A Sociopolitical & Anthropological Cross-Cultural Analysis Of The Underlying Ethnographic Themes & Symbols Inherent In The Scandinavian Death Metal Genre During The Late 20th Century…

…would be a very worthy and interesting topic for discussion within the learned pages of this fine and illustrious organ. But sadly this will not happen today.

Greetings and Friday Felicitations fellow Puffins! Oh yes indeedy – I’m afraid I’m back to annoy all those of you with good musical taste.

The Maestro has decided to put his feet up for a well earned sabbatical, and as one of Phil’s designated minions I have once again been pressed into service. As some of you might recall (with, I trust, a deep feeling of dread) this is not my first Friday night rodeo. I have filled Phil’s slot on previous occasions and found the experience to be deeply pleasurable. However, on my previous outings I quickly realised that Friday nights on Going Postal draw a very tough crowd. Thoughtful musings on the alternate tuning patterns of Yngwie Malmsteen are simply not required. In fact, Stella, quiche, pikelets, leather chaps and extremely sore bottoms are very much the order of the day.

So, instead of Scandinavian Death Metal (I can feel your pain and disappointment from here), please be welcome to the inaugural episode of Fabulously Flamboyant Fridays. We shall, over the next few weeks, pay fulsome tribute to the substantial contribution made to popular music by artists from the gay community, by artists who have become gay icons (regardless of sexuality), and by artists who have adopted a sexually ambiguous, androgynous or simply fabulous image for the purposes of publicity, fashion or shock value. So please join me for the first of our regular Friday night fiestas of rainbows and glitter, as we celebrate all that is fabulous and flamboyant from the flamboyantly fabulous end of the musical landscape.

But where, I hear you cry, can we possibly begin such an epic task? Well, we must start, quite obviously, with the very personification of fabulously flamboyant, the very personification of flamboyantly fabulous, and with quite possibly the greatest front man ever to tread the boards with a rock and roll band (sit down Mr. Plant. We’ll get to you later…).

And so, without further ado, it gives me great pleasure to proudly present tonight’s artiste. The one, the only, the Great Pretender himself. Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Freddie Mercury!

Freddie Mercury – The Great Pretender

Freddie Mercury’s early years have a suitably exotic background. He was born as Farrokh Bulsara on September 5, 1946, in Stone Town, Zanzibar. His parents were Parsi Indians who had moved to Zanzibar from India some years earlier, where his father had worked as a clerk for the British government. Young Freddie apparently displayed an early passion for music and was soon singing with gusto and bashing away at the piano. Growing up in Zanzibar and later moving to England must have exposed the young Mercury to a very wide range of musical influences. However, he would later claim to have drawn much inspiration during his formative years from mainstream artists such as Aretha Franklin and Liza Minnelli, with the showmanship and bombast of Jimi Hendrix being cited as the inspiration for his flamboyant performing style. However, during his formative years he also developed a passion for classical music, particularly opera, which would of course become one of the defining characteristic of Mercury’s distinctive, three octave, vocal delivery – a style that would soon set him apart from his peers.

Queen – A Kind Of Magic

In 1970, Freddie Mercury teamed up with guitarist Brian May, drummer Roger Taylor, and bassist John Deacon to form the band Queen. Their eponymous debut album, released in 1973, showcased a unique blend of hard rock and theatricality. This first album, along with their sophomoric release, the rather unimaginatively titled “Queen II” (1974), were both very well received and remain my two favourite releases by the band. However, it’s fair to say that both albums take a somewhat scatter-gun approach to style, composition and performance. It wasn’t until the release of 1974’s “Sheer Heart Attack” that Queen began to display substantial signs of the classic sound that would go on to define their career; and with their fourth album, 1975’s “A Night at the Opera”, they absolutely nailed it. It was this album and its internationally successful monster hit single “Bohemian Rhapsody” that firmly cemented the band’s international profile and success.

Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody was a groundbreaking song that (along with 10cc’s “I’m Not In Love”) is credited with pushing back the boundaries of what was then thought possible (or at least realistically achievable) within the confines of a traditional, old-school, analogue recording studio. As a single it defied conventions. Its cod-operatic structure, layered harmonies, and emotionally charged (and laughably bad) lyrics struck a chord with audiences and solidified Queen’s status as one of the most innovative and exciting bands of the era. Worldwide, Bohemian Rhapsody sold by the truckload and propelled the band to international stardom.

