Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Ukrainian attendance record...and that’s no joke


I haven’t purchased many new packaged Queen items lately, but I came across this one at HMV the other day.

It’s a 2-disc audio CD recording and a DVD of the same concert held in Ukraine’s Freedom Square in Kharkov. Although the sleeve notes claim that there were 350,000 Ukrainians in attendance, I have to wonder if that number isn’t inflated a bit.

Did Queen retain their popularity there to a point where Brian, Roger and Paul can pull in an audience greater than the original Queen line-up could?

This must rank near the top of the list for the largest audience draw for a single act. Not that I’m complaining since we haven’t heard claims like those since Queen’s South American tour back in the early ’80s.

What I liked about this particular concert was that Roger's drum solo is initially performed with a bass drum, snare drum, and hi-hat; then roadies begin to assemble his full kit around him as he continues to play.

Roger’s drum solo also features him tapping the bass strings of Danny Miranda’s guitar with his drum sticks. Hearing the opening riff to Under Pressure played by Roger’s drum sticks on a bass guitar was in interesting moment and shows that the band isn’t above taking a fresh approach to older songs.

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Friday, November 6, 2009

Heaven for everyone


Media Moments: Freddie documentary; Letterman music
Queen Related: Freddie featured; Letterman featured WATC

Boy, I go away for a couple of weeks and there’s two Queen media occurrences in one night.

The first one, a 2006 documentary on Freddie called Freddie Mercury Magic Remixed, aired on MuchMoreMusic here in Canada last night.

The documentary is original in the sense that the producer(s) went back to schools and towns from Freddie's childhood and interviewed a few people who knew him as a youth. There are also extensive interviews with his sister, Kashmira Cooke, and his mother, Jer Bulsara. Roger provides the Queen voice to Freddie's life and career.

The documentary dwells on his homosexuality and the rise of AIDS in the early ’80s, but deals with it in a non-judgmental manner and seeks to find sympathy for not only Freddie, but those around him who lost a loved one.

The second sighting was on Letterman last night when Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra played We Are The Champions as three players from the New York Yankees came out onstage.

With Yankee fever spreading across New York, the media could just as easily have referred to the Yankees’ win as “Magic Remixed” as well, instead of "twenty-seventh heaven." Yesterday's win was their 27th pennant World Series title for the franchise.

I don’t know what Freddie would have thought about the New York Yankees' win or baseball in general, but as WATC enters its 33rd year, it’s still pretty much the only sports anthem used as the soundtrack for a winning team.

It’s definitely not a throw-away pop song, as Freddie himself labeled his music.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

PC rhaps about Gowers


Media Moment: 61st Primetime Emmy Awards on CBS
Queen Related: Bohemian Rhapsody mentioned

John Hodgman, the “PC guy” from the Apple TV spots, was providing additional TV viewer commentary to Neil Patrick Harris’ hosting duties during the Emmy Awards the other night.

When Bruce Gowers won an Emmy for his work with American Idol, Hodgman mentioned that Gowers was also responsible for directing Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, among other video credits.

Let’s connect the dots, for a moment. Gowers directed BoRhap, Gowers directed American Idol, BoRhap featured lots on American Idol, Queen guests on American Idol, Hodgman and Gowers appear on Emmy Awards, Hodgman is actually a Mac user in real life, Brian May is a longtime Mac user.

So does that make Gowers a Mac or PC guy?

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Gaga over body paint


I’ve been hearing Lady Gaga’s name quite a bit in the celebrity news lately and it got me wondering if there’s a Queen connection to her name.

Sure enough, my wife dug a bit into Wikipedia and found that she got her nickname from producer Rob Fusari:

“Music producer Rob Fusari, who helped Gaga write some of her earlier songs, compared her vocal style to that of Freddie Mercury. He nicknamed her Gaga, after the Queen song Radio Ga Ga. She began to use it as her stage name and was known thereafter as Lady Gaga.”
There’s a bit more information on Rob Fusari’s Wikipedia article as well:

“In 2006, Rob signed Lady GaGa to a production deal. After developing a unique electro disco pop to this songwriter and creating her stage name Lady Gaga; ‘We were working one day in the studio, and Queen’s Radio Gaga came on and I was like you are so radio gaga...so gaga became her nickname.”
I wouldn’t be surprised if Lady GaGa does a cover version of Radio Ga Ga at some point. Personally, I’d be curious to hear her interpretation of it. Although she cites glam rock (Queen and Bowie) as influences, we don’t really know the extent of her Queen/Freddie fondness as it appears that her current Queen-ish identity is due to Fusari’s influence more than her own.

Now, someone please tell me which is the correct spelling: Radio GaGa, Radio Gaga, or Radio Ga Ga?

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Pop and Politics


Media Moment: Get Up, Stand Up documentary on PBS
Queen Related: Queen featured throughout

I recorded this Bob Marley lyric-inspired documentary last night to see what musical events would be featured and, if I'm lucky, get to see some Queen. And I did.

