Queen were an English rock band formed in 1970 in London by guitarist Brian May, lead vocalist Freddie Mercury, and drummer Roger Taylor, with bassist John Deacon completing the lineup the following year. Queen are one of Britain's most successful bands of the past three decades and have sold approximately 350 million albums.
The band is noted for their musical diversity, multi-layered arrangements, vocal harmonies, and incorporation of audience participation into their live performances. Their 1985 Live Aid performance was voted the best live rock performance of all time in an industry poll.
Queen had moderate success in the early 1970s, with the albums Queen and Queen II, but it was with the release of Sheer Heart Attack in 1974 and A Night at the Opera the following year that the band gained international success. They have released fifteen studio albums, five live albums, and numerous compilation albums. Eighteen of these have reached number one on charts around the world.
Following Mercury's death in 1991 and Deacon's retirement in 1995, May and Taylor have performed infrequently under the Queen name. Since 2005 they have been collaborating with Paul Rodgers, under the moniker Queen + Paul Rodgers.
I thought up the name Queen. It's just a name, but it's very regal obviously, and it sounds splendid, It's a strong name, very universal and immediate. It had a lot of visual potential and was open to all sorts of interpretations.|||Freddie Mercury
Smile signed to Mercury Records in 1969, and had their first session in a recording studio in Trident Studios that year. Staffell was attending Ealing Art College with Farrokh Bulsara, later known as Freddie Mercury, and introduced him to the band. Bulsara soon became a keen fan. Staffell left in 1970 to join another band, Humpy Bong; the remaining Smile members, encouraged by Bulsara, changed their name to "Queen" and continued working together. 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 the first album.
In 1973, after a series of delays, Queen released their first album, a self-titled project influenced by the heavy metal and progressive rock of the day. The album was received well by critics; Gordon Fletcher of Rolling Stone said "their debut album is 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," a Brian May composition, sold poorly. Greg Prato of Allmusic called it "one of the most underrated hard rock debuts of all time.
The album Queen II was released in 1974. The album reached number five on the British album charts, while 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 their heaviest and darkest release, featuring long complex instrumental passages, fantasy-themed lyrics and musical virtuosity. The band toured as support to Mott the Hoople in the UK & United States during this period, and they began to gain notice for their energetic and engaging stage shows. However, album sales in the US were, like those of its predecessor, low.
The single "Killer Queen" reached number two on the British charts, and became their first U.S. hit, reaching number twelve in the Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits. It combines camp, vaudeville, 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.
In 1975, the band left for a world tour with each member in Zandra Rhodes-created costumes and banks of lights and effects. They toured the US, headlining for the first time, and played in Canada for the first time in April. Also at this time, the band's manager Jim Beach negotiated the band out of their Trident contract. They considered options, one of whom was Led Zeppelin’s manager, Peter Grant. Grant wanted them to sign with Led Zeppelin’s own production company, Swan Song Records. This was unacceptable to Queen, so instead they contacted Elton John’s manager, John Reid, who accepted the position. In April 1975 the band toured Japan for the first time.
Later that year the band recorded and released A Night at the Opera. 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 a canon, with simple phrases layered to create a full-choral sound. The album was very successful in Britain, and went triple platinum in the United States.. It is considered their magnum opus; in 2003, it was ranked number 230 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
The album also featured the hit single "Bohemian Rhapsody", which was number one in the United Kingdom for nine weeks, and is Britain’s third-best-selling single of all time; it also reached number nine in the United States (a 1992 re-release reached number two). Bohemian Rhapsody has been voted, several times, the greatest song of all time. The band decided to make a video to go with the single. The second single from the album, "You're My Best Friend", peaked at sixteen in the United States and went on to become a worldwide Top Ten hit.
By 1976, Queen were back in the studio, where they recorded A Day at the Races, what may be mistaken simply as a companion 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. Musically, the album was by both fans’ and critics’ standards a strong effort, and reached number one on the British charts. 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 make a 100-voice gospel choir. The song went to number two in the United Kingdom, and number thirteen on the U.S. singles chart.. The album also featured one of the band's heaviest songs, Brian May’s "Tie Your Mother Down", which became a staple of their live shows.
Also in 1976, Queen played one of their most famous gigs, a 1976 free concert in Hyde Park, London. It set an attendance record, with 150,000 people confirmed in the audience.
