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Music

Watch Freddie Mercury deliver an improvised vocal rehearsal

Freddie Mercury was a brilliant vocalist, but it wasn’t always the way for the singer. The first Queen album shows a singer finding his way through the songs, stumbling at various points as he does so. What the singer brought to his work wasn’t just vibrancy, but vitality and ferocity, laced with a certain level of showmanship and creative splendour. He was the ultimate frontman, bringing in a level of flamboyance that Smile’s Tim Staffell recognised was missing from his tenure with the band.

Mercury was one of three singers, but guitarist Brian May was the first to see that the pianist was a “vehicle” for his songs, and although Roger Taylor was slower to acquiesce – he wanted to belt out his own songs, and with that voice, can you blame him? – he realised that anthems ‘Radio Gaga’ and ‘A Kind of Magic’ would sound more powerful if Mercury sang them.

The drummer claimed that his most treasured possession was that of a statue he had of the singer. “The absolutely massive statue of Freddie that was outside the Dominion theatre in London,” he told The Guardian. “It was going into a warehouse somewhere and I thought, I’ll have it in my garden, please.”

Mercury also made an impression on bassist John Deacon, who retired from the band in the years after the singer’s death. Deacon chipped into Innuendo and Made In Heaven, adding bass and keyboards to a mosaic of sound that brought the band’s presence to the forefront. What he brought wasn’t mere padding, but stealthy, hard-hitting bass fills that accentuated the singer’s gift, bringing it to the world at large.

And Mercury never sounded better on stage than he did in 1986. In many ways, it was a good thing that this was the band’s final tour because they were so fiery. It was a combination of trickery, taut skill and compulsive passion that made for such a riveting viewing experience. The band were three quarters Led Zeppelin, and one quartet Mae West, complete with some splashes of funk and pop.

What the four created together was something deeply unique, and stemmed from a place of tremendous trust in each other’s abilities as an artist, as well as the synergy they felt building a grand mosaic together, culminating under the weight of one tremendous voice.

As it happens, the band was grander and more splendid than their individual solo projects, although the operatic workouts that Mercury used backstage came in handy when he decided to work on an album of operatic vignettes that stemmed from his devotion and passion for Montserrat Caballe.

From that point of luxuriance came an album that showed Mercury’s abilities to bring his passion, and grandeur to the studio, although it must have been difficult for the sound engineers who had to cope with the billowing vocals crushing in on them as they were trying to commit the songs to tape. But Mercury was always passionate, so he must have made up for it in some way or another.