Hello friends! It’s been a while for me. In the words of my beloved grandmother, “I’ve been ill.” But, I’m back and ready to write again, though for some of you, this hiatus was not long enough.
In 1980 and 1981, the rock band Queen was arguably the most popular band in the world, based on the performance of their number one album The Game, which also yielded the band’s first number one songs: the rockabilly “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and the rock-disco hybrid “Another One Bites the Dust”, whose bassline had many similarities to Chic’s “Good Times” (and subsequently, Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”). And after releasing seven rocking albums, most with the following disclaimer printed on their covers, “Made with no synthesizers”, Queen decided for some reason to kick off the Eighties by finally using synthesizers. For the most part, as a huge Queen fan at the time, I felt a little betrayed until I listened to The Game and heard how tastefully the band had incorporated the sound of the future into their rocking sound.
Still, there was an undercurrent on this record that I could not put my finger on. Yes, Queen were still rocking AND producing fantastic hit songs that were bordering on anthemic, like usual. But, there was something that I could not quite figure out about their music on The Game. So, I simply decided to enjoy the album. During the summer of 1980, I finally got to see my heroes in concert, and they did not disappoint. They even played a new song they were about to release for the first time in concert, “Another One Bites the Dust”. I just remember how the song brought the house down that night.
Later on in 1980, Queen released a soundtrack to the cheesy movie Flash Gordon. The album was all awash in synthesizers, but the band still managed to squeeze out a classic song in “Flash”. But, most Queen fans simply brushed off that soundtrack as a moment in time during which they could produce noncommercial songs using instruments that were foreign to them in order to create sci-fi sounds that would fit the movie.
In 1981, Queen released their first greatest hits package. On that album, fans were treated to a dream match-up as the four lads in Queen worked with the one and only David Bowie to create a second masterpiece single called “Under Pressure”. We all know that Queen’s signature song will always be “Bohemian Rhapsody”. But, “Under Pressure” should have prepared us for what was going to happen on their next album, but NO ONE in the States were ready for what Queen dropped on us in the Spring of 1982.
Now, remember, a couple of things were happening in music at that moment of time. First, MTV was just beginning to realize its power as new wave and dance songs were becoming hits. The other was that dance music was HUGE in Europe. I kept reading about this dance music but was not really putting it together with the new wave music being released at the time. At that moment, Freddie Mercury was diving into the dance scene, while John Deacon was hanging out with black artists such as Michael Jackson, Nile Rodgers, among others. Even the band’s resident rockers, guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, were indulging in the burgeoning European dance scene. So, what happened, in retrospect, was the most Queen-like thing to happen: make a record that displayed these new sounds in the “Queen” context. In that way, Hot Space may be the MOST Queen album Queen ever produced, since the band still maintained their heart, sense of humor AND musicality in the process.
Hot Space has been written off as the album that killed Queen’s career in the States. Personally, I really don’t think Queen was thinking about the US (bite your tongue Keller!). They were looking at what was popular throughout the world and incorporated it, warts and all, into this album. Come on, go back and listen to it and remember that in a short six months we would all be dancing to the rock-dance music being released by Michael Jackson (Thriller), Prince (1999) and Duran Duran (Rio). They were simply ahead of the curve. Plus, they underestimated just how conservative the ears of the U.S. had become. If Queen had just delayed the album by a year, history would have been rewritten and Hot Space would be held in higher esteem.
Unfortunately, history is what it is. In 1984, Queen did bounce back a bit here with The Works. But, the damage had been done, and American radio was done with new Queen music. You know, I saw Queen during the summer of 1982 for their Hot Space North American Tour. The same arena I had just witnessed them sell out two summers earlier was only three-quarters full this time. Yet, the band was even better in 1982. Go figure.
Hey, go back and listen to Hot Space and tell me what you think now that the album is 30+ years old. Re-evaluate it. Why not do that with your whole collection! Some of our favorites really haven’t aged well (God save me, but Rush’s Signals, another 1982 release, is awash in synths but lacks the humanity of Queen’s Hot Space!).