THIS MONTH MARKS the 50th anniversary of Queen's first-ever London gig. To celebrate, we've put together another special collaboration with Rockarchive. We've collectively delved back through our archives to share a selection of historic images and features that document the band's musical legacy.
Read excerpts from two articles accompanied by photographs from 1974, then visit rockarchive.com to see more, previously unseen photos. Subscribers to Rock's Backpages can also read the full interviews, originally published in Sounds and Circus, here on Rock's Backpages.
QUEEN'S DEBUT London performance took place at the Union Concert Hall at Imperial College on 18th July, 1970. Two years earlier, Brian May had placed an advert on the noticeboard of its student union looking for a "Mitch Mitchells/Ginger Baker type drummer". After Roger Taylor responded, the seeds were sown for the formation of one of the world's great supergroups.
What followed was extraordinary. Over the next 50 years, Queen went on to sell over 300 million records, including 16 No. 1 albums and 18 No. 1 singles. But even at the start of 1974, their breakthrough year, not everybody saw their potential.
Queen: Britain's Biggest Unknowns
Martin Hayman, Sounds, 5 January 1974
"QUEEN ARE being hailed as the natural successors to Led Zeppelin on the other side of the Atlantic. This may cause an outburst of derisive laughter, hoots, boos, jeers and catcalls from those who think Zep are the cat's whiskers. But most of the people who have seen Queen agree they are pretty hot.
"They have been touring with Mott the Hoople and make a good showing on what is now a pretty tough assignment, opening the show for Mott. They write and play punchy songs, they are loud and aggressive to the right degree, they look good and move well on stage, especially their singer Freddie Mercury, who – besides strutting and prancing – has an excellent, sharp-edged voice with a lot of power.
"It makes one wonder why the New York Dolls were so lavishly feted on their derisory couple of British gigs. I reckon that a British provincial audience would have pulled the Dolls apart in a jiffy; Queen handle them well, and they were getting encores on their set.
"And the public are giving them the thumbs up too, which is reflected in steady sales of their debut album — standing now at 15,000 in Britain and a quite incredible 85,000 in the States, where it has crept into the lower reaches of the album charts. Not bad when you think how comparatively unknown they are even here. Evidently not as unknown as we imagine. You might say they were Britain's biggest unknowns".
Read the full article here on Rock's Backpages.
OVER THE next few years, Queen released hit after hit, with songs such as 'Killer Queen' and 'Bohemian Rhapsody' skyrocketing them to international fame. By 1977, on their Day at the Races tour, they were selling out venues like the legendary Madison Square Gardens.
A Day of the Races was the band's first completely self-produced album and is a sequel or companion album to A Night at the Opera; both taking their names from Marx Brothers films. At the time the band discussed how its production was a new experience for them.
A Day at the Races Is A Self-Made Masterpiece
Wesley Strick, Circus, 31 January 1977
"IT WAS SOME weeks back, and Europe's biggest rock band had four months' studio time behind them, and two weeks ahead. "It feels like we've been working forever," Freddie sighs, "and I'll be glad to see the end of it. I think we all will, although everything's been going fine. We've even got release dates set up," he adds, optimistically.
Later, sitting comfortably on the finished product, Queen's animated lead singer takes time out to talk about the carefully delayed album. A Day At The Races (Asylum), Queen's fifth, is the band's first self-produced record. "We finally got that organized," Freddie nods, to explain the absence of veteran Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker: "We just felt that, for this one, we needed a bit of a change. We were quite confident in doing it ourselves. The other albums we really co-produced, actually we always took a very keen interest."
"It was all very amicable," drummer Roger Taylor is quick to explain. "Roy's been in and out of the country. He's heard some rough mixes. Who knows? Maybe he'll be back producing the next one! It's been tremendous pressure recording this album." Mercury, meanwhile, is quite happy with Queen's first attempt at studio self-sufficiency. "I think it turned out for the better," he insists. "Taking more responsibility has been good for us. Roy's been great, but it's a progression, really – another step in our career. We simply felt that it was now or never."
Queen fiends needn't despair, however. "There are definitely different sounds and a few surprises on the album" Freddie promises, "but we've still maintained the basic Queen sound." A Day At The Races features four songs from Mercury, four from guitar-phenomenon Brian May, and one each from Taylor and bassist John Deacon. "I feel this time that we've got quite a few strong singles," says Freddie. "It was a very hard choice, to be honest. Picking the first single is a matter of taste. We settled on 'Somebody To Love' to start things rolling. It's one of my tracks," Mercury adds, modestly.
"'Somebody To Love' is Aretha Franklin-influenced," Taylor says. "Freddie's very much into that. We tried to keep the track in a loose, gospel-type feel. I think it's the loosest track we've ever done."
"It's new, it's slightly different," Freddie agrees, "but it still sounds like the Queen that used to be."
Read the full article here on Rock's Backpages.
The band's success continued through 1977 and beyond, with their album News of the World yielding anthemic classics 'We Will Rock You' and 'We Are The Champions'. Perhaps their greatest moment was the performance at Live Aid in 1985 that really cemented them as rulers of the rock universe.
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