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Queen: Rock the World, BBC Four review - we won't rock you | reviews, news & interviews

Queen: Rock the World, BBC Four review - we won't rock you

Queen: Rock the World, BBC Four review - we won't rock you

Unseen footage of Queen 40 years on explains why punk was a necessary antidote

'We went a little bit punky': Brian May on 'News of the World' (1977)

Forty years ago Whispering Bob Harris made a documentary about Queen. He eavesdropped on them as they recorded the album News of the World and then followed them around America on tour.

The film was never broadcast but the footage was exhumed for this anniversary and stapled together in Queen: Rock the World (BBC Four), the latest in the BBC's prancing cavalcade of recent documentaries about the band (see sidebar).

The reason for the film's non-appearance in 1977 was not made explicit. The charitable explanation is that this was the year of punk and the BBC were alive to a shift in popular taste. “Is this man a prat?” asked the NME, socratically, of the band’s marmite frontman. But there’s now a clearer explanation. The footage is, in the main and excepting the odd amusing intervention from Freddie Mercury, elephant-tranquillisingly dull.

This isn’t or wasn't entirely Queen’s fault. It was also Whispering Bob’s, who tiptoed around the band as if in the volatile presence of axe-wielding pharaohs or totalitarian despots. The questions he lobbed at them came oilslicked in subservience and weeping gratitude. “I think it’s worth pointing out it’s the most successful tour on the road right now,” he said as he prepared to subject the quartet to another savage session of toadying.

Also there didn’t seem to be quite enough footage to make a whole film. We spent the best part of a minute watching Roger Taylor thwacking skins as they recorded “Get Down Make Love”. Who didn’t prop their eyes open with matchsticks as, one more time, the four sat at the mixing desk artistically twiddling knobs? It didn’t help that it was mainly shot in black and white. If ever a band needed to be seen in colour…

Students of that moment when Seventies fashions disappeared up a cul de sac can feast on the outfits

The other salient truth about Queen is that they were modest, well-spoken and chin-strokingly serious about their work. “Punk,” remembered Brian May, “was said to be a reaction to people like us who raised their art to a higher point.” It was like burning the midday oil with four double-entry book-keepers. John Deacon, whose pronouncements are collector’s items, obligingly clarified their accounting arrangements in some detail. In the studio they drank coffee, and at after-parties sipped white wine. There were no women to speak of. “There really wasn’t much sex,” recalled Roger Taylor.

Some of the rare live footage will titillate Queenoraks, and students of that moment when Seventies fashions disappeared up a cul de sac can feast on the outfits – the mink blousons, the side-buttoned white strides, Mercury’s selection of back-to-front torso-baring commedia dell’arte unitards. Even Harris worked through a rainbow montage of cardigan-type knitted jackets.

The most intriguing clip found the four meticulously talented musicians recording the instrumental track for “We Are the Champions”, its familiar architecture somehow naked without the soaring tenor theatrics of Mercury’s vocal. “It’s worked out pretty well,” he told Harris, who of course couldn’t have agreed more.

News of the World was, according to May, the moment Queen "went a little bit punky". That's not how it appeared to actual punks. Taylor remembered working in the next-door studio to the Sex Pistols. “Sid Vicious was literally an idiot,” he said. “He was a moron.” Yet weirdly Sid and Freddie had the measure of each other. “Are you bringing ballet to the masses there, Fred?” asked Vicious. “Ah Mr Ferocious, we’re trying our best, dear.” If nothing else, this unmade film helps to demonstrate why British music urgently required the sinful defibrillations of punk rock, and a grittier new generation of journos and DJs. 

Harris’s one sharp question invited the four of them to talk about the sort of albums they might make as soloists. “Oh I’d make a lot of money!” said Freddie. His memory is still making lots of money for half of Queen, who have turned into their own grizzled tribute band. The vocals are performed by a howling pink-haired avatar in a coronet.

The questions Whispering Bob lobbed at them came oilslicked in subservience and weeping gratitude


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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What was the point in writing this? It amounts to little more than a whinge.

Tom, I couldn't agree more.What is wrong with these pompous, overbearing, arrogant critics... basically everything they usually say about Queen, who are just a bunch of great musicians who made great music. Queen were tongue in cheek by their own admission, but they were a class act in the studio and their liver performance. This review is nothing but negative dribble from what appears to be some jumped up ageing punk.

This review does not target what you say. There is nothing to suggest that the author doesn't think that Queen were 'a bunch of great musicians who made great music'. The targets are the interviewer, the format and the recycling.

It's titled 'we won't rock you' The footage is elephant-tranquillisingly dull, This isn’t or wasn't entirely Queen’s fault? suggesting there is some blame on Queen here. For me the critic is targeting Queen Bob Harris and the BBC. I don't think any of it can be criticised, Bob is an iconic music presenter and a guy I have deep admiration and respect for, The BBC shows great footage here, I don't think any TV corporation in the world has archives like this. Some great studio and live footage, never seen before. I really don't know what some people want? In answer to the question in the title. Queen Rock the world, Queen and this documentary did rock me.

Well said Wayne. And also the subtitle of this article. Punk? Punk was the necessary antidote? ... What? you kidding? Most of it was absolute PISH!!! get of your high horse...sick of hearing about punk against Queen, Punk against Pink Floyd, punk against Genesis, punk this punk that. It's music were listening to here.. who gives rat's crap about british punks impact.. It was a reactionary movement against just about .. Well EVERYTHING really...Rest of the world doesn't care about it.

Isn't it great when journalists think they are the reason people read what they are writing about rather than the subject. Miss quoting band members to further your argument might work if the thing your quoting from isn't available for all to see. Freddie Mercury's comment about his ideas for a solo album being an example, quoting "oh I'd make lots of money" you failed to say that it was said in a joking way and he went on to say that he thought I would feature the other members anyway.. . . . His view had changed by the mid 80's but even then he made a very Queen sounding album. As for Punk being the thing that swept all before it away. . . It didn't, In 1977 Queen became bigger and more successful as did Floyd, Genisis, Fleetwood Mac and a host of others. Looking back and criticising people for drinking coffee in a control room, or drinking wine at a party or being dressed a certain way opens you up for criticism of everything you do. . The worst thing about this snapshot of history is that it only ran for an hour.

Totally agree with you!It's funny how the press it's still treating Queen as bad as they did back in the day. I'm glad we all still ignore them

In typical Queen fashion. Critics and reviewers treat them as trash even after 40 odd years. However, I believe this "review" was written in a humoristic retrospective way. This is how critics and reviewers would treat Queen endlessly throughout their career in the 1970's and especially in the 1980's. Especially bringing up the "punk aspect" into it, and making it seem like this was the world of 1977 today. Either way if this hostile "review" is real or not, it is meaningless. History speaks for itself. And please let us all remember: Opinions are like buttholes. Everyone has one.

Yeah... but some buttholes are better than others!!!

I'm a queen fan, and thought the doc had plenty of interesting moments. The line “I think it’s worth pointing out it’s the most successful tour on the road right now,” he said as he prepared to subject the quartet to another savage session of toadying." was pretty funny though and accurate.

Paul McCartney wrote Mull of Kintyre in the punk days. A very punk thing to do and one of his biggest selling songs. Queen was also very punk for doing their own thing in a period of time where punk was a cool thing. By the way, Queen sounded much louder than most of the punk bands in that time.

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