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Queen are a British rock band that formed in London in 1970. Their classic line-up was Freddie Mercury (lead vocals, piano), Brian May (lead guitar, vocals), Roger Taylor (drums, vocals), and John Deacon (bass guitar). Queen's earliest works were influenced by progressive rock, hard rock andheavy metal, but the band gradually ventured into more conventional and radio-friendly works by incorporating further styles, such as arena rock andpop rock, into their music.
Before forming Queen, Brian May and Roger Taylor had played together in a band named Smile. Freddie Mercury (then known by his birth name of Farrokh "Freddie" Bulsara) was a fan of Smile and encouraged them to experiment with more elaborate stage and recording techniques. Mercury joined the band in 1970, suggested "Queen" as a new band name, and adopted his familiar stage name. John Deacon was recruited before the band recorded their eponymous debut album in 1973. Queen first charted in the UK with their second album, Queen II, in 1974, but it was the release ofSheer Heart Attack later that year and A Night at the Opera in 1975 which brought them international success. The latter featured "Bohemian Rhapsody", which stayed at number one in the UK for nine weeks and popularised the music video. Their 1977 album News of the World contained "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions", which have become anthems at sporting events. By the early 1980s, Queen were one of the biggest stadium rock bands in the world. Their performance at the 1985 Live Aid concert has been ranked among the greatest in rock history by various music publications, and the best in a 2005 industry poll. In 1991, Mercury died of bronchopneumonia, a complication of AIDS, and Deacon retired in 1997. Since then, May and Taylor have occasionally performed together.
The band have released a total of 18 number-one albums, 18 number-one singles, and 10 number-one DVDs. Estimates of their record sales generally range from 150 million to 300 million records, making them one of the world's best-selling music acts. Queen received the Outstanding Contribution to British Music Award from the British Phonographic Industry in 1990. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
In 1968, guitarist Brian May, a student at London's Imperial College, and bassist Tim Staffell decided to form a band. May placed an advertisement on a college notice board for a "Mitch Mitchell/Ginger Baker type" drummer; Roger Taylor, a young dental student, auditioned and got the job. The group called themselves Smile.
While attending Ealing Art College, Tim Staffell became friends with Farrokh Bulsara, a fellow student who had assumed the English name of Freddie. Bulsara felt that he and the band had the same tastes and soon became a keen fan of Smile. In 1970, after Staffell left to join the band Humpy Bong, the remaining Smile members, encouraged by Bulsara, changed their name to "Queen" and performed their first gig on 18 July. The band had a number of bass players during this period who did not fit with the band's chemistry. It was not until February 1971 that they settled on John Deacon and began to rehearse for their first album. They recorded four of their own songs, "Liar", "Keep Yourself Alive", "The Night Comes Down" and "Jesus", for a demo tape; no record companies were interested. It was also around this time Freddie changed his surname to "Mercury", inspired by the line "Mother Mercury, look what they've done to me" in the song "My Fairy King".On 2 July 1971, Queen played their first show in the classic line-up of Mercury, May, Taylor and Deacon at a Surrey college outside London.
Having attended art college, Mercury also designed Queen's logo, called the Queen crest, shortly before the release of the band's first album. The logo combines the zodiac signs of all four members: two lions for Leo (Deacon and Taylor), a crab for Cancer (May), and two fairies for Virgo (Mercury). The lions embrace a stylised letter Q, the crab rests atop the letter with flames rising directly above it, and the fairies are each sheltering below a lion. There is also a crown inside the Q and the whole logo is over-shadowed by an enormous phoenix. The whole symbol bears a passing resemblance to the Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom, particularly with the lion supporters. The original logo, as found on the reverse-side of the cover of the band's first album, was a simple line drawing. Later sleeves bore more intricate-coloured versions of the logo.
In 1972, Queen entered discussions with Trident Studios after being spotted at De La Lane Studios by John Anthony. After these discussions, Norman Sheffield offered the band a management deal under Neptune Productions, a subsidiary of Trident, to manage the band and enable them to use the facilities at Trident to record new material, whilst the management searched for a record label to sign Queen. This suited both parties, as Trident were expanding into management, and under the deal, Queen were able to make use of the hi-tech recording facilities used by other musicians such as the Beatles andElton John to produce new material.
In 1973, Queen signed to a deal with Trident/EMI. By July of that year, they released theireponymous debut album, an effort influenced by heavy metal and progressive rock. The album was received well by critics; Gordon Fletcher of Rolling Stone called the "superb",and Chicago's Daily Herald called it an "above average debut". However, it drew little mainstream attention, and the lead single "Keep Yourself Alive" sold poorly. Retrospectively, "Keep Yourself Alive" is cited as the highlight of the album, and in 2008Rolling Stone ranked it 31st in the "100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time", describing it as "an entire album's worth of riffs crammed into a single song". The album was certified gold in the UK and the US.
