By the time the credits rolled concluding the four-time Oscar winning Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, a casual music fan might have assumed that the royal rockers’ career must have peaked with that July 1985 Live Aid London benefit concert performance which climaxes the film. In fact, the story portrayed in Bohemian Rhapsody is only the first volume of the five decade Queen saga, whose final chapter was still being writ large in real time across North America just this summer and autumn.One of the biggest sub-plots completely absent from the multiple Academy Award-winning film is how in the Eighties Queen became one of the most popular bands in the world…everywhere it seems except America. Fully understanding how this happened is complicated but necessary to fully appreciate what has transpired to the continuing legacy of Queen. Queen guitarist/ songwriter Brian May told me that he traces the schism all the way back to Queen’s 1980 monster hit “Another One Bites the Dust” written by bass player John Deacon. Not since Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” a full seven years prior had a superstar rock act crossed over so successfully to the US black radio and dance club world like Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”. They followed it a year later with another rhythmic finger-popper, a duet by Queen’s Freddie Mercury and the mercurial David Bowie called “Under Pressure” which scored big again. Queen seemed to be taking a new musical direction, delighting new fans in their native UK, Europe, South America, & the Far East, while their biggest rock fan base in the US seemed perplexed. The wide swift-moving pop mainstream has rapids, dangerous whirlpools, and hidden shoals lurking just beneath the surface.
“I think you’re dead right,” Queen drummer Roger Taylor told me, looking back with hindsight. “We made one particular album which I would blame…called Hot Space…We were chasing a sort of funk direction that was never really us. We got waylaid a bit by ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ from our hard rock true roots. And I think we went much too far in that funk direction thinking that was the future. And I think that was a mistake.”
But in their defense, when you have 100,000 of your fellow countrymen and women in the palm of your hand, and an estimated 1.5 billion more watching live around the world on the Live Aid broadcast, it’s hard for any reasonable person to imagine any scenario where that pop music pinnacle could ever be construed as a “mistake”. According to Brian May, the Live Aid crowd was just the beginning.
“We went to Argentina and Brazil (in the mid ’80s). It was like being the Beatles in the Sixties for them. We were the first people to get in there and show them what could actually happen in a rock concert on a grand scale. ”
“We played to a hundred thousand people A NIGHT!” emphasizes Roger. “So we said, ‘Hey, let’s do this for awhile!’ “- Redbeard