Today’s Top 40: The Stories Behind the Songs That Are Hits Right Now

For today’s post, I surveyed the following websites and looked at the songs listed on their Top 40 charts from this past week….BBC Radio 1, Billboard Magazine, Spotify, Indie88-FM & CHUM-FM (out of Toronto) and KEXP-FM out of Seattle. In all cases, I chose the song they had listed in position #5. There are some heavy hitters located in chart spot #5 this week, so without further delay, let’s find out about Today’s Top 40 right now!

Break My Soul by Beyoncé (BBC Radio 1 AND Billboard Magazine)

Beyoncé is far past the point of simply being another musician who happens to be releasing new music. For the past decade or so, Beyoncé has always released music that has been purposeful and strong and defiant. She has championed the role of females in our patriarchal society. She has taught a generation of Black people to take pride in their heritage, and to move forth into the future with heads held high. She suffers no fools in any regard. So, when the news broke last week that Beyoncé had new music ready to be released, it caught everyone’s attention.

Beyonce.

Her new album is called Renaissance. The first single to drop is called “Break My Soul”. The song is a glorious throwback to 90s House music tunes that were all the rage in the clubs back then. It has a driving beat and will surely be one of the dance hits of the summer. But, as mentioned, Beyoncé is known for making political statements with her music and “Break My Soul” is no exception. First of all, this song is a response to the experience of workers during the pandemic. The Covid-19 experience was bad for many different types of people in our society. In “Break My Soul”, Beyoncé comments upon what it was like for workers to be forced to expose themselves to dangerous work environments just so that the bottom lines of billionaires could increase. In particular, she sings about a movement/moment in time that has come to be known as The Great Resignation which details the wave of people who refused to go to work in person during and/or after the pandemic. In the bigger picture, The Great Resignation movement is one that is seeking to re-configure how work gets done in this Age of Information, which, when you start to think about it, impacts transportation, everyday things like personal wardrobes and the making of lunches, the use of private buildings, flexible work schedules and much, much more. And yet, “Break My Soul” is a throbbing, beat-driven dance tune that will get your toes a-tapping! Honestly, it is!

But, Beyoncé wasn’t content to merely comment on the nature of labour in our world. In “Break My Soul”, she lent her enormous influence to two people who were well known in the world of 90s House Music but not so well known in popular culture by sampling their work at key moments in her song. The two people were Robin S. and Freedia. The reason this is important…beyond the impact it has on the lives of these two performers…is that Beyoncé is allying herself with three social groups that are currently under legislative attack all across America. Robin S. is a Black female and Freedia is transexual. By including these samples, Beyoncé is making it clear that she supports Black people, females, as well as those who occupy any position on the gender identity spectrum.

Sometimes, a song can become leaden and burdensome when it attempts to make too many weighty statements beyond the mere musicality of the song. But that is not the case with “Break My Soul”. It is a peppy dance-oriented groove that will make you want to move. More power to Beyoncé for producing good music that is simply good music…but that is, also, more, too. ***The lyrics version of “Break My Soul” can be found here.

Hold My Hand by Lady Gaga (from the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack to the Film, Top Gun: Maverick (CHUM-FM)

Every generation seems to have their Barbra Streisand or their Céline Dion. Today’s comparable artist would be Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta or, as she is better known, Lady Gaga. Germanotta chose her stage name based upon the Queen classic song, “Radio Gaga” and, in particular, Freddy Mercury’s outstanding performance of this song during the 1987 Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium in London. *(You can watch that performance here). There are many who rate Mercury’s performance that day as being the single best live performance of all time. It was a moment in which Mercury and his audience were operating in perfect harmony. It was a powerful piece of music history. One of those in awe of it was Germanotta, who has devoted her whole life to attempting to bring that same spirit of Freddy Mercury to life via her career in music.

That Lady Gaga can sing is obvious. The lady has pipes! Right from the very beginning of her career, she has released all manner of songs in all manner of styles and had hits with them all. “Just Dance”, Poker Face”, “Bad Romance”, “Paparazzi”, “Love Game”, “Born This Way”, “Alejandro”, “The Edge of Glory”, “Applause”, “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” (with Tony Bennett) and the Academy Award winning song, “Shallow” (with Bradley Cooper from the movie “A Star is Born”) are just some of her hit songs which, taken together, read like a musical soundtrack for the last twenty years in popular culture. Lady Gaga has sold over 170 million albums so far, which makes her one of the most successful musical artists of all time.

Lady Gaga.

As a performer, Lady Gaga is becoming as well known as an actor as she is a singer. Her work in “A Star is Born” may have brought her into the public eye, but since then, she has commanded the spotlight in movies such as “House of Gucci” and is now lending her fame to the new Top Gun movie as well. “Hold My Hand” is the first single from the movie soundtrack, and it is soaring to the top of the charts. It is a power ballad that showcases Lady Gaga’s extraordinarily powerful voice. She wrote the song as a power ballad because, as you may know, the song style known as the power ballad was popular back in the 1980s when the original Top Gun movie premiered. So, “Hold My Hand” is not merely a song that will tug on the emotional heartstrings of those who have watched the movie, but it is also a connective song that ties this movie with the original from the 1980s. Lady Gaga is one of the biggest musical names on the planet these days so it is no surprise that she appears near the top of this week’s charts.

***The lyrics version of “Hold My Hand” can be found here.

A Potion For Love by Aurora (Indie88-FM)

Norwegian Singer, Aurora

Ever since I discovered Aurora’s cover version of the Beatles hit “All Across the Universe” last year while doing the “Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History” countdown, I have been a huge fan. What a sweet, ethereal voice she has! In my mind, Aurora is the logical successor to one of my other favourite and highly original singers, Bjork! Like Bjork, Aurora hails from northern Europe, specifically, Norway. She grew up near a fjord in an isolated part of the country and likens her childhood to being like the one experienced by the children who went through the wardrobe and into Narnia. Aurora brings this childlike sense of magic and wonder to the music she sings. You can choose almost any song of hers from YouTube and you will find the comments section filled with emotional gratitude from people from all over the world who view her songs as possessing such a feeling of beauty and peacefulness in a time of such global stress and despair.

