'1975 - The Year Of Queen' Radio Programme
This programme was broadcast on BBC Radio 2 on 9 November 2015, from 10pm to 11pm, lasting 56 minutes.
As the title suggests, it focuses on the year 1975, and covers Queen's early shows, their relationship with Trident, TV exposure, the build up to the Hammersmith concert, and it's impact. Unusually, there is very little discussion about the track 'Bohemian Rhapsody'.
The programme features entirely new interviews with Brian and Roger (although Brian is far more prominent) and short narration from DJ Bob Harris, but no other contributors. It features a total of 9 tracks, namely 6 studio tracks, 1 track recorded during a BBC session, and two live tracks. With the exception of one of the live tracks, they are the complete versions, but are edited slightly at the end to omit the full outros.
Short excerpts of the interviews were also included as video footage as part of the 'Looking Back At The Odeon' featurette on the 'A Night At The Odeon' DVD and Blu-ray releases.
Bob: Hello, I'm Bob Harris, and forty years ago this month I was getting ready to host a very special live broadcast from the Hammersmith Odeon in London. The date was Christmas Eve, the band was Queen, and this 'Old Grey Whistle Test' concert was to be the climax of an incredible year for the band. They started 1975 on twenty pounds a week, but they ended it with a classic album in 'A Night At The Opera' and a chart topping single in 'Bohemian Rhapsody', and over the next hour, we're gonna find out how they did it, through the memories of Roger Taylor and of Brian May
Brian: It's getting a little dim now, we're talking how many years ago? Forty years ago, my God.
Roger: It's so hard when you try and cast your mind back into the seventies, it's like, it's like going back in a sort of brown, beige era, when everybody smoked, and it sort of, it almost feels like it was black and white, you know, but with beige and brown overtones
['Seven Seas Of Rhye' from 'Queen II' is played]
Brian: We weren't in England that much at this time, you have to remember we were on tour most of the time, when we weren't on tour we were in a studio, and you don't get out much when you're in a studio, I've got to tell you, you do not have a social life when you're in a studio, you may go out and drink after, after your, your session, but really you don't go any place and you don't see normal life so from the point of view of experiencing what England was like, I couldn't tell you, I couldn't tell you what England was like, I couldn't even tell you what kind of music was going on, because you're insulated from that aswell unless you make a big effort to get out, because your, what, what was happening with us was so all consuming, um, you know I would see my family, but I would, basically from about 1970 to somewhere in the eighties we would tour eight or nine months of the year, and the rest of the time would be in the studio, so I can't tell you what England was like really, I really can't, but I couldn't do anything about it, I just couldn't communicate, there was not a way of communicating with the world, I lost touch with all my friends from school, except my very, very closest friends, but those periods where it's full on, and you're kind of conquering the world, that's it, er, that's what you do, and, um, it was great, ha, ha, ha, but you know, it's a bit, people who gone off to, on, on ships to discover the north west passage, it's the same thing, you know, they just dedicate their lives to that, and that's what they do, they come back a few years later, and, and everything's different. In a way that's what I wrote, that's why I wrote '39', the wrong, the wrong song, the wrong song at the right time. '39' was about a bunch of spacemen who went away on a journey, and um, to them it was only a year, they, they hardly noticed the passage of time, but, um, in their minds, but also in reality, because of the special, because of the general relativistic time dilation effect, as discovered by Einstein, um, when they come back it's a hundred years later, and all their children have died, you know, their wives, their kids, probably their grandchildren have died, and they, er, they find everything is different, and that, you know, part of that was just kind of writing a jolly little folk song in the style of what folk music was when I was a kid, but also partly I was kind of paralleling what, what our lives were like
['39' is played]
Bob: I'm Bob Harris, and this is '1975 - The Year Of Queen'. Back in those days, Freddie Mercury claimed to have never been on a bus in his life, but Brian May remembers the period rather differently
