Wednesday, February 20, 2013

SNL under pressure to halt video release?

In 2005, Saturday Night Live released a highlight reel of their tumultuous run during the 1980s. While it was interesting to hear from the cast members and writers from that era of the show’s history talk about the politics and drama going on at the landmark program, it was a brief clip of Queen’s Under Pressure that caught my ear when it was rebroadcast the other night on NBC.

I own the five-disc, 25th Anniversary box set of SNL’s musical numbers which contains Crazy Little Thing Called Love from 1982. What was missing from that box set was Queen’s encore performance from that 8th-season episode, Under Pressure.

A lot of Googling only resulted in a grainy, poor quality clip of UP from that show. The conspiracy theorist in me is beginning to think that someone is intentionally going out of their way to restrict the commercial distribution of that performance for some reason. Having watched the entire low-quality video, it’s obvious that Freddie’s voice wasn’t in full-on working mode so perhaps Queen Productions lobbied SNL to have it removed from any official release — either as part of the music compilation discs or from the Season 8 episode altogether.

The clip that the In the ’80s program aired only showed the band at the start of the song and Freddie’s voice was sounding as it should; it’s only when the higher notes kick in later in the song that he intentionally avoids them. I read somewhere that Freddie was up the night before having a loud argument with a “boy toy” of his and the performance suffered for it the next morning. Whatever the case, was his singing so bad that Queen Productions would want to banish it from seeing the light of day in its entirety? It seems that way. But then SNL goes and teases us with a high quality clip of that performance that we can’t buy anywhere?

What’s even more strange is what this Amazon reviewer says of the five-disc DVD set:

What? Queen performed four songs from that episode? Since when did SNL feature four songs by their musical guests? That would be pretty sweet if that was the case. (Damn, I wish they’d release that episode on DVD.) Even without four songs being played, seeing the band  co-mingle with the SNL cast members at the end to say goodbye would be worth the price of admission.

Apparently, when Vanilla Ice was the musical guest on SNL in 1991, he did not make a fan out of Dennis Miller who played the real intro to Under Pressure before his Weekend Update segment and even said “I love Bowie.”  Thank you, Dennis.

The other Queen-ish sighting on the SNL in the ’80s program had to do with the departure of Lorne Michaels as executive producer and his interim replacement, Jean Doumanian for the 1980-81 seasons. Politically, the move was controversial and threatened the loyalty of long-time SNL fans, but the changes she brought to the cast and crew did not signal the end of the TV series as everyone thought. Her appointment generated a lot of media scrutiny, however, as this newspaper article showed:

Not only does the story title contain the word “queen,” the illustration could easily be a recap of Queen II and Innuendo. Fairies? Court jesters? A white queen? An evil black queen? Land of the fireflies? Down in the dungeon with Peaches? (Sorry, different album.)

Maybe this is where Roger got the idea to use Grandville drawings for the Innuendo album. Or maybe the illustrator of this image drew inspiration by listening to Queen II uninterrupted for a few weeks straight.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Tooth Tune Stands Test of Time

Queen can certainly lay claim to playing in front of tens of thousands of people at one time in arenas and stadiums where the sound is optimized for that particular venue. But I don’t think they anticipated having their music played through a “denta-mandibular sound-transmitting system.” That’s patent lingo for Tooth Tunes toothbrushes.

The physics behind the technology would make Brian proud. “. . . a small CPU in the handle plays the featured song on the chip by transferring vibrations through the bristles, which act as transducers, into the front teeth, through the jawbone, and into the inner ear.”

I actually picked one up at the drug store the other day thinking that our five-year-old might be easily duped into brushing his teeth for a full two minutes. He’s been on a WWRY kick lately that has him continually requesting the Queen + vonlichten version whenever we’re in the car, so why not keep the momentum going?

Out of interest, I checked out the Tooth Tunes website to see what other song choices there were and to my surprise the 2012 edition of brushes has Queen sharing the youth tooth market with artists that are a lot younger than themselves.

How did that happen? Were they selected merely through a voting system as their current website prompts you to do? Did WWRY survive the voting system going all the way back to 2005 when Hasbro first marketed the toothbrushes and has maintained the status quo ever since; up to and including its current manufacturer, Arm & Hammer? It kinda looks that way.

Tooth Tunes was originally marketed by Hasbro in 2005 with an expanding song list that’s included:

Walking on Sunshine by Aly & AJ
Fun, Fun, Fun by The Beach Boys
Let’s Get It Started by The Black Eyed Peas
Play My Music by The Jonas Brothers
The Party’s Just Begun by The Cheetah Girls
Shake a Tail Feather by The Cheetah Girls
Survivor by Destiny’s Child
Brush It! by Devo
Get'cha Head In the Game by Drew Seeley and Zac Efron
The Best of Both Worlds by Hannah Montana
Pumpin’ Up the Party by Hannah Montana
Rockstar by Hannah Montana
We're All in this Together by High School Musical Cast
What Time Is It? by High School Musical Cast
Wake Up by Hilary Duff
Canned Heat by Jamiroquai
Beautiful Soul by Jesse McCartney
Hold On by The Jonas Brothers
Walk Away by Kelly Clarkson
Rock and Roll All Nite by Kiss
All Star by Smash Mouth
Ser o Parecer by RBD
Umbrella by Rihanna
We Will Rock You by Queen
YMCA by The Village People
Gonna Fly Now (Theme from Rocky) by DeEtta Little and Nelson Pigford
Never Say Never by Justin Bieber

