As it’s Halloween, I thought I’d have a little fun and do some horror parody lyrics for Queen’s classic hit “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I set it in Dracula’s backyard of Transylvania:
Is this the dawn light? Is this a grave oddity? Caught in some cobwebs, No way back to the cemetery. If you are wise, You’ll look to the skies and see, I’m just a bat now, I need nothing bodily, Because I’m queasy come, queasy go, Batwing high, batwing low, Every time the cock crows always seems to terrify me.Mama, just bit a man, Put her fangs against his neck, Closed her lips and now…oh heck. Mama, mortal life had just begun, But now you’ve gone and transcended eternity.Mama, ooh, Didn’t mean to make you die, If I’m not back from the dead this time tomorrow, Carry on, carry on as if bloodsucking really matters.
Too late, my thirst has come, Sends bloodlust down my spine, My body knows it’s feeding time. Goodbye, everybody, I’ve got to go, Gotta leave you all behind and drink from Ruth.
Mama, ooh (any way the cock crows), I can never lie, I sometimes wish we weren’t undead at all.
I see a little silhouetto of a vamp, Scaring me, Scaring me, will you do the Fang-dango? Drinking blood and fighting, Very, very frightening me. (Garlic Pizza) Garlic Pizza. (Garlic Pizza) Garlic Pizza, Garlic pizza from Holy Joe’s A big no-no-o-o-o.
I’m just a poor boy, no vampire wants me. He’s just a poor boy from a vampire family, Spare him his life and we’ll sharpen his teeth.
Vampires come, vampires go, will you let me go? Bram Stoker! No, he will not let you go. (Let him go!) Van Helsing! We will not let you go. (Let him go!) Bela Lugosi! We will not let you go. (Let me go!) Will not let you go. (Let me go!) Never let you go (Never, never, never, never let me go) Oh oh oh oh No, no, no, no, no, no, no Oh, Vlad the Impaler, Vlad the Impaler (Vlad the Impaler, let me go.) Count Dracula has a coffin put aside for me, for me, for Hallowe-een.
So you think you can shove me out into sunlight? So you think you can stake me and leave me to die? Oh, baby, can’t try burying me, baby, Just gotta crawl out, just gotta creep right outta this crypt.
(Ooooh, ooh yeah, ooh yeah)
Stakes they go with hammers, Everyone can see, Stakes they go with hammers, Stakes they go with hammers into me.
Well, ladies and germs, I thought I’d update my blog on yesterday’s events in Rathfarnham in Dublin (next stop for Queen? Las Vegas! I know, different planets).
As I was heading down to Marlay Park, a butterfly flew into my face. (“My soul is painted like the wings of butterflies,” the line from Queen’s “The Show Must Go On” immediately came to mind. A heads-up from Freddie? Hmm, onward.)
The Darkness kicked off proceedings and their phenomenal, heavy, twin-guitar sound battered the audience for nigh on half an hour. Justin Hawkins was utterly hilarious throughout, displaying a Russell Brand-style comic wit and bludgeoning the audience for not cheering enough, faking singing, treating people as objects and using the word “pussy” in the wrong context (think “innocent creatures.”) All this while pitting one side of crowd against the other.
There was a jaw-dropping moment when Justin Hawkins did a headstand on the drum podium and, upside down, clapped in time to the beat WITH HIS LEGS!!! I shit you not. Tried to get some footage of it but the moment passed before I could.
Often the truth is said in jest and you could sense Justin’s frustration that The Darkness were bottom of the bill. They only had two real hits, a Christmas song, which they couldn’t perform in the middle of a record-breaking Irish heatwave (more on that later). The other hit was “I Believe In A Thing Called Love”, the song that kicked it all off for them and promised so much. It’s still one of the best songs of the noughties; euphoric, silly with some awesome Brian May-style axe solos going on all over the place. Strange how they were never really able to follow it up with more hits. The Darkness split soon after hitting big, reunited but the hits dried up and they were never the same again. That’s a pity. There’s definitely a feeling of unfinished business with The Darkness, here’s hoping they can catch lightning in a bottle once more. I wish them well.
Next it was Mouth Almighty, Sir Robert Geldof, aka Bobby Boomtown, informing us from backstage that his band “The Boomtown Rats” were the best band ever. It was good comic bluster to follow on from what Justin Hawkins had done. Geldof continued taking the audience down a peg or two, stating that he was from the Dublin borough of Dun Laoghaire and that nothing else good ever came from there. He also revealead that he was wearing “fuck off bell bottoms” while we, his audience, were wearing “Dunnes Stores shorts” (think Primark or Walmart if you’re outside Ireland), but that comment just demonstrated how long he has lived outside Ireland (he lives in London). Dunnes Stores was full of imported, bulk-bought tat back in the day but now it’s full of ridiculously-overpriced designer gear that most people can’t afford. Geldof did the hits (“Like Clockwork”, “Rattrap” and “I Don’t Like Mondays”, hey, I don’t either. On a side note, if you think US school shootings are a recent phenomenon “I Don’t Like Mondays” is a UK number one hit from 1978 on that very subject. The song was based on a true story. An American girl used her father’s rifle to fire into the school next door. When questioned about her motives, she simply said, you’ve guessed it: “I don’t like Mondays.” The song didn’t do well in America as they weren’t anywhere near ready to even consider gun control.) The songs still sound terrific and really got the crowd going.
