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it all started with a song

by drbyos

Mick and Keith at Dartford Station while waiting for a train to London. John y Paul in the garden of St. Peter’s Church in Woolton. Bono, Edge, Adam y Larry in the Mullens’ kitchen. Closer, This is Charlie in the classrooms of the Dámaso Centeno de Caballito Institute. Luis Alberto, Edelmiro, Emilio and Rodolfo in the room of the spinetta house on Arribeños street in Bajo Belgrano.

Rock bands are born in unexpected places and circumstances without anyone knowing exactly what is really going on there. Did Jagger and Richards know that that chance meeting between two kids who looked at each other curiously just because both carried Chuck Berry records under his arms would be the beginning of The Rolling Stones? Did those boys gathered in a Dublin home know that what was happening there was the beginning of U2? Lennon y McCartney they talked about music that afternoon at Woolton without knowing that it would be the most successful and talented compositional duo in popular music anchored in rock and pop. In the house of Arribeños Almond was cooked and in that school of Caballito, Sui Generis began.

How to think the beginning of a band? Like those fortuitous moments that just happen without knowing that they are a whole a big bang in their biographies. But also from what happens after the big bang: the songs. A discography in a good road map to think about the biographies of the bands and their musicians. Because what followed after those encounters wherever and however they happened was music.
If a possible beginning in the life of the bands is with a song, in the life of the Queen that song is “Keep Yourself Alive”published on July 6, 1973. Composed by Brian May in 1970, it was the first song that the guitarist showed Roger Taylor and Freddie Mercury, his new bandmates who recently adopted the name of Queen. It was also the band’s first single and the first song from their first album, which they named after the band, “Queen”.

queen’s prehistory

Focused on his undergraduate degree in Astronomy and Physics at Imperial College, Brian May reunited with singer Tim Staffel with whom he had met in 1984, May’s first project, to form this time Smile with Staffel also on bass and keyboardist Chris Smith. And just as Larry Mullen Jr. did to find his future U2 bandmates, May posted an ad on a blackboard at the university where he studied looking for a drummer. Roger Taylor, a dental student, tried and stayed. Instead, Smith left before a show at the Royal Albert Hall. They were still three.

Staffel led Smile rehearsals to a good friend of his, Freddie Bulsara, who immediately became a fan, to the point that one day he proposed as a singer, a role that his friend Staffel still occupied. After a while, Staffel left the band and Bulsara took his place.. With a new singer, the weak point of the Smile was still the bassist. The band recruited Mike Grose with whom they played a handful of shows. At the end of June 1970, Bulsara changed her name to Mercury and suggested that the band also change their name to Queen.

The problems with the bass player continued. After three shows, Grose left the band and was replaced by Barry Mitchell, who lasted a little longer: thirteen concerts, between August 1970 and January 1971. When Mitchell left, Doug Bogie took his place, who completed the two remaining shows for the band and in February John Deacon joined, the ultimate bass player On July 2, Queen played their first show with the classic lineup of Mercury, May, Taylor and Deacon at a Surrey college outside London.

May moved to find where to start recording the songs they composed and got a place in From Lane Lea Studios, Wembley, a newly installed studio looking for bands to try out the new equipment with. Queen carried, perhaps without knowing it, half of what would be their first album. The band played “Liar”, “Keep Yourself Alive”, “Great King Rat”, “The Night Comes Down” and “Jesus”. But everyone loved “Keep Yourself Alive”.

After a show for just six people at Brendon College in London, at the beginning of 1972, the band decided to stop playing and dedicate themselves completely to their first album at Trident Studios. “Queen” was finished recording in November 1972. but it was only published on July 13, 1973 because the band had not finished closing a contract with any record company, until Trident and EMI reached an agreement. Meanwhile, Queen played their unreleased record for the first few months of 1973, although half of the record was made up of those five songs the band used to play in its early days.

«Keep Yourself Alive: historia de un single

Let’s go back to “Keep Yourself Alive”, the beginning of the story. It was the first song that Brian played for Freddie and Roger in 1970, even before the arrival of John Deacon. The original version, recorded at the end of 1971, it featured an acoustic guitar intro that was permanently lost when the band recorded it for their debut album, a reworked version with heavier, faster guitars and the vocal interpretation of Freddie Mercury that would end up changing her completely.

It’s just that when May wrote it almost three years before, she was thinking of a letter full of irony about what people end up being and doing with their lives. “She had thought and conceived Keep Yourself Alive in a very ironic key. For me it meant that in life you can have something more than what happens”, the guitarist would later admit, who always preferred the version recorded in demo form at De Lane Lea studios, in 1971. Nothing ended up remaining from those sessions , except for the songs themselves, those five that would go on the record, but in totally different versions.

Queen live, in 1973.

At the request of the producers, the band re-recorded those songs several times and came to the conclusion that what they didn’t like it was the final remixTherefore, they did several different mixes of the song with various groups of people. In the case of Keep Yourself Alive, Mike Stone’s version, his sound technician was the one they liked the most. Brian May accepted the fact that he had to re-record it and choose between all options, but he was not happy with what finally appeared on his debut album and single.

“I wasn’t quite sure that I could be a composer of nothing, In fact. She simply had an idea that she wanted to capture. And, curiously, the lyrics of ‘Keep Yourself Alive’ were meant to be a kind of commentary, something a little ironic”May himself commented on that first cut of the band. “Everyone thinks that ‘Keep Your Self Alive’ is just a happy song about how great it is to be alive, but really, it’s more about asking yourself, ‘Is there more to life than this?’”

Portada del single «Keep Yourself Alive», published on July 6, 1973.

“Keep Yourself Alive” was released as a single on July 6, 1973, just over a year after it was recorded, but just a week before the release of the album that was its opening. the sound of queen oscillated between the hard rock of Zeppelin and Purple (Mercury still sounded similar to Robert Plant in his high pitches), Bowie’s dramatic pop glam and T-Rex’s danceable, and some flirtations with progressive rock. But Queen’s virtue was to make that the foundation on which to build her own sound, powerful and operatic, dense and dramatic, solid and charismatic from the stage presence of a frontman as unique as he was talented as Freddie Mercury.
Although it is a classic of Quee’s repertoire, “Keep Yourself Alive” did not fare at all well in his time. In fact, it’s the only one of the band’s 68 singles that didn’t even make the charts. But, eighteen years later, he would have a moving revenge based on a prescient decision by the band: was B-side of “The Show Must Go One”, published in October 1991 shortly before the death of Freddie Mercury.

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