Brian: Freddie's quoted as saying he would never go on a bus, but I went on a lot of buses with Fred, I've gotta tell you, in the days when we were signed to Trident Audio Productions but nothing was happening, and David Bowie was appearing at um, Finsbury Park, sort of, The Rainbow, you know, and all kinds of people were having hits, who we regarded as our generation, and nothing was happening with us, we would go up every day, me and Freddie on the bus, the top at the front and sit there and um, I think it was a number nine, and er, we'd go up to Trident Audio Productions and sit in their offices and say what is happening, why haven't you done anything about management, why don't we have any studio time, because we had all the songs ready and everything, and basically they were waiting until they had a little break in their schedules in their studios, so they could shove us in in dark time and not have to pay for it, so it was a bad situation really, um, and yes we saw buses, and Fred saw buses for sure, and have, having been through that for a long time, I mean I went on the tube for years aswell when I was, um, teaching at a comprehensive school just prior to that, so I kind of paid my dues on public transport, but I don't wanna go back to public, given the choice I don't wanna, I don't wanna go back
['I'm In Love With My Car' is played]
Bob: Roger Taylor's song 'I'm In Love With My Car', from 'A Night At The Opera'. By the end of 1974, Queen looked to be on the up and up, but appearances were deceptive, although as Brian recalls, even hard times have their uses
Brian: I think adversity does make you strong, and we had a, a fair bit of adversitry - adversitry? - adversity - er, me getting ill, you know I got the hepititis thing in the States, which was a real blow, because we were just about to hit er, um, the west coast, and obviously we never got there on the first tour, um, I got sick in Boston, um, woke up very yellow one morning, and I still don't really know why, but er, I had to be kind of smuggled home on the plane, and then Freddie had some problems too, um, we also had a very, very hard time with the press and the media in England, you know, we were very kind of villified and dismissed
Roger: We did feel like outsiders in a way because we felt unfashionable but that, we had the strength of mind to realise that unfashionable wasn't neccessarily a bad thing because I think if, you know, the, you could see people liking our music, I mean a lot of people, and that, that made you think well who cares what, what, you know, er, Nic-, it doesn't matter, that's three people you know who are, who, who are trying to make a name for themselves in, in, in acerbic journalism, and we're just trying to make music really, and lots of people are liking it, we must be doing something right
Brian: It bound us together as a group, I think, er, when you, when you feel in a sense attacked from the outside, it does make you strong and the great thing about being a group as opposed to a solo artist is that you have that amazing, um, resiliance, you can work off each other, you can prop each other up when necessary, and each of us began to assume a role, it's like building the four corners of your castle, and we were, the great thing we, we could say anything to each other and we could attack each other and we did so in a sense nothing that anyone could say on the outside could be as bad as what we could wreak on each other so we developed a very strong kind of fighting spirit I think, yeah, yeah, and a belief, you know, we, we shared this belief that we were something special, you know, precocious boys if you like, but if you don't have that belief, what is your, your driving force
['Keep Yourself Alive' from the first BBC session is played]
Brian: By that time, as Queen, we were a very well oiled unit, you know, John was completely in rapport with, with Roger's bass drum, you know, you, you couldn't separate them, amazing the, the cohesion that was there, and of course Freddie was Freddie, and would, would do anything, you know, what he felt like, there were no boundaries for Freddie, if he felt like singing a particular thing at a particular time he would just do it, so we would, we would go with him
Roger: Fred just wanted to shock people, and, and, or just make them laugh as well, you know, like a strange mixture of, of, I mean when we first saw him in his Kermit The Frog outfit, you know, with the, um, the Nijinsky ballet full, full length thing, we thought Christ, you've got a nerve, and why not
Brian: Freddie was a great player, as well, wonder player and sometimes underestimated, even by himself, I have to say, because later on he didn't want to play piano, he wanted other people to play it for him, but he had this wonderful percussive, rhythmic touch, unequalled actually, he could just drive the band effortlessly, you know
Roger: He was fantastic to play with
Brian: He really was great
Roger: Really, especially for a drummer it's, it's, amazing rhythm, rhythmic sense actually, yeah
Brian: It was all very direct as well, it was only the four of us, there's no sort of safety net there at all, I mean there's, there's no backing tapes, there's no extra musicians, nothing, it's just four people on there, and I think that comes across, it does come across kind of dangerous and focussed
