Friday, December 15, 2006

"Killer Queen" / Queen

Guilty pleasure time. Plenty of people whose music opinions I respect can't stand Queen; I'd even agree with them about those dumb overblown arena-rock anthems like "We Will Rock You" and "We Are The Champions." But just like Garth and Wayne in Wayne's World singing along to every word of "Bohemian Rhapsody," I get a kick out of the campy side of Queen. Freddie Mercury was the greatest drama queen in rock music, and sometimes it's fun to hang out with a drama queen.

Though I think of Queen as an 80s band -- glam-rock on steroids -- this song is from 1974, the Sheer Heart Attack album, and Mercury was already in possession of his full bag of tricks. While the Kinks and the Beatles shoplifted discreetly from old music-hall tunes, Queen cleaned out the whole store; "Killer Queen" -- which really should be the band's signature track -- is music-hall to the max, right down to the soft-shoe tempo.

Usually I prefer my music stripped-down and authentic, and yet I adore this dense, wildly overproduced track: those artificially tight overdubbed harmonies set off Mercury's high, fey voice like a giant wink-wink nudge-nudge. I don't know which I think are funnier, the splendiferous mock-operatic flourishes or the brazen heavy metal guitar licks. Taking it seriously is sooo beside the point.

I never saw Queen live, but I've heard Freddie Mercury was an irresistible showman. You get a pretty good taste of this on the record, the way he exaggerates his diction and vocally fondles certain phrases. While on the surface this is a song about an evil seductress straight out of James Bond, there's a gay subtext you really can't miss -- "But then again, incidentally, if you're that way inclined," Freddy points out (I can just picture him fluttering his mascaraed eyelashes), and he will not let words like "fastidious" and "insatiable" slip by without a significant emphasis. And was he having fun with his rhymes or what? "cabinet . . . Marie Antoinette," "remedy . . . Krushchev and Kennedy," "caviar and cigarettes . . . etiquette," "Paris . . . couldn't care less," "drop of a hat . . . pussy cat."

I realize I can stop worrying about the "story" of the song; it doesn't matter, it's all style over substance. Outrageous style over incredibly silly substance. Feel free to sing along, but you must sing every line exactly as Freddie sings it, preferably with a giddy group of friends. Find your inner drama queen and let her go to town.


Julie Duchaine said...

I was thrirteen when I heard this song. No one had explained to me what camp or music hall was, but I got it. This song is tremendous, silly fun. It would later inspire me to buy my first bottle of champagne. Moet & Chandon, of course.

Dharma said...

this is my favourite Queen's song. I listened to it hundreds of times :) and couldn't get enough. Their music is not that simple, though it is made together so fine that the tune just won't get out of the head :)

Dharma said...

By the way, Holly, it's Daria from the Alan Price forum :D