Queen Story by Tom Browne (Radio 1 24th December 1977)
Queen Story Tom Browne: Hello there. Radio One proudly presents in two programmes, the members of Queen talking about themselves and their music. Queen as they are now were formed in February 1971 and have become one of the most successful rock acts in the world. With six major albums and ten hit singles. Well let me introduce you now to the members of Queen. First of all, vocalist and piano player! Freddie: Freddie Mercury!hahaha. Tom Browne: On guitar and arranging and writing! Brian: Brian May, I'm here. Tom Browne: On drums! Roger: And occasional vocals, Roger Taylor. Tom Browne: Welcome Roger. And on bass and electric piano! John: Erm, John Deacon. Tom Browne: Right, together they've sold over 40 million records worldwide, that's quite something. First of all, let me ask you Freddie, how did it all begin? Freddie: Very briefly, Brian and Roger were in a very up tempo raucous band called Smile and I used to be in another band called Wreckage or something! Roger: Even more up tempo with a name like Wreckage! Freddie: Even more up tempo, and we used to be friends, going to collage together and met up. After the first couple of years knowing each other, we decided we'd form a band together and it's as simple as that. We thought our musical ideas would blend. Then we met John and decided to call the band Queen. Tom Browne: Roger, can we go to the beginnings of the group. You and Freddie were working on a stall in Kensington market? Roger: Ah yes, partners in crime. Yes it was really a social centre at the time. At the time when Queen were at its formative stages, we were going through all the traumas with trying to find somebody to manage us and find a record company etc. We slogged our way around, made some demo tapes etc, through some friends and hawked them around the business as it was and still is. Eventually securing ourselves with several companies that were interested. We did a gig I think, was King's Collage, somewhere down South London and got a lot of record companies along. We started to try and wheel and deal a bit in a way into a good recording situation. Tom Browne: How long did it take you from the time that you made the demo, to the time that you actually got a recording contract? Roger: It felt like about 80 years..! Brian: It was about two years! Roger: Yeah, about 18 months - two years yeah. Brian: There was a great dealing of frustration at the time. The first album was really old songs by the time it came out, as far as we were concerned. It puts us in a strange position. We were one of the groups that came along with a show and an idea of a complete production with the stage show and everything. Which by the time the record came out and particularly by the time it got played by everyone like all this, as it takes so long to get things all going. It was all sounding like old news, people were inclined to tag us as the tail end of 'Glitter Rock' or something. MODERN TIMES ROCK & ROLL Roger: The erm, fairly sour relationship with the music press as it's called in this country. Tom Browne: You don't like the music press? Roger: No, to be perfectly honest no! Tom Browne: Hahahaha! Freddie: From the very beginning, as far as the music press are concerned, they like to put up and coming bands into a particular bag, to what they think, and we just rebelled and wanted to do what we thought was right and not go along with what they were saying. Since the early stages, there's always been this fracas. Roger: Yes, from day one with the release of our first album. Plus the fact that before our actual release, we were virtually totally unheard of. Then, suddenly we were - not particularly famous, but heard of at least and they always like to think that they've got one up on you and like to think that they've predicted something. Then all of a sudden there we were and we were playing to an awful amount of people. It took people father by surprise I think. Tom Browne: Was the style though which you created, was that thought out from the outset, or did it just evolve as time went by? Brian: There were certain ideas which we had in our heads, certain patterns that we wanted to try and live up to. And I think, to put it crudely. We started off thinking we'd be a kind of heavy group, but with good melodies and harmonies and the other things grew out of that. The first album was really just putting down what we did on stage at that time. It was quick into the studios and quick out. Even at that time, lots of big ideas were about what we could do in a studio if we were let loose with the proper time in the studios. We saved all that up for â€œQueen 2". But a lot of â€œQueen 2" stuff was written at the time we made the first album. Tom Browne: Ok, take some music now from â€œQueen 1". The first track that we're going to play was in fact your first single taken from â€œQueen 1" it's called â€œKeep Yourself Alive". KEEP YOURSELF ALIVE Tom Browne: The single Brian, were you disappointed that this didn't do better? Brian: Oh yes, it takes me back very vividly to the time actually because this is just the time when we started. We did a few gigs on our own, some small gigs. Then went