“A Potion For Love” is no exception. It is a song about heartbreak that reads like a novel. The lyrics are highly intelligent and speak to the experience of loving and letting go and the emotions of that connection that is never truly over regardless of what terms the relationship ended upon. If you have never listened to Aurora sing then you are in for something completely different and unique. There is no one who sounds like her today. She stands alone. I, for one, feel fortunate to have stumbled across her work when I did. I hope that you will feel that way, too. ***The lyrics version for “A Potion For Love” can be found here.

Bad Habit by Steve Lacy (KEXP-FM)

Steve Lacy.

I have often been accused of being a music snob by my wife. She and I have very different tastes when it comes to the type of music we like to listen to. She is on record as saying that every song doesn’t have to tell a story or have a deeper meaning to be a good song. My beautiful wife maintains that a song can be great simply because of how it makes you feel and how it makes you want to move. Not surprisingly, my wife is drawn to the genre of music known as Pop. On that basis, I am fairly confident that she would approve of “Bad Habit” by a singer named Steve Lacy.

This song comes from his new album called “Gemini Rights”. The closest comparison I have would be Phillip Bailey, the falsetto-sounding co-lead singer of Earth, Wind and Fire. Lacy possesses an airy voice that brings a sense of lightness to his song. “Bad Habit” is a breezy, simple-sounding song that feels exactly right for playing at sidewalk cafes and outdoor patios on a summer’s day. If a breath of fresh air is what you’re after, then “Bad Habit” by Steve Lacy is probably for you. Enjoy. ***The lyrics version of this song can be found here.

Heat Waves by Glass Animals

Glass Animals.

And speaking of perfect Pop….”Heat Waves” by Glass Animals has been on the charts for over two years now!!! For many people, it is the perfect summer-sounding song. It is an earworm in the very best sense of the term. This song by English Pop band Glass Animals came out in time for the summer festival circuit prior to the onset of the pandemic…and, just like COVID, it has lingered all this time. Like many songs, its lyrics revolve around relationships and breaking up, but they are sung in such a sweet, melodic way that it appears as though “Heat Waves” has become woven into the very fabric of modern culture as we experience it today. The song is set in “…a summer day in June…”, which, when you think of it, is a clever ploy because of this wording. “Heat Waves” re-emerges every year in June like clockwork and fans fall in love with the sweetness of its sound all over again. I am sure that you have heard this song playing in the background while shopping or while driving in your car. It is a light and airy, very catchy tune. If you have never heard of it before then be prepared to thank me or loathe me for introducing it to you. Once you hear “Heat Waves”, you will always remember it. Whether that is a good thing or not I will leave up to you.

***The lyrics version of “Heat Waves” can be found here.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #125: Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Queen.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #125: Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Queen.

Farrokh Balsara was born in 1946 in the African principality of Zanzibar. As his childhood progressed, the region became politically unstable. Civil war erupted and the Sultan of Zanzibar was overthrown; paving the way for the creation of the country we now call Tanzania. Balsara’s family fled the fighting; heading first to India and then, a few years later, to England. By now, Farrokh was insisting that all who knew him call him “Freddie”. Once settled in England, Freddie Balsara led a life similar to that of many teenagers. He held a variety of odd jobs; such as baggage handler at Heathrow Airport and as a clerk in a retail store. In his spare time, he immersed himself in a new musical trend coming from the US called Rock n’ Roll. In particular, he was drawn to a charismatic singer named Elvis Presley, whose stage presence enchanted him. Balsara decided to try out for some local bands and, in doing so, met up with fellow music fans, Roger Taylor and John Deacon. Eventually, after playing with Deacon and Taylor in some small, local bands that achieved little success, the trio met up with guitarist, Brian May and, together, they decided to form a new band and name that band, Queen. It was with his new friends that Freddie adopted a new last name, “Mercury”, which came from the lyrics of a song he had written as a teen.

As we have stated previously in other posts, the band Queen achieved enormous success over the course of their careers. Freddie Mercury is, generally, regarded as one of the best (if not, THE best) frontman of all-time. His death due to complications from HIV and AIDS was a great loss that continues to be felt to this day. However, this post is not about the glory of the band, Queen. This post is about a song that pays tribute to two performers who helped shape the path that Freddie Mercury followed in becoming the iconic figure he became. It is a story of a song that, at first, some people thought was being sung by the ghost of Elvis. This is the story of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”.

“Crazy Little Thing Called Love” was written by Freddie Mercury for the album, “The Game”. It was written by Freddie Mercury on guitar, which was unusual for him because he did not, by his own admission, know how to play the guitar very well. But, while taking a bath in a German hotel one day, the chords to “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” came to him so he jumped out of the tub, wrapped himself in a towel and worked the song out on an acoustic guitar that was in his room. He quickly got dressed and ran to share his tune with Taylor and Deacon and the three of them raced to the recording studio to record it. According to Mercury, the whole song was recorded in less than an hour. It was recorded in a rockabilly style because that was all Mercury could manage to play on the guitar. It was also felt that if they involved Brian May too early in the process that his superior guitar skills would have changed the nature of the song before it could stand on its own two legs, so to speak. So, the trio recorded “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and only presented May with a version that was, more or less, complete. His role then became adding his flourishes to the finished score which included a wonderful guitar solo just after the half way mark.

When “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” was first heard on the radio, many people swore that it was Elvis singing the lead vocals. This pleased Mercury to no end because Elvis was one of the people who inspired him to create the song in the first place. It seems hard to believe that someone who commanded the stage as well as Mercury did, could have ever felt shy but, that was true of Freddie Mercury when Queen first started out. It was through his early experiences on stage, channeling the energy and presence of Elvis, that Mercury began to develop the self-confidence that helped shape his identity into what we know of him today.

