Freddie Mercury, singer with Queen, as he sings into a microphone on stage during a performance by the band at the National Bowl in Milton Keynes, England, United Kingdom, on June 5, 1982.
(Originally published by the Daily News on Nov. 26, 1991. This story was written Jim Farber.)
‘Flamboyant’ was the word everyone used to describe Freddie Mercury. But that understates it. Mercury, who died of AIDS Sunday, was one of rock’s most wildly creative peacocks – part operatic ham, part English music-hall clown, part yowling metal god. Equipped with one of the burliest live voices in rock, he (and his group Queen) fashioned terrifically catchy music that couldn’t wait to leap over the top.
Classic albums like “A Night at the Opera” “A Day at the Races” or “Sheer Heart Attack” cooked up seven-layer cakes of sound, with Mercury’s voice overdubbed to glorious excess. It was a wholly new combination of Led Zeppelin metal, flouncy pop and snooty art-rock – as fun and skilled as it was absurd.
The time was right for so fanciful a venturer. Arriving during the heyday of glitter-rock, in ’73, Queen immediately earned attention for its verve in combining high artifice with lowdown rock. From the start, Mercury, in particular, seemed to understand that affection carried its own kind of reality, and that grandiloquence, tempered with irony, could pose a combination of unbeatable charm. It helped him get away with a lot. In the mid-’70s, when Queen’s audience was largely comprised of tough metal males, Mercury would prance around, addressing them as “my little bathing beauties.” Pop never knew a greater fop.
New York Daily News published this article on Nov. 26 1991.
More, his music helped change rock. With the 1975 hit “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Queen created an original style, opera-rock. The song’s video propelled it to No. 1 in England, the first case of a clip having significant marketing impact. In 1977, the hit “We Will Rock You” introduced the football chant chorus to rock, which became a staple of ’80s metal.
The group lost its commercial clout in the early ’80s – at least in this country. Around the world, they were as huge as ever. Last year Disney’s $ 25 million deal, reissuing all their classics.
Rumors of Mercury’s ill health had been circulating for the last month, but he didn’t confirm it until one day before his death, in the manner of Rock Hudson. Likewise, throughout his career, Mercury was never open about his sexuality but his unconventional demeanor gave solace to kids everywhere growing up different. He was a role model for the power of style, for the endurance of flash. With a flick of the writs and a roll of the eyes, he captured a kind of musical wit that will not die.
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