onto support Mott the Hoople and went around the whole country getting some really good reactions. Thinking 'yeah, we're finally getting somewhere', and all the time watching the single and album and nothing appeared anywhere in the charts. And it just seemed like an impossible wall, how con it be done? We couldn't get the single played on the radio at all. There were a couple of people playing it, but it didn't get any power playing. There's no doubt that the beginning is the worst. You've got no track record, no reputation. Tom Browne: John, can I come to you now, we haven't heard from you I'm sorry. You've got a degree in electronics. Did this mean that the group would come and ask you questions when they had complicated bits of machinery to look at? John: Not particularly, I used to help out in the early days when we all started out, just the four of us and our roadie John Harris who's been with us right at the beginning. Between me and him we used to a lot in the early days. But now we have a larger crew of about twenty who look after it all for us. Tom Browne: Well being in a pathetic two track studio with all this marvellous space age electronics around, do you find it difficult to keep your hands of little buttons and saying 'What's this, what's that?' John: We do, all of us try and learn what the studio does because that helps to get the sounds and ideas and to do what you want. And we've all taken interest in what it is possible to do in a studio technically. I mean, if a musician doesn't know how to do that, then it limits their put down on tape. Tom Browne: Now!you were playing bass, first of all with Roger? John: No, I came down to London and was down here for two years and wasn't playing at all. I used to play before I came to London in groups in school and gave it up when I came down. And after I was down here for about two years I bumped into Roger and Brian and I heard socially because they were playing in the same collages around London. I heard that they were looking for a bass player and I said I was interested, and went along for an audition and it happened like that. I think you'd been together for about six months previously hadn't you? Roger I think longer actually, you mean as Queen yeah? We were going through about three bass players a week actually and eventually found John. John: And I seemed to fit in. Tom Browne: Did you individually agree on the kind of music that you were going to play? John: Well erm, I dunno. They were already formed and had all the musical ideas then of what they were trying to do and I just fitted in really at that time. Brian: He's very modest. John: My development came later, it took me a few years to settle in. Tom Browne: Well John, It's your personal choice. What would you like to play? John: Ye, I've chosen a track by Marvin Gaye â€œI Heard It On The Grapevine". I like a lot of these American 'Tamlor' things, the bass players are very good and it's a nice atmospheric song. Tom Browne: Ok, let's hear it. I HEARD IT ON THE GRAPEVINE - MARVIN GAYE Tom Browne: John, you are a family man, am I correct? John: Yes, sort of correct yes [laughs]. I have one little boy yes. Tom Browne: Do you find it difficult touring in the States and being away from family? John: It can be a strain yeah, but I try and make the two work together. Which can be difficult, but I try to fit it in. Tom Browne: How does he react to Daddy being a big star? John: I dunno, he can't talk yet! [All laugh]. Tom Browne: How do you think he will react? John: I dunno, we'll see then. He's just starting to talk now actually, so I'll find out what he's been thinking. Roger: John's also the business brains of the group. Tom Browne: He's the business brain? John: I tend to look into that a bit, yes. Tom Browne: So you're examining the contracts and checking the returns etc! John: It is nice, when you get to the level that we've got to, it's nice to see what's going on. Tom Browne: Brian, you did a degree in physics and then went on to do a PhD in astronomy. What was the attraction of astronomy? Brian: Something I've always been interested in. As a kid I used to look at the stars and build a telescope and things. It was just a thought that if I ever had the chance to be an astronomer, I would give it a go. THE SEVEN SEAS OF RHYE Tom Browne: By the seaside! That was the single that broke you, that started it all. Roger, why was there a little bit of â€œSeven Seas Of Rhye" on â€œQueen 1" and repeated again on â€œQueen 2"? Roger: Well, I think Freddie had half written the song and we thought it was a nice 'tail out' to the first album, with the idea of starting the second album with the song. Freddie: With the finished! Roger: With the finished song yeah. So we'd lead in nicely. In fact we ended the second album with this song and it had changed a little by then and we'd released it as a single because we thought it was fairly strong. Tom Browne: Freddie if I can go to you, to the man that wrote it. The lyrics, what does it mean? Freddie: Oh gosh you should never ask me that! My lyrics are basically for peoples interpretations really. I've forgotten what they were all about. Tom Browne: What were the Seven Seas of