A Chronicle of Magic - The Making of an Album - Part 1: Fan Feature by Patrick Lemieux
A Chronicle of Magic – The Making of an Album (Part I)
By Patrick Lemieux
July 13, 1985.
By all accounts, Queen stole the show at Wembley Stadium. They had taken their duty seriously and put together a set for their allotted 18 minutes of stage time which cleverly exploited their strengths as a live act. The band had rehearsed and refined the performance at the Shaw Theatre in London and when they finally stood on the Live Aid stage, they gave it everything they had. Each member of the band was indelibly marked by the experience and would embark on one of their most ambitious and productive years as a result.
Their 1981 Greatest Hits collection and their recent 1984 studio album, The Works, were seeing chart success again. Discussions arose for a new boxed set which would contain all of their studio albums, their live album and their handful of non-album tracks. It was all enough for Queen, at singer Freddie Mercury’s insistence, to return to the Musicland Studio in Munich to record again.
Bassist John Deacon admits he was on holiday when work began. Drummer Roger Taylor brought to the band a song he said later was “half-nicked from Martin Luther King.” He would describe it as a single page poem, “all about ‘One This’ and ‘One That’.” By August, this poem would become a demo known now as “A Kind Of Vision.”
September, 1985 to January, 1986
For 14 days in September, Queen allowed Rudi Dolezal and Hannes Rossacher, the “Torpedo Twins,” to film the band as they worked on the song which would become “One Vision,” the successor to “A Kind Of Vision.” John Deacon returned by this point and joined the band in Munich. Despite later claiming limited involvement in writing the song, he is seen in the documentary footage to be present in discussions and offering input.
During the filming of the “One Vision” documentary, guitarist Brian May worked on an instrumental piano piece he later identified as “Butterfly.” Comparisons have been drawn between it and the later Brian-penned “Some Thing That Glitter” (aka “I Loved A Butterfly”). It’s possible that the latter grew out of the former, as Brian has throughout his career drawn on songs written much earlier.
“One Vision” was completed and a remixed B-side was created, “Blurred Vision,” as well as a 12” version, “Extended Vision.” Both “One Vision” and “One Vision (Extended Vision)” were provided videos which accompany the documentary footage made that month. During the filming of the “One Vision” music video, John Deacon recalls, an argument broke out between Freddie and Roger about whether the single’s A and B side tracks should appear on the forthcoming boxed set, which would be only a month or so after the single’s release. John’s own position was that since fewer people would be buying the box, it wouldn’t affect the single’s sales. Ultimately, it was ruled that they should include it; otherwise, it was felt, the set would not represent the complete catalogue of Queen’s releases as planned.
Meanwhile, principal photography on the film Highlander was finished. In London, director Russell Mulcahy had 20 minutes of footage edited together with the expressed purpose of showing it to the band and their manager, Jim Beach. They had been asked to contribute a song to the film.
The band’s initial reply was “no.” The reason being they wanted a rest.
However, they were inspired by what they saw in the footage Mulcahy showed them. This event has been well-documented, as was guitarist Brian May’s drive home with Jim Beach where he started writing “Who Wants To Live Forever.”
Work began in earnest. As the director explains in a recent interview with Den Of Geeks.com, “They came in early on the film and the composer was a guy called Michael Kamen…He also had a rock and roll background.” He goes on to say, “Queen came on board, they wrote some songs and then he would then take some of them and at the end, or halfway through [the piece], intercut the score. It wasn’t just like we finished the film and asked for a song. They were very much involved in edit and during the months of post-production.”
Brian confirms Mulcahy’s statements about their involvement in a 1986 interview, where he said the band “spent three or four months just working on passages from the film.” He also said the process “was complicated by the fact that they kept changing the film while we were doing it.” Mulcahy, in the Highlander DVD commentary, talks about the various cuts and reshoots which occurred during the film’s post-production stage, though there appears to have been no significant set-back or delay as the film was cut together.
Brian May worked closely with composer Michael Kamen, integrating Kamen’s orchestral score into “Who Wants To Live Forever” even as Kamen wove Brian’s love theme into the film. Roger re-visted the “A Kind Of Vision” demo and worked it into a new song, based on a line from the film he felt was powerful, “A Kind Of Magic.” Freddie penned the song “Princes Of The Universe,” a track based on the immortal characters in the film. The band, says Roger, “sort of made [Princes] up in bits.” Brian confirms this, noting, “A lot of interaction went into the creation of it.”
