Before forming Queen, May and Taylor had played together in the band Smile. Mercury was a fan of Smile and encouraged them to experiment with more elaborate stage and recording techniques. He joined in 1970 and suggested the name "Queen". Deacon was recruited in March 1971, before the band released their eponymous debut album in 1973. Queen first charted in the UK with their second album, Queen II, in 1974. Sheer Heart Attack later that year and A Night at the Opera in 1975 brought them international success. The latter featured "Bohemian Rhapsody", which stayed at number one in the UK for nine weeks and helped popularise the music video format.
In 1968, guitarist Brian May, a student at London's Imperial College, and bassist Tim Staffell decided to form a band. May placed an advertisement on a college notice board for a "Mitch Mitchell/Ginger Baker type" drummer; Roger Taylor, a young dental student, auditioned and got the job. The group called themselves Smile. While attending Ealing Art College in west London, Staffell became friends with Farrokh "Freddie" Bulsara, a fellow student from Zanzibar of Indian Parsi descent. Bulsara, who was working as a baggage handler at London's Heathrow Airport, felt that he and the band had the same tastes and soon became a keen fan of Smile.
In 1970, after Staffell left to join the band Humpy Bong, the remaining Smile members, encouraged by now-member Bulsara, changed their name to "Queen" and performed their first gig on 18 July. The band had a number of bass players during this period who did not fit with the band's chemistry. It was not until March 1971 that they settled on John Deacon and began to rehearse for their first album. They recorded four of their own songs, "Liar", "Keep Yourself Alive", "The Night Comes Down" and "Jesus", for a demo tape; no record companies were interested. It was also around this time Freddie changed his surname to "Mercury", inspired by the line "Mother Mercury, look what they've done to me" in the song "My Fairy King". On 2 July 1971, Queen played their first show in the classic line-up of Mercury, May, Taylor and Deacon at a Surrey college outside London.
Having attended art college, Mercury also designed Queen's logo, called the Queen crest, shortly before the release of the band's first album. The logo combines the zodiac signs of all four members: two lions for Leo (Deacon and Taylor), a crab for Cancer (May), and two fairies for Virgo (Mercury). The lions embrace a stylised letter Q, the crab rests atop the letter with flames rising directly above it, and the fairies are each sheltering below a lion. There is also a crown inside the Q and the whole logo is over-shadowed by an enormous phoenix. The whole symbol bears a passing resemblance to the Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom, particularly with the lion supporters. The original logo, as found on the reverse-side of the cover of the band's first album, was a simple line drawing. Later sleeves bore more intricate-coloured versions of the logo.
Queen guitar (right, next to a Rolling Stones guitar) at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, marking a 31 October 1970 Queen concert at the venue
In 1972, Queen entered discussions with Trident Studios after being spotted at De Lane Lea Studios by John Anthony. After these discussions, Norman Sheffield offered the band a management deal under Neptune Productions, a subsidiary of Trident, to manage the band and enable them to use the facilities at Trident to record new material, whilst the management searched for a record label to sign Queen. This suited both parties, as Trident were expanding into management, and under the deal, Queen were able to make use of the hi-tech recording facilities used by other musicians such as the Beatles and Elton John to produce new material. Roger Taylor later described these early off-peak studio hours as "gold dust".
In 1973, Queen signed to a deal with Trident/EMI. By July of that year, they released their eponymous debut album, an effort influenced by heavy metal and progressive rock. The album was received well by critics; Gordon Fletcher of Rolling Stone called it "superb", and Chicago's Daily Herald called it an "above average debut". However, it drew little mainstream attention, and the lead single "Keep Yourself Alive" sold poorly. Retrospectively, it is cited as the highlight of the album, and in 2008 Rolling Stone ranked it 31st in the "100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time", describing it as "an entire album's worth of riffs crammed into a single song". The album was certified gold in the UK and the US.
