God Save The Queen by David Hepworth (Radio Times)
Radio Times - God Save The Queen
David Hepworth introduced Queen at Live Aid - that made them the best-loved band since the Beatles
Queen - Days of Our Lives - Sunday 29 May, Monday 30 May BBC2
When in 1985 Queen stole Live Aid from under the very noses of their peers (Elton John and David Bowie), their elders and betters (Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan) and the new kids on the block (U2 and Madonna), smart opinion thought it was a comeback. Smart opinion failed to realise that in spite of small, local convulsions such as punk rock, the New Romantics, Indie and even disco, Queen had never gone away. All their albums went to number one as a matter of course. Earlier in 1985 they had played to more than 300,000 people over two nights in Rio, compared with which Wembley was a club gig.
Not that they took Live Aid lightly. The day before, they'd been locked away in London's Shaw Theatre condensing their set to 20 minutes of perfectly paced hits. Interviewed during rehearsals they hinted that yes, there might be some element of competition between the acts. It was a competition they intended to win.
What followed at 6.45pm on that Saturday was a triumph of showbiz savvy. I was fronting the BBC coverage at the time and when Freddie Mercury sat at the piano, played the opening flourishes of Bohemian Rhapsody - and Queen records in many cases were nothing but flourishes - and sang the single word "Mama…", all 72,000 people fell in with every word. They did the same through Radio GaGa, Hammer to Fall, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions.
It was the greatest display of community singing the old stadium had seen and cemented Queen's position as the most-loved British group since the Beatles.
How did Queen earn that affection? They provided lots of things the British like: the throb of an anthem, a beery singalong, sexual innuendo, toppy guitar solos, dressing up as women, burley gay frontmen. At the same time there was a lot of craft. Most bands start in the mainstream and then branch out, becoming less popular as they go on.
Queen's journey, which began as a progressive rock group called Smile, went in the opposite direction. They packed away all their baroque tendencies into clenched pop singles that have proved surprisingly durable.
Their songs entered Britain's bloodstream in the 1980s just as we were getting a taste for boosterish corporate culture. Many of us have known what it's like to sing along to We Are the Champions after having picked up "Best Support Services" or something similar at the company awards. They gave us tunes we could use.
Queen's most overblown anthems manage to sound tongue-in-cheek and yet sincere at the same time, which is very British. The Americans never quite got Queen. Dave Marsh, their senior rock critic, described them as "the first truly fascist rock band", further proof that we are two nations divided by a common language. Leftish opinion didn't like them for playing Sun City in South Africa during apartheid. For them, Queen were somehow sinister.
That perception changed on that July evening when all the people who'd had opinions got to see them for once and realised they were a whale of a good time.
Freddie Mercury died in 1991. The following year the film Wayne's World was released. We all know the scene. Five genially stupid NEETs [not in education, employment or training] pack into a car and cruise the main street of Aurora, Illinois, singing along to Bohemian Rhapsody with a look of stunned delight all over their faces.
They don't understand a word of it - there may not be anything to understand - but they are transported by the sound, which is the highest thing any record can hope to provide. That's the ultimate tribute to Queen. It's not about the band. It's a picture of us, singing along.