The Journey Back To The Light - Part 2
By Patrick Lemieux
By November of 1990, the Innuendo album was complete and the band focused on its promotion. Also, Hollywood Records in the US was now signed to handle Queen’s catalogue and future releases in North America. The company planned a massive campaign to remaster and re-issue the back catalogue, as well as various solo releases, such as Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe’s Barcelona album. The band recorded a video for “Headlong” and interviews for the press releases.
Over New Years, so Brian would tell Q Magazine in January of 1991, Freddie and Roger discussed continuing to record, despite having completed Innuendo. May would join them in Montreux that month and work would begin for what would become Freddie’s final recordings.
Taking a break from recording to promote Innuendo’s release, Brian and Roger appeared on Rockline Radio in the US in February. Brian was asked on the air by a fan of the state of his solo album and Brian had this to say: “I'm still working on it. It's the ongoing saga of the Brian May solo album. It's still in the cards, and maybe by this, I'm hoping, by this summer it will be finished and I will put it out. See I have a lot of stuff, but it just needs making into an album. It's a difficult task, making a lot of decisions.”
In May, Brian returned to the US for a promotional tour of both Innuendo and the Hollywood Records re-issues of Queen’s albums, visiting radio stations and performing impromptu guitar solos.
While he was in Los Angeles that summer, Brian was approached by the ad agency Ogilvy & Mather and asked to write a tune for their new Ford UK ads.
“These ad guys threw some slogans at me and I thought, ‘Well, I can do it if I relate it to my own experiences and my own feelings.’ And the phrase "Driven By You" immediately jumped out as a description of the way I saw the power struggle between two people in a relationship. It just poured out. I wrote a version for me, and I wrote a version for the ad people. And it worked out great. It was a good kick up the backside for me too, because these people work quickly and do high-quality work.” (Guitar World, Jan. 1993)
Brian recorded the different versions of track, the TV Ad Version, his solo version and a short, mostly instrumental version later titled “Driven By You Two,” at Mountain Studios between continued efforts by Queen, and Freddie in particular, to record new material. By now the rest of Queen was told by Freddie that he had AIDS and that he did not know how long he had left, but that he wanted to record as much as he could in the time he had left.
Ford UK ran the new “Driven By You” ads with Brian’s music in July and the response was both positive and encouraging for Brian to finish the song and to plan for its proper release in November. More significantly, the reception to “Driven By You” had a greater affect on Brian’s work on the solo album entirely, as he told Gold Compact Disc magazine in 1992: “I had a rough idea of what the album was going to be like, round about that time, but I didn't get down to the serious work until about a year ago, when Driven By You happened.
“I worked on the song and the advert in parallel, and the interesting thing is that the song meant one thing to me, and another thing to the agency people. I was really stimulated by the way that advertising people work ... I mean, they're so quick. I delivered them a version of Driven By You, and it was on the television commercial the next day!”
Around this time, Brian was presented with the opportunity to assemble his choice of musicians to perform with, at the Guitar Legends festival in Seville, Spain. He jumped at the chance and among the performers were B.B. King, Paul Rodgers, Mike Moran, Neil Murray, Steve Vai, Joe Walsh and Cozy Powell. According to Neil Murray, this was the start of the working relationship between he and Brian, as Neil would go on to perform bass parts on Brian’s solo recordings.
Powell, a good friend of May’s, was going through difficulties of his own, having been in a horse accident in 1991 that led to a crushed pelvis. Talking to Rip Magazine (1993) he said that “The show gave me a goal to go for. There was a period after that when the phone stopped ringing, because a lot of people didn't know I was available or thought I was injured. You think, ‘Shit, nobody wants to hear me anymore. My career must be over.’”
October 19th, 1991, Brian and his gathered musicians performed at the Guitar Legends festival. Among the pieces played was “Last Horizon,” one of the tracks Brian had been working on for his album.
After the festival, Cozy Powell would start work on a solo album of his own. One of the early tracks Powell recorded was the instrumental “Somewhere In Time.” Both Brian and John Deacon were invited to record on it. They put their tracks down in November of 1991.
On November 24th, 1991, Freddie Mercury passed away at his home at Garden Lodge, London.
According to Brian, “Cozy came in with a backing track and said play something on it. It was the night before Freddie went, but for the first time I had this complete conviction that it was imminent, and I felt that he was going at that point. I used that track and wrote the song about how I felt at that point.” (Rock CD magazine, 1992)
Brian would add lyrics to “Somewhere In Time” and create the song “Nothin’ But Blue.” The guitar Brian used on both of the recordings was a gift from fellow guitarist Joe Satriani.
On November 25th, 1991, Brian’s single for “Driven By You” was released. The B-side was the track dedicated to Philip Sayer, “Just One Life.” Brian had also recorded a “Guitar Version,” replacing most of the vocal with him playing the Red Special. Included on the 12” single was the TV Ad Version of “Driven By You.” A promo CD was also issued containing various radio edits.