The group's second LP, Queen II, was released in 1974, and features rock photographer Mick Rock's iconic image of the band on the cover. This image would be used as the basis for the 1975 "Bohemian Rhapsody" music video production. The album reached number five on the British album chart and became the first Queen album to chart in the UK. The Freddie Mercury-written lead single "Seven Seas of Rhye" reached number ten in the UK, giving the band their first hit. The album is the first real testament to the band's distinctive layered sound, and features long complex instrumental passages, fantasy-themed lyrics, and musical virtuosity. Aside from its only single, the album also included the song "The March of the Black Queen", a six-minute epic which lacks a chorus. The Daily Vault described the number as "menacing". Critical reaction was mixed; the Winnipeg Free Press, while praising the band's debut album, described Queen II as an "over-produced monstrosity".AllMusic has described the album as a favourite among the band's hardcore fans, and it is the first of three Queen albums to feature in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
1974–1976: Sheer Heart Attack to A Night at the Opera
In May 1974, a month into the band's first US tour opening for Mott the Hoople, Brian May collapsed and was diagnosed with hepatitis, forcing the cancellation of their remaining dates. While recuperating, May was initially absent when the band started work on their third album, but he returned midway through the recording process. Released in 1974, Sheer Heart Attack reached number two in the UK, sold well throughout Europe, and went gold in the US. It gave the band their first real experience of international success, and was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic. The album experimented with a variety of musical genres, including British music hall, heavy metal, ballads, ragtime, and Caribbean. At this point, Queen started to move away from the progressive tendencies of their first two releases into a more radio-friendly, song-orientated style. Stretching contemporary production methods, Sheer Heart Attack introduced new sound and melody patterns.
The single "Killer Queen" from Sheer Heart Attack reached number two on the British charts, and became their first US hit, reaching number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was partly recorded at Rockfield Studios in Wales. With Mercury playing the grand piano, it combines camp, vaudeville, and British music hall with May's guitar virtuosity. The album's second single, "Now I'm Here", a more traditional hard rock composition, was a number eleven hit in the UK, while the high speed rocker "Stone Cold Crazy" featuring May's uptempo riffs is a precursor to speed metal. In recent years, the album has received acclaim from music publications: In 2006, Classic Rock ranked it number 28 in "The 100 Greatest British Rock Albums Ever", and in 2007, Mojo ranked it No.88 in "The 100 Records That Changed the World". It is also the second of three Queen albums to feature in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
In January 1975, the band left for a world tour with each member in Zandra Rhodes-created costumes and accompanied with banks of lights and effects. They toured the US as headliners, and played in Canada for the first time, after that they played in seven cities of Japan from mid-April to the start of May. In September, after an angry split with Trident, the band negotiated themselves out of their Trident Studios contract and searched for new management. One of the options they considered was an offer from Led Zeppelin's manager, Peter Grant. Grant wanted them to sign with Led Zeppelin's own production company, Swan Song Records. The band found the contract unacceptable and instead contacted Elton John's manager, John Reid, who accepted the position.
In late 1975, Queen recorded and released A Night at the Opera, taking its name from the popular Marx Brothers movie. At the time, it was the most expensive album ever produced. Like its predecessor, the album features diverse musical styles and experimentation with stereo sound. In "The Prophet's Song", an eight-minute epic, the middle section is a canon, with simple phrases layered to create a full-choral sound. The Mercury penned ballad, "Love of My Life", featured a harp and overdubbed vocal harmonies. The album was very successful in Britain, and went triple platinum in the United States. The British public voted it the 13th greatest album of all time in a 2004 Channel 4 poll. It has also ranked highly in international polls; in a worldwide Guinness poll, it was voted the 19th greatest of all time, while an ABC poll saw the Australian public vote it the 28th greatest of all time.A Night at the Opera has frequently appeared in "greatest albums" lists reflecting the opinions of critics. Among other accolades, it was ranked number 16 in Q magazine's "The 50 Best British Albums Ever" in 2004, and number 11 in Rolling Stone's "The 100 Greatest Albums of All Time" as featured in their Mexican edition in 2004. It was also placed at number 230 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of "The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time" in 2003.A Night at the Opera is the third and final Queen album to be featured in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
He knew exactly what he was doing. It was Freddie’s baby. We just helped him bring it to life.
We realized we’d look odd trying to mime such a hugely complex thing on TV. It had to be presented in some other way.
