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In late June, Queen + Adam Lambert launched their first tour of North America since 2017. They’ll visit 26 cities in the United States and Canada between June 23 and August 5.
Look for the band in Chicago on July 13, Boston on July 25, and New York City on July 28 (Queen will perform at Barclays Center in Brooklyn). Their final date in the New World is set for August 5th in Houston.
The current version of Queen is comprised of just two members of their classic lineup—Brian May and Roger Taylor. Freddie Mercury died in 1991 and bassist John Deacon retired in 1997.
Adam Lambert has been with Queen since 2011. Before that, Paul Rodgers sang lead.
Queen has not released an album since Made in Heaven in 1995. That was created with parts Mercury recorded before he died.
I think even May and Taylor will tell you that the current incarnation of Queen isn’t really Queen without Freddie Mercury. Nonetheless, their music is so memorable, and so powerful, that fans will take what they can get.
May reprising his face-shredding licks on Red Special, and Taylor expertly leading the rhythm section, is still pretty good. Basically, seeing half a great band in concert is better than not seeing one at all. Furthermore, Lambert is an amazing performer and does the material justice.
Regardless of what the remaining members do, Queen’s greatness is not in doubt. In fact, this author extolls their virtues even further. Queen is a legendary band.
What makes Queen legendary? I’ll tell you. Below are seven reasons why Queen deserves a place in the Valhalla of Rock.
Legendary Album Sales
In terms of sales, The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, and Madonna lead the top tier of artists who claim 250 million, or more, in album sales.
Queen is in the next tier with legends like The Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Celine Dion, and Whitney Houston.
Starting with their self-titled opus in 1973, Queen claims to have sold more than 200 million albums. They’ve moved more units than The Eagles, U2, Aerosmith, and the Bee Gees.
Queen released their Greatest Hits compilation in 1981. It went on to sell 25 million copies. It’s the bestselling album in the United Kingdom and one of the bestselling albums of all-time.
Beyond sales figures of 200 million, Queen has also charted 18 number-one albums and 18 number-one singles. Ten of their DVD collections have also gone to the top of the charts.
Queen are members of the Rock and Roll, Grammy, UK Music, and Songwriters Halls of Fame. They were the first band to be inducted into the Songwriters H.O.F.—hitherto, the organization had only inducted individuals.
Three of their songs, “We Will Rock You,” “We Are the Champions,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” have been enshrined in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
In 1990, Queen received the British Phonographic Industry‘s Outstanding Contribution to British Music Award.
To be a legendary rock band you need more than one legendary song. You need several. As alluded to in the previous section, Queen has at least three.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” is the second to the last song on A Night at the Opera (1975). It’s the “Good Vibrations” of the 1970s.
“We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” were the first two tracks on their 1977 album, News of the World. They were released on either side of the same single with “We Are the Champions” as the A-side and “We Will Rock You” as the B-side.
You can’t call yourself a rock fan unless A Night at the Opera, Sheer Heart Attack, Jazz, and News of the World are in your music collection. While we’re talking about your tunes, you should probably have Queen II and Day at the Races too.
A Night at the Opera, named after a Marx Brothers film, was Queen’s breakout hit—it was their first platinum album in the United States. At the time, it was the most expensive album ever made.
A Night at the Opera appears in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die as well as several lists and polls chronicling the best, or greatest, albums of all-time.
Legendary Live Band
Freddie Mercury was a born performer. In fact, when he was alive, if aliens landed on Earth and asked to see a rock singer, you’d take the green extraterrestrial to a Queen concert.
In his suicide note, Kurt Cobain applauded the way Mercury embraced the roll of frontman. David Bowie, Georgie Michael, and Robbie Williams have also expressed appreciation for Mercury’s stage prowess, but in less morbid forums.
Let’s not forget May, Taylor, and Deacon. They’re no slouches when it comes to blowing the roof off the place.
During their career, Queen rocked about 700 live performances—the majority coming in the 1970s and many over two hours long.
Queen was renowned for including their fans. In fact, “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” were written, in large part, to encourage audience participation.
