The incomparable Freddie Mercury passed away twenty-five years ago. Drummer Roger Taylor and guitarist Brian May both soldiered on and pursued solo careers. And, as May has decided to explain bassist John Deacon's absence since 1992's legendary Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, “[He] is at the beach.” and it would seem that the band would be over.
Well, time passed, and May and Taylor made a risky decision to press on without Fred. They chose to soldier on with their friend Paul “the Voice” Rogers taking center stage as lead vocalist for a couple of world tours and a new studio album, under the moniker Queen+ Paul Rogers. And, American Idol star Adam Lambert has been touring with Queen as lead vocalist for the past few years as well.
As of today, absent are any rumors that there are any plans to halt the band's forward motion, even with the recent news of Brian May announcing to his fans, that he is battling an unnamed ailment that is forcing him to step out the limelight and social media until he's fully ready to return. And, Taylor has either just teased or consoled fans by stating in an interview that he would very much like to work on new Queen material with Brian in the future.
Also, if that's not enough fodder, Queen has been issuing an array music and video from their vaults in spades over the past few years, including Live at the Rainbow '74 (CD/DVD/Blu Ray), A Night at the Odeon (CD), Forever (a double CD of singles that feature a couple of the long sought after recordings of Mercury with Michael Jackson), and most recently a treasure trove of recordings from the BBC.
Glide was fortunate enough to receive a promotional review copy of the complete recordings, a sensational six CD box set that includes 24 incredible studio recordings, 24 live tracks from three different concerts and over three hours of interviews with all four members of the band. The tracks, re-recorded solely for the BBC broadcasts, are selections from the band's following albums: Queen ('73), Queen II ('74), Sheer Heart Attack ('74) and News of the World ('77).
Here are some of the highlights:
Session 1 (2/5/73): “My Fairy King” (Queen) is the compilation's first track and it's glorious! It's slightly less complex than the album cut but mesmerizing nonetheless. “Doin' Alright” (Queen) is stellar as well. May's guitar is less abrasive than the original and Taylor's fans will relish this alternate take, where he sings the third verse instead of Mercury. The recordings from Queens first visit to the BBC's recording studios are pristine and come across as polished demos that impress.
Session 2 (7/25/73): One of the deepest cuts found in the set as a whole, is a non-album track. “See What a Fool I've Been” is a traditional blues number and Queen display their abilities to rock, what seems to be a work in progress. Later, “Fool” would be released as the B-side to “Seven Seas of Rhye”. Hard core fans can compare the two versions and would certainly note the various differences in the lyrics and composition. Queen certainly recorded blues oriented songs, but none so forward as this blistering rocker. “Son and Daughter” also stands out. It's raw and filled with a slew of interesting quirks. At one point, it sounds as if motion picture laser gun sound effects are sharing space with the rhythm section, but it turns out that the band had been fiddling with overdubs of May's noodling and liked what they heard, thus deciding to keep the errant squeals for good measure.
Session 3 (12/3/73): “Ogre Battle” is epic and is reminiscent of the band's live version, straying from the one found on Queen II which hadn't been released just yet.
Session 4 (4/3/74): Taylor's “Modern Times Rock 'n' Roll” (Queen) offers up alternate lyrics and a slide whistle to boot! May's guitar work is amazing. There are more layered riffs and fills than recognizable on the original album's recording. Taylor sounds great on lead vocals and could easily be mistaken for a young Rod Stewart from his early days in the Faces. The change in tempo, slower than the original and in Session 3′s, offers a bit more breathing room for the listener to really hear what's going on between all of the instruments. Taylor's and Mercury's back and forth at the song's conclusion is just plain fun too.
Session 4 (4/3/74): Taylor's “Modern Times Rock 'n' Roll” (Queen) offers up alternate lyrics and a slide whistle to boot! May's guitar work is amazing. There are more layered riffs and fills than recognizable on the original album's recording. Taylor sounds great on lead vocals and could easily be mistaken for a young Rod Stewart from his early days in the Faces. The change in tempo, slower than the original and in Session 3's, offers a bit more breathing room for the listener to really hear what's going on between all of the instruments. Taylor's and Mercury's back and forth at the song's conclusion is just plain fun too.
Session 5 (10/16/74): “Now I'm Here” (Sheer Heart Attack) offers up slight variations from the more widely known version. It's just slightly more laid back and it has a bit more of a groove that supports Mercury's vocals are far sexier than what's found on the album. The band was clearly locked in with each other and on a mission to rock and roll.
Session 6 (10/28/77): This final session may contain the most recognizable tracks to the casual listener, but it is also the most captivating. Session 6 came about from a request by the band themselves to record once again for the BBC. The previous five sessions were set up externally. By the time 1977 had rolled around, Queen did not have any need to push for promotion. They were one of the hottest acts in the world and their iconic anthems “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” from News of the World, made them household names. Queen did this one for fun. There are four different songs, but curiously five separate tracks in this final installment. As stated in the liner notes, the intent was never to duplicate the album's studio tracks, but to offer unique takes with alternate lyrics, composition and ultimately a fresh and unique spin on the polished tracks from the LP.
Session 6 starts off with the familiar stomp and clap of Brian May's “We Will Rock You”. However, Mercury only sings the first verse before the boys join in for the chorus and May's trademark guitar solo. Then, an odd recording of a woman narrating random thoughts about Buddha interjects itself, forcing an intriguing segue into “Rock You” once again. But, this time, it's the “fast” version, which would become a live concert staple for years to come. This particular track is just one of the set's gems, as it's the only known studio recording of the aforementioned “fast” version. This track was chosen as a radio single to promote the box set and it's currently receiving extensive airplay.
May's “It's Late”, which initially chimes in like a ballad, soon punches in with a distorted six-string-vengeance and fury. Queen must have been having a grand time experimenting with this take, as they decided to augment this track with close to three minutes of echoing vocal improvisation akin to their live performance of World's “Get Down Make Love”.
This final session ends with a deep cut, Mercury's “My Melancholy Blues”. It's somewhat similar to the original version, except that May offers up a subtle series of bluesy guitar fills not heard on the original album cut. This version also ends with Freddie singing the last line and substituting the last two words with just a flippant laugh. It's a fun and fitting conclusion to the last of the BBC recordings.
Queen was renown for their live performances and three distinctly different eras of their touring days are represented on the third disc. The first eight tracks are taken from Golders Green Hippodrome (London, England 9/13/73), the second eight from Morumbi Stadium (Sao Paulo, Brazil 3/20/81) and the last eight from Maimarktgelande (Mannheim, Germany 6/21/86). While most of what's served up does sound closer to fan-gathered bootlegs, there are certainly several nuggets worthy of investigating. “Liar” and “Jailhouse Rock” from London are nasty and quite exciting. “Let Me Entertain You” and “Dragon Attack” from Sao Paulo are a pair of deep cuts that are also blistering rockers that deserve attention. “A Kind of Magic” is phenomenal and “Is This the World We Created?” sends chills, as it's message still resonates today and was one of Mercury's last live recordings.
And finally, for the Queen collector, there are three more discs of interviews with each member of the band, dating back to 1976 and up through 1992. In the 220 minutes of interviews, the band works with Britain's best known presenters and broadcasters as they discuss their band's genesis and history, musical heroes and influences, touring, fans, recording, life on stage and off, and most momentous, the last ever interview with all four members together.
After a recent rash of impressive releases from Queen, none can top this collection. On Air culminates a most eclectic combination of studio recordings, live concert recordings and interviews that, once again, demonstrate how and why Queen became one the greatest bands in rock and roll history. This royal package should not be overlooked!