The album also featured the hit single "Bohemian Rhapsody", which was number one in the UK for nine weeks. Mercury's close friend and advisor, Capital London radio DJ Kenny Everett, played a pivotal role in giving the single exposure. It is the third-best-selling single of all time in the UK, surpassed only by Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and Elton John's "Candle in the Wind 1997", and is the best-selling commercial single (i.e. not for-charity) in the UK. It also reached number nine in the United States (a 1992 re-release reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 for five weeks). It is the only single ever to sell a million copies on two separate occasions, and became the Christmas number one twice in the UK, the only single ever to do so. "Bohemian Rhapsody" has also been voted the greatest song of all time in three different polls. The band decided to make a video to help go with the single and hired Trilion, a subsidiary of the former management company Trident Studios, using new technology to create the video; the result is generally considered to have been the first "true" music video ever produced, and popularised the medium. Although other bands, including the Beatles, had made short promotional films or videos of songs before, most of those were made to be aired on specific television shows. According to Brian May, the video was produced so that the band could avoid miming on the BBC's Top of the Pops, since it would have looked strange miming to such a complex song. In addition, the band knew they would be set to appear at Dundee's Caird Hall on tour and would be unable to appear on Top of the Pops.
On the impact of the "Bohemian Rhapsody" promotional video, Rolling Stone states: "Its influence cannot be overstated, practically inventing the music video seven years before MTV went on the air." Ranking it number 31 on their list of the 50 key events in rock music history, The Guardian stated it ensured "videos would henceforth be a mandatory tool in the marketing of music". The first track on A Night at the Opera, "Death on Two Legs", is said to have been written by Mercury about Norman Sheffield (and the former management at Trident who helped make the video so popular) because the band was broke despite the success of the previous album. The second single from the album, "You're My Best Friend", the second song composed by John Deacon, and his first single, peaked at number sixteen in the United States and went on to become a worldwide top-ten hit. The band's A Night at the Opera Tour began in November 1975, and covered Europe, the United States, Japan, and Australia.
1976–1979: A Day at the Races to Live Killers
Queen poster for a January 1977 concert in Dayton, Ohio
By 1976, Queen were back in the studio recording A Day at the Races, which is often regarded as a sequel album to A Night at the Opera. It again borrowed the name of a Marx Brothers movie, and its cover was similar to that of A Night at the Opera, a variation on the same Queen logo. The most recognisable of the Marx Brothers, Groucho Marx, invited Queen to visit him in his Los Angeles home in March 1977; there the band thanked him in person, and performed "'39" a cappella. Musically, A Day at the Races was by both fans' and critics' standards a strong effort, reaching number one in the UK and Japan, and number five in the US. The major hit on the album was "Somebody to Love", a gospel-inspired song in which Mercury, May, and Taylor multi-tracked their voices to create a 100-voice gospel choir. The song went to number two in the UK, and number thirteen in the US. The album also featured one of the band's heaviest songs, May's "Tie Your Mother Down", which became a staple of their live shows.
In 1978, the band released Jazz, which reached number two in the UK and number six on the Billboard 200 in the US. The album included the hit singles "Fat Bottomed Girls" and "Bicycle Race" on a double-sided record. Reviews of the album in recent years have been more favourable. Another notable track from Jazz, "Don't Stop Me Now", provides another example of the band's exuberant vocal harmonies.
In 1978, Queen toured the US and Canada, and spent much of 1979 touring in Europe and Japan. They released their first live album, Live Killers, in 1979; it went platinum twice in the US. Queen also released the very successful single "Crazy Little Thing Called Love", a rockabilly inspired song done in the style of Elvis Presley. The song made the top 10 in many countries, topped the Australian ARIA Charts for seven consecutive weeks, and was the band's first number one single in the United States where it topped the Billboard Hot 100 for four weeks. Having written the song on guitar and played rhythm on the record, Mercury played rhythm guitar while performing the song live, which was the first time he ever played guitar in concert. On 26 December 1979, Queen played the opening night at the Concert for the People of Kampuchea in London, having accepted a request by the event's organiser, Paul McCartney. The concert was the last date of their Crazy Tour of London.
1980–1984: The Game to The Works
Queen on stage at the Oakland Arena, Oakland, California, July 1980
Queen began their 1980s career with The Game. It featured the singles "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and "Another One Bites the Dust", both of which reached number one in the US. After attending a Queen concert in Los Angeles, Michael Jackson suggested to Mercury backstage that "Another One Bites the Dust" be released as a single, and in October 1980 it spent three weeks at number one. The album topped the Billboard 200 for five weeks, and sold over four million copies in the US. It was also the first appearance of a synthesiser on a Queen album. Heretofore, their albums featured a distinctive "No Synthesisers!" sleeve note. The note is widely assumed to reflect an anti-synth, pro-"hard"-rock stance by the band, but was later revealed by producer Roy Thomas Baker to be an attempt to clarify that those albums' multi-layered solos were created with guitars, not synths, as record company executives kept assuming at the time. In September 1980, Queen performed three sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden. In 1980, Queen also released the soundtrack they had recorded for Flash Gordon. At the 1981 American Music Awards in January, "Another One Bites the Dust" won the award for Favorite Pop/Rock Single, and Queen were nominated for Favorite Pop/Rock Band, Duo, or Group.
