Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Dynamite is right...just not in a good way.

Wow. I picked up this assemblage of Queen tribute songs at our local second-hand record story over this past summer. I couldn’t play it, though, because I haven’t had a turntable for nearly 20 years when I threw out my parents’ old hand-me-down Sears stereo from the mid-70s — which had an 8-track player on it, I might add.

Not to be outdone, however, I purchased the songs from iTunes a little while later and gave them a listen, which was painful. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised because it says right on the sleeve that the cover tunes get run through a meat grinder over at Three One G, which specializes in grind core and hardcore punk. Doesn’t exactly conjure up notions of a symphonic orchestra, right?

From what I could decipher, Ogre Battle and Death on Two Legs are probably the closest to the original, but even that’s probably stretching things a bit. And then there is Who Needs You and Vutan’s Theme (sic), which sound like a radio out of tune. Nothing more. Some songs would be better described as spoken-word songs or performance poetry. Calling it “music” could be debated.

In its defence, however, I did feel that Death on Two Legs actually sounds like it would be right at home in a Rodriguez or Tarantino exploitation flick shot in Mexico. Hey, maybe that should be the name of their next movie.

I also like the album packaging. Early 80s Freddie rendered as a gestural drawing is pretty cool. The all-pink vinyl is a nice touch, and the liner notes and photos are intriguing. Here are some shots I took of my copy:


I wonder if the inset photo of dude holding the 8-track of News of the World was Photoshopped or from someone’s family album?


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Alien Hunter nearly does Queen in

Queen and Ian Hunter have been friends for a long time. As English glam rock cousins back in the early 70s, Ian’s old band, Mott the Hoople, brought Queen along as their opening act for an American tour in 1974. I get the impression that Queen — Brian, in particular — felt somewhat indebted to Ian/Mott for taking them under their wing and essentially kickstarting the popularity of their live shows.

Fast forward to 1992 . . . Hunter is invited to perform at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. He and fellow glammer, David Bowie, do a rendition of Mott’s signature tune, All the Young Dudes, which Bowie penned.

A few years later, Brian releases his third solo album, Another World, which has a live cover of All the Way To Memphis, a great Hoople rocker from Mott, their 1973 album.

But the definitive collaboration between Queen and Ian Hunter was fully realized on Hunter’s 1976 album, All-American Alien Boy. The track You Nearly Did Me In features, as far as I know, the only guest appearance of a classic multi-tracked vocal by Freddie, Brian, and Roger. In other words, the chorus of this song is unmistakably Queen-sounding . . . just not on a Queen album.

The song itself is well-written and shows Hunter’s range musically and lyrically and miles away from the glam rock era from which Hoople gained traction in the charts. (I don’t think there’s even a guitar in the song.) But the highlight of the song, in my opinion, is the Queen section — when it kicks in, you literally shudder.

I would be curious to know whether Hunter specified that Freddie, Brian, and Roger give the chorus section the Queen treatment, or whether the three band members merely gave Hunter’s unfinished song a listen and proposed that that’s where the song could benefit the most from their involvement? Whatever the case, it works well.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Deep thoughts…Deaky

Surprisingly, Brian and Roger manage to avoid the (de)motivational poster treatment, but John gets honoured with at least two.

Deep thoughts…Freddie

Misspellings and bad taste aside, Freddie seems to generate the lion’s share of motivational posters.

Deep thoughts…Queen

Remember back in the late 80s when these motivational office accessories were all the rage?

What started as an honest attempt to motivate and inspire employees to realize their full potential, quickly succumbed to parody and sarcasm. How could you not make fun of mediocrity and failure, right?

Motivational words were quickly swapped for tangible concepts and recognizable brands and a popular form of Internet meme was born. Queen’s reputation took both a hit due to this viral phenomenon but also garnered support through the now clich├ęd conventions of this format. Here’s a smattering of samples I culled from a Google image search:


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Wire choir for Squier?

