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!





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…



Now, let me share my Top 12 favorite Aretha Franklin songs.

12.  “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” (1986).  These days the 1980s production sheen and slightly leaden pace (compared to the sprightly Rolling Stones‘ original) make this number sound dated, but at the time when I first heard this song, I was enthralled.  It was used for a forgettable Whoopi Goldberg film of the same name and I was hoping for this to be another big Top Ten hit for Aretha, but well, it only went as far as number 21 in the Billboard Hot 100.  The music video was the first time I saw Aretha’s piano-playing prowess–most articles I read wax rhapsodic about her vocal skills that I didn’t know she also has that skill in her arsenal, too.

11.  “I Say A Little Prayer” (1968).  This is the flip side to “The House That Jack Built” that also became a hit in its own right.  Yes, it’s a cover of Dionne Warwick‘s original*1 but Aretha’s slowed down soul treatment does make indelible impact.  I have a feeling these days more people are playing this version than Dionne’s.

*1 Composer Burt Bacharach complained that the tempo on Dionne’s recording was too brisk and was reluctant to have her version released, but the record company overruled him.  At the time, people did love the brisk version, but most versions recorded after that featured a slower pace, closer to Aretha’s tempo than Dionne’s.

10.  “Spanish Harlem” (1971).  The vocal intro I first heard it on En Vogue‘s 1992 Funky Divas track “Hip Hop Lover“so I was pleasantly shocked that this is where that vocal riff came from, a cover of Ben E. King‘s 1960 original.  It also caused me to internally debate which version was better, En Vogue’s well-produced and slick version (where they turned the “la las” to “na nas”, or the slightly raw harmonies delivered on this recording.  I continue to vacillate up to this day.  Another En Vogue note–on the same album they also covered two Aretha songs from the soundtrack album to the 1976 film, Sparkle, “Something He Can Feel” (which they retitled by adding “Giving Him...” to the original title) and “Hooked on Your Love“.The former even became a Top 10 hit for the group, with a music video that evoke the scene from the film.

Now speaking of Ben E. King’s original:  to these ears it sounded milquetoast and lounge-y–though Phil Spector‘s lauded production featured marimba percussion that will still evoke the image of a señorita, albeit a señorita standing demurely hidden by a fan.  Aretha’s version gave me visions of a señorita flouncing her voluminous skirt around with that breathier rhythm, and for me that evokes more authentically Latin than the original.  But then again, I suppose we have to understand the morals and ethos of the eras those versions were recorded.

9. I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) (1987) [with George Michael].  Two of the best vocalists in popular music of all time together in one song?  That alone is worth the price of admission, even if the song itself (and its production) didn’t quite age well to become an unqualified classic.  Still, there is a lot to enjoy listening to this epic duet.

8. Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves (1985) [with Eurythmics].  Feminist empowerment anthems don’t get as epic as this one, with Aretha and Annie Lennox at the top of their games.  And it still sounds powerful and relevant today as it did over 30 years ago.  And I highly recommend everyone listen to the extended album version found on Aretha’s Who’s Zoomin’ Who and Eurythmics’ Be Yourself Tonight as the closing extended vamp and ad libs they deliver are a treat.

7. Spirit in the Dark (1970).  This gospel tune was the big revelation for me when I purchased that 30 Greatest Hits double cassette.  The way the song transitions from a slow jam then going funky and then ends into a full-gospel rave-up.  With lines like “I saw Sally Walker…”, it also slyly reveals the “human” side of spiritual gatherings, as I know church gatherings could sometimes be places where you gossip.  For that this song has remained embedded in my head.

I also unearthed a video from her epic 1971 Filmore West concert where she turned the song into a 15-minute extended jam (actually it’s more of repeating the song so she can have Ray Charles duet with her after she performed it first).  Check out the epic moment.

6.  Think (1968).  This is your quintessentially sassy R&B number, brimming with attitude and power.  The rhythmic groove and Aretha bellowing “Freedom!  Freedom! Freedom!  Oh, Freedom!” are indelible.  Aretha has a deep fondness for this number as this is probably the most successful single that she actually wrote (with her first husband), hence earning hose crucial songwriting royalties.  And the rhythmic hook was prominently sampled/interpolated in C+C Music Factory’s 1991 gem “Things that Make You Go Hmmm…” (along with a homage to “Respect” at the breakdown portion), and George Michael might have had this song in mind when he crafted that chorus on his now-classic hit “Freedom ’90“.

At the end of the 1970s, Aretha was dropped by Atlantic Records after her streak of hits dried out.  It took her cameo appearance in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers reprising the aforementioned song to claw her way back and secure a recording contract with Arista.  Both the original and the Blues Brothers versions I would highly recommend.  What about her 1989 re-recording?  For me that version does not age well and would rather stick to the older versions.

5. Chain of Fools (1967).  I forgot to mention that a key factor that make “Think” a classic was that it also has a political resonance beyond the song’s purported subject matter–during the Vietnam War, that song expresses the pleas of the American public towards politicians about deploying soldiers to Vietnam, and may also evoke significance in today’s political milieu with the choices of politicians that are currently running that country (and other countries for that matter). That political resonance is actually even more pronounced in this song, as this is deemed one of the anthems for Vietnam War veterans expressing what they felt being on the battleground, or what they felt about the politicians who sent them there.  And again, this song is relevant today because of the state of politics in the US (and yes, in other countries, too).

