BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY: MY JOURNEY WITH QUEEN (CONCLUSION)

Freddie in his dying days continued to record until he’s too exhausted to proceed.  That ethos is totally embodied in another song from Innuendo that became an anthem, “The Show Must Go On.”  This seems to also be a mantra that the rest of the band members took to heart, and it turns out as years go by this helps sustain this band’s profile through the years.

The death of Freddie of course led to demand for fans to remember Freddie by, and in the UK, “Bohemian Rhapsody returned to No. 1 as fans grieved his death.  In the US, Queen’s profile was revived thanks to then-Saturday Night Live star Mike Myers, who chose to feature his song in the opening scene in his movie Wayne’s World.  This now-epic scene helped propel “Bohemian Rhapsody to a new peak at No. 2 (it peaked at No. 9 in its original chart run).

A few months later the surviving members decided to mount a tribute concert for the departed frontman to raise funds for AIDS charities.  It was an awesome event, and for me the biggest highlights include David Bowie and Annie Lennox dueting on “Under Pressure” (with Annie displaying a distinctive stage look that is now one of her iconic personas).

I know Freddie is touted as arguably the best male pop/rock vocalist ever, but for me in second place is George Michael  and I noticed they actually have similar timbres in their vocals.  So it’s suitable that they got George to sing two numbers, “Somebody to Love” and in a duet with Lisa Stansfield, “These Are the Days of Our Lives

Our mellow radio stations also did their part to keep Queen immortalized as they continue to heavily play songs like Brian May’s solo single “Too Much Love Will Kill You” (which was later released with Freddie’s’ vocals as a Queen track on their posthumous album, Made in Heaven) – Brian May and a track from the 1975 album A Night at the Opera, “Love of My Life” has an extended shelf life in these shores.

I only discovered Freddie’s Indian ethnicity only when there was another tribute concert being staged in India (without the presence of Queen members, though).  I know based from a trivia book that Freddie’s birth surname was Bulsara and he was born in Zanzibar, an island off he coast of Africa that is now part of Tanzania.  I thought he passed for a swarthy European then, but it turns out not only was he Indian, his name was Farokh.  Check more details about his background from this elightening 2000 documenttary, Freddie Mercury: The Untold Story.

As the new millennium approached, some artists decided to pay homage by covering some of QUeen’s biggest hits.  For instance, the FugeesWyclef Jean did a remix of “Another One Bites the Dust“.with help from fellow band member Pras Michel and singer Free.

But a big hit in Europe (especially in the UK that hit No. 1) is the boyband 5ive’s cover version of “We Will Rock You”, where they embellished with their own verses.  Nohing compares to the original, of course, but itt’s still an entertaining listen to this day.

At this point, bassist John Deacon decided to leave the band and retire from show business altogether.  The 2000s decade is an interesting period as the remaining two members of Queen decided to collaborate with singer Paul Rodgers and they toured and recorded under the moniker Queen + Paul Rodgers.  Paul is no ordinary journeyman musician, as he had a slew of hits being part of some bands that are legendary for some rock classics like “All Right Now” when he was part of Free and his extended stint with Bad Company, with hits like “Feel Like Making Love“.  Admittedly I didn’t pay much attention to this lineup and only got to listen to them recently.  To my ears, as legendary as Paul Rodgers was, I don’t really think he’s a good fit performing Freddie’s songs.  There are people who loved this lineup, but unfortunately I’m not really one of them.  However, hearing Queen cover Paul’s hits were actually a great treat.  Eventually in 2009, Paul decided to resume his solo career and reunite with Bad Company.  Anyway, check out some of their collaboration with “Say It’s Not True” and “Cosmos Rocks” and enjoy listeningg to their take on “All Right Now” and “Feel Like Making Love”.

From 2011 to the present, Queen  decided to choose a flamboyant performer as its new frontman, former American Idol runner-up  Adam Lambert.  I think Adam is more a better fit as he most closely has the charisma and performance chops that Freddie legendary has–boo to those detractors who think Adam is merely a karaoke clone.

In 2012 it was unearthed that Michael Jackson and Freddie Mercury had attempted to collaborate on a few recordings, but Freddie decided to back out.  One duet, “There Must Be More to Life than This“, was released as a single, and a demo version of the Jacksons’ “State of Shock” was revealed that Freddie was the original guest instead of Mick Jagger.  The version with Mick Jagger was kinda suggestive, especially with Mick ad libbing about “needing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation” and that suggestive moan that closed the song.  Here, it’s more of a slightly more wholesome jam and it’s one of those what-ifs.