The second person who inspired the writing of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” was British singer, Cliff Richard. In 1958, Richard had a huge hit in the UK with a song called, “Move It”. For many in the UK, “Move It” was the first “American-style” Rock n’ Roll song. John Lennon has been quoted as saying that before Cliff Richard and “Move It” there was nothing on the BBC but mush. I will include a link to “Move It” below and, in it, you can clearly see why the press dubbed Richard as “The British Elvis”. He had a swagger and a stage presence that is obvious to anyone watching and listening. The song, “Move It” was constructed in a similar manner to Chuck Berry’s, “Roll Over Beethoven”, in that, it was a battle cry against, what Richards and other UK kids viewed, as the stodgy old music of the establishment at the time. In any case, it is Cliff Richards who is the answer to the trivia question: who is the biggest selling UK music artist of all-time? Richards has enjoyed a career that has seen him sell over 250 million albums (mostly in Europe and the UK) and have 67 Top Twenty singles in a career that still exists, over six decades later!

So, the story of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” is, in essence, the story of how a young Farrokh Balsara from Zanzibar became the Freddie Mercury who was so adored by millions today. It is a tip of the hat to those who inspired him and who helped him establish the confidence to be the man he became. It is also, one of the very few Queen songs Mercury wrote with the guitar.

Without further delay, here are Queen with “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” by Queen, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Queen, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Move It” by Cliff Richard, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Cliff Richard, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History….Song #10: Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #10: Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen.

Here we go with the first of ten great songs that all could be #1 depending on your point of view. Today, we start with one of the most original and magnificent songs of them all….”Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. “Bohemian Rhapsody” was the lead single from the Queen album, “A Night at the Opera” that was released in 1975. The song became Queen’s first #1 hit and was their breakthrough hit in America. But, as popular as the song was when it was released and still is today, there remain many questions as to the scores of references sprinkled liberally throughout “Bohemian Rhapsody”, as well as, what the song is actually about. So, in the rest of this post, I intend to walk you through the context in which this song was written, how it was structured and stitched together, what some of the odder references mean and then, finally, give you my take on what “Bohemian Rhapsody” is all about. So, make yourselves comfortable…this is going to be quite a story because, after all, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is quite a song. Here we go!

It is important to start our journey with a reminder that Queen was a prog. rock band when they first started out. On their first two albums, they produced songs with a mythological basis to them. Prog. rock was popular at the time, with bands like early Genesis, Pink Floyd, Yes and Rush all releasing many albums heavily laden with weighty songs containing weighty lyrics and lengthy solos. It wasn’t until Queen released their third album, “Sheer Heart Attack” in 1974 that they began to take a turn toward more Pop-oriented, theatrical music such as “Killer Queen” *(which you can read about here). So, when it came time for their fourth album, “A Night at the Opera”, Queen were poised to continue exploring songs with a cabaret-type feel to them. The biggest of which was a song called, “Bohemian Rhapsody”.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” was billed, not as a rock opera……like “Tommy” by The Who…….but, instead, as a “mock” opera. Freddy Mercury had been dabbling with the idea of creating a Pop song using the five-part operatic story structure format, for some time prior to actually, formally writing “Bohemian Rhapsody”. In those earlier days, Mercury had scraps of song segments. as well as, an overall structure mapped out that contained “an opera part” in the middle. The very first part of the song to be written was the line, “Mama! I just killed a man. Put a gun against his head. Pulled my trigger, now he’s dead.” When Mercury brought the idea for “Bohemian Rhapsody” to the band and played a rough sketch of the song on piano for them, they all thought it had the potential to be a hit. Little did they know the contortions they would end up twisting themselves in when it came time to properly attempt to record all of the many voices and style changes that populate this song. In order to appreciate what the band went through and what they managed to accomplish in the end, let’s first take a look at the five parts to this song and walk through what sort of “play” we are witnessing as the song rolls along.

Five-act plays were quite common in English theatrical history. Shakespeare is the most obvious example of this structural format. So, when Freddy Mercury constructed “Bohemian Rhapsody” he simply followed in the footsteps of those who’d come before him and made a five-act song. Here are those five acts:

Act #1: The song begins with an a-capella verse that questions whether this is real life or simply fantasy.

Act #2: The song then transitions to a ballad section in which the narrator confesses his sin to his mother. That sin is that he has killed a man and that he is sorry for the sadness he is about to cause her because he knows the authorities will catch him and he will be punished, probably, by death.

Act #3: This is the operatic section of the song. In it, the narrator descends into Hell……..seriously, he does! If Beelzebub (the Devil) is mentioned here, where else would he be?! In any case, a battle for his soul ensues in which the narrator calls upon Bismillah to save his soul *(Bismillah is a term from the Qur’an and means, essentially, “in the name of Allah”).

Act #4: This is the rock section that emerges out of the Hell scene. The narrator has survived, albeit, in a changed form but has emerged stronger and more defiant for the experience in Hell.

Act #5: This is the quiet CODA section at the end where the narrator sings in a whispery voice that “nothing really matters, nothing really matters, nothing really matters to me……anyway the wind blows. This is the section that finds the narrator at peace and unafraid of who he now is and what awaits him in the future.

***As a bit of trivia for you, the references to “Galileo” that precedes the Opera section, is a tip-of-the-hat to guitarist, Brian May, who has a University degree in Astro-Physics. The reference to “Scaramouche” is a nod to a famous cowardly character in Italian dramas of the past.

When Queen came together to record the song, they did so, one Act at a time. In the case of any section that possessed harmonies and/or choir-type singing…..those segments were the hardest to record. In all cases, there were only four men singing and yet, at times, it sounds like a church choir filling every square inch of space with the sound of their voices. Because the mid-1970s were not yet a time of digital recording, all tracks were recorded on tape. In the case of the opera segment…..each band member recorded themselves multiple times…..together as a foursome, as duos, and individually and then, again, at different octave levels. The final effect was that sense that sounds are coming at the listener from all directions and at multiple octave levels, all at once. That Queen had to do this while recording on tape meant that they were constantly having to splice small tape segments together, play those to create a new, shared sound, splice that newly taped segment again and add a new layer of sound to it, play it again, record it again, add to it again and so on and so forth. In the end, there were almost 200 overdubs used just on the opera section, alone! The complexity of the recording process resulted in “Bohemian Rhapsody” being the most expensive song ever to record (at the time), as well as, being a song that was virtually impossible to reproduce live. Thus, the studio version has ended up being the deluxe version of the song while, on stage, Freddy Mercury tended to sing all of the choral parts on his own for the sake of simplicity.

