Queen Remixed: John Luongo - Fan Feature by Adam Unger
Queen Remixed – John Luongo by Adam Unger – www.Queenvault.com
John Luongo Interview by Adam Unger
April 30, 2014
In early December 2012, just outside Washington D.C., I found myself inside one of the last huge record stores in the United States. While thumbing through my usual favorites (and amassing a large stack to purchase), I had finally found an item that I hadn’t seen in person. The sudden second of joy and satisfaction that the long search was over, I had found a rare Queen item that I had always wanted.
In November 1982, Queen released Back Chat, the final single to support their most commercially and critically modest performing album, Hot Space. To promote the single, a 12” promo copy was sent to radio stations. The 12” promo had the Extended Remix of Back Chat, which was familiar to anyone who owned the proper UK 12” release. The A-Side, however, was a completely different matter. The flip side to that Elektra release featured an extended remix that only appeared on that piece of vinyl (and would never appear again). It was on that day in December 2012 that I held that vinyl in my hands, reading the label…. Staying Power, Remixed by John Luongo.
In 1968, Boston native John Luongo was a Northeastern University student. On one chance evening, he found himself in The Townhouse club (which was located above the Bull and Finch, the bar used as the basis of Cheers). The in-house DJ spinning records to an empty room fascinated him. John exchanged information with the DJ giving him his contact details written down on a matchbook, hoping for a chance to fill in for him on occasion. One week later, the DJ had quit and John Luongo got a call from the manager saying that the DJ had left behind John’s number. It was this life-changing episode that ended a promising career in civil engineering and began a 45-year career in DJing, mixing, and producing.
After reaching the heights in the music business as a top DJ and music promoter (MK Dance, Pavillion Promotions and Pavillion Alternative Radio), Magazine Publisher (Nightfall Magazine) and the head of the Boston Record Pool, John eventually left Boston for New York to begin a career in mixing and production. John had a pair of popular remixes that caught the eye of EPIC records, who contacted him to promote and assist on new releases. CBS/Columbia was impressed with his work and used him to remix new releases from popular artists such as The Jackson’s, Santana, Cheap Trick, Brick, Nigel Olsen, Angela Clemmons, Sarah Dash, Dan Hartman and Patti Labelle. John’s success led Epic Associated Records to give him his own label called Pavillion CBS Records. John primarily focused on remixing for Columbia, but would also work for other major labels (EMI, Elektra, Capitol, Geffen, Atlantic, etc) but Pavillion was John’s boutique label for the release of quality Dance Music. John was at the time the youngest president and owner of a CBS Record label ever!
Throughout the 70s and early 80s, Queen had gained a large following in the Northeastern United States, particularly in Boston. John recalls:
“I remember them well! We loved them in Boston and they were exposed on WBCN FM, which was our progressive rock station and the best station of it’s kind in the country due to the taste and depth of the great DJs who appeared on the station. In short, BCN was the most popular station in the entire country for progressive rock radio. Boston has over 250,000 college students that come in each year, as it is the most concentrated area of colleges and college students in the world!
The love of the music and the concentration of worldwide fans of great music made Queen a household name due to the sophisticated taste and diversity of the audiences. Queen were the most interesting band of the time and were literally a lightning rod for creativity and innovation so I was lucky to be exposed to them and their music at an early age.”
Queen had retained their popularity in Boston through 1982. Queen had a sold out show at the Boston Garden and had a “Queen Day” dedicated to them by the city. Hot Space was a departure for the band, being more dance-oriented than straightforward rock. So, it was a natural step for them to approach John to remix Staying Power.
“I was in the studio working on the a project which I believe was a track from the Huey Lewis album! I was at Sigma Sound Studios in New York and I was extremely hot, maybe the hottest dance mixer in country and possibly the world at that time. The president of Elektra Records, Bob Krasnow called me up to say he needed my help on a track that he thought had potential. I heard it once and loved it and jumped in to add tracks and mix the record. It was in fact the first time that an AMS was used on a recording anywhere in the world. Stuart Nevinson, the president, was there in NY and gave me the unit to use as I was mixing the track. It was perfect and gave me the leg up on the competition I needed. I finished the recording, loved it and really wanted it to come out. Bob told me that the band loved it as well and it was going to happen but something at the label went array and the track was not released commercially but rather, just as a promotion copy to the clubs and radio. I was later pleased to hear that Freddie and the band really loved what I had done and it was given high marks and was a big hit in their inner camp for its creativity and daring! I mean they were Queen so how could I not be free to let my imagination go?”