In February 1981, Queen travelled to South America as part of The Game Tour, and became the first major rock band to play in Latin American stadiums. The tour included five shows in Argentina, one of which drew the largest single concert crowd in Argentine history with an audience of 300,000 in Buenos Aires and two concerts at the Morumbi Stadium in São Paulo, Brazil, where they played to an audience of more than 131,000 people in the first night (then the largest paying audience for a single band anywhere in the world) and more than 120,000 people the following night. In October of the same year, Queen performed for more than 150,000 fans on 9 October at Monterrey (Estadio Universitario) and 17 and 18 at Puebla (Estadio Zaragoza), Mexico. On 24 and 25 November, Queen played two sell out nights at the Montreal Forum, Quebec, Canada. One of Mercury's most notable performances of The Game's final track, "Save Me", took place in Montreal, and the concert is recorded in the live album, Queen Rock Montreal.
It was very excessive [the style of life]. I think the excess leaked out from the music into life and became a need. Queen was a wonderful vehicle and a wonderful, magical combination, but I think it came close to destroying us all. [We] were the biggest thing in the world for a moment in time and everything that goes with that really messes up your mind somehow. We've all suffered. Freddie, obviously, went completely AWOL, which is why he got that terrible disease. He was utterly out of control for a while. In a way, all of us were out of control and...it screwed us up.
—Brian May on the most turbulent period in the band during the early 1980s.
Queen worked with David Bowie on the single "Under Pressure". The first-time collaboration with another artist was spontaneous, as Bowie happened to drop by the studio while Queen were recording. Upon its release, the song was extremely successful, reaching number one in the UK and featuring at number 31 on VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of the '80s.
In 1982, the band released the album Hot Space, a departure from their trademark seventies sound, this time being a mixture of rock, pop rock, dance, funk, and R&B. Most of the album was recorded in Munich during the most turbulent period in the band's history, and Taylor and May lamented the new sound, with both being very critical of the influence Mercury's personal manager Paul Prenter had on the singer. May was also scathing of Prenter, who was Mercury's manager from the early 1980s to 1984, for being dismissive of the importance of radio stations, such as the US networks, and their vital connection between the artist and the community, and for denying them access to Mercury.Q magazine would list Hot Space as one of the top fifteen albums where great rock acts lost the plot. On 14 and 15 September 1982, the band performed their last two gigs in the US with Mercury on lead vocals, playing at The Forum in Inglewood, California. The band stopped touring North America after their Hot Space Tour, as their success there had waned, although they would perform on American television for the only time during the eighth-season premiere of Saturday Night Live on 25 September of the same year; it became the final public performance of the band in North America before the death of their frontman. Queen left Elektra Records, their label in the US, Canada, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, and signed onto EMI/Capitol Records.
Queen on stage in Frankfurt on 26 September 1984. Compatible with his performance and compositions, Mercury was also a multi-instrumentalist.
In February 1984, Queen released their eleventh studio album, The Works, which included the successful singles "Radio Ga Ga", "Hammer to Fall" and "I Want to Break Free". Despite these hit singles, the album failed to do well in the US, where the cross-dressing video for "I Want to Break Free" – a parody of the British soap opera Coronation Street – proved controversial and was banned by MTV, while in the UK it went triple platinum and remained in the albums chart for two years. The concept of the video came from Roger Taylor, who stated to Q magazine: "We had done some really serious, epic videos in the past, and we just thought we'd have some fun. We wanted people to know that we didn't take ourselves too seriously, that we could still laugh at ourselves. I think we proved that."
