Friday, July 31, 2009

Glee-whiz, I heard a Queen song

Media Moment: New Fox TV series, Glee.
Queen Related: Somebody to Love used in promo

Boy, Fox has been pushing their new glee-club reality TV/comedy series called Glee a lot this week. As a teaser, the pilot actually aired back in May after an American Idol episode and the actual series will start in September 2009.

The promos this week have been using Somebody to Love, although not Queen’s version. I’m assuming it is of their cast of musical high schoolers who join the glee-club to gain popularity and kick some musical theater butt later on the storyline.

What I found curious is that the Wikipedia and descriptions of the songs featured in the series do not mention STL. Other pop music favorites like REO Speedwagon’s I Can't Fight This Feeling and Van Halen’s Jump do get a mention. Maybe this means that STL is not in the actual show but was crafted specifically for the promo. I guess I’ll have to watch it in September to see which Queen songs make the cut, if any.

Ryan Murphy, the openly gay series creator, made it big with his slice-n-dice show Nip/Tuck. Since he chooses all of the music to be included in Glee himself, I wonder if the inclusion of STL is significant for him on several levels?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Day at the Races

Media Moment: Marx Bros. movie
Queen Related: called A Day at the Races

Because A Night at the Opera actually has some opera in it (ala Bohemian Rhapsody), there is a tenuous link between the Marx Bros. film from 1935 and the 1975 Queen album of the same name.

Queen’s next album, A Day at the Races from 1976, however, does not seem to have any conceptual link to the 1937 Marx Bros. film of the same name at all. If one goes over the song list, there is nothing that is remotely close to the movie’s key elements of sanitarium, horse racing, veterinary medicine, and gambling.

I suspect that the day/night pairing of the Marx Bros. films suggested a “set” of albums from roughly the same creative time period in the band’s history would be memorable. Design-wise, the albums’ covers are complementary to each other and, like their film counterparts, ADATR is sorta like a sequel to ANATO—but just as good as the original that started the series.

The fact that Queen got to sing ’39 for Groucho Marx when they were touring the U.S. is an interesting convergence of entertainment icons and the album/film titles seem to have come full circle for that moment.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

My Interpretation . . . of Mika

Media Moment: Mika song(s)
Queen Related: Freddie reference

Back in 2007, a friend of mine asked me if I had heard that song on the radio that mentions Freddie Mercury. “What?” I said. I hadn’t heard anything of the nature and I usually get updates via the online Queen newsgroups I belong to.

I never did hear Grace Kelly on the radio (probably because I never listen to it anymore). An east coast television station that plays music videos during commercial breaks kept playing a video whose song caught my ear one day. I could have swore that the singer mentioned Freddie . . . sure enough, it turned out to be Mika and it was sure catchy.

I got on the Internet immediately to learn more about this guy and what his Freddie reference meant. It turns out that he was drawing parallels with Freddie on many levels: vocally, musically, middle eastern descent, sexuality (alleged homosexuality), and even managed to get his hands on Freddie’s original grand piano.

Hearing Freddie’s name in Grace Kelly reminded me of Def Leppard including “Killer Queen” in the lyrics to Rocket. But in Mika’s case, Freddie is the only musical artist who gets the honor of being part of the song—not one in a long list of British rock acts, like in Rocket. Freddie obviously made an impression on young
Michael Holbrook Penniman growing up in Lebanon and then London.

I’ll also add to the Mika-Queen similarities . . . his song Big Girl struck me as a kind of send-up of Fat Bottomed Girls with its overt fondness for larger ladies.


Friday, July 24, 2009

BoRhap takes on a nouveau meaning

Media Moment: BBC Series on Paris
Queen Related: segment called Bohemian Rhapsody

In 2007, the BBC produced a three-part series on the city of Paris and featured a Parisian host named Sandrine Voillet who led viewers through three one-hour segments that chronicled key moments and figures in the city’s history.

Part three of this series is called Bohemian Rhapsody, although it has nothing to do with the song, apparently. I suspect that the song’s popularity has made its title an actual noun in the English language.