I would be remiss that adding to Queen’s legend are all those cover versions paying tribute to them on YouTube.  For instance, my favorite a capella group Pentatonix did their full version*1 of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, the highlight of their classic covers EP.  It’s a treat to hear Mitch Grassi convert himself into a guitar using a megaphone.  Sadly this is also the last time we would see Avi Kaplan as part of the band as he chose to leave the group after this record and the tour supporting it.  .  This should’ve been nominated and granted a Grammy, if you ask me.

*1 They initially sang this as a snippet in their “Evolution of Music” medley.

After a decade in development hell, finally the biopic Bohemian Rhapsody.  I’ve heard criticism about taking liberties with chronology and some events in the band members’ lives, but I think that’s part and parcel of translating a biography into a film, that liberties shall be taken.  Still it’s unquestionable the power of Queens’ music and Rami Malek‘s performance–he’s Oscar-bound in my opinion.  I treated my mother to watch this film with me and I’m pleasantly surprised that she enjoyed it immensely, even if she noted about that issue with “Another One Bites the Dust”.

Still, there’s a side of me that wishes they be a bit more truthful to the chronology.  There is this brilliant documentary with dramatization called the “Freddie Mercury Story” with two alternating subtitles;  “The Great Pretender” or “Who Wants to Live Forever”.  Makes me wish they have the Bohemian Rhapsody cast re-enact those scenes from this documentary.  It will be nice to see how Rami would handle those as the actor in the dramatization also did a fabulous job.

No doubt Queen’s legacy is secure and will continue to hook generations of music lovers.  On a parting note I’ll share three recent favorite covers paying tribute to Queen:  Peter Hollens‘ “Queen Medley”, 10 Second Songs’ cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody:in 42 styles: and finally Voiceplay‘s 5-mi9nute Queen medley.  Enjoy!

JUST ME!

JOSEPH

 

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY: MY JOURNEY WITH QUEEN (PART 1)

Before the quintuple whammy of major pageants that will be held in the next three weeks, I would like to take the time to share my love and appreciation for a certain band that has made a major impact in my life.  With the recent release of the Bohemian Rhampsody film and today being the 27th anniversary of his death to write this piece on the band Queen.

Like most people, my first experience with Queen was with their eventual immortal classic, “Bohemian Rhapsody“.  I did have a vague recollection of seeing this video clip on afternoon TV when I was seven or eight, but my memory of this video was very fragmented but that iconic opening imagery (based from their Queen II album cover a couple of years back), plus those kaleidoscopic effects during the opera segment were indelibly etched in my memory.  But I didn’t listen to this song in its entirety then as this was aired as a filler between TV programs, and they tend to abruptly cut to the program mid-song in those days (especially since there were no dedicated music clip shows then).  I only got to listen to this song in its entirety several years later.

When I was 10 years old, I started becoming more attuned to the music I hear around me, and during that time, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” was a huge hit.  But in those days I still didn’t identify that this was from this band at that time.  It took there next mega-smash for me to put the music to the artist…

…As we started getting to watch music countdown shows and one of the biggest hits at that time was “Another One Bites the Dust”.  It was identified that this is by the band Queen, and of course, the image of Freddie’s mustache was eternally etched in my head.  That indelible bass line is just simply hard to resist.   A few years later, a bunch of religious fanatics denounce this song as “satanic” as they claimed backmasking the song would reveal the line “it’s fun to smoke marijuana”.  My conservatively religious mom tend to believe these claims hook, line, and sinker in those days, but well, I’ve always took those claims with a grain of salt.  Besides, marijuana is no longer considered that bad of a thing these days, right (though I will never consume or ingest that substance ever)?

Then, our local noontime variety shows conducted dance contests promoting the single “Body Language“, making it very popular here.  They also broadcast snippets of the music video and the black leather imagery stirred up something in my hormones as it hints at something salaciously sexy.  But they never aired the clip in full, and I only got to watch it on YouTube several decades later.

The indelible opening bass line of “Under Pressure” (in collaboaration with David Bowie) was first introduced to me through a rather unconventional way–through a sanitary napkin commercial.  The bass line played while we see an image of a close-up of a woman’s butt clad in short-shorts riding a bicycle.  I didn’t really get to hear the song in full until a few years later, so when I think of this song, that image of a woman’s butt on a bicycle is what I’ll think of.  Little did I know then that this band had songs about bicycles and women’s behinds…

This is the closest approximation of the image I saw in that commercial that featured the tune “Under Pressure”.