That year, Queen began The Works Tour, the first tour to feature keyboardist Spike Edney as an extra live musician. The tour featured nine sold-out dates in October in Bophuthatswana, South Africa, at the arena in Sun City. Upon returning to England, they were the subject of outrage, having played in South Africa during the height of apartheid and in violation of worldwide divestment efforts and a United Nations cultural boycott. The band responded to the critics by stating that they were playing music for fans in South Africa, and they also stressed that the concerts were played before integrated audiences. Queen donated to a school for the deaf and blind as a philanthropic gesture but were fined by the British Musicians' Union and placed on the United Nations' blacklisted artists.
1985–1988: Live Aid and tours
In January 1985, Queen headlined two nights of the first Rock in Rio festival at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and played in front of over 300,000 people each night. The Boston Globe described it as a "mesmerising performance". Highlights from both nights were released on VHS as Queen: Live in Rio, and was broadcast on MTV in the US. In April and May 1985, Queen completed the Works Tour with sold-out shows in Australia and Japan.
Queen were absolutely the best band of the day ... they just went and smashed one hit after another ... it was the perfect stage for Freddie: the whole world.
At Live Aid, held at Wembley on 13 July 1985, in front of the biggest-ever TV audience of 1.9 billion, Queen performed some of their greatest hits. The sold-out stadium audience of 72,000 people clapped, sang, and swayed in unison. The show's organisers Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, other musicians such as Elton John, Cliff Richard and Dave Grohl, and journalists writing for the BBC, CNN, Rolling Stone, MTV, The Telegraph among others, described Queen as the highlight. An industry poll in 2005 ranked it the greatest rock performance of all time. Mercury's powerful, sustained note during the a cappella section came to be known as "The Note Heard Round the World". The band were revitalised by the response to Live Aid – a "shot in the arm" Roger Taylor called it – and the ensuing increase in record sales.
In mid-1986, Queen went on the Magic Tour, their final tour with Freddie Mercury. They once again hired Spike Edney. The Magic Tour's highlight was at Wembley Stadium in London and resulted in the live double album Queen at Wembley, released on CD and as a live concert VHS/DVD, which has gone five times platinum in the US and four times platinum in the UK. Queen could not book Wembley for a third night, but played at Knebworth Park. The show sold out within two hours and over 120,000 fans packed the park for what was Queen's final performance with Mercury. Queen began the tour at the Råsunda Stadium in Stockholm, Sweden, and during the tour the band performed a concert at Slane Castle, Ireland, in front of an audience of 95,000, which broke the venue's attendance record. The band also played behind the Iron Curtain when they performed to a crowd of 80,000 at the Népstadion in Budapest, in what was one of the biggest rock concerts ever held in Eastern Europe. More than one million people saw Queen on the tour—400,000 in the UK alone, a record at the time.
After working on various solo projects during 1988 (including Mercury's collaboration with Montserrat Caballé, Barcelona), the band released The Miracle in 1989. The album continued the direction of A Kind of Magic, using a pop-rock sound mixed with a few heavy numbers. It spawned the European hits "I Want It All", "Breakthru", "The Invisible Man", "Scandal", and "The Miracle".The Miracle also began a change in direction of Queen's songwriting philosophy. Beforehand, nearly all songs had been written by and credited to a single member. With The Miracle, their songwriting became more collaborative, and they vowed to credit the final product only to Queen as a group.
1988–1992: Mercury's final years
There was all that time when we knew Freddie was on the way out, we kept our heads down.
After fans noticed Mercury's increasingly gaunt appearance in 1988, the media reported that Mercury was seriously ill, with AIDS frequently mentioned as a likely illness. Mercury denied this, insisting he was merely "exhausted" and too busy to provide interviews; he was now 42 years old and had been involved in music for nearly two decades. Mercury had in fact been diagnosed as HIV positive in 1987, but did not make his illness public, with only his inner circle of colleagues and friends aware of his condition.
The band continued recording albums, starting with The Miracle (1989) and continuing with Innuendo (1991). In 1990, Queen ended their contract with Capitol and signed with Hollywood Records; through the deal, Disney acquired the North American distribution rights to Queen's catalogue for $10 million, and remains the group's music catalogue owner and distributor in the United States and Canada. In February that year, Mercury made his final public appearance when he joined the rest of Queen to collect the Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music. Throughout 1990, media reports persisted that Mercury was seriously ill, but he continued to deny them.
