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Freddie Mercury: Solo Artist
Everyone knows Freddie Mercury as the legendary singer of Queen, but do you also know that he released material as a solo artist, mainly in the 1980s?
We're mostly talking about two albums, which were very different from one another, as we will see in a bit. But, there were a few other scattered singles, collaborations, and even some posthumous material released fairly recently.
Given the obscurity of most of these songs, it can be hard to tell the good from the bad. Let's see what's available in detail.
1973: "I Can Hear Music" b/w "Goin' Back"
The first single by Freddie Mercury as a solo artist, "I Can Hear Music" was released under the name Larry Lurex in late June 1973, a couple weeks ahead of Queen's self-titled debut album.
In 1972, Queen were recording their first album at Trident Studios in London, when producer Robin Geoffrey Cable asked Mercury to sing on a couple of songs. Freddie accepted, but he brought in guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor as backing musicians.
Covering The Ronettes
The A-side is a cover of "I Can Hear Music," originally recorded by The Ronettes and Phil Spector in 1966, and largely the basis for Mercury's performance. The Beach Boys also had a minor hit with it in the spring of 1969. May has an excellent guitar solo that also serves as an outro, while Taylor is mostly buried in Cable's Spectorian "wall of sound" production.
Covering The Byrds
The B-side is "Goin' Back," a Gerry Goffin-Carole King song made famous by Dusty Springfield in 1966. However, Mercury's arrangement appears to be based on The Byrds version released on Notorious Byrd Brothers in early 1968.
The Origin of Larry Lurex
Since the members of Queen were busy promoting their first album—which was very different from these two songs—they were understandably reluctant to promote Freddie's single. So, Cable got the idea to release it under the name Larry Lurex, a parody of Gary Glitter.
The single was a commercial flop, but it became a rare collector's item, and the songs were later included in many compilations covering Freddie's solo career.
Curiously, a snippet of "Goin' Back" can be heard at the end of "Mother Love" from Queen's Made In Heaven album (1995).
1984: "Love Kills"
In 1984 a restored version of Fritz Lang's 1927 cinematic masterpiece, Metropolis, was released. It included a contemporary soundtrack curated by disco pioneer Giorgio Moroder—who also was responsible for the new cut of the movie, since the original print was long thought to have been lost.
Collaboration with Georgio Moroder
Moroder collaborated with many different singers, such as Bonnie Tyler, Billy Squier and Jon Anderson, but without a doubt, the most famous song is "Love Kills," which is sung by Freddie.
The song is officially credited to Mercury—though it was definitely a collaboration with Moroder—and it was most likely recorded during sessions for Queen's 1984 album, The Works.
Features All Four Members of Queen
In recent years it's been confirmed that the other three members of Queen play on "Love Kills," even if Moroder's electronic arrangement and production doesn't make that too evident—though to be honest, the solo at the end sounds like Brian May.
In later years, a number of different producers remixed the track, and in 2014, a new version of "Love Kills" was included on the Queen Forever compilation. It was a slower arrangement, completely re-done by Brian and Roger, and it transformed the song into a ballad.
1985: Mr. Bad Guy
Freddie's first (and only) solo album, Mr. Bad Guy, was recorded between 1983 and early 1985 in Munich, Germany, during breaks between Queen recording sessions and tours. He worked with Reinhold Mack, Queen's producer and engineer between The Game (1980) and A Kind Of Magic (1986).
The songs on Mr. Bad Guy are mostly outtakes from The Works, Queen's 1984 album that brought back a more rock-oriented sound after the controversial funk-soul-disco sound of Hot Space (1982). Mr. Bad Guy leaned into disco soul because Mercury loved that sound, making it very different from what he was doing with Queen.
Collaborating with Michael Jackson
For a while it looked like Freddie might collaborate with Michael Jackson on several songs, first on Thriller, then on Mr. Bad Guy. They could never work out more than a session or two, but a recording of "State Of Shock" can be found online. (FYI, this is the same song later finished with Mick Jagger and released on the Jacksons' 1984 album Victory.)