Queen – I want To Break Free

Freddie and the band were on a roll and went on to produce a string of successful albums and singles, but by the mid ’80s their star was beginning to fade. Their albums were sliding into stale disco sludge (check out their 10th album, Hot Space, if you think I’m exaggerating) with both critics and fans seeming to lose interest.

It was against this background of fading popularity that Queen – generating significant controversy at the time – decided to accept an invitation to perform a series of concerts at the notorious Sun City resort in apartheid-era South Africa. The decision to play in a country that still enforced racial segregation drew heavy criticism from activists and musicians who supported the UN cultural boycott of South Africa. Queen defended their decision by arguing their audiences would be integrated, a substantial donation was being made to a local school, their performance would provide a platform to speak out against apartheid and they would be able to foster and encourage change from within. Critics responded with claims that although substantial cheques were pocketed for the nine performances, there wasn’t actually very much in the way of effective anti-apartheid campaigning from the band in return. The backlash was significant, they were fined by the Musicians’ Union, blacklisted by the UN and the band were even introduced by John Peel on Top Of The Pops as “The Sun City Boys”.

Queen – Don’t Stop Me Now

It was therefore a surprise to many when Bob Geldof invited Queen to perform at the London leg of his 1985 Live Aid shindig at Wembley Stadium. Whatever your opinions of the band, it’s hard to argue that Freddie did anything other than steal the show that day, with Queen delivering what is regarded by many as one of the finest live TV performances in rock history. Their 20-minute set, which crammed in a series of hit singles, magnificently showcased the band’s energy, ability, showmanship and, crucially, Mercury’s uniquely charismatic stage presence. His performance captivated the massive crowd, put the band in front of a global audience and re-launched their career to new and even greater heights. The next few years saw them tour the world, performing to massive crowds and huge critical acclaim.

Queen – Live Aid 1985

Freddie was also a successful solo artist, releasing two albums, “Mr. Bad Guy” and “Barcelona.” The latter, a collaboration with opera singer Montserrat Caballé. The album showcased Mercury’s love for opera, demonstrated his versatility as an artist and, somewhat unfortunately, highlighted his vocal limitations as an aspiring operatic performer. However, his solo work allowed him to explore different musical sounds and styles that would not have fitted comfortably within the Queen framework. They are two very different albums, but both have some fine moments and I am happy to commend them to the house.

Freddie Mercury & Montserrat Caballé – Barcelona

Sadly, we know that Freddie’s story does not have a happy ending. He began to exhibit symptoms of what could possibly be AIDS as early as 1982. In 1990, already ill, Freddie and his band mates entered Mountain Studios in Montreux, to record what would be his final album with Queen. The band were fully aware of Freddy’s health issues and, whether this played a part in the focusing of minds or not, the outcome of these sessions was a blistering return to form and Queen’s best album for a decade: “Innuendo”.

Queen – Innuendo

On November 22, 1991, Queen’s manager, Jim Beach, announced that Freddie was HIV positive and had AIDS. Freddy passed away on November 24, 1991, at his home in Kensington at the age of just 45. The cause of his death was bronchial pneumonia, related to his weakened immune system as a result of his AIDS infection. His last recorded video performance with the band was for the promotional video of “These Are The Days Of Our Lives”.

Queen – These Are The Days Of Our Lives

It’s a somewhat sad and poignant video, featuring a visibly frail Freddie, and it’s not one with which I wish to end this article. Therefore, here’s a big ol’ chunk of Freddie on stage, at the absolute peak of his powers, doing what he did best: captivating an audience and utterly dominating the stage. It’s a very fine performance by Queen, taken from their 1986 appearance at Wembley Stadium, and it is very much the way I wish to remember this astonishingly talented performer.

Queen – Live At Wembley Stadium 1986

Anyway, that’s yer lot for our inaugural episode of Fabulously Flamboyant Fridays. Not ‘arf!

TTFN Puffins.



Featured Image: Crisco 1492, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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