Queen is a British rock band formed in London, England in 1970. The classic lineup of Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor, and John Deacon produced 15 studio albums and more than 50 singles. Their earliest works were influenced by progressive rock, hard rock and heavy metal, but the band gradually ventured into more conventional and radio-friendly works by incorporating further styles, such as arena rock and pop rock.
Estimated sales for Queen range from 200 to 300 million units worldwide, making them the second best-selling band in music history (the first being The Beatles). The 2018 music biopic Bohemian Rhapsody— which covered the career of the band leading up to their legendary performance at Live Aid— became the highest-grossing biopic in movie history after it grossed $904.4 million USD at the box office. According to the compilers of the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles and Albums, Queen have spent 1,322 weeks on the chart, more than any musical act in history.
In 1990, Queen received the Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music from the British Phonographic Industry. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001. Each member has composed hit singles, and all four were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003. In 2005, Queen received the Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Song Collection from the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers, and Authors. In 2018, they were presented the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Early Days (1968-1973)
In 1969, guitarist Brian May, a student at London's Imperial College, and bassist Tim Staffell decided to form a group. May placed an advertisement on the college notice board for a "Mitch Mitchell/Ginger Baker type" drummer; Roger Taylor, a young dental student, auditioned and got the job. They called the group Smile. Smile signed to Mercury Records in 1969, and had their first session in a recording studio in Trident Studios that year. Tim Staffell was attending Ealing Art College with Farrokh Bulsara, later known as Freddie Mercury, and introduced him to the band. Bulsara soon became a keen fan. Staffell left in 1970 to join another band, Humpy Bong; the remaining Smile members, encouraged by Bulsara, changed their name to "Queen" and continued working together, prior to Bulsara himself joining as vocalist. The band had a number of bass players during this period who did not fit with the band's chemistry. It was not until February 1971 that they settled on John Deacon and began to rehearse for the first album. In 1973, after a series of delays, Queen released their first album, a self-titled project influenced by the heavy metal and progressive rock of the day. The album was received well by critics. However, it drew little mainstream attention and the lead single Keep Yourself Alive, a May composition, sold poorly. The album Queen II was released in 1974. The album reached number five on the British charts, while the Mercury-written lead single Seven Seas of Rhye reached number ten in the UK, giving the band their first hit. The album is their heaviest and darkest release, featuring long complex instrumental passages, fantasy-themed lyrics and musical virtuosity. The band toured as support to Mott the Hoople in the UK & United States during this period, and they began to gain notice for their energetic and engaging stage shows. However, album sales in the US were, like those of its predecessor, low.
Breakthrough Era (1974-1979)
Because of medical complications, May was absent when the band started work on their third album, Sheer Heart Attack, released in 1974. The album reached number two in the UK, sold well throughout Europe, and went gold in the United States. It gave the band their first real taste of commercial success. The album experimented with a variety of musical genres, including British Music Hall ("Killer Queen"), heavy metal ("Flick of the Wrist", "Brighton Rock", "Tenement Funster", "Now I'm Here", and "Stone Cold Crazy" – a song which Metallica later covered, earning them a Grammy Award), ballads ("Lily Of The Valley" and "Dear Friends"), ragtime ("Bring Back That Leroy Brown") and Caribbean ("Misfire"). At this point Queen started to move away from the progressive tendencies of their first two releases into a more radio-friendly, song-oriented style. Sheer Heart Attack introduced new sound and melody patterns that would be refined on their next album A Night at the Opera. The single Killer Queen reached number two on the British charts, and became their first U.S. hit, reaching number twelve in the Billboard American Top 40. It combines camp, vaudeville, British music hall with May’s guitar virtuosity. The album’s second single, Now I’m Here, a more traditional hard rock composition, was a number eleven hit in Britain. In 1975, the band left for a world tour with each member in Zandra Rhodes-created costumes and banks of lights and effects. They toured the US, headlining for the first time, and played in Canada for the first time in April. At the same time, the band's manager Jim Beach successfully negotiated the band out of their Trident contract. Of the options they considered, was an offer from Led Zeppelin’s manager, Peter Grant. Grant wanted them to sign with Led Zeppelin’s own production company, Swan Song Records. The band found the contract unacceptable and instead, contacted Elton John’s manager, John Reid, who accepted the position. In April 1975 the band toured Japan for the first time. Later that year the band recorded and released A Night at the Opera. At the time, it was the most expensive album ever produced. Like its predecessor, the album features diverse musical styles and experimentation with stereo sound. In The Prophet's Song, an eight-minute epic, the middle section is a canon, with simple phrases layered to create a full-choral sound. The album was very successful in Britain, and went triple platinum in the United States. In 2003, it was ranked number 230 on Rolling Stone Magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. The album also featured the hit single Bohemian Rhapsody, which was number one in the United Kingdom for nine weeks, and is Britain’s third-best-selling single of all time; it also reached number nine in the United States (a 1992 re-release reached number two). Bohemian Rhapsody has been voted, several times, the greatest song of all time. The band decided to make a video to go with the single; the result is generally considered to have been one of the first "true" music videos ever produced. Bohemian Rhapsody was the first musical video offered free of charge, to any program, network or station which would air it. The second single from the album, You're My Best Friend, peaked at sixteen in the United States.
By 1976, Queen were back in the studio, where they recorded A Day at the Races, what may be mistaken simply as a companion album to A Night at the Opera. It again borrowed the name of a Marx Brothers' movie, and its cover was similar to that of A Night at the Opera, a variation on the same Queen Crest. Musically, the album was by both fans’ and critics’ standards a strong effort, and reached number one on the British charts. The major hit on the album was Somebody to Love, a gospel-inspired song in which Mercury, May, and Taylor multi-tracked their voices to make a 100-voice gospel choir. The song went to number two in the United Kingdom, and number thirteen on the U.S. singles chart. The album also featured one of the band's heaviest songs, May’s Tie Your Mother Down, which became a staple of their live shows. Also in 1976, Queen played one of their most famous gigs, a 1976 free concert in Hyde Park, London. It set an attendance record, with 150,000 people confirmed in the audience. News of the World was released a year later. It contained many songs tailor-made for live performance, including We Will Rock You and the rock ballad We Are the Champions, both of which reached number four in the United States and became international sports anthems. Roger Taylor released his first solo effort in 1977 in the form of a single: the A-side was a cover of a song called I Wanna Testify, and the B-side was a song by Taylor called Turn On The TV. In 1978 the band released Jazz, including the hit singles Fat Bottomed Girls and Bicycle Race which were also released as a double-A-side single. The word "jazz" was not used in a strict sense, and the album was noted by critics for its collection of different styles, jazz not being one of them. Important tracks of the album include Dead on Time, Don't Stop Me Now, Let Me Entertain You, and Mustapha, in which Arabesque music is combined with heavy rock guitar. The band’s first live album, Live Killers, was released in 1979; it went platinum twice in the United States. They also released the successful single Crazy Little Thing Called Love, a rockabilly song done in the style of Elvis Presley. The song made the top 10 in many countries, and was the band’s first number one single in the United States.