Rhye? Freddie: It's really factitious, I know it's like bowing out or the easy way out, but that's what it is. It's just a figment of your imagination. Tom Browne: You have rather a surrealistic approach, is that the right word? Freddie: An imaginative approach I think, yes. Tom Browne: An imaginative approach, yes. Freddie: It all depends on what kind of song really. At that time I was learning about a lot of things. Like song structure and as far as lyrics go, they're very difficult as far as I'm concerned. I find them quite a task and my strongest point is actually melody content. I concentrate on that first; melody, then the song structure, then the lyrics come after actually. Tom Browne: Are you influenced by Salvador Dali? Freddie: Not really. I admire him yes, it's not as involved as that. I don't take things like paintings too literally. The only time I did do something like that was with a thing called â€œThe Fairy-Fellow's Masterstroke" in which I was thoroughly inspired by a painting by Richard Dadd which is in the Tate Gallery. I thought, I did a lot of research on it and it inspired me to write a song about the painting. Depicting what I thought I saw in it. Tom Browne: What did you discover in your research about this painting? Freddie: It was just because I'd come through art collage and I basically like the artist and I like the painting, so I thought I'd like to write a song about it. Tom Browne: We're going to play this track. Roger: It's on â€œQueen 2"! THE FAIRY- FELLOW'S MASTERSTROKE Roger: That's one of our first major experiments in stereo I think. Tom Browne: Do you sort out which songs go onto an album, because you all write don't you? GROUP: Hmmm, yes!We row!.We argue! Freddie: We do write individually so we go our separate ways from whenever the tour is over or whatever. Then we have a teething period when we get together and play each other the new songs. Then what happens is a huge sifting process which you find out songs. Roger: Like, 'No way am I going to play that', or 'Forget it'! Freddie: Things like that, also as far as the individual song is concerned and also what will go with how the other songs will sound with each other. So it's basically looking in terms of an album as opposed to just individual songs. Roger: Yeah, we have tried in the past to provide a lot of variety in each album and a lot of contrasts and so we've had a good cross section of material. Tom Browne: Alright, well let's hear some of the heavy side of your music with "The March Of The Black Queen" from "Queen 2" THE MARCH OF THE BLACK QUEEN Tom Browne: Brian, you can say something about "Queen 2" Brian: I thought it was a good idea to play that because "Queen 2" is an album which in some ways is the root of all that happened thereafter I think. And if people hadn't heard that before, you could think that was something off the new album really. It still sounds that fresh to me and there are a lot of things you can still hear. There's a lot of textured work with the intricate harmonies, the guitar harmonies and stuff. The pre cursor of "Bohemian Rhapsody" in many ways. So I think that was a very important album for us. It was also the first which came into the charts. Tom Browne: How long did "The March Of The Black Queen" take to record? Roger: Until the tape went transparent. Genuinely! Freddie: Those were the days of the 16 track studios and we have now 24 and 32 track. Before when we did so many overdubs on 16 track. It was like, we just kept piling it on and on. It was like what Roger means, the tape went transparent because it just couldn't take anymore. I think it snapped in two places as well. Roger: It had gone over the heads so many times with the overdubbing, the oxide had worn off. (Sniggers). Brian: It was a big step for us, certainly at the time because no one was really doing that kind of thing in those days. Roger: In fact when this album came out, we were doing our first headlining tour. After supporting Mott The Hoople and gaining an enormous amount of live experience and a large following really. For a relatively new band. Tom Browne: So Roger, you went on to support Mott The Hoople in the States, right? Roger: Yeah, it seemed the logical step, because it had worked so well and we got on with them so well with them personally as well. Which doesn't always happen to us. It's always good when the bands touring together do get on well. And we really took the logical step and went to America with them as well. We did learn quite a lot from them, they're a really good live band. Brian: Excellent live band, yeah. Roger: We had a very good American tour up to the point when Brian got Hepatitis and collapsed and we had to come home. At which point things looked very black. (Laughs) Tom Browne: You then did an extraordinary thing, having supported once in England and having supported once in the States. You then went to headline straight away in England and you then went and headlines straight away in the States. Roger: It was quite rare then yeah, because we did go to playing The Rainbow by ourselves in one sort of step. Freddie: We did take a lot of risks actually and I think most of them paid off. Roger: Yeah, most of