To appreciate how Queen recaptured the hearts, minds, and ears of American fans in 2019 you have to turn back to what happened to them in the 1980’s.
Music is a teeming mix of personalities bound together for long days and nights; the office changes every day. Management changes hands. Image is altered. Listeners grow up; one record can alienate an established fan base.
Following up a big album has been a challenge for most artists. Fleetwood Mac put out “Tusk” after “Rumours”; AC/DC released “For Those About to Rock…We Salute You!” after “Back In Black.”
Queen might as well have lobbed a hand grenade at its devoted hard rock following after “The Game”. Although there were two more albums until their next official studio effort between 1981 and 1982—“Flash Gordon” was a soundtrack and “Greatest Hits” ended a contract with Elektra.
Both records reminded devoted fans what they loved about them in sound and image. The greatest hits package was a smash.
In the past year Hollywood Records re-issued the hits album minus ‘Under Pressure’ with a new gatefold sleeve. It has been at the top of Billboard’s rock catalog chart for over 600 weeks!
The final album on their American label Elektra was “Hot Space”. A fresh approach that stripped away the excess of 1970’s rock. Also missing was Brian May’s guitar on the synth pop disco side of the proceedings.
Dance oriented on side one; Rock and R & B on side two. Cover art inspired by Warhol and conceived by Freddie Mercury had abstract images of each member’s face set against the pastel colors of a disco dance floor.
Timing is everything in music. Queen upended their American fan base. The album peaked at #22 on Billboard. “Body Language” a sparsely arranged disco track was the highest charting song at #11.
What kept them going was the belief they had more to prove. There were many countries that embraced their new sound too. Somewhere in the world each Queen studio album reached #1 on the charts.
Their biggest fan, Michael Jackson, found this album to be an influence on his new record “Thriller”. Listen to John Deacon’s ‘Back Chat’ and ‘Beat It’. You will hear the similar vibes in the arrangement of the music.
The band stopped touring North America. Freddie Mercury was adamant to play to growing audiences in countries where Queen had not played. American audiences rejected his new image. The gay macho clone in tight leather was too much for fans in denial regarding his sexuality.
While the band bounced back with “The Works” in 1984, their debut on Capitol records in the U.S. , releasing hit singles “Radio GaGa”, “I Want To Break Free”, and “Hammer To Fall”, it failed to bring them back to popularity in America.
Until his final tour in 1986 in support of the worldwide smash “A Kind Of Magic”, part soundtrack to the fantasy movie, “Highlander”, part Queen album, Freddie claimed new fans in countries around the world.
America had new hit makers in the 1980’s; Madonna, Michael Jackson, Phil Collins, and others became MTV favorites. Queen videos would air. With no tours scheduled people tuned out.
Their third Capitol album, “The Miracle”, was a pop rock sensation in Europe with five hit singles in release and no tour.
The band had innovative promo films made for their singles, including Disney animation for “A Kind Of Magic” and “These Are The Days Of Our Lives”.
Then a turning point arrived. “Innuendo”, Freddie Mercury’s final album was released. With its Led Zeppelin influenced title opener the band began to recapture its American base.
The music video for it utilized old footage of the band roto scoped with animation. Freddie Mercury was gravely ill while making this album. Yet he gave vocal performances that were among his best. His death found fans in mourning.
While Brian May and Roger Taylor thought the band was over there was a posthumous Queen album. “Made In Heaven” reworked some of Freddie’s solo songs into Queen tracks. The record became the biggest selling in Italy, Ireland, Spain, the U.K., and Germany. It performed well with their American fans too.
Then the group exited the public view until 2005! I never stopped playing their records. Missing them live was one of my greatest disappointments. Years heal wounds.
Queen+Paul Rodgers toured America. Part Queen; Part Bad Company. The shows brought them back to touring. Although the record they released, “The Cosmos Rocks”, did not meet commercial success, it remains one of my favorites. Even without Freddie, Queen remained innovative.
Freddie Mercury made his final wish to “Never Be Boring”. All the costumes he wore on stage; the ‘flamboyant’ image he created was unforgettable.
In the next phase came American Idol runner-up, Adam Lambert, a gay American vocalist, who came to discover Queen via the hit comedy “Wayne’s World”.
Who could have foreseen such a reversal in fortune for a long dormant now classic rock group like Queen?
In the years between Freddie’s death and the new eras of touring, Queen would licence their music. Their hits showing up in TV commercials and movies kept them present in the public conciousness.
When they toured with Adam there was a new generation of fans. They loved the band. I was open to it because as a lifelong devotee the Paul Rodgers era was great but this allowed me to see them again.
The tours with Adam Lambert gave the band their best critical notices. Queen were returning to the front of rock’s vanguard.
Then a long gestating biopic of Freddie Mercury, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, came together in 2018. Rami Malek would star and eventually take home an Oscar for Best Actor. Now Queen were restored to their former glory.
Despite a compromised timeline of actual events in the band’s storied career, the film became the biggest biopic of all-time. The soundtrack album release has remained on the chart now a year after the release of the film.
In 2019, Queen’s Rhapsody Tour continued to sell-out arenas across the world. There were 2 nights at Madison Square Garden too!
Queen+Adam Lambert headlined the Global Citizen Festival in New York City; Freddie Mercury’s solo work is reissued on digital, CD, and vinyl; a Box Set is also being released.
The band’s “Greatest Hits” became the best-selling record in U.K. music history; the “Bohemian Rhapsody” film soundtrack outsold every record during the first half of 2019.
Their Rhapsody Tour will play 5 nights at the o2 arena in England. British classic rock magazine, Planet Rock, has named them Band of the Year.
Their Rhapsody Tour has more dates in 2020….The Show Must Go On!