Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Jeopardy - James Holzhauer Is Making Jeopardy Boring!



The following is my opinion. It's just my opinion.

I spent my entire adult working life - working in television. Ironically, I rarely get worked up over much on television. Most series, even in success are gone sooner or later. Jeopardy with Alex Trebek has been airing on most ABC affiliates for 35 years. I've spent quite a bit of time watching this series over the course of the last 35 years. I haven't seen every episode in the history of the show (thank God for that) and I can only peripherally recall my mom watching the original Jeopardy hosted by Art Fleming (1964-1975).  In the age of the DVR one never has to miss an episode. From time to time, you find yourself not particularly partial to a game participant. That's inevitable. Some people are more appealing than others. Some contestants are charming. Some are humble. Some are quirky and some are downright eccentric. From time to time you get one so appealing and sincere you cheer them on. Ken Jennings, the most famous Jeopardy winner was someone you nearly delighted in.

The current Jeopardy contestant, James Holzhauer couldn't be a less sympathetic candidate for a quiz show. Professional gamblers aren't people we cheer for. Mr. Holzhauer was regarded as a mathematics whiz during his formal education period; and he decided to use his math skills to bet on sports. This is not a judgmental statement. It is just what he did with his math skills.

After a few days of Mr. Holzhauer's reign on Jeopardy I was suffering from boredom and I began to feel disdain for the way Mr. Holzhauer was winning the game and jeopardizing (no pun intended) the beloved Jeopardy franchise. I did something I was shocked at. I removed Jeopardy from my DVR schedule. I don't want the show to get a ratings boost from me by default. One human being in a 35 year run of one of the most successful brands in television history is literally destroying the brand. If you watch Alex Trebek's body language and demeanor and I've been doing this for 35 years you get the feeling Mr. Trebek isn't particularly fond of Mr. Holzhauer. Who would be? Who could be? This guy is destroying the show.

The moment of my enlightenment came early on when a question describing an obscure dance from the early 1960's was the clue. Holzhauer buzzed in immediately and without hesitation said "what is the mashed potato." The mashed potato. Where did he read about the mashed potato? Which documentary on the history of obscure dances from the 1960's did he view? Most people who came of age during the brief run of the mashed potato wouldn't have guessed that within five years of that period let alone fifty plus years later. Mr. Holzhauer is 34 years old and the dance had a brief period of quasi-fame in 1962.  How did he know that?  There's an episode from the series Monk which takes place in Las Vegas (the show takes place in San Francisco, but this episode was in Las Vegas) where Adrian Monk (who is a savant) is accused of counting cards at a blackjack table. His assistant states "he isn't counting cards. He is remembering them." He can remember just about anything.

Holzhauer is a professional gambler. He knows how to do the math on the Daily Doubles, but then again since he gets every answer he is going to land on all the questions, including all of the Daily Doubles. Since he is a gambler he never hesitates to go all-in. Why not? He messes with the game board by jumping all around the board and he wants to mess with the opposition even though he has no opposition (except on the Monday, April 29, 2019 episode). He has stacked himself against dozens of people who have most likely spent several years trying to get on Jeopardy to pay off some college debt, a car loan, pay for a wedding or take that trip to Machu Pichu they have wanted to do since they were 18 years old. Years of retained knowledge may finally pay off. At some point, you feel sorry for some people who know "stuff," but aren't able to retain every single thing they ever heard, saw, felt or encountered over the course of every single second in a 34 year life span. One doesn't get this because their dad worked crossword puzzles and a family member works on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.    


Watching someone demolish, destroy and ruin the competition is beyond boring. Try watching a baseball game with a score of 15-2 at the top of the ninth inning. People aren't just walking out of the stadium, they are turning their television sets, their streaming devices and however else they are viewing off as well.

Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter, Austin Rogers and other notable long-term and big money winning champs became legends for the show and were brought back for annual Jeopardy champion contests. There won't be one this year, since Holzhauer will be the only person on the show for the next five years. Ten years. Twenty years. Holzhauer is beyond the unusual more advanced player. These advanced players brought an already consistently successful show even higher ratings. Currently, Jeopardy has seen a 5% bump up in the ratings, but research indicates his complete and total destruction of the competition will wear thin soon and the quiz show franchise will see a major dip in  ratings. At some point, who will be left watching? Could it get duller? Yes, it can and it will.

People lose on quiz shows all the time. That's life. When you go on a show you assume and rightly so you will be pitted against people with superb skills of recall. It doesn't mean you have greater intelligence or a high I.Q. to be on a quiz show. Clearly, people on quiz shows are not ignorant people, but the real skill of a champion on a quiz show is your ability to retain information (also, speed on the buzzing in device). Knowledge is power means something. Do you have the ability to recall something you read in 1986? Do you remember the name of the odd looking bird from a documentary you saw on PBS in 1998? To win means you can recall lots of stuff that most people couldn't care less about. What we are seeing with Holzhauer goes beyond what I just described.

The only way Sony TV gets James off the show is to cancel the show and then bring it back six months later. Either that or Holzhauer gets bored destroying people and winning money that won't even be in the budget. That most likely will not happen. Sony TV will have to up their budget and they will do it while the ratings begin to take a nosedive. They wont' have a choice.



My daytime relationship with Jeopardy has ended. I hope I am wrong and Mr. Holzhauer is off the show soon. Try taking on someone who literally forgets nothing. Again, this is all my opinion.


