My first cassette was Queen’s Greatest hits. It was an awakening. Brian May assembling guitar solos with mechanical precision into a musical crescendo; Freddie Mercury punching a hole through your heart with his singular vocals. It was both a musical journey and a reflection on life itself.
The criticism of Queen being overly commercialized and at times campy is easy to understand. Over the years, I have devoured their music to the point of exhaustion and significantly fatigued my Queen receptors. At times I almost agreed with the critique. Almost, but not quite. Any former Queen junkie will relate. Dust off an album and let the tracks play out. It feels dated and at times overly produced. The music can tend toward vagaries and show tune trickery. But in time, the dust settles, you cast aside your modern musical tropes, and the artistry of the message breaks free. Freddie always claimed that the strength of his melodies superseded his lyrics, but to many his true power was in his fearless expressions of mortality.
When I’m dead, I want to be remembered as a musician of some worth and substance.
Freddie’s tragic death from AIDS at the age of 45 only reinforced these themes. Mercury was allegedly diagnosed in 1987, but the subject of mortality percolated through Queen’s music for most of his career. It is likely he knew he was sick for quite some time, but perhaps this lover of life and singer of songs had a natural understanding of transience and the importance of maximizing the joys of life. Brian May wrote many songs that hit on these same issues. Even for songs crafted by his bandmates, Freddie Mercury proved the perfect conduit for their message and clearly added his own emotional interpretations to the lyrics. For any hardcore or would be fan, here are just a few songs that showcase Freddie’s ability to speak to the fragility of the human condition:
Queen Songs with Themes of Mortality
- Keep Yourself Alive (Released 1973, Brian May)
- Bohemian Rhapsody (Released 1975, Freddie Mercury)
- Save Me (Released 1980, Brian May)
- Under Pressure (Released 1981, Queen & David Bowie)
- Hammer to Fall (Released 1984, Brian May)
- It’s a Hard Life (Released 1984, Freddie Mercury)
- Who Wants to Live Forever (Released 1986, Brian May)
- I Want It All (Released 1989, Queen)
- The Show Must Go On (Released 1991, Queen)
- These Are the Days of Our Lives (Released 1991, Queen)
- Too Much Love Will Kill You (Released 1992, Brian May)
The combination of broad, lyrical strokes that open the songs to individual interpretation and the infusion of Freddie’s personal experience in their delivery force the listener to contemplate the value of life. Freddie Mercury’s mastery of this emotional niche stands alone. Perhaps we’d all be a bit wiser if we wore out a few Queen Albums now and again.