Similarly, a version of "There Must Be More To Life Than This" with Jackson and Mercury duetting was eventually released on the 2014 compilation, Queen Forever. The track as released on Mr. Bad Guy is just Freddie.
Mr. Bad Guy is an album of its time. It's very '80s sounding, with a lot of electronic percussion and synthesizers. And while it wasn't a commercial success, it features some now-legendary songs like "Living On My Own," "Made In Heaven," and "I Was Born To Love You."
Much of the success of these three songs, however, came after Freddie's death. In 1993, "Living On My Own" was remixed by the No More Brothers and it reached number one in the UK, Ireland, and France, becoming Mercury's first solo chart topper. Then, in 1995, "Made In Heaven" and "I Was Born To Love You" were central pieces of the aforementioned Made In Heaven album, albeit in newly-recorded versions.
Three singles were released from Mr. Bad Guy, two of them with non-album tracks. "I Was Born To Love You" was backed with "Stop All the Fighting" and "Made in Heaven" was backed with "She Blows Hot and Cold." Both B-sides were in the style of the album (i.e. very danceable), but maybe not as refined as the others. However, those two songs were included in future compilations.
Fun Songs, Dated Production
Overall, Mr. Bad Guy is enjoyable and has some fun songs, you just have to get past its dated production.
1986: "Time" and "In My Defence"
In late 1985, Mercury was asked by Dave Clark to sing two songs in the soundtrack for his upcoming musical, Time. The first song is the title track, written by Clark and Jeff Daniels, and released as a single in May 1986. A video was filmed at the Dominion Theatre in London, where a permanent stage was built for the musical premiere in early April. This song has been re-released many times over the years.
The other song recorded for the musical was "In My Defence," again written by Clark and Daniels. This beautiful ballad wasn't released as a single at the time, but after Mercury's death became kind of a hymn. In fact, Rudi Dolezal created an excellent new video in late 1991 following Freddie's passing on November 24 of that year.
On April 14, 1988, Freddie made an appearance at one performance of Time at the Dominion Theatre. He sang three songs live: "In My Defence," "It's In Everyone Of Us," and "Born To Rock and Roll" sung as a duet with Cliff Richard.
This was Mercury's last public performance.
1987: "The Great Pretender" b/w "Exercises in Free Love"
One of the most famous singles in Freddie's solo career, this cover of the classic Platters song fit very well with his personality and vocal style. And even if the typical '80s production drags this version down a bit, it's still essential Mercury.
The video for the song is particularly fun, with parodies of past Queen videos by and the presence of Roger Taylor, actor Peter Straker, and Freddie himself as a trio of female backup singers.
The B-side of this single is a piano ballad called "Exercises In Free Love," in which Freddie sings in a very powerful operatic falsetto. He almost sounds like a real female soprano. A beautiful song that, as we'll see shortly, would later be re-done in a dramatically different way.
1988: Barcelona (ft. Montserrat Caballé)
Freddie Mercury was a big fan of opera singer Montserrat Caballé, so when an opportunity came to collaborate on a theme song for the 1992 Olympic Games—taking place in Barcelona, Spain—he jumped at the chance.
Mercury teamed up with pianist Mike Moran (who played on "The Great Pretender"), singing his parts and her parts in the same operatic falsetto heard on "Exercises In Free Love." They then sent the tracks to Caballé, and she recorded her parts in another studio.
One Song Became Full Album
It was very quickly decided that one song wasn't enough, and the collaboration was extended to a full album, which also included a new version of "Exercises In Free Love," with new lyrics in Spanish and a new title ("Ensueño").
The title track, "Barcelona," became a huge hit, and the album is surprisingly diverse, from the Japanese-inspired "La Japonaise," to the gospel of "The Golden Boy," to the heavy orchestration of "The Fallen Priest." Meanwhile, "How Can I Go On" sounds like a show tunes standard (with John Deacon on bass) and "Guide Me Home" is a majestic and operatic duet between Mercury and Caballé.