Copyright The Flaming Nose 2019

     

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Greatest Songs by Queen (The Most Royal of Bands) Queen's 35 Greatest Songs of All-Time

"A queen - a queen who bowed to no one, a queen who had faced them all down and triumphed."
Sarah J. Maas
Author

          

           
The music of Queen keeps reawakening every few years which means it never seemingly disappears. The fall 2018 release of the 20th Century Fox film, Bohemian Rhapsody gave the band a refresh and it also gave many of their long-time fans a reboot as well. Today, Queen is rightly regarded as one of the greatest rock bands of all-time, but back in the 1970's some of the music critics were more critical than non-critical. Clearly, in hindsight, those folks got it more than wrong.    

My initial encounter with the music of Queen goes way back, since I came of age in the era of classic rock's heyday. The band was composed of gifted musicians and songwriters and they were fronted by a master of showmanship, Freddie Mercury. Mercury is arguably the possessor of the most significant on-stage presence of any frontman ever. Being a teen in the 1970's meant you couldn't avoid Queen.

Freddie Mercury had a voice that has not been duplicated in the last forty plus years. He sounds like no one else and therefore would not be mistaken for any other singer from any genre. Mercury has been deceased close to 30 years; but since he died so young he is locked in as the physical image we remember from an earlier time and place. Like James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Jim Morrison and so many others who went to their graves early in their earthly lives we still see them as young people. It's just what we do. We have no ability to see beyond time and space.

It is not completely off the mark to say Queen is bigger now than they were at the height of their day to day success back in the 1970's and early 1980's. New fans have taken root, bloomed and blossomed all over the world. Their continued success is well deserved, since they were a dynamic band propelled by deep driving lyrical narratives and compelling and complex melodies.

Endings almost always have a disproportionate influence on any narrative and Freddie's ending is still haunt inducing. Friends of his seemingly agree on a few things and based on those assessments he was an anguished, complicated and conflicted human being. He was intelligent, insecure (off the stage) and sensitive.

I set about to put a footprint on the great songs of Queen; and quite frankly we all know that attempting to coordinate a list is a subjective canvas of your own mind. If I were to do this list two months from now or if I had done the list two, three, four years ago the list would most likely be slightly different, but with a tremendous amount of determination and respect for the music I set forth the 35 greatest Queen songs. Having said this, the top five songs on this list haven't changed in over thirty years. The top five never change. I had no intention of going with 35 songs. My original goal was to do the top 20 songs. Then it became the top 25 songs and then it became the top 30 songs. I stopped at 35, since at some point you end up with nearly every song they ever recorded and then the list becomes an irrelevant exercise in futility.    

35) Radio Ga Ga - Radio Ga Ga was a huge hit for Queen even though in the U.S. it didn't go higher than the 16th position on the Billboard charts. The song was a direct assault on what the music video industry was doing to the music industry. Fortunately, the days of the music video's dominance have long ended. This song was a part of the Queen live line-up from its inception through the end of their touring days. In large part the song worked well in a live setting, because it held the power of audience participation. The video that accompanies this written reference comes from Queen's famed performance at Live Aid in July, 1985. Their Live Aid performance is one of the most significant live performances in the history of the rock era. Mercury's presence on a stage is unmatched. He defined performance as art and entertainment at the highest level possible. To hear Mercury's most famous "Ayo" performance go to the end of this video clip.

Words and Music: Roger Taylor
Album: The Works
Album Release: 1984


 
34) Teo Torriate (Let Us Cling Together) - Queen loved Japan and Japan loved Queen. The Japanese had a long and loving affair with British and American rock music. Queen were fawned upon there like few other bands. How many Western bands ever bothered to sing to the Japanese in their native language? Well, Queen did. In some ways, every Queen song takes the listener to a different world and this time they took us on a journey to the land of the rising sun. Teo Torriate (Let Us Cling Together) uses both English and Japanese lyrics. Freddie Mercury does a remarkable job singing in a language he personally didn't speak. This song is a lovely courtship of melody and lyric.

Words and Music: Brian May
Album: A Day at the Races
Album Release: 1976 


  

33) Don't Try Suicide - If you had never heard the lyrics to Don't Try Suicide from the album, The Game you would assume it was an upbeat song. Suicide is not something that is done because one is down in the dumps. It is a painful process for anyone who contemplates or eventually succeeds at taking their own life. Freddie Mercury sounds like he is talking to himself on this track. He seems to be convincing himself not to do it. Mercury had an overcrowded mind and the lyrical contradictions and accusations most likely wouldn't have been written by any other songwriter from his era. Suicide rates in the United States have skyrocketed in recent years. People are miserable. So miserable they are ending it all. We, as a society aren't doing a good job of assisting people in need. If you are sharing this song on social media, make sure you attach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline when you share this sensational piece of music. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline's number is 800 273 8255 (24/7). Maybe you will do more than share a song. Maybe, just maybe you will help someone adjust to living their life.

Words and Music: Freddie Mercury
Album: The Game
Album Release: 1980



32) No One But You (Only The Good Die Young) - This song was written and recorded after the death of Freddie Mercury.  Roger Taylor and Brian May share lead vocals on this touching track. Both Taylor and May were terrific singers which made them such terrific harmony singers to Freddie Mercury's extraordinary lead vocals. The song was composed shortly after the death of Britain's Princess Diana in the summer of 1997. It ultimately became a noble tribute to their beloved friend, Freddie Mercury.

