R.I.P., Freddie Mercury

I learned from the Mental Floss blog that today is the 17th anniversary of the death of Freddie Mercury, Queen’s lead singer. Queen now limps on with a new lead singer, another example of a band that can’t go on without its heart, soul and voice.

If you haven’t had a chance lately, check out their greatest hits. All three of them. Just look at the titles. He wrote many of the group’s signature songs, including “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Killer Queen” and “Somebody To Love.” And his voice – his range spanned almost four octaves careened between a growl and an operatic tenor.

So many of their hits have become rock icons, some even caricatures of themselves (“We Will Rock You,” “We Are the Champions,” “Another One Bites the Dust”). One was hijacked by a bad white rapper; it took me several years before I could listen to “Under Pressure” without hearing Vanilla Ice’s inane rapping.

In observance of his passing, I’d like for you to listen to “Bohemian Rhapsody” and don’t think of “Wayne’s World.” In fact, try not to think of the 1,782 times you’ve heard it before. Listen to the harmonies, the intricate, sometimes elaborate production, the Jekyll-and-Hyde movements, and mostly, Freddie Mercury’s voice. And think about this:

  • The song was mostly in Freddie’s mind, with parts and harmonies scribbled on telephone books and bits of paper. According to some band members, Mercury just worked out the song in his head and directed the band through the song.
  • Members of the group sang their vocal parts continually for 10 to 12 hours a day, resulting in 180 separate overdubs. The operatic parts took over 70 hours to complete.
  • Since the studios at that time only used 24-track tape, the group had to overdub themselves many times and bounce these down to successive submixes. The tapes passed over the recording heads so many times that the oxide layer was beginning to wear off, causing the normally opaque tapes to become transparent.
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