With the exception of a few songs (notably from The Works), Queen steered clear of proselytizing through their music, although their global popularity surely guaranteed their participation in certain activist efforts.

Get Up, Stand Up is a comprehensive look at how music has been intertwined with political movements of all stripes. From turn-of-the-century labour strife songs to Woodstock to Bono trying to save the entire planet, the film covers a lot of territory in two hours and Queen makes an appearance quite a few times.

  1. The opening scene is a crowd/audience shot and there are obvious Queen banners being held up. I couldn't tell whether this was Live Aid or another Queen show.
  2. A few seconds after the opening scene, there’s a montage of other musical events and, first up, we see Freddie blowing a kiss to the crowd.
  3. At the half-way point in the show, there is a montage of what’s coming up in the second hour and there is a Freddie at Live Aid shot.
  4. When the time period gets to the mid-’80s, Live Aid is a featured event and the first musical act shown is Queen performing Radio Ga Ga. This song clip seems to go on for a few seconds longer than most of the other Live Aid performers that were included here.
  5. Moving on to the early ’90s, Freddie's Tribute Concert is highlighted and they show Tie Your Mother Down (with Joe & band), Liz Taylor's speech, and Bowie/Lennox doing Under Pressure.
  6. Just before the end credits roll, there’s a crowd shot with someone holding a Freddie "There Can Be Only One" banner.
  7. As a final bookend to the documentary, Freddie makes one last appearance after the end credits and just before the final sponsor thank-yous. Just a static shot of him to close the program.

What surprised me was where Queen did NOT make an appearance in this film—during the segment on Sun City and the apartheid protests in the early ’80s. While Little Steven was urging a boycott of South Africa, Queen was down there playing to an integrated audience—which ultimately got them blacklisted for a spell. I suppose they redeemed themselves in the world’s eyes during Live Aid and their repeated support of Nelson Mandela over the years.

To my surprise, who should appear in the end credits? The Torpedo Twins, Rudi Dolezal and Hannes Rossacher. That easily explains the Queen segments since they had all of those clips archived anyway. . . they just needed to get permission from Jim Beach, who they thanked in the credits as well.

I guess this is the documentary that’s been keeping them busy since going bankrupt the year before.

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Monday, September 7, 2009

Chris Chronicle on Cash Crunch has Queen Clip


Media Moment: Debt Trap story on Dateline
Queen Related: Clip of I Want It All

Remember that Circuit City TV spot last year that featured I Want It All as the camera pans across a wall of big screen televisions? The first few seconds of that commercial have made a short and rather subtle appearance in a Chris Hanson’s Debt Trap story for Dateline NBC the other night.

Again, I wonder who at NBC made the call to use that clip. Was it someone who is a Queen fan and wanted to do some shameless Queen promotion under the guise of news? Or did someone merely do research on pop song titles that epitomized greed, stumbled across the Queen tune, and then coincidentally found the Circuit City clip which conveniently provided a nice greedy visual at the same time?

I suppose whoever edited the story could have easily dropped in Money by Pink Floyd or something by the Beatles and the pop culture status quo would have been maintained. But I suspect that there’s a Queen fan parading as a producer or editor over at NBC.

It just goes to show that as the upstart Queen fans from the ’70s and early ’80s, who are now in senior creative and management positions at agencies and studios around the world, are contributing to the mimetic qualities of many Queen songs by incorporating them into other forms of communication.

And if the process repeats itself for another 20 or 30 years, that’s okay by me.

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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Me, Myself & Freddie


Media Moment: Elton John documentary
Queen Related: Freddie sightings

This documentary on Elton John, produced just after his Red Piano show in Vegas wrapped up, takes an interesting approach to chronicling his career. They take old footage and insert the “current Elton” into the frame and he actually comments on his own history and on-screen behaviours—warts and all.

Since the documentary was only 60 minutes long (at least the one they aired on MuchMusic here in Canada), I was curious to see whether Queen and/or Freddie would warrant a comment from Sir Elton as I figured his appearance at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert was close to his heart.

Nope, no mention of Freddie and the boys. He talked a lot about working with John Lennon, knowing Princess Diana, hanging with Rod Stewart, his marriage to Renate then David, The Lion King soundtrack, and—the turning point for him regarding AIDS—Ryan White. And since Ryan died in 1992, the same year as the Tribute Concert, I guessed that he didn’t have time to cover two events in the same year.

However, there are two sequences in the documentary where Elton strolls past a wall of framed pictures showing him and his celebrity friends, and there’s him and Freddie in one frame on the bottom left of the wall. Okay, I thought, that’s better than nothing.

At the end of the show, it returns to his gig in Vegas and then a “voice” welcomes some of his old friends onto the stage, and the first one to magically run out on stage is Freddie (obviously lifted from the Magic Tour footage).