them. Tom Browne: In the States, you got yourselves an American manager. Roger: We already had him in fact. He was taken on by Trident, who was the company which we were signed to at the time. A production deal. I think he helped in many ways in our induction to America, being a yank. He's from California. Freddie: Basically, I think we'd signed all the recording deals and publishing deals. So in effect we were signed to Trident and at a later stage Jack Nelson came in (the person we're talking about), came in to look after the management side of things. So he was brought in at a later stage. Brian: To make it a little clearer. When we came to the point of signing the record contracts, there were a couple of record companies that were interested. But instead of doing that, we signed to a production company. And the deal is; you record for them and they do a deal with a record company. So you're a kind of 'middle man' and Trident were this 'middle man'. Roger: At the time it seemed a good idea because, an established company, a fairly high power established company seems more able to deal with the fairly high power record companies, than mere novice humble musicians. Brian: There is always a huge basic drawback in the fact that your manager is then your record company. And you don't have anyone that can represent you to the record company. So you have an impossible situation where it's basically the band against everyone else. And it generated friction in every department. Tom Browne: Alright, we now come onto your third album "Sheer Heart Attack" and the biggest hit from that which went to number 2 in November 1974 was "Killer Queen". KILLER QUEEN Tom Browne: A lovely lady of your acquaintance then? Freddie: No, another fictitious person. Tom Browne: I mean there's wonderful lyrics, there's; 'Dynamite with a laser beam, guaranteed to blow your mind'. 'Gunpowder gelatine'. marvellous stuff. And we're not getting any clues to this society (laughs). Freddie: I think if I was to analyze every word, it would be very boring for the listeners and it might shatter a few illusions. I'd rather sort of keep it.
Tom Browne: It’s one that sticks in the mind. So anyway, it’s very obvious that you’re painstakingly thorough, a very methodical group, you’re perfectionists.
Roger: God, it sounds a bit boring hehe…
Tom Browne: No, but I think it’s much to be admired the fact that you go into every facet of production. Not only just the music, you do it right down to the last dot as we were talking about earlier.
Brian: We always thought that was essential, not only in production but in every detail we were involved in.
Roger: We’d learnt through bad experience really.
Brian: Yeah, right down to the last bit of print on the record cover, the way its cut on the album – which is crucial. Right down to the way the tours are set up. Everything, we try to keep control, it’s not easy.
Roger: There’s so much money involved these days, it’s almost sordid to talk about the amounts of money but they are involved and people are very clever and nothing corrupts like large sums of money…and so we do have to be very careful.
Tom Browne: Let’s go onto another track from “Sheer Heart Attack”. It’s “Bring Back That Leroy Brown”.
BRING BACK THAT LEROY BROWN
Tom Browne: “Bring Back That Leroy Brown” with a ukulele novelty from Brian may there. Brian, what would you describe this ukulele music as? Barber Shop? George Formby..?
Brian: The ukulele was incidental to that because it that was Freddie’s song. It had this kind of vaudeville atmosphere and I just thought the ukulele would go nicely on it and we worked beside it, so it could be done. And I managed to fiddle a little ukulele solo [laughs].
Tom Browne: You in fact, learnt on a ukulele right?
Brian: Yes, that was the first instrument I played. My father had a genuine George Formby ukulele. George Formby was the originator of that style of playing. Which is rhythmic and slightly melodic at the same time, because he played across the top and bottom strings to make little melodies. I’m a pretty poor imitator of that style, but I got interested in it…
GROUP Ahhh…, Makes you sick doesn’t it? Modest…
Tom Browne: I believe your father also was instrumental in making your first guitar?
Brian: Yes, my father and I made the guitar together, which is still the one I use all the time.
Tom Browne: What was it made out of?
Brian: Lumps of wood, various bits and pieces. It cost about £8.00 to make.
Tom Browne: I read in the press about something about an armchair or fireplace...?
Brian: The 100 year old fireplace, the legendary fireplace! [Laughs]
Freddie: The things that are coming out of that fireplace…
Brian: The neck was made out of an old fireplace, yes.
Tom Browne: My goodness, you must have been quite a craftsman.
Brian: We just worked on it for a couple of years. I was at school then, it was at evenings and weekends.
Tom Browne: I see and it’s still the one you play now?
Tom Browne: That’s terrific, well it must be worth a fortune in years to come.
Brian: I dunno really. It’s really not much good to anyone except me, because everyone finds it difficult to play.
Tom Browne: Can we come now to your producer, Roy Thomas Baker.