As my 2nd year of high school came in, music video shows are all the rage, and getting a lot of plays was “Radio Ga-Ga“. I can’t help but raise my hands and clap along to this song when I hear it, just like the crowd in the music video.  Little did I know this will be this band’s last Top 40 hit in America (and I haven’t even tuned in to Casey Kasem‘s American Top 40 at the time.

The follow-up to “Radio Ga-Ga” was “I Want to Break Free“, and the band in drag made it one of their most iconic and unforgettable music videos.  I wasn’t aware of the controversy it generated in America that caused it to be banned.  Here in our shores, it’s another massive hit–I suppose because we are so accustomed to seeing flamboyant drag queens and effeminate gay folk prancing around on our TV screens here tthat we don’t bat an eyelash at this comedic sight.

As I start my 3rd year of High School, Live Aid came.  Itt didn’t air live in our shores but was broadcast a week later.  But as I recall it, the press then were more focused towards Phil Collins‘ transatlantic stunt and the duet performance between Mick Jagger and Tina Turner performing the Jacksons“State of Shock” and the Rolling Stones‘ “It’s Only Rock N’ Roll (But I Like It)“.  Little did we know about a Freddie Mercury connection with the former song but more on that in the second part f tis peice.  I don’t recall mentions of Queen’s 20-minute seven-song set as THE highlight of the entire event but as years wore on, that gig has now become the most legendary highlight of an event filled with highlights.

Anyway after the Live Aid performance, Queen then released the single “One Vision”almost a year later,and I thoroughly enjoyed this tune as it’s hard-rocking, melodic, and extremely entertaining.  I also get a chuckle with the “Fried chicken” ending.  It eventually became part of their next albume, A Kind of Magic with significant airplay in our shores for the title track and with the popularity of Christopher Lambert’s Highlander film in our shores, the tunes “Who Wants to Live Forever” and “Princes of the Universe.

In my 4th year of high school, I finally got to learn the breadth of Queen’s work thanks to a big Queen fan in my classmate, Sherwin Torres.  I particularly recall him belting out the opening track from their now classic album A Night at the OperaDeath on Two Legs” which he tends to constantly render as “Zed on two legs” claiming that there was an effect that made “Death” sound like “Zed”.

He also got us to stomp and clap to “We Will Rock You” and I enjoyed being introduced to this song.  It’s no surprise it’s now a classic anthem in sports events.

We as a class also performed the flipside of that smash hit, “We Are the Champions” as part of our annual intramurals cheer presentation.  I’m proud to say that my class is filled with creative, talented people, and we fared very well in cheer/chant presentations, placing 1st or 2nd from freshman to senior year in high school.

When Sherwin shared his Queen Greatest Hits (I) album, I’ve been treated to the eclectic range of this band, and I enjoyed listening to the hard rock of “Seven Seas of Rhye” and “Now I’m Here”, the cheeky and pompous sass of “Bicycle Race” and “Fat Bottomed Girls, the catchy pop dities of “Killer Queen“, “You’re My Best Friend“, and “Don’t Stop Me Now“, and he epic grandiose (yet rocking) balladry of “Somebody to Love“.  Thanks to Sherwin, I now love this band even more, and noticed he common thread of charisma and the harmonies (mostly delivered by Freddie, guitarist Brian May, and drummer Roger Taylor, who I didn’t realize was the one who usually sings the high parts of the harmonies–I tended to think Freddie does those parts, for some odd reason).

After I graduated from high school, Freddie released some solo singles.  Though he released some solo songs a few years before, the first solo song I heard was his cover of the Platters’ “The Great Pretender“.  It was a cheeky homage in typical Freddie Mercury fashion and little did I sense the turmoil underneath that would hound him for a few years to come…

That was followed by the pop-opera anthem “Barcelona“, performed as a duett with opera legend Montserrat Caballe.  It was to commemorate Barcelona winning the bid tto host the 1992 Olympics and this song proved to be an epic anthem that I would forever associate with those Olympic games.

