Taken from The Forbes (Jan 12, 2019)
Queen's Greatest Legacy: Shaping The Last Two Decades Of Pop And Rock Music
by Steve Baltin
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 13: Freddie Mercury and Brian May of the band Queen at Live Aid on July 13, 1985 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by FG/Bauer-Griffin/Getty Images) 170612F1. Getty
A strong measure of an artist's greatness and legacy is how often they are cited by other acts as a favorite or an influence. Who are the acts that get mentioned the most?
In my thousands of interviews, there are some obvious ones -- the Beatles, David Bowie, Frank Sinatra, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin. And right up there near the top, maybe second only to the Beatles, is and has been Queen.
With Bohemian Rhapsody winning the Golden Globe for Best Picture and becoming the highest-grossing music biopic of all time, Queen are deservedly enjoying another moment in the sun as one of classic rock's greatest bands. But musicians have been saying for decades Queen are in the pantheon of all-time greats.
In the countless interviews I have done over the years they have been name checked by numerous superstars. What is most impressive though is the diversity of artists they've influenced. When Katy Perry, Faith Hill, Mastodon and Rob Zombie all cite you as an influence, as they do with Queen, that says a great deal.
"The first one I heard was 'Killer Queen' and 'Don't Stop Me Now,'" Perry once told me of her first Queen record. "'Don't Stop Me Now,' all the analogies that are [in that song] are amazing."
Zombie also cites Queen as an indelible early influence. "The first real music that I loved as a kid and I got into music really young, I was listening to stuff in kindergarten, it was Alice Cooper, Elton John, Kiss, Queen, those were all acts that I really loved when I was little," he told me. "You get a couple of songs every once in a while, you get 'Stairway To Heaven,' 'Bohemian Rhapsody' and 'Free Bird,' and you're like, 'Here it is, one of those songs.'"
Why Queen were able to cut across such an incredibly wide range of musicians is easy to see -- they are one of the most versatile bands that rock has ever had."I've always loved Queen. I've loved how their musical diversity has gone over all the place," Muse's Dom Howard told me in declaring himself the biggest Queen fan in the band.
Starting with just the hits the eclecticism is stunning, from ferocious hard rock songs like "Sheer Heart Attack" to gorgeous, moody ballads such as "Play The Game," from joyous pop, "Radio Gaga," to the operatic, "Don't Stop Me Now," the band excelled in any style.
I was fortunate to speak to Queen drummer Roger Taylor in September of 2011 and we discussed then the enduring appeal of the band's music, which he absolutely credited at the time to the diversity.
"One of the things that contributed to it is we made a lot of different kinds of records. It wasn't like a series of records coming out in the same style; there was a lot of variety and I think there was quality there. There was quality in the construction, in the melodic content, and in the playing and the singing," Taylor said at the time. "So I would say it was quality, but I would also say that the variety of our music. It went from hard rock to almost rockabilly to a little bit funky to grandiose, it covered a lot of ground and maybe that's one of the reasons, coupled with the fact that I think it was basic popular music of quality."
Though Queen were absolute masters of pop, as evidenced on songs like the '50s-flavored "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and the masterfully simplistic "You're My Best Friend," the band could rock as hard as Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. Just check out "Tie Your Mother Down" or the frenetic "Stone Cold Crazy."
In picking his favorite rock anthems for me a few years ago, Mastodon drummer Brann Dailor had Queen at the top of his list. "'We Are The Champions' and 'We Will Rock You,' the one/two Queen combo, also 'Bohemian Rhapsody.' There are a lot of Queen songs that are total rock anthems," Dailor said.
Equally as impressive as their ability to shred thanks in large part to the underrated guitar work of Brian May (as heralded as it has been in guitar circles it has been overshadowed by the sheer charisma and power of Freddie Mercury), Queen were one of the most musically sophisticated acts rock or pop has ever seen. That was most famously illustrated in the remarkable arrangement of "Bohemian Rhapsody," but also evident in the soaring "Somebody To Love," among many others.
On Death Of A Bachelor, their first chart topper after a decade-long career, Panic! At The Disco frontman Brendon Urie was heavily influenced by Queen he told me. "I did drums, background vocals and the background vocals I was playing different characters, I was doing operatic Queen stuff for songs like 'Victorious' and 'Emperor's New Clothes,'" Urie told me.
Yet, while they could do classical, jazz, rock, pop and opera, there was a playfulness to Queen that makes it friendly to all ages. Faith Hill cited Queen, to me, as a band she listened to very early on, as did Zombie and Keane frontman Tom Chaplin.
"The one that had probably the biggest impact on me certainly growing up was the Queen," Chaplin said of his favorite greatest hits collections. "There was the Beatles red and blue greatest hits, but the Queen 1 and 2, the first and second half of the Queen output. Those were very influential for me as a kid, I basically for many, many years just wanted to be Freddie Mercury, probably still do in many respects."
Chaplin is not alone in that. Of course so much of the magic of the Queen legend is Mercury's legendary status as one of the top frontmen in the history of rock. "Freddie gave his all every time and he left it on the stage. I get the feeling if nobody ever came to see Queen, if there were 25 people in the audience, he would have still been out there shirtless with a microphone screaming his head off. He was the best front person that ever existed," Brandi Carlile told me last year.
"Freddie Mercury is a really huge rock star in my head. I've always thought he was just so tough and such an amazing entertainer, really a contradiction in many ways as well. So he was incredible," the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O once told me.
The testimonials to Mercury go on and on. "Make no mistake about it, Freddie Mercury could've been singing opera with Pavarotti," Ben Harper told me.
Shelby Lynne echoed Carlile's sentiments. "Freddie was the greatest performer. I'm still stuck on Queen. Have you listened to them on vinyl lately? I have," Lynne told me.
Young British rising star James Bay is also a Mercury convert. "All you have to look at is the twenty minutes he did at Live Aid. You just go, 'Wow,'" Bay said. "You get so lost into that that it could be two hours, and it's just 20 minutes of all killer, no filler."
But of all the Mercury testimonials I've had artists share with me one stands out more than any other. The late George Michael is one of the greatest male pop artists of all time, unquestionably an icon in his own right. When I spoke to him he credited Mercury with helping him find his drive as a performer.
"Absolutely my musical mentors would be Stevie Wonder, Queen, and Elton and maybe Pink Floyd. Those were the records and that was the time in the '70s that really all the mentoring went on just by me sitting and studying with my headphones on arrangements," Michael told me. "And going to see people like Freddie Mercury and realizing that was something you wanted to aim at in terms of a physical presence on stage."
Certainly, even before Bohemian Rhapsody the legend of Mercury had grown and grown. And the successful touring Queen does with Adam Lambert keeps the music out there. But when it comes down to it Queen has remained vibrant and popular for the past 40 plus years for the same reason all music does, the songs.
When Queen first started touring with Lambert a few years ago I spoke with May and Lambert. And May spoke about why Queen's legacy and legend continues to grow.
"These songs are very effective and they mean so much to the audience," May said. "Trying to kind of figure out what it is that they're responding to besides the familiarity has been a good experiment. It's a lot of heart in the songs."