Roger: Roy half produced the first album and he went onto become our full producer and “A Night At The Opera” was the last, we co-produced it with him.
Tom Browne: Freddie, did you select him or did EMI provide him?
John: Well it was through Trident really.
Brian: It was all through Trident.
John: Because in the early days, you know the first album. They stuck us with John Anthony didn’t they, as well? Who we didn’t get on with, so we gave him the elbow after the first album. The second album was with Roy and Robin Cable.
Roger: Yeah, Trident was quite a Mecca for producers at the time. I remember Bowie’s most successful stuff was done with Ken Scott there.
Tom Browne: Let’s have another track from “Sheer Heart Attack”, this is “In The Lap Of The Gods”.
IN THE LAP OF THE GODS
Tom Browne: The Beach Boys meets Wagner or something like that anyway [laughs]. Freddie, was this a sort of pre runner to “Bohemian Rhapsody”? It has that sort of operatic feel to it.
Freddie: I suppose it could be progressed that way. I was beginning to learn a lot on “Sheer Heart Attack”, we were doing a lot of things which was to come on future albums, was to be used on future albums. Songs like that, yes, I suppose. Working out the harmonies and song structure did help on say something like “Bo-Rhap”. Somebody said this sounds like Cecil B. DeMille meets Walt Disney or something. More to the point than The Beach Boys! [Laughs].
Tom Browne: Talking about Cecil B. DeMille. Can we come to your colossal stage productions with crowns appearing everywhere, thunder flashes appearing on the stage, you leaping about. Bringing ‘Ballet to the masses’ I believe a quote was… [Laughs].
Freddie: Oh, if you’re referring to a certain article, that’s me taking tongue in cheek. It’s just something that in this point in time, this is something that interests me. I just try and incorporate it in the stage act. Nothing more really. It’s basically to enhance the music that we play, and if it wasn’t working then I wouldn’t do it. It’s also a phase I’m going through and I like the Nijinsky costume.
Roger: People who come to the show seem to really enjoy them. Because you have to aim for maximum effect, which we do. Both orally and visually, however some people don’t seem to like this. The so called ‘purists’ or whatever. They think its techno-flash rock or something I’ve heard it’s called. Basically we’re just trying to put over the music and the visual aspect as effectively as we can to as many people as we can.
Tom Browne: Do you carry your own lighting crew around the world?
Tom Browne: So it’s the same that was in Earl’s Court that was in the States?
Roger: Yes, it has to be, because the co-ordination required is quite unbelievable.
Brian: The same for the sound system. The way we started off, we always had these big ideas and we always thought that it should be a visual and a sound experience. It should be a complete thing that you could wallow in, you know. It comes from when we were kids, when we went in to see a rock band we wanted to be knocked out, to be blown away!
Brian: Yeah, it’s for that kind of thing we think it should be a real event every time we play.
Roger: People are paying money to come and see us.
Freddie: Yes, as far as we’re concerned, we’re putting on a show. It’s not just a rendition of an album, if that were the case we might as well have had cardboard cut outs and just played the album through the system.
Tom Browne: Yeah, right let’s have some more music. The next one from “Sheer Heart Attack” is “Now I’m Here”.
Roger: Call that music?
NOW I’M HERE
Tom Browne: “Now I’m Here”, which went to number 11 in February 1975. Do you find the single helps generate sales of an album?
Roger: Definitely, that’s what get’s you to the mass of people. Even if they don’t buy it, even if they don’t like it, they still know who you are with a single. Whereas I think you could have a number 1 album for 6 months and people still wouldn’t know who you were. But we never record any record as a single, it’s always just a track off an album. Which we think may make a good single after we’ve recorded it.
Tom Browne: Oh I see, so you don’t go into the studio and say ‘This is going to be the one…’?
Roger: No, never. We never have.
Tom Browne: Do you take advice from other people as to what would be a good single?
Tom Browne: [Laughs]
Brian: Next! [Laughs]
Roger: It never works…
Brian: Nobody wanted “Bohemian Rhapsody” as a single really. They said no one would play it as they said it was too long…
Roger: Nobody except us wanted it…
Freddie: It’s not to say that we’re not always right, because we’re not.
Roger: We’re not always right, we’ve been wrong.
Freddie: The choice of the single is…
John: Yeah, once. [Laughs].