Every legendary band has a moment. A moment that propels them into the upper atmosphere of rock music.
For Queen, that was their 1985 performance at Live Aid. They only played 20 minutes, but those 20 minutes were the stuff of legend.
During a section of a cappella, Mercury held a note so long, and so well, that the moment became “The Note Heard Round the World.” In 2005, a music industry poll named Queen’s Live Aid performance the best of all-time.
To be a legendary rock band, you can’t keep releasing the same songs over and over again. You need to diversify, take risks, and employ influences from other genres of music.
Queen certainly did that. We’ve already mentioned their rock anthems, “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions,” and their iconic incursion into blending rock with opera, “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Let’s not forget their rockabilly inspired “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” their funky “Another One Bites the Dust,” and their perfect pop song, “You’re My Best Friend.”
Those are just the hits. The aforementioned A Night at the Opera and Jazz are both known for being eclectic.
Katy Perry released her fifth studio opus, Witness, in June. She’ll launch a tour to support that work late this summer.
Her trek kicks off Sept. 7 at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio. The North American leg is scheduled to wrap Feb. 5, 2018 when Katy Perry performs in Vancouver, B.C.
Look for K.P. in Philadelphia on Sept. 18, Brooklyn on Nov. 11, and Atlanta on Dec. 12. She plays two shows in Toronto, Boston, and Chicago.
Katy Perry also has two concerts planned for New York City. Three shows are booked for Los Angeles.
Perry is an artist that’s released a very successful album. I don’t mean an album that went to number one and sold a few copies. I mean an album that sold millions and millions of copies, produces several hit singles, and won numerous awards.
Her historic album is Teenage Dream (2010). The work went to number one in several countries, including the United States, sold more than six million copies, and was nominated for seven Grammy Awards.
Even more impressive, the album produced five number one singles. Only one other album in the history of the world has ever done that, Michael Jackson’s Bad (more on that album later).
The success of Teenage Dream catapulted Perry into the record books, but it also put her in a tough situation, perhaps the toughest situation in music. That tough situation is making an album after you had a monumental hit.
Her follow-up to Teenage Dream was Prism (2013). It debuted at number one and eventually sold more than four million copies. Instead of five, it produced just two number one singles.
Perry’s follow-up to Prism is the aforementioned Witness. It hasn’t been released long enough to compare sales figure, but it did debut at number one (although it dropped to #13 the following week).
It should be noted that critics seemed to like Witness a lot less than they liked Teenage Dream or Prism. That’s saying something because neither received many rave reviews.
How did the success of Perry’s follow-up compare to the follow-ups of other artists who released historically important albums? See for yourself.
Below, are ten artists, their hit records, their follow-ups, and brief descriptions of their successes.
Hit Record: 21 (2011)
Follow-Up: 25 (2015)
Adele’s 21 was the bestselling album of 2011 and 2012, it won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year, and set a record for most weeks on the Billboard 200 for an album made by a woman. Adele’s next opus saw a 35 percent drop in sales—21 sold 31 million copies while 25 sold just 20 million. Like her debut, 25 won a Grammy Award for Album of the Year.
Hit Record: Songs in A Minor (2001)
Follow-Up: The Diary of Alicia Keys (2003)
Two Grammy ceremonies before Beyoncé won five, Alicia Keys took home the quintet. Songs in A Minor has sold about 13 million units. Quite a feat for any singer, but especially impressive when you consider Keys was 20 when all this went down. Her follow-up avoided the sophomore slump. The Diary of Alicia Keys sold eight million copies and picked up three Grammy awards.
Hit Record: Dangerously in Love (2003)
Follow-Up: B-Day (2006)
Beyoncé has yet to match the success of Dangerously in Love—eleven million in sales and five Grammy Awards. Her follow-up, B-Day, and the follow-up to that, I Am… Sasha Fierce, both sold more than eight million copies. Dangerously in Love and B-Day both peaked at number one. Then again, every Beyoncé album has reached the top spot of the Billboard 200.
