Northern Star Playlist: Freddie Mercury

By Parker Otto

Thursday marks the 73rd birthday of the greatest frontman that rock has ever or will ever see: Farrokh Bulsara, more commonly known as Freddie Mercury. Mercury was the pianist and lead singer of Queen, the band that created some of the greatest rock songs of all time including “We Will Rock You,” “Somebody to Love” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” He also is one of the most iconic members of the LGBTQ+ community due to his unapologetic persona.

Although he died too young at the age of 45, as a result of AIDS-induced bronchopneumonia, Mercury’s voice still rings true to this day with the members of Queen still touring in memory of their colleague, posthumous material of Mercury’s continuing to be released. In 2018, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a biopic about Mercury, grossed over 900 million dollars and earned various awards, including an Academy Award for Best Actor for Rami Malek’s portrayal of Mercury. 

In honor of Mr. Fahrenhiet’s birthday, here is a playlist comprised of songs, either by Mercury or the rest of Queen, that best represent Mercury’s work as a musician.

Seven Seas of Rhye- written by Freddie Mercury

This 1974 song was Queen’s first major hit after the group performed this song on “Top of the Pops” on the BBC. The song dabbles in the operatic, something Queen would become famous for, and contains images that are fantasy based including “mighty titans” and “thunder fire.” The song is catchy with a crazed piano introduction that leads to a whirlwind of epic proportions and would showcase all of Queen’s potential. 

Scandal- written by Brian May

In the late 80s, Queen underwent much tabloid exposure due, in part, to rumors that Freddie Mercury was ill. While Mercury had been diagnosed with AIDS, only a few close friends, family and the members of Queen knew his condition. This song was an attack on the tabloids that constantly harassed Queen especially due to Mercury’s public persona. “Hey scandal, they’re gonna turn our lives into a freak show. They’ll see the heart-ache, they’ll see our love break.” This particular lyric not only highlights Mercury being ousted by the press for his sexuality, but also for guitarist Brian May who was currently going through a messy divorce.

Who Wants to Live Forever- written by Brian May

Released in 1986, a year before Mercury would be diagnosed with AIDS, this track from “A Kind of Magic” takes on a whole new meaning after learning of the singer’s unfortunate fate. The lyrics “There’s no chance for us/It’s all decided for us/This world has only one/Sweet moment set aside for us” reflects how, during the AIDS Crisis, treating those stricken with the disease with compassion was unheard of due to the lack of knowledge the world had of the disease. While no one lives forever, the thought of losing Freddie so young was horrifying to think of. Yet, listening to this song, it’s almost as if Freddie knew he wouldn’t live to an old age like his fellow bandmates.

Don’t Stop Me Now- written by Freddie Mercury

One of the most memorable songs from the album “Jazz,” “Don’t Stop Me Now” is a pure testament to who Mercury was: a sensitive, flamboyant performer who wanted to entertain the masses. It’s rambunctious, it’s unapologetic, it’s Freddie Mercury.

Spread Your Wings- written by John Deacon

While made in 1977, this track written by bassist John Deacon could be applicable to the relationship between Freddie Mercury and personal manager Paul Prenter. Prenter was also romantically linked to Mercury when Mercury was still in the closet. Following the relationship’s disintegration, Prenter sold a story to a tabliod publication that ousted Mercury as gay when he had not come out publicly. The song details a man who is brought down by his life until he decides to “pull himself together” and move on with life. This particular lyric, “Pull yourself together/’Cause you know you should do better,” could be seen as a voice urging Freddie to abandon this toxic relationship. Thankfully, by the mid 80s, Mercury had found a more healthy relationship with hairdresser Jim Hutton who would stay with Mercury until the end.

The Show Must Go On- written by Brian May

Written during the recording of Queen’s final album with Mercury, “Innuendo,” guitarist Brian May wrote the song for Mercury after coming up with the concept for the song with the frontman. Recording the song was a constant state of tension, as there was much doubt if Mercury could even sing the track. Mercury was so ill and frail that Queen didn’t even shoot a music video for the track, instead compiling clips from previous videos. According to Brian May, Mercury drank vodka and performed the song in one take. And the rest is history. Mercury would die just a month after the song’s release as a single.

Love of My Life- written by Freddie Mercury

Written for Mary Austin, Mercury’s fiancée turned lifelong friend, “Love of My Life” was performed as a duet between piano and guitar but, for live performances, Brian May reworked the song into a melody on a 12 string acoustic guitar. But whether it’s the version found on “A Night at the Opera” or performed live, “Love of My Life” is a beautiful song about both romantic and platonic love. When Mercury originally wrote the song, he was engaged but still coming to terms with his sexuality. In the years to follow, after Austin and Mercury split, the song would evolve into a tribute to the greatest friend Mercury ever had.