Words and Music: Brian May
Album: Queen Rocks
Album Release: 1997   



31) Save Me - Mercury belts Save Me out with an impressive and soaring roar. The song is theatrical as are many of Queen's songs. The scope of Brian May's lyrics and the way he crafts a song with strong and focused melodies is always a tantalizing and satisfying musical treat. Brian May is as much of a master of thought as Freddie Mercury was. The Queen band mates all traced the arc of life together and the outcomes were sublime. Song in - song out, Queen were awe-inspiring much of the time. Since all four members of the band wrote songs they provided a variety of musical arenas.

Words and Music: Brian May
Album: The Game
Album Release: 1980  



30) '39 - This is a stunning song similar to a time after time experience, so it lends itself well to Brian May's astrophysics background. Yes, May has a PhD in Astrophysics and he is the lead guitarist of one the best known bands of all-time. He makes you feel like you need to seek a higher purpose. '39 is a beautiful song that sounds quite Beatlesque circa 1967's Magical Mystery Tour album. Just when you think you may have figured Queen out, you haven't figured Queen out. On top of all of that, it sounds similar to American folk songs from the early 1960's. Their influences were literally all over the map. Brian May sings lead on this track, so it is unusual on that front as well. They started out as a progressive rock band and continued to grow and cultivate music on several levels.

Words and Music: Brian May
Album: A Night at the Opera
Album Release: 1975



29) Bicycle Race - As the bios and interviews dictate, Freddie Mercury got the idea for the song while watching a bicycle race from a hotel window. The song pays homage to its sister song, Fat Bottomed Girls by enlisting this line into the song - "Fat Bottomed Girls, they'll be riding today." The song features a heavy metal guitar mixed with jingling bells. We also find out that Freddie Mercury didn't like Star Wars. Smart man. Queen is a band of tremendous depth and range and their overall significance in the annals of classic rock run long. Ultimately, Queen begins and ends with Freddie Mercury. As gifted as May, Taylor and Deacon were and still are, it is Mercury who embodies the DNA of Queen.

Words and Music: Freddie Mercury
Album: Jazz
Album Release: 1978



28) Fat Bottomed Girls - Fat Bottomed Girls is a near concussion of a song and it is certainly politically incorrect in today's "I'm offended" mindset. We could use some politically incorrect content in our unexamined lives during the early part of the 21st century. It's difficult to believe the erudite, soft-spoken Brian May composed Fat Bottomed Girls. It's an extravagant piece of music that is commercial while not being commercial. You have to love this line more than any other line - "I've seen every blue-eyed floozy." I bet they did.  Fat Bottomed Girls features one heck of a great guitar riff. When Mercury sings "Get on Your Bikes and Ride" it leads us to Bicycle Race (see #29).

Words and Music: Brian May
Album: Jazz
Album Release: 1978

 

27) My Melancholy Blues - The song is a sorrowful tune with a deep cleansing of loneliness. It's not a blues song, but it certainly would qualify as a jazz song. Freddie Mercury could have been on Broadway and in an earlier era he would have been a cohort of Irving Berlin's and the Gershwin brothers. My Melancholy Blues is a sad song (of course, it is), but that is his point here. Mercury's music is more than sprinkled with pathos. He often wrote lofty and lyrical prose and he could at times mesmerize with words. His piano work on My Melancholy Blues is among his finest work. My Melancholy Blues is an absolutely stunning piece of music. It backdrops the drawing board with a lush orchestration worthy of the giants from the Standards era of songwriting. This is another song in that Armada of vocal performances by Freddie Mercury. He was a baritone who sometimes sang as a tenor. He obviously had outstanding control over his vocal abilities. Freddie Mercury suffered from separation anxiety, so his somewhat melancholic tendencies are not surprising. At the age of eight, he was sent to India to attend school while his parents and sister remained in Zanzibar. During a nine year period he rarely saw his family. His sadness is understandable. His parents clearly wanted him to have a superb education, but the absence affected his life.

Words and Music: Freddie Mercury
Album: News of the World
Album Release: 1977



26) Hammer to Fall - Life, death and repentance are consuming lyrical presentations in many of Queen's songs. These guys weren't superficial, shallow fools. Brian May took life seriously and added in a wink and a nod. The band's skills combine fabulous musicianship with this belting powerhouse of a lead vocal and it's a Hammer to Fall. Their relevance to pop culture is still being cemented with each new generation discovering this thoughtful, gifted and robust four man band. They are among a small group of legendary and iconic performers that broke through during the classic rock era.

Words and Music: Brian May
Album: The Words
Album Release: 1984




25 These Are The Days Of Our Lives - It is hard to believe Freddie Mercury did not write this song. The words and music were credited to Queen, but Roger Taylor wrote this song. It's a sentimental nod of nostalgia that was originally driven in thought by Taylor's children, but in the hands of a dying Freddie Mercury it took on a new musical persona. The song is a referendum on the reflections of life. A stunning and hauntingly sad song. This certainly wasn't the Queen of 1973, but "I Still Love You" never felt so touching.  