Of all the remixes, extended versions and the like, Luongo’s remix of Staying Power remains a favorite. John expanded the track, weaving an additional minute and 40 seconds to the running time. Instrumental parts are isolated and featured prominently, including rhythm and lead guitars. Arif Mardin’s horn arrangements are in full, extended force. Even though the arrangement is the main focus of the remix, Freddie is of course the shinning star.
After the lukewarm reception of Hot Space in America, Queen left Elektra Records and signed with Capitol Records. The Extended Remix of Staying Power ended up never being properly released as a commercial single and has yet to see the light of day again on any release. John, however, would once again put his stamp on the Queen catalog, this time it was to celebrate their 20th anniversary.
In 1991, the Disney owned Hollywood Records had purchased the rights to release the entire Queen catalogue in America. America would see a deluge of Queen products in 1991 and 1992, including new compilations and every album, digitally remastered with bonus tracks. The bonus tracks that appeared on the remastered albums were a mix of unreleased tracks, B-sides, and newly commissioned remixes by Hollywood Records.
On June 18, 1991, Queen’s first album, the self titled ‘Queen” was re-released. The track Liar was remixed by John Luongo and his good friend Gary Hellman. Gary Hellman was an assistant at Electric Lady Studios when John first met him. Gary was a great aspiring engineer and John increased his ability and range by teaching him how to push boundaries to make great rock and pop mixes that you could also dance to. The Liar remix, in particular, really shows Gary and John’s versatility. This is no dance remix! The song’s arrangement is faithful to the original and the performances are preserved. There is a renewed focus on bringing percussion, bongos, and the lead guitar to the forefront. It’s unmistakably Liar, and it’s unmistakably new.
“Hollywood wanted to pay tribute to the band and show how much ahead of their time they were. I approached it from the point they were a great band and had arguably the best vocalist of our time. Therefore, making the sounds better, making the instruments speak and have their own place in the mix and adding clarity and power to the instruments to show how wonderful the parts were would serve the band and my interpretation best. I had the pleasure of speaking with Brian May who thanked me for the Staying Power mix and gave me some insights into which guitars on the tracks were usable and just there for guide lines. I loved what we did and when you compare it to the original, I believe that you would have to agree!
Sadly, I never meet Queen in person but did have the honor of speaking with Brian May when I mixed Liar to ask about his guitar sound and treatment to do respect to the band and their sound. I was honored when he told me how much he loved Staying Power and told me he had complete confidence in my ability! One of my greatest dreams would have been to meet Freddie Mercury in person, but doing what I did was as close as you could be without actually being there to say hello. Quite an amazing moment in the life of a young man from Boston!”
John Luongo currently resides in Myrtle Beach, SC and is busier then ever. Throughout his career he has taken songs and made them better suited for an audience, while still keeping with the intentions of the artist first and foremost. John said, “Better to make a mix that goes top 10 keeping the integrity of a band then going to Number One and making a track that has nothing to do with the band or their direction and careers.” As for the future, “the door is always open and it would be an honor to do more work for Queen. I believe I can get access to any track on any artist that I might choose because of the care and the quality of my work. While it may not be completely true that I can have access to any track by any Artist, I’d like to believe that my love for the music, the artists and the audiences coupled with my passionate desire to do my best in all I do, would be a great calling card to get me into any the door that I might choose and at least get me a shot.”
John Luongo Queen Discography
Staying Power 12” promo vinyl
Release Date: November 1982
Catalogue Number: 0-67954
1. Staying Power (Extended Remix by John Luongo) 5:51
1. Back Chat (Extended Remix by John Deacon) 6:55
Queen 1991 Remaster
Release Date: June 18, 1991
Catalogue Number: HR-61064-2
Label: Hollywood Records
Remastered by: Eddy Schreyer
1. Keep Yourself Alive 3:47
2. Doing All Right 4:09
3. Great King Rat (Preliminary Mix) 5:43
4. My Fairy King 4:08
5. Liar 6:25
6. The Night Comes Down 4:23
7. Modern Times Rock ‘N’ Roll 1:48
8. Son And Daughter
9. Jesus 3:44
10. Seven Seas Of Rhye
11. Mad The Swine 3:20
12. Keep Yourself Alive (Long Lost Retake) 4:04
13. Liar (Hollywood Records 1991 Additional Production and Remix by John Luongo and Gary Hellman) 6:26
Special Thanks To:
- John Luongo, for his hospitality, his time, and enthusiasm.
- disco-disco.com for excellent background information
- Patrick Lemieux, Jamie Harris, Suzy Unger
- Photo by Adam Unger
For more information on John Luongo:
Skype: Johnluongo Myrtle Beach SC