Live in the Seventies (Record Collector – June 1989)70's
Early in their career, Queen established a reputation for being a dynamite live band. After their initial successes in Britain, their popularity quickly spread across the rest of the world, and in recent years many of their greatest achievements have been linked with their live shows. In this feature, I want to look at how their concerts have changed over the years, taking the story from their first gigs together to the end of the Seventies.
Very little of this progression is visible on official releases. Their U.K. live LPs are currently limited to a double set called "Live Killers", issued in May 1979, and a heavily edited single album, "Live Magic", released in December 1986. Compared to artists like Rush and David Bowie, who've issued three live doubles apiece, this output is very small. One additional Queen live track was issued on the Atlantic compilation "Concert For The People Of Kampuchea" - "Now I'm Here", taped at the Hammersmith Odeon late in 1979.
One medium in which Queen have led other artists, however, is the concert video. At the time of writing, there are three such items available, "We Will Rock You", "Rock In Rio" and "Live In Budapest". In addition, there was an excellent triple set of videos issued in December 1987 called "The Magic Years", the second volume of which collected together live clips from around the world. But like the vinyl releases, these live videos all come from the later part of the band's career. Their fan club recently reported a proposal for a "Rare Live" video, which may be issued later this year, but no further details are available.
During their nineteen-year career, Queen have notched up a huge number of radio and TV appearances around the world. Some of these live clips turned up on "The Magic Years"; others, like the film of the 1974 shows at the Rainbow Theatre, were shown as a support movie at British cinemas in the 1 970s, or were screened at the annual Queen conventions since 1986. And the legendary Hammersmith Odeon gig from 1975 was filmed by the BBC, who have shown the programme three times, and also broadcast it on radio.
In fact, radio programmes offer one way -albeit an expensive one - for fans to pick up legitimate live recordings of the band. These are available as special radio LPs (or CDs, these days) sent around the world for radio stations to play as entire programmes, with space for local advertising in each show. Besides the BBC's 1973 and 1975 concerts, Queen were taped in 1976 at Hyde Park by Capital Radio. In 1977, they were recorded in the States with the band Kansas, and a CD of this show now sells for Â£80.
But once you own all these official recordings, you may be tempted to start collecting unofficial tapes and records of live Queen shows - the quality of which varies from good to downright appalling, so be warned!
Back in 1971, when Queen came together in its present form, the band took the unusual step of perfecting their live performances by playing selected free concerts at venues like Imperial College, London. They also taped some demos at De Lane Lea Studios, which they sent out to the record companies in the hope of getting a contract. EMI Records took the bait, and Queen recorded their debut album for the label in 1972.
But while contemporaries like David Bowie and Roxy Music reaped the rewards of playing original material onstage in front of glamorous stage sets, Queen's career was held back when the release of their album was delayed by EMI. When it finally appeared in July 1973, it seemed as if the band were copying artists who had actually come along after them.
Fortunately, Queen found unlikely champ-ions in 'The Old Grey Whistle Test', who played "Keep Yourself Alive" to the accompaniment of a film clip. This gave them much needed public exposure, and led to the band winning the support slot on Mott The Hoople's U.K. winter tour. Radio One taped one show, which showcased numbers like "Liar", "Keep Yourself Alive" and "Son And Daughter" from their debut album, plus songs from their soon4o-be-released second LP, like "Father To Son" and "Ogre Battle". In these early days, the band also played cover versions of "Jailhouse Rock" and "I'm A Man", and some 1973 tapes include a song called "Hangman", which has never been released.
The 1973 tour won the band a small but loyal hardcore of support; and when their second single, "Seven Seas Of Rhye", was issued a month later in January 1974, it picked up heavy airplay and sales. Queen then set out on their first headlining tour of Britain and Europe, to coincide with the release of their second album, "Queen II". Many songs from the album were obviously included in the band's live sets, and Brian May's beautiful ballad "The White Queen", the single "Seven Seas Of Rhye" and "Son And Daughter" with an early version of May's guitar solo took their place in their repertoire. The band encored with "Jailhouse Rock" and "Be-Bop-ALula", and sometimes added "Modern Times Rock And Roll".
Tapes of the tour - and bootleg albums like "Rogues And Scandal" and "Sheet Kickers" - show a band growing in confidence all the time, particularly Freddie Mercury. At the Stirling show, Queen got the audience so excited that they rioted after the band refused to come back for a fourth encore! At another show, Freddie got too close to his fans, who dragged him off stage. This sort of reception surprised the band, but it also brought them increased press coverage.
In 1974 Queen won the support slot on Mott The Hoople's U.S. tour, but like their British critics, the American press were unimpressed. Halfway through the tour, Brian May fell seriously ill, to the extent that they were forced to return to Britain, and to begin making their third album without him.