Hit Record: …Baby One More Time (1999)
Follow-Up: Oops!… I Did It Again (2000)
Britney Spears’ first two albums were released during the waning moments of when fans still bought physical copies of music. Together, her first two LPs combined for 45 million in sales. Both were gigantic successes, but her debut made her the “next Madonna,” a cultural icon, and a household name.
Hit Record: Unorthodox Jukebox (2012)
Follow-Up: 24K Magic (2016)
Doo-Wops & Hooligans (2010) sold as many units as Unorthodox Jukebox, six million, and both produced two number one singles. Doo-Wop was nominated for seven Grammy Awards but won none. Jukebox won a trophy for Best Pop Vocal Album. Unorthodox reached the zenith of the album charts. Doo-Wop only got as high as number three. That’s why I’ve picked Unorthodox Jukebox. His follow-up to that record, 24K Magic, failed to summit the Billboard 200 and has yet to sell 2 million units.
Hit Record: The Marshall Mathers LP (2000)
Follow-Up: The Eminem Show (2002)
The Marshall Mathers LP (34 million) is the bestselling album of the 21st century. The Eminem Show (30 million) is the fourth best. He followed that up with Encore (2004). That oeuvre sold 21 million copies. Altogether, Eminem has released eight studio albums. Five have sold more than 10 million copies.
Hit Record: The Fame (2008)
Follow-Up: Born This Way (2011)
If you include The Fame Monster, then The Fame has moved more than 15 million units. Rolling Stone magazine ranks The Fame as one of the greatest debuts of all-time. How did Lady Gaga follow it up? She released Born This Way three years later. That collection has sold around six million copies. Interestingly, The Fame stalled at number two, but Born This Way reached the top of the album charts.
Hit Record: Hybrid Theory (2000)
Follow-Up: Meteora (2003)
Linkin Park’s Hybrid Theory is the bestselling debut of the 21st century. It has sold more than 30 million copies. Three years later, they released Meteora. It wasn’t the cultural phenomenon of Hybrid, nor was it rated as high its predecessor, but it did reach the top spot. Hybrid Theory halted its climb at the penultimate position.
Hit Record: Thriller (1982)
Follow-Up: Bad (1987)
Michael Jackson’s Thriller can easily be a follow-up to Off the Wall (1979). At the time, critics asked how he can Jackson best Off the Wall? He did. Thriller is the world’s bestselling album of all-time—sales figures exceed 65 million. It also won eight Grammy Awards. Besides the five number one singles, Bad sold more than 30 million copies and earned six Grammys.
Hit Record: Come Away with Me (2002)
Follow-Up: Feels Like Home (2004)
Norah Jones is another artist on our list who has won five Grammy Awards in one night. She achieved the feat thanks to Come Away with Me, an album that’s sold more 27 million units. What most music fans don’t know is her album actually won three more Grammys (eight in total), but those went home with other people. Her follow-up, Feels Like Home, sold just over 12 million copies and earned Jones an additional trophy for her crowded mantle.
Paul McCartney has a lot to celebrate in 2017.
He turns 75 on June 18. Earlier in the month, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the greatest rock album of all-time, turns 50.
Then on July 5, Macca kicks off a string of 21 dates in the United States. The trek is part of his ongoing “One on One” world tour.
There’s another milestone involving the former Beatle that a lot of fans are overlooking. This year, one of the greatest singles of all-time, Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane, turns the big five-0.
Those two amazing songs weren’t released as separate singles. They were released together, as one single!
Long before iTunes and the internet, artists released singles on small vinyl records, designed to be played on a phonograph. These small vinyl records contained one song on each side, thus the term single.
They were also called “45s,” a reference to the speed of the turntable—45 revolutions per minute—that was necessary to play them. Long play albums ran at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute.
Generally, but not always, artists put their big new song on side A and a throw away song on side B.
For example, The Rolling Stones’ single “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” released more than year after “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane,” has as its B-side, “Child of the Moon.”
The novelty song, “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!,” released more than a year before “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane,” has as its B-side “!aaaH-aH ,yawA eM ekaT oT gnimoC er’yehT.” The song is “They’re Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!” played in reverse.