Barcelona- written by Freddie Mercury and Mike Moran

As seen in songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Innuendo,” both written by Mercury, as well as the title of the album “A Night at the Opera,” Mercury had an affinity for opera. When it was revealed that Barcelona would host the 1992 Summer Olympic Games, famed opera singer Montserrat Caballé was asked by the city to compose a song for the games. Caballé approached Mercury to help her and this resulted in two incredible voices coming together in perfect harmony. After the pair worked together, Caballé grew to respect Mercury’s four-octave vocal range. Although Mercury did not live to see the games, this song lives forever as Mercury finally getting to work with a member of the craft he loved.

Ay-Oh- written by Freddie Mercury

Less of a song and more of a vocal improvisation, this track can be found on the soundtrack for the film “Bohemian Rhapsody” and was taken from Queen’s iconic set at the Live Aid concert, which is often considered the greatest live performance of all time. Mercury would shout operatic syllables towards the audience for them to repeat back and halfway through his performance, Mercury hit a note for so long that the crowd started to wildly cheer. This note was christened “The Note Heard ‘Round The World” and is a necessary part of any Queen playlist.

These Are The Days of Our Lives- written by Roger Taylor

This song’s main theme of reminiscence now takes on a new meaning since Mercury’s passing. The lyrics reflect on how “Those days are all gone now but one thing is true/When I look and I find I still love you.” The most memorable part of the song’s creation was its music video, which was the last video to be made with Freddie Mercury on camera. In the video, Freddie has been rendered pale and frail as a result of his disease. Seeing this great man reduced to a shell of himself is heartbreaking. Although Mercury’s physical prowess had been stolen, his voice still amazing and his vocals on the entire album of “Innuendo” are amazing due to what he was experiencing at the time. 

Somebody to Love- written by Freddie Mercury

Mercury has gone on record many times and stated that this song is his favorite that Queen ever made and no one can blame him. With it’s obvious roots in gospel music, Mercury’s leading vocals paired with a backing chorus of him, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon make this track worthy of the Queen name. The lyrics are iconic, the opening piano is sweet to hear and the guitar solo will make listeners “air guitar” along to the track. It’s a fine combination of gospel and rock and roll.

I Want to Break Free- written by John Deacon

This song contains many possible meanings. Some may view this as a song of empowerment but, as sung by Mercury, the song could also be an allusion to coming out of the closet. Whatever meaning one gets from the song, “I Want to Break Free” is a track that will inspire those who hear it. The music video for the song is equally famous due to the band, based on an idea by drummer Roger Taylor, dressing in drag. The video was banned by MTV and resulted in public scrutiny of the group. Today, the video has proven to not only be entertaining but groundbreaking as well by confronting the status quo of gender expression.

The Great Pretender- written by Buck Ram

Originally made by The Platters in 1955, this song has been covered by many great artists including Roy Orbison, Sam Cooke and The Statler Brothers. But in 1987, Freddie Mercury covered the song and it fit his personality. The song discussed a man who, on the outside, appears confident but in actuality is sensitive and lonely. This lyric, in particular, sums up Mercury: “I seem to be what I’m not (you see).” Mercury, on stage, appeared to be such a diva who was always the life of the party but, in reality, he was shy and kept to his close friends. 

No One But You (Only the Good Die Young)- written by Brian May

Written in 1997, six years after Mercury’s death, the recording marked the end of John Deacon’s time with Queen as he would retire following the song’s release. The song is a tribute to Mercury as well as those who died too young. In particular, the lyrics “And so we grace another table/And raise our glasses one more time/There’s a face at the window/And I ain’t never, never sayin’ goodbye” demonstrate how though Queen may have lost their frontman, the world will always have Freddie Mercury. 

Bohemian Rhapsody- written by Freddie Mercury

The operatic rock song is not only the greatest Queen song, it is probably the greatest rock song ever made. It’s better than “Free Bird,” “Hey Jude,” “Wild Horses,” “Wish You Were Here” and “Stairway to Heaven” combined thanks to the track being an amalgamation of four talented musicians. Mercury’s lyrics, May’s iconic solo, Taylor’s Galileos and Deacon’s technical wizardry come together to create a song that defied expectations.

Very few people back in 1975 had faith that a song dabbling in opera, comprised of abstract words like “Bismillah” and “Belzebub” and with a six minute runtime would be successful as a single. However, the song reached number one on the UK charts and number nine on the US Billboard Hot 100. In 1992, the song was rereleased in the U.S. and reached number two on the US Billboard Hot 100. On July 24, the iconic music video reached 1 billion views on YouTube and is currently the 168th most viewed video on the site with over 1.02 billion views. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is, quite frankly, the greatest contribution the world has seen from Freddie Mercury.