TV Review: Queen - Days Of Our Lives [BBC iPlayer]

on Friday, June 03, 2011
'Queen - Days Of Our Lives' // Words: Paul Dean

SYNOPSIS: The story of British rock band Queen, formed in 1971. The band members reveal how four strong-minded individuals worked together so successfully for four decades. (

I love Queen. Since I was young they've been a defining part of my life and they're so totally infused with the rest of my being that it's impossible for me to even begin to describe the influence they've had on me or the depth of emotion that they inspire in me.

But I don't think my bias makes anything I say any less true. Queen were, and are, an exceptional case, a musical phenomenon of the most extraordinary nature, formed from some quite unusual elements and responsible for some of music's greatest, most original, most technically brilliant and most enduring elements.

Their story is the definitive music biography, of which most other acts can claim to share only one or two chapters. Excess, genius, tragedy, innovation, tantrums, glory, adulation, anthems and even abject poverty form the legend of a band who, whatever they suffered, managed to stay together twice as long as The Beatles, only finally being halted by the death of their lead singer, yet somehow then finding themselves endlessly reborn and rejuvenated.

A life's worth of Queen has given me plenty of time to watch or to read the countless documentaries, books, features or articles about them. I know the interviews, I've seen the concert tapes and heard all the familiar quotes and anecdotes.

This two-part BBC retrospective is a breath of fresh air, not only because it features previously unbroadcast footage (some from the recent Queen exhibition in London, some never before seen publicly) or new interviews with band members, but because it is a comprehensive, intelligent and revealing work where the band discuss, rather than dismiss, questions about their history and their body of work.

Queen have been famously savaged by music journalists in times past and this, combined with a terminally ill Freddie Mercury being hounded by the press, has no doubt made them less inclined to talk at length. This has been our loss, because Queen always were an articulate and diverse group.

Sadly, bassist John Deacon has retired from public life, but we still get to see drummer Roger Taylor and guitarist Brian May reflect upon their fascinating history, from playing together in pre-Queen days, to being ripped off by their management company, to touring a South American dictatorship, to alienating the US rock market by dressing in drag for 'I Want To Break Free'. Alongside them are managers, producers, critics and even journalist Tony Stewart, whose NME article on a mid-70s Freddie Mercury was simply, and famously, titled "Is this man a prat?"

May is as pensive, gentle and intelligent as he's ever been, while Taylor is as wonderfully frank and straight-talking as he usually is. "We Are The Champions?" An interviewer asks him in some 1970s footage. "Where's the modesty gone?" "Well, there isn't any", is his original answer. Twenty five years later his opinion hasn't changed. "It's only a song, isn't it? Fuck 'em."

The first part of the documentary charts the genesis of the band, which began with the meeting of a would-be dentist, a PhD astronomy student and an immigrant boy from Zanzibar. After their breakthrough hit, the Ivor Novello-winning 'Killer Queen', with its intelligent lyrics, complex melodies and layers of crisp production, Queen seeemed to write one rock classic after another, culminating in 'We Are The Champions', a song interpreted by some as the world's most famous gay pride anthem.

Along the way they tussled with punk ("Sid was a moron. He *was* an idiot", says Taylor), filled Hyde Park and created some of the most complex and technically accomplished rock records ever, with May finding himself heralded as a guitar virtuoso.

The second part follows a fractured Queen into the early 80s, after their almost bizarre foray into disco-rock, through their overblown parties (featuring one man whose gimmick was that he "laid under meat"), being mistaken for a black band, Deacon devising and then promptly forgetting the riff to 'Under Pressure', their world-stopping performance at Live Aid and their holding the first stadium concert behind the iron curtain.

It ends, of course, with an ailing Freddie Mercury chased by tabloids ("You fucking wankers", says an emotional Taylor) yet still showing incredible persistence in his craft and even recording vocal tracks in his final days. Mecury became surely the most famous casualty of AIDS and was later celebrated at a stellar Wembley tribute to raise awareness of the disease, something that saw the unlikely spectacle of Axl Rose hugging Elton John.

To some extent, every Queen documentary is its own tribute to Mercury, and this too is a wonderful portrait of a beautiful human being, but Queen was always more than the sum of its parts, more than just four extremely talented men who each wrote several of the blockbuster hits that most bands manage perhaps one of.

This is the first documentary that has been comprehensive enough to capture Queen in its entirety, to give depth to the personalities behind the characters seen on stage and to properly chart its ups and downs. If you want to follow the life of a stunning rock band, or if you never quite understood how Queen became the force of nature that they are, this is where to start.

STREAM: MGMT vs David Bowie & Queen - 'Pressure Time' (Download for free from Mighty Mike)

Watch 'Days Of Our Lives' (Part 1 and Part 2 on BBC iPlayer until 22:59, Monday 6 June '11.

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