Famous Like Me > Singer > M > Freddie Mercury
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Profile of Freddie Mercury
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|Also Know As:
|Date of Birth:
||5th September 1946
|Place of Birth:
||Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Freddie Mercury (September 5, 1946 – November 24, 1991) was a pianist, songwriter, arranger, singer, and lead vocalist of the British rock band Queen.
Life and career
Mercury was born Farrokh Bulsara in Stone Town, Zanzibar to Zoroastrian Indian (also known as Parsi) parents. His parents Bomi and Jer Bulsara had immigrated to Zanzibar so his father could continue his job at the British Colonial Office. He also had a sister, Kashmira.
Mercury was educated at St. Peter's boarding school in Panchgani near Mumbai, India, where he had his first musical training (Grade IV piano). His first onstage performance was also at St. Peters, with his five-member school band, the Hectics. It was at St. Peter's where he picked up the name 'Freddie' ; soon even his parents addressed him by that name. Mercury finished this high school from St. Mary's High School in Magazon, Mumbai, India.
After spending his formative years in India, Mercury and his family fled Zanzibar because of the revolution of 1964. He was 18 when he arrived in England. There, he pursued a Diploma in Art and Graphic Design at Ealing Art College, following in the footsteps of Pete Townshend. This knowledge was to come in useful when he designed Queen's famous crest.
In 1972, Mercury recorded a one-off single under the stage name Larry Lurex, a cover of the 1969 Beach Boys minor hit I Can Hear Music. Despite an incredibly dense Spector-esque Wall of Sound production and instrumental backing by Queen members Roger Taylor and Brian May, the song failed to chart in the UK, though it did manage a #115 showing on the US charts in the autumn of 1973, when it was released on the tiny Anthem label, just ahead of Queen's first album. Widely bootlegged. the original record is now a valuable collectable, fetching up to £400.
With a wide vocal range and a somewhat operatic technique, he was one of the most versatile and technically accomplished singers to work in the pop idiom. He was the composer of many of Queen's hits, including "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Somebody to Love", and "We Are the Champions".
His songwriting was unique, demonstrating influence from a variety of sources, but with a strong individual sense of melody, harmony, and complex orchestration. In several of his most well-crafted and popular tunes he provided all of the vocal tracks, resulting in a smooth, controlled sound that was at the time unprecedented.
One of Freddie's trademarks throughout the years was using a microphone (and stand) minus the bottom section. In his early years of singing he made the decision to pick up his microphone, still attached to the stand; the bottom fell off by accident, and he decided to use a bottomless microphone stand from then on. When asked why, he replied "Everyone has to have a gimmick, dear."
Queen started using studio overdubs a great deal with their second album, Queen II, which features Freddie's music on the entire second side of the LP (or, in CD parlance, tracks 6–11). Many listeners identify "Bohemian Rhapsody" as the pinnacle of his musical achievement, but it is possible to find the seeds of this mini-opera in his earlier works.
When the band decided to release "Bohemian Rhapsody" in 1975, everyone told them it was far too long and just would not be a hit at 5 minutes and 55 seconds. But Freddie gave a copy of the single to friend and London DJ, Kenny Everett, informing him that it was for him personally, and that he must not play it on air. Everett ended up playing it on the air—fourteen times in one day. From then on, every major radio station played the song in full, not edited versions as would be expected. It was a colossal hit and established Queen as a leading band of the era. The video for the single, directed by Bruce Gowers using ideas from the band themselves, was considered to be the one that began the whole music video craze. The single stayed at number one for nine weeks.
The album was, at the time, one of the most expensive ever recorded, but when "A Night at the Opera" was released in November 1975, it was a massive hit, and gave Queen their first platinum album.
Freddie had designed a Queen logo for the "Queen" album, which was re-worked and used as the cover for A Night At The Opera. The now-famous "crest" features the band's star signs—two fairies for Virgo (Freddie, September 5), a crab for Cancer (Brian, July 19), and two lions for the two Leos (Roger, July 26 and John, August 19). The launch party for the album was held in the exclusive Opera Bar at the London Coliseum Theatre. The Guinness World Records 2001, recognizes The Official Queen Fan- Club as the longest running Fan- Club for a group. It was set up by EMI in 1973, after the release of the band's first album.