So, where does such an original song idea come from and, the bigger question that springs from this is, what is “Bohemian Rhapsody” really about? Well, Freddy Mercury took that secret to his grave. All that he would ever say about what the song meant was that it was about relationships and silly rhyming lines for fun. The remaining members of Queen….Roger Taylor, Brian May and John Deacon…..have all said that the band had a rule that stated it was up to the writer of the song to discuss its’ meaning and since Freddy Mercury wanted the meaning to remain unsaid, they were going to honour his wishes. So, they have shed no light on the mystery, either. However, one clue was revealed by the man who became Freddy Mercury’s partner during the last decade of his life. That man was named Jim Hutton. In an interview, Hutton stated that “Bohemian Rhapsody” was Freddy Mercury’s way of coming out and announcing that he was Gay.

I don’t know if that is true but, if you re-examine the song lyrics with “coming out” in mind, the song reads differently and certain aspects of it seem to actually make more sense. For the sake of some context, let’s remember a couple of things about Freddy Mercury’s life prior to 1975, when “Bohemian Rhapsody” was released. First of all, it is not always easy being Gay today, let alone back in the 1970s…..pre-AIDS, pre-Stonewall Riots, pre-Pride flags and parades, pre-straight/Gay Alliance spaces in schools, pre-same sex marriages…..in fact, homosexuality was still against the law in many areas of the world in 1975. So, even though Freddy Mercury always knew he was Gay, he did what many Gay men did at the time, he hid it by dating a woman named Mary Austin. Add to this by remembering the fact that Freddy Mercury was not actually British. He was born in Africa…..Zanzibar, to be specific. While in Africa, he was raised in a religion called Zoroastrianism, which is an ancient Persian-influenced religion. Without going into a big essay on the history of Zoroastrianism, suffice it to say, homosexuality was not condoned.

So, in 1975, publicly announcing that he was Gay was a move that was fraught with life-changing implications for Freddy Mercury. In doing so, he was turning his back on his heritage, he was “shaming” his parents and family and he was striding into a world where being Gay was a dangerous thing to be and for which there were few public role models to emulate. So, let’s examine the song…..Act by Act…..with the underlying concept of this song being Freddy Mercury’s coming out announcement.

Act #1: the a-capella questioning of whether this is the real life or is this just fantasy, takes on a whole new meaning here, if you believe Freddy Mercury is announcing that his public persona was just a fake up until this moment and that now, he was about to make his real debut.

Act #2: the confessional “I just killed a man” section takes on new meaning if the man being killed is the old Freddy. That he confesses to his mom indicates how important her absolution was in real life when he came out as being Gay. Having a supportive home environment is so critically important for any young person who comes out so, it is not surprising that this scene is filled with angst and sadness and sorrow and fear of shame.

Act #3: the descent into Hell……having announced that he is Gay to his family in Act #2….Freddy Mercury now has to enter the court of public opinion. He knows that his news will be received with charity by some segment of the population and will be met with ridicule, threats and scorn by others. This casting of ethical judgement plays out in the back-and-forth battle for the narrator’s soul.

Act #4: The defiant rock n’ roll segment is a statement that Freddy is making that he will stand by his decision to go public and will be fitter, stronger and happier as a result of becoming the person he was always meant to be.

Act #5: the quite CODA of whispery singing about “nothing really matters….” is the breath he takes after all is said and done. The hoopla over his announcement is over. The blowback from those opposed, has been absorbed. Now, he is surrounded by his true friends who value him for who he really is. With that comes peace.

Again, let me be clear that the afore-mentioned part of this post is purely speculation on my part, based mostly on Freddy’s statement that “Bohemian Rhapsody” was about relationships and what Jim Hutton said after Freddy Mercury’s death, that the song was about him coming out as being Gay. Whatever the case, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is, in my mind, a musical masterpiece! I place such a tremendous value on creativity and originality and this song has both in copious amounts. Even though this is, potentially, a very serious song, I think the Joy that emanates from it for so many people symbolizes the Joy and Peace that people feel when they are allowed the freedom to be who they truly are. If “Bohemian Rhapsody” is truly Freddy Mercury’s coming out party then, it pleases me all the more. I have always believed that Love is Love and that all should be free to love and be loved in return in ways that make them feel most comfortable. I am happy that Freddy Mercury found Love and Peace in his lifetime and that he died as someone who was comfortable in his own skin. You can’t ask for much more from life than that. Rest in Peace, Freddy.

So now, let’s get to the videos. I will play two for you. The first will be the classic, “official” video which features the four band members in shadowy light, diamond-posed. This video is very special because it was one of the very first “music videos” ever made. Up until that time, music videos, as promotional/marketing tools were very rare. The video for “Bohemian Rhapsody” changed that, not just for Queen but, for artists everywhere. The second video will be a live performance. In this performance, you will see how the band had to re-structure the song to simplify it enough so that they could actually play it live. Freddy Mercury turns most of the choral singing into solo singing as performed by himself.

So, without further delay, here is “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, can be found here.

The link to the video of the live performance of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Queen, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for supporting artists and bands who dare to be original. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #15: Under Pressure by David Bowie and Queen.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KEXP: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #15: Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie.

“Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie is one of those songs that just about everyone seems to really like. In fact, I can’t think of a single soul who dislikes this song. If you happen to be that outlier then, stand up, speak out and be prepared to explain yourself. Then, be prepared to the scorn and ridicule that will surely come your way! How can anyone not like this song?! It is the a song born from the union of two of Rock’s biggest names, Queen and David Bowie. It is as powerful and dramatic a song as there has ever been performed; its’ subject matter merely the state of the pressure we live under in this life and what can be done about it all. It is a crowd-pleasing, stadium-rocking anthem that has given rise to some of the best live concert moments in rock history. The song is “Under Pressure”. Let’s find out all about it.

The story goes that Queen were in Switzerland working on songs for a new album. They had a song they were working on called, “Feel Like” that was coming along ok but just wasn’t right yet. As luck would have it, in the same town of Montreux that they were staying at, David Bowie, also, happened to be in town, (he actually lived not too far away). So, a call went out to see if he wanted to pop by and hang out with the band for awhile. He did. They all started jamming away and having fun. Eventually, Freddy Mercury asked Bowie if he felt like helping them on their new album now they were all warmed up and, perhaps, just see what would happen. So, bassist John Deacon began to play the familiar opening bass line to “Under Pressure”. It was merely a baseline at that point. But, it served as inspiration for Bowie and Queen and away they went. According to guitarist Brian May, working with an inspired Bowie was difficult, in a way, because both he and Freddy Mercury both had a vision for how the song that became “Under Pressure” should be written and constructed and that there was a lot of alpha-male butting of heads involved before it all came together as we know it to be. But, work it out, they did. The result was the glorious song we all know as, “Under Pressure”.

But, there are a couple of facts about the song that many people misinterpret or, flat out, get wrong. First of all, David Bowie and Queen never ever performed “Under Pressure” together live. Not long after the song/album was released, Queen went on tour. David Bowie, meanwhile, stayed back in Switzerland, working on the songs for his next album, “Let’s Dance” and then, he went out on a world wide tour. By the end of it, Freddy Mercury’s health went into decline and he died not long after. The very first time that David Bowie performed “Under Pressure” with Queen was when he sang it with Annie Lennox at the Freddy Mercury Tribute Concert at Wembley Stadium in London.

The second often misconstrued fact is that despite how it appears at first blush, “Under Pressure” in not a duet. Sure, there are two singers singing but, the structure of “Under Pressure” is such that it is not actually a duet at all. What the song is, is actually a two-person play or even, a musical debate. The concept of the song is two people debating about the nature of being alive in the world. One person (Bowie) takes on the pessimistic role and sings about everyone being under pressure. Freddy Mercury takes on the opposing role as the person who champions love as a solution to what ails the planet. A good example of the interplay that goes on throughout the song can be seen in this snippet from the song:

“FM: Love, love, love, love, love

DB: Insanity laughs under pressure, we’re breaking!

FM: Why can’t we give ourselves one more chance? Why can’t we give love that one more chance? Why can’t we give love, give love, give love, give love…….

DB: ‘Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word. And love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night and love (FM: people on streets) dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves.

FM: This is our last dance.

DB: This is our last dance.

FM/DB: This is ourselves……….under pressure……….under pressure………….pressure.”

As mentioned, Freddy Mercury and David Bowie never performed this song together on stage. They recorded their vocal tracks separately in studio. It was only during the final recording process that their voices were brought together on tape and the magic happened.

Queen sang this song as part of their standard setlist throughout the remainder of their touring days; with Freddy Mercury doing all of the parts. Bowie never sang this song as part of his setlist until after Freddy Mercury had died. And then, Bowie still sang only his original lines, with a back-up singer filling in for Mercury.

But, as we all know, this song spawned some memorable covers. The best known is the Bowie/Lennox cover at the Freddy Mercury Tribute Concert. But, a second cover has come to the fore and taken on extra poignancy lately. That cover was by the recently deceased drummer for the Foo Fighters, Taylor Hawkins. The Foo Fighters were known for throwing covers of well-known songs into their own sets when playing live. One of the songs that they liked to do was “Under Pressure”. Whenever it came time to perform this song, Hawkins would leave his drum kit and come to centre stage. Lead singer, dave Grohl, would leave the stage and play drums. Then, Hawkins would team up with the lead singer of whoever opened for them tat night and they would launch into a cool “Foo Fighters’ version of “Under Pressure”. Well, as many of you know, Taylor Hawkins, who was such a good drummer and such a happy, positive person, died unexpectedly recently at the young age of 50. One of the last songs he played with the Foo Fighters was “Under Pressure”.

So, when it comes time for the videos, I am going to showy four!!!! The first will be the original lyrics video that acted as the official video for many years, since there was never a live video to record. The second video will be one where Freddy Mercury and Queen perform the song on their own, with Freddy Mercury’s trademark showmanship and pizzazz. The third video will be the iconic Bowie/Lennox version, which I adore. The chemistry between those two was phenomenal that day. A complete home run of a performance. Finally, I will share Taylor Hawkins and the Foo Fighters covering this great song.

So, without further delay, here is “Under Pressure” written by Queen and David Bowie and performed by a cast of thousands, or so it seems. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the lyrics version of the song, “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Under Pressure” as performed by Queen, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Under Pressure”, as covered by David Bowie and Annie Lennox during The Freddy Mercury Tribute Concert, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Under Pressure”, as covered by Taylor Hawkins of The Foo Fighters, can be found here. ***The drummer here, Rufus Taylor, is the son of the original Queen drummer, Roger Taylor.

The link to the official website for Queen, can be found here.

The link to the official website for David Bowie, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Annie Lennox, can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Foo Fighters, can be found here.

Thanks, as always, to KEXP, for playing the best music by the best artists. The link to their wonderful website can be found here.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #157: Radio GaGa by Queen.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #157: Radio GaGa by Queen.

