Today will see the release of the very first proper trailer for the upcoming Queen bio film fittingly titled Bohemian Rhapsody starring Rami Malek (Mr. Robot) as lead singer Freddie Mercury.
As a lifelong Queen fan, I’ve been quite skeptical about this film, as I never really felt there was enough of a compelling Queen story to adapt to screen. Though after seeing a quick teaser trailer last night, I must admit the excitement is finally kicking in .
To mark the occasion (and also just as an excuse to write about my all-time favourite band), I thought I’d compile a list of 10 Queen facts many casual listeners will probably not be familiar with. Enjoy!
1 – Freddie Mercury designed the Queen Crest
There are plenty of great rock ‘n roll logos out there from The Beatles’ simple but iconic drop-T font to the Rolling Stones’ lascivious red lips and tongue insignia. However, the Queen crest is arguably the most majestic of them all. An integral part of the band’s branding since the beginning, the Queen logo is instantly recognized by music fans the world over. What is less known is that the original logo was designed by frontman Freddie Mercury.
As well as being one of rock’s greatest singers, Freddie was also a talented illustrator who studied Art and Graphic Design at Ealing Art College. Freddie designed the band logo that features a central regal Q surrounded by each of the band’s zodiac signs all sheltered under the resplendent wings of a giant phoenix. The two lions represent bassist John Deacon and drummer Roger Taylor who are both Leos. The crab resting on top of the Q stands for guitarist Brian May, a Cancer. Finally, ever flamboyant Freddie included not one, but two fairies sitting at the feet of the lions to represent his Virgo star sign.
Freddie’s original line-drawing of the logo was first included on the reverse-side of the band’s debut Queen released in 1973. Over the years, the band incorporated more intricately coloured versions of the artwork on the sleeves of the seminal A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races albums as well as on several compilation releases.
2 – Brian May built his own guitar
There are plenty of reasons why the Queen sound is so unique. Freddie’s gymnastic vocal range. The band’s pioneering studio multitracking technique. Also pivotal is the inimitable guitar orchestrations produced by Brian May through his quite literally one-of-a-kind axe, the Red Special.
Brian built his famed electric guitar from scratch as a teenager with help from his father Harold using a scrapped fireplace and a variety of wood. Brian also customized the pickups of his dream guitar so that through a series of on-and-off switches he could create a multitude of different tones, allowing his guitar to have a sound palette quite like no other.
3 – John Deacon built Brian a guitar amp
As well as boasting a one-of-a-kind guitar, Brian May also made use of a one-of-a-kind amplifier in order to create his lush signature sound. This plain looking but deceptively powerful amp was built by none other than bassist John Deacon and was affectionartely christened the Deacy Amp after its creator. John built the amplifier using a circuit board from an old radio he found in a skip, which he fitted into a speaker cabinet. Oddly for a guitar amp, it features no volume or tone controls of its own.
The dynamic sound created by the combination of the Red Special and Deacy Amp can be heard in Queen tracks spanning their entire career from 1974’s Procession to 1995’s A Winter’s Tale.
In 2008, Knight Audio Technologies developed a replica of the amp approved by Brian May which allowed guitar geeks (at least those willing and able to pay the hefty price tag) the ability to get closer to producing that classic Queen sound.
4 – Roger Taylor stole a giant Freddie Mercury statue
In 2002, Queen’s rock legacy took on a different form in the shape of a hit West End jukebox musical titled We Will Rock You written by famed British comedy writer Ben Elton (Black Adder). The production opened at the Dominion Theatre in Tottenham Court Road and the outside of the venue was graced with a giant golden statue of legendary frontman Freddie Mercury in iconic fist-in-the-air pose.
The show finally came to a close in May 2014 after delighting legions of fans, at the time making it the 10th longest running show in West End history. As sad as it was to see the musical go, it was perhaps sadder to see the giant Freddie statue taken down after it had become such an iconic feature within the central London cityscape. One would have hoped the statue would have been taken under the auspices of some rock history museum. But apparently not.
According to Ben Elton, drummer Roger Taylor simply claimed the statue for himself and placed it in his back garden. As Elton explained in an interview with the Radio Times: “Roger nicked it, literally. He hired a truck and just took it. Phil McIntyre [co-producer of WWRY] was up getting it off the roof and Roger said, ‘Drive it to my place.’ I think Brian was away. So, Roger stole Freddie from Brian.”
5 – One Band, Four Killer Songwriters
Among Queen’s list of many achievements includes them also being the only band in history where each member individually wrote a number 1 single. Not even The Beatles can claim to have achieved such an impressive feat!
Freddie penned the mini rock-opera Bohemian Rhapsody (UK no. 1) among many other chart-topping singles such as Crazy Little Thing Called Love (US no. 1). Brian wrote the stadium-chanting juggernaut We Will Rock You (UK no. 2*, later charted at no. 1 in 2000). After writing a string of album tracks, Roger Taylor finally hit gold with the early 80s classic Radio Ga Ga (UK no. 2, no. 1 in 19 countries). And perhaps most surprisingly of all, it was glum-faced John Deacon who wrote Queen’s funk-infused floor-filler behemoth Another One Bites the Dust (US no. 1), which went on to become one of the band’s biggest selling singles of all time.