He released two solo albums: Mr. Bad Guy (1985) and Barcelona (1988), the latter with Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé. The collaboration came as surprise to critics, being the first of its kind, but was nonetheless widely acclaimed, if not commercially successful. One of his hits as a solo artist was a cover of the song "The Great Pretender" (1987), but after his death gained his first solo number 1 hit "Living On My Own", remixed by No More Brothers, which was his biggest UK hit.
He was bisexual, but never came out publicly. Mercury had a girlfriend Mary Austin, whom he was in a relationship with for six years until he told her about his sexuality. After the relationship was over they still remained close friends. Mary Austin often fronted as his girlfriend to the press. Though previously promiscuous, his last boyfriend, Jim Hutton, lived with him for the last eight years of his life, cared for him when he was ill and was with him at his bedside when he died. Mercury was a fan of Liza Minnelli and Michael Jackson, the latter of whom he collaborated with on some tracks which were never published, including "State Of Shock" (which was performed by the Jacksons and Mick Jagger for the official release).
He was well known for his extravagance and hedonism, but also for his kindness and generosity. He adored cats and kept several, even writing a song about his favourite ("Delilah", on the Innuendo album, 1991). He was a heavy smoker, which contributed to a roughening of his voice in the 80s.
On November 23, 1991, Freddie announced that he had AIDS. The next day he died peacefully at his home in London surrounded by friends and family. Freddie had kept his illness very private, and only those closest to him had been aware of just how close to the end he was.
He was cremated at Kensal Green Cemetery. The wherabouts of his ashes are unknown. The remaining members of Queen founded The Mercury Phoenix Trust and organized The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert.
Mercury appears at 58 in the 2002 List of "100 Greatest Britons" (sponsored by the BBC and voted for by the public).
A species of East African isopod, Cirolana mercuryi N. Bruce, 2004 was named for Freddie Mercury, as, quoting the type, "arguably Zanzibar's most famous popular musician and singer."
His famous overbite was caused by the presence of four extra teeth which pushed his incisors out. He commented early in his career that he wished to have work done on his teeth, but regretted that he did not have time to do it. He also expressed fears that such an operation might damage his voice. During Queen's formative years he could be seen putting his hand over his mouth in an attempt to hide the overbite.
Freddie possessed an exceedingly slight tenor voice capable of producing both very biting and very gravelly tones. He had an enviable voice range, with the superb extension of three and a half octaves.
Freddie was known to enjoy drinking wine, tea, and champagne from time to time, and occasionally smoked marijuana. Before Queen was formed, he was sharing an apartment with more frequent cannabis users, who would often hide their stash in tea leaves. At one point Freddie, unaware, drank this in his tea.
Mercury briefly stopped drinking red wine in 1975 when doctors informed him he had calluses in his throat. He refused to let anyone operate, and eventually his throat healed.
At his own parties he was known for being charming and outgoing, while at parties thrown by other people he was known to be something of a wallflower.
Mercury left £100,000 to his chef, and left his £18-million house to his close-friend and ex-lover, Mary Austin.
Mercury as songwriter
Mercury presented himself as a primary songwriter for Queen from beginning to end, except in the albums News Of The World, The Game and A Kind Of Magic, where bandmates Brian May and Roger Taylor composed an equal or greater number of songs.
Mercury is one of the popular composers who have achieved most success in "bringing complex music to the masses". On one side, he was able to use an impressively rich vocabulary of advanced harmonic, rhythmic and structural features, but at the same time remain catchy and earning commercial success. Mercury wrote or co-wrote nine #1 hits:
- "Bohemian Rhapsody": Topped the charts of Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, the Netherlands and the UK.
- "Love Of My Life": #1 in Argentina for an entire year
- "Somebody To Love": #1 in The Netherlands in its original release, and in the UK in a cover version by Brian May, Roger Taylor, John Deacon, Mike Moran and George Michael
- "We Are The Champions": #2 in the UK; #2 in the US; #1 in France for 13 weeks
- "Crazy Little Thing Called Love": #1 in Australia, Canada, Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Holland and the United States
- "Under Pressure": Credited to Queen & Bowie, but essentially Mercury's according to bassist John Deacon. Melody and lyrics were created by both Mercury and Bowie. #1 hit in Argentina, Canada, theNetherlands and the UK. A 1999 remix topped the charts in Czech Republic. In 1990, rap artist Vanilla Ice sampled the main bassline on his worldwide #1 hit "Ice Ice Baby".
