Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Pharyngula Freddie

Media Moment: Pharyngula blog
Queen-related: Queen/Freddie mentioned

For the past month or so, I’ve been following a well-known atheist, Dr. PZ Myers, who runs Pharyngula, a blog on science, skepticism, and rationality in all facets of life (pardon the pun).

One of his recent posts was a YouTube video of two Swedish sisters performing a song called Hard Believer, which, as the name suggests, takes a go at religion. Many of the Pharyngula regulars commented that they really liked the song itself and then the floodgates opened for everyone to weigh in with their own musical tastes.

To my surprise, the fourth blog comment was a vote for Queen and Freddie. Hmm . . . it seems that I’m not the only Queen fan lurking in the shadows of atheism. Unlike Caine, however, I would have mentioned Brian instead given his strong connection to the natural sciences. 

Freddie’s an interesting one to lump into a discussion of anti-religion in music. He was obviously partial to Zoroastrianism as his funeral arrangements would attest to, not to mention his track record of songs that have an element of monotheism to them such as Mustafa, All God’s People, or Bohemian Rhapsody.

I don’t recall the religious beliefs of the band members being revealed in any of the biographies I’ve read. Does anyone know what they might be?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Magic book form

Now that the remaining bricks and mortar record stores are really struggling to survive, they’re forced to turn to merchandise that isn’t as susceptible to downloads — legal or otherwise — like books, t-shirts, video games, and even iPod accessories. 

While I was scoping out the meagre CD selection at an HMV store a couple of weeks ago, I noticed this new Queen book on a table near the front check-out. I started to flip through one and confirmed to myself that I indeed did not have this particular title. What I found really interesting about this book was that in the first couple of pages, there are quotes from other famous musical artists and Neil Diamond’s name stopped me cold.

Neil Diamond endorsing Queen? Holy shit, I’m a huge Neil fan as well — so much so that I actually have his autograph — so to see that Neil has been listening to the same band I do was a shock. Not as shocking as seeing an album of heavy metal cover tunes by Pat Boone, however, but shocking nonetheless.

In a moment of hypocrisy, I ordered the book through an online retailer a few weeks later. Who can blame me? I got it for less than half the price that HMV was selling it for. I haven’t read it cover-to-cover yet, but at first glance it struck me as the print version of The Magic Years videos. Many of the same musical artists are quoted (i.e., Billy Squier) and lots and lots of backstage passes and ticket stubs are featured. It’s a collector’s dream to see the different record sleeves, concert programs, and such released through the years.

In a perfect world, what I would have liked to see more of were photos and juicy tidbits from the Jazz launch party in New Orleans, as well as interviews with experts who could deconstruct Queen’s music and give it a technical appraisal. 

It’s all well and good that Axl Rose and friends thought Queen II was fantastic, but I want to know why the music works from a songwriting point of view. Let’s hear from someone at Juilliard who can talk about music theory and history within their songs. What would Dr. Fred Hemke at Northwestern have to say about My Melancholy Blues?

Bottom line . . . I’ve waited nearly half my life for a compilation like this one to come along. Thanks Phil.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

It’s a kind of magic carpet ride

I subscribe to a number of art and design RSS feeds and one, in particular, focuses on information graphics or data visualization. Even though their latest blog entry, A Timeline of Modern Music was, obviously, music related, what was unique about this infographic was that it was interactive instead of static as most of them tend to be.

Okay, I thought, let’s see if Queen makes an appearance somewhere in the 100-year musical span that the infographic purports to cover. So by pushing up on the “navigate” button on the right side of the window, the years scroll down towards the user along with relevant historical moments from that year in the seven genres of music listed at bottom.

Logic would dictate that Queen shouldn’t make an appearance until 1971 at the earliest — unless the graphic was including birthdays — so I scrolled way the hell up to the late 60s and slowed the carpet ride down to a slow glide so I could click on some of the flagged moments to see where we were at. Nothing Queen related for 1971, 1972, 1973, or 1974 . . . but the only media entry 1975 was the video for Bohemian Rhapsody, which kickstarted the music video age. Ha, there it was.

To be honest, I half-expected The Buggles would get that distinction in 1981 when Video Killed the Radio Star became the first music video played on MTV. (As an aside, Russell Mulcahy directed this video so there’s still a Queen tie-in to that landmark moment as well.)

There was nothing else Queen-related on this infographic as far as I could tell — not even a mention about Freddie’s death or the tribute concert. Oh well, at least they made an appearance nonetheless.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Voice...not!

Media Moment: The Voice
Queen-related: Judges perform Queen medley

I keep seeing promos for The Voice, the American Idol knock-off with four celebrity judges of their own. Christina Aguilera brings the highest profile to the panel of judges and some would argue she also brings the most singing credibility. I’ve never actually watched an episode of The Voice since I’m not a huge Christina fan -- although I think she’s a much better vocalist than her one-time nemesis, Britney -- and I had no idea who the other three judges were.

However, I ended up recording the first of the live performances the other night because someone on QMS mentioned that Queen songs were going to be featured. I didn’t know whether this meant it would be a Queen-themed night (ala American Idol with Brian and Roger) or if the Queen content would be limited to a song or two only.

With no mention of Queen at all, Daly merely starts the show as usual and the familiar piano sequence of Bohemian Rhapsody (or the “mama?” section, as Animal would say) starts up. Judge and Maroon 5 singer Adam Levine gives his best Freddie rendition but fell short in his attempt, in my opinion. Before the operatic section begins, the music changes over to stomp-stomp-clap and Cee Lo Green from Gnarls Barkley fame belts out the first few lyrics to WWRY. What struck me as an unfortunate distraction to the performance was that he sang the line “gonna be a big man someday” and there he is  . . . a big man. 

Just before the guitar solo, Adam Levine joins Cee Lo on-stage but now has a Red Special strapped around his neck. He does his best on the crunchy guitar solo and by using a copy of Brian’s guitar, he probably got as close to the original tone of the solo as possible.

Interestingly, I didn’t find any reference to Queen or Brian being an influence on Levine’s career, so who recommended Queen as a theme for this episode? Why did Levine have a Red Special at all? I scoped out a variety of images of him in concert and he seems to go through a bunch of guitars (mainly Gibsons), so maybe his Brian May copy is his own but only brings it out for special occasions.

After the WWRY guitar solo, the piano kicks in again and WATC starts with Christina Aguilera emerging from the shadows. I gotta say, though, that with her vocal strength, I expected something more from her on this song. Actually, she should have been the one to sing BoRhap instead of Levine but I guess they wanted the three-song medley to end on a strong note (pardon the pun).

Speaking of comparisons to American Idol, the producers of The Voice brought in Carson Daly for hosting duties, but I never got the impression he was as comfortable or smooth in front of the camera as Ryan Seacrest is. As a matter of fact, I found Daly’s delivery a bit stilted and awkward. Seacrest, on the other hand, strikes me as more polished when addressing the camera, the crowd, and the performers. Overall, I don’t think The Voice will be dethroning Idol anytime soon.