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The group's second LP, Queen II, was released in 1974, and features rock photographer Mick Rock's iconic image of the band on the cover. This image would be used as the basis for the 1975 "Bohemian Rhapsody" music video production. The album reached number five on the British album chart and became the first Queen album to chart in the UK. The Freddie Mercury-written lead single "Seven Seas of Rhye" reached number ten in the UK, giving the band their first hit. The album is the first real testament to the band's distinctive layered sound, and features long complex instrumental passages, fantasy-themed lyrics, and musical virtuosity. Aside from its only single, the album also included the song "The March of the Black Queen", a six-minute epic which lacks a chorus. The Daily Vault described the number as "menacing". Critical reaction was mixed; theWinnipeg Free Press, while praising the band's debut album, described Queen II as an "over-produced monstrosity".Allmusic has described the album as a favourite among the band's hardcore fans, and it is the first of three Queen albums to feature in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
In May 1974, a month into the band's first US tour opening for Mott the Hoople, Brian May collapsed and was diagnosed with hepatitis, forcing the cancellation of their remaining dates. While recuperating, May was initially absent when the band started work on their third album, but he returned midway through the recording process. Released in 1974,Sheer Heart Attack reached number two in the United Kingdom, sold well throughout Europe, and went gold in the United States. It gave the band their first real experience of international success, and was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. The album experimented with a variety of musical genres, including British music hall, heavy metal, ballads, ragtime, and Caribbean. At this point, Queen started to move away from the progressive tendencies of their first two releases into a more radio-friendly, song-orientated style. Sheer Heart Attack introduced new sound and melody patterns that would be refined on their next album, A Night at the Opera.
The single "Killer Queen" from Sheer Heart Attack reached number two on the British charts, and became their first US hit, reaching number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. It combines camp, vaudeville, and British music hall with May's guitar virtuosity. The album's second single, "Now I'm Here", a more traditional hard rock composition, was a number eleven hit in Britain, while the high speed rocker "Stone Cold Crazy" featuring May's uptempo riffs is a precursor to speed metal.In recent years, the album has received acclaim from music publications: In 2006, Classic Rock ranked it number 28 in "The 100 Greatest British Rock Albums Ever", and in 2007, Mojo ranked it No.88 in "The 100 Records That Changed the World". It is also the second of three Queen albums to feature in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
In 1975, the band left for a world tour with each member in Zandra Rhodes-created costumes and accompanied with banks of lights and effects. They toured the US as headliners, and played in Canada for the first time. In September, after an acromonious split with Trident, the band negotiated themselves out of their Trident Studios contract and searched for new management. One of the options they considered was an offer from Led Zeppelin's manager, Peter Grant. Grant wanted them to sign with Led Zeppelin's own production company, Swan Song Records. The band found the contract unacceptable and instead contacted Elton John's manager, John Reid, who accepted the position.
In late 1975, Queen recorded and released A Night at the Opera, taking its name from the popular Marx Brothers movie. At the time, it was the most expensive album ever produced. Like its predecessor, the album features diverse musical styles and experimentation with stereo sound. In "The Prophet's Song", an eight-minute epic, the middle section is acanon, with simple phrases layered to create a full-choral sound. The Mercury penned ballad, "Love of My Life", featured a harp and overdubbed vocal harmonies. The album was very successful in Britain, and went triple platinum in the United States. The British public voted it the 13th greatest album of all time in a 2004 Channel 4 poll. It has also ranked highly in international polls; in a worldwide Guinness poll, it was voted the 19th greatest of all time, while an ABCpoll saw the Australian public vote it the 28th greatest of all time. A Night at the Opera has frequently appeared in "greatest albums" lists reflecting the opinions of critics. Among other accolades, it was ranked number 16 in Q Magazine's"The 50 Best British Albums Ever" in 2004, and number 11 in Rolling Stone's "The 100 Greatest Albums of All Time" as featured in their Mexican edition in 2004. It was also placed at No. 230 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time" in 2003. A Night at the Opera is the third and final Queen album to be featured in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
The album also featured the hit single "Bohemian Rhapsody", which was number one in the UK for nine weeks.Mercury's close friend and advisor, Capital London radio DJ Kenny Everett, played a pivotal role in giving the single exposure. It is the third-best-selling single of all time in the UK, surpassed only by Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and Elton John's "Candle in the Wind 1997", and is the best-selling commercial single in the UK. It also reached number nine in the United States (a 1992 re-release reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 for five weeks). It is the only single ever to sell a million copies on two separate occasions, and became the Christmas number one twice in the UK, the only single ever to do so. "Bohemian Rhapsody" has been voted numerous times the greatest song of all time. The band decided to make a video to help go with the single and hired Trilion, a subsidiary of the former management company Trident Studios, using new technology to create the video; the result is generally considered to have been the first "true" music video ever produced, and popularised the medium. The album's first track "Death on Two Legs" is said to have been written by Mercury about Norman Sheffield and the former management at Trident who helped make the video so popular. Although other bands, including the Beatles, had made short promotional films or videos of songs before, most of those were specifically made to be aired on specific television shows. On the impact of "Bohemian Rhapsody", Rolling Stone states: "Its influence cannot be overstated, practically inventing the music video seven years before MTV went on the air." The second single from the album, "You're My Best Friend", the second song composed by John Deacon, and his first single, peaked at number sixteen in the United States and went on to become a worldwide Top Ten hit. The band's A Night at the Opera Tour began in November 1975, and covered Europe, the United States, Japan, and Australia.