News of the World was released a year later. It contained many songs tailor-made for live performance, including "We Will Rock You" and the rock ballad "We Are the Champions", both of which reached number four in the United States and became enduring international sports anthems. Roger Taylor released his first solo effort in 1977 in the form of a single: the A-side was a cover of a song by The Parliaments "I Wanna Testify", and the B-side was a song by Taylor called "Turn On The TV".
In 1978 the band released Jazz, including the hit singles "Fat Bottomed Girls" and "Bicycle Race" which were also released as a double-A-side single. The word "jazz" was not used in a strict sense, and the album was noted by critics for its collection of different styles, jazz not being one of them. Rolling Stone typically criticised it for being "dull", saying "Queen hasn’t the imagination to play jazz – Queen hasn't the imagination, for that matter, to play rock & roll." Important tracks of the album include "Dead on Time", "Don't Stop Me Now", "Let Me Entertain You", and "Mustapha", in which Arabesque music is combined with heavy rock guitar.
The band’s first live album, Live Killers, was released in 1979; it went platinum twice in the United States. They also released the very successful single "Crazy Little Thing Called Love", a rockabilly song done in the style of Elvis Presley. The song made the top 10 in many countries, and was the band’s first number one single in the United States.
In 1981, Queen became the first major rock band to play in Latin American stadiums. Queen played to a total audience of 479,000 people on their South American tour, including five shows in Argentina and two in Brazil where they played to an audience of more than 130.000 people in the first night and more 120.000 people just following night at São Paulo (Morumbi Stadium). In October of the same year, Queen performed for more than 150,000 fans at Monterrey (Estadio Universitario) and Puebla (Estadio Zaragoza), Mexico.
Also in 1981, 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. The band were immediately pleased with the results, but Bowie did not play the song live for several years. Upon its release, the song was extremely successful, reaching number one in Britain. The bass line was later used for Vanilla Ice's 1990 hit "Ice Ice Baby", prompting the threat of a lawsuit over the use of the sample. The lawsuit did not make it to court and was settled for an undisclosed amount.
Later that year, Queen released their first compilation album, entitled Greatest Hits, which showcased the group's highlights from 1974-1981. It was highly successful, and as of 2007, it is the United Kingdom's best selling album. Taylor became the first member of the band to release his own solo album in 1981, entitled Fun In Space.
In 1982 the band released the funk album Hot Space. 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 first and 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, and several members of the band explored side projects and solo work. May released a mini-album entitled Star Fleet Project, on which he collaborated with Eddie Van Halen. A computer musician composer in Canada, Kevin Chamberlain, helped with vocals and background music for Mercury's solo project, which was later cancelled due to creative differences.
In 1984, Queen released the album The Works, which included the successful singles "Radio Ga Ga" and "I Want to Break Free". Despite these hit singles, the album failed to do well in the United States. "Radio Ga Ga" was the band's last original American Top Forty hit until 1989's "I Want It All".
Queen embarked that year on a set of dates during their The Works Tour in Bophuthatswana, South Africa at the arena at Sun City. Upon returning to England, they were the subject of outrage, having played there during the height of apartheid and in violation of worldwide divestment efforts. The band responded to the critics by stating that they were playing music for fans in that country, and they also stressed that the concerts were played before integrated audiences.
In April, Mercury released his first solo album, Mr. Bad Guy.
At Live Aid, held at Wembley on 13 July 1985, Queen performed some of their greatest hits in what has been considered their best performance to date. The band, now revitalised by the response to Live Aid and the ensuing increase in record sales, ended 1985 by releasing the single "One Vision". The song was used in the film Iron Eagle. Also, a limited-edition boxed set containing all Queen albums to date was released under the title of "The Complete Works". The package included previously unreleased material, most notably Queen's non-album single of Christmas 1984, titled Thank God it's Christmas.
In early 1986, Queen recorded the album A Kind of Magic, containing several songs written for the Russell Mulcahy film Highlander. The album was very successful, producing a string of hits including the title track "A Kind of Magic", which contains the key lyrics 'There can be only one', a reference to the movie's plot; "Friends Will Be Friends", "Who Wants to Live Forever" and "Princes of the Universe".
