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Sunday, April 29, 2012

You're My Best Friend

Day two of BEST FRIENDS week brings us to the Sunday Jukebox portion of the week, and I have to say that I was blown away at how many songs there are about friendship!  With dozens of songs to choose from, I definitely didn’t have a shortage of material today.

But which song would I feature today?  That is the $64,000 question.

I’m not kidding about the vast selection of choices.  Here are some of the songs briefly considered for today’s entry, but decided not to.  In some cases, I already featured the artist or subject of the song in a previous entry, and in others, it’s because I didn’t think I could create an appropriate entry based on the subject of friendship.

-      “Count On Me” – Whitney Houston
-      “I’ll Be There For You” – The Rembrandts
-      “You’ve Got A Friend” – Carole King (covered by James Taylor)
-      “Friends and Lovers” – Gloria Loring and Carl Anderson
-      “That’s What Friends Are For” – Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Stevie Wonder
-      “With A Little Help From My Friends” – The Beatles
-      “Anytime You Need A Friend” – Mariah Carey
-      “(You Got To Have) Friends” – Bette Midler
-      “In My Life” – John Lennon and Paul McCartney
-      “Stand By Me” – Ben E. King

(Stay tuned’s entirely a possibility that you might see these songs pop up in a future Sunday Jukebox entry.)

The reason why I chose the song that I did was because of a couple of reasons.  First, the song was written by a member of today’s featured band as a token of affection to someone close.  And the second reason stems from the bond that each of the members of the band shared with one another...a bond that the public was witness to after one of the band members passed away.

We’re going back thirty-six years for this hit.

ARTIST:  Queen
SONG:  You’re My Best Friend
ALBUM:  A Night At The Opera
DATE RELEASED:  May 18, 1976

Yes, this blog entry is all about the British rock band Queen.  The band, which was composed of Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon, formed in the early 1970s and over the next two decades achieved great success.  With eighteen number one albums, eighteen number one singles, seven Ivor Novella awards, and a 2001 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Queen has definitely made their mark on the music industry.

And within the band, each of the members shared an incredibly close bond with each other, and when tragedy struck one day in the autumn of 1991, the world soon saw just how strong that bond was.  But, we’ll get to that a little later.

For now, let’s talk a bit about the song, “You’re My Best Friend”.  The song first appeared on the band’s fourth studio album, “A Night At The Opera”, an album that came out in 1975.  The song peaked at #16 in the United States, and made the Top 10 in the United Kingdom.

The song was written by John Deacon, who was the band’s bass player, and here’s a bit of trivia for you in regards to how he ended up joining the band.  He was actually the final member to join the band, and he was recruited solely for his quiet personality, which was a stark contrast to the vibrant, boisterous nature of lead singer Freddie Mercury.  But, that’s the way he liked it.

And Deacon was responsible for writing several singles for Queen that became huge hits.  “You’re My Best Friend” was only the first.  He also wrote “I Want To Break Free”, “Back Chat”, and “Another One Bites The Dust”.

But “You’re My Best Friend” is the song that was probably the most personal for Deacon.  He wrote it for his wife, Veronica.

This particular song required Deacon to play two different instruments...his bass, and a Wurlitzer electric piano.  During live performances, a grand piano was used, and Mercury played it while Deacon stayed on bass.  The reason the piano switch was needed was because of Mercury’s dislike of the electric piano.  In an interview that the band did with BBC Radio One on Christmas Eve 1977, Deacon and Mercury explained it all.  

“Well, Freddie didn’t like the electric piano, so I took it home and I started to learn on the electric piano and basically that’s the song that came out you know when I was learning to play piano.”  Deacon explained.  “It was written on that instrument and it sounds best on that.  You know, often on the instrument that you wrote the song on.”

“I refused to play the damn thing.” Mercury shot back.  “It’s tiny and horrible and I don’t like them.  Why play those things when you’ve got a lovely superb grand piano?  No, I think basically what he (Deacon) is trying to say is it was the desired effect.”

The filming of the music video was itself an exercise in discomfort.  The video was filmed in April 1976, at the time that the United Kingdom was experiencing unseasonably warm temperatures.  So, for the music video to be filmed in a ballroom with thousands of lit candles and no air conditioning, you can only imagine how hot that video shoot must have been! 

Nevertheless, the single was released one month later, and another Queen hit was on the charts.