“Radio GaGa” by Queen is a song that praises the power and importance of the communication medium known as “radio”. Radio, as a tool, has a much different meaning for people today, compared to those who grew up during the Second World War, for instance, as many members of Queen did as children. In those pre-television days, it was through radio broadcasts that families received their national news, it was how they listened to sporting events and it was how they listened to entertainment, in the form of live shows and through musical performances. Like many of you, I grew up in the age of television but, I remember hearing many stories told by my parents of them spending their youth, gathered around the radio in their living room or kitchen, listening to shows like “Hockey Night in Canada” broadcast live from the gondola at Maple Leaf Gardens. For people in America, one of the most famous radio-related broadcasts was Orsen Welles rendition of the play, “War of the Worlds” which was so realistic that the thought of a Martian invasion caused actual panic in the streets. For people in the UK, it was via radio that many of them had their spirit rallied during The Battle of Britain by the speeches from the great orator, Sir Winston Churchill; especially, his famous lines about “fighting on the beaches”, “We will never surrender”, as well as, “…our finest hour”. It may seem odd, nowadays, to think that one communication medium should have such an emotional hold on the hearts of nations but, for those who grew up before the invention of television, the radio was absolutely at the centre of most homes. Its’ importance was unquestioned.

Flash forward to the early 1980s. Television had replaced radio as the primary means by which most people connected to the world around them. By then, we had watched JFK be assassinated. Man had walked on the surface of the moon, live on tv. In Canada, Paul Henderson scored “the goal that everyone remembers” from the other side of the world, live on the television which, by then, had replaced the radio in the centre of most homes.

The one aspect of communication where radio still seemed to hold some sway was with regard to the playing of songs. While it was true that The Beatles, Elvis and The Rolling Stones had all appeared on TV shows like “The Ed Sullivan Show”, the medium most people still turned to for their music was their radio. At that time, we still listened to music. The visuals associated with our favourite songs were the ones we created in our imaginations and in our hearts. If we wanted to see our favourite band or artist sing our favourite song, we tended to buy a concert ticket and watch them perform live. But, for the most part, listening to music was an auditory experience gleaned through the speakers of our radios. Then came MTV.

With the launch of MTV, our interactions with music started to transition from listening to music in our homes and cars, to watching music on TV. Music became as much a visual experience as it was an aural one. Projecting an appealing image on screen started surpassing one’s ability to play notes, as being the key ingredient in the success of an artist or band. At the same time as the likes of MTV were launching a full-scale attack on the last remaining bastion of Radio, those in charge of the medium, itself, reacted by playing songs that veered more toward novelty than toward substance. It got to the point that people started regarding the communication medium of Radio as being irrelevant.

The song, “Radio GaGa” by Queen is a warning shot by the band, across the bows of those who were in charge of radio broadcasting at the time. The song reiterates the proud role that radio had always played and offered a lament for its’ future should things continue on as they were headed. *(A few years later, The Smiths would mine the same material for their song, “Panic”, with its’ refrain of “Hang the DJ! Hang the DJ!”). This song was written by drummer, Roger Taylor, with Freddy Mercury polishing the lyrics just before the band recorded the song. As a bit of trivia, when “Radio GaGa reached #1, it meant that all four members of the band had written a #1 hit (drummer, Taylor, with “Radio GaGa”, Freddy Mercury, with “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, guitarist, Brian May with, “Fat Bottomed GIrls” and bassist, John Deacon, with “Another One BItes the Dust”) making Queen the only band to hold such a distinction.

While the song, “Radio GaGa” is a good, solid song, what elevates it into the ranks of the all-time greats is, ironically enough, a visual performance during one of the biggest television broadcasts ever….LiveAid. In the mid-1980s, the country of Ethiopia was experiencing a great famine. Television news reports brought images of starving children into all of our homes. People wanted to help. A musician named Bob Geldof who, at the time, was best known as lead singer of a band called, “The Boomtown Rats” offered to organize a benefit concert. Long story short, dozens of A-list artists and bands signed up to perform. The concert was held at two stadiums on the same day…Wembley Stadium, in London and, Veteran’s Stadium, in Philadelphia. At the time of LiveAid, Queen was just coming off of a world tour in support of their album, “The Works”. As such, the timing of their performance at LiveAid meant that they were battle-hardened and musically, very tight as a group. The twenty-one minute performance they gave that day was declared as the highlight of the concerts and, more than that, many claim it to be the best live concert performance of all-time by any singer or group. The highlight of their set was “Radio GaGa” and, in particular, a live moment during the chorus when the audience claps and gestures in complete unison to the words of the chorus; the image of the masses so in sync with the song and the band, is amazing, to say the least.

Is there still a place for radio in our technologically-driven times? I don’t know about you but, I very rarely listen to live radio anymore. It holds little appeal for me. I prefer the control I get by creating/playing my own playlists of songs, rather than listening to whatever a radio station might be serving and hoping against hope that I like it. Perhaps you feel differently and that is ok if you do. My world was never centred around a radio, in the same way that it was for those even one generation older than me. But regardless, for Queen, the subject of the importance of radio and maintaining its’ relevance was important enough to write a song like “Radio GaGa” about it. The “GaGa” part of this song refers to, what they claimed, was the gibberish and drivel that was passing for music and other content during the early 1980s on the BBC, to be specific. One final bit of trivia…modern day star, Lady GaGa chose her stage name based upon this Queen song.

So, without further delay, here is Queen with their rendition of “Radio GaGa” from LiveAid. Is it actually the best live performance of all-time? Well, if you ask me, it might just well be. Take a look and judge for yourself. In any case, here are Queen at their finest. Enjoy!

The link to the video for Queen’s entire 22-minute Live Aid set, can be found here. In my opinion, this is the finest 22 minutes in live music history!

The link to the official website for Queen can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine can be found here.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #35: You Will Never Walk Alone by Gerry and the Pacemakers (+) We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions by Queen.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #35: You Will Never Walk Alone by Gerry and the Pacemakers (+) We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions by Queen.

Every now and again in this countdown, there has arisen a circumstance where, to tell the story of one song necessitates the telling the story of another, completely different song, too. The original song that was slotted into the #35 position on the RS list is the pair of Queen anthems, “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions”, which are two separate songs that have often been played together as one complete song. However, when researching those two songs, it became apparent that they would never have been written if not for the song, “You Will Never Walk Alone” and an incident that took place at the end of a Queen concert one day at Stafford’s Bingley Hall. Here is the story of that incident and how some of the biggest stadium anthems of all-time came to be.

