Thursday, August 18, 2016

Suicide Squad Trumps Limitless Suits on Billboards from the ’70s

While I don’t have as much time these days to update Queenville as often as I’d like, pop culture references to Queen are as pervasive as ever it seems.

For example, I just finished watching Season 1 of Suits, a TV drama focusing on a high-powered law firm in NYC. (I noticed, however, that many of the high-rise shots actually featured Canadian buildings from downtown Toronto, so after some snooping on iMDB, I discovered it is indeed shot in Toronto and stars Canadian-born Patrick J. Adams as the gifted college drop-out, Mike Ross.)

What I didn’t expect was the nerdy character of Louis Litt (played by Rick Hoffman) proclaim Queen to be the best band ever, as seen in his S1:E8 exchange with Harvey Spector, the firm’s star lawyer, as he goes through Harvey’s record collection:

Litt: I see that the greatest band of all time is conspicuously absent…
Harvey Specter: Who would that be, Louis?
Litt: Oh, I don’t know…a little British band called Queen.
Specter: Should have seen that coming. You know, real musicians…they don’t wear eyeliner.

I’m assuming that the writer of this episode is a Queen fan who saw Louis Litt as a bit of an outsider; people seem to judge him based on his appearance rather than his abilities, not unlike Queen in many ways. But then Litt goes on to defend eyeliner on rock stars by reminding Specter that Prince would disagree with his assessment of “real musicians.” Or maybe Litt just has a preference for musicians with royalty titles because it reminds him of what he wants to achieve?

Another TV series that used an obscure Queen song was Limitless in the S1:E9 episode called Headquarters. The song plays for quite a long time over an extended montage of scenes mimicking pop culture/social media characters that were “trending” at the time. You can watch the YouTube segment here.

The connection to a father and a son wasn’t immediately obvious as I watched the show, although the main character’s dad does pay a visit to his son at one point late in the episode. Whatever the reason for the song selection, I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked with the visuals.

In politics, it was Trump vs Queen – not once, but twice –  during the GOP candidate’s campaign run leading up to the RNC last month. The Trump machine had used WATC at one point and Brian specifically asked that he not use their songs as a soundtrack to his campaign. And a month later, during the RNC, it was used again when he won the party’s endorsement as the official Republican party candidate.

There was a flurry of opinions as to whether or not Trump had secured the rights to the song for that particular event...some claimed it wasn’t his call but the event coordinator’s and that the licensing of the song was legitimate. Others contend that Queen doesn’t own their songs anyway so Brian has no say in the matter.


Unless the ownership of Queen’s catalogue has changed hands in the last 20 years, I distinctly remember Brian claiming that the band had bought the rights back from their record label back in the day and that they were one of the few bands who actually had ownership of their music. So unless that was signed away during the whole Hollywood Records deal or some other transaction that I missed, I’d say that Brian has a pretty good leg to stand on as far as asking Trump to stop using it.

What’s a bit perplexing, though, is that Hollywood Records released a mash-up of WATC interspersed with Desert Storm quotes from Bush Sr. and I don’t remember Queen having much to say about that back in 1991. Whatever the case, I’m pretty sure that Brian and gang still retain the moral rights to their work and would conceivably have a say in how it is used separate from general licensing. At least that’s my understanding of intellectual property rights here in Canada.

As an aside, WATC has been a rallying cry for Americans before. When the White House announced that Osama Bin Laden was killed by US Special Forces military unit in 2011, a flash mob gathered at the White House to sing the national anthem and WATC. You can read about it here in a previous blog post. Coincidentally, I was watching Celebrity Apprentice when news broke of Bin Laden’s assassination.

There’s some buzz going on right now about Bohemian Rhapsody and its use in a trailer for Suicide Squad, the latest DC Comics adventure starring Will Smith. Queen’s version of the song was used in the trailer in a way that suggested the song would be a “character” in the film, much like its appearance in Wayne’s World back in 1992.

But it’s not Queen’s version that ends up in the actual’s a cover version by Panic! at the Disco. And when the Panic! version starting to get a lot of positive reaction from the — I’m guessing, younger — crowd who dominated the Comments section, a lot of people suggested that they check out the original by Queen which was better. Those that did check it out claimed that the lead singer of Panic! was as good as Freddie since he hit the big notes (I haven’t heard their version yet so I can’t verify this). But if Panic! is so great, why can’t they hit it out of the park with their own material?

Finally, a local radio station up here in Calgary has been marketing themselves as the “70s and more” station and this billboard featuring Freddie went up next to a high-volume thoroughfare. (They also have an Elton John silhouette sitting at a grand piano and a silhouette of the Fab Four walking across a crosswalk.)

I’m all for Freddie and the boys being used as a draw for listeners, but if they’re all about the ’70s, why did they use a Freddie pose from the Magic Tour?


Saturday, August 6, 2016

Together again?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Another One Bites the Crust

With the suspicious death of Prince a few days ago, the title of this blog post may seem cold and inconsiderate of his passing, but it’s not meant to be. It’s taken from a line of dialogue in a 1997 Muppet Show skit where Prince is challenged to write a song based on food and Another One Bites the Crust is thrown out as a facetious suggestion. He accepts the dare and comes up with Starfish and Coffee at the spur of the moment.

