By Lachman Balani
TORONTO: We will, we will rock you…! goes one of Freddie’s greatest hits and the one that is acknowledged to be the no music anthem of rock! There is no music or instruments accompanying the lyrics, just Freddie’s powerful voice belting out the words that have gone down in history and is the title of an amazing musical stage extravaganza based on him!
When asked how he came to acquire such a voice, Freddie replied, “I was inspired by Lata Mangeshkar.” (Lataji, take a bow, you deserve it and zillions more!)
On Nov 24 in 1991, rock’s greatest frontman – Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara) – left not only his earthly body but also left a great big void in rock history that till date has not been filled. Oh yes, there are other great lead vocalists and frontmen. But Freddie was a one-horse race! His flamboyant stage persona and powerful vocals over a multiple octave range is unmatched!
Born to a Parsi family in the British protectorate of Zanzibar, Farrokh went to a British style boarding school in Panchgani (about a 7 hour drive from Mumbai) called St. Peter’s, where friends, as was the style in those days, nicknamed him Freddie.
As is typical in a cultured ‘Bawa’ family, he was given formal lessons in a musical instrument- in his case, the classic piano. At the early age of 12, he formed a band and did cover songs of Lucknow-born British rock-and-roll artist Cliff Richard, who was all the rage in India. He also attended St. Mary’s school in Mumbai before moving to London to study art.
In London after many years, in 1970, he teamed up with fellow band members David Taylor (drums), Brian May(guitar) and John Deacon (bass)to form the fabled band ‘Queen’, lending his voice and skill on the piano. They played live for several years before recording their eponymous album ‘Queen’ in 1973 and then Queen ll in 1974. Then came their breakthrough album – ‘Sheer heart Attack’ also in 1974, which is when I got hooked on them, with the legendary lyrics ‘rock of ages’ that spawned so many songs, theatrical musicals and movies. Queen had come of rock age!
Then followed their album, “Night at The Opera!” with the historic number “Bohemian Rhapsody”. This was it! Queen cemented their fame and Freddie was recognized for his ability to do opera style singing- something unprecedented for a rock vocalist.
This was the height of versatility. Freddie was THE rock vocalist and frontman! Roger Daltrey, Robert Plant and even Mick Jagger paled in comparison.
India not only gave the world Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Alla Rakha but here was Freddie- pure ultra super raw rock! And he included the word ‘Bismillah’ in this memorable song.
This was the period when I saw our one and only ‘Bawa’ rock the planet like no man had rocked it before! He was pure vibrant energy! No holds barred as he engaged everyone in the crowd, including those up in the farthest corners of the auditorium!
But did the magic stop there? No way! A couple of years later, the superbly talented Freddie and his band came out with the innocuously named “News of The World” that literally rocked the globe with his legendary no music lyrics “We will rock you”. Yes this was a person of Indian origin who was telling the world that they will be rocked, followed by their shameless claim “We are the Champions!”. Yeah, man, make no mistake about it, the Bawa from India and his band were indeed the champions! The album went platinum four times over in the US!
Queen went on to be recognized as one of the top live shows in the rock universe recording hits such as ‘Fat bottomed Girls’ , ‘I wanna break free’, ‘Radio Gaga’ and numerous more. Their performance at the 1985 Live Aid benefit concert for Africa has been rated in many polls as the greatest rock performance ever, as the audience sang, clapped and swayed in unison!
Building on his versatile voice, Freddie went on to make an album with opera-singer Montserrat of Spain coming out with the famous song ‘Barcelona’ that was played at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain as well as the UEFA football championship games in 1999.
Freddie, as is well known, was bi-sexual and had girlfriends as well as boyfriends. He died on Nov 24, 1991, of AIDS, one day after publicly revealing that he had fallen victim to this terrible disease.
There are several statues erected in his memory all over the world, including a 10-foot one in Montreux, Switzerland, and a life-size statue at the Hard Rock Café in Pune, India, not far from Panchgani where he attended school.
Freddie, your lyrics in the ever green song ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ go like this “No, we will not let you go…”, and so it is; you will forever remain in our hearts, and the ‘radio’ will forever go ‘ga-ga’ over you!
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