The surviving members of Queen withdrew from the public eye after the death of their lead singer. It wasn’t until January 12th, 1992, that they would return to the media to announce the forthcoming Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert For AIDS Awareness.
Meanwhile, along with co-organizing the concert, Brian busied himself with recording and working on the solo album, including the track “Love Token,” which features Neil Murray, Cozy Powell and Mike Moran. Talking to Guitar World magazine, who commented on how heavy the song was, Brian explained, “Yeah, I enjoy that. I have an outlet for that now, whereas sometimes the band had to be a bit more broad, stylistically. Now I can get more into the heavy stuff. And I do enjoy it, I must admit. [It’s] one of my mamma/poppa songs. I've got a few of those. I'm gonna have a little anthology of mama vs. papa songs one day.”
Cozy Powell again presented Brian with a track to work on for Powell’s own album, this one titled “Ride To Win.” Brian took to the song and felt that, like with “Somewhere In Time,” this was a track in which he could express his feelings in lyric. Brian reworked the track, adding his lyrics, and created “Resurrection,” which he discussed with The Orange County Register in 1993: “After all these years of looking for this optimism, I finally found it. The end was in sight. I could visualize myself getting out and playing to real people again. I was beginning to get my life into shape, private life-wise. There's a lot of joy in that for me. You can't fake that. You can't play that stuff unless you feel that way. It was a long way till I was able to give vent to that kind of stuff.”
And with Rip magazine (1993): “At the beginning, when I was trying to find my way about five years ago, it was all a mystery. All I knew was that I was in pain and couldn't see my way out. By the end of it, when I was doing ‘Resurrection,’ I felt like I understood what all these things meant, and there was some glimpse of the light I was looking for. It's all metaphors, really. [The song] ‘Back to the Light’ was supposed to be me looking for a way out, finding optimism again. In ‘Resurrection’ I thought I'd really found it.”
“‘Resurrection’ […] appropriately, was the last written.” (The Orange County Register, 1993)
On April 20, 1992, Queen and their guest artists performed the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. Brian took the opportunity to premiere “Too Much Love Will Kill You” as part of what he hoped would be for Freddie “the greatest send-off in history.”
The days and months that followed would find him at Allerton Hill finishing his album, framing the songs he spent five years writing and recording with a bookending lullaby, part of the instrumental piece “The Dark.” To create the track, Brian culled material recorded way back in 1980, during Queen’s Flash Gordon sessions, at The Town House Studios.
“On ‘The Dark,’ I wanted this frightening wall of sound coming out to contrast this very small voice - the kid in the cot.” (Guitarist magazine, 1992)
Brian also took the opportunity to revisit “Driven By You,” writing on his website in 2004: “On my solo track ‘Driven By You’ the original single version was built around my own programmed drums, but for the album version I asked the wonderful, now sadly departed Cozy Powell to play drums.” Interestingly, the album would retain the version previously released as a single, without Cozy on it. UK audiences would hear the Cozy Powell version as a B-side to the CD single of “Too Much Love Will Kill You” and US audiences would receive it as a bonus track to album.
The “Too Much Love” single B-side would also present fans with an early version of “I’m Scared,” which was later re-recorded by Brian with Neil Murray and Cozy Powell, and remixed for the album by Justin Shirley-Smith in 1992.
In completing “Last Horizon,” Brian had his two versions of the track, one with the syncopated beat and the other in 4-4 time. “When it came to putting the whole album together, I liked BOTH versions, and then I discovered that one made a good introduction to the other. So we ‘spliced’ them together, with the snare beat which opens this second piece.” (BrianMay.com, 2004)
By July 20th, 1992, the hard-fought battle with his first full-length album outside of Queen was complete. Writing the introductory liner note, Brian explains briefly the nature of the journey he undertook creating the album, saying, “The man who finished making it today is very different from the man who started it five years ago.”
The album, titled “Back To The Light,” was released in the UK on September 28th, 1992 and in the US on February 2nd, 1993.
The track listing was as follows:
Back To The Light
Resurrection (with Cozy Powell)
Too Much Love Will Kill You
Driven By You
Nothin’ But Blue
I’m Scared (Justin’s Mix ’92)
Let Your Heart Rule Your Head
Just One Life
US CD Bonus Track: Driven By You (Radio Remix)
Brian toured for the album worldwide, through ’92 and ’93, promoting it heavily and continuing to deal with what was, at the time, a life after Queen, forging a new identity as a solo artist.
Again, though, Brian would set the solo work aside to return to the band in 1994 to work on the recordings left by Freddie and to try to build a new Queen album. It’s fitting that in doing so, the band pulled their 1988 recording of “Too Much Love Will Kill You” out of the vault and included it. The song that began Brian’s work on his solo album now stood amongst tracks that, in a way, represent the different facets of Queen, including their solo efforts outside the band, and reflecting the theme of the struggle that is life; a struggle Brian knew all too well when he finished Back To The Light.