I don’t know if having Freddie appear first is symbolic of something special between them, or whether the documentary’s producers just liked how the image of someone running onto a stage worked during that end segment. At this point, the Vegas audience begins a standing ovation, which coincided with Freddie’s appearance. That was a nice tie-in.

I’m just glad that Freddie made an appearance in the (abridged) version of Elton’s life and career.

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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Happy birthday, Freddie


Well, Freddie would have been 63 today and we can only wonder what his musical legacy would have sounded like had he not succumb to HIV/AIDS 18 years ago.

There’s no doubting that Brian and Roger’s continued recording under the Queen banner reflects their desire to march on musically, and I’m sure Freddie would have kept going as well.

What we will never know, however, is where his musical genius would have taken him and the band. Hey, if we thought that Montserrat and Bruce Dickinson would end up doing a BoRhap duet, then who knows what his influence would have brought.

Freddie really was a musical virtuoso especially since the odds were against him being a rock star from the beginning. I guess the stars aligned just right on his birthday to take him from an obscure island off the coast of Tanzania to the top of the charts.

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Piven talks poisoning


Media Moment: Late Show with David Letterman
Queen Related: Crazy Little Thing Called Love clip

Jeremy Piven, the pilloried thespian who took ill during his Broadway debut last year was on Letterman to address his critics after nearly dying due to mercury poisoning.

Apparently, his levels became toxic even prior to his Broadway show, the producers were aware of his condition, and he went on with the show as best he could. He claimed to Letterman that it was the toxic levels of mercury found in the fish he had been eating for the past number of years that put his health in jeopardy and NOT the yellowtail sushi that was the culprit, claimed by the media.

So what music would accompany his appearance on the show? As Piven came out, the band played a disguised-as-jazz clip of CLTCL . At first, Piven’s connection to CLTCL was not obvious (as most of Schaffer’s choices are), but once Piven mentioned “mercury” to Letterman, there it was.

I wasn’t too impressed that Freddie was being indirectly associated with the near-death of Piven, however. Maybe the spin should be that “Mercury,” the messenger god, has something to say about humanity’s poisoning of the world’s oceans, instead.

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bohemian Lawsuit


Media Moment: Judge Karen
Queen Related: episode called Bohemian Rap-sody

When did TV judges start naming their cases? In their defense, however, I suppose that Smith vs. Smith or Kramer vs. Kramer isn’t very descriptive of the types of court cases that are being shown, so why not promote them with a bit more flair, right? Besides, it’s all about ratings anyway.

Judging by the case titles for the remainder of this week and early next, the show does give a vague description of the events which, presumably, land the feuding parties in front of the judge.

However, after watching about 10 minutes of the Bohemian Rap-sody case today, I failed to see the connection to either the song, bohemians, or a rhapsody. (Maybe I missed the punchline at the end of the show?) Perhaps by breaking rhapsody into Rap-sody, the producers felt that there was a “bad rap” element in this overly banal lawsuit. I dunno, it's a weak tie-in, in my opinion.

As an aside, if they’re going to use other Queen songs as potential episode titles, they had better do it quick as Judge Karen is not being renewed for a second season. I guess her flair for the dramatic didn’t quite capture the ratings she needed for a stay of execution (sorry, bad metaphor).

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Two steps nearer to its grave


Media Moment: That ’70s Show
Queen Related: Episode Title: Keep Yourself Alive

Back in June I had already commented on how each episode of Season Eight of That ’70s Show was named after Queen songs. So after watching the episode entitled Keep Yourself Alive last night, I’m not sure what more I can say about the Queen link other than there’s a bit of irony in calling it that because the series was on its last legs.

I can state unequivocally, however, that when Ashton Kucher and Topher Grace left the show, it lost the spark that kept the juvenile banter funny. With apologies to Josh Meyers, Donna’s new boyfriend, Randy, brings nothing to the show and his lines seem flat, never funny, and as an Eric replacement, his character doesn’t mesh with the rest of the ensemble cast, in my opinion.

One can’t blame the network nor the show’s producers for trying to keep the sitcom going for a few another season since it was absolutely “spot on” (to quote Gordon Ramsey) at its peak of popularity.

As the blog title suggests, this episode brought the series that much closer to its finale. Maybe that’s the irony of using this particular Queen song.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Ducks are dandy


Media Moment: The Mighty Ducks
Queen Related: features WWRY and WATC

What sports movie made after 1977 doesn’t use these two songs? As I mentioned in a previous post, WATC has become the defacto arena anthem for a winning team, no matter what the sport seems to be.

Hockey was very quick to embrace the songs and hockey movies began to mimic real-life with the inclusion of WWRY and WATC in their underdog storylines. One can really understand this movie having such iconic anthems because the timing of the movie coincided with Queen’s move to Hollywood Records, owned by Disney who also made the film.