Coining a new term was probably not Freddie’s intention when he wrote the song, but a quick look at the Merriam-Webster and American Oxford dictionaries actually gives credence to its use as a new descriptive noun:

Bohemian: “a person (as a writer or an artist) living an unconventional life usually in a colony with others”
Rhapsody: “an effusively enthusiastic or ecstatic expression of feeling”

Put the two concepts together and they do seem to embody the spirit of Paris over the past two hundred years or so. Such a spectrum of intellectual, musical, philosophical, and literary characters called Paris home that it does seem like the city became a mecca for the Illuminati, Glitterati, cognoscenti, and all the other “–tis” that existed at the time.

I did find some irony in the British Broadcasting Corporation funding a television special on a French city with a French host but titled it after a British band’s song.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

One flies, the other doesn't

Media Moment: Iron Eagle
Queen Related: features One Vision

For a movie that spawned three inferior sequels, I’m sure that the inclusion of One Vision had something to do with it’s soundtrack success.

After the sky-high box office receipts of Tom Cruise in Top Gun—not to mention its soundtrack yielding a few hit singles—Hollywood decided to get on the fighter pilot bandwagon and put out a copycat movie almost immediately.

Unfortunately, neither Jason Gedrick’s nor Lou Gossett Jr.’s careers fully recovered after this film. Queen, on the other hand, were riding a wave of popularity right around this time, with their legendary Live Aid performance in 1985, then the Magic Tour in 1986.

To this day, when I hear One Vision I can't help but be reminded of Freddie’s in-studio pranks and his colorful use of alternate lyrics. Apart from the “fried chicken” reference in the song itself, I’m sure that John still grins when he hears "One dump, two tits, John Deacon!" from The Magic Years video.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Jazzy Little Thing Called Love

Media Moment: Michael Bublé Meets MSG
Queen Related: Sings Crazy Little Thing Called Love

To look at Vancouver- born Michael Bublé, he strikes me as a cross between Matt Dillon and Michael J. Fox. He does seem like a genuinely nice guy, though, and the behind-the-scenes documentary of his Madison Square Garden show from 2008 seemed to confirm this.

Bublé’s big break was not the typical Hollywood success story . . . Mila Mulroney, the wife of Canada’s ex-Prime Minister, Brian, urged her husband to listen to his self-published indy CD (after she received it from Mulroney's speech-writer, who got it from Bublé at a corporate function), and he was eventually asked to perform at their daughter’s wedding. David Foster, who was also in attendance, liked what he heard and took him under his wing. The rest, they say, is history.

As for Bublé’s rendition of CLTCL, he gives it the jazzy horn treatment and pretty much brings the house—er, I mean, the Gardens—down as the song ends the evening. It was great to see the entire audience clapping and singing along as Bublé led them through one of his more upbeat tunes.

As I was watching this documentary last night, I couldn’t help but compare Bublé’s jazzification to Dwight Yoakam’s countrification of the song—I have to applaud Freddie’s songwriting brilliance because this song can be adapted to any genre and still retain it’s feel-good spirit.

Once again, I’d like to know who suggested that Bublé record CLTCL in the first place. Was it Michael himself, perhaps a closet Queen fan since the early days? Or maybe it was David Foster, who recently helped Nicole Kidman get through The Show Must Go On for her finalé in Moulin Rouge?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Garth's Good List

Media Moment: Garth Brooks on CMT
Queen Related: Garth mentions Queen

It’s no secret that Garth Brooks has been quoted as saying that seeing Queen in concert as a kid had a tremendous impact on him as a performer. (Mind you, he said the same thing about Kiss, didn't he?)

Country Music Television aired a 2006 biography on him today and he again listed Queen as one of his early favorites and still plays them around the house.

In the CMT program, there is a clip from 1994 that shows him fielding questions during a radio call-in program and he included Queen in his list of music he likes:

“You can name it from Peter, Paul and Mary to Janis Joplin; down to Queen, Boston, Journey, Styx . . . I picked up George Strait in 1980 and haven’t put him down yet. We have a saying in our house that there's two kinds of music . . . it’s good or bad.”
Also in the CMT program is Brooks’ album sales listed at “115 million, which puts him third highest in the world behind The Beatles and Elvis.” I would like to know where that 2006 figure came from as record sales figures for Queen have been reported as high as 300 million, in my experience.