But the enforced 1ayoff proved to be a turning point in their career, and they bounced back in October 1974 with a new single, "Killer Queen", which took the charts by storm. "Sheer Heart Attack", their best album to date, followed it. With both releases high in the charts, the band set out on British and European tours. Opening the shows was a dynamic "Now I'm Here", with dry ice streaming onto the stage - first indication of the special effects and large lighting rig introduced for this series of concerts. The band also took to wearing elaborate costumes, like Freddie's silk cape, originated by Zandra Rhodes.
The 1974 set was' captured on the film "Live At The Rainbow": after the tape of "Procession" faded away, and the band powered through "Now I'm Here", and then "Ogre Battle",. the medley made its first appearance, joining "Killer Queen" and part of "March Of The Black Queen" with another track from the new album, the superb "Lap Of The Gods".
Brian May then played a short ukulele solo on the instrumental version of "Bring Back That Leroy Brown", before the band rocked out with the excellent "Liar" and the old favourite "Keep Yourself Alive". Another highlight was the Brian May showcase, "Brighton Rock" played with "Son And Daughter". But the Rainbow film isn't the ideal record of this tour, as it is only partially successful at capturing the magic of the band's live shows, and several songs are badly edited.
The band also recorded the Rainbow shows for a possible live album, but this idea was shelved indefinitely. Instead, they set off for their first headlining tour of the States, and sales of the "Killer Queen" single and third album rose dramatically as the concerts continued. These early U.S. shows had a slightly different set list to the U.K. shows, something Queen continued to do in the States right up to 1982. The set is captured on various tapes, and also on the excellent bootleg album "Royal American". It opened with "Flick Of The Wrist", before moving on to the medley, and going on to include an excellent rendition of "Brighton Rock"/"Son And Daughter", plus the new U.S. single, "Liar". The encores were "Hey Big Spender"/ "Jailhouse Rock" and "Modern Times Rock And Roll", with Roger Taylor's vocal range exploited to full effect.
Queen then went on to tour Japan after a short break in Hawaii, and Queen-mania reigned as the band were mobbed at every step by thousands of fans. The shows at Tokyo's Budokan hall were filmed and recorded, and excerpts appear on "The Magic Years" video. Several bootlegs of the tour also exist, with Queen performing songs like "Hangman", "Ogre Battle", "White Queen" and "Doing Alright".
They returned to Britain to begin work on their fourth album, and in October EMI issued the six-minute "Bohemian Rhapsody" as a single. The 1975 U.K. tour began before the LP, "A Night At The Opera", had been issued, but by the time the tour ended the LP was securely placed at No.1.
This tour saw the band playing longer sets than before, and gradually introducing songs from the new LP. An entire show was saved for posterity by the BBC, who broadcast the Christmas Eve gig at the Hammersmith Odeon on BBC2, and live in stereo on Radio One. The gigs opened once again with "Now I'm Here", followed by "Ogre Battle" and the lovely "White Queen". The medley had expanded to include segments from "Bohemian Rhapsody", while Brian May contributed an extended guitar solo to "Brighton Rock".
The show ended with a great rendition of "Lap Of The Gods (Revisited)", and the encores were a marvellous "Seven Seas Of Rhye" and a very different version of "See What A Fool I've Been". A tape of "God Save The Queen" concluded the evening's entertainment. This set has been widely bootlegged on the LPs "Command Performance" and "Christmas At The Beeb", among others -but fans should look out for the official BBC radio LPs of the show, which obviously come in perfect stereo. BBC transcription discs sell for Â£50-Â£60, while US. radio station promo LPs fetch Â£25-Â£40.
January 1976 saw Queen taking the "Night At The Opera" shows to America. This tour is not well documented on tape, but the shows saw them continuing to introduce songs from the new LP into their set, like the acoustic "Love Of My Life", the short but sweet "Lazing On A Sunday", and Brian May's "Sweet Lady".
After America, the band moved on to Japan and Australia. The Japanese leg of the tour was well documented and heavily bootlegged - fortunately, as their sets were very varied. They played older numbers like "Seven Seas Of Rhye", "Hangman" and a good version of "See What A Fool I've Been", plus "Ogre Battle", "The Prophet Song" and "White Queen". "Mercury Poisoning", "Geisha Boys" and "Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon" are among the bootlegs which include material from this tour.
The band had played a festival in Australia in 1974, but this was their first full tour of the country. They were well received, and the exposure helped them score several big hit singles. Queen then returned to Britain for a break before starting work on their fifth LP. During the recording sessions, they found time for a mini tour of Britain, playing at Cardiff Castle in front of thousands of rain-soaked fans, then in Edinburgh, and finally the historic free show in Hyde Park, to an estimated 150,000 people. This event was not only filmed, but also broadcast on Capital Radio. It gained the band enormous respect in the music business, and confirmed their entry into rock's first division.