It was rare for an artist to put two groundbreaking songs on opposite sides of the same single. Both “Strawberry Fields” and “Penny Lane” were from the recording sessions that gave us Sgt. Peppers and made their way onto the Magical Mystery Tour album.
Both sides of this historic 45, heard John and Paul getting nostalgic. “Strawberry Fields” was John’s song while “Penny Lane” belonged to Paul.
Penny Lane does exist. It is an actual street in Liverpool, England, The Beatles hometown. Penny Lane is also the name of the area surrounding the street.
Incidentally, Elvis Costello’s mother grew up near Penny Lane. Even more incidental, Costello has written and recorded with McCartney.
Before making it big, John and Paul would meet at Penny Lane to catch the bus. Since the release of the song, the Penny Lane area has become something of a tourist destination. Road signs are bolted to walls to prevent Beatles fans from stealing them.
While much of the lyrical content of “Penny Lane” is taken from real-life, some of it is poetic license. For example, the fireman and fire engine referenced in the song are half-a-mile down the road.
Modern American listeners might find themselves scratching their heads at a few lines. In particular, “Four of fish and finger pies.” The first part of the phrase refers to fish and chips while the second part is a sexual slang.
Besides being a beautiful song with a lovely melody, “Penny Lane” also contains a motif that will become quite famous and imitated.
The Beatles started recording “Penny Lane” four days after Christmas in 1966. The sessions for the song went well, but McCartney felt the instrumental section was lacking.
Then, one night, Paul saw a performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto on the BBC.
When he returned to the studio, he told Beatles producer George Martin about the performance and asked him for the name of the high-pitched trumpet he heard. Martin’s answer was a piccolo trumpet.
McCartney thought the instrument would work well in “Penny Lane.” In true Beatles fashion, they didn’t just get any piccolo trumpet player, they got the piccolo trumpet player Paul heard in the BBC performance, David Mason.
Mason recorded “Penny Lane’s” famous piccolo trumpet solo on Jan. 17, 1967. He was paid 27 pounds and 10 shillings. Converting that to U.S. currency, and adjusting for inflation, Mason payment had the purchasing power of about $550.
Mason was not done with The Beatles. He would return to play trumpet in “A Day in the Life,” “All You Need Is Love,” “It’s All Too Much,” and “Magical Mystery Tour.”
Sound engineer Geoff Emerick has two interesting tidbits about Mason’s solo. One, after he played the take you hear in the song, McCartney asked him to do another.
George Martin intervened and said the recording was over. Martin was worried about over exerting the classical trumpeter.
This is significant because The Beatles usually had the final say in the studio, not George Martin.
Emerick’s also claims that the high “E” Mason played in the solo was previously thought to be unobtainable. After “Penny Lane,” the note became standard for piccolo trumpet players.
McCartney’s ingenuity was responsible for what is probably the first use of the piccolo trumpet in a rock song. The instrument, built an octave higher than typical trumpets, produces a distinct, clean sound that can pierce through so-called walls of sounds.
Similar piccolo trumpet solos have been used by other artists. For example, there’s The Jam’s “Absolute Beginners,” Tears for Fears’ “Sowing the Seeds of Love,” XTC’s “Merely A Man,” and Aerosmith’s “Love in an Elevator.”
In the United States, a promotional single of “Penny Lane” was sent to radio stations. This single had an additional piccolo trumpet flourish near the end of the track. Subsequent singles had a different mix without the final trumpet part.
Singles with the trumpet part are some of the rarest and most valuable Beatles collectibles. There’s a version of “Penny Lane” with the additional trumpet part on The Beatles Anthology 2.
“Penny Lane” peaked at number one in several countries including the United States. Oddly, it stalled at number two in the United Kingdom, the country home to Penny Lane.
Paul has played “Penny Lane” in concert—it’s included on his 1993 live album, Paul Is Live—but it doesn’t seem to be on his setlist for his current “One on One” tour. Very strange.