Freddie Mercury forever
Death of a legend
When Freddie Mercury died in his luxury home in London, on 24th November 1991, he was 45 years old. AIDS related bronchial pneumonia was the cause of death. It was the day after he had declared to the world that he was suffering from AIDS. Prior to this there had been much speculation in the press about his haggard, drawn, rake-like appearance. Freddie had vehemently denied any and all rumours that he was HIV positive as long as he could. He was one of the rare breed of artists that were driven. In the estimated two years that he had been living with the awful disease, he continued to make music and produced some of his finest work.
Born in Zanzibar on September 5th 1946, Farookh Bulsara was sent to St Peter’s boarding school in India at age 8. It was there that he was given the name Freddie by his friends. He loved sports such as hockey and boxing and was excellent at table -tennis. He was also a very good artist and would regularly draw his friends and relatives.
As talented as he was in many areas, his musical ability was to prove exceptional. He mastered the piano and in 1958, he and four friends formed a school rock ‘n roll band called The Hectics.
In 1964, Freddie and his family moved to England and Freddie joined Ealing college of art. It was here that he met Roger Taylor and Brian May. They were part of a band called ‘Smile’. Freddie replaced their lead singer in 1970. He soon proceeded to change the band name to ‘Queen’ and his own surname to ‘Mercury’. That same year, Freddie met Mary Austin. He lived with her for seven years and their very close friendship was to last until Freddie died. Freddie wrote a number of songs about Mary. One of them was ‘My Best Friend’ and another was ‘Love Of My Life’.
The second of the two mentioned, (a ballad from their fourth album ‘A Night At The Opera’) is especially euphonic, and it is a song I will never tire of hearing.
Queen are born
In 1971, John Deacon became the bassist and Queen was complete. The band’s logo was designed by Freddie using the band member’s birth signs: The two fairies represented Freddie’s sign (Virgo). A pair of lions covered John Deacon’s and Roger Taylor’s (Leo) and the crab was for Brian May’s (Cancer).
Queen released a total of 20 albums, as well as 10 compilation albums, and 48 singles. Their music was extremely diverse – they could cover virtually any genre, from hard rock to soulful ballad – from disco to opera. They first hit the UK singles charts in 1974 with ‘Seven Seas Of Rye’, written by Freddie. It reached number 10. The next two singles, ‘Killer Queen’ and ‘Now I’m Here’ reached number 2 and number 11 respectively. The one that followed - ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ has gone down as one of the - if not the best song ever. Released in Winter, 1975, it was also written by Freddie and it stayed at the top of the UK charts for 9 weeks.
All four members were exceptionally gifted at both performing and writing music. However no one would argue that it was always Freddie that stole the limelight in every possible way. He was completely unique – both as a musician and as a performer. His powerful, distinctive voice had more range and power than most other singers combined. His dynamic, electrifying stage theatrics ensured every member of the audience got much more than their money’s worth.
Queen steal the show
Many polls have rated Freddie as the most flamboyant, dynamic frontman in the history of rock music. The Queen performance at the Live Aid benefit concert in 1985 was the one act that everybody agreed stole the show. Freddie had the audience in the palm of his hand, and they sang along with him. He often let them sing instead of him. This was in fact the case with every Queen concert, but the Live Aid one was special, with the 72,000 Wembley stadium crowd loving every second of it.
He released a number of recordings as a solo artist also. Easily my favourite of these was his version of the old Platter’s hit ‘The Great Pretemder’. The video for this is even better than the song.
In my view, Queen as a band died the second Freddie did, and no matter who sings with the remaining members, the band will not be Queen.
3 months after his death, ‘These Are The Days Of Our Lives’ was released in the UK as a double A side with ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. It entered the charts at number 1 with £1,000,000 from sales going to The Terrence Higgins Trust, which Freddie had supported.
‘These Are The Days Of Our Lives’ was partly a throwback to the aforementioned song ‘Love Of My Life’. The line ‘I still love you’ is sung twice and then at the very end, spoken. In the video for the song, this was to be the very last thing that Freddie ever said on film.
He was as good-natured, generous and philanthropic off-stage as he was elaborate and majestic on. Some people ill-judged him, based only on his sexual orientation and hedonistic lifestyle. Speaking for myself as a heterosexual, free-thinking individual, uninfluenced by any religious or minority group - I judge him by his musical and visual accomplishments, and also by his animated, enthusiastic, warm-hearted spirit. I can only admire and miss him - and I am forever grateful for the legacy of his music and videos that I can enjoy over and over again at will.