The fun thing that I remember about the movie (which was on TV last night) was what happened shortly after the film came out . . . Anaheim (and Disney) launched an expansion hockey team called
The Anaheim Mighty Ducks, named after the movie. For a while there, I seem to recall that the Duck players were constantly teased about having a cartoon character for a logo and that they were, pardon the pun, a lame duck team.

The movie did well at the box office though (spawned two sequels and another two Queen appearances on the soundtrack), and the hockey team started kicking butt later on as well. The common denominator in these success stories—Queen. No, wait, maybe it was Emilio Estevez?

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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 imdb.com 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?
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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.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0028772/plotsummary

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.

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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.

http://www.open2.net/paris/bohemianrhapsody.html

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.

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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?

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0117826/bio

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.

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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.

© 1984 STAR LICKS, 2210 WILSHIRE BLVD, SUITE 124, SANTA MONICA, CA 90403

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.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Ignace_Isidore_G%C3%A9rard

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.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The power of the per


High school can be a tough three years (or longer, for some people) particularly when one (i.e., “me”) showcases their musical taste for all in the classroom to see.

Case in point, I had my Queen – Greatest Hits cassette with me since I had just received a trendy Sony Walkman (remember those?) and would use it in Vis Com class whenever the coast was clear, so to speak.

When I had the cassette out on my desk, Shawn—who was on the five year high school plan—walked by, looked at the case, took out the sleeve, and proceeded to fill in the lower portion of the right stem on the letter “n” with a black felt marker (as you can see in my recreation here).

On one hand, I was impressed that he had the intelligence to recognize that such a subtle change in appearance could reassign the word’s shape so it had a completely different symbolic meaning (leaving aside the queen=drag queen connotation for a moment).

On the other hand, I was annoyed that he was mocking Freddie’s recent adoption of leather and moustache, which, more or less, “outed” him publicly at that point in the band’s history.

On the third hand, the doughhead defaced my cassette sleeve.

Monday, June 29, 2009

That Queen from the ’70s Show


Media Moment: That ’70s Show
Queen Related: Episode Title: Sheer Heart Attack

I had heard rumblings that That ’70s Show had used a few Queen song titles as episode titles, but I didn't realize the extent to which they embraced them until I looked up this episode on That ’70s Central, Episode Guide. It turns out that the entire line-up of Season Eight episodes is based on Queen songs. Here’s the rundown:

Episode / Air Date / Episode Title
#801 / November 2, 2005 / Bohemian Rhapsody
#802 / November 2, 2005 / Somebody to Love
#804 / November 9, 2005 / You’re My Best Friend
#805 / November 16, 2005 / Misfire
#803 / November 30, 2005 / Stone Cold Crazy
#806 / December 7, 2005 / Long Away
#807 / December 14, 2005 / Fun It
#808 / January 12, 2006 / Good Company
#811 / January 19, 2006 / Who Needs You
#809 / January 26, 2006 / Sweet Lady
#810 / February 2, 2006 / Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy
#812 / February 9, 2006 / Killer Queen
#813 / March 16, 2006 / Spread Your Wings
#817 / March 23, 2006 / Son and Daughter
#814 / April 13, 2006 / Keep Yourself Alive
#815 / April 27, 2006 / My Fairy King
#816 / April 27, 2006 / Crazy Little Thing Called Love
#818 / May 4, 2006 / We Will Rock You
#820 / May 4, 2006 / Sheer Heart Attack
#819 / May 11, 2006 / Leaving Home Ain’t Easy
[Special #4 / May 11, 2006 / That '70s Show: The Final Goodbye]
#821 / May 18, 2006 / Love of My Life
#822 / May 18, 2006 / That ’70s Finale

Of course, Queen aren’t the only classic rockers represented on the show . . . Seasons Five, Six, and Seven are based on Zeppelin, Who, and Stones songs respectively (what, no Floyd?). I find it curious that for a show based in Wisconsin, they are showcasing British bands of the ’70s instead of American ones. What does this say about the show’s writers’ musical preferences? Or is it merely based on historical significance?

Speaking of the writers, I’m inclined to ask whether the main storyline for the Season Eight—or any of the band-based seasons, for that matter—episodes were written ahead of time and they matched a Queen song to each; or did they scan the entire Queen song title list and get inspired to write an episode around a song title?

Whatever the case, having Queen wrap up the series is a feather in their cap, and I wonder if this was an arbitrary decision on the part of the producers, or whether they wanted the series to go out with a royal punch.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Good call.


Media Moment: Wayne’s World
Queen Related: Bohemian Rhapsody

You gotta give Mike Myers credit . . . he almost single-handedly resurrected Queen’s popularity in North America with the Bohemian Rhapsody sing-a-long and headbanging sequence from Wayne’s World in 1992. Unfortunately, it coincided with the aftermath of Freddie’s death a year earlier.

While it’s not my favourite movie, I admit to having seen it five or six times over the years, so why not again when it was on TV last night? I’m glad that the BoRap scene is near the beginning so I didn’t have to fast forward too much to enjoy it quickly.

