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article by Alex Kocan
Queen- "The Show Must Go On"
It is widely
accepted that the group Queen are one of the best rock bands of
all time. In 2001 they were voted second best to The Beatles in a
poll in the United Kingdom. In their time, as a signed band, they
released numerous albums and singles, which benefited from
experimentation with their sound. Some tracks received critical
acclaim and some concepts went totally over people's heads.
However, they were never afraid to take risks. A good example of
where they trod this line was the album "Innuendo".
This album was nearly two years in the making, which angered the
record company due to loss of potential profits. However, it
could not be helped due to Freddie Mercury's ill health due to
The track reviewed here is the last track from "Innuendo". "The Show Must Go On" is a provocatively powerful song. It was released as a single on October 14th 1991. Reviewers said that this song saw the band "at their best, their most entertaining" and "their most prolific" .
The final draft of the lyrics were written by Brian May as reflective, if not inspired, by the imminent loss of the band's voice and their long time friend. The original concept of the song came from Freddie but he could not find the exact words he desired to express himself. Unlike many bands Queen shared the task of writing songs equally. Whoever had the best idea was the one they used. This helped with their varying sound and style.
Freddie's accompanying vocal for the track complements Brian's work perfectly. His delivery is overwhelmingly emotional. The energy and power within his voice is even more surprising considering that he was only a few months away from death. You can feel his pain and at the same time forget he was so ill. One critic commented that "there's no flesh on his bones at all and yet you can hear the power" .
Without a distinctive introduction a first time listener can lose interest within several seconds. The opening keyboard chords have the ability to grab the audience's attention. It is both macabre and sensitive at the same time. This sound is instantly recognisable which can be said of few songs today. The melotron on the Beatles song "Strawberry Fields Forever" is one of the few other keyboard introductions that come instantly to mind.
The echoed or double tracked four drumbeats by Roger Taylor, also on the introduction, is reminiscent of a hammer hitting something violently. Perhaps, connections can be made to a door slamming shut on one era in Queen's career.
Usually there are many interpretations of the lyrics to songs. However, in the case of this song there is little room for such open analysis. Every line appears to be saying good-bye to and from Mercury. "The songs poignant lyrics sounded horribly close to an obituary" .
The lyrics are a biography of Freddie's life told from Brian's perspective. It is as if he climbed into Freddie's head and read his thoughts about his uncertainty about the purpose of life. The line "empty spaces, what are we waiting for" suggests that both the writer and singer are annoyed that the only thing that is certain in life is death.
Reference is also made to people's secretive behaviour in the line "another hero another mindless crime / Behind the curtain in the pantomime". People hide behind their true feelings, behind masks like actors in a pantomime. This line also appears to refer to the public reaction to Freddie's condition. However, it could also be about the manner in which the band initially reacted to the news. However, such interpretations are easy to make in such circumstances. These lines may mean something completely different, but these are the most likely connotations.
The chorus line and title suggests that Mercury is predicting and demanding that life should go on after his passing. When he broke the news to the band that he was suffering from AIDS he said that he did not want them to act differently around him. He just wanted to be one of the guys to the very end. However, he found this increasingly difficult as his body was deteriorating. In other words "my make-up may be flaking / but my smile still stays on". He may not act or feel the same, but his soul is still the same as it ever was.
The album "Innuendo" was so popular that it, and the said track, re-awoke America's love affair with Queen. The group had not had a hit in the US since "Under Pressure". It is anyone's guess what could have happened if they followed the album with a tour. However, Freddie's health meant that touring was not even an option. Even though his fate was written in stone he knew that he had to go out with a bang. Through the last months of his life he created the vocal for the Queen album "Made In Heaven". This was released several years after its creation. He was in such pain that he had to drink vodka to be able to stand at the microphone to complete his vocal performance.
Brian's electric guitar solo in the middle eight fits perfectly with the feeling of the song. It has an up-tempo downtrodden quality to it. In the words of the late George Harrison Brian's guitar is gently weeping.
The fade out to the track, as with the introduction, is rather distinctive. It begins with Roger Taylor hitting a hi hat which is prematurely cut off. This reveals the backing vocals looping into infinite silence. Apart from an additional single guitar strum and feedback lasting a few seconds the backing vocal is all that can be heard. The repetition of the phrase "go on go on" is as if the band wanted to live up to Freddie's hope that the band would carry on without him.
The only problem I have with the song is that there is no prominent bass guitar by John Deacon. Perhaps, the band felt that it wasn't needed as the keyboard substitutes the bass rhythm. As John also played keyboards everyone had an intricate part to play within the creation of the track.
I was eleven years of age when this song was first released as a single. I felt that it had the ability to be extremely aggressive, violent even, but at the same time tender and upsetting. This was because I knew the lead singer was dead. It was like a voice from the grave. This fact was made even more obvious because the video was solely composed of archive footage. It was clear that the band I'd loved since hearing "Radio Ga Ga" at the age of five, in its original form, no longer existed.
"The Show Must Go On" is a splendid track. If you ever get the opportunity to listen to "Innuendo" or a greatest hits complication, you should certainly give it a chance.
Rider, Stephan: - Queen: - These Are The Best Days Of Our Lives: - The essential Queen biography. Rider. 1993.Castle Communications PLC,
Jackson , Laura Queen: - The definitely Biography, 2000, Judy Piatkus publishers.