For a man of nearly 67, Bob Geldof still has the moves like Jagger and was in fine voice with his whiny, pleading Dylan-esque delivery. There were many funny moments in his set like when he appeared to be casting out demons from his guitarist preacher-style and telling him to go with arms outstretched. Then he claimed someone had spiked his drink and, after pointing several accusatory fingers at every corner of the crowd, proceeded to moan, howl and roll about the stage feigning illness (reminiscent of James Brown when they’d bring out the cape and help him offstage). Then Bob was up on his feet working the crowd up to ninety again. A solid booking and good, old-fashioned entertainment.
Enter the main event: Queen + Adam Lambert. It was good to hear “Seven Seas of Rhye”, “Killer Queen” and “Play The Game” again.
It was a very warm night in Dublin and I think the heat got to Adam, Roger and Brian. Bri was struggling to move around the stage and had a pained expression on his face most of the time. He seemed a fraction late on his solos too. It got worse though as Brian’s Red Special guitar cut out at one stage when they were down the front. Luckily, it roared back into life soon after.
Roger struggled to hit the very high notes in “I’m In Love With My Car” for once and that was a shock. Maybe he was having trouble with his voice or struggled to breathe in the heat. He did have heavy jackets on strangely. Roger seemed very distant during the show and said very little. He was probably exhausted from all that travelling and touring in the last few weeks around Europe.
Adam messed up the lyrics on some of the songs, another surprise. It was the last night of their European tour. Had complacency set in? Or was their confidence knocked by not selling out the show at Marlay Park? Or was it their age (Adam excluded)? Or the heat? Or all of the above? (I did think their 3Arena show in Dublin last November was much tighter, but maybe I went in expecting too much after that flawless display) Whatever the reason, they have just under eight weeks before their Vegas residency to iron out these wrinkles.
Once again, Adam was desperately trying to win over resistant Queen fans by saying he wasn’t trying to fill Freddie Mercury’s shoes. Adam’s a lovely guy who craves the acceptance of Queen fans, but, if they don’t like him by now, they never will. He really needs to stop explaining himself and apologising for his existence. He is the lead singer of Queen and that is it. Accept it or don’t, it’s up to you.
There were several surreal moments. At one point I noticed a nine-foot tall banana-coloured object moving in my peripheral vision to the left. Turned out it was a crowd-surfing Freddie Mercury lookalike wearing Freddie’s iconic yellow military jacket from the 1986 Wembley concert. It happened during “I Want It All”, which really has taken on a life of its own live now, as Brian May always hoped it would.
The crowd seemed to consist of very small females complaining that they couldn’t see anything and giant males who were stopping anyone from seeing anything.
There were several beach balls bouncing around the tops of the crowd and one did strike me in the back of the head at one point. I looked around with a stunned expression on my face, as if to say “who threw that?” and the whole crowd laughed.
A blonde, tattooed, Eastern European chick with enough fake tan on to make her skin resemble leather was grinding on me during “Love of my Life.” It was like being mugged by an octopus and, yes, as she was a Sweaty Betty, there was a wet, slimy aspect to her. Funny, on one hand, on the other, we live in a #MeToo culture and it really was too much.
There was another blonde chick to my left with very long hair and a plait running down her back. Her wet, sweaty hair kept falling on my arm like a horse’s mane and I had to keep shrugging it off. Really, girls, in a heatwave at a concert, don’t tie your mother down, tie your hair up out of the way!
A guy in front of me was smoking weed with his girlfriend (plait girl with the sweaty hair, yep, her again) and anyone else who requested a puff. Huge clouds of smoke of dubious origin wafted up my nostrils. I don’t remember the rest of the show and I think I’m Australia now. Maybe. Woke up with a honking great migraine, a sore throat but many great ideas funnily enough. I may now know The Meaning of Life and The Secrets of The Universe, but that, dear reader, is for another blog on another day. This is what happens when you’re forced to confront the mystic ways of the East and take “The Inner Journey.”
The band built up a fine head of steam on “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” got a thunderous reception from the crowd (the last time I heard a spontaneous feral roar like that at the finale of something was when Riverdance debuted at the Eurovision Song Contest, also in Dublin)
The confetti cannons fired at the end and some of it landed in my hair. I renamed it “Consweaty.” Then it got even weirder. A drunk, heavily-tattooed ginger guy with a sideline in clinging body odour had the nerve to elbow me to ask if he could get up on my shoulders. It was met with a curt ‘No’ by me (subtext: ‘F*** off’). Sorry, I don’t want some strange guy’s sweaty ball sack humping my neck, not with the state my knees are in right now.
I decided to exit the area before more bizarre requests were made of me. The long trek home began on stiff legs and aching feet. If there is another tour, I’d like it to be built around some new material, perhaps a new studio album with Adam or even the new James Bond theme tune which would be perfect for them (hard to believe Queen, that most British of bands, has never done a song for that spy on Her Majesty’s secret service. Could be one for The Bucket List). Maybe they could try some interesting cover versions on the next tour or bring on a few guest stars to freshen things up (other stars would probably shy away from competing with Adam’s awesome vocals though).