I’ve always been thankful that the song was featured as prominently as it was in the film. It wasn’t some background tune that lasted a few seconds . . . it actually played a role in the film and a good chunk of the whole song was included. Myers was astute enough to let the audience hear each of its three distinct styles of music: ballad, opera, and rock.

The beauty and complexity of the song was played night after night to a captive audience in the movie theatre. They had no choice but to sit in the darkness and listen to the song in all its glory. Just like Wayne and friends do in the car up on the screen.

For me, this was akin to the hundreds of times I sat in isolation; headphones on and actually listening to the song for what it contained musically. That was the hook for me, and I believe that was the hook for the millions of movie-goers who were introduced to Queen through Wayne’s World.

I also noticed a personality similarity between Garth and Freddie. Maybe it was Carvey’s portrayal of shyness? I’m not sure, but I sensed a bit of Freddie in that character.

On a different note, headbanging behaviour (as shown by metal fanatics) has been the focus of a recent medical study. Bottom line . . . headbanging is bad for the neck.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

I don’t know about the cosmos but this album rocks


A local music store was having a 40% off going out of business sale recently and, lucky for me, they had a double-album vinyl copy of the Cosmos Rocks. Although I turfed my record player years ago, this record will accompany all of my original Queen LPs that I still have.

After seeing Queen+PR at the MGM Grand in Vegas during their 2006 tour, I was eagerly awaiting the new album of material that they said they were working on. I had already listened to Return of the Champions and thought that while PR didn’t match Freddie’s abilities vocally or musically, I found that their renditions of Bad Company tunes were almost better than the originals because of Brian and Roger’s input.

Did this mean that Brian and Roger would become merely a backup band to PR when the new album came out? Would the signature Queen sound be there (i.e., Brian’s guitar, vocal harmonies) or would the PR imprint take centre stage?

I picked up the new CD in October of 2008 when it came out in North America, popped it into the player in my car, and was pleasantly surprised at the rocking good time brought on by the title song. As a matter of fact, Brian’s playing on this song really shines. At first, I thought I was listening to Stevie Ray Vaughn during the guitar solos, which is a style I’ve never heard Brian play before. The more I listened to this song, the more I thought that Brian had found the inspiration he was looking for.

Without going into a song-by-song review, overall, I think the album’s strengths outweigh any of its weaknesses. In particular, We Believe is definitely an anthem for a new world. Brian’s songwriting is at its best here as he tries to promote peace and harmony in a war-torn world.

While I don’t consider this a true Queen album, I always look forward to new music by Brian and Roger under whatever label it happens to be. Do I think they should retire the name “Queen”? No, it’s their legacy, not the fans’; it’s the name that is known worldwide and they should be able to capitalize on it as they wish.

Yeah, but Freddie suggested the “Queen” name . . . and John’s not on it! So what. Freddie and John’s past work isn’t negated by their absence on new Queen songs. Fans should be thankful to have new music to listen to on its own merit and this album delivers just that. To put this in perspective, I think the Rolling Stones would be hard-pressed to put out an album of this energy and passion. They haven’t done anything original since the early ’80s.

My only criticism is with the graphic design for the sleeve. I don’t know how Richard Grey gets the contracts for Brian and Roger’s work, but his album designs have never been that stellar (to use a cosmos metaphor). Perhaps if the branding for this new album was a bit stronger, the marketing for it may have taken it to a different level. For Heaven’s sake (again, a cosmos metaphor), even Hot Space had a more interesting album cover.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Eis Eis, Baby


Media Moment: Late Show With David Letterman
Queen Related: Under Pressure riff

You know, back in 1990 I was annoyed when Robert “Rip” Van Winkle flagrantly sampled John’s bassline for Ice Ice Baby, but—twenty years later—I’m even more frustrated as it’s become metonymy for anything to do with “ice” in popular culture.

My theory was proven correct on Letterman the other night when his guest was Shannon Eis (pronounced like “ice”), who was explaining this year’s new toys. As she was introduced, bassist Will Lee played the opening riff to Under Pressure . . . er, I mean, Ice Ice Baby.

I suppose I could forgive Van Winkle’s free ride if he had gotten permission to use the sample before releasing the song. At least Queen and Bowie would have made it official. But he didn’t. He appropriated it, told everyone that he added an extra note so it was his, then recanted a while later saying that his original remark was just a joke.

Brian did say during an interview on Rockline back in 1991 that they were going to “sue his white ass off.” Perhaps Abba has Queen to thank for getting royalties from Madonna who sampled Dancing Queen a few years ago.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_ice_baby
Photo from the Sun-Herald

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Sounds (and looks of Queen)


Media Moment: Late Show With David Letterman
Queen Related: Musical guest using Red Special copy

Usually I only watch the first few seconds of Letterman’s musical guests before finding the delete button on the remote, but a recent band on his show caught my eye, however. Not because the lead singer appeared to be the second coming of Debbie Harry, but because the guitarist looked like he was playing a Red Special.

