The success of Queen, a legendary band in rock history, can be attributed to several key factors that propelled them to the forefront of the music industry during the 1970s and 1980s.
The Queen Popularity
During the 1970s and 1980s, the rise of Queen in Britain marked the emergence of a quartet rock band whose masterpieces not only dominated the music market of their time but also left a lasting influence that transcended generations. However, a closer examination of Queen’s history reveals that their path to glory was far from effortless. So, what were the factors that propelled them to the pinnacle of their artistic career? Was it a series of fortunate circumstances, or was it the result of unwavering dedication and sheer effort?
As a devoted young fan of Queen, I have delved into biographies, autobiographies, and interviews to distill the insights I have gained and address these questions. Regardless of whether you are familiar with Queen’s music, I firmly believe that this analysis will captivate your attention. Furthermore, I will touch upon intriguing aspects of the Euro-American music industry during the preceding decades, weaving them into the core focus of this article.
To commence, let us explore the notion of a musician’s “success” during that era.
1 – Artistic Works
Firstly, artistic success, which encompasses the quality of the works created, often manifests itself through critical acclaim, chart rankings, award nominations, and music accolades. Secondly, commercial success, for artists require financial sustenance to thrive. This aspect is most vividly demonstrated through the sales of vinyl records and the demand for live music concert tickets. Equally significant is popularity, a measure typically gauged by media coverage and, above all, the unwavering affection of fans. Lastly, when contemplating the long term, the enduring value of an artist’s works serves as the ultimate determinant of their place in the annals of human music history.
2 – Record Sales
In reality, Queen has triumphed in most of these arenas throughout their more than 40-year tenure (including the period following Freddie Mercury’s passing). With an estimated 170-300 million vinyl records sold worldwide, the band has solidified their position among the best-selling artists in the world. Their tours across the United Kingdom, Europe, North and South America, and Japan consistently draw sizable and devoted audiences. Notably, their performance at the 1985 Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium stands out, where Queen mesmerized a crowd of 75,000 people, not to mention the millions who watched them live on television.
3 – Fan Community
When it comes to the fan community, in addition to their loyal followers from the 1970s and 1980s, Queen continues to captivate younger generations, who readily discover and fall in love with their music. Part of this can be attributed to the band’s enduring presence and activities in recent years. Furthermore, certain songs have become “immortalized” within popular culture, finding their way into literature, films, and even sporting events. The testament to Queen’s success lies in their induction into the Hall of Fame and the numerous individual and collective nominations and awards they have received in the realms of music and the arts.
The sole “failure” of these four remarkable talents lies solely in the realm of contemporary critics. Indeed, Queen never quite garnered the unanimous praise of the majority of music magazine pundits, even during the zenith of their creative careers. The intriguing details of the “war of words” between these opposing factions are best explored on another occasion.
Having laid this groundwork, we return to the core question at hand. Queen’s history unequivocally demonstrates that their success was a culmination of various factors: exceptional talent, unwavering dedication to their craft, impeccable timing, as well as strategic tactics and a visionary approach to composition. It was this amalgamation of elements that propelled Queen to become the legendary rock band we admire and celebrate today.
Converging Talented Heroes
When objectively assessing the remarkable journey of Queen, one must first acknowledge the unparalleled musical prowess possessed by each of the four individuals that comprise the band. Rarely does a group witness such an equitable distribution of talent among its members as found within Queen:
1 – Freddie Mercury
The lead vocalist and frontman, wielded an ecstatic songwriting ability and a captivating stage presence as if it were second nature. His extraordinary voice remains revered as a pinnacle of musical excellence, alongside the likes of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and Michael Jackson.
2 – Brian May
Brian May is the guitarist, stands as a true legend in rock history and is the second most influential figure within the band. Renowned for his guitar solos in iconic tracks such as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Brighton Rock,” and “We Will Rock You,” his contributions to the genre are immortal.
3 – Roger Taylor
Roger Taylor, the drummer, initially garnered attention for his aptitude in creating unique and distinct drum sounds. Over time, he was rightfully acknowledged as the 8th greatest drummer of all time, according to a poll conducted by Planet Rock in 2005.
4 – John Deacon
Lastly,the bass guitarist John Deacon, is a quiet yet formidable talent. He has showcased his strength to the world through his mastery of “killer bass lines.” Exemplary instances of this can be found in hits like “Another One Bites the Dust,” “Under Pressure,” and “The Invisible Man.”
