Okay, true confessions time: Never really dug Queen that much. Couldn’t get into the cabaret bombast of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and all those testicularly challenging high notes that Freddie Mercury excelled at. “Fat Bottom Girls”? You gotta be kidding. That said, I did love the lean rockabilly of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and the grandeur of their collaboration with Bowie, “Under Pressure.” But in the early ’80s, when Elektra Records offered to fly me to New Orleans to go to a party for Queen if I’d agree to put the band on the cover of BAM, which was a free magazine devoted only to California bands, I quickly and unapologetically said, “No way!” (Turns out the party became the stuff of legends, one of the great Dionysian debaucheries of the era—okay, I screwed up!) In recent years, I’ve softened my stance on the band a tad—hearing “We Will Rock You”/”We Are the Champions” at a million sporting events probably helped; but also I came to appreciate the craftsmanship so evident in their recordings made with Roy Thomas Baker (and others) and played endlessly on Classic Rock radio. Impressive indeed.
So what we have here is a complete 95-minute Queen concert from November 1981—really, their commercial peak. Shot in crystal-clear 35mm and originally released in movie theaters in 1984 as We Will Rock You, this marks the film’s debut on DVD, and I gotta say, a lot of this is pretty magnificent. This is Queen as just a quartet—the lean machine—and it’s quite amazing how easily these four guys manage to capture the rocking essence of songs which, on their records, sometimes had dozens of vocals and guitar and keyboard overdubs. I’ve come to respect and admire Freddie Mercury through the years—he really did have a set of pipes unlike any other singer, and it so perfectly suited to the range of material the band performed. Visually, it’s still a little jarring to see him looking so much like he just walked in from a leather bar or bathhouse (he’s shirtless through most of it; on the encores he comes on in white hot pants that leave nothing to the imagination), but what an entertainer! Brian May plays his Guitar God foil with all the requisite flash and panache, and I’d forgotten what a great drummer Roger Taylor is. (I even love the drum and tympani solo and May’s squealing guitar space jam!)
The songs…well, if you liked Queen, you should love this. It opens with a fast, punked-up “We Will Rock You” (perfect for ’81), then settles into the cabaret of “Let Me Entertain You,” then skitters around hitting an assortment of styles, from the over-wrought “Killer Queen” to the cool beat of “Get Down and Make Love.” There’s a nice take on Elvis’ “Jailhouse Rock” (following “Crazy Little Thing…” appropriately enough), and “Under Pressure” and “Another One Bites the Dust” are both finger-snappin’ good. I still can’t stand “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but I can tell it’s a fine version…you’ll love it! And by the time we get to the inevitable “We Will Rock You” (classic style) and “We Are the Champions”—songs 24 and 25—we’ve really been through a lot of different moods with these guys.
Hey, it’s taking all the strength I have to admit this: These guys really rocked! Cheers to director Saul Swimmer, DP Richard Brooks, editor Robert Brady (extremely tasteful; no MTV fast cuts here!) and original music producer Mack. It looks and sounds fantastic! And Freddie, wherever you are, keep hittin’ those high notes!
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