Innuendo was released in early 1991 with an eponymous number 1 UK hit and other charting singles released later in the year, which included "The Show Must Go On". This song, released as a forerunner to Greatest Hits II, featured archive footage of Queen's performances between 1981 and 1989, and along with the manner of its lyrics, fuelled reports that Mercury was dying. Mercury was increasingly ill and could barely walk when the band recorded "The Show Must Go On" in 1990. Because of this, May had concerns about whether he was physically capable of singing it, but May recalled that he "completely killed it". The rest of the band were ready to record when Mercury felt able to come into the studio, for an hour or two at a time. May says of Mercury: "He just kept saying. 'Write me more. Write me stuff. I want to just sing this and do it and when I am gone you can finish it off.' He had no fear, really." The band's second greatest hits compilation, Greatest Hits II, followed in October 1991; it is the tenth-bestselling album in the UK and has sold 16 million copies worldwide.
Following Mercury's death on 24 November 1991, his tribute concert was held at the original Wembley Stadium (exterior pictured) in London on 20 April 1992, the same venue where Queen performed at Live Aid in July 1985
On 23 November 1991, in a prepared statement made on his deathbed, Mercury confirmed that he had AIDS. Within 24 hours of the statement, he died of bronchial pneumonia, which was brought on as a complication of AIDS. His funeral service on 27 November in Kensal Green, West London was private, and held in accordance with the Zoroastrian religious faith of his family. "Bohemian Rhapsody" was re-released as a single shortly after Mercury's death, with "These Are the Days of Our Lives" as the double A-side. The music video for "These Are the Days of Our Lives" contains Mercury's final scenes in front of the camera. This track had featured at the beginning of the year on the Innuendo album, and the video for it was recorded in May 1991 (which proved to be Mercury's final work with Queen). The single went to number one in the UK, remaining there for five weeks – the only recording to top the Christmas chart twice and the only one to be number one in four different years (1975, 1976, 1991, and 1992). Initial proceeds from the single – approximately £1,000,000 – were donated to the Terrence Higgins Trust, an AIDS charity.
Queen's popularity was stimulated in North America when "Bohemian Rhapsody" was featured in the 1992 comedy film Wayne's World. Its inclusion helped the song reach number two on the Billboard Hot 100 for five weeks in 1992 (including its 1976 chart run, it remained in the Hot 100 for a combined 41 weeks), and won the band an MTV Award at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards. The compilation album Classic Queen also reached number four on the Billboard 200, and is certified three times platinum in the US.Wayne's World footage was used to make a new music video for "Bohemian Rhapsody", with which the band and management were delighted.
Queen's last album with Mercury, titled Made in Heaven, was released in 1995, four years after his death. Featuring tracks such as "Too Much Love Will Kill You" and "Heaven for Everyone", it was constructed from Mercury's final recordings in 1991, material left over from their previous studio albums and re-worked material from May, Taylor, and Mercury's solo albums. The album also featured the song "Mother Love", the last vocal recording Mercury made, which he completed using a drum machine, over which May, Taylor and Deacon later added the instrumental track. After completing the penultimate verse, Mercury had told the band he "wasn't feeling that great" and stated, "I will finish it when I come back, next time". Mercury never returned to the studio afterwards, leaving May to record the final verse of the song. Both stages of recording, before and after Mercury's death, were completed at the band's studio in Montreux, Switzerland. The album reached number one in the UK following its release, their ninth number one album, and sold 20 million copies worldwide. On 25 November 1996, a statue of Mercury was unveiled in Montreux overlooking Lake Geneva, almost five years to the day since his death.
You guys should go out and play again. It must be like having a Ferrari in the garage waiting for a driver.
—Elton John, on Queen being without a lead singer since the death of Freddie Mercury.
In 1997, Queen returned to the studio to record "No-One but You (Only the Good Die Young)", a song dedicated to Mercury and all those who die too soon. It was released as a bonus track on the Queen Rocks compilation album later that year. In January 1997, Queen performed "The Show Must Go On" live with Elton John and the Béjart Ballet in Paris on a night Mercury was remembered, and it marked the last performance and public appearance of John Deacon, who chose to retire. The Paris concert was only the second time Queen had played live since Mercury's death, prompting Elton John to urge them to perform again. Brian May and Roger Taylor performed together at several award ceremonies and charity concerts, sharing vocals with various guest singers. During this time, they were billed as Queen + followed by the guest singer's name. In 1998, the duo appeared at Luciano Pavarotti's benefit concert with May performing "Too Much Love Will Kill You" with Pavarotti, later playing "Radio Ga Ga", "We Will Rock You", and "We Are the Champions" with Zucchero. They again attended and performed at Pavarotti's benefit concert in Modena, Italy in May 2003. Several of the guest singers recorded new versions of Queen's hits under the Queen + name, such as Robbie Williams providing vocals for "We Are the Champions" for the soundtrack of A Knight's Tale (2001).