4. Until You Come Back To me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do) (1973).  I actually first heard of this song via the dance version delivered by Basia in 1990, which despite its obvious 1990s beats still sounds great to my ears.  The “rap on your door, tap on your windowpane” line also reminded me of a catchy commercial jingle for Electrolux (then Euroclean, but modified when the entity became Electrolux), which was one of my indelible memories of childhood.  I wondered if that catchy jingle was inspired by this song.  As it turns out, no–the jingle was directly lifting from an earlier song called “I’m Gonna Knock on Your Door“, originally recorded by the Isley Brothers in 1959 but made popular by then adolescent star Eddie Hodges two years later.  It made me then ponder:  perhaps songwriter Stevie Wonder had either the Isley Brothers or Eddie Hodges song in mind when he came up with this lovelorn masterpiece.

Let me tell a personal note related to this song–Basia happens to be one of the favorite artists of my aforementioned dearest friend and we had an acrimonious falling out (my fault) 23 years ago.  I don’t regret having to let this guy go, as it was more important that I be truthful to who I am instead of conforming to what society (and my dearest friend’s conservative faith) dictates.  Still, I missed him dearly and when I hear this song (which I was surprised is more of a slower pace as I was more accustomed to Basia’s danceable version), it made me wistful at his memory.  There is somewhat of a happy coda to this story–one of Facebook’s functions is that it sometimes nudge you to add some people in your friend list, and a few years ago, this guy popped up.  I didn’t dare add him, but I was surprised when last year, I had a friend request from him.  I know “Facebook Friends” doesn’t really have that much value or meaning as real-life friends, but this seems to be a good start–maybe he forgot about our falling out and this is reflective of his very forgiving nature.  I also have a feeling he doesn’t read my blog and would probably be not aware that I’m writing this piece about him.  If that’s the case, let this be a little secret between you, the reader, and me.

3.  (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman (1967).  Reviewing the chart history of this Carole King–written song and how this has become  Aretha’s biggest signature song behind “Respect”, I was surprised that in its regular chart run it only peaked at No. 8 and stayed in the entire Hot 100 for a short 8 weeks.  Goes to show chart performance is not a good indicator of what makes a song a classic.

Like many of the songs, I did not first encounter this song directly from Aretha Franklin’s recording.  Instead, I first heard this classic via the sitcom Murphy Brown starring Candice Bergen.  In my younger days, we get many quality US TV shows tapping on UHF from the US Armed Forces Network (as in those days, the US maintained military bases in Clark and Subic and their TV signals reach Metro Manila).  The pilot episode was a classic partly because of that famous scene where Murphy let her hair down at home and sang along to this song.  That scene resonates as Murphy is like everyone of us who would like to sing out our favorite songs, even if we don’t have the ability to sing.  This song is also prominently featured in this searies at least twice later on–one, as a lullaby after Murphy famously gave birth to her son, and the other that has a guest appearance from the Queen of Soul herself, which I also featured below.

2.  Respect (1967).  Just like “Think” and “Chain of Fools”, this song has a resonance beyond its domestic theme–in this case, it also became somewhat of a feminist anthem, a message of empowerment for women to demand they be treated with more respect by the society at large.  It still resonates to this day as injustice and inequality against women still exist to this day.  I would also like to also use this moment to also note the way Aretha has a knack for covering songs and making it her own–this song is actually a cover version of Otis Redding‘s 1966 original, a minor Top 40 hit then.  Aretha’s twist on this song is to add an instrumental sax solo bridge lifted from the chords of Sam & Dave‘s “When Something is Wrong with My Baby“, and adding the spelling out of “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” and those “Ree-ree-ree” and “Sock-it-to-me” lines from her backup vocalists.  With this and other covers like “Spanish Harlem” and “I Say a Little Prayer” Aretha is proven a master of inventively covering a song and making it her own, way before we were treated to the awesome song reinventions made by American Idol Season 7 winner David Cook, Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox and a capella superstars Pentatonix.  In some ways, these greats need to bow in homage to the Queen.

1. Rock Steady (1971).  As terrific and iconic as “Respect” and “Natural Woman” are, my all-time favorite Aretha song is neither of them but this utterly funky 1971 jam.  I love funk music, and the groove of this song delivers the funk in spades.  The instrumental breakdowns, I realized just lately, are speeded up versions of the groove used on “The House that Jack Built”–perhaps that subliminally played a part on why I adore this song.  And finally Aretha going gale force tornado on her vocals–an added feather to her reputation as a force-of-nature vocalist.  If there is any song hat would guarantee me to hit the dancefloor (mind you, this is not actually that difficult), this song is one of your guarantees that I shall be compelled to dance.  I just enjoyed this slice of funk every time I hear it and it never fails to hook me to this day.  So what if like “Natural Woman” it peaked at a lowly No. 9 and also had a very abbreviated chart life?

I just have to share this footage of Aretha at Flip Wilson‘s variety show.  First, though I sense Aretha was intending to project Afro-realness in her gold outfit, for me it evoked a Thai princess vibe.  But what made an indelible vision was one of the backup singers–check out the girl with the Afro-puff hairdo–doesn’t the look evoke Star Wars’ Princess Leia?  I wonder if somebody working for George Lucas was watching this and was inspired to dress the late Carrie Fisher up that way based on the look of that backup singer.

It turns out I’m not the only one who has a fondness for this song.  Japanese pop idol and icon Namie Amuro released a three-track-single packaged as “60s 70s 80s” where she recorded Japanese versions of iconic songs from that era.  For the 1960s, she covered the Supremes‘ “Baby Love, retitling it as “New Look“.  For the 1980s, she took on Irene Cara‘s “Flashdance (What A Feeling)“, dropping the Flashdance (and the verses) and leaving only the chorus and the subtitle as the main title.  For the 1970s, guess what she chose?  No way Namie’s vocal ability could approach Aretha’s ability, but still it’s an enjoyable effort..

It’s a nice trip down memory lane for me to pay homage to the Queen of Soul.  Her music will live on forever.