Words and Music: Roger Taylor
Album: Innuendo
Album Release: 1991


24) I Was Born To Love You - Mercury was assuredly one of the most intriguing people to ever get near a microphone and commandeer a crowd of rock fans. Almost all of these songs from the final Queen album are farewell songs. There is a joyous tension to this upbeat love song. He certainly knew how to take care of the ones he loved deeply. It's a colorful and extroverted track that is fitting for the phenomenal vocal pyrotechnics of Freddie Mercury's voice talent. The song was originally recorded for Mercury's solo outing, Mr. Bad Guy, but Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon reworked the song for their final album which was released five years after Freddie Mercury's death. There are moments with Queen where you stand back in frozen amazement.

Words and Music: Freddie Mercury
Album: Made in Heaven
Album Release: 1995  



23) Headlong - Hollywood thinks they own fast and furious. Queen makes you rethink the concept and they did it time and time again. Many of their songs were dynamic and energetic and Headlong is one of the ones that provide the backdrop for the definitions of dynamic and energetic. This is not a grandiose tune. It's just pure rock music. The band is clearly enjoying themselves on this track. Brian May was going to use this song for a solo outing, but then he heard Freddie singing it. Mind changed. Freddie Mercury was the ultimate lodestar of rock music. He securely guided this ship along with his intellectual and musical equals, May, Taylor and Deacon.

Words and Music: Brian May
Album: Innuendo
Album Release: 1991


22) My Life Has Been Saved - Queen's exit from recording gave fans a treasure trove of contemplative songs. Life had changed. Mercury's voice was the only element of his physical being that seemed untouched by disease and illness. He once commanded the stage with confidence even though he was wildly insecure on a personal level, but not on a professional level. There were other great frontmen, but there was no frontman who displayed such a power of persuasion over the audience. His physical life would not be saved, but he sings of his eternal life being saved. John Deacon wrote this song and once again it is such a perfect song for Mercury, you would assume he was behind the lyrical content.

Words and Music: John Deacon
Album: Made In Heaven
Album Release: 1995


21) Tie Your Mother Down - Girls - watch out. The boys are looking for trouble and they will be willing to risk a run-in with mom to get their way. This is a rocking ranch of a song! A lead singer who can rip it up, tear it up and apply just the right form of attack to take you on a rollicking roller coaster of a ride. Their legacy is stunning and after all of these years their legacy remains strong. They have become even more popular since the death of Freddie Mercury. No one would ever have imagined that to be the fate of Queen. This is one of many songs where you know Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon never got enough credit for their talents. These were three gifted musicians, arrangers, songwriters and in the case of both May and Taylor - they were good singers on their own. The four men of Queen were among the most talented people in all of rock music.  Listen to this song - and to steal from the great American band, Lynyrd Skynyrd - turn it up!

Word and Music: Brian May
Album: A Day at the Races
Album Release: 1976



Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor, John Deacon  

20) Crazy Little Thing Called Love - A huge top 40 hit for the band upon its release back in early 1980 and it is still one of their most played songs. It is a throwback to the rockabilly period that played a role in the coming of age years for the members of the band. It's an upbeat song and dance tune. Technically, this wouldn't be one of their greatest musical achievements, but it certainly is a song that proves their range and diversity. This was not a standard type of song for a band of their stature upon its release, but the song is fun and it shows a side of Queen not often heard. Freddie Mercury wrote this song on the guitar which was unusual for him. He was not a skilled guitarist and wrote all of his songs on the piano. Rockabilly master, Dwight Yoakam has a superb version of Crazy Little Thing Called Love. His version is presented here, since it is the best cover of a Queen song.

Words and Music: Freddie Mercury
Album: The Game
Album Release: 1980



19) A Winter's Tale - Freddie Mercury paints a dreamy landscape of physical beauty (you can almost see it all via the words) and also of his mindset. Freddie Mercury never received enough credit for his lyrics and music. His lyrics are introspective and retrospective as he nearly always goes above and beyond what any other lyricist and composer would be doing within the confines of any given song. He was a poet. A free-form poet. As his life tilted to death, we got A Winter's Tale.

Words and Music: Freddie Mercury
Album: Made in Heaven
Album Release: 1996



18) It's A Beautiful Day - In the midst of his impending death, Freddie Mercury wrote some of the most emotional and powerful songs than at any other point in his career. Many of the songs from Queen's last album are life affirming even though he was suffering a long and painful end. This song is a sunrise, a sunset, a baby's laugh, the bloom of those first spring flowers, a loving hug from a proud parent. Yes, it's a beautiful day. A spectacular song filled with life's promises. The song is credited to Queen, but Mercury wrote this tune.

Words and Music: Queen
Album: Made in Heaven
Release: 1996



17) Love of My Life - The song features some of Mercury's most poignant of music compositions; and to hear Brian May play the harp may be worth it all. Mercury was trained to play classical music pieces and one can hear his love of classical music on this track. If you ever had the good fortune to see Queen in concert you would have been in the crowd singing this song back to Freddie. Mercury did not reveal who or what were the influences behind his music and lyrics (outside of Killer Queen), but based on what we know Mary Austin was the only person Mercury said he truly, fully and implicitly trusted in his life.  Mercury was intensely private and revealed little of himself over the years. Mercury's near seven year relationship with Mary Austin may have ended in heartbreak for both of them, but their relationship would survive literally anything. Mary Austin was the woman who dated and lived with Freddie Mercury from 1970 through 1976. After their breakup, he purchased her homes which would be visible from his homes and she became a part of the Queen entourage. For those who knew them, she was the most important person in that entourage. 

