They’re the iconic ’80s rock band that we all know and love… or at least we think we do. From frontman Freddie Mercury’s real origins to guitarist Brian May’s impressive array of degrees, how much do we really know about the band that revolutionised pop music?
Luckily for all us Queen fans, Queen: Days of Our Lives is streaming for free on 9Now, and gives us all the goods and gossip from the legendary band’s meteoric rise to fame, and subsequent shattering disbandment.
Freddie Mercury grew up in India
He’s the charismatic yet equally enigmatic lead singer who played a big role in Queen’s rise to fame, yet there’s so little that we know about Freddie Mercury’s childhood.
According to the documentary, Freddie Mercury, whose real name is Farrokh Bulsara, was born in Zanzibar and attended school in colonial India.
While Mercury struggled with his sexuality from a young age, his migrant parents were steadfastly against homosexuality, and this prevented him from expressing his sexuality for some time.
Mercury didn’t even ‘come out’ to the band for several years, and married a woman by the name of Mary Austin, who he claimed was the “love of his life” (for whom the song of the same name is written), despite later having a long-term relationship with Jim Hutton until his death in 1991.
Queen wasn’t always ‘Queen’
Before Queen was formed with the four musicians we all know today, guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Meddows Taylor had started a band called Smile, and Mercury, who was a friend of theirs from university, would ‘advise from the wings’.
Mercury later joined Smile as the lead singer and then changed the name of the band to ‘Queen’, thinking that it was more outrageous. As the frontman, Mercury had a magnetism that almost immediately made the band popular as it toured around London.
Brian May recalled during the documentary series that he heard Freddie Mercury say “I’m going to be a legend” on the first day that they formed Queen as we know it today.
Guitarist Brian May was highly educated
Brian May, who first started Smile while he was studying at London’s Imperial College, and was still completing his degree after Queen took off and started touring, studied physics and did a PhD in astronomy.
When May’s father heard that he had joined a band after graduating with his doctorate in astronomy, he thought he had thrown his education and his future away. It wasn’t until years later that Queen had scored a gig at Madison Square Gardens in the US, and May invited his father to attend.
After the performance, May recalled in the documentary through tears, he met his father backstage and he said, “I get it now,” finally giving his son his blessing for pursuing music.
Queen’s first album flopped
Queen were first signed with Trident productions while they were still students, and were forced to record their songs in the studio at odd times from 2am until about 6am due to their conflicting schedules. The resulting album, Pre Ordained, “resoundingly crashed”.
With their second album, Queen, the band started “evolving their sound”, and in 1974 they were invited to appear on music television show Top of the Pops, which was shot in the weather studio because a number of BBC employees were on a strike.
Despite the fact that Queen was reticent to appear on the show because it was widely believed to be “uncool”, the appearance launched their song ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’ as a single, and it immediately shot up the charts, making Queen a band to remember.
Queen were broke for the majority of their first tours
Despite being a global sensation throughout the ’70s, the band was worried that they weren’t seeing enough money from their songs and performances. So the group decided to re-structure the way they produced their music: they made their songs for a production company that then sold them onto a record company.
The band would go on to say this was the “worst mistake they ever made”, and started receiving even less money for their work, with all four of the musicians living in a single bedsit while performing to sold-out audiences across the world.
They then started working with John Reid, Elton John’s manager at the time, who was able to get them a more equitable deal that started to see the money rolling in for the group.
The production for Queen’s most famous album was incredibly complex
When Queen made their very famous A Night At The Opera album, featuring ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, the band was still recovering from their money woes and were massively in debt. Despite this, they went all out on their next album, and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was recorded in six different studios.
With guitar tracks being in one, and vocals in another, producers and even the band members themselves didn’t have any idea of what the song would be like, except for Mercury, who claimed it was “all in his head”, despite many knowing he was likely making most of it up on the spot.
When they finally finished ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and the album was complete, the record company that they were working with hated it and considered it too long. Elton John himself was shown a copy by his shared manager, John Reid, and said it would never go on the radio.
But Mercury insisted to everybody, “It goes out in its entirety, or not at all.” Luckily for the band, Kenny Everett, a radio DJ, fell so in love with the song that he stole a copy of the track from the recording studio and played it on his show. He famously re-played it 14 times in one weekend, and it became an immediate hit, being followed by what is considered the very first official music video.
Mercury was not the only songwriter in the band
From the beginning of their time together, despite the fact that the band members generally got along very well, there were small spats about who wrote which songs. In Queen: Days of Our Lives, guitarist Brian May recalled the discussions that would happen when it was time to assign credit.
Often, Mercury would immediately jump in to say that he had written a song in its entirety, when May admitted that almost every song they recorded was a group effort. But the band would eventually give in to Mercury, who was given the credit to the song as well as most of the proceeds.
While drummer Roger Meddows Taylor wrote the highly controversial ‘I’m In Love With My Car’, it was guitarist Brian May who wrote one of Queen’s most enduring songs, ‘We Will Rock You’.
May recalled that he was astonished one night when the group performed to an audience who sang along with their songs, something that was rarely done during a concert in that day and age. Wanting to encourage audience interaction, May figured that the only thing an audience can do while listening to a song is stomp their feet and clap their hands, birthing the iconic bass line of ‘We Will Rock You’, created to allow the audience to interact with the band.
Queen’s stadium concert in Argentina was performed under very dangerous circumstances
When Queen expanded their concerts into the rest of the world, the group had “heard rumours” that they were “the biggest thing ever in Argentina and Brazil”.
Then a dictatorship, the group had to negotiate with an army general to allow their stadium concerts — which would allow lots of young people to gather together — to go ahead.
“When we arrived in Buenos Aires, as we were unloading, you could see spent bullet cases,” revealed Queen roadie Peter “Ratty” Hince. The travel arrangements were “scary” with lots of protection needed.
“We got caught in a traffic jam and one of the policemen just stood up, put his head through the roof and started firing his gun in the air to clear traffic,” said Queen manager Jim Beach.
The music video for ‘I Want To Break Free’ was banned by MTV
It’s one of the most popular music videos that Queen ever had, where each member dressed up in drag, but a large chunk of their audience weren’t able to watch it on their television screens.
“People didn’t understand that in America, it just looked like we wanted to dress up in drag,” said May of the video’s reception.
“The funny thing is we became global, but we lost America… and we kind of never got it back,” he added.
Queen’s performance at Live Aid was louder than the others
‘Live Aid’ was an enormous fundraising concert, which raised funds for the ongoing Ethiopian famine, and it was here that Queen delivered an incredible performance.
“They set the level [of sound] with limiters, and then when Queen came on, Trip — who was Queen’s sound engineer — switched the limiters so that Queen would be louder,” said roadie Hince.
They went on to deliver a stunning performance at the event.