If that turns out to be the last time I see Queen live in my lifetime, I’d be happy with what I’ve seen. They were and are an amazing band and always will be. Long may they continue to reign.
It was Halloween night, October 31st, 1975. Two parallel and seemingly unconnected events were about to take place in music history that wouldn’t cross streams until a decade later.
Queen were about to release their magnum opus “Bohemian Rhapsody. Written by Freddie Mercury, it would enter the UK chart at number 17 on November 15th 1975, reach number one on November 29th and held the top spot for nine weeks until January 24th 1976. Bo Rhap, as Queen fans call it for short, was taken from Queen’s album A Night at the Opera, the title of a Marx Brothers comedy classic movie. Appropriately, Bo Rhap would deny Laurel and Hardy’s tune “Trail of the Lonesome Pine” the number one spot and hold them at number two for two weeks.
Also that October 31st, an unknown singer and former music journalist named Bob Geldof made his debut at a Dublin school Halloween dance. His group The Boomtown Rats were rookies who knew nothing about set lists and ended up doing a three-hour performance of mostly dodgy cover versions. Geldof claims a girl approached him during the interval and offered to “give me one.” He said he knew he was in the right job there and then: “You try getting laid in Dublin in the 70’s!”
Geldof would make it big fast. Less than three years after that inauspicious debut, the Rats had their first UK top ten hit with “Like Clockwork” in the summer of 1978. Four months later in October 1978, they had their first number one single with “Rat Trap.” The Grease soundtrack had dominated the charts in 1978 and Geldof took great pleasure in hiding behind a John Travolta poster on Top of the Pops before ripping it in two to reveal his yawning face as he began to sing.
Queen celebrated Halloween night 1978 with one of the most infamous parties in rock history in New Orleans.
Those two seemingly disparate events in music history at Halloween 1975 would coalesce in Geldof’s Live Aid spectacular at Wembley Stadium on July 13th, 1985 and result in the greatest live performance of all-time. Geldof announced Queen’s participation in the event before they’d fully agreed to it along with many other big name acts like The Who and David Bowie.
Once their hand had been forced, Queen set about preparing their unforgettable set with military precision. The clocks in the orchestra pit of the theatre where they were rehearsing (put there by their roadie Ratty) were just the start. Queen’s sound designer Trip Khalaf took the limiters off the sound at Wembley Stadium meaning that Queen were automatically louder than every act who’d played before them that day. They moved the goalposts certainly but as I always say, no one remembers how you got a chance, they only remember what you did with it. Queen smacked this one out of the ballpark for the home run of home runs. Geldof reacted immediately to Queen’s sound: “I was actually upstairs in the Appeals box in Wembley Stadium, and suddenly I heard this sound. I thought, God, who’s got this sound together? and it was Queen.”
What was the first song in Queen’s set? “Bohemian Rhapsody,” from that long-forgotten Halloween night that launched Live Aid’s founder and gave the stars of his global jukebox their biggest-ever hit and opening number on the day.
Geldof was adamant in his praise of Queen and their astonishing rise to the occasion on his big day: “Queen were absolutely the best band of the day. They played the best, had the best sound, used their time to the full. They understood the idea exactly, that it was a global jukebox. They just went and smashed one hit after another. It was the perfect stage for Freddie: the whole world. And he could ponce about on stage doing ‘We Are the Champions’. How perfect could it get?”
Just over six years later, the great Freddie Mercury was taken from us by the dreaded AIDS virus. However, the band he founded with Brian May and Roger Taylor continued on in various guises without disgruntled bass player John Deacon.
In 2004, Queen began a collaboration (and released an album) with Free and Bad Company frontman Paul Rodgers to mixed results. Rodgers exited the regal vehicle in 2009 and Queen faced the prospect of never touring again until fate favourably intervened yet again.
It is here that the paths of Bob Geldof and Queen cross yet again. Queen were no longer touring and, as usual, Bob was only too happy to offer his opinion. Since the turn of the century, Geldof had been suggesting that Brian May and Roger Taylor “find a kid with Freddie’s range.” There seemed no one around who fitted the bill at the time. Whether Geldof’s prophecy became a self-fulfilling prophecy for Queen or not is anyone’s guess, but luck would be more than a lady, it would be, as Brian May dubbed him – Madam Lambert to the rescue.
This was the era of reality TV shows like X-Factor and American Idol. While most of the contestants promised great things, precious few went on to have any career let alone a long one. On American Idol, a contestant named Adam Lambert with a unique voice and vocal range unleashed his extraordinary interpretation of Bohemian Rhapsody. Word got back to May and Taylor and they played with Lambert on the semi-finals of American Idol. An invitation to perform at the MTV Europe awards and the resultant ecstatic reaction and Adam Lambert became Queen’s new lead singer and the third (and final, Taylor says) incarnation of this mighty band was underway.
The Boomtown Rats didn’t play live from 1986 until 2013 when they surprised everyone by going back on the road for a UK and Ireland tour in support of their fifth greatest hits album “Back To Boomtown: Classic Rats Hits.”
Today, July 8th, 2018, the seemingly eternally-intertwined paths of Bob Geldof and Queen cross once more as The Boomtown Rats support Queen + Adam Lambert at Dublin’s Marlay Park. There is much grey hair in evidence in both camps with Bob Geldof turning 67 in October and Roger Taylor turning 70 next year and Brian May the eldest at 71. It is probably the end of the road for these two legendary bands and the era of rock they came from.
