Friday, April 20, 2007

Flashback Friday

Today marks the 15th anniversary of Queen's Concert for Life, a tribute to Freddie Mercury that was held at London's Wembley Stadium. Freddie died of complications from AIDS on November 24, 1991 at the age of 45. The flamboyant singer was famously mum about his private life, so his passing came as quite a shock to fans, especially considering that his public statement confirming that he had AIDS came just one day prior to his death.

I remember the Concert for Life like it was yesterday. As a huge Queen fan, I settled in that night and barely moved from my couch so as not to miss one star-studded minute. (I taped it too, but that tape must have grown feet because it's been MIA for quite a while now.) It was a very touching, but rockin', send-off for one of the greatest front-men in rock 'n' roll history. Along with the three surviving members of Queen (Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon), the artists who performed were:

  • David Bowie
  • Roger Daltrey
  • Def Leppard
  • Extreme
  • Bob Geldof
  • Guns 'N Roses
  • Ian Hunter
  • Tony Iommi
  • Elton John
  • Annie Lennox
  • Metallica
  • George Michael
  • Liza Minnelli
  • Robert Plant
  • Mick Ronson
  • Seal
  • Spinal Tap
  • Lisa Stansfield
  • U2 (via satellite)
  • Paul Young

  • While I was transfixed throughout the entire show, there were certain performances that really grabbed me and still stand out in my mind today. So, here are my Top 5 moments of the day:

    5. Extreme, "Love of My Life." It wasn't so much that Gary Cherone and Nuno Bettencourt really sold this song (re-watching it on YouTube, I can hear that Gary missed a few high notes); it had more to do with the audience's obvious fondness for it. It's kind of an obscure little song, but a very pretty one. Mostly this performance sticks in my memory because there was a shot of a guy in the crowd, sitting on someone's shoulders, who looked exactly like Freddie Mercury. If you watch the above linked video, he shows up around the 1:16 mark.

    4. Def Leppard, "Now I'm Here." It seemed that Def Leppard was one of the crowd favorites, and the guys certainly enjoyed being there. They kicked off their set with this song, another Queen tune that's generally lesser-known to folks here in the States. I thought they did a great job, and I loved Joe Elliott's super-tight Union Jack pants.

    3. Robert Plant, "Innuendo," "Thank You" (intro)/"Crazy Little Thing Called Love." The video linked here is only "Thank You/Crazy Little Thing Called Love." Supposedly, he forgot some of the words to "Innuendo," so the video that was used for the DVD was edited. I don't remember him forgetting the words, I just remember him being PLANT. They spliced in some "Kashmir" in the middle of "Innuendo," and the two meshed together perfectly. I thought "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" was the perfect song choice for Robert, because he's a rockabilly man at heart.

    2. George Michael, "Somebody to Love." Say what you will about George Michael, but the boy can sing. This has always been my favorite Queen song and he covered it superbly. The magnitude of the audience was really evident during this performance.

    1. David Bowie & Annie Lennox, "Under Pressure." Two amazing voices came together to sing one of the most beloved Queen songs. This was like a lesson in vocals and stage presence. It certainly wasn't a lesson in fashion. Well, Bowie's green suit was the bee's knees, but Annie's "raccoon at the prom" outfit was a bit jarring. (Loved after the song when Bowie asked, "Where did she get that dress?" He almost sounded jealous.) Still, it doesn't matter what Annie wears because her voice is pure gold. I loved when she was totally manhandling David at the end of the song, and he just remained focused, like a British palace guard.

    For a great, in-depth review of the concert, check out this story by Jim O'Donnell. O'Donnell uses some weird analogies and odd cliches throughout, but overall it's a very strong piece. I especially enjoyed the way he tied together the Titanic tragedy (which happened 95 years and 9 days ago) with the rising, global threat of AIDS.

    And now, in my own tribute to Queen...another list! My Top 10 Queen songs:

    10. Don't Stop Me Now - Pure, campy fun! It's like something you'd expect to hear in an off-Broadway show about drag queens who run a piano bar on Mars. Really. It's fantastic.

    9. Keep Yourself Alive - A great, straight-ahead rocker with something that you never hear anymore...a drum solo! It's not "Moby Dick" or anything, but Roger Taylor gets more time than most drummers do in songs these days.

    8. A Kind of Magic - Freddie belts it out, but avoids going too over-the-top, resulting in just a simple, lovely song. Can you imagine someone like Freddie Mercury trying out for American Idol? I get the feeling that the judges would pass on him in favor of someone like Sanjaya!

    7. Who Wants to Live Forever - This song starts very slow and dirge-like, then builds to a powerful crescendo. Brian May provides some vocals and the beautiful, weeping guitar lines. I think these are some of Freddie's best vocals because he really gets the feeling of the song through. Since he's been gone, the lyrics have taken on even more meaning.

    6. I Want It All - This song just plain rocks. I probably should've mentioned Roger Daltrey's version of this at the Concert for Life, because it was really good. The only reason it didn't stick out as much as some of the others is because he fit with the song so well, it was almost like he wasn't even doing a cover. It was as if the song had always been his.

    5. Radio Ga Ga - I don't think this song gets much love. I don't know why. It's got such a great hook! And I really love the lyrics because they're so musically idealistic. Unfortunately, I think radio has had its finest hour and now it is just "some background noise." Mainstream radio, anyway.