Sure enough, when the camera passed by Felix Rodriguez a few more times, I could see that he was definitely playing an original Guild BHM1 guitar. If I remember correctly, these guitars were an early commercial endorsement by Brian although he withdrew his support when Guild failed to address some quality issues.

Felix didn’t sound like Brian—at least not the song performed on Letterman—but his use of the Guild knock-off must be a Queen homage. He could have opted for any garden variety guitar but why pick Brian’s and then not try and sound like him? To be fair, I suppose, he may simply like the feel of it, rather than the sound.

But as I dug a bit deeper into The Sounds website, I noticed that their merchandising included a t-shirt with a small crown in the design. Queen coincidence? Maybe. What about one of their singles called Queen of Apology? Maybe it’s a song about their lead singer, Maja Ivarsson? Who knows.

But that Guild Red Special says a lot about their overall identity and they must have been aware of the Queen reference it suggests. Being from Europe (Sweden), Queen’s musical legacy in that part of the world was most likely stronger than a lot of other acts so who can blame them for acknowledging them as possible influences.

Whatever is going on with Felix is fine. He certainly piqued my curiousity and I will definitely keep an eye out for them from now on. Here’s a link to one of their videos so you can see Felix and his BHM1 in action.

Photos from http://the-sounds.com/photos/

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Chipmunque Clips


I remember “borrowing” this Chipmunks album from my brother back in the early ’80s. He didn’t realize that back then I was secretly compiling my Queen collection, and with his new record containing a helium-induced version of Crazy Little Thing Called Love, I needed to have it.

At that time, the analogue technology for creating those squeaky chipmunk voices were pretty rudimentary, from what I understand. Basically, record the voices at a tape speed that is half as fast as normal, then play it back at normal speed and, voila, squeaky voices. Doing it today is probably a bit easier given the inexpensive digital tools available, which may account for the deluge of Chipmunk cover tunes that are on YouTube these days.

Queen songs get a sizable share of the Chipmunk online presence, as I discovered. Here are the clips I found:

Another One Bites the Dust
Bohemian Rhapsody
Don’t Stop Me Now
Hammer To Fall
I Can’t Live With You
I Want To Break Free
Keep Yourself Alive
Radio Gaga
Somebody to Love
These Are the Days of Our Lives
Tie Your Mother Down
Under Pressure
We Will Rock You / We Are the Champions

And to double-up on the parodies, there’s even a Chipmunk’s version of Weird Al’s tribute to Bohemian Rhapsody:

Bohemian Polka

I wonder what Monserat Caballe’s voice would sound like if it was given the Chipmunk treatment for Barcelona?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Barry “Bulsara” acquitted


Some might remember the international news coverage from the summer of 2001 regarding the murder of a well-known British journalist named Jill Dando by a man claiming to be Freddie’s cousin, Barry Bulsara.

Barry George (his real name) was acquitted of her murder in August of 2008 after repeatedly claiming his innocence. Apparently, new evidence was discovered that his defense team said would clear him of the murder conviction. An appeal was submitted, a retrial was set, and, sure enough, he was found not-guilty.

Since his release, he’s been seen lingering around Dando’s grave. Perhaps his clinically assessed low IQ (75) is betraying his true motives . . . does he not realize that stalking the grave of the woman he had stalked when she was alive is not the best tactic for maintaining public perception that you’re innocent?

One of the main story angles at the time of his arrest was that he used Freddie’s family’s birth name (Bulsara) to pretend to be was someone he was not. I do feel a bit better knowing that it wasn’t just Freddie’s reputation he has pirating but he also took on the monikers of Paul Gadd (Gary Glitter’s real name) and Steve Majors (Steve Austin+Lee Majors), amongst others.

The full story can be read here.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Heath Will Rock You



Media Moment: A Knight’s Tale
Queen Related: Contains We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions

After watching this film on TV again last night, I must say that the late Heath Ledger does a great job as the daring knight who’s out to kick some jousting ass. However, I believe it’s Paul Bettany’s portrayal of the saucy Geoffrey Chaucer that makes the movie memorable.

American director, Brian Helgelund, tried a similar approach as Australian director, Baz Luhrmann, in Moulin Rouge, in that they contemporized a period piece by giving it a modern soundtrack. By and large Helgelund pulls it off nicely although in a much different way than Lurhmann. I’d be curious to know who came up with the funky soundtrack idea first?

On second thought, who cares? What sticks in the craw of most old-school Queen fans about this movie is that it features WATC sung by Robbie Williams which kickstarted the Williams-as-Freddie debate.

I don’t know that much about Robbie Williams but I got the impression at the time that he wanted to fast track his own career by jumping the queue of whatever potential Queen vocalists there were (if any) without having achieved “street cred” of his own.