Freddie: I mean there’s no sure fire hit, there’s just no such thing. I’d say something like “Bohemian Rhapsody” was a big risk and it worked. I mean with a song like that, it was either going to be a huge success or a terrific flop.
Brian: ‘But it’s been no bed of roses…’
Brian &Roger: ‘No pleasure cruise…’ [Laughs]
Tom Browne: We’ll we’re talking about “Bohemian Rhapsody”, so we’ll play it now.
Tom Browne: “Bohemian Rhapsody”, this was amazing for me because it was such a departure from anything else that was in the charts in ’75, in November it got to number 1 and stayed there for 9 weeks – amazing! Freddie, can you tell us a bit of how you recorded “Bohemian Rhapsody”, the actual technical side of it?
Freddie: You want some trade secrets? It was quite a mammoth task as it was done in three definite sections, and just pieced together. Each one required a lot of concentration and the opera section, the middle was the most taxing. Because we wanted to re create a huge operatic harmonies section between just the three of us. That involves a lot of multi-tracking and things. And I think between the three of us… [Laughs], we re created a 160 – 200 piece choir effect.
Roger: Something like that, yeah.
Freddie: Between just the three of us, Brian, Roger and myself singing…
Roger: There’s a tremendous range of harmonies. It involves doing it again and again and again… to make it sound bigger and bigger.
Tom Browne: Can you think how many times to get that number of people?
Roger: Well, divide 200 by 3 [Laughs].
Tom Browne: Hmmm, 66 or something like that.
Roger: Each little bit has to be done like that many times, you have to learn all the very different parts. I think some of them were, what. how many part harmonies..?
Freddie: There was a section of ‘No, no, no’. To do that kind of escalating things, we just sat in there going ‘No, no, no, no, no, no, no’! About 150 times.
Brian: Going out of our minds…
Tom Browne: Is there one of you going every now and then ‘No more’, ‘That’s it’!
GROUP Oh yes! All the time, yes. All the time. Yeah…
Tom Browne: Do the others edge him on and says ‘Well there’s just one more’.
Freddie: Depends whose track…
RM No, everybody agrees and we leave! [Laughs].
Tom Browne: Well we now come to Freddie’s personal choice in music. Freddie what’s it going to be?
Freddie: I’ve chosen an Aretha Franklin track. It’s called “You’ve Got A Friend”, it comes from the “Amazing Grace” album which she did a long time ago. A live double album set gospel thing, which she did in a church in California. It’s called “You’ve Got A Friend”.
YOU’VE GOT A FRIEND – ARETHA FRANKLIN.
Tom Browne: Radio 1 presents the second part of Queen. In the first programe, we covered the musical development of Queen from their first album right up to their chart topping single “Bohemian Rhapsody”. In this second programe, we’ll be talking to Queen about their music. We’ll be playing tracks from “A Night at the Opera”, “A Day at the Races” and “News of the World”. First of all, let’s go to Queen’s drummer Roger Taylor. I’ve noted down here Roger, when you’re not playing or recording with Queen, you’re quite interested in motor racing and cars.
Roger: Well, more cars really. I’m not that up on motor racing. I have ‘Auto Sport’ every week… [Laughs]. But really, this is a full time job and it keeps me busy, I never get time to go down to any races or anything. I just like cars.
Tom Browne: Hmmm, but have driven, haven’t you?
Roger: Oh, only once yeah. It was a very minor thing really, but it gives you a taste.
Tom Browne: So you’re not thinking of taking on Noel Edmonds down on Brand’s Hatch or something?
Roger: Oh I’d thrash him! [Laughs]
Tom Browne: Give it, Noel! [Laughs]
Brian: That’s before he’d got in the car…
Roger: Yes, that’s even before he got in.
Tom Browne: That’s our natural cue to “I’m In Love With My Car” by Roger Taylor.
I’M IN LOVE WITH MY CAR
Tom Browne: John, I believe you are very interested in stereo photography.
John: Stereo photography, yes.
Tom Browne: Tell us about stereo photography.
John: It’s like the old ‘Weetabix’ things you know, when you used the two things with the viewers. You used to get two pictures, both taken in a slightly different position and you’d look through a special viewer and you’d get a true 3-D perspective effect. And you can have attachments that you can actually put on cameras, to take three dimensional pictures.
Tom Browne: Three dimensional slides, I mean you can’t project it can you?