Mercury left Austin half of his wealth (including recording and publishing royalties which still account for millions of dollars per year in additional added income) with the other half going to his mom, dad and sister. Mary also received his real estate, art and antiques. Mercury's relationship with Mary Austin is one of the most fascinating relationships in all of rock music. Mercury said:  "All my lovers asked me why they couldn't replace Mary, but it's simply impossible. The only friend I have is Mary, and I don't want anybody else. To me, she was my common-law wife and we are in a marriage. We believe in each other and that's everything for me." "Our love affair ended in tears, but a deep bond grew out of it and that's something nobody can take away from us. It's unreachable. We look after each other and that's a wonderful form of love. I might have all the problems in the world, but I have Mary and that gets me through life." 

Mercury said on more than one occasion that he just made material up for his songs, so Love of My Life may not be about Mary or anyone else for that matter. Quite honestly, it is irrelevant who it is about. It's a lovely song. As Mick Rock, an official photographer for Queen said, "the great irony of Freddie's life is that though he was essentially gay, his greatest relationship was with a woman."

Words and Music: Freddie Mercury
Album: A Night at the Opera
Album Release: 1975    



16) Let Me Live - Even in their heartache, Queen had hope. Let Me Live showcases wonderful vocal achievements. The harmonies throughout their catalog have long been underrated. Obviously, their were great harmony singing acts in rock, including the Beach Boys, Crosby, Stills & Nash and the Bee Gees. The Eagles were given deserved acclaim for their harmony work and of course, no act could ever surpass the work of The Everly Brothers, but Queen is certainly an equal to most of the above mentioned artists. This song gives us the opportunity and gift of hearing Freddie Mercury, Roger Taylor and Brian May all singing on this track. Both Roger Taylor and Brian May had superb voices and easily could have been lead singers in any other band. They were musical volcanoes who overwhelmed their fans in lava flows of words and music.

Words and Music: Queen
Album: Made in Heaven
Album Release: 1996



15) Who Wants To Live Forever - Brian May sings a bit on this song and for a brief shining moment he comes close to sounding a bit like Freddie Mercury. Who Wants to Live Forever is one of their most unyielding of sounds. It literally could be an attachment to Leonard Bernstein's and Stephen Sondheim's powerful closing ballad, Somewhere from West Side Story. As usual, it is a gorgeous vocal by Mercury. It's a haunting song. It's an eclectic masterpiece and since it was recorded near the end of Mercury's life it is even more painful to listen to. One can only imagine what he and they would have and could have accomplished musically had he lived into his fifties and sixties. The film score sound is fitting since the song was written for the film Highlander. The band recorded the song with a full orchestra with orchestrations by Michael Kamen.  Contemplate the brevity and fragility of life.

Words and Music: Brian May
Album: A Kind of  Magic
Album Release: 1986



14) Doing All Right - Doing All Right is art as rock. Freddie Mercury's younger voice is thrilling to listen to. Literally thrilling. I feel I just jumped out of a plane listening to this masterful singer, vocalist, stylist, phraser and interpreter of song.  His tonal quality is unmatched in the circles of their genre. I love Freddie's voice, but there is a majestic tilt in the early years of his singing and phrasing that you don't hear in the later years. This is inevitable. No singer can keep the same tone throughout a lifetime of work. His famed vibrato rises to the occasion here. The pitch variation and the speed at which the pitch is varied are all over the place in Queen's music. This is one of the few times Brian May plays piano on a Queen track. 

Words and Music: Brian May and Timothy Staffel
Album: Queen
Album Release: 1973 



 13) You're My Best Friend - John Deacon wrote this song and no other rock band ever could have recorded this song and gotten away with it. In many ways, it is an appealing pop song that could have been released by any number of one-hit wonders from that era. Instead it proves how enduring and legendary Queen is, because this song is a great song from an act so consequential that they even take a loose fitting pop song and turn it into a substantial music track. Freddie Mercury's vocal is joyful and downright festive. It is one of the simplest songs Queen ever recorded, but it is an indelible part of their catalog. This song just makes you feel good.

Music and Lyrics: John Deacon
Album: A Night at the Opera
Album Release: 1975



12) Killer Queen - Killer Queen has a unique sound and it was wholly different from any track on their first two albums. Killer Queen was their first big hit and the track appears on their third album, Sheer Heart Attack. The entire album is full of technical complexities and it also features some elaborate arrangements. Killer Queen has a stage persona to it and in many ways it is quite baroque.  Freddie Mercury wrote the song and he explained in more than one interview that he wrote the lyric prior to the melody which was the exact opposite of the way he usually wrote songs. Killer Queen features a fully developed and meticulously detailed four part harmony. It's a clever song with a driving rock guitar and some of Roger's high harmonies. Mercury rarely indulged journalists with the meanings behind songs, but he did admit that the song was about a high class call girl, claiming that even classy people are essentially whores. I don't know how Marie Antoinette would feel, but one would think that historically she would feel pretty good about being named in a classic rock song from one of the most magnificent artists of 20th century music. They were hard rockers who could compose grand ballads and pop. Sumptuous harmonies with elegant piano work which Mercury excelled at. 