Over the next fifteen years, Queen would have huge success in both the United Kingdom and the United States.  “We Are The Champions”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, “Radio Ga Ga” and many more hits topped the charts, and Queen was well on their way to becoming one of Britain’s most successful music groups of all time. 

What made Queen’s rise to the top all the more sweeter was the fact that there wasn’t really a whole lot of fights between the band members.  I imagine that like most bands, the members had their share of squabbles and petty arguments, but none of those disagreements even came close to some of the vitriol and venom spewed by similar bands over the years.  All four members of Queen really did treat each other the way that mates really should. 

By 1985, the band seemed unstoppable.  Their performance at the Live Aid festival (which you can watch a clip of the band singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Radio Ga Ga” below this paragraph) was widely considered to be one of the band’s greatest performances ever, and a 1986 tour was hugely successful, with some of the show dates selling out in just under two hours! 

But that 1986 tour was one that was incredibly bittersweet.  It was one of the band’s most successful tours, but it would also end up being the band’s final tour together. 

A couple of years after that tour, British media started to notice that something wasn’t quite right with Queen...particularly with lead singer Freddie Mercury.  It appeared as though Freddie Mercury was losing too much weight, and his physical appearance was beginning to change.  People also noted that Mercury’s energy seemed to be dwindling, and while Mercury was not known for giving many interviews, he seemingly ceased giving them altogether by the time the 1980s ended.

There were rumours circulating through the British media that Freddie Mercury was HIV positive for years, and many believed that it had developed into AIDS by the late 1980s.  At first, Mercury denied the rumours, stating that he was just suffering from exhaustion.  But by the time the 1990s rolled in, the grim truth was evident all over Freddie Mercury’s gaunt face.

He was dying.

However, Freddie refused to give up on the band.  Despite his failing health, Mercury insisted on working in the recording studios, and as a result, the band released two more albums.  1989’s “The Miracle” and 1991’s “Innuendo”.  May even recalled one incident that occurred during the recording of one of the accompanying singles from “Innuendo”.  When the band was recording “The Show Must Go On”, Mercury was in rough shape.  He could barely walk into the studio.  May was worried about his bandmate and friend, and he didn’t believe that he was capable of making it through the recording of the song.

Here’s the video for that song.  Judge for yourself.

May later said about the performance that “(Mercury) went in and killed it, completely lacerated that vocal.”

The band would later release their second greatest hits compilation in October 1991.  But just one month later, on November 23, 1991, Mercury was on his deathbed.  Whether he knew that his time was coming, or whether he just wanted to come clean to the world, Mercury finally admitted to what much of the public seemingly had known all along.  Freddie Mercury did in fact, have AIDS.

Twenty-four hours later, on November 24, 1991, Freddie Mercury died of bronchial pneumonia, a complication of AIDS.  He was just 45 years old.

The news hit hard for a lot of people.  Freddie Mercury’s death was not the first one linked to AIDS, but he was the first major named rock star to succumb to the disease.  And, Mercury’s bandmates really wanted to do something to honour their fallen friend and bandmate.

In 1992, the three remaining members of Queen worked together to form the Mercury Phoenix Trust, a charitable organization named after Mercury dedicated to fighting AIDS worldwide.  It celebrates its twentieth anniversary this year, and the current trustees include May, Taylor, manager Jim Beach, and Mercury’s long-time friend, Mary Austin.

The Mercury Phoenix Trust was made possible thanks to the support from a significant event that the band would organize in tribute to Freddie.  That event would end up becoming one of the most talked about concerts that year, and even earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most watched concert event ever with an estimated one BILLION people worldwide tuning in!

The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness took place on April 20, 1992, at London’s Wembley Stadium.  72,000 tickets were printed up for the event, and within three hours, the concert was sold out.

Because it was a benefit concert, there were several guest artists that appeared in support of the cause.  Annie Lennox, Metallica, George Michael, Elton John, Guns N’ Roses, Robert Plant, Paul Young, Seal, David Bowie, and countless others entertained the crowd.  Perhaps the most poignant moment of the whole concert was right at the very beginning, when the three surviving members of Queen walked out on stage to greet the fans and pay tribute to their friend.

Shortly after that concert aired, John Deacon left Queen to work on other projects, but May and Taylor are still committed to the Queen name, as well as to the Mercury Phoenix Trust.  And in that moment twenty years ago, we saw three men give one of the most thoughtful and passionate tributes to a man who put a permanent stamp on rock music.

If that’s not a token of friendship, I don’t know what is.

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