Japan’s Killer Queen

My wife has come down with a fever. Queen fever. With an acute case of affliction for Freddie.

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The movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” opened in Japan on November 2nd, and I expressed interest in seeing it in part because I had finally welcomed the music of Queen into my life only the year prior. The first Queen song I ever heard knowing that it was a Queen song was “Radio Gaga”. This was 1984 and the year of new releases by Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Scorpions, Accept, Metallica, Dio, and many other heavy metal bands. This was music to be excited about. “Radio Gaga”? Nothing more than soft eighties pop fluff to my ears. Over the years I heard plenty of Queen classics like “We Are the Champions”, “Rock You”, “Don’t Stop Me Now”, “Somebody to Love”, “You’re My Best Friend”, “Body Language”, “Killer Queen” and of course “Bohemian Rhapsody”, but except for the occasional rock out guitar moment, Queen were to me nothing more than a stadium rock, pomp rock, pop band.

radio gaga

My perception began to change when I heard their name mentioned from time to time in prog rock circles, but it was hearing that “Stone Cold Crazy” from 1974’s “Sheer Heart Attack” was a kind of proto-thrash song that I decided it was finally time to bring home Queen. One album purchased in 2017, and then in early 2018 I heard about “It’s Late” mentioned as a hard rock song when I was checking out hard rock from 1977. “News of the World” became the second Queen album to sit on my shelf. By the time the movie was announced, I had “Queen II” in my Amazon shopping cart and I clicked the order button for than one too. Now, five albums sit on my shelf with three more on order, one already a few days overdue.

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My wife has always liked Queen since her college days but recently she can’t get enough. She’s on YouTube every day watching videos; she has ordered a photo book of Freddie Mercury pics and three DVDs; she’s a follower of Brain May and Roger Taylor on Twitter and Instagram; and she talks of almost nothing but Queen and Freddie. As I type, she is watching the movie for the fourth time, this time in IMAX, with her sister. The first three times, we watched the movie together. I really enjoy it as well. Yes, I am aware of all the factual discrepancies, but as a movie telling the story of a rock band, it covers a lot of the clichés in a way that Spinal Tap did. I especially love the actors and their performance, so I am not really concerned about “Rock You” being shown as created in 1980 instead of 1976, or when Freddie actually found out about his condition, or if the band really broke up or not. If anything, I have learned more about the band by learning about what was different in the movie from reality.

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Queen fever has returned to Japan too thanks to the movie. On a TV program this morning, it was explained with a bar graph how movie goers had been flocking to the theatres with ever increasing numbers, ticket sales increasing more than tenfold by the fourth week when compared to the first. Many were repeat viewers but the number of new viewers was almost half of the fourth week figure. Young women especially have been turning out, often after being taken along by their mothers. Several young ladies commented on how “heart-warming” and “easy to catch” the melodies were.

The movie soundtrack has been selling very well, but most surprising is the live DVD of Queen performing in Montreal in 1981 with their Live Aid performance included. The DVD sold a modest 200 copies between September and October, but after the release of the movie, sales increased 277 times! The publisher is currently out of stock and manufacturing more.

The media in Japan is also hot for Queen. “BURRN” magazine has a special feature on Queen as do at least three or four other music magazines published this month or due for publication next month. The national broadcasting network, NHK, interviewed Brain May and Roger Taylor a few days ago and recently reran a 2002 program called “The Bohemian Rhapsody Murder”, and the other day, a program called “Songs” featured four celebrities giving their comments about Queen’s songs.

What makes Queen so popular in Japan? One woman in her sixties offered her remarks. Back in 1974, the big rock bands were Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. Guys loved the music and talked endlessly about the gear – guitars, amps, etc. Few women felt inclined to follow the conversation. But Queen brought fashion, presentation, flamboyancy, and an appeal that women could be excited about. As such, Queen’s following in Japan quickly swelled as word spread among female fans. In particular, Roger Taylor was a female favourite pin-up boy. One man on the program even stated that Queen was something you liked in secret. Men had to be manly and like tough guys. Queen appealed to the feminine side and thus was a little embarrassing for some guys. One TV director I know recently posted on Facebook that he was alright with the long-haired, flying fashions of mid-seventies Queen, but was shocked to see the “hard gay” image Freddie sported in 1979.

Another commentator said Queen’s anthemic melodies very catchy and certain lines in the lyrics easily stand out. Perhaps the 1976 song, “Teo Toriatte”, a song with the chorus sung in Japanese, also is a reason why Queen have connected so well with Japan.

I know a couple of men around my age who love Queen’s hits, and a high school student of mine really got into Queen earlier this year, well before the movie was advertised.

Strangely enough, many of Queen’s classics that I did not care for in the past have become recent favourites of mine. I can listen to some songs again and again and not feel the need for a break. “Radio Gaga” is now actually a good song to my ears, though I still find “Body Language” and most of the songs on “Hot Space” a career misstep.

I am surprised, however, to heard just how heavy the band could be in the early seventies, or at least through their first five albums. Though I am still waiting for the debut to show up in my mailbox, “Queen II”, “Sheer Heart Attack”, and “A Night at the Opera” pack some wallopers, while “A Day at the Races” only just dropped into my mailbox yesterday. Some songs that are a joy to my early heavy metal appreciation lobes are “Father to Son”, “Ogre Battle”, and parts of “White Queen (as it began)” and “The March of the Black Queen”, and I think I may add “The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke” as well, and that’s just “Queen II”. From “Sheer Heart Attack” there’s Brian May’s guitar work in “Brighton Rock”, “Stone Cold Crazy”, “Flick of the Wrist”, and “Now I’m Here”. “A Night at the Opera” has “The Prophet’s Song” and of course the rock out head banging section in “Bohemian Rhapsody”. But other songs also delight, such as “Bring Back that Leroy Brown” and “39” among others. I am still familiarizing myself with all the music. I am especially looking forward to “Queen” as metal music journalist Martin Popoff holds this album in very high regard.

queen-bandI’m a bit hesitant to order any of the later albums like “It’s a Kind of Magic”. It seems each of the later albums has a rock number but also has a lot of eighties pop which is really a distaste for me. Some songs still have that Queen power to them, but others are very light-weight in that eighties kind of way. Especially Roger Taylor seems worst hit as his drumming is restricted to stale eighties 4/4 beats. At least Brain May still gets a guitar solo.

 

As for Queen fever in Japan, several movie theatres have special large screen screenings with high volume music and the audience is encouraged to stand up for the Live Aid scene. Some people requested this and the theatres responded. The movie is still going strong with some women claiming to have watched it 25 times already.

Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple still have a place here, but Queen might just be the rock band for Japan.

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