The convergence of such immensely gifted individuals, united by a shared vision, appears almost miraculous. Yet, when such an ideal constellation aligns, it promises extraordinary achievements that are challenging for any single individual to conquer alone. If one still harbors any doubts regarding the greatness of Queen, a glance at the likes of Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, or Genesis during their heyday serves as a compelling testament. The common thread among these legendary bands is their keen understanding of each member’s capacity and role on the creative journey. Together, they accomplished more and ventured further than they ever could have as individuals.
When examining the charisma on stage and the number of successful works, many contemporary music magazines often highlight Freddie Mercury and Brian May as the standout individuals, playing pivotal roles in Queen’s illustrious career. Drummer Roger Taylor himself was frequently approached with offers to pursue solo endeavors when the band was not yet renowned. However, the composition of the four individuals that form Queen was never a mere happenstance. With a careful consideration of both talent and personality, it can be said that they consciously “chose” one another from the early stages of the band’s formation. And until their final album, each member consistently asserted their irreplaceable role within the group.
The creative process of each song, as disclosed by the band members themselves, mostly emerged as a result of collaborative contributions. The individual who initially conceives a new song introduces it through a rough demonstration on the piano or guitar. Subsequently, the remaining members take turns adding their input until a finished product is born.
Roger often sets the initial beat on the drums, while Brian breathes life into the song with spontaneous guitar solos. Apart from his bass duties, John also participates in the fine-tuning and mixing stages of the recordings. Freddie, on the other hand, imbues the works with his distinct flair, adding variations and his expressive vocals. Nevertheless, the original author of the idea always retains the right to steer the direction of the creative endeavor. Through fair and methodical collaboration, they leverage each other’s capabilities to their fullest extent.
However, this does not imply that Queen’s internal dynamics have been devoid of friction. On the contrary, the band members openly acknowledge that heated debates within the studio were a common occurrence. The reason behind this lies in their shared high egos when it comes to artistic creation. Yet, it is precisely these egos that, as they attest, have kept Queen together throughout their extensive journey. Disagreements stemming from strong artistic visions are inevitable, but as they firmly assert, “if you leave the group, you have lost yourself!” Instead, they champion their artistic viewpoints to one another through tangible achievements, once their works are presented to the public.
The belief in Queen as the ultimate creative collective was further solidified in the 1980s. During this period, all four members embarked on solo projects in succession, yet none achieved the same level of success as they did as a group. Furthermore, personal tensions strained their relationships. However, Queen’s unexpected triumph at the AID Live concert in 1985 rekindled their passion for the art and their kinship once more. From that point onwards, Queen collectively made a decision: regardless of the composer, all of the group’s songs would be credited jointly to Queen. This consensus was further underscored by their return to “One Vision” – the first song written by all four members – which became a chart-topping hit in numerous countries worldwide.
Uniqueness in music and popularity
One of the defining characteristics of Queen’s music is its unique composition, which contributes to their distinctiveness and brand. With the three primary vocalists—Freddie, Roger, and Brian—the intricate harmonies stand out as their most remarkable feature. But it doesn’t stop there; layers of sound are also present in the instrumental arrangements, particularly showcased in Brian May’s guitar work. All of this meticulous and precise craftsmanship takes place in the studio, where they can simulate the effects of a choir when needed.
When these songs are performed live, the studio-recorded sound effects are faithfully reproduced. They achieved this through the use of a technique called “delay,” which involves playing and repeating several parts consecutively with echoes introduced at specific time intervals.
It’s worth noting that in the 70s and 80s, tools like autotune did not exist. Therefore, Queen’s most unique sound effects were achieved through a handful of tricks and experimental methods. One of the most distinctive techniques is “overdubbing,” which involves layering multiple tracks on top of each other. They also experimented with altering the recording speed, pouring coins onto the drum kit, suspending speakers during playback to create a three-dimensional effect, and many other innovative approaches. These creative minds behind Queen were responsible for many groundbreaking “firsts” in the history of music.
Furthermore, while all the members of Queen share a common pursuit of rock music, they each possess relatively distinct artistic personalities. They draw inspiration from a diverse range of artists, both preceding and contemporary. Freddie Mercury, for instance, showcased his love for classical chamber music throughout his career, from the early days of “My Fairy King” to the iconic collaboration “Barcelona” with opera singer Montserrat Caballé. Roger Taylor contributed his metal and hard rock influences to Queen’s repertoire, evident in songs like “Modern Times Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “Stone Cold Crazy,” and “Sheer Heart Attack.” Brian May, apart from creating pure rock songs, also penned numerous emotionally charged ballads such as “Some Day One Day,” “’39,” and “All Dead All Dead.” Lastly, John Deacon’s compositions demonstrated gentle influences of R&B and funk rock in songs like “You’re My Best Friend” and “Spread Your Wings,” as well as addictive disco-infused tracks like “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Cool Cat.”