Later that year, Queen went on a sold-out tour (the band's largest) in support of A Kind of Magic. The Magic Tour's highlight was at Wembley Stadium in London and resulted in the live double album, Queen Live At Wembley Stadium, released on CD and as a live concert film. They could not book Wembley for a third night because it was already booked, but they did play at Knebworth Park. The show sold out within two hours and over 120,000 fans packed the park for what proved to be Queen's final live performance with Mercury. More than 1 million people saw Queen on the tour – 400,000 in the United Kingdom alone, a record at the time.
After working on various solo projects during 1988 (including Mercury's collaboration with Montserrat Caballé, Barcelona) the band released The Miracle in 1989. The album continued the direction of A Kind of Magic, using a pop-rock sound mixed with a few heavy numbers. It spawned the European hits "I Want It All", "Breakthru", "The Invisible Man", "Scandal", and "The Miracle".
The Miracle also began a change in direction of Queen's songwriting philosophy. Since the band's beginning, nearly all songs had been written by and credited to a single member, with other members adding minimally. With The Miracle, however, the band's songwriting became more collaborative, and they vowed to credit the final product only to Queen as a group.
There was all that time when we knew Freddie was on the way out, we kept our heads down.|||Brian MayAfter fans and the tabloid press noted Mercury's gaunt appearance in public during 1988, rumours began to spread that Mercury was suffering from AIDS. For reasons still not confirmed, Mercury flatly denied them at the time, insisting he was merely "exhausted" and too busy to provide interviews. However, the band decided to continue making albums free of internal conflict and differences, starting with The Miracle and continuing with Innuendo, which was recorded during 1990 but not released until the beginning of 1991 as Mercury's health was a major factor in the delay.
Despite his deteriorating health, Mercury continued to contribute. The band released their second greatest hits compilation, Greatest Hits II, in October 1991.
On 23 November 1991, in a prepared statement made on his deathbed, Mercury confirmed that he had AIDS. Within twelve hours of that statement, he died from the disease at the age of 45. His funeral service was private, held in accordance with the Zoroastrian religious faith of his family.
"Bohemian Rhapsody" was re-released as a single shortly after Mercury's death, with "These Are the Days of Our Lives" as the B-side. The single went to number 1 for the second time in the UK. Initial proceeds from the single – approximately £1,000,000 – were donated to the Terrence Higgins Trust.
Queen's popularity increased once again in the United States after "Bohemian Rhapsody" was featured in the comedy film Wayne's World, helping the song reach number two for five weeks in the United States charts in 1992. The song was made into a Wayne's World music video, with which the band and management were delighted.
On 20 April 1992, the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert was held at London's Wembley Stadium. Performers included Def Leppard, Lisa Stansfield, Elton John, David Bowie, Robert Plant, Tony Iommi, Annie Lennox, Guns N' Roses, Extreme, Roger Daltrey, George Michael, Ian Hunter, Mick Ronson, Zucchero, Metallica, Liza Minnelli, and Spinal Tap, along with the three remaining members of Queen, performed many of Queen's major hits. It was a successful concert that was televised to over 1 billion viewers worldwide. The concert is listed in The Guinness Book of Records as "The largest rock star benefit concert. It raised over £20,000,000 for AIDS charities.
The band also terminated their Capitol Records contract and signed a deal with Hollywood Records as their new U.S label.
Queen never actually disbanded, although their last album of original material, titled Made in Heaven, was released in 1995, four years after Mercury's death. It was constructed from Mercury's final recording sessions in 1991, plus material left over from their previous studio albums. In addition, re-worked material from Mercury's solo album Mr. Bad Guy and a track originally featured on the first album of Taylor's side-project The Cross were included. May and Taylor have often been involved in projects related to raising money for AIDS research. John Deacon's last involvement with the band was in 1997, when the band recorded the track "No-One but You (Only the Good Die Young)". It was the last song recorded by Queen, and it was released as a bonus track on the Queen Rocks compilation album later that year.
Brian May and Roger Taylor performed together as Queen on several occasions (award ceremonies, charity concerts, and the like), sharing vocals with various guest singers. They also recorded several covers of Queen's hits with guest vocalists, including "We Will Rock You" (with Five and later, Britney Spears, Beyonce, and Pink) and "We Are the Champions" (with Robbie Williams).