First of all, let’s go back in time to the mid-1950s and the debut of a Rogers and Hammerstein musical entitled, “Carousel”. As part of the musical score for that play, there was a song called, “You Will Never Walk Alone”. In the musical, the song is sung by one character to another after a death has occurred. Character #1 is reassuring the other person that, despite the loss of their loved one, that they will “never walk alone” in life because they will be there for them. It is a nice song that tugs on the heartstrings of those who watched the play.

As was often the case back in those days, commercial recording artists/acts often covered the hit songs of others and, as a result, the band Gerry and the Pacemakers picked up the song, “You Will Never Walk Alone” and released their own version of it which then, roared up the charts and became a #1 hit! As they played the song, live in concert, they encouraged the audience to sing-a-long. Whenever this happened, it created an emotional atmosphere within the concert hall; a sense of community enveloped the band and the crowd. Right away, the band knew that they had captured something special in this song. The lead singer, Gerry Marsden, decided that the concert experience they were having was so extraordinary that he wanted to share it with his favourite football (soccer) team in Liverpool. So, he played a tape of the song for the Liverpool Manager who, in turn, loved it and recognized the anthemic quality it possessed. The manager ordered the public address announcer to play this song before the start of their next match. The announcer did as instructed. The crowd in Liverpool erupted in song; their voices filling the stadium with sound. The effect was spine-tingling. Ever since that day, all Liverpool FC matches begin with the crowd belting out “You Will Never Walk Alone”. The song has been adopted by other sporting clubs around the world and never fails to deliver the intended boost for the home side to start their games. “You Will Never Walk Alone” is a reminder that no matter what Life may throw at you, you are never truly alone. You have friends and family and like-minded souls who will stand beside you, even in the darkest of moments. In essence, “You Will Never Walk Alone” has become one of the most reassuring songs ever performed in a public setting…..which brings us to Queen.

Stafford is approximately an hour and a half due east of Liverpool. It most certainly had soaked up some of the atmosphere of the Liverpool FC matches and, as such, when Queen came to their small community, the audience was ready. At this time, Queen was just coming into their own as a band. Their full roster of “greatest hits” was still in the formative stage of development but, none-the-less, Queen was definitely a band on the rise and the people of Stafford were happy that they came to call. As one might expect, Freddy Mercury and the band gave a full-out, energetic performance that included the obligatory encore. When the show was over, Freddy thanked the audience for allowing them the privilege of playing for them and then, the band said, “Good night” and began to walk off the stage. Unprompted, the audience broke out into a hearty, boisterous version of “You Will Never Walk Alone”; the entire crowd, singing in complete unison, totally passionate about thanking the band in reply. The members of Queen had never experienced such an emotional response being directly before them and, according to guitarist, Brian May, they were deeply humbled by the love they felt that night in Stafford.

As a result that experience, the band immediately agreed that they wanted to bring that same sort of unifying, stadium chanting sing-along experience with them where ever they performed so, they wrote “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions”. Both songs ended up on an album called, “News of the World” and, as I am sure you know, both songs have gone on to become arena anthems, the world over. I know that I have heard both songs played numerous times at the end of sporting championship matches, where one side (usually the home side) has won the top prize and have become “Champions of the World”.

One of the things about music that I fervently believe is the power it has to move people and to touch their hearts. There is a long, rich history of songs used for patriotic purposes which is one of the reasons we have national anthems that play to start our day in school and/or to start our public gatherings at concerts or sporting matches. But, aside from formal national anthems, there are songs such as “You Will Never Walk Alone” and “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions” that possess that certain something that rouse the passions of those who sing them. These songs help build that elusive sense of community that enable people to feel as though they are part of something larger than themselves. In the end, we are all our own keepers but, at times, it feels great to be part of a team or a movement. It is important to have our spirits soar, once and awhile, and stadium anthems will do that for us and as such, they play an important role in our society. Two of the biggest stadium rockers of all-time are “You Will Never Walk Alone” and “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions”.

So, without further delay, here are both songs, in all their anthemic glory. First up, the crowd at Liverpool FC belting out “You Will Never Walk Alone”. Next up, Gerry and the Pacemakers performing it on stage. Finally, we will visit with Queen and they get tens of thousands to sing along with them. All in all, it is glorious, rousing music. Please enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “You Will Never Walk Alone”, as sung by the fans of Liverpool FC, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Liverpool FC, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “You Will Never Walk Alone” by Gerry and the Pacemakers, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Gerry and the Pacemakers, can be found here.

The link to the video for the songs, “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions” by Queen, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Queen, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #172: Killer Queen by Queen.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010, as well as, the latest poll taken in 2021 by Rolling Stone Magazine. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their lists, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. “RS: Song XXX” means the song is coming from the Rolling Stone list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

RS: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #172: Killer Queen by Queen.

“Killer Queen” was a hit song from Queen’s third album called, “Sheer Heart Attack”. While “Killer Queen” never reached #1 on the charts, it is a very important song in the evolution of Queen’s career because it was the very first hit that actually sounds like a Queen song. Let me explain.

For the first two albums that Queen released, they had adopted a heavy, Prog-like style that put them in the company of peers such as early Genesis, Pink Floyd and so on. Knowing what we now know about the whole of Queen’s career, it seems almost unimaginable that they started out singing of Arthurian legends and other fantasy-esque topics. It wasn’t until it came time to start work on their third album that the band took their theatricality in a more cabaret direction. Thus, when “Killer Queen” was released, it suddenly seemed fresh and new and a departure from the heavy, laden-with-meaning music they had put out to date.