If you grew up in the early 80s you’ll no doubt remember this Billy Squier album from 1981. It featured his biggest hit, The Stroke, as well as a string of other solid tunes including In the Dark, Lonely Is the Night, and My Kinda Lover.

It also contained a gem of a ballad called Nobody Knows that I recently burned onto a mix CD and have been playing in the car. After listening to it countless times, I find it suspiciously Queen-sounding, both lyrically and stylistically. I could even imagine Brian playing the guitar solo on it as there’s a hint of multi-tracking on it. 

There was definitely a convergence between Queen and Squier in the early 80s. Reinhold Mack (right) —  producer of The Game and co-producer of Hot Space, The Works, and A Kind of Magic — is also the producer on this Squier album. As a matter of fact, The Stroke sounds a lot like Tear It Up, in my opinion, so Mack’s fingerprints are all over their early 80s work.

The two artists also crossed paths, both on the road and in the studio. Squier was the opening act during the Hot Space tour in 1982 after his Emotions in Motion album was released that same year . . . by the same record company, no less. Freddie and Roger are even guest vocalists on the EIM title track. Two years later, Brian also played lead guitar on (Another) 1984, a track from Squier’s next album, Signs of Life.

My suspicion that Nobody Knows sounds very Queen-like in its writing and production is also shared by a few others that viewed the YouTube video for it. Mistermojo1969 was the first to bring up this similarity in the video’s comments section:

“I’m probably going to be regarded as a conspiracy theorist, but here goes. I realize this song is credited to Billy, but there’s no way he wrote this. Listen to how high in his range it is; no focus. Notice the “balls out” section. No balls. Listen to the lyrics; they don’t match anything else on the album. Who sang in this range? What musical style is it? Whose lyrical style is this? I’m talking to the point where it’s formulaic. Freddie Mercury. A secret collaboration?”
I get the impression that this guy isn’t a huge Queen fan from the way he presents his conspiracy theory. He would rather the song be left off the album and replaced by a “true” rock-and-roll Squier tune instead. The next comment, from unktantor, is in agreement with the Freddie influence but seems much more excited about the possible fantasy collaboration than mojo is:

“mistermojo...I have always loved this song, but I am struck by the fact that you are dead-on with the Freddie thing... If memory serves me, Mack, Billy’s co-producer on this album, also worked with Queen... Freddie singing this would be AWESOME!!! (and everyone would know this song!)
How much interaction did Queen and Squier have prior to their touring together in 1982? I think the Queen sound on Nobody Knows is probably coincidence more than anything else. That’s not to say Billy didn’t write it in an attempt to emulate Queen’s formula song structure, as mistermojo contends. If anything, I think Freddie might have taken Billy’s lead in recording an homage to the late John Lennon and wrote Life is Real as his tribute to the ex-Beatle. 


Friday, October 14, 2011

Holy Shat, Captain Kirk covers Queen

I read today that William Shatner (aka Captain Kirk) released an album of spoken-word cover tunes on October 11, 2011 which happens to include Bohemian Rhapsody

“Happens to include” probably isn’t an accurate description of why the song is on there. Apparently, Shatner was inspired to write a “space opera” about what happened to Major Tom, the fictional song character first made famous by David Bowie in the early 70s and a decade later by Peter Schilling. He compiled a collection of mostly space-themed songs whose lyrics he felt told a story of what happened to Major Tom since we last heard. Did he find heaven? Hell? Is he floating around in space?

A full description of Shatner’s motivation on making the album and how Bohemian Rhapsody was part of it can be found in this two-part YouTube interview:

It’s an interesting idea, Bill. The fact that Bohemian Rhapsody was on your radar highlights your ability to weave seemingly disparate song lyrics into an overall story. 

I’m a bit confused, however, about when he knew about Bohemian Rhapsody at all. I’ve found conflicting accounts of this. This article states that Shatner had never heard or heard of the song before. This one claims he not only knew of the song but pushed to have it on the album. 