In 2003, four new songs were recorded by Queen for Nelson Mandela's 46664 campaign against AIDS. The studio versions of Invincible Hope (Queen + Nelson Mandela, feat. Treana Morris), 46664 - The Call, and Amandla (Anastacia, Dave Stewart and Queen) have not yet been released on album.
Also, in 2002, Brian May and Roger Taylor collaborated with Ben Elton to make a musical based on their greatest hits, called We Will Rock You. It will run till November 2009 in the Dominion Theatre, London and spawned many over-seas versions.
A live double CD album, Return of the Champions, was released on 19 September 2005. It was recorded in May 2005 during the Queen + Paul Rodgers tour at the Sheffield Arena in Sheffield, England. A DVD from the concert was also released.
In March 2006, Queen + Paul Rodgers set out to tour the United States and Canada. During this tour, the group debuted their first new song, a collaboration called "Take Love". A second live DVD, Super Live in Japan, was released in 2006; the show was filmed at Saitama Super Arena on 27 October 2006-7.
On 15 August 2006, Brian May confirmed through his website and fan club that Queen + Paul Rodgers would begin producing a new studio album beginning in October, to be recorded at a "secret location".
Queen + Paul Rodgers released a studio album, titled The Cosmos Rocks, on 12 September 2008 in the EU and on 28 October 2008 in the USA. In January 2008, Brian May confirmed that a European tour is planned to start from about September the same year.
Under the supervision of May and Taylor, numerous restoration projects have been underway involving Queen's lengthy audio and video catalogue. DVD releases of their 1986 Wembley concert (titled Live At Wembley Stadium) and 1982 Milton Keynes concert (Queen on Fire - Live at the Bowl), and two Greatest Video Hits (Volumes 1 and 2, spanning the 1970s and 1980s) have seen the band's music remixed into 5.1 and DTS surround sound. So far, only two of the band's albums, A Night at the Opera and The Game, have been fully remixed into high-resolution multichannel surround on DVD-Audio. A Night at the Opera was re-released with some revised 5.1 mixes and accompanying videos in 2005 for the 30th anniversary of the album's original release (CD+DVD-Video set). In 2007 an HD-DVD was released entitled Queen Rock Montreal & Live Aid.
In the United States, "Bohemian Rhapsody" was re-released as a single in 1992 after appearing in Wayne's World. The single subsequently reached number two on the US Billboard chart (with "The Show Must Go On" as the first track on the single) and helped rekindle the band's popularity in North America.
Several films have featured their songs performed by other artists. A cover of "Somebody to Love" by Anne Hathaway featured in the 2004 film Ella Enchanted. In 2006, Brittany Murphy also recorded a cover of the same song for the 2006 movie Happy Feet. In 2001, a version of "The Show Must Go On" was performed by Jim Broadbent and Nicole Kidman in the movie musical Moulin Rouge!. The closing credits of A Knight's Tale released in 2001 has a version of "We Are the Champions" performed by Robbie Williams and Queen; the introduction to the same movie features We Will Rock You played by the medieval audience. In 1992, the film "Gladiator" featured snippets of "We Will Rock You" performed by Warrant whereas their full version was released as a single.
Many films have featured their songs or sections of their songs. These include:
Keeping in the tradition (since Season Five) of naming each season's episodes after songs from a famous 1970s era rock band (Led Zeppelin for the fifth season, The Who for the sixth and The Rolling Stones for the seventh), the eighth and final season of That '70s Show consisted of episodes named after Queen songs. "Bohemian Rhapsody" served as the season premiere.
On 11 April 2006 Queen appeared on the American singing contest television show American Idol. Each contestant was required to sing a Queen song during that week of the competition. Songs which appeared on the show included "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Fat Bottomed Girls", "The Show Must Go On", "Who Wants to Live Forever", and "Innuendo". Brian May later criticised the show for editing specific scenes, one which made the group's time with contestant Ace Young look negative, despite it being the opposite.
Al Murray's Happy Hour has a Queen theme, as it uses "Don't Stop Me Now" for the introduction and features guest performers along with host Al Murray singing different Queen songs each episode. The remainder of Queen did appear at the end of a series of the show.