By 1976, Queen were back in the studio recording A Day at the Races, which is often regarded as a sequel album to A Night at the Opera. It again borrowed the name of a Marx Brothers movie, and its cover was similar to that of A Night at the Opera, a variation on the same Queen Crest. The most recognisable of the Marx Brothers, Groucho Marx, invited Queen to visit him in his Los Angeles home in March 1977; there the band thanked him in person, and performed "'39" a cappella. Musically, A Day at the Races was by both fans' and critics' standards a strong effort, reaching number one in the UK and Japan, and number five in the US. The major hit on the album was "Somebody to Love", a gospel-inspired song in which Mercury, May, and Taylor multi-tracked their voices to create a 100-voice gospel choir. The song went to number two in the UK,and number thirteen in the US. The album also featured one of the band's heaviest songs, May's "Tie Your Mother Down", which became a staple of their live shows.
During 1976, Queen played one of their most famous gigs, a free concert in Hyde Park, London. A concert organised by the entrepreneur Richard Branson, it set an attendance record with 150,000 people confirmed in the audience. On 1 December 1976, Queen were the intended guests on London's early evening Today programme, but they pulled out at the last-minute, which saw their late replacement on the show, EMI labelmate the Sex Pistols, give their infamous expletive-strewn interview with Bill Grundy. During the A Day at the Races Tour in 1977, Queen performed sold-out shows atMadison Square Garden, New York, in February, and Earls Court, London, in June.
The band's sixth studio album News of the World was released in 1977, which has gone four times platinum in the United States, and twice in the UK. The album contained many songs tailor-made for live performance, including two of rock's most recognisable anthems, "We Will Rock You" and the rock ballad "We Are the Champions", both of which became enduring international sports anthems, and the latter reached number four in the US. Queen commenced the News of the World Tour in October 1977, and Robert Hilburn of the Los Angeles Times called this concert tour the band's "most spectacularly staged and finely honed show".
In 1978, the band released Jazz, which reached number two in the UK and number six on the Billboard 200 in the US. The album included the hit singles "Fat Bottomed Girls" and "Bicycle Race" on a double-sided record. Queen rented Wimbledon Stadium for a day to shoot the video, with 65 naked female models hired to stage a nude bicycle race. Reviews of the album in recent years have been more favourable. Another notable track from Jazz, "Don't Stop Me Now", provides another example of the band's exuberant vocal harmonies.
In 1978, Queen toured the US and Canada, and spent much of 1979 touring in Europe and Japan. They released their first live album, Live Killers, in 1979; it went platinum twice in the US. Queen also released the very successful single "Crazy Little Thing Called Love", a rockabilly inspired song done in the style of Elvis Presley. The song made the top 10 in many countries, topped the Australian ARIA Charts for seven consecutive weeks, and was the band's first number one single in the United States where it topped the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks. Having written the song on guitar and played rhythm on the record, Mercury played rhythm guitar while performing the song live, which was the first time he ever played guitar in concert. In December 1979, Queen played the opening night at the Concert for the People of Kampuchea in London, having accepted a request by the event's organiser Paul McCartney.