Hey, look who’s on there twice. . . Cheetah Girls. Hannah Montana. The cast from High School Musical. I wonder if they’ll be helping the youth brush their teeth in the year 2037, which is essentially what WWRY is accomplishing. Do any of these artists have a 30-year shelf-life? Time will tell, I guess. Come to think of it, everyone thought that Bieber’s 15 minutes was up five years ago, so who knows.

I stumbled upon a fun little how-to project where Marty from Southeast Michigan (un)breaks apart a Tooth Tunes toothbrush, just to see how the technology works. Wouldn’t you know it? He had to pick the WWRY brush. (Who oh why couldn’t he have chosen Hilary Duff’s or The Village People’s?) It’s not for the faint of heart, but here’s a link to his photo essay on the breakdown of the brush.

It does make one wonder how Queen lasted so long in this series of toothbrushes and through two different manufacturers who presumably would have a mechanism in place to select relevant songs for the demographic they’re selling to. If the average toothbrush user of this product is in their tweens, that would explain most of the song selections. But Kiss and Queen?

Ironically, Gene Simmons, the king of licensing, didn’t win this marathon of a licensing deal but Queen did. Was it the fan voting that got everyone kicked off the island (so to speak) and Queen won through honest-to-goodness popularity, or was the Hasbro and Arm & Hammer marketing teams playing a role in keeping Queen on the list? Hmm, inquiring minds want to know.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Queen of Debt

Here in Canada we have a reality show called Til Debt Do Us Part which is like “Super Nanny for money,” as the host, Gail Vaz-Oxlade describes it.

A few days ago, an episode from 2008 was broadcast again and it had an unexpected Queen reference to it, which my wife caught as the program was playing in the background. The episode was called Queen of Debt and featured a Toronto (or it is Winnipeg?) couple that met back in 2002 when they were both members of The Official International Queen Fan Club.

In their own words, Grant and Jacqueline said that they emailed back and forth for a few months, met face-to-face, and ended up getting married. They have one daughter named Taylor May although at the time of the original episode airing in 2008, Jacqueline was four-and-a-half months pregnant with their second child. (I wonder if Taylor’s name is lost on most viewers?)

No word on what they ended up naming Taylor’s sibling — who presumably would be four or five by now — but I suppose if they had a boy, they could name him Deacon John, just to reflect back on how John was referred to on Queen I.

I was really expecting the Queen theme to be more substantial than what it was on the show itself. There was no talk of their combined Queen collections and whether that was a contributing factor to their ballooning household debt. Mind you, this show is about finances and not about an intervention, as a Queen addiction would require! Nonetheless, I was hoping to see remnants of Queen memorabilia strewn about their house, either posters on the wall, or fridge magnets, or CD/video cases by the television. Nothing.

Sure the episode is called Queen of Debt and the two parents are big Queen fans and their daughter is named after two band members and Jacqueline has a reputation for being a “coupon queen,” but what about snippets of Queen music that could have been slotted into those moments in the program that called for a connection back to the band? Like I Want It All as they talked about Jacqueline’s penchant for spending and couponing? Or Another One Bites the Dust as they had to clean out their living areas of all of the clutter that was accumulating? The possibilities were endless but no Queen song made an appearance.

In the spirit of fiscal responsibility, as the show preaches, perhaps the song royalties were too high.


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

My kingdom for a horse

With a little mitochondrial help from a distant Canadian relative, the remains of Richard the III — recently found under a paved parking lot in Leicester — have been positively identified as those belonging to the late king who died in battle in 1485.

King Richard was immortalized in several mid-millenium writings, the most famous of which is Richard III by Shakespeare. One of the most famous lines spoken by Richard in this play is “A horse, a horse . . . my kingdom for a horse.”

I’ll admit, I didn’t know the phrase came from Shakespeare nor quoted from the character of Richard the III. I do, however, recall hearing “my kingdom for a horse” innumerable times while listening to Lily of the Valley.

Was Freddie trying to quote Shakespeare or is the reference more about King Richard? I don’t know. Whatever the case, with the kingdom for a horse phrase making the news this past week, Queen and the king have crossed paths as far as I’m concerned. 

Will the remains of the King of Queen be found in some obscure resting place 500 years from now? According to the news coverage of his funeral, Freddie was cremated (which is actually against traditional Zoroastrian burial practices) so unless his cremains are kept in an urn of some kind and the container is rediscovered in the future lying under some olive green shag carpet from the 1970s, his mortal remains are gone forever; presumably cast over Lake Geneva near Montreux, but Mary Austin is keeping his whereabouts under wraps for the time being.