Calculating total record sales is tricky because there is no industry standard for determining worldwide gold, platinum or diamond status sales (e.g., is it a million units or a million dollars’ worth?). Even a quick check on Wikipedia’s list of top selling artists yields some surprises.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Celestial Licks Master Series

Way before YouTube and its league of armchair Brian May wannabes were showing you how to play his solos in super slo-mo, there wasn’t much available for tutorials on how to play like Brian.

That was, until the Star Licks Master Series of videos brought a how-to-play-like-the-pros approach to guitar playing and featured Brian in 1983.

I was lucky enough to pick up a copy through a bulk purchase of Queen items I made, and have—I’m ashamed to say—only watched it once. Here is what the back cover states (note: bolding is indicated as it appears on the sleeve):

Brian May
Brian May, founder of Queen, and one of rock’s finest guitarists, has set standards of excellence throughout his career. Always the innovator, Brian has contributed greatly to the success of the band and has influenced countless other musicians in the process. Few have been able to emulate the unique Brian May guitar style, which has become such a recognizable contribution to the Queen sound.

The Brian May Package
Brian explains in depth, how he creates “The Queen Sound” by taking you on a complete run-through of his equipment. This features his guitar (the fireplace), amplifiers (VOX AC 30’s), and effects (each individually demonstrated). In addition to all this, Brian takes you step by step through a fantastic selection of his hottest licks and solos, featuring material from 11 different Queen albums. Each example is played twice, once regularly and once slowly. during this incredible 45 minute tape, you’ll learn to play the licks and solos from such songs as: Brighton Rock, Bohemian Rhapsody, Tie Your Mother Down, Dragon Attack, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, and many more. And finally, your tape would not be complete without spending a few minutes on harmony soloing, which Brian discusses and demonstrates at the conclusion of the tape. Your accompanying Star Licks booklet comes complete with easy to follow diagrams and notation, which correspond exactly to your Star Licks cassette, so there’s no need to read music. This is truly a unique opportunity for you to receive a “Private Guitar Lesson” from one of today’s foremost gutiarists, whose musical contributions have spanned over a decade of popular rock music.


The top label reads:
Star Licks Master Series
Brian May
Warning: Federal law probides severe penalties for unauthorized reproduction or use of copyrighted video tapes.
© 1986 Noma Video, Inc, Los Angeles, CA

The side label reads:
Rumark Video Inc.
P.O. Box 8, Postal Station S
Toronto, Ontario
M5M 4L6

If you’re interested in knowing more about the exact song list, the solo times, etc., there is a comprehensive description of the video contents on the Ultimate Queen website here.

My only beef with the video has nothing to do with the video contents: it’s that juvenile attempt at a “licking” metaphor with the ice cream cone. Thank goodness they changed their branding of this series to “Star Licks Video-Tutor: Master Sessions” and dumped that cone motif.

Brian’s astronomy background gives the “Star” Licks reference a whole different dimension, eh?

Friday, July 10, 2009

His drawings were grand

As I flipped through the sale bins at our local library a few years back, this blue cover caught my eye because it looked suspiciously similar to the illustration style of Innuendo’s cover artwork.

Sure enough, it was a compendium of images by the same artist, J. J. Grandville, whose real name was Jean Ignace Isidore Gérard (1803–1847), a French caricaturist whose forté was integrating human and animal characteristics with remarkable realism.

I wonder who in the Queen camp came across Grandville’s work? Was it Freddie, who probably knew about him since his art school days (just like he knew about Dadd); or was it Roger, who has done his share of art directing album covers; or Brian, whose interest in science fiction might have led him to Grandville’s illustrations at some point?

A quick check on Wikipedia shows that the only other contemporary musical act to incorporate Grandville drawings into their marketing was Alice in Chains. However, an Internet search failed to find samples of their album artwork with Grandville’s illustrations, so I'm at a loss as to the extent to which they used his work. Whatever the case, it’s probably safe to assume that Grandville is most closely aligned with Queen at the moment.