* released as a double A-side with We Are The Champions
6 – Queen Reign Supreme in the UK
In 2016 it was revealed that Queen’s first compilation album Greatest Hits, released in 1981, was the United Kingdom’s best-selling album, having sold in excess of six million copies. These stats put them well ahead of other rock legends including The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Michael Jackson.
Furthermore, the band’s second compilation release Greatest Hits II, which comprises the band’s most-loved singles from the latter half of their career, currently sits in 10th place with sales close to four million.
In a 2017 interview with Britain’s Radio X, Brian May admitted that being so well known for Greatest Hits was a double-edged sword for Queen. While appreciating the overwhelming popularity the band continue to enjoy in their home country, Brian also admitted that “[Greatest Hits] only crystalizes one layer of what we did and of course the rest of it’s on the [studio albums] and we were an albums band, not really a singles band.” There really is no pleasing some people!
7 – The Best and Loudest at Live Aid
Queen’s set at Live Aid at Wembley Stadium in 1985 is not only heralded as one of Queen greatest performances but as one of the greatest live performances in the history of rock. The band kicked off with Bohemian Rhapsody and went on to deliver a blistering 20-minute medley of some of their most cherished tunes. Freddie Mercury in particular really showcased his talents as showman extraordinaire who could win over an entire stadium in seconds.
While there is no questioning the band’s prowess on the day, it is little known that Queen perhaps enjoyed a slightly unfair advantage – they were louder than all the other acts on the Live Aid bill! As the band’s long-time roadie Peter “Ratty” Hince explained in the official band documentary Days of Our Lives, “They set the level for the PA with limiters, and then when Queen came on, Tripp, who was Queen’s sound engineer, switched the limiters so that Queen would be louder.”
That means that while all the other artists’ volume was set to comfortable non-ear melting levels, when Queen set foot on stage the volume went all the way up to 11! That change in volume must have hit the weary audience like a shock of lightening, galvanising them throughout Queen’s legendary live set.
8 – The Queen Studio in Montreux
Why pay extortionate hourly studio rates when you can buy your own recording facility outright? That seems to have been Queen’s thinking back in 1979 when they purchased Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland. Owning such a state-of-the-art studio would allow the band the luxury to record at their own leisure.
However, fickle Freddie was apparently not overly grateful for the spoils his band enjoyed. In a 1984 interview with journalist Mary Turner, Freddie admitted: “I hate my studio to be honest. [The band will] kill me for saying this. I like Montreux but I mean only for a couple of days and that’s not enough to make an album. It’s nice, it’s very scenic, you’ve got a wonderful view and a beautiful lake. I don’t mind doing the odd track there, but I’d hate to think I’d be saddled with a whole album over there […] I just couldn’t go through with it.”
Despite Fred’s vocal misgivings, the band did in fact record a total of seven albums at Mountain Studios, including the majority of their final releases. One can only wonder whether the singer spent the entire recording process whining and whinging or if he had a change of heart and came to appreciate the tranquillity of Montreux.
Today, the studio is still open and welcomes visitors to the charity exhibition Queen: The Studio Experience. Queen devotees can get the chance to enter the studio where Queen recorded and where Freddie Mercury delivered his very last vocal performances. The control room remains as it was when Queen worked there and even allows punters to re-mix some Queen classics. The premises also houses a collection of photos and memorabilia from the band’s personal archives.
9 – Sex, Drugs & … Scrabble?
Life on the road with one of the world’s greatest rock bands. One imagines a thrilling day to day existence fuelled by nothing but sex, drugs and alcohol. Not so for Queen it seems. Among their not so luxurious travelling pastimes, Queen would enjoy lengthy, intense games of Scrabble against one another. These games would get so intense they were nicknamed “death Scrabble.” According to Roger, it was Brian who got the biggest single Scrabble score for one word. The word was “lacquers” which earned the guitar wizard an astonishing 168 points since it also crossed a triple word square. Impressive!
Scrabble was also to serve as a source of inspiration for the band’s musical output. One of Freddie’s favourite words to play on the board game was “innuendo”, which Queen used as the title for their final album released before Freddie passed away in 1991.
10 – Queen: the Video Game
In 1998, renowned video game developers Electronic Arts released an action-adventure video game named Queen: The eYe, which was inspired by and featured musical and visual elements of Queen’s legacy. The game was set in a future dystopian world ruled by a panoptic machine that was hellbent on suppressing all forms of human creativity. As the protagonist Dubroc, the player accidentally discovers a database of outlawed rock music and goes on a quest to take down the despotic system.
Despite being a Queen tie-in, the game was a massive disappointment and suffered poor sales due to bad gameplay and graphics that already seemed outdated by the time of its release. In recent years, the original 5-disc boxset of the game has become somewhat of a collector’s item among hardcore Queen fans as it features remixed instrumentals of many of the band’s tracks.
Bonus fact: Many of the key story elements of Queen: The eYe were later rehashed and used in the plot of the West End musical We Will Rock You.