There are many tapes of the Hyde Park show around, including a bootleg called "Queen In The Park". The gig saw the band in transition, playing two songs from the forth-coming "Day At The Races" LP, and an acoustic set with "39" and "Love Of My Life". The show also included a superb version of "The Prophet Song", as well as older titles like "Flick Of The Wrist", "Liar" and "In The Lap Of The Gods (Revisited)". The two new songs featured were "You Take My Breath Away" and "Tie Your Mother Down". The band were only allowed to play one encore, because of park regulations, but it was still a very memorable occasion, and the film - last shown at the 1988 Queen convention - captures much of the day's atmosphere.
After- this gig, the band returned to the studio to complete the "Day At The Races" album. This was in the shops in time for the band's next major tour, of America in January 1977, supported by Thin Lizzy who gave the band a good run for their money. The tour saw Queen playing new songs like "You Take My Breath Away", "Somebody To Love", "Millionaire Waltz" and the hard rocker "Tie Your Mother Down", which opened the set. One of the better bootlegs of this tour is "Duck Soup", which has excellent versions of "Liar" and "Love Of My Life". It also features the band bursting into Elton John's "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting", with some great Roger Taylor backing vocals. A radio CD featuring six tracks 'from this tour finally reached the market in 1988.
Queen then went on to tour Europe, and were once again heavily bootlegged. Among the unofficial results were the live-in-Denmark set "A Day At The Warehouse", which has four sides of classic Queen in full stereo. The, album contains virtually a complete concert:
"Tie Your Mother Down", "Ogre Battle", "White Queen", "Somebody To Love", "Death On Two Legs", "Killer Queen", "Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy", "Millionaire Waltz", "You're My Best Friend", "Bring Back That Leroy Brown", "Brighton Rock", "39", "You Take My Breath Away", "White Man"/"Prophet's Song", "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Stone Cold Crazy", "Sweet Lady", "Keep Yourself Alive", "Lap Of The Gods (Revisited)", "Now I'm Here" and "Liar". You can expect to pay about Â£25 for stereo copies of this set, so fans with less to spend should look out for stereo tapes instead.
The band arrived home in June, coinciding with the Queen's Jubilee (and the arrival of punk rock). These concerts saw Queen at the top of their form, playing basically the same set as the European shows, but adding "Love Of My Life", and using "Jailhouse Rock"/ "Hey Big Spender"/"Stupid Cupid" as the encore. The Earls Court shows were recorded and filmed by the band, but for unknown reasons the tapes never appeared, which is a great shame, as these gigs were Queen at their grandest - with Freddie's vocals showing a breathtaking range and ability to switch styles from ballads to frenetic rock numbers, Roger Taylor's drumming and backing vocals equally effective, and Brian May's guitarwork being simply amazing.
As usual, though, the band received savage reviews in the music press, who reflected the general climate of antagonism towards long-established bands. So they retreated to the recording studios to make yet another album, though they had only a three-month break before the next U.S. tour began. "News Of The World" was to prove a turning point in both style and content, with the lavish production and full harmonies of earlier releases replaced by a harsher sound, epitomised by the blues number "Sleeping On The Sidewalk" and the pure energy of "Sheer Heart Attack".
Before going to the States, Queen recorded a two-hour interview for Radio One, broadcast at Christmas 1977. The interviews were quite revealing, and the band members came across as genuine people with a great sense of humour. Tapes of the interviews may not be easy to find, but they're well worth a listen as they reveal a lot about the band and their music. Queen do not do many interviews, and few are as good as this one.
The band also recorded a historic session for John Peel which has been heavily bootlegged. It featured four tracks, "We Will Rock You" (fast version), "Spread Your Wings" (faster than LP version), "My Melancholy Blues" and a weird medley of "It's Late" and "Get Down Make Love". These are superior to the album versions and have been played many times on Radio One, and they deserve a full commercial release.
The 1977 U.S. tour gave the band their final breakthrough in North America. Much of the tour was filmed, and excerpts have appeared on "Greatest Flix" ("We Will Rock You", fast version), and "The Magic Years" ("We Will Rock You" slow version/"We Are The Champions"). The tour saw the introduction of numbers from "News Of The World" like "Spread Your Wings", "Get Down Make Love", and "My Melancholy Blues". One of the big surprises was Roger Taylor taking lead vocals on "I'm In Love With My Car".
