Friday, December 2, 2011

Queen, punk rock and New Musical Express

Watching ABC2 earlier in the week I saw the first part of a fascinating two-part documentary series about the rock band Queen called Queen: Days of Our Lives.

Being in my late forties now, of course I recognized all their hits. Way back when they were at the height of their fame I certainly liked their songs, as so many people did. But I didn't see them as anything special. I thought they were much like all other rock bands -- a bunch of overrated, preening egomaniacs, basically. Freddie Mercury in particular struck me as a bit of a tool.

I'm a lot older now, and -- I hope -- a bit wiser. So as I watched the doco I saw the band completely afresh. I have no musical ability, and very little knowledge of it, but I could finally understand just how brilliant these guys really were. They were truly unique and way ahead of everyone else in the field.

They were all exceptionally talented in their own way. But Freddie Mercury was particularly gifted. Not only did he have an incredible voice -- one now widely viewed as being one of the finest rock voices ever -- he also penned many of their best songs.

The doco was full of interesting anecdotes and reminiscences. One of the things that came through strongly was how the British music press of the day really detested the band. One well known illustration of this loathing was when NME interviewed Freddie Mercury and ran it with the headline: "Is this man a prat?" The band became so sick and tired of the constant sneering from vicious rock hacks that they gave up trying to please them entirely.

I think it's fair to say that the music press in Britain at the time -- like the local arts commentariat of today -- were a pretty bolshie bunch. So it's not surprising that they were deeply hostile to the flashy, witty quartet that was Queen.

It also makes sense that the music press gave a lot of positive coverage to punk music, and clearly had much to do with its rise. (NME in particular was closely associated with it, apparently.) After all, punk was clearly more an expression of inchoate political rage than an actual musical genre in its own right. Just listen to that crap and you'll know what I mean. (In a way it was a bit like today's stupid Occupy Movement, just a lot louder and snarlier -- albeit undeniably more creative as well.)

As is so often the case, the critics of the day were completely and utterly wrong. Not only did Queen sell squillions of records all over the globe at the time, many of today's musical pundits now rightly see them as a truly great rock band who made a huge and enduring contribution to popular culture.

The second part of Queen: Days of Our Lives is on Wednesday night next week. Definitely worth watching, IMO.

No comments:

Post a Comment