"I Was Born to Love You" was used as the theme song of the Japanese drama Pride on Fuji Television in 2004, starring Takuya Kimura and Yūko Takeuchi. The show's soundtrack also contained other songs by Queen, including "We Will Rock You, "We Are the Champions" and "Bohemian Rhapsody".
The band made tentative plans to provide material for use in " The Hotel New Hampshire" but this project was abandoned. However, "Keep Passing The Open Windows" (which is an important catch-phrase line in the movie) did survive.
The original London production was scheduled to close on Saturday, 7 October 2006 at the Dominion Theatre, but due to public demand, the show has now been extended indefinitely. We Will Rock You has become the longest running musical ever to run at this prime London theatre, overtaking the previous record holder, the Grease musical.
The launch of the musical coincided with Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee. As part of the Jubilee celebrations Brian May performed a guitar solo of "God Save the Queen", as featured on Queen's A Night at the Opera, from the roof of Buckingham Palace. The recording of this performance was used as video for the same song on the 30th Anniversary DVD edition of A Night at the Opera.
Sean Bovim created "Queen at the Ballet", a tribute to Freddie Mercury, which uses Queen's music as a soundtrack for the show’s dancers, who interpret the stories behind tracks such as "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Radio Ga Ga" and "Killer Queen."
Brian May has confirmed that they are considering writing a sequel to the musical.
Sonic experimentation figured heavily in Queen's songs. A distinctive characteristic of Queen's music are the vocal harmonies which are usually comprised of the voices of May, Mercury and Taylor best heard on the studio albums A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races. Some of the ground work for the development of this sound can be attributed to their former producer Roy Thomas Baker as well as their engineer Mike Stone. Besides vocal harmonies, Queen were also known for multi-tracking voices to imitate the sound of a large choir through overdubs. According to Brian May, there are over 180 vocal overdubs in "Bohemian Rhapsody". Many Queen songs were also written with audience participation in mind, such as "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions".
Some of the musicians that have cited the band as an influence include: Anthrax, AC/DC, Van Halen, Dream Theater, The Used, Bang Camaro, Ben Folds Five, Ian Bornhoeft, Boston, Blind Guardian, Kurt Cobain, Def Leppard, The Darkness, Extreme, Foo Fighters, The Germs, The Go Go's, The Beatles, Davey Havok, Jeff Scott Soto, The Killers, Green Day, Guns N' Roses,Helloween,Iron Maiden,Judas Priest,Kansas, Manic Street Preachers, Metallica, George Michael, Marilyn Manson, Kaiser Chiefs, Muse, My Chemical Romance, Mika,Nine Inch Nails, Panic at the Disco, Radiohead, The Smashing Pumpkins, Switches, Max Cavalera, Styx, , Sweet, Cesare Cremonini, Katy Perry and Threshold keyboardist Richard West; amongst others.
Michael Jackson was a friend of Mercury's in the early 1980s and cited the Hot Space album as a driving influence behind the making of his 1982 album Thriller on which Mercury was originally scheduled to appear. Queen have also been cited as a major influence on the "neo-classical metal" genre by Swedish guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen. "Stone Cold Crazy", from 1974's Sheer Heart Attack album, is often cited as an early precursor of the speed- or thrash metal subgenre. Metallica recorded a cover version of the song, which first appeared on the "Rubaiyat — Electra's 40th Anniversary" album in 1990, and won the Grammy Award for Best Metal Performance in 1991. In the early '70s, Queen helped spur the heavy metal genre's evolution by discarding much of its blues influence;the New Wave of British Heavy Metal followed in a similar vein, fusing the music with a punk rock sensibility and an increasing emphasis on speed.
In 2006, the Greatest Hits album was found to be the United Kingdom's all-time best selling album, with sales upwards of 5,407,587 copies, over 604,295 more copies than its nearest competitor, The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Their Greatest Hits II album came in seventh with sales upwards of 3,631,321 copies.
One of rock's most successful, influential and popular acts, the band has released a total of eighteen number one albums, eighteen number one singles, and ten number one DVDs worldwide making them one of the world's best-selling music artists. Their total album sales have been estimated at over 300 million worldwide including 32.5 million in the United States alone as of 2004. The band is also the only group in which every member has composed more than one chart-topping single.