Roger: You had to be able to play well, otherwise you were, I mean it was quite serious, you know, virtuosos were the, were the thing of the day in a way, you know, after Hendrix and Eric Clapton and all that stuff and, and so you, you really had to be a good player otherwise the student circuit would have laughed you off really, you know, I don't think, you know, you could, just quirkiness wouldn't do it, you know
Brian: I mean going back to earlier times than that, there was a, a moment where there was the first time that anyone came to the show having heard the record, I mean that's a big demarkation line as well, I remember playing some sort of technical college in North London, and going along, nobody had heard of us, we were, we were like Queen and disco, and um, we played our first set, and then the disco came on, and did their thing, it was a college, I can't remember the name of the college, and um, people kind of danced around like they do, you know, oh what an interesting group, and then um, the lady who was the, the kind of head of ents or whatever it was on, in the college came up and said we've had a special request for the second half, um, and the people say, you know, they, they think you're very good, but could we have the disco instead for the second half, instead of you guys, so we went, do we get paid, ha, ha, ha, ha, thanks, bye, um, so I mean that's the kind of stuff that happens to you, that's the kind of, sort of confidence sapping thing that happens to everybody when they don't have a record out, people have no idea what they're looking at, and you know, they would say, you know, can you play 'Purple Haze', or you know, can you do 'Paranoid' or whatever, you know there's no concept that, that we were trying to say anything that was of any importance, and it's really only having a record out there which gives people the chance to absorb things and realise that this is something they might wanna, they might wanna see
['Killer Queen' is played]
Brian: We'd been to America, and had some great beginnings, you know, of success, and um, we really just wanted to be a rock band, no, it wasn't like we want to be a glam band, because the glam thing was sort of something a little bit over to one side, and yes we did kind of have fingernail polish, and a bit of make up here and there, and we did go for the drama, it was always, but it was more like drama than lets be pretty, it was lets, lets be dramatic in the music, we have lights, we have sound, we will wear the stuff which, which makes an impact, and we'll, you know, use what um, what, what looks we have I suppose, um, you know, the difference between us and, say Slade on the one hand, and say Kiss on the other hand, is, is enormous, we're much closer really to, to groups who, who wanted to be loud and dangerous I suppose, but, you know it, it is hard to define what we were, and I don't think we ever really defined it ourselves, you know, 'Killer Queen', the song, doesn't fit into any of that, it's a very sophisticated and quite light record, and I remember having some doubts about it, because it, I thought, you know, perhaps it er, gives the wrong idea about what we might be like on stage, but you know, a good song is a good song, and a hit is a hit, and it was the right thing to do, because it got us to a very broad audience, and er, to my mind, looking back, you know, in retrospect I think it's a very good rock song, and I think it's probably one of the better records we ever made, we were still very poor, nothing had changed from that point of view, er, because we were still, I think we were on twenty quid a week at that point, you know, from our management company, I'm not exaggerating, and um, you know it was that point where the managers are all building their swimming pools and driving round in their Rolls Royces and you're thinking um, where did it all go? So there was a crisis coming, obviously there was a crunch coming, um, and that's the kind of period where I remember Freddie saying that he needed a piano, and they said yes well we'll rent you a piano if we gave you the money, you'd only spend it wouldn't you, you know, so there was definitely a management crisis coming along, um, but we had the external trappings of being stars and I'm sure everybody thought we were millionaires
['Death On Two Legs' is played]