I saw Bob Geldof once in the street in Dalkey in Dublin in July 1988. He was (unsuccessfully) looking for the way in to The Queen’s pub on Castle Street. He tried to gain entrance through the graveyard and then peered myopically through dusty old windows as his entourage shouted “Bob! Bob!” at him. My friend at the time, for reasons best known to himself, shouted over “Bob Marley!” to add to the confusion. Little did I know that exactly 30 years later I’d be seeing Mr Geldof perform at Marlay Park. The feeling of fate and destiny being fulfilled appears to apply to me also as well as Queen and The Rats.
Beyonce has her Sasha Fierce alter ego, Bob Geldof has his Bobby Boomtown persona in his ubiquitous snakeskin jacket. His punky venom will get an airing later today. So let us revel in the majesty of Queen and The Boomtown Rats once more. We will never see their like again.
On June 3rd, 1986, “A Kind Of Magic”, the twelfth studio album from Queen was released. The European Magic Tour supporting the album began four days later at the Rasunda Stadium in Stockholm, Sweden.
It was the first Queen album I’d purchased as a Queen fan, the others being purchased after Live Aid and after this album (by early ’87, I had all Queen’s albums on vinyl and still do.)
With Queen contributing many songs from this album to epic fantasy film Highlander, there was a sort of return to thematic elements of Queen’s early albums minus the quirky, Tolkienesque lyrics about ogres, titans and fairy fellers. This was Queen doing a concept album 80s-style with syths and Highlander’s immortality theme playing into the tragic reality about to engulf Freddie and the band.
Highlander star Christopher Lambert explains how Queen’s involvement grew:
“Highlander coming out was a very exciting time for me. What was also very interesting is that Queen were meant to do only one track – it was the opening credits, ‘Princes Of The Universe’, that was the deal. So they sat down for a private screening for them in a movie theatre and Freddie Mercury when he came out, he said all excited: “I’m doing the whole fucking album! This movie is too fucking great!”. They went and wrote the songs in four weeks and went into the studio and it was one of the biggest selling albums of their career. So you know it’s strange, it’s like nobody ever thought that Highlander was gonna be, thirty years later, still a cult movie, music included. About Freddie… there are many good singers, but to be really great it’s not enough just to sing correctly. You have to do it with the heart and he is the best at it.”
Although it was hard to imagine during Queen’s post-Live Aid second wind, “A Kind of Magic” would be the end of an era for them in many ways. It would be the final album before Freddie’s HIV diagnosis in April 1987 (“Innuendo” would be recorded under time constraints and Freddie’s increasing availability issues due to illness). The Magic Tour would be Freddie’s last with the band.
It was also the last time they worked with German producer Reinhold Mack. Mack first worked with Queen on “The Game” album in 1979 at Musicland Studios in Munich. He had produced some of Queen’s biggest hits including “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, “Another One Bites The Dust”, “Under Pressure”, “Radio Ga Ga”, “I Want To Break Free” and “One Vision.” Brian May said that Mack had been “quite a find” for the band. He was responsible for a different, stripped-back Queen sound, the antithesis of the elaborate, complex sound of previous Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker. With Baker, Queen played every track in the studio until the take was perfect. Mack said they didn’t have to do that and that he could drop in snippets of different takes. This surprised the band and saved them a lot of time. Mack even persuaded Brian to drop his Red Special and play a Fender Stratocaster belonging to Roger on “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”
“A Kind of Magic” would also be the last time Queen would do several songs for a movie (here’s hoping the James Bond producers giver Queen + Adam Lambert a shot at the next theme tune).
“A Kind of Magic” is a very listenable album. I can listen to it all the way through unlike some of the late seventies albums which were a smattering of big hits and filler. As with Queen’s concerts on The Magic Tour, the album kicks off with the extended version of “One Vision” which teases out the intro superbly until Freddie’s ethereal vocal cry echoes across the synths just before Brian’s euphoric riff kicks in. “A Kind of Magic” the single follows.
A John Deacon song “One Year of Love is next and it’s the kind of classy, smoky ballad that Sade did so well at the time (saxophone courtesy of the guy who played on “Careless Whisper.”) “Pain Is So Close To Pleasure” is a rare sojourn into Motown stylings for Freddie Mercury (“Cool Cat” on “Hot Space” and B-side “Soul Brother” would probably be the closest tracks to this).
“Friends Will Be Friends” ends side one. Even though it’s a self-conscious attempt to repeat “We Are The Champions” and didn’t make the UK top ten, I still like it as a song.
Brian’s “Who Wants To Live Forever” starts side two and, from here on in, it’s all songs from the Highlander soundtrack. Seal and Ronan Keating said this song made them cry the first time they heard it and it is a very beautiful song with lush orchestral accompaniment. It worked well live on The Magic Tour too, although it was still “a new song” as Freddie said and hadn’t found its place among their other hits with the audience yet.
Brian Blessed’s Vulcan says “who wants to live forever?” in the battle scene near the end of “Flash Gordon,” Queen’s last big fantasy soundtrack outing. It’s possible Brian unconsciously remembered that line from the previous film but it’s a perfect iteration of Highlander’s themes.