I guess if that were the criteria for joining Queen, Paul Rodgers does make the cut. But throwing Adam Lambert into the Queen mix, though, as the media speculated, seems akin to taking him right from off street with no experience at all. Then that would make Robbie Williams a seasoned veteran.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Dr. Fred N. Furter


Back in the ’70s, everyone was wondering who could portray Freddie if his life story were to play out on the big screen. And at that time, it seemed that Tim Curry had landed the role that Freddie was born to play—Dr. Frank N. Furter in the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Hey, what if Tim played Freddie? That could work since Tim looks like him, has an overbite, and sings pretty good, too. But it wasn’t meant to be, I suppose, although Adam Ant’s name came up a few times in the early ’80s as a possible shoo-in for playing Freddie.

What about now, since there’s a much-hyped Freddie biography in the works? Apart from the speculation of who would front the band, playing Freddie on-screen is a much different challenge. Johnny Depp was being played up in the media as a possible candidate (personally, I can’t see it), as was Sasha Baron Cohen, whose Borat character is supposedly based on Freddie. (Cohen, I believe, could pull it off.)

Although Freddie didn’t make it into the RHPS, Brian did, in a 1995 London production of the show. He guest-starred as “Eddie” (Meat Loaf’s character from the film) and did a superb rendition of Whatever Happend to Saturday Night (Hot Patootie). The soundtrack can be found here. Brian’s wife, Anita Dobson, was one of the main headliners for that run.

One final Queen–RHPS tie-in . . . Richard O’Brien, who plays Riff Raff and is the main creative force behind the entire production, was also in Flash Gordon.

Monday, June 15, 2009

I’m The Kurgan from the clan McKurgan


Media Moment: Highlander
Queen Related: Songs throughout

Guess what was on TV this afternoon? When Highlander came out in 1986, I rushed to see it at West Edmonton Mall within a day or two of its opening, knowing that Queen gets the lion’s share of song time. If I had waited much longer, I would have been out of luck since it was gone after only a week.

The appeal of the film, however, was felt long after its theatrical release. As Roger quipped on Rockline back in 1989 (or was it 1991?), it developed a strong cult following. I’m sure that with the release of Highlander II, the general concensus was that any goodwill from the series was now toast.

But, thanks to Duncan Macleod, Connor’s younger television clansman, the franchise was back on its feet. I even got to hear Prince’s of the Universe every week, which must have cost the producers a fortune in royalties.

Clancy Brown—with his briccolage safety pin disguise—made this movie work, in my opinion. His height, menacing voice, and sense of humor all give the Kurgan the memorable traits of a great villian. I often wonder if Clancy smiles whenever he hears himself mutter the famous phrase “There can be only one!” on Gimme the Prize. He should be flattered that he appears on a Queen album as they were very particular about who gets included.

As for Connor, I came across this Walk of Fame star for “Connor Macleod,” but iMDB.com has no actor with that name. The mystery deepens: the official Hollywood Walk of Fame website has no record of that name either (the closest is Chuck Connors), so the image is either someone’s wishful fabrication, or the star is on another walk of fame somewhere else in the world (of which there are a few). (Note: the web address on the image didn't help either, as you can see.)

Finally, I think it’s interesting that Clancy Brown went on to star in ER, while his Highlander co-star, Roxanne Hart, went on to star in the “other” primetime medical drama, Chicago Hope. Christopher Lambert’s career, unfortunately, never really recovered from the Highland II fiasco. He did swing a couple of appearances in two Queen videos so he’s still ahead of me based on my Queen bucket list.

Maybe Adam Lambert and Christopher Lambert should form a band: Lambert+Lambert.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

On with the show


Media Moment: Moulin Rouge
Queen Related: Cover of The Show Must Go On

I remember seeing this film at the theatre and thinking, if Ewan McGregor is doing a Kiss song, surely Queen will make an appearance at some point. Then comes a Bowie song, then an Elton John song, then a… But no Queen.

Until nearer the end when the familiar opening chords of The Show Must Go On begin and Nicole Kidman and Jim Broadbent do a fine job of incorporating the song and its theme into the critical moment in the film where Satine must carry on with the show even though she’s dying (wait, did I just give that away).

The single CD soundtrack didn’t have TSMGO but I actually found the more rare box set that contained a second disc which had the song, along with the other great tunes missing from the single CD release.

As for the movie, which was on TV again last night, I really liked the highly stylized treatment that Luhrmann gives the overall picture. From the harsh lighting to the deliberate use of scale models of the city, he really captured the spirit of turn-of-the-century Paris in the naughty part of town.

And if Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor weren’t enough of a draw…to contemporize the soundtrack with theatrical covers of popular rock songs was an innovative way to bring today’s youth to the theatre to watch a story set in the late 1890s.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Queen: An Airbrushed Biography


Queen: An Illustrated Biography
by Judith Davis
Proteus Publishing, 1981
ISBN: 0906071917

What a dated cover illustration this is, eh? It’s style resembles something that is straight out of the ’70s. But it was 1981 and I bought it as soon as I saw it at the bookstore.