At the Los Angeles Forum on December 22nd, the band got into the festive mood by singing an acoustic version of "White Christmas". The show was bootlegged, but the tape isn't easy to come across these days. After a short break, the tour continued from January through to March. Then in April the band returned to Europe, to find themselves more successful than ever in France, where the single "We Will Rock You" had been No.1 for twelve weeks! The European leg of the tour was a huge success; then in May Queen came home for five British dates.
At Bingley Hall, Stafford, the band were stunned to hear the fans singing along to "Love Of My Life", and then bowled over when the crowd sang "You'll Never Walk Alone" before the encores. These British shows added "White Queen" and "Liar" at some dates. The Wembley shows were recorded by the band for a live album but once again it never materialised. But there are some good bootlegs of the shows, and they catch the band on fine form, with the May 13th gig having one of the best versions of "White Queen" I've ever heard. The rapport between Freddie and Brian is remarkable, and the versions of "It's Late" and "White Man" are superb.
After the British tour, the band went to record a new album in Europe. These sessions produced the strangest ever Queen album, "Jazz", which has a distinct American sound. So it was no surprise that the "Jazz" world tour started off in the States, with the band dropping their glamorous costumes in favour of leathers and bright jeans. But their lighting rig was bigger than ever, with a huge bank of multi-coloured lights than can be seen on the cover of "Live Killers" and the U.K. sleeve for "Don't Stop Me Now".
As usual, the band injected songs from the new album into their set, such as "If You Can't Beat Them", "Bicycle Race", "Let Me Entertain You" and "Fat Bottomed Girls", while "Dreamers Ball" was added to the acoustic set. The band dropped "Jailhouse Rock" and several songs from the early LPs on this tour, and the set was usually similar to the line-up on the "Live Killers" album. But the lack of familiar material - and the fact that the band insisted on leaving the stage during the middle section of "Bohemian Rhapsody", leaving tapes td play that section of the song - meant that the press reviews were generally poor. But American fans flocked to see the shows, and the gigs at New York's prestigious Madison Square Garden were completely sold out.
1979 saw the band undertaking their biggest ever European tour, playing Yugoslavia for the first time, and filling the huge Belgian stadium, Forest National. At the French concerts, English fans later dubbed 'The Royal Family' by Freddie - led the French crowd in singing "Love Of My Life". The Paris shows were filmed, for release as a film to accompany "Live Killers", but again nothing materialised.
These shows formed the basis of that live double set, although some songs didn't make the record - "If You Can't Beat Them", "Somebody To Love", "Fat Bottomed Girls", "It's Late" and "Jailhouse Rock"/"Hey Big Spender". The band went on from Europe to tour Japan, where once again shows were officially taped and filmed. The set list was basically the same as on the European dates, and only a few live tapes have surfaced.
Queen then mixed the live album in Switzerland. It appeared in June 1979, and was in some ways a disappointment. The overall balance of the album was weighted towards the later albums, and there was nothing at all from "Queen II" and only one song from the debut album. The album included several mistakes, for reasons best known to the band, and the recent CD release highlighted the poor mix on several tracks. It is not surprising that three of the band have since disowned the album; in fact, Roger Taylor didn't like it when it was released, and said so! But it still went Top 3 in Britain.
November 1979 saw Queen return to tour Britain, with the hit single "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" climbing the charts. The 'Crazy Tour' had the band returning to smaller venues, a nice gesture to their fans. The end result was spectacular, and it's a pity that the
live album wasn't taped on this tour. The set list varied from night to night, but the "Live Killers" structure was the basic framework, with the addition of the single (with Freddie on acoustic guitar) and "Save Me" (with Brian on piano). At the Dublin show, Queen sang "Danny Boy", while "Liar" resurfaced on the second night at Manchester. One of the best shows was at the Alexandra Palace in London, which is well worth looking for on tape.
On Boxing Day, Queen played a special charity show at the Hammersmith Odeon, in aid of the Kampuchea appeal. The show was filmed and recorded, and "Now I'm Here" was included on the Atlantic double album of the week of gigs. Unfortunately, ITV only included two Queen numbers in their film of the event, but the entire concert was shown on U.S. TV, and at last year's Queen convention. It included great versions of "Save Me", "Somebody To Love", "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and "Keep Yourself Alive" (guitar solo and superb kettle drum solo included). Brian's guitar solo contained the tunes of "Three Blind Mice" and "Silent Night". If Queen ever follow Bruce Springsteen in issuing a live boxed set of albums, then this show must form part of it.
Queen therefore ended the Seventies in superb style. Sadly, however, the only official live set from the band taped during this period wasn't as good as the band's best shows deserved. It's sad that it doesn't do the band justice, and although I disapprove of bootlegs, the fan has little alternative. The solution would be an equivalent to that Springsteen boxed set - or perhaps Jethro Tull's "20 Years Of" package - which would sample the best of the many live recordings recorded but never released by Queen during the Seventies.