In 1989, the band released The Miracle album, and the album cover was intriguing featuring the faces of the four band members blended together.  I didn’t really think much of it and though I saw the video to “Breakthru” first, the only song from this album that caught my ear was-“I Want It All

As I graduate from college, Queen released Innuendo and at the time most critics were lukewarm on this album and I tend to agree and found the title track‘s No. 1 placement in the UK chart a tad baffling as I found it too pretentious at the time and was definitely not as epic as “Bohemian Rhapsody”.  The talks about the state of Freddie’s health escalated at this pointt, and the release of videos for “I’m Going Slightly Mad” and “These Are the Days of Our Lives” didn’t assuage matters as Freddie looked very frail at this point.  Still, these black-and-white videos generated indelible images of a star holding on to the bitter end..  Freddie’s eventual death may have made this album sound better than at the time of its release, as the above tracks I mentioned from this album are now considered classics, and there is an additional track from this album that seems to embody the spirit that guided this band’s career moving forward…

COMING UP:  QUEEN’s IMMORTALITY POST-FREDDIE

RESULTS REACTION: MISS INTERNATIONAL 2018

I know many more casual observers will again decry that Miss International is an old-fashioned snoozefest.  Admittedly, for those watching live with intermissions the whole affair lasted 5 1/2 hours, about as long as the chaotic 2012 edition.  But well, the length was partly because of having a record 77 contestants parading individually in national costume, swimsuit, and evening gown, and there are a whole host of guest performers–like Japanese group Da Pump performing their local hit, “USA“, and guesting 20 members of the American children’s choir One Voice.  But there are elements to prove they are in the 21st century, like the bright, tinkly, upbeat electro-jazz muzak for the background music for the competition rounds, and that high-tech synchronized performance dance piece by Orientarhythm that opened the proceedings.  I know the International Cultural Association (ICA) still stubbornly holds on to tradition, and many are impatient about the very minor changes made to the program, but well, any baby steps towards modernity is welcome.

I’m generally okay with getting 10 out of 15 of my “Fearful” Forecast correct, though I know I’m slightly off as I only got four of the Top Eight and two of the eventual royal court.  Many of the ones I didn’t get were in my radar but there are some surprises in store.  For instance, the inclusions of MADAGASCAR (Esmeralda Maleka) and UKRAINE (Bohdana Tarasyk).  I pegged MADAGASCAR in my bottom five and UKRAINE was in my striking distance list.  I have to credit MADAGASCAR for a more polished presence onstage and that might be why the predominantly Japanese panel thought was very refreshing and that was why she was allowed through.  In the case of UKRAINE, I have issues with her facial features–my only speculation is that she reminds them of Lady Gaga and her breakthrough movie role as Ally in A Star is Born so perhaps that’s the key to her appeal.  Still, I wonder if they are worthy over the following list of ladies who failed to make the cut…

Admittedly I thought the power of the sash would benefit BRAZIL (Stephanie Pröglhöf) but admittedly after seeing her threadbare costume (when you expect a grand Carnival-themed costume) and her lackadaisical presentation, I knew she would miss the cut.  I saw a lot of great potential with PORTUGAL (Carina Neto) as she resembles the impeccably elegant Jackie Kennedy Onassis.  But that busy evening gown she sported was a big let-down so well, so much for that potential.

Well, at least we have at least two black ladies who made the Top 15, but I still wonder if MADAGASCAR is superior to the likes of HAITI (Cassandra Chéry) and ZIMBABWE (Tania Tatenda Aaron).  Both delivered commendable performances, as HAITI proved to be very polished and ZIMBABWE stepped up her game during the finals with her distinctive Afro hairdo–I particularly liked her warrior dance in the National Costume round as she did it in very high stiletto platform heels–try doing her moves in those shoes…

I also think INDIA (Tanishqa Bhosale) and MOLDOVA (Daniela Marin) delivered performances worthy of a Top 15 placement, but well, slots are indeed limited and there is not enough room for them.

There was a huge crowd chanting for BOLIVIA (Maria Elena Antelo), and she fed off their energy and also delivered a sterling performance, and she dazzles in her fringed evening gown.  Many pageant fans and pundits are also sad at PANAMA (Shirel Ortiz)‘s exclusion as she was also faultless,  Again, like INDIA and MOLDOVA, the predominantly Japanese panel felt a bit differenttly.

But most people are upset at the exclusion of POLAND (Marta Palucka) and LAOS (Piyamarth Phounpaseuth) so both are prime candidates for the Ruth Ocumarez Award.  I’m scratching my head why the Japanese didn’t cotton to POLAND’s gorgeous looks.  For LAOS, buzz has been dipping for a while, admittedly as styling herself with her hair down proved to be the wrong strategy as she then lost that regal spell that impressed many pundits in her early appearances.  But both still were great, so I’m still wondering:  MADAGASCAR and UKRAINE over these ladies?!