Brian: The management thing was, was a headache, um, we didn't go in it to make money, that's for sure, you know, we went in it because we wanted to do what we do and we, we thought we had something to say, but at the same time when you're scraping around to try and feed the beginnings of a family and you've got no income, it's not great, um, so yes we came to a crisis with our managers and we looked for a way out, which was quite difficult actually because they had us quite neatly bound up contractually, um, but with the help of a very good lawyer, er, we found our way out, and John Reid, this is cutting a very long story short, because we saw other managers aswell, including Peter Grant, Peter Grant was very, was wonderfully helpful to us actually, very generous to us, and gave us his advice, free of any kind of encumburence, but we ended up, um, going with John Reid, who was Elton's manager at the time, and, and er, there was a, a moment where John said OK, I can now do this, you're, you're gonna be free of your old commitments to Trident, and you go away and make the best record you've ever made, and I will sort out the money side, so I think he put us on like thirty quid a week, instead of twenty quid a week, and we were made, ha, no it was a bit, little bit better than that, but um, you know, it was very much make or break at that time, and I think if we hadn't made 'A Night At The Opera' and 'Bohemian Rhapsody' hadn't been the huge hit that it was, it's questionable whether we would have been able to carry on that much longer in the huge debt that we were up to that point, when, when you're in debt people don't want to hire you PA's, and lights and ha, ha, you know it becomes very difficult if you're in debt for a long time, which we were
Roger: And er, so we, this is really our, this is a big last shot, you know, bang, and I had a great faith in 'Bohemian Rhapsody', and, and, and the band
Brian: So we just let it all rip, you know
Roger: It was either going to be something that worked, or really didn't work, and er, happily it was the former
['Bohemian Rhapsody' is played]
Bob: I'm Bob Harris, and this is '1975 - The Year Of Queen'. So by the middle of 1975, all the elements were dropping into place for Queen. They had new management, they had some money in their pockets, a headlining UK tour, and the best music of their careers, wrapped up and ready to go. There was just one thing missing
Brian: The big difference on that tour, from the previous one, was that we had this, er, the beginnings of some TV re-enforcement. Now, I remember going out with Mott The Hoople, on their tour, which was our first British tour, and they would stop every now and again to go in and do a 'Top Of The Pops', and that would be an enormous kind of, have an enormous effect on the audience, they would come in knowing it, you know, and there was a real feeling of this is now, this is happening
Roger: It did sort of take us onto another level which we were very aware of really, and um, as we went round the world, we sort of saw, er, and we saw the power of the video aswell, which came out of the, the song 'Bohemian Rhapsody', which we made a video for, simply because we were on tour, and we weren't able to go on 'Top Of The Pops'
Brian: 'Cos TV makes all the difference, it's TV which makes you stopped in the street, makes people feel like they know you
Roger: 'Top Of The Pops' was, you know, the big springboard, I suppose, in terms of success but, and sadly it had this awful lip sync tradition, you know, and um, which we were always uncomfortable with and um, er, some people were actually brilliant at it, but we weren't, you know, we dealt with it, but, but we were always very uncomfortable, weren't we?
Brian: Yeah it was odd, very unreal kind of situation
Roger: You know something's wrong when, as a, as a drummer, when they're giving you plastic cymbals that don't make any noise when you hit them, um, it's sort of, it's like giving sort of Paganini a violin with no strings on it, you know, here you go mate, do you best with that
Bob: Well there was nothing like that of course on the 'Old Grey Whistle Test' where bands rose or fell entirely on their musical ability, and so Queen were very happy to accept our invitation to broadcast live from the Hammersmith Odeon on Christmas Eve 1975
Roger: I think when you're on a tour, you get a certain momentum, and, and I remember being quite worried because we had to break, I can't remember how long it was for, it was either a week or ten days or something like that, I remember thinking, ah, then we've got to go back and just do this one, and not only that, this one is gonna be live on TV and radio, and are we have gonna lost, will we have lost our momentum and our, you know all that sort of stuff that you developed on a tour, that sort of magic moments really, you know it was, and plus the fact having the flu made it very hard, tough night for me, so
Brian: You've been at home, haven't you, as well (Roger: sorry?) you, you've spent time at home at the end, you've sort got out of the tour feeling, so it was hard to get ourselves back into that, I would say, yeah, you were not well at all were you
Roger: No, no, you have to drag yourself up, from the, from the ground again, so I do remember being quite, sort of worried about it
Bob: So, the scene is set, I'm dressed up in white top hat and tails, ready to introduce the band to a national audience in front of a local audience well into the Christmas spirit. Everything was ready to go