Brian’s rip-snorting “Gimme The Prize” erupts with a cascading Brian May solo, it reaches a crescendo and a sound clip from the film Highlander kicks in (a news reporter comments on one of the many decapitated bodies in the film: “A head, which at this time, has no name.” Clancy Brown’s Kurgen responds with “I KNOW HIS NAME!”). “Here I am!” Freddie declares, “I’m the master of your destiny” (one reviewer at the time compared him to Alice Cooper on this).
Roger’s unsurprisingly drum-heavy “Don’t Lose Your Head” pounds in. It began life as the B-side to the single “A Kind of Magic” under the working title “A Dozen Red Roses For My Darling.” Some thought this was filler (black singer Joan Armatrading pops up to say “Don’t Lose Your Head” over and over for no apparent reason, maybe an attempt by the band to counter negative publicity over their Sun City shows in Apartheid-era South Africa around that time.) It does get a little repetitive but I don’t hate it.
Then we come to the final track on the album – “Princes of the Universe.” It’s Freddie’s only solo writing credit on the album (almost hard to believe considering he wrote most of Queen’s early albums single-handedly). The title is outrageously camp but the song builds up an incredible head of steam. With Princes, “One Vision” and “Gimme The Prize”, “A Kind of Magic” is probably the closest version to a heavy metal version of Queen we ever got. The single of “Princes of the Universe” was released in America and the video featured Highlander star Christopher Lambert crossing swords and sawn-off microphone stand with Freddie.
It would be three years before the next Queen album was released, the longest gap there had ever been between albums up to that point. There followed a frenzied period of activity to get new Queen material out before Freddie’s inevitable demise. So “A Kind of Magic” is a demarcation point between what went before and the beginning of the end of Queen Mach 1 (two more would follow with Paul Rodgers and now with Adam Lambert.)
I’ve come up with some parody lyrics for Queen’s classic song (and soon to be movie of the same name) “Bohemian Rhapsody.” See what you think.
Bohemian Bap-seedy by Stewart Stafford
Is this just food hype?
Is this a granary?
Come on this snack ride,
No escape from the culinary
Open your eyes,
Look at what’s baked with me,
I should avoid carbs, this is what’s wrong with me,
My weight is easy come, easy go,
Blood sugar high, blood sugar low,
Non-food sales at Waitrose, don’t really matter to me, to me.
Mama, bought a sliced pan,
Got the knife just like she said,
Put the butter on the bread.
Mama, you had one cream bun,
But now I’ve gone and scoffed it all away.
Didn’t mean to be so sly,
I’ll get you another one by this time tomorrow,
And if not, and if not, well I guess it doesn’t matter.
Too late, my hunger has come,
Was going to order food online,
Stomach’s rumbling all the time.
Goodbye, everybody, I’ve got some dough,
Gotta leave you all behind and bake some bread.
Mama, ooh (anywhere your wind blows),
I don’t want diabetes,
I sometimes wish I had a gastric band and all.
I see a little cornetto/choc-au-pain,
Swiss rolls, Swiss rolls, will you get me Focaccia?
Vienna rolls with piping,
Very, very frightening me.
(Petit Gateau) Petit Gateau,
(Petit Gateau) Petit Gateau,
Petit Gateau and Fig rolls
I’m just a foodie, nobody loves me.
He’s just a foodie from a foodie family,
Spare him his life from this pomposity.
Tell me yes, tell me no, who made the dough?
The miller! No, he did not make the dough. (Make the dough!)
The miller! He crushed the wheat like so. (Crushed it so!)
Vanilla! We love that flavoured dough. (Flavoured dough!)
Love that flavoured dough. (Flavoured dough!)
Never eat that dough (Never, never, never, never eat that dough!)
No, no, no, no, no, no, no
Oh, Ciabatta, Ciabatta (Ciabatta’s running low.)
The baker man has some goodies set aside for me, for free, for free.
So you think you can bribe me with slices of Rye?
So you think I’ll forsake bread and eat up some pie?
Oh, baby, this is never a maybe,
Just go and get out, just go and get right outta here.
(Ooooh, ooh yeah, ooh yeah)
The oven needs some batter,
That’s all I can see,
The oven needs some batter,
The oven needs some batter for me.
Today, April 21st 2018, is Record Store Day. The astonishing resurgence of vinyl will be celebrated worldwide in record shops with special releases from major artists.
The bounce in sales of vinyl is astonishing. According to Statista.com, “in 2007, there were roughly 210 thousand new vinyl albums sold in the UK. Last year, 4.1 million were picked up by eager buyers – an increase of 1,852 percent.” These figures are reflected in most countries.
So what is it about vinyl that is making young people such huge fans of an old format? I talked to Vinny of Golden Discs in Dun Laoghaire about it: “It’s the fact that it’s for, especially the younger generation, a complete new thing. It’s not new to [older people] but for [young buyers], this is a novelty and, I’d say, that’s the driving force behind most of the sales.”
Before the 1990s, vinyl was the main way most people enjoyed their music. It was almost a form of ritual to begin opening the physical copy of an album. There was the trek to the music store to physically purchase the album, the anticipatory journey home wondering how the record would sound and how the artwork would look. Once home, there was the race to the record player for what would now be termed “unboxing” and the sensual ritual would begin: the crinkly tearing of the plastic covering, the wonderful smell inside, the sliding out of the record for a first peek and the careful positioning of the platter on the musical altar of the record player. Then the needle dropped.