John: There is a means, you’ve tried it haven’t you Brian?
Brian: Yeah, I got quite a lot into it. You can do it with a silver screen, with a wide screen and cross polarize and things. It takes a lot of setting up and is very interesting.
Roger: Perfect for the average layman…
Brian: It’s very unfashionable at the moment. It was quite a successful form of photography in the 1920’s or 30’s or so, but it went out of fashion for some unknown reason.
Tom Browne: Brian, I’d have thought that you’d have been interested in holograms.
Brian: Yes, strangely enough, holography was invented by Dennis Kapour who was a Professor at my collage, at Imperial Collage. So we had a holography course, so yes I was interested in it. I don’t really think it has as much applications to rock stages as people think.
Tom Browne: You don’t think you could incorporate holograms into your act?
Brian: You can, but the art is not at the state where it’s going to be that good at the moment. The Who are the people who got most into lasers. But holography is a rather dicey business really, even with lasers and to produce large scale impressive things is more difficult than what people think.
Tom Browne: Back to John again. You’re playing electric piano on the next track “You’re My Best Friend”. How did you wrench the piano away from Freddie?
John: Well, Freddie didn’t like the electric piano, so I took it home and I started to learn on the electric piano and basically that’s the song that came out of the thing when I was learning to play it.
Freddie: I refused to play the damn thing.
Tom Browne: Was this a question of ethics?
Freddie: It’s tinny and horrible and I don’t like them. Why play those things when you’ve got a lovely Grand piano? No, basically what he’s trying to say is it was the desired effect.
John: It was written on that instrument and it sounds best on that. You know, often on the instrument that you wrote the song on.
Tom Browne: Well it got to #07 in July 1976, “You’re My Best Friend”
YOU’RE MY BEST FRIEND
Tom Browne: John, fingering away like fury on electric piano.
Tom Browne: Now we come to the grand subject of marketing “A Night At The Opera”. It’s a fascinating subject, how did you conceive the album sleeve and everything else?
Freddie: Well the sleeve had a crest on it…
Tom Browne: Now you designed that, right?
Freddie: Well it was an adaptation from an earlier crest that I did. It was done by David Costa, who worked in conjunction with us and made sure it was what we wanted. Since then, as far as marketing is concerned, it’s a huge process that covers such a wide area. It’s like what we said before; you work on an album, then choose a single. This case, “A Night At The Opera” case, it happened to be “Bohemian Rhapsody”. In that we made a film which helped us a lot. We did it with Bruce Gowers.
John: Yeah, we made a promotional film in rather a short time actually. Just before we went out to tour in England when “Bohemian Rhapsody” was released, we rehearsed the thing up in Elstree wasn’t it?
John: Yeah, and they just came in one night with a video truck and one or two little bits and we did it in about four hours didn’t we?
Roger: The film opened up a new avenue for us, because the film was used all around the world and worked quite successfully. It didn’t only just get the record across, it also got Queen across both visually and orally. Now it’s part of the accepted pattern of marketing a single for any major, in fact any new band these days who are artists. To make the record, bring out the record but they always have the film with the record. In fact you can sell that film around the whole world and literally promote your records without actually being there. I think Abba have turned that to great advantage, yeah.
Tom Browne: John, how deeply do you involve yourselves in the marketing?
John: We involve ourselves artistically with the product basically. Obviously the album, the cover and the film – which we’re obviously involved with that. But as far as the actual marketing, a lot is up to the record company. As long as they don’t do anything that is grossly in bad taste. We like to keep an eye on what they’re doing.
Tom Browne: Have you ever had a nasty shock? Something you weren’t expecting?
Brian: Oh yes! [Laughs], there’s been a few bad things. One particular example was in America where we were very upset about. They put out “Liar” as a second single and when we heard it, we discovered that they had chopped a good 60% of it out in a pretty random way. Not even the edits were done very well, and that was being put out as a single in America and of course it was a flop. We always try to fight for complete artistic control throughout the world.
Brian: The normal thing is to send your copies of the master tapes when you finish the album to various countries and they cut it. Now in cutting a record, which is actually physically putting it on the disc. There's a huge amount you can do with it. You can completely ruin a record which has taken months to produce and we got some of the cuts back from countries that we didn't know about, and they've been horrific. It's funny, the first album in America is an interesting example because they put it all through a very vicious limiter. Which means that everything comes up to the same level. Everything 'pumps', they call it 'pumping'. So you have a continuous note and a drum beat on top and the continuous note goes up and down around the drum beat. In fact, that improved some tracks [Laughs] or made them. [Group Laughs], it gave them a strange, a peculiar sound on American FM radio. Which we discovered when we went there, it did get us across very well and we actually used that on subsequent albums. It's very strange.