Whatever the case, Shatner decided that if he could pull off BoRhap the way he was envisioning, then covering the other space-themed tunes would be a piece of cake. Apparently, BoRhap went better than he and producer Adam Hamilton thought it would, so they polished off the whole album and released it to the masses a couple of days ago.

If you haven’t heard Shatner’s recording of the song, here’s a link to the official video on YouTube video of it.

As an aside, I had personally crossed paths with William Shatner back in 1988 when he was here in Calgary for the Winter Olympics. There was a celebrity event being held at one of the featured ski hills so my friend and I decided to head out for some brushes with fame. As we were standing on a patio watching skiers walk past us and back to the ski lift, Captain Kirk and Brooke Shields happened to walk by. 

With my old 35MM camera, I took aim at the two of them who were no more than ten feet away from me. I managed to get two shots before Brooke’s hair got caught in the binding of one of the skis she had slung over her shoulder. I raised my camera again as Shatner and another skier were trying to untangle her hair. Shatner noticed me aiming at them at that moment and politely called out for me to not take the shot. 

At the time, I thought he was just being difficult which I had heard he can be with the public, but with more than 20 years of reflection on this moment, I now think he was just trying to protect Brooke from being immortalized in a compromising moment.

Fair enough, Bill. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

First “flash” then Flash

Media Moment: Dances with the Stars 
Queen-related: Flash’s Theme

Nancy Grace is into flash these days. First she had a wardrobe malfunction and inadvertently flashed more than she planned to. Jimmy Kimmel had a good monologue quip about it. And then last night she and dance partner Tristan MacManus did a pasodoble to Flash’s Theme.

I can’t say I was too impressed with either the dancing or the performance of the song by the resident orchestra/band. I was silently hoping it would end sooner than it did.

When I heard Tom Bergeron mention that Nancy Grace would be dancing to a Queen song after the break, I was thinking it would be Who Wants to Live Forever since the theme for the night was movie music. Flash’s Theme didn’t even enter my mind, to be honest. But sure enough, when they came back from the break and played the two or three minute montage of Nancy and Tristan rehearsing their routine, the announcement was made that they’d be dancing to Queen’s Flash’s Theme.

And then it went downhill from there.

Nancy’s performance last night capped a string of less-than-stellar moments on DWTS for her. First it was the wardrobe malfunction, then she was accused of flatulating while being interviewed by Brooke Burke after a performance, and now the awkwardness of dancing to Flash. Gotta give her credit for sticking with it, though.

Speaking of a pasodoble . . . it’s too bad Innuendo wasn’t available. It’s got a great Spanish bullfighting energy to it and a kick-ass flamenco guitar duel. But it wasn’t in any movie, so I guess it wasn’t an option.


Freddie’s Labyrinth

An art school friend of mine posted a neat photo on his Facebook wall of the Grim Reaper. It was a link to a humour blog called Sad and Useless.

Gullible me clicked on it, found the Grim Reaper shot, and proceeded to click through the remaining 25 or so images in that collection. To my surprise, Freddie appears in his It’s a Hard Life video outfit with a title for that image called “Eyes.”

There weren’t any comments directly under the photo but I did find a comments area for the general “Pictures” category and discovered that someone left a lone  message about the shot, as seen here.

Was it coincidence that someone with that name just happened to know the name of the video this is from?

(As an aside, the photo itself wouldn’t have looked so cheesy had it been taken someplace other than what appears to be a second-rate Caesar’s Palace casino. And the gladiator hairstyle doesn’t help, either.)

It’s been a lot of years since I’ve seen Freddie in that outfit and the whole eye motif actually reminded me of the Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth who needed a lot of hand-eye coordination to get around.

I think Guillermo Del Toro was so traumatized after watching the Hard Life video that he used Freddie’s shrimp costume as the basis of Ofelia’s nightmare in his film. Come to think of it, it’s too bad that Doug Jones, who plays the monster, wasn’t in the Hard Life video. That would have been sweet.