Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara (Gujarati: ફારોખ બલ્સારા), September 5, 1946 – November 24, 1991) was a British musician, best known as the lead vocalist and a songwriter of the rock band Queen. As a performer, he was known for his flamboyant stage persona and powerful vocals over a four-octave range. As a songwriter, Mercury composed many hits for Queen, including “Bohemian Rhapsody“, “Killer Queen“, “Somebody to Love“, “Don’t Stop Me Now“, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “We Are the Champions“. In addition to his work with Queen, he led a solo career, penning hits such as “Barcelona“, “I Was Born to Love You” and “Living on My Own“. Mercury also occasionally served as a producer and guest musician (piano or vocals) for other artists. He died of bronchopneumonia brought on by AIDS on 24 November 1991, only one day after publicly acknowledging he had the disease.
Mercury, who was a Parsi born in Zanzibar and grew up there and in India until his mid-teens, has been referred to as “Britain’s first Asianrock star”.In 2006, Time Asia named him as one of the most influential Asian heroes of the past 60 years, and he continues to be voted one of the greatest singers in the history of popular music. In 2005, a poll organised by Blender and MTV2 saw Mercury voted the greatest male singer of all time. In 2009, a Classic Rock poll saw him voted the greatest rock singer of all time. In 2008, Rolling Stone editors ranked him number 18 on their list of the 100 greatest singers of all time.Allmusic has characterised Mercury as “one of rock’s greatest all-time entertainers”, who possessed “one of the greatest voices in all of music”.
Although Mercury’s speaking voice naturally fell in the baritone range, he delivered most songs in the tenor range. His vocal range extended from bass low F (F2) to soprano high F (F6). He could belt up to tenor high F (F5). Biographer David Bretdescribed his voice as “escalating within a few bars from a deep, throaty rock-growl to tender, vibrant tenor, then on to a high-pitched, perfect coloratura, pure and crystalline in the upper reaches”. Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé, with whom Mercury recorded an album, expressed her opinion that “the difference between Freddie and almost all the other rock stars was that he was selling the voice”. She adds, “His technique was astonishing. No problem of tempo, he sung with an incisive sense of rhythm, his vocal placement was very good and he was able to glide effortlessly from a register to another. He also had a great musicality. His phrasing was subtle, delicate and sweet or energetic and slamming. He was able to find the right coloring or expressive nuance for each word.” As Queen’s career progressed, he would increasingly alter the highest notes of their songs when live, often harmonising with seconds, thirds or fifths instead. Mercury was said to have “the rawest vocal fold nodules” and claimed never to have had any formal vocal training.
Mercury wrote 10 of the 17 songs on Queen’s Greatest Hits album: “Bohemian Rhapsody“, “Seven Seas of Rhye“, “Killer Queen“, “Somebody to Love“, “Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy“, “We Are the Champions“, “Bicycle Race“, “Don’t Stop Me Now“, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “Play the Game“.
The most notable aspect of his songwriting involved the wide range of genres that he used, which included, among other styles, rockabilly, progressive rock, heavy metal, gospel anddisco. As he explained in a 1986 interview, “I hate doing the same thing again and again and again. I like to see what’s happening now in music, film and theatre and incorporate all of those things.” Compared to many popular songwriters, Mercury also tended to write musically complex material. For example, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is acyclic in structure and comprises dozens of chords. He also wrote six songs from Queen II which deal with multiple key changes and complex material. “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, on the other hand, contains only a few chords. Despite the fact that Mercury often wrote very intricate harmonies, he also claimed that he could barely read music.He wrote most of his songs on the piano and used a wide variety of different key signatures.
Mercury was noted for his live performances, which were often delivered to stadium audiences around the world. He displayed a highly theatrical style that often evoked a great deal of participation from the crowd. A writer for The Spectator described him as “a performer out to tease, shock and ultimately charm his audience with various extravagant versions of himself”. David Bowie, who performed at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert and recorded the song “Under Pressure” with Queen, praised Mercury’s performance style, saying: “Of all the more theatrical rock performers, Freddie took it further than the rest… he took it over the edge. And of course, I always admired a man who wears tights. I only saw him in concert once and as they say, he was definitely a man who could hold an audience in the palm of his hand.”
One of Mercury’s most notable performances with Queen took place at Live Aid in 1985, during which the entire stadium audience of 72,000 people clapped, sang and swayed in unison. Queen’s performance at the event has since been voted by a group of music executives as the greatest live performance in the history of rock music. The results were aired on a television program called “The World’s Greatest Gigs”. In reviewing Live Aid in 2005, one critic wrote, “Those who compile lists of Great Rock Frontmen and award the top spots to Mick Jagger, Robert Plant, etc all are guilty of a terrible oversight. Freddie, as evidenced by his Dionysian Live Aid performance, was easily the most godlike of them all.”