A Chronicle of Magic – The Making of an Album (Part II)
By Patrick Lemieux
When the Highlander tracks were completed, Queen had to decide how next to proceed. They were in the midst of a creative period and had a lot of material on tape from the film. The question was whether the album was to be a Highlander soundtrack or a straightforward Queen album. Brian would fall on the side of preferring a soundtrack approach. Roger, however, thought the idea of a soundtrack would put people off. The question may have gone unanswered by Queen for some time as they began worked on the Highlander tracks with the intent of creating finished songs.
It was at this point that Freddie famously began work re-tooling Roger Taylor’s song “A Kind Of Magic.” Freddie knew Roger would be away for a week in Los Angeles, so he set about adapting the song to what he felt would be a more commercial piece. When Roger returned, he liked what Freddie had done and the two finished off the remix in the lighter style. Not only that, an extended version of the remix was created for the future single. That this track was a contender for the follow-up single to “One Vision” would soon become a point of contention as the band worked on other Highlander tracks and the film itself neared its theatrical release.
“Princes Of The Universe,” completed from the elements composed for the film, was another contender for the single spot sought by “A Kind Of Magic.” The film’s release in the US was set for March 7th, however it would not land in the UK until August 29th, so Queen was left with a dilemma. “Princes Of The Universe” seems to have been the stronger contender, as it directly corresponded with the film. For its video, they had enlisted Highlander’s director, Russell Mulcahy, and the film’s star, Christopher Lambert, to help them recreate portions of the film in addition to including clips from it. This would be all well and good for the US market, which would see the film in March, but, as Freddie said in 1986, “…they’re not going to see the film here [in the UK] till about July [actually, it turned out to be late-August]. And they’re not going to know what it means.”
So, the only resolution was that two singles would go out simultaneously in different territories. The North American audience would get “Princes Of The Universe,” to tie in with the film, and the European market would get the more stand-alone remix of “A Kind Of Magic.” A video for “Magic” was prepared, as well. And again, Russell Mulcahy was brought onboard to direct it. Unlike the “Princes” video, this one would contain do direct visual tie to Highlander, allowing it to be viewed without having seen the movie.
Among the other pieces worked on during this period was Roger’s “A Dozen Red Roses For My Darling.” Taylor seems to have begun reworking the Highlander instrumental into a song at this point, “Don’t Lose Your Head,” evidenced by the somewhat mis-attributed title given to “Red Roses” on the 12” “A Kind Of Magic” Picture Disc single B-side as “Don’t Lose Your Head (Instrumental Version).” As both “Don’t Lose Your Head” and “A Dozen Red Roses” stem from the same instrumental material, it may be hair-splitting to worry about which developed first. We do know which was ultimately released first.
With the “Princes Of The Universe” and “A Kind Of Magic” singles sorted out, they were sent to be pressed and delivered to retailers. The videos were completed and sent to TV media outlets and the launch of Queen-related Highlander music was set.
March, 1986, to April, 1986.
On March the 7th, Highlander was released in the North America.
On March the 17th, in the UK, the remix of “A Kind Of Magic” was issued as the single, paired with the B-side “A Dozen Red Roses For My Darling” and its own video. It was a #3 UK hit single.
On April 7th, in North America, “Princes Of The Universe” was released as a single, backed with “A Dozen Red Roses For My Darling,” The “Princes” video aired on TV alongside it. Ultimately, the single would not chart very well.
All the while, Queen worked on the album, completing Highlander tracks into songs and writing new material. There is substantial evidence that, by March, the band had not yet agreed upon a title for the album. None of the singles released this month mention the name of the album the band was working on, but rather boldly proclaim they are from the film Highlander. The film itself, at the end of the final credits, carries the much-discussed tag: Soundtrack Album Available On EMI Records And Tapes. This could even mean that the band had not decided yet whether the album was a soundtrack or not, or it’s equally plausible that the producers were considering a soundtrack album of composer Michael Kamen’s score without any of the Queen music in it. So far, aside from “One Vision” (whose release predated Highlander) all the released songs were connected to the film. In interviews at the time, it’s referred to by the band simply as the “the album.”
John Deacon soon found himself focused on a second film project. He had been asked to contribute a track to a film adaptation of the popular World War 1 book series Biggles. John formed the band The Immortals, with Robert Ahwai and Lenny Zakatek, for this one-off track. It’s no coincidence that John chose that as the band’s name, as immortals are the central characters in Highlander. This track remains one of the few projects John would undertake outside of Queen. Not being a singer, he felt limited in his ability to ever create a solo album.
Back on the Highlander front, “Who Wants To Live Forever” was completed as an album track, as was the “Kurgan’s Theme” track from the film as “Gimme The Prize,” with Brian lacing it with audio clips from the film. John’s “One Year Of Love” and Roger’s “Don’t Lose Your Head” round out the last of the original Highlander material. Joan Armatrading recorded incidental vocals for “Don’t Lose Your Head” and her involvement might have lead to Roger Taylor writing “Heaven For Everyone” around this time. The word is he might have written it for her. “Heaven” would be finished and recorded by Roger’s band, The Cross, the following year. The “Theme from ‘New York, New York’” would seem to not get any further than the take used in the film.
At this stage, only two new songs would be completed for the album, both unrelated to Highlander. One, “Friends Will Be Friends,” was started by Freddie before it became a collaborative effort with John Deacon. The two would also work on “Pain Is So Close To Pleasure,” this one begun by John.
