#274 QUEEN INNUENDO

#274

QUEEN

INNUENDO

The saying “bigger than the sum of its parts” is one that could apply well to the British rock group Queen. Each one of its members—Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon—wrote hit singles for the group during the 1970’s and 80’s, with each writer being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Queen became one of the most popular rock bands in the history of rock music. They are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they have won the Outstanding Contribution to British Music Award, and just last year (2018) they were presented with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

The group’s ubiquity in the popular consciousness derives from several of their hit songs. Their “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions”, both from 1977, are heard at countless sporting events—it is very likely you have heard these songs—even without knowing anything about Queen—they are everywhere. Their biggest commercial success, as well as their biggest artistic legacy, was their “Bohemian Rhapsody”, written by Mercury. Bohemian Rhapsody was a lengthy (6-minute) montage of five parts and five styles—a suite, in other words. Written during a time of intense personal stress—Mercury was trying, at that time he wrote Rhapsody, to end a long-term relationship with a woman and to begin one with a man. The lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody have confounded fans for forty years. What is certain is that the general tone of the song is dark—perhaps regarding a murder and being haunted by demons. Or perhaps about nothing at all, as Mercury himself claimed, just random words that rhymed.

But this post is not about Queen’s biggest hit, but rather it is about another of their songs that I have grown very fond of, “Innuendo.”

Many posts ago, I digressed to talk about “lists” – how important they are in my life, and how, consequently, I asked my sons to make lists for me of the music that they felt was most important to THEM in their lives. My own listening to popular music generally faded away at the end of the 1980’s—in favor of art music. Back then, I figured that, given the fact that we only live once, there was more to be gained by delving deeply into the great art music that I did not know than there would be to continue devoting time to popular music. It was a conscious decision.

But I also knew deep down that by doing this, I would be depriving myself of a lot of contemporary listening pleasure. Fortunately for me, both of my sons—from their own very different vantage points—have a real handle on most “popular” music—I’m using the term in its broadest sense—of the last few decades. Their knowledge and their experience—and their taste—I figured, would acquaint me with the best of the best. I was not wrong. In Jon’s list of 50 favorites from 1990-2018, there were 17 selections that I was really impressed with. The music, I found, was really compelling.

So that is how I came to know more than the standards, mentioned above, by Queen. Innuendo is a work (at 6 minutes and 30 seconds, I think it can be called a “work”) that, like Bohemian Rhapsody, is written in sections. It grabs your attention from its first sounds—a martial snare drum, layers of sound entering one by one, Freddie Mercury’s unique and piercing voice, an extremely impressive guitar solo by Brian May (in the “Spanish” section, at 3:18 in this clip), changing tempos, and thought-provoking lyrics. Written in 1991, Innuendo is seen by many as the other Queen “bookend” to Bohemian Rhapsody in terms of musical influence.

Queen is especially admirable—to me—in the way they maintain a rock-solid pulse regardless of the style they are utilizing or the emotion-laden lyrics that Mercury is singing. If listening to Queen is new to you, I would suggest, in giving them a listen, you listen to the entire song.

Freddie Mercury’s voice is more than interesting, it is compelling—he delivers a lyric with 100% commitment. His short life (1946-1991) was an extremely interesting one. He was of Persian heritage, and grew up in Zanzibar and India before moving to England, where he formed Queen at the age of 24. Mercury died from AIDS. Innuendo (and the album of the same name, from which it was taken) was the last work he would record.

And just fyi—although it has nothing to do with Queen’s music—I happened to read a few days ago, in Astronomy magazine, about Brian May, Queen’s lead guitarist, who is a very highly respected astrophysicist. Not your usual rock group guitarist!

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“You can be anything you want to be” is the lyric from Innuendo that has become an anthem for their followers. Here are the complete lyrics:

While the sun hangs in the sky and the desert has sand
While the waves crash in the sea and meet the land
While there’s a wind and the stars and the rainbow
Till the mountains crumble into the plain

Oh yes, we’ll keep on trying
Tread that fine line
Oh, we’ll keep on trying
Just passing our time

While we live according to race, colour or creed
While we rule by blind madness and pure greed
Our lives dictated by tradition, superstition, false religion
Through the eons and on and on

Oh, yes, we’ll keep on trying, yeah
We’ll tread that fine line
Oh oh we’ll keep on trying
Till the end of time
Till the end of time

Through the sorrow all through our splendor
Don’t take offence at my innuendo

You can be anything you want to be
Just turn yourself into anything you think that you could ever be
Be free with your tempo, be free, be free
Surrender your ego be free, be free to yourself

If there’s a God or any kind of justice under the sky
If there’s a point, if there’s a reason to live or die
Ha, if there’s an answer to the questions we feel bound to ask
Show yourself destroy our fears release your mask
Oh yes, we’ll keep on trying
Hey, tread that fine line

We’ll keep on smiling, yeah
And whatever will be will be
We’ll just keep on trying
We’ll just keep on trying
Till the end of time
Till the end of time
Till the end of time

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