Sunday, November 30, 2014

Queen, The #40 Artist of the Seventies*

In 1968, lead guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor played in a group called Smile, along with bassist Tim Staffell.  Lead singer Freddie Mercury (then known by his birth name of Farrokh "Freddie" Bulsara), a fellow student of Staffell's at Ealing Art College, became friends with Staffell.  Bulsara was a fan of the group, and encouraged them to experiment more in the studio and on stage.  When Staffell left in 1970, Bulsara joined the group, adopted his stage name, and the group changed their name to Queen.  Several bassists were in the band in this period, but none seemed to fit.  In 1971, John Deacon came along, and was the final piece of the puzzle.

Queen recorded a demo, but could not find a record company that was interested in them.  They began playing at colleges around London, and Mercury designed the group's logo.  The next year, Queen signed a management deal with Neptune Productions, a subsidiary of Trident Studios in London.  This allowed Queen to record at the famous studios being used by such artists as the Beatles and Elton John while Neptune searched for a record label for them.

Finally, Queen signed with EMI and recorded their eponymous debut album.  The group released the single "Keep Yourself Alive", but it did not chart anywhere in the world.  Thanks to later success by the group, the album eventually went Gold.

In 1974, the band released the album Queen II.  The album rose to #5 in the U.K. due to the song "Seven Seas Of Rhye", a #10 song in the U.K.

The group performed for six nights at the Uris Theatre in New York City, then began work on their third album.  Later in the year, Queen released Sheer Heart Attack.  The single "Killer Queen" became their first hit, reaching #2 in the U.K. and #12 in the United States.

The album rose to #2 in the U.K. and #12 in the United States.  It wasn't a breakthrough, but the single and album helped Queen become known, and Sheer Heart Attack went Gold in the U.S.  Fans have since discovered the Top Track* "Brighton Rock".

Queen ventured out on a world tour.  Afterwards, they split with Trident.  Peter Grant, the manager of Led Zeppelin, offered to work with them, but Queen found the terms of the contract unacceptable.  They hired John Reid instead, Reid being Elton John's manager.

The following year, Queen released the album A Night at the Opera, the title of a popular Marx Brothers movie.  At the time, it was the most expensive album ever produced.  "Bohemian Rhapsody" was the lead single, and it was an international smash.  The song landed at #1 in the U.K. for nine weeks, and also reached #1 in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the Netherlands, #4 in Switzerland, #7 in Germany, and an underrated #9 in the United States.      

The group's fans in their native England thought highly of the album, voting it the 13th greatest album of all-time in a 2004 poll.  While the album did not fare nearly as well elsewhere, it has now sold an impressive three million copies in the United States.  "Bohemian Rhapsody" is now the third-best-selling single of all-time in the U.K., surpassed only by "Do They Know It's Christmas?" by Band Aid and Elton John's "Candle In The Wind 1997".   

A Night at the Opera was a #1 album in the U.K. and #4 in the United States.  The follow-up single was "You're My Best Friend", #3 in Ireland, #6 in the Netherlands, #7 in the U.K., and #16 in the United States.

Queen toured Europe, the U.S., Japan, and Australia to promote the LP.  The group borrowed again from the Marx Brothers to come up with the title A Day at the Races for their 1977 album.  The group took multi-tracking to the nth power on the single "Somebody To Love", creating a 100-voice choir from their voices.  The single topped the chart in the Netherlands, and hit #2 in the U.K., #6 in Ireland, and #13 in the United States.

Queen played a free concert in Hyde Park in London, setting an attendance record for the venue of 150,000.  A Day at the Races contains another fan favorite, the album track "Tie Your Mother Down".

Queen sold out shows at Madison Square Garden in New York City and Earls Court in London on their subsequent tour.  With steady sales, A Day at the Races has now gone Double Platinum.

In 1977, Queen released the album News of the World.  The band released the single "We Are The Champions", but radio stations quickly combined both sides, playing "We Will Rock You" as a prelude.  The two songs combined to become one of Queen's biggest career hits, reaching #1 in France, #2 in the U.K. and the Netherlands and #3 in Ireland.  Officially, the double-sided hit peaked at #4 in the United States, but most stations which played it had it #1. 

News of the World has now gone Quadruple Platinum in the United States.  Queen released two other singles from the album with only minor success.  So they went to work on another album, Jazz, which they released in 1978.  Queen released the single "Bicycle Race", which became another double-sided hit when combined with "Fat Bottomed Girls".   Queen reached #5 in the Netherlands, #11 in the U.K. and #24 in the United States. 

Jazz peaked at #2 on the U.K. Album chart and #6 in the U.S., and has sold over two million copies.  The group's great harmonies are featured on the single "Don't Stop Me Now".  It topped out at #9 in the U.K., but stalled at #86 in the U.S.

Queen toured the United States and Canada in 1978, and Europe and Japan the following year.  The album Live Killers in 1979 has now sold over two million copies.  Queen released the single "Crazy Little Thing Called Love", a single that Mercury wrote on acoustic guitar styled after Elvis Presley.  The song was a #1 smash of four weeks in the United States, and hit #1 in Australia and the Netherlands, #2 in the U.K., Ireland, and New Zealand, #5 in Switzerland and #9 in Austria.

The album The Game came out in 1980, too late to count for the purposes of The Top 100 Artists of the Seventies*, but "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" does factor into the rankings, having been released in 1979.

Queen accepted an invitation from Paul McCartney to play on the opening night of the Concert for the People of Kampuchea in London.  In 1982, the group released their Greatest Hits, which has gone over eight million in sales in the U.S. alone.  Because most of the major hits from the album are from the Seventies, a large percentage of those sales count in Queen's ranking for this special.

Mercury contracted the AIDS virus despite constant public denials he made, and he died of the disease in 1991.  The 1992 movie Wayne's World made "Bohemian Rhapsody" popular all over again, resulting in it re-charting at #1 in the U.K. and #2 for five weeks in the U.S.  "Bohemian Rhapsody" has now sold four million copies in the United States alone.

Queen were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, and all four members were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003.  In 2009, "We Will Rock You" and "We Are The Champions" were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame--you have to wonder why "Bohemian Rhapsody" has not been.

Paul Rodgers (of Free and Bad Company fame) joined the group in 2004, which resulted in a revival of Queen thanks to live shows again.  The group is still together, now with vocalist Adam Lambert.

Queen has sold over 22.5 million copies in the U.S. from their music in the Seventies.  Their album sales and album tracks are the basis for their strong ranking, for they only scored ten hits in the decade, with three Top 10 songs and one #1.

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