Queen began their 1980s career with The Game. It featured the singles "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and "Another One Bites the Dust", both of which reached number one in the US. After attending a Queen concert in Los Angeles,Michael Jackson suggested to Mercury backstage that "Another One Bites the Dust" be released as a single, and in October 1980 it spent three weeks at number one. The album topped the Billboard 200 for five weeks, and sold over four million copies in the US. It was also the first appearance of a synthesiser on a Queen album. Heretofore, their albums featured a distinctive "No Synthesisers!" sleeve note. The note is widely assumed to reflect an anti-synth, pro-"hard"-rock stance by the band, but was later revealed by producer Roy Thomas Baker to be an attempt to clarify that those albums' multi-layered solos were created with guitars, not synths, as record company executives kept assuming at the time. In September 1980, Queen performed three sold-out shows atMadison Square Garden. In 1980, Queen also released the soundtrack they had recorded for Flash Gordon. At the1981 American Music Awards in January, "Another One Bites the Dust" won the award for Favorite Pop/Rock Single, and Queen were nominated for Favorite Pop/Rock Band, Duo, or Group.
In February 1981, Queen travelled to South America as part of The Game Tour, and became the first major rock band to play in Latin American stadiums. The tour included five shows in Argentina, one of which drew the largest single concert crowd in Argentine history with an audience of 300,000 in Buenos Aires and two concerts at the Morumbi Stadium in São Paulo, Brazil, where they played to an audience of more than 131,000 people in the first night (then the largest paying audience for a single band anywhere in the world) and more than 120,000 people the following night. In October of the same year, Queen performed for more than 150,000 fans on 9 October at Monterrey (Estadio Universitario) and 17 and 18 at Puebla (Estadio Zaragoza), Mexico. On 24 and 25 November, Queen played two sell out nights at the Montreal Forum, Quebec, Canada. One of Mercury's most notable performances of The Game's final track, "Save Me", took place in Montreal, and the concert is recorded in the live album, Queen Rock Montreal.
"It was very excessive [the style of life]. I think the excess leaked out from the music into life and became a need. Queen was a wonderful vehicle and a wonderful, magical combination, but I think it came close to destroying us all. [We] were the biggest thing in the world for a moment in time and everything that goes with that really messes up your mind somehow. We've all suffered. Freddie, obviously, went completely AWOL, which is why he got that terrible disease. He was utterly out of control for a while. In a way, all of us were out of control and [...] it screwed us up."
Queen worked with David Bowie on the single "Under Pressure". The first-time collaboration with another artist was spontaneous, as Bowie happened to drop by the studio while Queen were recording. Upon its release, the song was extremely successful, reaching number one in the UK and featuring at number 31 on VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of the '80s.
In October that year, Queen released their first compilation album, titled Greatest Hits, which showcased the group's highlights from 1974–1981. It is the best-selling album in UK Chart history, and has spent 450 weeks in the UK Album Chart. The album is certified eight times platinum in the United States, and has sold over 25 million copies worldwide. Taylor became the first member of the band to release his own solo album in 1981, titled Fun in Space.
In 1982, the band released the album Hot Space, a departure from their trademark seventies sound, this time being a mixture of rock, pop rock, dance,funk, and R&B. Most of the album was recorded in Munich during the most turbulent period in the band's history, and Taylor and May lamented the new sound, with both being very critical of the influence Mercury's personal manager Paul Prenter had on the singer. May was also scathing of Prenter, who was Mercury's manager from the early 1980s to 1984, for being dismissive of the importance of radio stations, such as the US networks, and their vital connection between the artist and the community, and for denying them access to Mercury. The band stopped touring North America after their Hot Space Tour, as their success there had waned, although they would perform on American television for the only time during the eighth season premiere of Saturday Night Live. Queen left Elektra Records, their label in the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, and signed onto EMI/Capitol Records.
After working steadily for over ten years, Queen decided that they would not perform any live shows in 1983. During this time, they recorded a new album at the Record Plant Studios, Los Angeles and Musicland Studios, Munich, and several members of the band explored side projects and solo work. Taylor released his second solo album, Strange Frontier. May released the mini-album, Star Fleet Project, collaborating with Eddie Van Halen.
In February 1984, Queen released their eleventh studio album, The Works, which included the successful singles "Radio Ga Ga", "Hammer to Fall" and "I Want to Break Free". Despite these hit singles, the album failed to do well in the US, while in the UK it went triple platinum and remained in the albums chart for two years.
That year, Queen began The Works Tour, the first tour to feature keyboardistSpike Edney as an extra live musician. The tour featured nine sold-out dates in October in Bophuthatswana, South Africa, at the arena in Sun City. Upon returning to England, they were the subject of outrage, having played in South Africa during the height of apartheid and in violation of worldwide divestment efforts and a United Nations cultural boycott. The band responded to the critics by stating that they were playing music for fans in South Africa, and they also stressed that the concerts were played before integrated audiences. Queen donated to a school for the deaf and blind as a philanthropic gesture but were fined by the No customer reviews for the moment.
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