We Will Rock You: The Remarkable Unstoppable Rise of Queen

Since their formation in the late 1960s, originally known then as Smile, the rock band that went on to be named Queen has proven to be as iconic as they have been successful and have continued to make an indelible mark on the history of music.

Their rise to prominence has been adapted into massively successful feature films and theater productions that have entertained millions, and they live long in our collective consciousness even now, some thirty-plus years after the tragic passing of their legendary singer and frontman Freddie Mercury.

Rise of Rock Royalty

In their classic four-piece line-up of Mercury, visionary lead guitarist Brian May, drummer Roger Taylor and bass player John Deacon, Queen arrived on the scene with their 1973 self-titled album. 

Their first two albums, though critically well-received, failed to make that much of a decent in the charts in the UK or the US, but their third album, Sheer Heart Attack, did spawn their first big-selling single. 

1974’s Killer Queen, a typically bombastic piece written by Mercury, scored the band a number two hit in the UK and went to number 12 in the States and to some degree, Queen had arrived on the mainstream scene, but it would take a monumental hit, released the following October, to truly break the mold.

Famously, as depicted in the movie of the same name, bosses at EMI were not all that enthusiastic about Bohemian Rhapsody, a song that must have at the time felt more than a little absurd, mainly because there had never been a single quite like it.

The track, once again penned by Mercury, is effectively a six-minute rock opera composed of disparate themes and is, to put it mildly, over-the-top in the extreme. Even in the band’s wildest dreams, they couldn’t have thought it would be as significant and groundbreaking as it went on to become.

The song took three weeks to record and reportedly saw May, Mercury, and Taylor sing their vocal parts for 10 to 12 hours a day. When it was released, radio stations were reluctant to play it until Capital Radio D.J. Kenny Everett, every bit as flamboyant and extraverted as Mercury, played portions of the song, as he’d been told he couldn’t play it in its entirety. 

He played it a reported 14 times in two days, leading to listeners rushing to record shops to buy the entire single so they could hear it in full, the only problem being that it hadn’t yet been released. 

It was eventually released on October 31st, 1975, and was a Christmas number in the UK and stayed at the top of the charts for nine weeks and is, to date, the third biggest-selling single of all time in the United Kingdom and officially launched the band into the stratosphere.

The band released a string of hits in the late 70s and early 80s on both sides of the Atlantic, scoring their first US number one with Crazy Little Thing Called Love in 1979 and did so again the next year with Deacon-led bass thumper Another One Bites the Dust.

The band had fallen a little in terms of their pomp ahead of their famous Wembley Stadium concert appearance during Live Aid in 1985, which once again brought the band to the fore and that led to more hugely successful tours that saw the band play sell-out concerts all around the world, which was a testament to their powers, able to play to a hundred thousand plus screaming fans in Rio and similarly massive gigs in all corners of the planet. 

Death of a Legend

Freddie Mercury passed away from AIDs in November 1991, and the world mourned. A tremendous outpouring of emotion occurred following his death, and his iconic talents have continued to be hugely celebrated by generations that have followed.

Oscar Winning Film

In 2018 the band sanctioned a biopic of the band, but essentially Mercury, in the movie Bohemian Rhapsody. The film proved a smash hit, not least because of the faithful recreation of many of the band’s most noteworthy performances, as opposed to looking to use inspiring stock music and footage. The film saw its lead, Rami Malek, take home the Best Actor Oscar at the 91st Academy Awards. 

The film grossed almost a billion dollars at the box office, and that off the back of a budget of less than $55 million goes some way to show the enduring popularity of the band. 

Theater Box Office Smash

Another endeavor borne off the back of the majesty that is Queen is Ben Elton’s jukebox musical We Will Rock You. It opened at the Dominion Theater in London’s West End in May 2002 and hasn’t looked back.

When it first closed in 2014, it was the eleventh longest-running musical in the West End, and it returns this June for another 12-week run, this time at the London Coliseum. This is despite critics not being all that appreciative of the musical, to say the least.

Sell Out Tours

The idea of Queen playing as a band without Freddie Mercury will have felt almost blasphemous back in the early 90s, but that’s precisely what they have done and done very successfully indeed.

Though the band has not released a studio album since 1995, they have mounted hugely successful tours. Firstly with Paul Rodgers, formerly of Free and Bad Company, replacing Mercury and then more recently with Adam Lambert taking the hot seat.

In many ways, Queen are something of a money-making machine, and everything connected with the seminal rock band turning to gold, but this is built chiefly on the astounding back catalog created during the band’s historic rise, which saw them sell over 300 million records worldwide; indeed the only band to have ever sold more albums and singles than Queen are the Beatles.

Their appeal doesn’t seem to have waned, and their fan base continues to grow with the passing years.