“The vinyl is a different thing, because it’s an experience,” Vinny said, “at least that’s how it was for me when I was growing up. I still have my collection. It was the artwork, laying down on the couch while you’re listening to it, opening the gatefold, following the lyrics. It’s a different experience.”
Audiophiles believe that long-playing vinyl records are the only true way to experience music now and they’re prepared to pay double or triple what they would pay for a CD or download to enjoy it. “The sound is fuller,” Vinny agreed, “it’s more organic because it’s not compressed as CDs are.”
So is the vinyl revival going to last or is it a passing trend?
“I would like to believe it’s here to stay,” Vinny said in conclusion, “but it’s hard to control how those things go, especially the market. The market fluctuates heavily but at the very least it seems to be cyclical.”
Only time will tell if sales will continue to rise but the fact is that vinyl is with us for the foreseeable future.
In September 1990, George Michael released “Listen Without Prejudice Volume 1”, the follow-up to the global monster that was his debut solo album “Faith.” My brother, a devoted George Michael fan for many years by that stage, bought the vinyl LP with its black-and-white cover shot of a crowd of immigrants. Brave move number one, where was that famous face?
I had bought the album “Faith” as a Christmas present for my brother several years previously and I decided to check out the new one. The needle dropped down on the record, the crackling began and I sat back to hear what I assumed was going to be Faith 2.
The first track was his single release of the previous month, the anthemic “Praying for Time.” It was a good if unexpected song, but he didn’t appear in the video for it which hurt its sales. It has this sixty-ish horn section on it that indicates that this first single and first track on the album are going in a very different direction to “Faith.”
In a new documentary both Elton John and Liam Gallagher agree (yes, George Michael’s music reaches and unites such disparate musical figures as those) that “Praying for Time” sounds like John Lennon’s “Imagine.” George admitted listening to Beatles albums at the time like “Revolver” and “Abbey Road.” Lyrically, the song echoes Phil Collins’ “Another Day in Paradise” and its socially-conscious struggle with rich white guilt. George was a very generous man during his lifetime, donating sometimes astronomical fees to charities in private which is true altruism. He clearly felt guilty about the immense wealth he attained and tried to do something to redress the balance. “And the wounded skies above” George sings in a beautiful poetic flourish that Sting would counterpoint in “Fields of Gold” with the line “we’ll forget the sun in his jealous sky.”
On to track two and straight into the superbly catchy “Freedom ’90.” Freedom was a constant theme in George Michael’s work and he’d already had a number one hit titled “Freedom” with Wham! in 1984. Freedom ’90 reevaluates what fame means to a more mature pop icon. It’s a seven-minute epic slab of funk that lays the ethos of the album bare for all to see:”Today the way I play the game is not the same, no way/Think I’m gonna get myself happy.” Once again, George would not the play media game by appearing in the video for this song. It instead featured the new wave of “supermodels” (the Kardashians of their day) – Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, etc. Directed by David Fincher (Se7en, Zodiac, Fight Club, Alien 3), it is difficult to hear this song now without seeing that iconic 1990 video in your head.
In the video for Freedom ’90, George continues the violent deconstruction of his “Faith” image by blowing up his guitar, jukebox and setting fire to the BSA leather jacket he wore in the “Faith” video. It was reminiscent of the way David Bowie created the persona of Ziggy Stardust, it reached a crescendo of popularity and hysteria with fans and then Bowie bravely abandoned the image and created another one. Great artists do that though. They don’t want to become stale by pumping out the same stuff. They force audiences to grow and change with them by trying new things. The Beatles were the masters of that, of course.
“They Won’t Go When I Go”, a live recording of a Stevie Wonder song, is the third song on the album. If you want to hear a singer totally in control of his gift, then this is it. I had never heard the original tune, so I was literally listening without prejudice and I was blown away by it. It has the feel of an old spiritual song from the southern United States with that hymnal weariness seeping out of every groove in the vinyl. George’s voice goes crazily deep into bass territory and then right up to the top of his range and it is startling to hear it. It’s got a kind of Old Testament warning on the dangers of moral decay in the lyrics: “Unclean minds mislead the pure.” George covered many Stevie Wonder songs in his career and always made them his own. Stevie was like his spiritual and musical godfather. George had that quality that Elvis possessed of being a supreme interpreter of other people’s songs. Like The King, I thought every cover version he ever did was superior to the original and that’s a rare gift.
There’s some inevitable filler on the album like “Something to Save” and “Soul Free” but even they’re not bad. “Mother’s Pride” is an anti-war song that has its moments. George heard Don McLean’s achingly elegiac anti-war song “The Grave” as a child and it stuck with him (he recorded it in 2003 as war in Iraq loomed.)
“Mother’s Pride” has the line “his country’s eyes” and it made me wonder if he’d based it on the poster for “Born on the Fourth of July”, also from 1990.
“Heal the Pain” is a gorgeous folky ballad that George claimed was influenced by Paul McCartney. Paul doesn’t feature on the 1990 version of the song but he did record a duet version of it with George in 2005.
