How does Jeff Scott Soto end up doing Queen songs at Queen conventions? Well, he had always loved Queen and Freddie Mercury was a big influence on his life, but that is common with a lot of people. For Jeff, it all started back in 1999 when one fateful day he met Jacky Smith who was the head of the Queen Fan Club. That chance meeting led to Jeff getting to meet Brian May and a chance to jam with him and the SAS Band at the annual Freddie Mercury Birthday Party.
That keep him in touch with the Queen family and in 2002, Jacky asked him to come to one of the Queen conventions. He made an appearance and actually jammed on a few songs during the convention. The feedback was so great, Jeff was brought back to do the North America convention as the first was in the UK. This led Jeff to be brought up on stage at an after party with Brian and Roger Taylor when they received a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. If that wasn’t enough, Jeff was asked to come back in 2003 and instead of a handful of songs, they wanted Jeff to perform an entire set of Queen songs. But not as a tribute act, as a real act and doing everything his way with his own band.
Jeff brought his solo band with him which was Gary Schutt, Howie Simon and Alex Papa. Now, Jeff was a massive Queen fan and knew all the songs, even the deep cuts. However, his band only knew the hits. This was the Queen Convention and “the Hits” aren’t enough. You need deep cuts. So, the band took a crash course in Queen and after several rehearsals, the band was ready to go. What we get here on a 2 CD set is the entire set they performed and it is massive. They played around 45 cuts (some in song melodies) and it was incredible. They released it on video and CD. I have the CD, but I need to get the video. Let’s get to it.
In going through Amazon’s Kindle book, I found this book on Freddie Mercury and thought I would give it a try. The book is called ‘Freddie Mercury: A Life, In his Own Words by Freddie Mercury, Greg Brooks and Simon Lupton. Now, it says by Freddie Mercury but that is very misleading as Freddie was not involved with this book as he had long since passed. It is not an Autobiography. The book is actually a collection of interviews that Freddie had done over the years and they were pieced together here to let you hear from Freddie and what he was thinking. A pretty cool idea, however, it didn’t work in the way I am sure they were hoping it would.
Here are the problems…First…the book is in no real chronological order. It doesn’t really tell the story of Queen or really Freddie in any kind of sequential order. It is all over the place timeline wise. Second…it doesn’t go in depth on Queen much at all. So, if you are looking for a deep dive in to the inner workings of Queen, albums or tours, you will be sadly bored to tears. And third…it is very repetitive, It is very repetitive and it is very repetitive. I can’t tell you how many times we have to hear about how much Freddie likes to spend money, how much the real Freddie is not like the stage Freddie and how lonely and few friends he has. Those are all interesting story points true, but these interviews mention it time and time and time again.
What did they get right? Well, the concept is really cool. I did like hearing Freddie talk about the struggles of being famous, his battle with being lonely and his inner thoughts about getting old. As I said, they are truly interesting bits to learn about they just didn’t need to rammed down our throats a hundred times. The man does have an ego as he knows how good he really was, but that ego is squashed by how charming he can be in an interview. Heck, I did have fun reading the book in Freddie’s voice. In my mind I am putting the inflections on the headvoice as I am reading the same way I remember how Freddie would say things. He was flamboyant, he was over-the-top and he was Freddie Mercury, but you do get to see the other side of him which is quite nice to learn.
Here at 2 Loud 2 Old Music, we went through and reviewed all the Studio Albums for the band Queen. And to do this, we are used the 40th Anniversary 2011 Remastered CDs as our source as I picked up the 3 Volume Box Set for Christmas 2020. And with any good series, we will start with their debut album and work our way through all the studio albums in chronological order. There were 15 albums and all with the same band members of Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon. How many bands can say that? Not many.
What was great about going through them all in order is that you see how the band evolved over time and how much they experimented whether it was successful or not. You see the highs and the lows, where the band hit its groove and where they were wandering around lost. They did move soundtracks, the rocked out, they had fantasy songs, rockabilly, disco and even metal. They did it all. Now let’s go through and see where they ranked worst to first.