With both the Highlander and non-Highlander songs completed, various alternate mixes were prepared for use as future singles and album bonus tracks. “One Vision,” recorded months earlier, would get a re-mixing for the album also. The single remix of “A Kind Of Magic” would stand now as the album version. Its extended 12” mix would be edited as a bonus track, “A Kind Of ‘A Kind Of Magic’.” As well, the title of the album was decided on, A Kind Of Magic, as was the track listing:
A Kind Of Magic
One Year Of Love
Pain Is So Close To Pleasure
Friends Will Be Friends
Who Wants To Live Forever
Gimme The Prize (Kugan’s Theme)
Don’t Lose Your Head
Princes Of The Universe
CD Extra Magical Ingredients:
A Kind Of ‘A Kind Of Magic’
Friends Will Be Friends Will Be Friends…
Left off the album entirely would be “Blurred Vision” and “A Dozen Red Roses For My Darling,” both of which would become collectable B-sides.
With A Kind Of Magic completed, the band started rehearsing for the upcoming European tour. In record stores, the soundtrack LP for Dave Clark’s Time: The Musical hit the shelf, partnered with Freddie Mercury’s related solo single for “Time,” off the album. John Deacon’s single, “No Turning Back,” with The Immortals was also released (the Biggles soundtrack album would be released in June).
At Sarm East Studios in London, when not rehearsing for the tour, Freddie could be found working with Billy Squier, a friend of the band (with whom Freddie, Roger and Brian had worked previously). They completed two tracks for Squier’s forthcoming album, Enough Is Enough: “Love Is The Hero” and “Lady With A Tenor Sax.” The album and the “Love Is The Hero” single later came out in September.
A Kind Of Magic was released on June 2nd and went gold in its first week, reaching #1 on the UK Album charts, despite mixed press reviews. Some of the reviewers failed to grasp that much of the album was related to Highlander and it had a tough time cracking the US charts in 1986. Queen chose not to tour in North America for the new album, but played to sell-out crowds in Europe.
July 11th and 12th, 1986.
In the middle of the Magic Tour, Queen performed live at Wembley Stadium. It had been a year since they played there as part of Live Aid. The shows were both recorded and their later release shows the band at the top of their live game. Much has been made of Freddie’s seemingly prophetic statement about false rumours of the band’s break up and that they would stay together until they died. While at home in London that week, Freddie gave an interview to David Wigg, where he said, “I’ve got a new-found force that there’s more left in Queen. I may change my mind at the end of the tour and that say that’s it, but I think we really want to stay together.”
August, 1986, and beyond…
The final concert of the Magic Tour was at Knebworth, England, on August 9th, and would be the last for Queen’s classic line up. Freddie Mercury’s health rendered touring for the next two albums impossible. Still, A Kind Of Magic had four successful UK singles:
One Vision (UK #7)
A Kind Of Magic (UK #3)
Friends Will Be Friends (UK #14)
Who Wants To Live Forever (UK #24)
Queen chose to ultimately develop the project not as a soundtrack, but as a Queen album. However, they did not shy away from maintaining its relationship with the movie. Included in the liner notes was the claim that “Some songs on this album appear in different form in the film ‘Highlander’.” It was inescapable, really, with some singles emblazoned with the Highlander title on the sleeve and one of the videos connected directly to it. The album’s liner notes would not specifically distinguish between which track was from the film and which was not, but it would do something else altogether curious.
As noted earlier, “One Vision” was included in the film, and soundtrack album for, Iron Eagle, despite not having been written for that movie. The album’s liner notes beneath “One Vision” advertise it as “From the motion picture ‘Iron Eagle’.” The later live album from the Magic Tour, titled Live Magic, would do the same for the song. This credit would seem counter to the idea of presenting the album as a whole, rather than as a collection of movie songs.
Highlander would go on become a cult classic and spawn a franchise in which some instalments made significant use of the songs Queen wrote for the movie, though the band themselves were not involved in those projects. Freddie, John, Roger and Brian would take a break from Queen after the Magic Tour. However, the time spent on solo projects over the next two years would see them return to the studio as a band and embark on a particularly creative period leading to the next album, The Miracle.
No official soundtrack album was released at the time for Highlander. A Kind Of Magic was closest they got, a Queen album with six of its nine songs (or eight of its twelve on the 1986 CD) coming from the movie. A collection of highlights from the first three Highlander film scores was released in 1995, containing some of Michael Kamen’s music, but no tracks performed by Queen. Brian May, on the 2003 Greatest Video Hits DVD commentary for “Friends Will Be Friends,” said that he’d like to go back and produce a proper soundtrack album, including Kamen’s score and pieces like the “Theme from New York, New York.” Sadly, that same year, Michael Kamen died of a heart attack, seeming to put an end to the idea for the time being.
And yet, it could still happen. Queen fans are known for their desire to hear what’s in the vaults. The alternate mixes, takes, and unreleased material, such as the “Theme from ‘New York, New York’,” would certainly please many listeners. For now, they can still watch Highlander and experience the differences in the music compared to the finished product on the album, not to mention the various single and extended mixes which accompanied it.
26 years later, if you’ll forgive the word play, there is still magic in the music.
Favourite thing in his collection: The bootleg CDs “The Unobtainable Royal Chronicles Volumes 1 & 2,” which collected a large number of hard-to-find B-sides, Smile tracks and single versions. I found them in a little shop in New York City in 1995. I have official remastered releases of these tracks now, but those CDs are still special.
[Additional quoted sources for this article: “Queen: A Message From The Palace” (Baktabak); “Queen: Days Of Our Lives,” “Queen: The Magic Years” & “Queen: Greatest Video Hits Vol. 2” (Queen Productions Ltd)]