George had received criticism from black artists like Gladys Knight and Public Enemy for winning prizes at black awards shows at the expense of black artists. It wasn’t his fault that these organisations deemed him worthy of inclusion and victory but George seemed to make a conscious effort with “Listen Without Prejudice” to veer towards the white influences of his youth. He even quotes The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” on “Waiting For That Day”, which resulted in a co-writing credit for Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.
“Faith” displayed a wide variety of influences with urban RnB (“I Want Your Sex), Elvis-style 50’s rockabilly with a twist of country (the title track “Faith”) and even some Sinatra-style swing on “Kissing A Fool.” The production was super-slick and it became a monster George had created that he happily put to the sword on the follow-up. “Listen Without Prejudice” has a variety of influences too but the production isn’t geared towards the top 40 and multi-million album sales. George had gone up and up in that hot air balloon before and it terrified him. “Prejudice” is more mature and complex than “Faith.” It is more experimental and biographical. George has self-conscious things to say about fame and what it does to someone. He’s showing us the wizard behind the curtain that some of us might prefer to ignore and just hear the hits.
I didn’t like “Listen Without Prejudice” on first hearing it. A month later, after repeated listening, I thought and still think that it’s George Michael’s best album. It wasn’t the obvious sequel to “Faith” that I and a lot of other people were expecting. It challenged its audience to listen without prejudging what they assumed they were going to get. Now, in 2017, almost a year after George’s untimely and still shocking death, “Listen Without Prejudice” has a second coming in a deluxe remastered box set on October 20th. I will be getting it and reliving those shivery moments that George laid down so expertly for us. “”I believe I can leave songs that will mean something to other generations,” George said prophetically in the 80s . Indeed he did. The man was a true original and, yes, to use that overused word – a genius. We lost too many of those in 2016 – George, Bowie, Prince, etc.
I was lucky enough to see George Michael perform live in concert in Dublin twice on one of his last tours. He had one of the purest voices I’ve ever heard in my life. Like his idol Freddie Mercury, the songs George wrote were extremely high-pitched and difficult to sing live but he was note-perfect in the four hours in which I saw him. “I never heard him sing a bad note,” his pal Elton John said recently. I concur.
I worry for the future of music but it is a relief to know that no one can ever take away my memories of the great sounds of the past. “Listen Without Prejudice” happens to be one of them. Catch up with it now if you missed it the first time, kids. It’s a reminder of a time when albums were king, music meant something and creativity counted. Knock yourselves out.
“He was without doubt one of the greatest songwriters this country ever produced and certainly one of the best vocalists ever” – Elton John
George Michael died in his sleep on Christmas Day 2016 of suspected heart failure. I always associated him with Christmas because of his classic 1984 hit Last Christmas (written, produced and recorded by him when he was 21 years old, amazing) and to a lesser extent with December Song (I Dreamed of Christmas), one of his last releases in 2009. Now the anniversary of his death will always be December 25th, tying him to the festive season permanently and in a much bigger way.
So many of the 80s generation of stars I grew up listening to are gone now; George, Michael Jackson, Prince and Whitney Houston. And so many musicians have died this year including the great David Bowie (the first anniversary of his passing is in a fortnight), Prince, Rick Parfitt of Status Quo earlier this week (who sang on the Band Aid record with George) and now poor old George Michael is added to that tragic list.
The body of work of stars like those become the yardstick by which we measure our lives. Hearing a hit of theirs immediately transports you back to an earlier time in your life. George Michael had a 34-year career, but his legacy was really assured after about two decades. He was controversial, getting into legal battles with his record company, releasing songs like ‘I Want Your Sex’ in the era of the AIDS epidemic, being arrested for lewd conduct in a toilet in California, a string of car crashes, one of which lead to him spending time in jail and a series of health scares including an emergency tracheotomy to save his life when he got pneumonia on tour in Austria.
Last Christmas is a classic for me as it captures the bittersweet feeling of the festive season. I’ve had Christmases of great joy and extreme sadness in my life. You just approach each one thinking ‘let’s hope it’s a good one’ like John Lennon cautiously wrote and sang in his Christmas song, ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over).’ The song ‘Last Christmas’; and its memorable snowy video, deals with the trials and tribulations of young love and all the heartache and happiness that’s a part of it. It’s not automatically happy clappy, there’s a sadness there that echoes George’s own life.
I’ve heard ‘Last Christmas’ four times in the past few days before news of George’s death was reported. The pilot of a plane I was a passenger on played it on the plane’s sound system as we landed in London, I heard it again half an hour later in Heathrow airport itself and twice more on a CD in a car I was travelling in, including Christmas Day 2016, just hours before his death. Little did I know its creator was about to leave us. There have been over 395 cover versions of Last Christmas and, no doubt, that will only grow and grow in the wake of George’s death.
George remembered Christmas as a child: ”I do love Christmas. I always have loved it, ever since I was a child. When I was young both my parents used to work so hard and they always seemed quite stressed to me. But at Christmas everyone would calm down and be nice to each other for a few days, and that used to make me feel very safe. It’s Frank Sinatra who reminds me of Christmas. During the school holidays, when I was a kid, I used to work behind the bar of my dad’s restaurant in Edgware [North London], and he’d always play Sinatra records for the customers. So that association is very strong for me. Why doesn’t it snow at the right time anymore, like it did in the ’60s? If it could snow on Christmas Eve or something that would be perfect.”