A Roger Taylor instrumental track written for the film, later known as “A Dozen Red Roses For My Darling,” features in it twice, most significantly at length near the end. It should be noted here that the music and songs the band wrote for Highlander were intended as soundtrack material, to be grafted into the film and to work as a part of it, rather than to be stand-alone tracks as they might appear on an album. By the time Queen was well into working on the Highlander material, though, they knew there would be an album at the end of it. Discussions arose toward the end of the year about what to call the eventual album, but it would take a while to decide.
Highlander was not the only project Freddie Mercury was involved with in October. He had previously agreed to record a song for his friend Dave Clark, who was putting together a rock musical titled Time. Freddie recorded the track “In My Defence” for the soundtrack album at Abbey Road Studios. According to the 2000 Freddie Mercury - The Solo Collection boxed set, Freddie originally insisted that the rest of Queen (Brian, Roger and John) back his performance on this track, which, aside from not having written it, would effectively have made it a Queen or Queen-collaboration recording. Instead, though, the track uses the original session musicians brought in by Dave Clark.
November 4th saw the release of the “One Vision” single and it reached #7 in the UK. In December, the band released The Complete Works, the boxed set of their eleven studio albums (Queen through to The Works) and their live album, Live Killers. An extra LP was included, collecting their seven non-album tracks, including “One Vision” and “Blurred Vision,” titled Complete Vision.
Seemingly late in the Highlander sessions, at least according to the film’s director, Brian writes the “Kurgan’s Theme.” It turns out to be the director’s least favourite of Queen’s tracks for the movie, because of the heavy metal style. Mulcahy had visited the band regularly in Munich while they worked on demos for the film and was directly involved with them, including, as Brian put it, arguing with them and getting drunk with them. Mulcahy would share the sentiment years later, saying one of his fondest memories of the Highlander project was “working with Queen and becoming very good friends with everyone.”
The band was back in London by January, working on a John Deacon composition, “One Year Of Love.” A demo exists from Townhouse Studios, dated January 25th. This looks to be a later addition to the Highlander tracks, or at least a later-completed track, as work on the film was drawing to a close at this point, both in the film’s post-production process and in the studio for Queen. The film’s director, Russell Mulcahy, would comment that John was not happy about “One Year Of Love” being placed in a bar scene, on the radio, in the background, which Mulcahy would explain as being a traditionally bad place to put a song, but that with the abundance of material Queen recorded, finding homes for all of it was a challenge.
Around this time, in addition to “Who Wants To Live Forever,” Brian also put to tape a piano instrumental based on the theme, simply titled “Forever.”
Amidst the Highlander sessions, Mulcahy asked Freddie to record the “Theme from ‘New York, New York,’” the 1977 film whose title track was performed by Liza Minelli. Freddie was adamantly against it, but relented when Mulcahy played him the Minelli recording.
January also saw Freddie record two more tracks for Dave Clark’s Time: The Musical. Freddie completed the title track, “Time,” and a demo for “Born To Rock ‘n’ Roll.” The demo, sadly, was lost over the years, following the decision to not have Freddie record the finished version for the musical’s soundtrack.
Roger also kept busy co-producing the band Magnum, at Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland, with David Richards. Richards, the house engineer and producer at Mountain Studios, was also working with Queen on the Highlander tracks when the band was in Switzerland. They owned the studio at the time and would use it when other acts were not booked in. Magnum was working on their album Vigilante and Roger also provided backing vocals on the songs “When The World Comes Down” and “Sometimes Love.”
Though not written for the film, “One Vision” was licensed for the movie Iron Eagle, released in the US on January 18th. It appeared prominently throughout and on the soundtrack album.
Six months had passed since Live Aid and Queen were again busy, now dividing their time between recording for a motion picture and their various solo outings. 1986 would shape up to be no less productive, as a milestone year awaited the band…
(Stay tuned for “A Chronicle of Magic – The Making of an Album [Part II]” on the next Fan Feature)
About our contributor:
Queen Live: I saw them on the Queen + Paul Rodgers North American Tour in Toronto (March 16th, 2006). Unfortunately, I never saw the classic line up in concert.
Favourite Solo Album: Strange Frontier by Roger Taylor
Favourite Solo Single: “The Business” 1998 CD single by Brian May
[Additional quoted sources for this article: “Queen: A Message From The Palace” (Baktabak); “Queen: Days Of Our Lives,” “Queen: The Magic Years” & “Queen: Greatest Video Hits Vol. 2” (Queen Productions Ltd)]