Brian: We normally did a big dramatic entrance, and everything was dark, and there's lots of noise and smoke and dry ice and explosions and stuff, and so it gave you great confidence coming on the stage, on this occasion, they had the audience lit for TV, so we went on stage and kind of looked around, and there were all the people's faces, it was quite strange and eerie and nervewracking, it was new to me, because we hadn't done telly before, really, and um, not only that, they weren't ready for us, they had, they were saying no, no, no, no, another two minutes, just hold it, no, and then ten, nine, eight, whatever, so you're doing all this in front of your audience, and it was really strange, because we weren't communicating, it was like there was a, a wall, a sort of a transparent wall there, and then suddenly it was gonna come down, um, but it did, as soon as we were, we were on we were on, and it suddenly, every, everything changed and the audience kind of got up, and did a lot of waving and a lot of noise, which was great, then we were into it, but I remember that first moment as being quite, um, un-, unreal really, very strange
['Now I'm Here' from 'A Night At The Odeon' is played]
Bob: As you've just heard, the concert went down a storm, and went a long way to establishing Queen as one of the greatest British rock bands ever. Mightily relieved, they were able to approach the encores in rather more relaxed fashion
Brian: You've done your show, you've done what you came there to do, and you've given people their money's worth, and it's like you have license to just have fun, and it's, I think that's a special moment, we always thought it was a great time, so we don't do our own songs anymore, we do other people's songs, where you can feel really free, everybody know's 'em, and um, also we'd always done 'em, from the very beginning, if we wanted to have fun, we would be playing, you know 'Jailhouse Rock' or 'Stupid Cupid', or, which was very, very much a Freddie thing, you know, and we loved it, it's a, it was something really fun, you had to smile, you had to really get into it, so in a way, all the, the barriers are down, the audience are, and us, are almost indistinguishable, we're just having a good time, and we loved that rock 'n' roll stuff, suited Freddie very well, I've gotta say, 'cos Freddie's heroes were like Elvis and Cliff, you know, when he was a boy in India, he was singing these, these rock 'n' roll songs, and he loved it, it was a second nature to him
[An excerpt of 'Jailhouse Rock Medley' from 'A Night At The Odeon' is played, from approx 1:49 onwards]
Bob: So the show's done, it's gone really well, and everybody goes home happy, well, everybody apart from Roger Taylor
Roger: And I had a brand new thing called a video recorder at home, and I got home, still with my raging flu, and very keen to see what we'd got, and of course, it hadn't, I had, I'd done something wrong, and
(An excerpt of Freddie from 'A Night At The Odeon' : 'Thank you very much, goodnight everybody')
Bob: So forty years on, how do Brian and Roger look back on Queen's legacy, and on that year that made them what they are today?
Brian: I love it, you know, I love what's happened to us, I love the privileges we've had, and, and the, the incredible places we've been, but there's always a part of me which is a little bit somewhere else, you know I have a little sort of element of detachment I suppose, I don't know whether that's good or bad, it's just another element in the whole mix that, that was Queen, and is I suppose it is kind of still is Queen, 'cos we'll die being Queen, I realise that now, you know, when Freddie went there was definitely a moment from me, I don't know about the others, but, where I just wanted to junk it all, I didn't wanna be called guitarist of Queen anymore, to me that was over and I didn't want to think about it, I went out on tour and didn't want to mention Queen, didn't want to play Queen songs, um, and it was kind of neccessary at the time, I had to go through that, it was a cleansing and, an experience which enabled me to move on, but it was ultimately completely wrong, because people will always see us in that way, and you can adapt it, and modify it, but basically I will always be that guy who was, who was in Queen and, and did that stuff, and I'm not really bothered about that anymore, I don't feel like I have to apologise for it anymore, it's, it's part of me, and it's, my God we worked all those years to build up that wonderful thing that was Queen, so I'm, I'm not gonna kind of, um, decry it anymore, you know, I, I feel comfortable with being whatever Queen is in two thousand and, and I, I couldn't define it, but it's still here
Bob: And if 1975 hadn't proved to be so crucial to the band, how would things have turned out?
Roger: Who knows, you know, I might have been a plumber. I would have survived though
Bob: This is BBC Radio 2, online, on digital radio, and on 88-91 FM.