In 1999, a Greatest Hits III album was released. This featured, among others, "Queen + Wyclef Jean" on a rap version of "Another One Bites the Dust". A live version of "Somebody to Love" by George Michael and a live version of "The Show Must Go On" with Elton John were also featured in the album. By this point, Queen's vast amount of record sales made them the second-bestselling artist in the UK of all time, behind the Beatles. On 18 October 2002, Queen were awarded the 2,207th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for their work in the music industry, which is located at 6358 Hollywood Blvd. On 29 November 2003, May and Taylor performed at the 46664 Concert hosted by Nelson Mandela at Green Point Stadium, Cape Town, to raise awareness of the spread of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. A new song, "Invincible Hope", featuring Mandela's speech and credited to Queen + Nelson Mandela, was performed during the concert and later released on the 46664: One Year On EP. During that period May and Taylor spent time at Mandela's home, discussing how Africa's problems might be approached, and two years later the band were made ambassadors for the 46664 cause.
At the end of 2004, May and Taylor announced that they would reunite and return to touring in 2005 with Paul Rodgers (founder and former lead singer of Free and Bad Company). Brian May's website also stated that Rodgers would be "featured with" Queen as "Queen + Paul Rodgers", not replacing Mercury. Deacon, who was retired, did not participate. In November 2004, Queen were among the inaugural inductees into the UK Music Hall of Fame, and the award ceremony was the first event at which Rodgers joined May and Taylor as vocalist.
Between 2005 and 2006, Queen + Paul Rodgers embarked on a world tour, which was the first time Queen toured since their last tour with Freddie Mercury in 1986. Taylor said: "We never thought we would tour again, Paul came along by chance and we seemed to have a chemistry. Paul is just such a great singer. He's not trying to be Freddie." The first leg was in Europe, the second in Japan, and the third in the US in 2006. Queen received the inaugural VH1 Rock Honors at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, on 25 May 2006.Foo Fighters paid homage, performing "Tie Your Mother Down" to open the ceremony before being joined on stage by May, Taylor, and Rodgers, who played a selection of Queen hits.
On 15 August 2006, May confirmed through his website and fan club that Queen + Paul Rodgers would begin producing their first studio album beginning in October, to be recorded at a "secret location". Queen + Paul Rodgers performed at the Nelson Mandela 90th Birthday Tribute held in Hyde Park, London on 27 June 2008, to commemorate Mandela's ninetieth birthday, and again promote awareness of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. The first Queen + Paul Rodgers album, titled The Cosmos Rocks, was released in Europe on 12 September 2008 and in the United States on 28 October 2008. Following the release of the album, the band again went on a tour through Europe, opening on Kharkiv's Freedom Square in front of 350,000 Ukrainian fans. The Kharkiv concert was later released on DVD. The tour then moved to Russia, and the band performed two sold-out shows at the Moscow Arena. Having completed the first leg of its extensive European tour, which saw the band play 15 sold-out dates across nine countries, the UK leg of the tour sold out within 90 minutes of going on sale and included three London dates, the first of which was the O2 Arena on 13 October. The last leg of the tour took place in South America, and included a sold-out concert at the Estadio José Amalfitani, Buenos Aires.
Queen and Paul Rodgers officially split up without animosity on 12 May 2009. Rodgers stated: "My arrangement with [Queen] was similar to my arrangement with Jimmy [Page] in The Firm in that it was never meant to be a permanent arrangement". Rodgers did not rule out the possibility of working with Queen again.