George nearly died of pneumonia at Christmas 2011 and he recalled how much he appreciated things that year: ”Best Christmas I can remember, surrounded by the people I love. And knowing that Christmas could have been very different this year for everyone at that table. As it was we stuffed and laughed ourselves silly. I’m such a lucky man! I hope you all had a great one.”
Sadly, he didn’t survive Christmas 2016.
I was lucky enough to see George in concert twice in Dublin within six months on his 25 Live tour. The first one in what’s now called the 3Arena was my favourite. He hadn’t toured extensively and his voice was still in great condition. At one stage, all the girls in the audience screamed simultaneously and a soundwave went right through my head, rocking me a bit. It was a little taste of what Beatlemania must have been like with that wall of screams filling the concert venue. The second gig was outdoors at Dublin’s RDS in the showjumping arena where I’d seen Prince fifteen years before (everyone I see in concert seems to die, I might bar myself from future shows to save lives.)
We need our musicians, the way we need all creative people to try and make sense of our lives and the world around us through their work. When they die, part of us dies with them. George Michael really was a genius. He was a huge fan of Queen and sang with them at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, but he achieved what they did alone. There were four songwriters, producers and musicians in Queen. So George is more like Bowie in that respect, but George was producing his own songs by himself from his early 20s, whereas Bowie always had a co-producer helping him, so George’s achievements are even more impressive in light of that.
Wham! were even starting to enjoy an ironic mini-comeback thanks to the year’s big hit movie Deadpool where the hero keeps mentioning them to comic effect throughout the movie. Sad that he won’t get the chance to take advantage of that as there are some great songs there. Predictably though, there will be an inevitable huge surge in sales of George Michael and Wham! songs in the coming days, weeks and months.
I was going to bed on Christmas night and checked my messages to see if British Airways had traced my missing luggage for my wedding (they haven’t!). That’s when I saw George had died and my heart sank. Then I reminded myself of his self-destructive nature and that we were lucky to have had him as long as we did. In this age of karaoke X-Factor wannabes stealing their 15 minutes of fame by parroting old songs, he was a true original. We really will never see another like him. Rest in peace, George.
It was on this day, November 24th, a quarter of a century ago that the world lost Freddie Mercury. I remember the day well. I’d read in the newspaper (remember them?) in April 1991 that Freddie had a “mystery wasting illness.” It said he’d viewed some properties for sale in London and the owner was told to “be out” when Freddie arrived. He was seen being helped in and out of the car. As soon as I read that, I knew it was AIDS. Still, I thought he had a few years more to live.
On November 23rd, he put out the press release confirming he had AIDS. On Sunday the 24th, I was flicking through the TV channels before going to bed and Sky News were playing the Barcelona video. The newscaster, Scott Chisolm, said: “That’s how he’d want to be remembered.” I thought it was a bit premature to be talking about him in the past tense despite his AIDS diagnosis. Then he read the headline that Freddie had just died. Despite my suspicions, it was still a hell of a shock. I remember just sitting there stunned the next day, the wind howling outside. Queen guitarist Brian May said Freddie’s death was one of the grimmest memories of his life. It was one of mine too. An awful, frightening time. There was no cure for AIDS then and it appeared the virus was going to go on killing people indefinitely. Who would be next?
I was 20 then and Freddie seemed old to me at 45. I’m 45 now and, I can tell you, it isn’t old at all. He was still a young man with a long way to go, but we never get the best for very long. They come out of nowhere, shake up everything and then they’re gone, leaving us to wonder who they really were and where they came from.
Most rock stars die suddenly without warning; Elvis, John Lennon, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, etc. Freddie, like his Under Pressure collaborator David Bowie, knew he was dying and had time to prepare for it. There are little hints and clues in the final albums released while he was alive The Miracle and Innuendo.
His most famous work, Bohemian Rhapsody, was re-released and hit number one again over Christmas 1991 for five weeks (adding to the nine weeks it had spent at number one in the UK over Christmas 1975.) It’s been said that the success of Bohemian Rhapsody gave Freddie the money and fame to embark on the lifestyle that killed him. The song made him, remade him at Live Aid in 1985 and was a fitting epitaph to his career in late 1991.
How good was Freddie Mercury? He named the band Queen, designed their logo, wrote their first top ten hit and their first number one single. Just look at the originality of Bohemian Rhapsody. There hasn’t been a song like it before or since. That’s why it stands so far apart and above most other contemporary songs. Freddie wasn’t only a genius songwriter, he was a superb pianist, arranger, producer and an unforgettable showman on stage (I was lucky enough to see him on his last tour with Queen at Slane when I was 14). Who else could walk on before a football stadium crowd and command them all effortlessly for two hours? There was that unique voice with the four-octave range. The groundbreaking and hilarious videos Queen made. He even danced with the Royal Ballet company for Christ’s sake. And all this before the age of 45. He crammed a lot of life into his short time on earth. May he rest in peace while conducting the choir eternal.
I’ll leave the final words to Freddie himself, he said: “I don’t think I’ll make old bones and I don’t care. I’ve lived a full life. I really have done it all and if I’m dead tomorrow I don’t care a damn.”