It’s too bad that Grandville died at the young age of 44. Unlike Freddie’s death, however, there doesn’t seem to be information on how Grandville died. All Internet sources that I checked don’t mention the circumstances surrounding his death. Although I could check the book I’ve got posted here for this biographical detail, it’s packed away in a box right now so his death will have to remain a mystery for little while longer, I suppose.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Stomps for the Stamps

Media Moment: Calgary Herald
Queen Related: Lyrics from WWRY used in political cartoon

This is an old one from the ’90s but I thought I’d dust it off and post it nonetheless. It’s a political cartoon that appeared in our local newspaper the day after our football team (“The Calgary Stampeders”) won the Grey Cup, Canada’s version of the Superbowl.

It’s one thing to attend a sporting event and hear We Will Rock You played as a means to kickstart home game excitement, but to see it referenced in the print media elevates it to a higher significance, in my opinion.

Obviously, the song is popular enough even amongst non-sporting enthusiasts that Vance Rodewalt, the cartoonist, was comfortable assuming that the newspaper’s readers would understand the reference.

In hindsight, any other sports anthem probably wouldn’t work in print form because the lyrics wouldn’t be descriptive enough to communicate a win. WWRY does, however, and between the song’s message and it's primal beat, it’s become a shared memory for millions around the world.

Photo: Calgary Herald/Vance Rodewalt

Monday, July 6, 2009

Ella is swella

Media Moment: Ella Enchanted
Queen Related: Anne Hathaway sings Somebody To Love

You know, when I saw this movie a few years back, I had no idea that Anne Hathaway was going to attempt STL. The arrival of the song happens at an important juncture in the movie, as I discoverd, and her desire to be loved is expressed in a song and dance sequence that ultimately changes the plot of the film.

Can she carry a tune, especially a Freddie tune? Actually, Hathaway does a fairly decent job at keeping the song together and injects a certain amount of charm that warranted another listen from me when the movie was on TV last night. On a different note, however, I’m sure that the premise of Ella Enchanted—a woman being forced to obey whomever addresses her—will be the subject of many anti-misogynists’ term papers for years.

My respect for Hathaway went up after this movie do to her singing ability, and went waayy up after seeing her dramatic turn in Brokeback Mountain. She’s taking on diverse characters which is great to see.

Speaking of song and dance sequences, this song got the extended gospel treatment in Happy Feet by a colony of talented penguins. This must be the decade for STL to be used in movies.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Queen: Room Service

We all know that A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races were named after two early Marx Bros. films . . . but how would subsequent Queen album covers look if they had continued with the Marx Bros. naming convention?

Seeing the familiar album artwork combined with a Marx Bros. movie title gives it a very different feel, I must say.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Dream Theater is a sheer delight

The new single by well-known cover band, Dream Theater, is actually three songs segued together; kinda like how Queen used to fade their songs into each other on the early albums.

Wait a minute, their new single is the three-song set from side two of Sheer Heart Attack:
- Tenement Funster
- Flick of the Wrist
- Lily of the Valley

After my first listen, a few things came to mind:

1) Wow, these guys do a great job. They’ve retained each song’s integrity but have added an edger quality throughout the eight minute opus.
2) Now I know that Roger was talking about “purple shoes” (I had no idea what he was saying on the original Tenement Funster intro).
3) Their lead singer doesn’t quite capture the mood and energy that Freddie and Roger provided, although they tried really hard from the sound of it.
4) This three-song set is particularly striking in its story-telling and musical brilliance. I would like to know what Dream Theater fans unaware of Queen’s originals think of the single? Would they take a listen to the SHA versions just to compare?
5) The guitar work isn’t quite as complex and textured as Brian's, but the subtle differences in the DT version makes up for it in power and style.
6) I’m divided on the whole cover band idea . . . they’re essentially piggybacking on the success of another band without coming up with anything original of their own. BUT I’m drawn to the cover versions because it forces me to see the songs in a different light, through the lens of other musicians/fans.

Bottom line: this is one of the better covers of Queen’s material and credit should be given for DT's bravery in choosing older and lesser known songs.