Word and Music: Freddie Mercury
Album: Sheer Heart Attack
Album Release: 1974



11) Jesus - During this period of their lives and careers (1973) none of the members of Queen were  professing Christians, although a few investigative journalists have indicated Mercury may have converted to Christianity before he passed away. He attended a Christian private school while growing up (St. Peter's Church of England School), so clearly Mercury heard the Gospel. The song Jesus appears on Queen's first album. The entire album (Queen I) is filled with reflections on life from all angles. It is interesting that their first album and their last album are both takes on life and death. Jesus is a hard driving raw rock song as it features some heavy metal musicianship between the calls for all to fall down. Mercury's voice here is pristine, authoritative and commanding. His intense  delivery on this track is downright breathtaking. Freddie Mercury delivers the Gospel. This song easily could have been a part of Andrew Lloyd Webber's and Tim Rice's Jesus Christ Superstar. Mercury's interpretation of his own lyric is stunning in its power. No Christian rock band ever delivered the Gospel in quite such a way. Mercury takes the birth of Jesus Christ and the healings of Jesus Christ and literally tells the listener to worship with his "all going down" chorus. The music is one of the freest forms of any track ever recorded by Queen. Freddie's exam to pass his A levels which would get him into the Ealing College of Art and Technology was a painting of the Crucifixion. He painted Jesus nailed to the Cross and it was so well reviewed it did gain him entry to Ealing, although it would later be revealed he did not paint the centurions looking on.

Music and Lyrics: Freddie Mercury
Album: Queen
Album Release: 1973






10) I Want It All - Freddie Mercury never sounded more desperate. The back and forth vocal conversation between Mercury and May is riveting. They incorporated aspects of their own lives into their music and this relay of words between two friends and musical partners is appropriate for in this world they will forever be linked together. As a complete aside, when you see the original video for this song you can't help but think Brian May would have made a perfect Mr. Darcy in some version of Pride and Prejudice. The song was written by Brian May, but it is attributed to Queen. Queen famously decided to attribute all of their songs past mid-1980's to the band at-large, something that U2 has done for most of its career. Freddie Mercury's health was already deteriorating at the time they recorded this song, but he was pushing on and if you didn't know, you wouldn't know he was sick and terminally ill. There is a fearlessness to this song. Outstanding display of both lead and harmony vocals.

Words and Music: Queen 
Album: The Miracle
Album Release: 1989




9) Too Much Love Will Kill You - It is hard to believe that Freddie Mercury didn't compose this song.  Too Much Love Will Kill You was written by Brian May, Frank Musker and Elizabeth Lamers. There is a long story behind the history of the song, but it seems to define the end of Freddie Mercury's life and yet that is not what the song is about.  Mercury sings with tremendous conviction and once again, he interprets a song as though he owns it.  Mercury's voice is an instrument.  Queen created some of the crescendo moments in the rock era. Their songs are all over the place and that is only one of the many reasons generation after generation discovers their music.  There is a chronological terrain over which much of Queen's story moves and as they scouted their terrain, they ended up laying down their markers on the trail of rock music's history.

Words and Music: Brian May, Frank Musker, Elizabeth Lamers
Album: Made in Heaven
Album Release: 1995





8) Long Away - This is a song that seemingly reflects a sunny, light breeze of a day. It's a near surreal trip through episodes of life and it is one of the most captivating of Queen's songs. It is a dreamy trip of a song that moves you through the mood of moments. Long Away has a shyness of heart to it that takes you away as you travel any which way on a lovely scenic drive contemplating life. Brian May wrote the song and he sings the lead vocal, so it is another detour on the Queen road. May has a touching voice. Clearly, we hear the influence of the Beatles (this easily could have appeared on Rubber Soul) and the American band, the Byrds. It's not a hippie trip, but it is a pastel colored song with some deep thoughts. 

Music and Lyrics: Brian May
Album: A Day at the Races
Album Release: 1976



7) Another One Bites the Dust - Another One Bites the Dust was an ever present music cue in your ears when it came on the radio back in 1980. The song was blasting all over the world for months on end. Another One Bites the Dust was written by bassist, John Deacon and the song provides one of his most memorable bass lines. As always, the rock singer with the greatest range in the history of recorded rock music, Freddie Mercury delivers another commanding vocal performance. Another One Bites the Dust is Queen's biggest selling North American single. Deacon plays almost all of the instruments on the recorded track. His bass line provides nearly 110 beats per minute, so if you ever find yourself having to save someones life, this is the song to play to get a heart going again (or Stayin' Alive by the Bee Gees). Another One Bites the Dust is the lyrical and musical rendering of another classic. Machine guns ready to go. Let's go. 

Music and Lyrics: John Deacon
Album: The Game
Album Release: 1980




6) Mother Love - Freddie Mercury and Brian May co-wrote this song together and it was the last song Mercury would ever record. The song was recorded between May 13-May 16, 1991 and it is certainly one of the most personal songs Queen ever recorded. The song features Mercury on lead vocals, but Mercury who would be dead six months later was too tired to finish singing the song, so May took over the final stage of the lyrical content. Brian has a lovely voice and it is fitting that two of Queen's protectors would in some way share in this final battle. There is some gorgeous guitar work here by May. This song is certainly not about either of their biological mothers even though the song would be dedicated to both of their moms in different concerts over the years. Not that any one could hear this, but this song includes (close to the end of the song) a few seconds of every Queen song - all speeded up.

