Brian May (guitar and vocals) and drummer Roger Taylor (percussion and vocals) played a hard rock psychedelic group called Smile in 1967. When singer, Tim Staffell left the band in 1971, he was replaced with piano player and singer, Freddie Bulsara (Freddie Mercury), and a few months later bassist, John Deacon made up the quartet. The lads were keen to complete their studies and kept the band as a pastime, playing only a handful of gigs. Somewhere along the line the group changed their name and Smile became Queen. Brian May and his father had built a guitar which they called the Red Special, and it had a most unique sound which was to become Queen‘s trademark. Their style of music was a bizarre fusion of the macho and the fey which was most appropriate for the Glam Rock era. As the group progressed they delved more deeply into camp and bombast, creating a huge, mock-operatic sound with layered guitars and overdubbed vocals. Freddie Mercury had a good voice and brought an extravagant sense of camp to the band, pushing them toward kitschy humour and pseudo-classical arrangements. In 1973, they released the first Queen album at the height of Glam Rock and started touring the UK. Nothing happened.
In 1974 Queen went to Australia and appeared as headliners of the Sunbury Festival (near Melbourne). Few in the crowd had heard of "Queen" and when they arrival at the festival site in limousines many were alienated. Long delays with technical problems and alleged sabotage meant the crowd were non plused when eventually they were introduced as a bunch of "Stuck-up Pommy bastards". The Australian experience was a complete disaster and they decided to pack up and return home. Better news awaited them in Blighty. Top of the Pops (BBC) were looking for an act and the single from their second album Queen II, was previewed with a performance of Seven Seas of Rye.
The dynamic and charismatic Freddy Mercury won the interest of the record buying public and both song and album were a smash success in the UK. Both single and album rocketed up the charts. Queen embarked on their first headlining tour of the UK. Queen was eager to conquer the US market and embarked on a tour, with Mott the Hoople, in support. Brain took ill and Queen returned to the UK early to concentrate on studio work. At the end of 1974 Queen released their third album, Sheer Heart Attack. "Killer Queen" was the chosen single and again both 45 and album zoomed up the charts. Sheer Heart Attack sold well in America too.
A Night at the Opera was released in 1975 and was a masterpiece with a little bit of everything including the seven minute, mini opera written by Freddy Mercury. No cost was spared for the song and it took a month to complete. Against all the odds the single "Bohemian Rhapsody" got mass airplay and became Number One. The band also put together a fine video for the song which was a rarity.
All the band's members helped in writing songs for this album which proved to a gem although it was reputed to be the most expensive rock record ever made at the time of its release. Bohemian Rhapsody and A Night at the Opera sold well internationally.
Despite their success the band continued to work at a rapid rate. In the summer of 1976, they performed a free concert at London's Hyde Park that broke all attendance records, and released "Somebody to Love" a few months later.
It was followed by A Day at the Races, which was essentially a scaled-down version of A Night at the Opera that reached number one in the U.K. and number five in the U.S.
They continued to pile up hit singles in both Britain and America over the next five years. "We Are the Champions"/"We Will Rock You," and "Fat Bottomed Girls"/"Bicycle Race" came from respective albums selling incredibly well internationally.
By the beginning of the 80s, Queen was at the height of their popularity. The Game included "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and the disco-fied "Another One Bites the Dust" and became the group's first American number one album.
As the 80s progressed their popularity in the US and the UK declined partly due to overexposure and the change in popular music to punk. Hot Space was only a moderate hit, and the more rock-oriented The Works (1984) was a minor hit, with only "Radio Ga Ga" receiving attention.
Queen began touring foreign markets, cultivating a large, dedicated fan base in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, continents that most rock groups ignored. In 1985, they returned to popularity in Britain in the wake of their show-stopping performance at Live Aid. The following year, they released A Kind of Magic to strong European sales, but they failed to make headway in the States.
The same fate befell 1989's The Miracle, yet 1991's Innuendo was greeted more favorably, going gold and peaking at number 30 in the U.S.
By this time the end was near for the band and Freddy Mercury was gravely ill. Queen had drastically scaled back their activity, then Freddy died in November 1991. Brian May pursued a solo career and Roger Taylor cut a few records with the Cross, which he had been playing with since 1987. John Deacon retired. The three reunited in 1994 briefly to record backing tapes for vocal tracks Freddy Mercury recorded on his death bed. The resulting album, Made in Heaven, was released in 1995 to mixed reviews and strong sales.
In 2005 the Queen name was revived with Paul Rodgers appended to it. Rodgers, the former lead singer of Free and Bad Company, joined Brian May and Roger Taylor but John Deacon could not encouraged out of retirement. They did some live shows.
Worth a listen:
Seven Seas of Rye (1973)
Killer Queen (1974)
Bohemian Rahapsody (1975)
Your my best friend(1976)
Somebody to love (1976)
Tie your mother down (1977)
We are the champions (1977)
Fat Bottomed Girls (1978)
Crazy little thing called love(1979)
We will rock you (1979)
Another one bites the dust (1980)
Under pressure (1981)
Radio gagga (1984)
I want to break free (1984)
A kinda magic (1986)
The show must go on (1991)