2009–2011: Departure from EMI, 40th anniversary
On 20 May 2009, May and Taylor performed "We Are the Champions" live on the season finale of American Idol with winner Kris Allen and runner-up Adam Lambert providing a vocal duet. In mid-2009, after the split of Queen + Paul Rodgers, the Queen online website announced a new greatest hits compilation named Absolute Greatest. The album was released on 16 November and peaked at number 3 in the official UK Chart. The album contains 20 of Queen's biggest hits spanning their entire career and was released in four different formats: single disc, double disc (with commentary), double disc with feature book, and a vinyl record. Before its release, Queen ran an online competition to guess the track listing as a promotion for the album. On 30 October 2009, May wrote a fanclub letter on his website stating that Queen had no intentions to tour in 2010 but that there was a possibility of a performance. On 15 November 2009, May and Taylor performed "Bohemian Rhapsody" live on the British TV show The X Factor alongside the finalists.
Many of you will have read bits and pieces on the internet about Queen changing record companies and so I wanted to confirm to you that the band have signed a new contract with Universal Music ... we would like to thank the EMI team for all their hard work over the years, the many successes and the fond memories, and of course we look forward to continuing to work with EMI Music Publishing who take care of our songwriting affairs. Next year we start working with our new record company to celebrate Queen's 40th anniversary and we will be announcing full details of the plans over the next 3 months. As Brian has already said Queen's next moves will involve 'studio work, computers and live work.
On 7 May 2010, May and Taylor announced that they were quitting their record label, EMI, after almost 40 years. On 20 August 2010, Queen's manager Jim Beach put out a Newsletter stating that the band had signed a new contract with Universal Music. During an interview for HARDtalk on the BBC on 22 September, May confirmed that the band's new deal was with Island Records, a subsidiary of Universal Music Group.Hollywood Records remained as the group's label in the United States and Canada, however. As such, for the first time since the late 1980s, Queen's catalogue now has the same distributor worldwide, as Universal distributes for both the Island and Hollywood labels (for a time in the late 1980s, Queen was on EMI-owned Capitol Records in the US).
On 14 March 2011, which marked the band's 40th anniversary, Queen's first five albums were re-released in the UK and some other territories as remastered deluxe editions (the US versions were released on 17 May). The second five albums of Queen's back catalogue were released worldwide on 27 June, with the exception of the US and Canada (27 September). The final five were released in the UK on 5 September.
In May 2011, Jane's Addiction vocalist Perry Farrell noted that Queen are currently scouting their once former and current live bassist Chris Chaney to join the band. Farrell stated: "I have to keep Chris away from Queen, who want him and they're not gonna get him unless we're not doing anything. Then they can have him." In the same month, Paul Rodgers stated he may tour with Queen again in the near future. At the 2011 Broadcast Music, Incorporated (BMI) Awards held in London on 4 October, Queen received the BMI Icon Award in recognition for their airplay success in the US. At the 2011 MTV Europe Music Awards on 6 November, Queen received the Global Icon Award, which Katy Perry presented to Brian May. Queen closed the awards ceremony, with Adam Lambert on vocals, performing "The Show Must Go On", "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions". The collaboration garnered a positive response from both fans and critics, resulting in speculation about future projects together.
On 25 and 26 April, May and Taylor appeared on the eleventh series of American Idol at the Nokia Theatre, Los Angeles, performing a Queen medley with the six finalists on the first show, and the following day performed "Somebody to Love" with the 'Queen Extravaganza' band. Queen were scheduled to headline Sonisphere at Knebworth on 7 July 2012 with Adam Lambert before the festival was cancelled. Queen's final concert with Freddie Mercury was in Knebworth in 1986. Brian May commented, "It's a worthy challenge for us, and I'm sure Adam would meet with Freddie's approval." Queen expressed disappointment at the cancellation and released a statement to the effect that they were looking to find another venue. Queen + Adam Lambert played two shows at the Hammersmith Apollo, London on 11 and 12 July 2012. Both shows sold out within 24 hours of tickets going on open sale. A third London date was scheduled for 14 July. On 30 June, Queen + Lambert performed in Kiev, Ukraine at a joint concert with Elton John for the Elena Pinchuk ANTIAIDS Foundation. Queen also performed with Lambert on 3 July 2012 at Moscow's Olympic Stadium, and on 7 July 2012 at the Municipal Stadium in Wroclaw, Poland.
Queen performing with Adam Lambert during their 2017 tour
On 20 September 2013, Queen + Adam Lambert performed at the iHeartRadio Music Festival at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Queen + Adam Lambert toured North America in Summer 2014 and Australia and New Zealand in August/September 2014. In an interview with Rolling Stone, May and Taylor said that although the tour with Lambert is a limited thing, they are open to him becoming an official member, and cutting new material with him.