It is no understatement for me to say that Queen Greatest Hits changed my life.
Way, way back in 1981 when it was released it did more than just open the door to a whole realm of music that had been previously unknown to me, it also opened up a different way of looking at things, showed me what was possible, not just in music but also in life in general and it kickstarted an obsession with everything Queen that has lasted to this very day and no doubt will endure while I still draw breath on this earth.
I came to Queen by chance late in the summer of 1981 fooling around in my bedroom with some friends we were talking about novelty or silly records when I remembered my Mum had one with a lot of weird voices on it. I had no idea what it was or who it was by and could only remember its distinctive EMI label and sleeve. It was not what I was expecting to hear and my young teenage mind was blown wide open. What was this? Who was this? Where can I get more? The record was Bohemian Rhapsody and over the next couple of months I played it over and over and over, So much so that our downstairs neighbour complained not about the noise but the repetition of the same bloody song.
It got to November and my parents did the ‘what would you like for Christmas’ thing with my siblings and me. First thing on my list was an album by Queen and so it was that weekend they took me to a record store in the town to see if there was a particular album I would like. The store we visited had only two albums by Queen in stock, the Flash Gordon Soundtrack and the newly released Queen Greatest Hits. Despite having gone to the cinema to see Flash Gordon and loved it, it had completely passed me by that it was Queen on the soundtrack. I applied logic to the conundrum and seeing as the song Flash was on the Greatest Hits anyway I opted for that. It was purchased and once home we went through the ritual of playing the album all the way through to make sure it was free from scratches or any defects that might impair the playing of the record, after which it would be put away until Christmas.
No record since has had the effect on me that Greatest Hits has had. I was agog at this music. The heavy sound, the harmonies, the range of musical styles, the songs, the musicianship, I knew nothing and still know nothing of musical skill but I knew right there and then that I was hearing musicians of the very highest standard. And some of these songs I knew but for some strange reason did not know it was Queen who had released them. Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Flash, Another One Bites The Dust and We Will Rock You, were all songs I was aware of but perhaps because of my youth and the bands constant shift of image I had not made the connection that it was Queen who had released them. I can say hand on heart that is when my obsession with Queen truly began. It was perfect! It even finished with a song called We Are The Champions! The record was never put away for Christmas. I obsessed over it, the album sleeve with its Superman 2 Krypton prison effect photograph, the inner sleeve diagram that had all the previous album covers on it, what song came from which album and that got me obsessing over which album would be my next purchase? (In the end, it was Hot Space.) I was desperate to discover more about the band. Who were they? Where did they come from? Then I discovered there was a Greatest Flix video collection and a Greatest Pix book! They were both added to the Christmas wish list.
My downstairs neighbour began complaining about the repetition of the same album being played over and over again. One morning in an act of desperation as I passed him in the garden he forced three albums onto me that I had to borrow. Queen 2, which I gladly accepted and rushed upstairs to play, KISS Alive and Escape by Journey. I was told I would like Escape as the producer on it used to work with Queen and that I should like Kiss because as far as he was concerned they were the best band ever. Journey I liked right off, KISS took a little longer. Through Queen and tenuous connections to Queen, I have discovered other great bands and artists, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Aerosmith, Foo Fighters, The Darkness, Extreme and Bruce Springsteen to name just a few. If any artist name-checks Queen as an influence then I usually give them a listen.
I became known as the weird kid who obsessed over the band Queen, it became part of my DNA. I collected magazine and newspaper articles, books and of course whenever I could afford to, bought their records! Everything about the band fascinated me, not just the music but also the way they kept evolving, musically moving with the times
I have always been on the outside of things a little bit. Like Freddie says to John Reid in the film Bohemian Rhapsody I am one of those misfits and outcasts at the back of the room and have always felt a little bit different from my friends and had hoped that being into Queen would be something that I would finally have in common with others. After all who couldn’t like the greatest band ever? I might even become just a little bit cool (I was young and very naive.) because of my awesome taste in music. Of course, that did not happen.
While it quickly became obvious to me that Queen were one of the most successful bands ever and that almost everyone had a Queen song that they liked, I seemed to be alone amongst my friends and classmates in being a Queen fan. Almost everyone else was into The Jam, UB40, Dexys Midnight Runners, The Human League, Madness or Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran. They would decry rock music as dead and those that did like rock music seemed to be into the heavier side of things like Iron Maiden, Saxon and Judas Priest.
It astonished me that some people objected to the band's name claiming it hinted at other ‘things’ or that they didn’t like the lead singer Freddie Mercury because ‘he was gay.’ Even stranger was the occasional playground taunts at school that I “must be a poof” because I liked a “band with a poof in it”. (Their words not mine). I had no life experience to deal with this, and at first, flatly denied their accusations. I had to think about it and what it meant on my own. It was not something I thought I could talk about with my parents, they would have wavered between just ignoring them or punching them! This homophobic attitude seemed wrong to me and even back in the early 1980s more than a little backwards. Why did I have to justify my sexuality or sexual preference to anyone? In the end, I took inspiration from Freddie. It was my business and no one else’s therefore ‘So what!’
Now here is a strange thing. I cannot remember the last time I played Queen Greatest Hits. It has been years and these days I prefer to play a studio album when I want to listen to Queen. So what stirred up these memories and compelled me to write them down?
The gang on the podcast are going through the album track by track, providing a little commentary and insight to each one and that was when I got the idea for this. I love listening to the Queenpod cast discussing Queen's work though at times I get frustrated that I cant join in. I would have loved to have had those kinds of conversations about Queen’s music with my friends and so at times I also get a little bit jealous too, especially when some little nugget of information is revealed and I am sitting listening to it thinking I already knew that or John making the rest of the cast jealous showing off his Queen Box of Tricks package which I also have. I am a geek when it comes to Queen.
I wrote a short piece for the Fan Feature section of the Queen website back in February 2019 titled ‘It’s A Hard Life.’ and my intention is to have this published there too if I am lucky and also get a shout out on the Queenpod Podcast to draw listeners attention to my ramblings on how Queen Greatest hits changed my life. If successful I have promised myself I am going to get out my vinyl copy of the album (I wore the original one out and now have a German import with Under Pressure as the last song on side A. Got one of those John Robbins?) and listen to it all the way through, celebrating that it changed my life for the better in ways that I cannot even articulate here and that if I am remembering the tag line from the TV advert correctly, that it is indeed, ‘The most exciting album you will ever hear.’
Click here to listen to QueenPod.