THE WORST – ‘MADE IN HEAVEN’ (1995):
The album did not have a cohesive feel and it shouldn’t since it wasn’t really written as an album. It was a last ditch effort to pull as many Freddie songs together as they could for one final release. And I don’t think it is one they should’ve done mainly because all these songs aren’t really up to the Queen Standard in my book. There were way too many ballads, they used two songs that were already released as Freddie solo songs and I don’t think the material was all that great to begin with. I feel they should’ve left well enough alone as I think ‘Innuendo’ was a great way to go out, but what do I know. My Overall Score is a 2.0 Out of 5.0 Stars. There were a few tracks worth having, but overall not enough to make this a must have album.
We are now to the final studio album by Queen called ‘Made in Heaven’ which also means this is the final review in The Studio Album Series. The album was released on November 6, 1995 almost 4 years after Freddie’s death which was on November 24, 1991. It is the only studio album from the band released with Freddie after his death so where did the music come from you might wonder. After the band finished their last album, ‘Innuendo’, which was around November 1990, Freddie was very ill due to the AIDS virus. He had his mind made up that he would sing as much as he possibly could and leave that for the band to finish at some point down the road. Normally Freddie would do the vocals after the music was done and recorded, but due to his failing health, he sang whatever he had written or the band had put in front of him to sing. He only wanted to leave these last bits of gift to the world.
The remaining members of the band, Roger Taylor, Brian May and John Deacon, tooled around on the songs for years, mostly due to Brian May heading out on tour for his solo album, ‘Back to the Light’, which coincidently is getting a Deluxe Edition released in a couple months. The band worked some of the new material Freddie had completed and they added the Queen sound to them. However, that wasn’t enough songs to complete the album so the band also dove in to their back catalog and searched for material that Freddie had sung, but was never used even dipping in to Freddie’s solo work. It was a hodgepodge of songs and that is exactly how the album feels. It is a little disjointed and not very cohesive as a complete album work. It felt like a money grab in my book, but that is only my opinion.
The album cover is a picture of Freddie’s statue that was erected in Montreux, Switzerland where the band had a recording studio that had used for years. It as the town’s way of celebrating Freddie. The picture was taken at sunset and overlooks Lake Geneva. The back cover of the CD was the remaining band members looking out upon the Alps. Now, if you got the vinyl and not the CD, your front and back cover would be the picture above which was taken at sunrise and actually had the band standing near the statue overlooking the Lake. It is a very fitting picture actually.
Queen did not tour for the previous album, ‘The Miracle’, mainly because Freddie Mercury was sick. He had been diagnosed with AIDS in 1987 and his health had been deteriorating rather quickly. Now, they told the media they were trying to get away from the whole album-tour-album-tour type of schedule. Instead of touring they immediately started working on the next album which sadly enough would be the last album released before Freddie’s death in November 1991. The album is ‘Innuendo’ and it was the last great hurrah for a band that had done it all.
They started recording all the way back in March 1989 prior to ‘The Miracle’ even being released, but they wouldn’t finish the album until November 1990. Freddie’s health was not good and so he would come in and record whenever he was physically able. They had hoped to get the album out by Christmas 1990, but missed the deadline due to the health problems. We did finally see the album come out on February 4, 1991 and although the album only went to #30 in the States, the UK saw Queen get yet another #1 album. And like the previous album, the band were unable to Tour this album either.
The pictures of Freddie around this time and the shots of him in the music videos definitely had the public wondering what was wrong with Freddie and rumors were rampant. On November 23, 1991, Freddie issued a statement about his health and admitted he was diagnosed with AIDS, then not 24 hours later, Freddie died from bronchial pneumonia which was brought on as a result of his disease. Freddie’s death on November 24, 1991 shed a bright spotlight on the AIDS crisis and at the same time for us Kiss fans, overshadowed the death of our beloved Kiss drummer Eric Carr who died on the same day. As a rock fan of both bands, this was a sad day for me and I am sure for a lot of people around the world. Queen as we knew was no more. It left Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon with a big hole to fill and an unknown future.
After the Magic Tour ended in 1986, which was supporting the album ‘A Kind of Magic’, the band took a break. Not much happened in 1987 and the band went its longest time between albums. They finally did start recording a new album in January 1988 and it took a whole year before they were finally finished in January 1989. The band was going through a lot during this time period. Brian May was going through a very tumultuous marital problems that actually put him in to depression. And to make matters worse, Freddie had been diagnosed with HIV and suffering through the effects of that illness. At the time, there had been speculation of Freddie’s illness but at the time, it wasn’t confirmed publicly although the band was well aware of the diagnosis.
