‘Queen: Days of Our Lives’ Is the Definitive Queen Documentary — for Now

Eagle Rock

Comprised of a two-part BBC 2 documentary, Days of Our Lives is a must-have for Queen enthusiasts.

The story begins with a couple of college students and a broken dream; Queen co-founders Brian May and Roger Taylor’s previous band, Smile, had failed to ignite. A friend––and Smile fan––knew he had to be fabulous and that he had to be the band’s singer. They nabbed a quiet bass player, named themselves Queen, and recorded their debut album while finishing their studies.

The band’s rise was anything but fast––there were, indeed, dues to be paid, shady management deals to endure, and the threat that the whole dream might come to an abrupt and unpleasant end. But the lads demonstrated tremendous grace under pressure.

Fast forward to the quartet’s real breakthrough and fourth overall album, 1975’s A Night at the Opera. All but destitute, the group had fought for freedom from unscrupulous management and won. Freddie Mercury was angry enough about the situation that he wrote “Death On Two Legs”, the album opener, a track that not only gives A Night at the Opera a certain zing, but establishes the wide-ranging mood of the masterpiece. Business matters were never far from anyone’s mind: May asserts here, as he has elsewhere, that had the album not broken the band commercially, it would have broken the band up.

Of course no discussion of Queen or A Night at the Opera would be complete without the story of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and May and Taylor tell it all as though it all happened yesterday. (A 2006 DVD in the Classic Albums series focuses entirely on A Night at the Opera, and thus we get the stories behind May’s amazing “39” and bassist John Deacon’s “You’re My Best Friend”, making it an excellent supplement to this volume.)

The band had already tasted success by 1977’s News of the World but that didn’t stop the group from creating the coolly calculated monster hits “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” and if News of the World lacks the artistic depth of A Night at the Opera, it nevertheless gave the world two tunes that may or may not be more ubiquitous than “Rhapsody”.

Jazz (1978) revealed the full range of Queen’s cheeky humor via “Bicycle Race” and “Fat Bottomed Girls”, but critics found that it lacked pizzazz. Enter secret weapon Deacon and “Another One Bites the Dust”, along with the mercurial Mercury with the almost embarrassingly simple “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, and you have two critical pieces from ’80s The Game, the group’s most successful US album and arguably its best of the ‘80s.

Just as Queen found its footing in America it lost it, as well. Hot Space (1982) inspired by music Mercury and his manager had heard in gay clubs, was out of step with much of Queen’s audience, enough so that Queen never toured the US again. If songs such as “Cool Cat” and “Body Language” weren’t enough, the video for the 1984 track “I Want to Break Free” (which featured the members in drag in a loving tribute to the British soap Coronation Street) sealed the deal.

But stadiums in other parts of the world awaited and so the band went, even appearing at the controversial South African venue Sun City. (Taylor, in particular, remains angry about the backlash the decision caused.) There was even talk that the band might be over as Mercury had scored a lucrative solo deal––but it was not to be. The resulting album, Mr. Bad Guy, sold well enough but the group’s awe-inspiring performance at Live Aid that summer proved that the world was not ready to let go of Queen and that Queen was not yet ready to let go of the world.

The remaining years saw Queen deliver some of the best music of its career, although rumors of Mercury’s ill health grew as quickly as his illness itself. In his final days, he remained determined to work and the band soldiered on releasing its strongest statement, Innuendo, less than a year before the singer succumbed to AIDS.

The final acts of Days of Our Lives deal with Mercury’s legacy, including footage from the 1992 memorial concert Wembley Stadium (the only place, May points out, suited for a memorial to a character like Freddie). The apparent fondness that May and Taylor have for their friend remains apparent, although subsequent chapters, such as the surprisingly good pairing with Paul Rodgers between 2005 and 2008, get short measure. And, because Deacon has long since left the music business, there are no present day interviews with him, leaving significant mysteries unsolved for some of Queen’s biggest hits.

No matter, this set has virtually everything a Queen fan could want and is more satisfying than any biopic could ever be.

True to the band’s reputation as a global entity there are subtitles for several languages including German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French. This region-free disc contains seven videos, including “Seven Seas of Rhye”, “Killer Queen” and “Under Pressure”, the group’s collaboration with David Bowie. There are three additional sequences also found in the bonus features, mainly focusing on the final albums with Mercury, including Made in Heaven, the posthumously released 1995 album.

RATING 7 / 10
Call for essays, reviews, interviews, and list features for publication consideration with PopMatters.
Call for essays, reviews, interviews, and list features.