Tom Browne: Let's have some more music. Brian, let's take one of yours, one we're going to play from you in a minute is from "A Night At The Opera" and is called "Good Company". Which has a George Formby ukulele on it, and Trad-Jazz. Were you interested a lot in Trad-Jazz?
Brian: I can remember the Trad-Jazz boom, and I was very keen on a group called The Tempered Seven, who indeed were in fact a revival of the 20's arrangements for a Jazz band. That's the kind of thing I was going after on this track.
Tom Browne: Brian, we now come to your personal choice, which is half of one and half of another!
Tom Browne: Tell us what they're going to be.
Brian: Ok, this is going to bring us onto Jimi Hendrix, who I'm sure we could talk a lot about. I'd just like to play the beginning of a track called "A House Burning Down". The beginning of this is the most amazing, attacking beginning of a song that I've ever heard. It's the complete production job on the guitars and bass and drums. I've never heard anything like it.
(INTRO OF) A HOUSE BURNING DOWN - JIMI HENDRIX
Brian: And the other track is "And Your Bird Can Sing", which is a very simple and beautiful song which The Beatles did. There's a lot of Beatles in us I think. A lot of influence there, whether it be conscious or unconscious and that was one of the things I liked. A very simple song, very well done. And also a little bit of double tracking from George Harrison, I assume its George, playing the little figures that go around the vocals. That was an inspiration as well because one of my dreams was to be able to do multi-tracking guitar on records. At that time, it was unheard of to do double tracking. I could name about three instances to do proper harmonies with a rock sounding guitar and George Harrison was quite a pioneer because he had a go at it on this track.
AND YOUR BIRD CAN SING
Tom Browne: Brian May's choice there, from Jimi Hendrix's "A House Burning Down" and The Beatles' "And Your Bird Can Sing". And now, can we talk about Jimi Hendrix, because I know Jimi Hendrix has been a prime mover in the group and an influence to you all, Freddie.
Freddie: He was just a beautiful man. I think he was just a master showman, he's just a dedicated musician. He was just everything as far as I was concerned. I went to numerous places to try and catch his shows, it was magic. Magic and it was really quite a treat to watch somebody come on stage. He didn't have the kind of props and things that we have today. It all omitted from him, from the first off - just him and the guitar. Very colourful and it was quite a stage act, you learnt a lot from that kind of thing.
Tom Browne: Roger, I believe when he died you were at the Kensington market, right?
Roger: That's true actually, yes! [Laughs] How did you find that one out? [Laughs] Yes.
Freddie: We shut shop in his honour
Roger: We shut up our stall and went home and had a good bawl.
Freddie: And played all his records
Tom Browne: I also believe that when you did your big Hyde Park concert last year that was on the anniversary of Jimi's death.
Roger: It was
Roger: It was an idea we had when touring in Japan. We thought it'd be nice to do something different in England, rather than doing the same old thing and tour etc. the same old places. We thought we'd like to do a free concert and the best possible venue that occurred to us was Hyde Park. It's more central than any other. It was an awful lot of trouble to get permission to play in the park, to hold the event. It cost us a fortune etc. But in the end, it was worth it. We wanted to just make a good gesture, to do something for nothing and a lot of people still don't seem to realize that. There was no percentage from any angle from it, really.
Tom Browne: Well let's have some more music. This time from "A Day At The Races" and the track is "Somebody To Love", which got into the top 10 in December 1976.
SOMEBODY TO LOVE
Tom Browne: A very gospel sounding choir. Freddie, was that choir built up in the same way as "Bohemian Rhapsody"?
Freddie: In a way it was, yes. We had the same three people singing on the big choir section. But I think it had a different kind of technical approach because it was a gospel way of singing. Which was different to us, and this is me going on about Aretha Franklin - going a bit mad. I just wanted to write something in that kind of thing. Sort of incensed by the gospel approach that she had on her earlier albums. Although it might sound the same approach on the harmonies, it is very different in the studio because it's a different range.