Top 50 Rarities by Tim Jones & Jon Jemmet
Top 50 Rarities
THE TOP 50 FREDDIE RARITIES
TIM JONES AND JON JEMMET PICK THROUGH SOME OF THE MOST SOUGHT- AFTER SOLO RELEASES BY QUEEN'S STELLAR FRONTMAN
The memory of Queen's charismatic singer lives on through the Mercury Phoenix Trust charity - and, of course, the man's music. But there are other ways to remember Freddie, like collecting the colourful and often bizarre editions in his relatively limited solo back catalogue.
First, some scene-setting: Before teaming up with his regal consorts, the young Farrokh Bulsara (the correct spelling, according to his family) of Zanzibar played in a local school band called the Hectics, who played a number of in-house functions between 1959 and 1961. After moving to Britain, Freddie joined Ibex, a Liverpudlian outfit based in Kensington, in 1969. Among their repertoire was an early version of "Liar", which ended up on Queen's first album. After a colourful time on Merseyside, and the loss of the band's drummer, Freddie changed their name to Wreckage. Then, early in 1970, he replied to an ad for a vocalist in Sour Milk Sea (named after a George Harrison song), who folded soon afterwards (see RC 199). A few weeks later, he linked up with Brian May and Roger Taylor in Smile, and eventually, with John Deacon. The rest, as they; say, is rock history.
The solo story starts in 1973, when, in response to Gary Glitter, Freddie adopted the glam sobriquet of Larry Lurex and, with the help of Brian and Roger (who played on the A-side of his single), released his inimitable version of the Beach Boys' hit, "I Can Hear Music". Although it hardly made an impression at the time, the release won belated fame when scores of pirated copies of the disc were unearthed in a Scouse attic in the early '90's, making national press and TV headlines - in part because the Liverpool workmen were using the records as Frisbees on their worksite! The official single is now rated at a lofty Â£200 (or Â£250 for a demo copy, only 250 of which were made), and it requires kid-gloves handling due to the weakness of the fragile plastic used in its manufacture. As with many such items, it's been extensively and professionally bootlegged (so avoid solid-centre copies). The US promo version on Anthem, with "I Can Hear Music" on both sides, fetches Â£125, while the stock copy is worth Â£200. But the ultra-rare South African issue outdoes them both, at Â£300, while the German 7" with its unique picture sleeve, commands equally impressive numbers of Deutschmarks.
Following this first solo outing, Freddie confined himself to group work for the next decade. But in 1984, he released the heartfelt "Love Kills". Recorded with Giorgio Moroder for his soundtrack to the restored, colourised version of Fritz Lang's classic film Metropolis, it made the UK top 10 (outselling Queen's concurrent release, "Hammer To Fall"). Variants include a Spanish picture sleeve with lyrics (white-label demo copies sell for Â£60), and a Japanese insert picture sleeve.
Freddie's Top 20 follow-up, "I Was Born To Love You", spawned a whole host of hard-to-get, saliva-inducing gems. Among the most sought-after are two 12" Mexican coloured vinyls - red or green - rated at more pesetas than you can carry (Â£350). There's also the 50-copy Japanese DJ 7" test pressing in a wraparound xerox picture insert, with generic sleeve and bag (Â£250), and a promo-only 12" that was produced for store reps to tout about Tokyo and Kyoto. Only 50 examples of this hard-to-find disc were produced in its unique picture sleeve and, backed by "Sense Of Purpose" by disco band Third World, a copy can be yours for a mere Â£350. There's also the little affair of an even more uncommon Brazilian 33rpm 7" which will cost you a return fare to Rio (Â£600).
MR BAD GUY
Mr Bulsara's debut solo album, "Mr Bad Guy", emerged in Britain in 1985. In its sleeve notes, he thanked the other members of Queen "for not interfering". The CD (now rated at Â£100) featured three extra 12" mixes, Canadians had a different rear sleeve and insert (Â£125), and there was another variant flip design for Japan (Â£200). Slated by the press, the album wasn't up to top Queen standards, but still hit No. 6. And it did lead to the Queen-like brick of a single, "Made In Heaven". This song sports classic Freddie vocals, and test pressing uncut shaped picture discs (the size of a 12" platter) have soared in value in recent years. Prior to Freddie's death they were going for Â£25, but now you'll do well to get change from a grand! (Â£1000)
For those who can't afford one of those (which is almost all of us), there's a Spanish one-sided promo, or an insert-adorned issue from the land of the rising sun, at Â£60 a pop. Alternatively, if you have a penpal who lives in the rain forests, you could get a Brazilian 33rpm with a unique picture sleeve, and featuring three other artists (Bryan Adams, Cyndi Lauper and aptly, Sting). It costs Â£75.