Words and Music: Freddie Mercury and Brian May
Album: Made in Heaven
Album Release: 1995   


 
5) We Are the Champions
- Mercury penned this track for the band's album News of the World. It is a separate track from We Will Rock You (see number four). We Will Rock You was written by Brian May, so at the time one had nothing to do with the other. Today, these two tracks are almost always  played in conjunction with one another making some people think they are the same song. The one thing they share is the common bond of making sure your audience sings along. Imagine the royalty checks the band collected on these two tracks alone? They have been played thousands of times and most likely tens of thousands of times at sporting events all over the world. These two songs were the emotional high points of any Queen concert as audiences sang along and fully participated. Mercury was a highly accomplished pianist and he integrated a lot of jazz chords into the song. He also composed a song that is demanding for a lead vocalist, but obviously he knew what he was capable of and thankfully, so do we. He was able to hit high notes; and on We Are the Champions he hits a C5 in both a belted rock and falsetto. We Are The Champions and We Will Rock You are two intertwined strands to the Queen story even though they are stand-alone musical achievements. Mercury said of We Are the Champions - "it was the most egotistical and arrogant song I ever wrote." Arrogance never sounded so good.

Music and Lyrics: Freddie Mercury
Album: News of the World
Album Release: 1977



4) We Will Rock You - We Will Rock You is the mighty anthem that was born when Brian May dreamt it up and then stomped his foot. May, of course is a superb guitarist and guitarists always get lots of love from rock fans. May also wrote many other notable songs for Queen and he was as good of a songwriter as Mercury. Few people living on planet earth have never heard this track. It is a gigantic explosion of rock. It was the perfect theme for the 1970's arena rock soundtrack. It also brought home the idea of audience participation. It was released as a double A side with We Are the Champions; and it has long been Queen's most sought after two song mantra in sporting events and advertisements. The song largely features clapping and stomping and these are the two elements that keep the beat. The studio's engineers and deck staff joined in on the stomps and hand claps. The only instrument used on the track is the electric guitar. Brian May does close the song out with an extended guitar farewell. Linda Ronstadt (Linda, like Freddie had a magnificent voice and could sing rock, pop, country, opera, the standards and her ancestral Mexican music) recorded this song as a children's lullaby in 1996 and her interpretation gives it a twist like no cover ever. The classic 1980's comedy, Cheers paid tribute to this song in one of their more famous show opens. Check out those tributes, since they are worthy and respectful in their own separate ways (included in the post). Sing it!

Music and Lyrics: Brian May
Album: News of the World
Album Release: 1977








3) Somebody to Love - This song nearly breaks the heart. With all of the magnificent songs released over Queen's career, Somebody to Love is the one displaying the most of the vocal versatility of Freddie Mercury. His vocals, phrasing and passion on this track make it perhaps the single finest example of Mercury's talent. By saying this, I am delivering compliment upon compliment, since Mercury's vocal talents were displayed throughout the career of the band. The song is a gem for his voice alone. Mercury was blessed with so much talent, and this vocal is a testament to that talent. Mercury sang with conviction, heart and soul. Somebody to Love is a highly complex and multi-layered vocal arrangement and it is a complicated melody. It is a tour de force of multi-part harmonies. Queen knew how to write and play for their stacked vocals. No other band could do this so well. The Gospel sounding choir was not a 100 person group, but it was Freddie Mercury, Brian May and Roger Taylor sounding like a 100 person choir. Somebody to Love is about faith, desperation and soul-searching. Mercury is examining love or lack thereof, and the role of God in his life. Mercury's great range is on full display as he goes from an F2 to an A6/A4 and everything in between. No other vocalist in the rock era could do this with his voice. His range, depth and versatility lend itself to a host of vocal gymnastics and yet he sounds effortless, as always. His piano work is among the best of his career and May's guitar solo work is quite memorable. This may be Freddie Mercury's greatest musical achievement, but it is also the single finest achievement in a vocal recording during the rock era. His lung capacity and his ability to hold his breath is simply phenomenal. Freddie Mercury thought this was the best song he ever wrote.

Music and Lyrics: Freddie Mercury
Album: A Day at the Races
Album Release: 1976



2) Under Pressure - Under Pressure is a wonderful piece of musical architecture and if it weren't for Bohemian Rhapsody it would certainly qualify as the single greatest rock song in Queen's career, and of course that is saying something. It is not even arguable to say it is one of the grandest rock songs of all-time. Queen collaborated with David Bowie on this track and after nearly forty years you have to ask yourself, wouldn't it have been wonderful if these two artists recorded more than one track? The bass line (John Deacon's bass work is always worthy of a whole host of accolades) is one of the most famous bass lines in all of popular music. Let's not forget or perhaps, we should forget that Vanilla Ice sampled Under Pressure and then attempted not to give the five Brits credit. Bowie, of course is one of rock's greatest singers, but it is Mercury who takes this track into the outer reaches of the musical universe. This was an era full of talented people. People who could write lyrics and melodies. People who could arrange music. People who could play music and people who could sing. People singing without auto-tune and various studio tools. The distinctiveness of this song is highlighted by the fact that it appears on what is the least worthy Queen album recorded. Hot Space was a huge misfire. They were a rock band. Club crowd? Dance elements? The album was a dud, but it gifted us with Under Pressure. Under Pressure rises like the sun off of a beautiful lake in an isolated region anywhere on the planet. There is a spring in the step of this song that makes you feel good, but then as it concludes there is a tinge of sadness in the air. It is almost tangible the way both Bowie and Mercury change the spin of their voices. Under Pressure is a highly undervalued, under appreciated and underrated piece of pop/rock music. The songwriting credits are given to all four members of Queen and David Bowie, but the primary writers were Freddie Mercury and David Bowie. Mercury also adds the lovely piano and Hammond organ pieces that are strikingly  presented throughout the piece. Under Pressure is one of their musical summits.