The album was finished and was finally released on May 22, 1989 and titled ‘The Miracle’ which sounds like that is exactly what it was to get the album finished. At one time, the album title was going to be ‘The Invisible Men’ but was changed suddenly at the last minute. I think the final title fits what was going on in their lives. Thankfully, we got another album from the band. The album went to #1 in several countries, including the UK, but only hit #24 in the US. It was certified Platinum in the UK, but I don’t believe has ever been certified Gold or anything in the US. For me, it was a day one purchase so I know they sold at least one copy in the US.
The band did something different with this album as well. All the songs were credited to the band ‘Queen’ and not to each individual member that actually wrote the song. The band was being more collaborative and felt this was the right thing to do. Now, however, we know who actually wrote each song but I liked the fact at this point in their career, they felt that crediting it to each member was the right thing to do. The album cover with the faces morphed together as one is in line with the collaborative feeling.
During 1985, Queen performed at the Live Aid on July 13th in the UK at Wembley Stadium. Their performance is legendary and actually helped catapult the band back in to the limelight. The Live Aid performance was one of the biggest scenes for the film, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, in 2018. Still high from the performance, in September 1985, Freddie called the band together to write songs and work was begun on the band’s 12th studio album, ‘A Kind of Magic’.
The band continued recording until April of 1986 and in that time, they were also working on songs for the upcoming Sci-fi cult classic, ‘Highlander’, starring Christopher Lambert and Sean Connery. The album that would become basically an unofficial soundtrack to the movie as no official soundtrack was ever released. A lot of the songs on the album were from the movie and the rest were other songs the band was working on at the time. The album is noted for also being the first album the band had ever recorded in digital and not analog. It was one of the few CDs I had at the time that was truly ‘DDD’ which was on the back of the CD case. ‘DDD’ basically it was recorded, mixed and mastered all in digital and it was one of the best sounding CDs I owned at the time.
The album was released on June 2, 1986 and in the UK, the album went straight to #1 and sold over 600,000 copies making it 2X platinum. In the U.S., it only went to #46 and barely made Gold selling around 500,000 copies…yes, the U.S. requires sells of over 1,000,000 to be platinum. The U.K., not as strict. For me, this album was my first real dive in to Queen. It was the first Queen album I bought and it would start a fandom that has lasted for 35 years. With that, I think it is time to get in to the music.
For 1983, the band decided they weren’t playing any live shows and they took a little break. Roger Taylor released his second solo album called ‘Strange Frontier’ and Brian May released an E.P. titled ‘Star Fleet Project’ and in that project was some little known guitarist by the name of Eddie Van Halen…maybe you’ve heard of him. Freddie even worked on his solo album ‘Mr. Bad Guy’, but his didn’t get released until a couple years later. John did whatever he wanted as I don’t know if he worked on a project. And in August of that year, they started working on their 11th Studio album, ‘The Works’. The band recorded at the Record Plant in L.A. and Musicland studio in Munich. It was a global affair.
The band still held on to the electro-pop stylings of ‘Jazz’, but did bring back some of the rock sound they are known for and thank the Heavens for that. But I don’t think it was enough to save this album. As you will see, the songs are good…but they aren’t great. For me, Queen seemed like a lost ship at sea and no one could read the stars to help them find their way and you would think with an astrophysicist on board, that would help, but nope. The band finished up the album around January 1984 and then released the album on February 24, 1984 to little success. It did go to #2 in the UK, but only #23 in the US which was disappointing for them.
First up is “Radio Ga Ga” which was written by Roger Taylor and he thought it would work great on his solo. The band heard and thought this could be a hit and suddenly it became a Queen song. Roger’s inspiration came from his son and hearing him say “Radio Ca Ca”. He took that and turned it in to a commentary on how TV and Music Videos were changing the way we listened to music and the radio. Radio was becoming less important, but he wanted to wax poetic about its greatness. The song actually makes reference to a couple of major radio events such as Winston Churchill’s “This is their finest hour” speech to the House of Commons in 1940 and to Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of “War of the Worlds” in 1938.
