The Ten Best Vocal Performances from Freddie Mercury
TOMORROW would have marked the 70th birthday…
Picture (and photos underneath song titles, except Barcelona and Radio Ga Ga) taken from the book, FREDDIE MERCURY: The Great Pretender
of Queen legend Freddie Mercury. The Zanzibar-born, British-based titan of music died on 24th November 1991 from an AIDS-related death – and with it, one of music’s greatest ever vocalists left us. Say what you want about Queen – and most people do – but you cannot deny the peerless genius of Freddie Mercury. Whilst his band played on the camp side of music – the songs rarely defined by composure or subtlety – everything was made to sound essential and affirmative by Mercury’s wonderful, planet-destroying voice. Whether entranced by his once-in-a-lifetime perfomance at Live Aid in 1985; the lung-busting power of Somebody to Love or the heartbreaking curtain call, The Show Must Go On. In honour of the icon’s birthday: I have whittled down his ten finest vocal turns for your delectation…
Barcelona (ft. Montserrat Caballé) – Barcelona
Montserrat Caballé provided the beauty and grace whereas Mercury produced a performance of sublime power and absolute intensity. After Barcelona was selected to host the 1992 Summer Olympics: Mercury was approached to write a theme song. Caballé was a hero of Mercury and he leapt at the opportunity to sing with her – the two would go on to make an album (Barcelona) that was met with mixed reviews. The title track shows what Freddie Mercury is all about: theatre, grandeur, and above all, immense passion.
Under Pressure (ft. David Bowie) – Hot Space
Recorded for the 1982 album Hot Space and featuring the sadly-departed David Bowie: another incredible duet where Mercury, matched with an exceptional singer, steals the show. Hot Space possessed few standout tracks – a malady of Queen’s early-‘80s work – but this song has endured and continues to stun. If you isolate Mercury’s vocal you can see the detail, drama and technique involved. Seemingly effortless and another day at the studio: a sublime, unstoppable performance few of his peers could even conceptualise, let alone match.
Bohemian Rhapsody – A Night at the Opera
It is hard to mention one of the greatest songs ever (according to most critics) are ignore the voice that scores it – even though Mercury’s is not the only voice on the track. Aside from the multi-layered, technology-pushing ambition of the vocal tracks: it is Mercury’s singular performance that defines the track. Starting seductive and affected in the opening verses: it mutates into a hot-blooded belt before coming down to land in the final seconds. It is impossible to truly decompartmentalise and deconstruct the elements of that single vocal: such is its complexities, skill and nuanced. Another world class turn from a vocal giant.
Crazy Little Thing Called Love – The Game
Reportedly written in the bath by Mercury (you can picture the scene!) it is one of the most surprising and un-Queen songs in their cannon. Mixing ‘50s Rockabilly with Doo-Wop: it is infectious, finger-snapping joy one cannot help sing along to. Given its insatiable cool and tease is Mercury, who proves he is just as mesmeric and sensational when taking the power levels down – one of the most focused and natural performances from his career. Not all Queen songs compel you to come back time and again and just lay back: Crazy Little Thing Called Love is an infectious and head-spinning joy because of Mercury’s suaveness and ice-cold authority.
Somebody to Love – A Day at the Races
This is when Mercury searched his soul and regretted his lack of love life and romance. What followed was a look inside his psyche and a transcendent revelation: Somebody to Love is a stunning investigation of faith, passion and fulfilment – Mercury’s voice interweaved into a Gospel tapestry that has been ranked among the greatest vocal performances of all time. Not only one of Queen’s most famous and celebrated songs: its vocal must surely be considered one of Mercury’s most impressive and wide-ranging. Sing along at your peril: there are few singers that have the lung capacity and range to pull it off!
Another One Bites the Dust - The Game
The Grammy-nominated, chart-riding smash Another One Bites the Dust was one of Queen’s most successful and commercial tracks. Released in 1980 for The Game – it was actually composed by the band’s bass player John Deacon. This is Mercury on the attack and standing tall: few have the panache and personality to bring every note and emotion from the song with such conviction. Those who define Freddie Mercury’s vocals always use the same three words: power, soul and passion. All of these come together but are joined by venom, grit and panache – showing just how many sides Mercury had to his vocal armoury.
Radio Ga Ga – Live Aid
Maybe it was the occasion or the crowd was in a unified spirit: Queen’s legendary performance got everyone singing and utterly hypntoised. The band mesmerised from start to finish: it was the moment Freddie Mercury proved he was one of the greatest voices music has ever seen. Perhaps the most memorable moment of the set was Radio Ga Ga. A little indirect and unemotional on the original album (The Works): here, it was turned into something life-affirming and biblical. Getting the crowds clapping, singing and in one another’s arms: surely one of the finest live performances of any time period.
Living on My Own – Mr. Nice Guy (solo album)
Wanting to move away from the band and take a break from Queen: Mercury released his first solo album in 1985. It was not hugely well received but proved he could exist outside the band and stretch his wings. Living on My Own is classic Mercury all the way through - vocal affectations and changing pace; sexuality, flair and vivacity in spades. Another Freddie Mercury song where confidence and authority are in no short supply. Remixed in 1993 and hitting the number one spot in the U.K.: the first number one of Mercury’s career.
Love of My Life – A Night at the Opera
On an album that contained the bombast and majesty of Bohemian Rhapsody: few bands would be able to put a song like Love of My Life alongside it and see it flourish. If anything, the song is an equal par due to Mercury’s tender and heartfelt performance. Written for his then-girlfriend Mary Austin, and one of the purest songs in the Queen back catalogue, it became such a fan favourite Mercury often had to stop singing and let the crowd take over. It shows the song resonated and connected with the masses: one of the key reasons is a knee-buckling, soul-kissing vocal turn from Mercury.
The Show Must Go On – Innuendo
Featured on the twelfth and final Queen album: The Show Must Go On is unarguably the greatest example of Mercury’s insane abilities. Recorded whilst ailing and near-death, it is a testament to the resilience and determination of the singer. Brian May challenged him at the studio and asked whether Mercury could perform (whilst so frail). Mercury exchanged a coy smile (vodka in hand) and simply said “I’ll fucking do it, darling” and slammed his vodka down. Recorded in a single take; he lacerated the vocal and the rest, as they say, is history. Few vocalists could get within touching distance in full health: pale and ill Mercury put everyone to shame and helped create the Queen frontman’s fitting epitaph. Not one to let things get him down or be defeated by life: it is a bold and phenomenal statement of intent and defiance. Listen to and try and battle back to the tears: it shows Freddie Mercury is very much alive and inside all of us.
Even if you are not a Queen fan – almost having to defend a terrific band against needless criticism – but nobody can deny or ignore Freddie Mercury and what he gave to music. Not only one of the most charming, quixotic and charismatic personalities even to walk the Earth – surely the biggest and most sensational vocal talent we have ever seen. It seems unlikely we will ever see another singer approach Mercury’s talents and passion – a true one-of-a-kind. You imagine he’d still be singing had he lived and who knows what he could have accomplished? In his relatively short, but highly sparkling career, Freddie Mercury established himself an absolute…
GIANT of music.