“Killer Queen” was written by Freddie Mercury. The subject matter revolves, specifically, around a high-class call girl but, in a broader sense, Mercury was quoted as stating that the main idea behind “Killer Queen” is how so many people of means end up prostituting themselves in a variety of ways in order to maintain their access to higher society. In any case, listening to this song, it is impossible to not think of it as being a play or a scene from a show because of how it is littered with such saucy characters. “Killer Queen” became “Queen’s” first Top Twenty hit and, just as importantly, it was the first song of theirs to gain airplay in the US. Because of the theatricality woven into this song, the general public was prepared, somewhat, for what was to come from their very next album……it was a little song called, “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Without “Killer Queen” laying the groundwork, as it did, there is a chance that people would not have accepted “Bohemian Rhapsody” as enthusiastically as they did.

The one story that I have heard about the this song is how it was introduced to guitarist, Brian May. At one point during a tour, May and the rest of the band travelled internationally and, as part of crossing borders, he managed to contract hepatitis. As the disease took hold, he collapsed and had to be rushed back to the UK, where he ended up requiring stomach surgery. So, the story is that, one day, as he was recovering in a villa that the band had rented, he awoke to the sound of Freddie Mercury at a piano, singing the words to a new song he was trying to work out. That song was “Killer Queen”. May remembers laying there, listening to this song that he had never heard mention of before and thinking, “Wow! This is fantastic!” The rest of the band liked the song, too. They recorded their parts and, when May was well enough to rejoin the band, he recorded his guitar parts, including an excellent solo.

All in all, when most of us think of a typical Queen song, “Killer Queen” has the quality of musical composition and lyrical substance that we are often thinking about. It was the song that started Queen off on, what was to become, an epic and glorious journey.

So, without further delay, here is “Killer Queen” by Queen. Enjoy!

The link to the video for the song, “Killer Queen” by Queen, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Queen, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Rolling Stone Magazine, can be found here.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History…Song #317: Somebody To Love by Queen.

This list of songs is inspired by a list published by radio station, KEXP, from Seattle in 2010. For the most part, I will faithfully countdown from their list, from Song #500 to Song #1. So, when you see the song title listed as something like: “KEXP: Song #XXX”….it means that I am working off of the official KEXP list. If I post the song title as being: “KTOM: Song #xxx”….it means I have gone rogue and am inserting a song choice from my own personal list of tunes I really like. In either case, you are going to get to hear a great song and learn the story behind it. Finally, I am not a music critic nor a musician. I am a music fan and an armchair storyteller. Enough said! Let’s get on to today’s song.

KTOM: The Top 500 Songs in Modern Music History.

Song #317: Somebody to Love by Queen.

History has been very kind to Freddy Mercury and “Queen”.

However, when I was in my teens, in High School on Cape Breton Island, many rude jokes were made about Freddy Mercury as rumours about his sexual orientation crept out. Consequently, despite having many great hits such as “Killer Queen”, “You’re My Best Friend”, “Tie Your Mother Down”, “We are The Champions/We Will Rock You”, “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Somebody to Love”, no one I knew wore “Queen” patches on their denim jackets, no one played their songs as they drove their cars with the souped up speakers and, of course, no one thought Freddy Mercury was anything other than weird because he was Gay. Of course, if you liked him; well, we all know what that would have said about you.

With the passing of time, however, opinions on Mr. Mercury have come full circle. He is now, generally, regarded as one of, if not, the best frontman for any band in Rock n’ Roll history. What a powerful voice! What magnificent stage presence! What a good songwriter, too! And, most importantly of all, his sexual orientation doesn’t matter one whit to the vast majority of the people on this planet. The only aspect of his life that we, as fans, wish were different was his death from A.I.D.S. in 1991, one month before Christmas Eve.

The song, “Somebody To Love” was released in 1976, which was still a time when being “Gay” carried with the full weight of society’s disapproval. It wasn’t easy for Freddy Mercury to be his true self, any more that it was for any non-Heterosexual to be open about who they were and how they loved. So, as is often the case when a singer/songwriter feels backed into a corner, they write about how they feel. For Mercury, this came out in the form of “Somebody to Love”, in which he questions God as to why his life is so hard and why can’t he be happy as he is. It was a risky song to release because of the backlash that could have ensued. However, the song structure, complete with a Gospel-esque choir (as opposed to the English, school/church choir used in Bohemian Rhapsody) ensured that the song would be a hit regardless of what people may have read between the lines. “Somebody to Love” is a showstopper of a song and Freddy Mercury is at his finest as he sings from his heart. *In 1985, Freddy Mercury met Jim Hutton, an Irishman, who he would spend the remainder of his life with.

In 1992, the remaining members of “Queen” decided to hold a benefit concert at Wembley Stadium in London in honour of their friend, Freddy Mercury. All revenue generated from the sale of tickets and merchandise was being directed towards A.I.D.S.-related charities. While there were many memorable, heartfelt performances during that concert, two stood out for most folks: David Bowie/Annie Lennox with “Under Pressure” (which we will discuss in a future post) and George Michael with “Somebody to Love”, backed by a full Gospel choir. It was, arguably, Michael’s best ever live performance, as he so capably and movingly stood in, as a Gay man himself, for Mercury and all others who wondered if their moment would ever come and, if it did, how would it feel? I will post his tribute in the Comments section below.

As a high school boy, I had no real opinion about “Queen”, one way or the other, because I didn’t know their music well back then. But, I didn’t correct anybody who mocked him, either. My ignorance for what it meant to be a silent accomplice meant that life was probably harder for my classmates who loved differently that I did and, for that, I apologize. One of the gifts that I have received as I matured into adulthood was the understanding of the beauty and richness that was all around me in the form of people who were different from me in religion, language, culture, sexual orientation and so on. Diversity has enriched my life beyond measure and I am the better for it all. My only hope is that I can return the favour by being a worthwhile ally in my present and future days.

Without further delay, here is the incomparable Freddy Mercury and “Queen” with “Somebody To Love”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Somebody To Love” by Queen, can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Somebody To Love” by Queen, as covered by George Michael, can be found here.

The link to the official website for Queen can be found here.

The link to the official website for George Michael, can be found here.

The link to website for The Canadian AIDS Society, can be found here.