By Greg Brooks and Gary Taylor
Queen’s ninth studio album was the original soundtrack to the movie based on the comic strip character Flash Gordon. It was the band’s first foray into the film world and would prove to be their only full soundtrack album. Later, they would write several songs for the first Highlander adventure in 1986, which emerged (in reworked form) on the album A Kind Of Magic, also in that year, but that was not a soundtrack LP.
The Flash Gordon music was recorded for Director Mike Hodges and Producer Dino De Laurentiis’ $22 million remake of the 1930’s black and white sci-fi film. The band was first approached in 1979, and as writing film music was something they had all thought about but had not yet got around to, their Manager arranged a meeting with De Laurentiis and mentioned Queen’s interest in scoring the film. Rumour has it that De Laurentiis’ first reaction was simply, “Who are the Queens?” They were, as it turned out, the first rock band he had ever listened to, and the outcome was that the band was commissioned to write the music for the movie.
Brian May later explained: “We saw 20 minutes of the finished film and thought it very good and over the top. We wanted to do something that was a real soundtrack. It’s a first in many ways, because a rock group has not done this type of thing before, or else it’s been toned down and they’ve been asked to write mushy background music. Whereas we were given the licence to do what we liked, as long as it complimented the picture.”
Having just finished a lengthy European tour, and a further three week stint in Japan, spanning January to May, Queen spent the summer of 1979 working on The Game album, mostly at Musicland studios in Munich. It was during these sessions that they also started work on the score for Flash Gordon. Producing two albums simultaneously was not easy, but both progressed well. After touring, holidays and other ventures, more work on Flash Gordon and The Game followed in the early part of 1980, again in Munich, and then a U.S. tour commenced in June and ran through to October. After a well-earned holiday for most of October, Queen set to work on completing the Flash soundtrack at Advision, Townhouse, and The Music Centre studios in London. The Hero was alone recorded at Utopia studios also in London. The album was complete by November.
The music was composed, performed, arranged and (Executive) produced by Queen, with the overall album credited as a Brian May and Mack production. Like The Game, which was the first Queen LP to feature synthesizers, Flash Gordon continued the trend, though it features significantly more synths than The Game. Additional orchestral arrangements on the album were by Howard Blake, who also conducted the orchestra, and all of it was recorded at Anvil Studios. The orchestra features mostly throughout the film, to compliment Queen’s music, though some of it did also make the final soundtrack album too.
Flash Gordon was released in the UK on 8th December 1980. This will live in history as a notorious date because it also happens to be the day that John Lennon was shot dead outside his apartment in New York – an event which, in Queen terms, would later inspire Brian and Freddie to write two songs for the album that followed Flash Gordon; Put Out The Fire and Life Is Real (Song For Lennon) – for the Hot Space LP (1982). The band also performed Lennon’s Imagine at their own concert, the day after news broke of his death, at London’s Wembley Arena, as a tribute to the man who (with the rest of the Beatles) had been such a major influence on Queen.
In the USA, Flash Gordon was issued over a month later, on 27th January 1981. The LP reached No 10 in the UK charts and 23 in America, both achieving gold award status. The album also made the Top 20 in Japan and Holland, and No 2 and 1 in Germany and Austria respectively.
The album cover concept came from Freddie; the Flash Gordon logo over a vivid yellow background, and with a scene from the film on the back, while the inner sleeve featured four individual photos of the band taken during the 1980 USA Game Tour by regular Queen live photographer Neil Preston.
Though some fans were a little dubious to hear Queen were recording music for a comic character-inspired film adventure, the album that emerged was a pleasant surprise on various levels. The music works well as an accompaniment to the visuals of the film, punctuated by sound effects and dialogue from the cast, including Max Von Sydow, Timothy Dalton, Topol and the larger than life English actor Brian Blessed. Any reservations among the fans were soon cast aside when the album’s only single Flash was released worldwide prior to the album, and faired well in the charts.
Roger Taylor: “We’ve been offered quite a few films, but Flash Gordon was something which Brian and I were quite attracted to because of its sci-fi thirties connotations. The album was totally under our control and it was our idea to put dialogue on the album. That wasn’t the original idea. We thought we’d get little snippets to give some idea of what was happening in the film and some atmosphere of the story.”