Music and Lyrics: Queen and David Bowie
Album: Hot Space
Album Release: 1982



1) Bohemian Rhapsody - Surprise. Surprise. All these decades after its original release, Bohemian Rhapsody is as catastrophically unique as it was the first time one heard it. At this stage of reflection, it is quite obviously one of the most eminently mighty pieces of popular music of the 20th century. It is in the same league as George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and the B side of Abbey Road by the Beatles. It is a three act play reaching into the vast skies of musicality. It is a defining frame of musicianship, songwriting, soaring lead vocal and some of the finest harmony singing ever put on a recording. Bohemian Rhapsody remains a rich patchwork of celebrated notability in a business that rarely delivers originality. It is complex, abundant, misunderstood (no one actually knows what it is about and that's what Mercury intended) and in some bizarre way, ever-changing. It could have been a novelty song, but its sheer force of mad genius catapults it into the stratosphere of timelessness. The word brilliant is used way too often, since there are few moments of brilliance in any arena and certainly very little in popular music, but Bohemian Rhapsody is brilliant. The first act is Mercury's rhetorical overture and it sets the stage as the windup before the real pitch. Oh, and the song has no chorus. That's nearly unheard of in popular music.

Brian May said "Freddie Mercury was a very complex person. He was flippant and funny on the surface, but he concealed insecurities and problems in squaring up his life with his childhood. He never explained the lyrics, but I think he put a lot of himself into that song."

It has become the most streamed song in history with 1.6 billion streams and counting. Obviously, this will continue to grow as new audiences discover Queen's music year in, year out. Bohemian Rhapsody was gigantic at the time of its release, but let's not forget how much pop culture love was bestowed upon this mansion of a song with the 1992 release of the film, Wayne's World. That now infamous moment in film history may have done more for Bohemian Rhapsody than any other element in the song's storied success. Smartly, Mike Myers wanted the incomparable Queen song while the studio wanted him to use an act that was more contemporary in 1992. Myers rejected a Guns N' Roses song and opted for a classic among classics, for Bohemian Rhapsody is a giant among giants. No other song in the rock era can lay claim to as much creativity and originality as Bohemian Rhapsody. Not even A Day in the Life by the Beatles can one-up the wildly off the wall and yet on the wall song as Freddie Mercury's opus that delivers a ballad, a mini-opera and hard driving rock 'n' roll. It took Queen three weeks and an unprecedented 180 vocal overdubs to create this song. It's a piano ballad, a pseudo opera and a hard rock collage.

It is a near six minutes in recorded length and Mercury's vocal performance is the single most revered performance of his distinguished contribution to rock music. It is amazing that they were able to record this song, since at the time they only had access to 24 track analog tape, so those 180 separate overdubs are even more outstanding when you think of the limited technology they were dealing with in 1975. Roger Taylor's falsetto still sends a chill up the spine even though it is Mercury's four octave range voice that covers the entire spectrum of vocal work. May's rocket propelled guitar work is on full display. Bohemian Rhapsody is one of the most intricate compositions in all of rock music's history. It is a masterpiece that no other artist could have pulled off or would have pulled off. It's a symphonic rock/pop song that still holds sway with contemporary audiences all these years later. Nearly every university/college marching band (and I do mean literally nearly every one of them) includes Queen in their performance tributes. Queen has been among these play lists for years. Those intricate vocal harmonies gifted us with this extraordinary piece of music. The original recording of Bohemian Rhapsody is too monumental a presence on the global map of music to not be in the number one position.
 
Any way the wind blows...

Music and Lyrics: Freddie Mercury
Album: A Night at the Opera
Album Release: 1975




Queen - Nearer to the End 

                                                   
Freddie Mercury died on Sunday, November 24, 1991. I've been keeping journals for most of my life. In writing this post I checked my journal entry for that date. I'd gone to church that morning and spent the rest of the day Christmas shopping. I concluded the day's entry with:

Freddie Mercury died today. Sad.

Mercury was a legend in his own time; and Queen had aristocratic appeal. Unfortunately, we will not see their likes again. Mercury's final live concert took place on August 9, 1986 at Knebworth Park in the U.K.

It is still sad. He had been blessed with a great deal of musical talent. No one sang like Mercury. He could hit a note, hold a note, hug the note, straighten it out, lay it down, walk with it, bring it to a fork in a road, explain it or not, twist it to perfection. He is and most likely will remain one of the most engaging and unique performers in the history of music.

"The best virtuoso rock 'n' roll singer of all time. He could sing anything in any style. He could change his style from line to line, and God, that's an art and he was brilliant at it."
Roger Daltrey
Founding Member and Lead Vocalist
The Who

  

The Flaming Nose
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