These differences in artistic expression granted their music a remarkable variety, providing a significant advantage in the music market. Regardless of individual listeners’ preferences, there is something to enjoy in every Queen album. As a result, their audience knows no boundaries. Freddie himself once confessed in an interview that he doesn’t write music for a specific audience. Queen’s music transcends rock enthusiasts or those with extensive musical knowledge—it’s meant for all the music lovers worldwide. Many of their timeless songs have reached global recognition, regardless of whether listeners are familiar with the band’s name (“We Will Rock You,” “We Are the Champions,” and more). With the motto “the more, the merrier,” Queen has always sought to reach as many people as possible.
Moreover, Queen’s music resonates deeply with its listeners, particularly as many of their compositions draw inspiration from the simple joys and sorrows of human existence, most profoundly love. In this regard, Queen has become a living testament to the adage, “Music is the universal language of mankind.”
Luck comes with efforts
The early years of Queen in the 1970s involved a combination of talent, passion, and a bit of luck. At that time, the band members—Brian, Roger, John, and Freddie—were all young and filled with artistic aspirations. While Brian, Roger, and John were college students, Freddie had graduated from art school and supported himself by working odd jobs and creating designs. Roger and Freddie even ventured into a business partnership, opening a clothing stall at Kensington Market in London.
Despite their shared passion for the arts, Freddie was the only one who harbored the ambition of becoming a rock star. In their early years, Queen faced challenges in breaking into the music industry and being recognized as professional artists. From 1970 onwards, they organized themselves and performed numerous small shows at nightclubs and universities for friends. However, these efforts were not enough to capture the attention of industry gatekeepers and record companies. The first raw recordings they made were rejected multiple times before they eventually secured a contract with Trident Studios in 1973.
The process of completing their debut album with Trident Studios was not without difficulties. They were only given access to the studio during off-peak hours—midnight and dawn—when no other artists had reservations. Furthermore, their management, which was connected to Trident, often prioritized the company’s interests over the artists themselves. Queen’s history also includes several contract transfers between different record managers and publishers until they found a reliable partner in Jim “Miami” Beach.
In 1973, Queen released their debut album, “Queen I.” Although it received positive reviews from critics, the album did not achieve immediate commercial success. However, luck was on their side when they were given the opportunity to appear on the popular BBC music program, Top of the Pops (TOTP).
TOTP was a highly esteemed program that showcased the most prominent songs and albums from the weekly charts. For lesser-known artists, being invited to perform on TOTP was not only a great honor but also a potential career breakthrough, as the show had a massive weekly audience of up to 15 million viewers, equivalent to a quarter of the UK’s population.
In 1974, when David Bowie canceled his appearance on TOTP to promote his single “Rebel Rebel,” the producers faced a dilemma in finding a replacement. Thanks to Trident’s connections, Queen was successfully introduced and guaranteed a performance slot. However, the usual practice was for artists to lip-sync to pre-recorded tracks on television. In just a few hours, Queen rushed to record their songs overnight and went to the studio the next morning to perform them live. That same afternoon, their performances of “Keep Yourself Alive” and “Liar” aired, finally giving their debut work the attention it deserved. This event also marked the beginning of a lasting relationship between Queen and David Bowie.
Subsequent hits such as “Seven Seas of Rhye,” “Killer Queen,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” gradually propelled Queen’s fame to a global level. Alongside their musical talent, Queen employed wise economic tactics to conquer both domestic and international markets. They opted to sign with a reputable publisher from the start instead of smaller companies, recognizing the importance of radio in mass culture. They prioritized the completion and release of singles with the most potential, which were then promoted primarily through radio programs. Notably, the massive masterpiece “Bohemian Rhapsody” faced initial rejection due to its six-minute length. However, thanks to a friend who worked in broadcasting, Queen managed to sneak the song onto the airwaves, introducing it to a vast number of fans. The overwhelming demand for the song on vinyl led Queen to secure a new contract with another producer, and “Bohemian Rhapsody” went on to dominate the charts upon