Queen are a bigger band now in the USA than ever before.
I remember them being on the outside looking in on the rock music scene of the ’70s and ’80s. Queen was never a band you could pidgeon-hole into one type of music. What began as pseudo-Led Zeppelin morphed into something quite unique. American audiences listening to A Night at the Opera heard rock, ballad and whatever the hell Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon is.
Elektra Records was terrible about promoting them and the fact that their 1982 tour was so badly received that they never played the US again sucked for a huge fan like me. I, like most Americans, discovered Queen in 1975 with the release of Bohemian Rhapsody. What an odd, amazing song. The length, the subject, as it is, was completely unique.
Then in 1977, I fell in love with the band with the release of News of the World and the double A-sided singles We Will Rock You and We Are the Champions. I got tickets to my first Queen show at Madison Square Garden and on December 2, 1977, I was there, the first section up from the floor on the opposite side of the arena from the band. They blew my socks off. I knew only a handful of songs, but the whole show hooked me. Freddie was a ballet star as a rock star. He wore the one piece body suits and changed about four times. Then came the final encore and I’ll remember it till the day I die. Freddie strutting out on stage in a NY Yankees jacket and cap. A banner across the entire, enormous stage reading NY Yankees World Champions and the crowd roaring like the Yankees themselves were up there.
Queen played the Garden again in 1979, 1980 and, finally, in 1982. That year, they played 2 shows and the Garden was not sold out. Not even close. That afternoon, my friend and I camped out at Crazy Eddie on 57th and 3rd to meet the band and get autographs. Why I didn’t bring a camera, I don’t remember and regret. We bought new copies of albums we already owned and waited 3 hours for our turns. I bought Night at the Opera because I thought the white album cover would show the autographs perfectly. It did and still hangs on my wall today. So, up the stairs, we walked and at the top, and there they were. John, Brian, and Roger to the right, Freddie on a separate table to the left, looking not too happy to be there. I wore my hand painted ET shirt, this being the summer of ET, and the guys loved it. Brian commented that they love movies but don’t get out to them as much as they’d like while on tour. They were just so nice. Brian even messed up my name on the autograph and fixed it and apologized. Freddie barely looked up and I was at a loss for words. A few hours later, my girlfriend and I went to the show and I sang every song. I didn’t know then that it would be the last time I’d get to see them.
Freddie’s transformation to the stereotypical gay “clone” look didn’t play well with mainstream rock audiences of the time. As the AIDS epidemic was taking hold, the stigma and homophobia were getting bad. While the look was fairly a common one in New York and San Francisco, much of the rest of the country saw this as a harbinger of the virus that would ultimately take his life. Then MTV banned the video for “I Want to Break Free” and the main source of music for most teens was shut off. Future album releases got almost no press and Queen was never a band the press liked to begin with. Rolling Stone gave them ZERO positive reviews during Freddie’s lifetime and the band graced the cover only once...in 2017!
When Freddie passed away, I thought my favorite band had as well. But, a funny thing happened. The passion of Queen’s fans refused to let the band go away. Mike Meyers battled to include “Bohemian Rhapsody” in Wayne’s World. A new generation was exposed to this marvelous song and it rocketed up the charts to land, ultimately, at number 2. People started buying the Greatest Hits album and Queen began selling some of their songs for advertising. We Will Rock You became a staple of sports arenas from coast to coast and when a team won a championship on their home field, We Are the Champions rang out. When Paul Rodgers took the mic, no one I knew was excited, until the band landed on “American Idol”. That show gave more exposure to the depth of the catalog than anything before it. Suddenly, kids were aware of the band, not just from their parents, but because of what they experienced themselves.
Then came Adam Lambert and he accelerated the resurgence of Queen by his performances on American Idol and his joining the band. An American lead singer, singing some of the greatest songs of a rock canon grabbed American fans. Concerts sold out in minutes. I’ve been to both US tours and the ages range from old farts, like me, to teens and tweens for whom the music of Queen is both that of their parents and grandparents as well as discovered by them. The songs became staples of tv shows and radio again. Then came the movie. The reign of Queen in the USA has reached new heights. I proudly wear my shirts and get comments, 100% positive from old and new fans alike. Today, Queen are loved more in the US than ever before. This summer, I take my kids to their 3rd concert of Queen + Adam Lambert. They sing along to many of the songs, ever deeper cuts. What Freddie, John, Brian, and Roger began over 40 years ago is still alive and growing in the USA.
Long Live Queen!