner: by making sure it totally rocked your face off. Not for nothing was the band's set at the 1985 Live Aid concert voted the greatest live performance of all time in a 2005 BBC poll. Interestingly, Freddie Mercury was initially reluctant to perform at the event. Live Aid organizer Bob Geldof's pleas about the plight of Ethiopian famine victims the event was intended to help alleviate fell on unreceptive ears, but he eventually roped Mercury and Queen onto the lineup by playing up the fact that the group would be performing for the largest audience the world had ever seen.

More than any other Queen song, the raucous album cut "Let Me Entertain You" (from the band's 1978 album Jazz, and also later showcased near the beginning of the fantastic 1979 concert album Live Killers) embodies the group's philosophy towards music and performance. Beginning with the ominous thudding of the Deacon/Taylor rhythm section and soon followed by the lurching metal riffage of Brian May, Freddie Mercury's hearty excitement finally completes the emsemble as the band charges into full gallop. Queen then spends the ensuing two to three minutes of righteous hard rock riling up its audience for the greatest show of its life. Freddie Mercury greets his public with pleasantries and asks "Are you ready for some entertainment / Are you ready for a show?" Every chorus is punctuated with dramatic chord stabs by May, only to rev up again for the next verse. When Mercury sings "Let me entertain you", it is not a request. It is nothing less than a command, drawing its strength from a frontman with undeniable presence. There's no maybe about it when these words are uttered by Mercury: you will be entertained.

In the song, Mercury revels in the role as the ringmaster, using every trick at his disposal to wow the crowd. In the second verse, he states, "I've come here to sell you my body / I can show you some good merchandise / I'll pull you and pill you / I'll Cruella de Vil you / And to thrill you I'll use any device", cheekily acknowledging the unsavory connotations of deigning one's self mere entertainment for the masses. However, it's all a means to an end as Mercury shocks, teases, and flirts with his willing audience to fulfill his promise of a verifiable tour de force (of course!). A chemical high, grounds for divorce, even singing in Japanese: Queen was not shy about being decadent, frivolous, a bit seamy, or even a quite a bit ridiculous in its quest to give you everything you could ever want in a rock performance.

Queen always wanted to provide you with the show of your life, both on record and on stage. Even illness and death couldn't hamper the group's dedication to that ideal. It's poignant that Innuendo (1991), the last album recorded before Mercury died of AIDS-related complications in November 1991, ended with a rousing paean to showmanship titled "The Show Must Go On". Mercury, well aware during the album's production that he was dying, wanted to ensure he went out how he wanted to: giving his audience one last great show.





A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.