All tracks were titled after the appropriate part of the film each part was written for, and when hearing the album in its own right the listener gets a vivid idea as to what’s happening in the story. The drama of the action, dialogue and over the top special effects, with Queen’s distinctive sound threading through it all, is a compelling and greatly unusual blend.
The album opens with the soundtrack version of Flash’s Theme, the first of only two songs on the whole LP to feature proper vocals. The second example is that of the guitar driven The Hero, which closes the album in such imposing fashion. Both songs were written by Brian, and while the first was a single release (albeit in a different form), The Hero was never released as a single, which many fans still regard as a major oversight. It features a magnificent vocal from Freddie, as well as a stirring melody, percussion, bass and guitar riffs as powerful as any Queen single.
The rest of the material on the album is essentially instrumental pieces with dialogue here and there, and though a couple of the songs are less than a minute long, some contain truly beautiful moments of Queen at their sublime best, with emotive sounds that match the scenes perfectly.
Brian also contributed the songs Flash To The Rescue, incorporating the familiar Flash beat and some intriguing elements from the film, while Battle Theme allows him to indulge some trademark heavy guitar before the song explodes into Crash Dive On Mingo City. Wagner’s majestic The Wedding March is given the full May/Red Special treatment in much the same vein as God Save The Queen was five years earlier on the album A Night At The Opera. Marriage of Dale And Ming (and Flash approaching), which Brian co wrote with Roger, features verses of Flash and yet more guitar, while Flash’s Theme Reprise (Victory celebrations) concludes the story in truly heroic style.
It is easy to overlook this album, with its brash Flash Gordon imagery and unusual subject matter, and given that it clearly isn’t a traditional Queen studio album, but actually there are some real treasures to be found on this disc. The aforementioned Hero is a triumph on all levels, and Battle Theme demands attention and then refuses to be forgotten. Both tracks featured in the Queen concerts of the time, and both went down a storm – especially The Hero.
Roger’s other contributions to the soundtrack are In The Space Capsule (The love theme), with its sinister drum sounds and symphonic explosion at the end, the stark and rather foreboding In The Death Cell (Love theme reprise), and finally Escape From The Swamp, with its tense timpani led sound.
Freddie wrote the equally menacing Ming’s Theme (In The Court Of Ming The Merciless), The Ring (Hypnotic Seduction Of Dale), containing a truly chilling synth line, the fast and furious Football Fight, and the typically romantic The Kiss (Aura resurrects Flash). Freddie also composed Vultan’s Theme (Attack of the Hawk Men), with its feisty synth and drums perfectly complimenting an epic battle in the sky in which actor Brian Blessed (himself a big Queen fan) is as boisterous and unmistakable as ever.
John contributed Execution Of Flash, featuring some heavenly vocals from Freddie, and Arboria (Planet of the Tree Men), an eerie but tranquil interlude that brings together some of the main characters in the film as they unite to take on the mighty and merciless ruler Ming.
The album was well received by the press and critics alike and each review of the film made a special reference to the music from Queen. The LP was nominated for a BAFTA award and an Ivor Novello, and the film premiered in London on 11th December 1980.
After touring Europe and spending time at home, the band resumed touring in 1981, commencing in Japan on 12th February, with five nights at the colossal Budokan in Tokyo. Prior to this on February 10th, Queen are invited as honoured guests to the premiere of the Flash Gordon movie in Tokyo, and are interviewed on stage before the film is screened.
The only single to be released from the album was Flash, coupled with Freddie’s contrasting Football Fight. The disc was released in the UK on November 24th 1980 and was followed by a worldwide release. In the Elektra territories, including the USA, Canada, Australia and Japan, the single was re-titled Flash’s Theme (A.K.A Flash), hence the confusion to this day each time the track is referred to. Sometimes it’s Flash, other times it’s Flash’s Theme. The author of the piece, Mr May, prefers the latter. The single was issued in the USA on 27th January 1981 and reached No 42 in the charts. It had already reached No 10 in the UK, gaining a silver disc award, and reached the top 10 also in Ireland, No 3 in Germany and No 1 in Austria.
The single version of the song differed to the album cut quite significantly in that Brian added film dialogue to the single mix, making the track more of a complete song and giving some idea of what the film was about, which was especially appealing for radio play.
The video for Flash (or is it Flash’s Theme?) was recorded at Advision Studios in London, and, like the movie, was directed by Mike Hodges. Permission was given to use clips of the film, and this was intercut with footage of the band simulating the recording of the track in the studio. Another alternate video, though similar, was also shot, but has never been released on any official video or DVD.