With the worlds of Queen and Prince coming together in that skit, one can’t ignore the unintended irony of that Queen song being referenced. Prince’s death follows an unusually long string of notable celebrity deaths over the past five months: Lemmy Kilmister (Dec 28), Natalie Cole (Dec 31), David Bowie (Jan 10), Glenn Frey (Jan 18), Paul Kantner (Jan 28), Vanity (Feb 15), George Martin (Mar 8), Keith Emerson (Mar 10), Merle Haggard (Apr 6), and Lonnie Mack (Apr 21). Wow, another one bites the dust is an understatement.

Besides Freddie, the most notable celebrity deaths from 1991 were Dr Seuss (Sept 24), Miles Davis (Sept 28), Tennessee Ernie Ford (Oct 17), and Gene Roddenberry (Oct 24). Freddie was the only casualty from rock music from what I can find. Fast forward to 2016...we’re only four months into the year and pop music has taken some serious hits.

I remember when I first heard Prince with Little Red Corvette and 1999 back in the early ’80s, I thought it was curious that another musical artist had adopted a royalty moniker, not unlike Queen. Then, a year or two later, a new wave band called King arrived on the scene and the entire royal hierarchy was now represented on the radio.

Theres no denying that like Queen (and their song!), Prince had staying power. His Purple Rain film and soundtrack was huge in 1984 and he continued his prolific output which, by all accounts, surpassed every mainstream pop songwriter — well, maybe not Diane Warren — with an estimated catalogue of between 500 and 1,000 songs he’s written over his career.

Although Prince struck me more as a Jimi Hendrix clone, many people saw a parallel of sorts between Freddie and Prince back in the 1980s. One Prince fan wrote on the site that Freddie was:

“…a big admirer of Prince, and loved Kiss. I know these things as fact. Also, the feeling appears to have been somewhat mutual, as according to the butler who worked for Prince during UK rehearsals for the Sign ‘O’ The Times tour, Prince spent a considerable amount of time in his room watching Queen shows on video when relaxing.”1

The same Prince discussion group is also quick to claim that Prince was far-and-away the better songwriter and performer compared to Freddie. In fact, one contributor was so bold as to say:

“The songs Prince wrote from 1981 to 1987, including unreleased ones, are better than anything Queen could have possibly written...Freddie did some awesome songwriting with Queen, but I can take 50 [Prince] songs from 1981–1987 that can top damn near anything.”1

And, apparently, he explored musical territory that Freddie was afraid to try:

“Prince’s musical palette dwarfs Freddie’s in every way possible. Whether his compositions were as complex or not, I couldn’t say. But I could never picture Freddie undertaking anything like Sign ‘O’ The Times or WTWIAD or PARADE and then giving us the Symbol Album or The Truth. In every way I can imagine, as much as I like Freddie, Prince simply has the upper hand in songwriting.”

I’m not entirely convinced that Prince could go from March of the Black Queen to Bring Back that Leroy Brown to Mustapha to Barcelona. Maybe he can...I’ll have to give those Prince albums a listen and find out for myself. I will be pleasantly surprised if he changed genres as much as Freddie did. As for performing, again this same person claims Prince is superior to Freddie.

“Yes, Mercury had the costumes and the flare. Yes his performances (like Live Aid) are regarded as classics. So what. Prince’s performances were always tighter and more eye-popping than any rock ’n’ roll act (Kiss cheats with make-up and pyro). Prince never needed anything more than motion and attitude. Think he didn’t? Place two screens side-by-side. Prince Sign ‘O’ The Times movie on one side and any Queen concert you want on the other. Mute the sound on both, and tell me which one catches your eye more.”1

Nice try. If I wanted to watch a tightly choreographed and eye-popping performance, I could bring up any Madonna or Janet Jackson video. But I typically don’t watch music performances for the visuals; I’m there for the music and the spontaneity it brings. Besides, it’s not fair to compare an edited movie with concert footage, is it? Nonetheless, this is something we can measure if we look at Queen’s performance at Live Aid in 1985, as noted in the earlier quote:

“Queen’s performance on that day has since been voted by more than 60 artists, journalists and music industry executives as the greatest live performance in the history of rock music, while Mercury’s powerful, sustained note during the a cappella section came to be known as “The Note Heard Round the World.”2

Obviously, we'll never know how Prince would have performed at Live Aid since he didn’t participate in person but sent in a pre-recorded video instead.

I shouldn’t be whining about a Prince vs Freddie comparison since they’re both gone now and the world is ultimately a better place because of their legacies. Both were unconventional musicians who died too young. I wonder if they ever met. I didn’t see any evidence of it on Google but I found this image, which may be the closest they got to each other:

One last thought...maybe Prince was onto something with his adoption of a symbol and the resulting industry’s coining of his unofficial new name: “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.” With all the vitriol leveled at Brian and Roger when they went on the road with Adam Lambert recently, maybe they should have called themselves “The Band Formerly Known as Queen.” That would probably have satisfied most of the critics and Queen purists who had a problem with them using the name.