- "Living On My Own": Originally recorded in 1985, a remix was released after his death and topped the charts in the UK
- "Innuendo": Again credited to the band, but Mercury was the principal writer (with input from drummer Roger Taylor in lyrics). It was #1 in the UK and South Africa
- "I'm Going Slightly Mad": Credited to Queen but composed by Freddie, this track topped the charts in Hong Kong in spring 1991
In pop culture
Although Mercury may have passed on in the real world, he appears as a recurring character in the Japanese manga and anime series Sakigake!! Cromartie High! Known to the main characters only as "Freddie," and normally introduced by a harmonious guitar riff, this version of Freddie Mercury wears only long brown pants with red suspenders, and often carries his trademark broken microphone stand. "Freddie" does not speak, despite moments where he is visible singing in the background (although his voice is not audible), and sometimes appears riding a giant black horse.
Some characters in the series wonder if he understands Japanese. In one episode, the school doctor gives him a perfect bill of health, so clearly Freddie is not the ghost of Freddie Mercury. In the world of Cromartie, Freddie is either still alive and in hiding, or a clone of the original Freddie. He does show some remarkable attributes, such as extreme patience when other characters repeatedly slap him in the head, and the ability to navigate Tokyo using only his "animal instincts," as one character describes it.
The action manga Bremen, relating the adventures of a Japanese rock band in Tokyo, features a minor character named "Mick." He appears to be a westerner living in Japan, and is the owner of a club where the main characters have their first real gig. Mick is nearly identical to Freddie Mercury in appearance, and even wears a tank top with the same stylised Q as in the Queen logo.
A gymnastics teacher like Mercury appears in Akira Toriyama's manga Dragon Ball in a story Vol.421. Queen is one of Toriyama's favourite bands.
In the anime BECK, you can see Freddie Mercurys silhouette in the main characters dream, along with other famous artists such as John Lennon.
In December 2004, the rock group Electric Six released a cover version of Queen's "Radio Ga Ga." The promotional video features the lead singer, Dick Valentine, impersonating the ghost of Freddie Mercury dancing in front of his grave. This depiction has caused controversy amongst fans of Queen and Mercury, many of whom find it offensive, despite Electric Six claiming that it was intended to be interpreted positively.
The character Sol Badguy in the Guilty Gear series of fighting games is heavily influenced by Mercury, while the Street Fighter character Eagle was reimagined as a tribute to Mercury for Capcom vs. SNK 2.
Mercury appears in the video to Mylo's single "Destroy Rock & Roll."
Singer Kurt Cobain's suicide note mentions Mercury:
- "I haven't felt the excitement of listening to, as well as creating, music along with reading and writing for too many years now. I feel guilty beyond words about these things. For example, when we're backstage and the lights go out and the manic roar of the crowds begins, it doesn't affect me the way in which it did for Freddy [sic] Mercury, who seemed to love, relish in the love and adoration from the crowd, which is something I totally admire and envy."
Most recently, in her 2004 album Exodus, Japanese pop star Utada Hikaru mentions Freddie Mercury in the song Animato:
- "DVDs of Elvis Presley / ABC sessions of Led Zeppelin / Singing along with F. Mercury / Wishing he was still performing..."
The Japan TV series Pride (starring the popular actor Kimura Takuya), used predominately Queen's and Freddie's songs, and the theme song is Freddie's "I Was Born to Love You" (newer version).. The story was about Love & Fight—the ice-hockey leader's love story.
- Mr. Bad Guy (1985)
- Barcelona (1988) (with Montserrat Caballé) (Russell Watson covers the song "Barcelona" on his album The Voice.)
- The Freddie Mercury Album (1992)
- The Great Pretender [US Version Of The Freddie Mercury Album] (1992)
- The Solo Collection (10 CDs and 2 DVDs) (2000)
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