Did You Know?
1. Recorded at same time as The Game studio album - first time band had worked on two projects at the same time
2. Parts of dialogue from the movie were mixed into the music
3. Releasing this album held up a proposed Greatest Hits package for twelve months
4. Flash was Queen's first movie soundtrack album
5. At the time critics thought the music was seen to be highly atmospheric and perfectly matched the activities on screen
- 1. Flash's Theme
- 2. In The Space Capsule (The Love Theme)
- 3. Ming's Theme (In The Court Of Ming The Merciless)
- 4. The Ring (Hypnotic Seduction Of Dale)
- 5. Football Fight
- 6. In The Death Cell (Love Theme Reprise)
- 7. Execution Of Flash
- 8. The Kiss (Aura Resurrects Flash)
- 9. Arboria (Planet Of The Tree Men)
- 10. Escape From The Swamp
- 11. Flash To The Rescue
- 12. Vultan's Theme (Attack Of The Hawk Men)
- 13. Battle Theme
- 14. The Wedding March
- 15. Marriage Of Dale And Ming (And Flash Approaching)
- 16. Crash Dive On Mingo City
- 17. Flash's Theme Reprise (Victory Celebrations)
- 18. The Hero
- 19. Flash Theme (single version)
1. Flash's Theme
Flash, a ah saviour of the universe Flash, a ah he'll save everyone of us Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha Flash, a ah he's a miracle Flash, a ah king of the impossible He's for everyone of us, stand for everyone of us He'll save with a mighty hand - Every man every woman every child with a mighty flash Flash, a ah Flash, a ah he'll save everyone of us Just a man, with a man's courage He knows nothing but a man, but he can never fail No one but the pure in heart may find the golden grail Oh oh oh oh Flash
2. In The Space Capsule (The Love Theme)
3. Ming's Theme (In The Court Of Ming The Merciless)
4. The Ring (Hypnotic Seduction Of Dale)
5. Football Fight
6. In The Death Cell (Love Theme Reprise)
7. Execution Of Flash
8. The Kiss (Aura Resurrects Flash)
9. Arboria (Planet Of The Tree Men)
10. Escape From The Swamp
11. Flash To The Rescue
12. Vultan's Theme (Attack Of The Hawk Men)
13. Battle Theme
14. The Wedding March
15. Marriage Of Dale And Ming (And Flash Approaching)
16. Crash Dive On Mingo City
17. Flash's Theme Reprise (Victory Celebrations)
He's For Everyone Of Us stand for everyone of us he'll save with a mighty hand every man every woman every child he's the mighty flash no one but the pure in heart may find the golden grail oh oh oh oh flash
18. The Hero
So you feel like you ain't nobody Always needed to be somebody Put your feet on the ground Put your hand on your heart Lift your head to the stars And the world's for your taking All you got to do is save the world - yeah So you feel like it's end of story Find it all pretty satisfactory Well I tell you my friend, this might seem like the end But the continuation is yours for the making Yes you're a hero - ooh yeah Flash, a ah He's for everyone of us, stand for everyone of us He'll save with a mighty hand (he'll save with a mighty hand) He'll save with a mighty hand (he'll save with a mighty hand) He'll save with a mighty hand (he'll save us) Every man every woman every child - with a mighty - flash a ah
19. Flash Theme (single version)
Flash, ah saviour of the universe flash, ah he'll save ev'ry one of us "Seemingly there is no reason for these extraordinary inter-galactical events" "What's happening flash ?" "Only Doctor Hans Zarkov - formerly at NASA - has provided any explanation" Flash, ah he's a miracle "This morning's unprecedented solar eclipse is no cause for alarm" Flash, ah king of the impossible He's for ev'ry one of us, stand for ev'ry one of us He'll save with a mighty hand, ev'ry man ev'ry woman ev'ry child With a mighty flash "General kala... Flash Gordon approaching !" "What do you mean flash gordon approaching? Open fire all weapons. Despatch war rocket and Ajax to bring back his body" Flash, ah "Gordon's alive !" Flash, ah he'll save ev'ry one of us Just a man with a man's courage He knows nothing but a man, but he can never fail No one but the pure in heart may find the golden grail Oh oh oh oh "Flash, Flash I love you, but we only have fourteen hours to save the earth" Flash