After the band’s album “Flash Gordon”, Queen actually released one of the biggest selling albums of all time their “Greatest Hits” which has sold well over 25 million copies worldwide. At one point it was said that one in every three families in the UK had a copy. It was on the charts in the US for over 400 weeks which is insane. The band was on fire and constantly busy. They wasted no time in getting back in to the studio to record their new album “Hot Space”. They started in June of 1981, but wouldn’t finish until March 1982 due to touring and other obligations. The album finally saw the light of day on May 21, 1982.
The band went a completely different direction with this album, I mean they pulled a complete 180o turn. The rock sound was replaced with a wide variety of sounds including disco, dance, pop, funk, r&b and pretty much everything but rock. When Kiss did this, they really only did it with a couple songs because “Dynasty” still had more rock than disco. Queen doesn’t do anything halfway, they went all in and it didn’t quite have the impact they were hoping. Although the album went on to sell over 3.5 million copies worldwide, upon its release it barely went Gold in the US only reach #22 on the charts. This album turned off a lot of people in the US and their popularity started to wane in a big way. But it wasn’t only the album. Homophobia set in with the US market as well and they weren’t as accepting of Freddie Mercury. This caused the band to actually stop touring the States after they finished the ‘Hot Space Tour’. Things were not all that well in the Queen camp. The good news is, the States came around eventually and Freddie is loved by all and I think people now realize what a true talent he really was. And this is really a story for another time as we are going to stick to the music.
The album kicks off with the funkified song “Staying Power”. It is full of synthesizers, drum machines and even horns that were arranged by Arif Mardin. This might be the only song ever by Queen with a horn section. There is no actual bass guitar on this as John Deacon plays guitar with Brian May. The bass sound is all effects. It isn’t a bad song if it wasn’t sounding the way it is. It is a complete left turn. I think we have the success of the song “Another One Bites the Dust” for this mess.
Queen was never one to do things the standard, normal way. Nope, they thought outside the box constantly. Who am I kidding, they threw the freaking box into the recycle bin never to be seen or heard from again. In secret, Queen worked on an album that no one would expect from them. They did a movie soundtrack. Yes, Queen did the music for the movie Flash Gordon. They jumped in to right after finishing up the album, ‘The Game’ and before that tour sometime around February-March 1980. And after the tour, they quickly went back in and finished up the soundtrack around October-November 1980. The album would come out on December 8, 1980 to everyone’s surprise. Why did they keep it a secret? Because they didn’t want the news to overshadow the movie because let’s be honest, Queen doing a movie soundtrack would make some news for sure.
The movie Flash Gordon is a cult classic. Mainly because it is so bad, it is actually a little good. The acting is horrible, the sets are cheap, I mean it screams B-Movie. And like the movie, the soundtrack is just as campy. It is quirky at times, it rocks out at times and it is a little bit awful at times…just like the movie. Freddie had the bright idea of including some of the film’s dialogue in with the songs to help give the songs some context considering most of the songs were strictly instrumental pieces. That is right. Freddie only sings on 2 songs with minor vocals on 3 others. This is not your typical Queen album. You expect to hear Freddie…well..you don’t get many opportunities for that. Back to the dialogue. As hokey as it sounds, it actually does help having the dialogue. It helps make the album pure campy fun. Doesn’t mean I like it, but it has its moments.
The album kicks of with “Flash’s Theme” which is the only single off the album…however, this isn’t really the single version as that seems to be pieces from a couple songs on the album blended together. This is one of the few songs to include Freddie’s vocals and it has Brian May also doing vocals. John Deacon’s bass and Roger Taylor’s drumming are the driving beat to the song. It is one of the few songs that sounds like Queen especially when May’s guitar comes in. It is anthemic and over-the-top and bizarre. Next up is “In the Space Capsule (The Love Them)” which was written by Roger Taylor. It is feels like outerspace and atmospheric with the synths. There is some great drum beats by Taylor to give it a tribal feel. And the song sounds grand and regal. Overall, not bad for a movie score, but doesn’t sound anything like Queen.