I’ve noticed the Japanese panel are in a bit of a Hispanic/Latin mood.  So I don’t really mind that PARAGUAY (Daisy Lazcano) advanced and make the cut–she is worthy of belonging here…

But I’m slightly more surprised how they have a very high regard for SPAIN (Susana Sanchez) and ECUADOR (Michelle Huet) that they made it all the way to the Top Eight.  Sure, SPAIN was great looking, and I have to admit ECUADOR was a dynamo onstage and dazzled with her shiny green geometrically embroidered evening gown.  But in the case of SPAIN, her lackadaisical cultural speech makes it seem her Top Eight slot is wasted and should’ve been given to another lady in the Top 15.  In the case of ECUADOR, I have to say she delivered an impressive speech and thought she’ll make it all the way to the Royal Court, but perhaps the Japanese judges just felt as driven and commendable her performance turned out to be, they still want to reward someone taller and prettier…

I called it that INDONESIA (Vania Fitriyanti Hetambang) will break the seven-year-long streak of successors to the winning country failing to make the cut.  But little did I know that the composition of the judging panel would feature two Indonesians.  Though I’m convinced she made it on merit, I still wonder if the presence of those two Indonesians (plus a Thai) was a factor for her inclusion.  I’m giving her he benefit of the doubt as at least she didn’t advance further to the Top Eight.

I betted on AUSTRALIA (Emily Tokić) and MEXICO (Nebai Torres) would make the Royal Court, to the point of bumping out the eventual winner in the process.  But they did not advance to the Top Eight.  I know I can account for judges’ tastes that might have prevented AUSTRALIA from advancing further, but in the case of MEXICO, considering she actually ended up with the Best Dresser special award (which was apparently awarded after the main pageant), why suddenly the judges marked her down in the Top 15 catwalk?  Well, I did notice she displayed some nerves during the Top 15 round–but don’t they consider other factors, too?  I feel bad not to see MEXICO in the Top Eight, so she leaves us with a big “what-if” scenario.

I have to hand it, COLOMBIA (Anabelle Castro Sierra) impresses with her beauty, statuesque height, and impeccable presence during finals night.  But I wasn’t impressed with her cultural speech and thought ECUADOR would overtake her.  But well, the judges probably still think her looks outweighed ECUADOR’s speech so she made the Royal Court instead of her.

As I called it, ROMANIA (Bianca Tirsin) delivered the breakthrough, making it all he way to 3rd Runner-Up.  She actually delivered a strong speech (though some noted filled with lofty, highfalutin words) so I’m glad she made the Royal Court.  Now, after a year or so, maybe she should give Miss Universe a try–she has proven she has better communication skills than a normal contestant from her country being sent to this pageant, so she can probably deliver a similar breakthrough in that pageant, too.

It looks like the panels’ eyes were focused on three ladies, PHILIPPINES (Ahtisa Manalo), SOUTH AFRICA (Reabetswe Sechoaro) and VENEZUELA (Meriam Velazco).  All delivered top-notch performances and I feel after the three competition rounds and the Top 15 catwalk round the deciding factor was the cultural speech.  I have a feeling with a confidently delivered cultural speech, SOUTH AFRICA could’ve made major history.  Unfortunately she displayed nerves when she delivered her speech, and the content didn’t specify a specific advocacy, and for that she had to settle for tying the feat of Kenya’s Eunice Onyango three years ago.  Now, perhaps it’s colored a bit by my patriotic bias, but I felt that actually PHILIPPINES delivered the best-composed speech, but I have to admit VENEZUELA’s speech was also top-notch and it has an added element–she disclosed that it’s her birthday that day.  That factor may have swayed the judges to give VENEZUELA its eighth win, pulling away from the now neck-and-neck battle for most titles by these two big pageant powerhouses.

I noted that VENEZUELA resembles Miss Universe 2009 Stefania Fernandez.  Little did I know that Stefania’s good luck also rubbed off on her and hence she clinched the victory.  But I also have to note that during the pageant night, Meriam didn’t channel Stefania, but rather actress Liv Tyler.  She exuded a sweet sympatica persona (which seems to be genuine considering how the other girls rushed to congratulate her after her victory), just like Liv Tyler.  As much as I would’ve preferred Ahtisa to win over her, and was rooting for a historic black South African win, I’m still pleased with the outtcome.  Now, let’s see how this pageant progresses from here, and if the African support will still be sustained.

JUST ME!

JOSEPH