Davis’ book was one of the first biographies of the band that I can remember, and I’m glad I picked it up almost 30 years ago. In hindsight, there was nothing that exciting contained in the book since it merely chronicles the band’s career. (The real gossipy stuff would have to wait another seven or eight years.)

What I like about this book is that the cover is so different in its depiction of the band than later branding would embody. Any proscribed sense of royalty, majesty, or even high decoration is absent and instead we’re presented with a ho-hum air-brushed illustration of the band that was probably painted by an in-house illustrator at Proteus who managed to knock it off in a couple of hours.

But that's okay, it’s still a neat image. I wonder if the artist kept the original all these years or did it end up in a garage sale like so many other urban myths. Imagine what a collector’s item it would be if all the band members had signed the original.

Postscript — August 5, 2012

I received an email from a fan in Croatia looking for more information on this book as she is interested in purchasing a used copy. Although it has eluded me in the past, it turns out that there are at least two significant errors in this book. One is shown here on page 85:


And the other is in the discography where the Jazz album is missing altogether. Apparently, Queen released News of the World in 1977, took a year off, and released Live Killers in 1979.

What’s up with the Jazz confusion in this book, Judith?
.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Neko and Deaky


Neko Case, the American-Canadian (?) alternative country artist, songwriter, and former drummer, released an album in 1997 called The Virginian, along with her band, Her Boyfriends. Inconspicuously rounding out the song list is a twangy version of Misfire, from Queen's third album, Sheer Heart Attack.

She definitely takes the song into the “bride’s dress and cowboy boots” direction—wait, that was k.d. lang’s early persona—but you get the idea. I guess the original does have a country feel to it, so Case didn’t have to inject a completely different energy into it. Her rendition could be described as being akin to Dwight Yoakam’s countrified version of CLTCL, from the Gap ads a few years back.

John must have smiled when he heard the cover version. I view the song as his formal initiation into the band because it was his first to appear on a Queen album. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the first song of his ever to get recorded and released, so to have an artist like Case go back through the Queen catalogue and select his first attempt must have been flattering, to say the least.

Now, if we could only get Michael Bublé to do a cover of My Melocholy Blues

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Flesh...aaaahhhh!


My Aunt Leslie went to see Flash Gordon at the local cinema in 1981…or so she thought. It turns out they were showing Flesh Gordon, a soft-core porn film from 1974 that poked fun (pun intended) at the ’30s serial. She walked out twenty minutes later once she realized it wasn’t the movie she thought it was.

Speaking of Flash, Queen have taken a critical beating over this album because it (supposedly) doesn’t compare to the rest of their oeuvre. Let’s remember, though, that it was never meant to be a collection of pop songs but a series of musical interludes that support the film’s visuals. Weren’t they asked to deliver a hard rock soundtrack instead of contributing a song or two that would merely be dropped in and truncated when the scene ended?

With this as the criteria, this is the only true soundtrack that I know of (with the exception of the Who's Tommy, which is a musical) that is composed entirely on hard rock instruments instead of a 60-piece orchestra. Again, this was new territory they were treading in; and Brian, in particular, rose to the occasion with his main title theme, battle score, and The Hero, which kicks ass during the closing credits. It would have been interesting if they were given a similar challenge to score Highlander in its entirety instead of just contributing a few songs.

So what’s up with Flash’s theme song being used in Blades of Glory with Will Ferrell and Jon Heder? Don’t get me wrong, I think it was great that the director opted for it to bring home the final skating competition…I just wonder who on the production team nominated it for inclusion in the film? Did they think that North American audiences would recognize it and buy the soundtrack? Whatever the case, I was pleasantly surprised when I heard it.

Oh, and if you’ve seen Flesh Gordon, be sure to check out it’s sequel, Flesh Gordon Meets the Cosmic Cheerleaders from 1987. There’s a Canadian classic for you.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How does Freddie stack up?


I’d like to see online trader, Craig Stevens, produce a Lego Freddie bust from his long-hair and checkerboard spandex days.

Craig, of course, created this life-sized Lego bust of ’80s Freddie and, voila!, the Internet is abuzz with square-block-Freddie.

I would be curious to know how Craig approached the sculptural problem. Did he start with frontal and side view photographs, run them through a pixelating filter of some kind to get a mathematical breakdown of the number of layers he’d need, and proceed with building it from a two-dimensional map?

Or did he do it the Michelangelo way—start with a square block of Lego bricks and remove them one by one until Freddie's likeness revealed itself?

The matrix-type structure of the bust reminds me of those trendy ’80s pinscreen boards. You know, the type made famous in the video for Midge Ure’s If I Was.

Photo by Craig Stevens.