    4. Save Me - I am a sucker for those sad, sad songs of lost love. This is one of the best.

    3. Under Pressure (Duet with David Bowie) - Mix together an iconic opening bass line (hands off, Vanilla!), socially relevant lyrics, and fantastic harmonies between two rock legends, and you've got yourself one pretty perfect song. The bridge is such an explosion of emotion, and I still get chills every time I hear it.

    2. I Want To Break Free - Yeah, this song always kind of reminds me of an aerobics class (or Freddie Mercury vacuuming in a dress), but I adore it. It's just so cute and peppy, along with being a great break-up song.

    1. Somebody To Love - If you were paying attention above, you should've already known that this was my favorite. Freddie's incredible vocals and the lush arrangement come together to make a rock-gospel masterpiece. I don't even have enough words for how much I love this song, so I'll stop now rather than blather on aimlessly.

    I also have to give special mention to Freddie's solo rendition of "The Great Pretender," one of my favorite covers ever. (I think he was trying to tell us all something!) Check out the video, but don't let it distract you from the song itself. It reminds me of the "Teen Angel" scene from Grease, except when Freddie comes down the stairs, he runs into three transvestite back-up singers instead of a beauty school dropout.

    For those of you thinking, "What? Nothing from the Flash Gordon soundtrack??," I can't help you. Go back on your meds.

    For those of you thinking, "What? No "Bohemian Rhapsody??," that's better! It would probably be #11 on my list. If it hadn't been driven into the ground after the popularity of Wayne's World, it might not have fallen out of the Top 10 at all. Overexposure has hurt it a bit, but it's still an amazing composition and a bona-fide rock classic.


    cube said...

    Thanks for reminding me. My absolute favorite singer is LaLennoxa herself & her performance with Bowie was fabulous.

    BTW I can't wait for Idol next week.

    *shrieks of glee*

    Les Becker said...

    There is not a Queen song that I don't love. Now I've really gotta set that new 'puter up so I can load up the hard-drive. I haven't heard "Radio Ga-Ga" OR "Under Pressure" for way too long... it's almost always the older stuff I end up hearing on the radio, etc...

    Gawd, Beck - if I didn't have you I would forget half of my life, I think. Thanks.

    Layla (aka Barbara) said...

    Wow, I actually got a little weepy thinking back on when Freddy died. I remember being glued to the TV too! I think the David/Annie moment was my favorite, but the whole thing was great.

    Thanks for a good, yet sad, memory.

    Travis said...

    Has it really been 15 years?

    Great selection of moments from the show. My favorite was Lennox and Bowie.

    Turnbaby said...

    OK--true confession time--I was addicted to the 'Highlander' TV show with Adrian Paul. Seriously. So "Who Wants To Live Forever' strikes a chird. Of course I love them all. And I have to agree with Trav--how can it have been 15 years. *sigh*

    Barbara Bruederlin said...

    God bless Annie Lennox, she really does look like a racoon perched on top of a six-man pup-tent.

    Writeprocrastinator said...

    Instead of "I Want To Break Free" or "Radio Ga-ga," I would've put

    "Stone Cold Crazy" or "Fat-bottomed Girls" or "Killer Queen"
    "Dragon Attack" or "The Game." And yes, even the "Flash Gordon" soundtrack, but only for Brian May's work on it.

    I wasn't a fan of "I Want" or "Radio Ga-ga," but even when I didn't like the lyrics, I couldn't argue with the melodies or the hooks to any of the songs in Queen's catalog. That's rare of any artist.

    Happy Villain said...

    Excellent job, once again.

    There must be some Queen in the air because I just ordered Killer Queen, the tribute to Queen done by various artists a year or so ago, and I'm beside myself waiting for its arrival. I guess it's just wonderful to know that modern bands appreciate Queen still and their influence lives on.

    Dale said...

    We Will Rock You just opened recently in Toronto so I'm going to enjoy that I'm sure but what a great post Beckeye! I remember the concert so well too and of course being transfixed by Annie and the gang. Nice reading your list as well.

    Lee Ann said...

    Thanks for the memories. That was very well "put together". It must have taken some time.
    Have a good weekend Becky.

    Scott said...

    Wow, I had no idea it has been that long... George Michael's performance was outstanding... I was letdown by Annie Lennox... I didn't think she was faithful enough to the original... and I remember she took some heat because she said she was only there as a favor to David Bowie and otherwise wouldn't have cared to show up...

    But I should go locate that concert somewhere and watch it again because it was really great...

    LoraLoo said...

    I have no idea what kind of altered state I must have been in, because I do not remember this concert at all. Yikes!

    Under Pressure is one of my absolute favorites.

    Anonymous said...

    I'm ON meds and I LIKED the stuff from "Flash", especially the title track!!


    I mean, c'mon!!

    Here's another question for class discussion: how could it never occurt to me that a dude who is the lead singer for a band called 'QUEEN' was gay? Was I living under a rock or something??

    bob_vinyl said...

    I remember making an audio tape of that as I watched it and playing for weeks. The Bowie/Lennox rendition of "Under Pressure" was amazing. I don't know that they could have done better than Annie Lennox for that one.

    Anonymous said...

    Annie Lennox was born in Aberdeen,Scotland on December 25, 1954. Annie began playing music as child, learning how to play both the piano and flute.Annie's musical interest was evident to her parent from the time she was three years more


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