At the same time, our Yankee-cousins were treated to "Living On My Own", with an improved version of "My Love Is Dangerous" to keep it company. A one-sided Spanish promo makes up for this omission with a unique picture cover (Â£75).
While Queen's "One Vision" rocked the charts, Freddie's "Love Me Like There's No Tomorrow" ballad barely caused a ripple. Still, a British 12" double-pack, shrink wrapped with two stickers, comes in at an inflationary Â£150, while a white label promo 12" in card sleeve with sticker goes for half that.
After contributing to Dave Clark's stage musical, Time, in 1986, Freddie loaned a duet with Jo Dare, "Hold On", to the original soundtrack of the film Zabou. Scheduled for release in West Germany - but withheld, presumably due to low audiences and/or copyright shenanigans - it was bootlegged as a 7" (with Tina Turner on the B-side). The official CD now warrants Â£100.
After Queen's Magic Tour of 1986, the next Mercury solo offering was a 1987 cover of the Platter's "The Great Pretender". With a suitably daft video, it reached No. 4, helped along the way by a raft of novelties. A shaped picture disc with unfolded card plinth appeared (Â£90, or Â£70, if it's folded), and there was an Argentine 12" with unique picture sleeve (75). Hong Kong also had two 12"s, backed by the Pet Shop Boys (It's A Sin), with a clear vinyl copy being pegged at Â£150, while you'll need to add another Â£50 for the black vinyl version. There's another treat, in the shape of the uncut UK shaped picture disc - a mere Â£500.
At the end of '87, it was divas united, with Iberian opera singer Montserrat Caballe joining Freddie for the next-but-one Olympics' theme tune, "Barcelona". With its TV friendly signature, it made the Top 10 (and No. 2, when reissued during Spain's Olympic year, 1992). The real pick of this particular track, though, is a seldom seen promo-only Japanese 3" CD that was given to just 50 Polydor executives as a memento. Should you be so lucky enough to locate one, expect to shell out Â£850. A smidgeon less, at around Â£300, is a British promo-only CD, with 250 copies, all signed by Freddie. Somewhat easier to obtain, the Japanese single with insert picture sleeve sells for Â£75.
In 1988, Freddie and Montserrat (the woman-mountain rather than the volcano-mountain) were reunited for "The Golden Boy". Issued amongst other formats, as a DJ-only, one-sided, white label 7", with picture sleeve and sticker, this now fetches Â£150. Expect to pay double that for the Japanese version, in short supply because only 50 were made. Each is housed in generic sleeve with a wraparound xerox picture insert and bag. A Japanese snap-pack (elongated plastic box) 3" CD requires a measly Â£60 for the purchase thereof, while a promo UK CD with unreleased picture sleeve, and a French promo CD with unique illustration, are Â£75 each.
"Barcelona", the album, appeared soon afterwards. So did another ruck of goodies: a second (after "Golden Boy") domestic CDV (Â£60), a video (Â£75), a Japanese 8" laser disc with sticker obi and insert (Â£150), and a Spanish promo 12" with a unique picture sleeve (Â£100).
HOW CAN I GO ON
"How Can I Go On?" was the last Freddie single released in his lifetime and, like its predecessor, it failed to make an impact. Still, a 12" one-sided, white label test pressing, manufactured for Polygram reps in Hong Kong (who, jammy gits, had their names stamped on each copy), are deemed to be worth Â£350. The ditty was also matched with "Guide Me Home" as a Japanese 3" CD snap-pack, and used to advertise Nissen's Bluebird. It'll set you back Â£150 (the CD, not the car).
Of Freddie's posthumous releases, 1992's "Foolin' Around", in one-track German CD promo guise, weighs in at Â£65. A reissue of "Barcelona", for some reason, was also distributed to medical practitioners in Portugal, housed in a unique gatefold sleeve! Why not? A snip, as it were, at Â£300. That's before you even begin to think about acetates, CDR's unreleased issues and the like. Best not. Just keep doing the scratchcards!