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Freddie Mercury's Solo Career

Simone is an Italian guy who is very passionate about music. He writes classic rock album reviews.

Freddie Mercury in a recording studio, 1985

Freddie Mercury in a recording studio, 1985

Freddie Mercury: Solo Artist

Everyone knows Freddie Mercury as the legendary singer of Queen, but do you also know that he released material as a solo artist, mainly in the 1980s?

We're mostly talking about two albums, which were very different from one another, as we will see in a bit. But, there were a few other scattered singles, collaborations, and even some posthumous material released fairly recently.

Given the obscurity of most of these songs, it can be hard to tell the good from the bad. Let's see what's available in detail.

Freddie Mercury's 1973 single released under the name Larry Lurex.

Freddie Mercury's 1973 single released under the name Larry Lurex.

1973: "I Can Hear Music" b/w "Goin' Back"

The first single by Freddie Mercury as a solo artist, "I Can Hear Music" was released under the name Larry Lurex in late June 1973, a couple weeks ahead of Queen's self-titled debut album.

In 1972, Queen were recording their first album at Trident Studios in London, when producer Robin Geoffrey Cable asked Mercury to sing on a couple of songs. Freddie accepted, but he brought in guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor as backing musicians.

Covering The Ronettes

The A-side is a cover of "I Can Hear Music," originally recorded by The Ronettes and Phil Spector in 1966, and largely the basis for Mercury's performance. The Beach Boys also had a minor hit with it in the spring of 1969. May has an excellent guitar solo that also serves as an outro, while Taylor is mostly buried in Cable's Spectorian "wall of sound" production.

Covering The Byrds

The B-side is "Goin' Back," a Gerry Goffin-Carole King song made famous by Dusty Springfield in 1966. However, Mercury's arrangement appears to be based on The Byrds version released on Notorious Byrd Brothers in early 1968.

The Origin of Larry Lurex

Since the members of Queen were busy promoting their first album—which was very different from these two songs—they were understandably reluctant to promote Freddie's single. So, Cable got the idea to release it under the name Larry Lurex, a parody of Gary Glitter.

The single was a commercial flop, but it became a rare collector's item, and the songs were later included in many compilations covering Freddie's solo career.

Curiously, a snippet of "Goin' Back" can be heard at the end of "Mother Love" from Queen's Made In Heaven album (1995).

Freddie Mercury's 1984 collaboration with Giorgio Moroder, "Love Kills."

Freddie Mercury's 1984 collaboration with Giorgio Moroder, "Love Kills."

1984: "Love Kills"

In 1984 a restored version of Fritz Lang's 1927 cinematic masterpiece, Metropolis, was released. It included a contemporary soundtrack curated by disco pioneer Giorgio Moroder—who also was responsible for the new cut of the movie, since the original print was long thought to have been lost.

Collaboration with Georgio Moroder

Moroder collaborated with many different singers, such as Bonnie Tyler, Billy Squier and Jon Anderson, but without a doubt, the most famous song is "Love Kills," which is sung by Freddie.

The song is officially credited to Mercury—though it was definitely a collaboration with Moroder—and it was most likely recorded during sessions for Queen's 1984 album, The Works.

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Features All Four Members of Queen

In recent years it's been confirmed that the other three members of Queen play on "Love Kills," even if Moroder's electronic arrangement and production doesn't make that too evident—though to be honest, the solo at the end sounds like Brian May.

In later years, a number of different producers remixed the track, and in 2014, a new version of "Love Kills" was included on the Queen Forever compilation. It was a slower arrangement, completely re-done by Brian and Roger, and it transformed the song into a ballad.

Freddie Mercury's only proper solo album is "Mr. Bad Guy" (1985).

Freddie Mercury's only proper solo album is "Mr. Bad Guy" (1985).

1985: Mr. Bad Guy

Freddie's first (and only) solo album, Mr. Bad Guy, was recorded between 1983 and early 1985 in Munich, Germany, during breaks between Queen recording sessions and tours. He worked with Reinhold Mack, Queen's producer and engineer between The Game (1980) and A Kind Of Magic (1986).

The songs on Mr. Bad Guy are mostly outtakes from The Works, Queen's 1984 album that brought back a more rock-oriented sound after the controversial funk-soul-disco sound of Hot Space (1982). Mr. Bad Guy leaned into disco soul because Mercury loved that sound, making it very different from what he was doing with Queen.

Collaborating with Michael Jackson

For a while it looked like Freddie might collaborate with Michael Jackson on several songs, first on Thriller, then on Mr. Bad Guy. They could never work out more than a session or two, but a recording of "State Of Shock" can be found online. (FYI, this is the same song later finished with Mick Jagger and released on the Jacksons' 1984 album Victory.)

Similarly, a version of "There Must Be More To Life Than This" with Jackson and Mercury duetting was eventually released on the 2014 compilation, Queen Forever. The track as released on Mr. Bad Guy is just Freddie.

Mr. Bad Guy is an album of its time. It's very '80s sounding, with a lot of electronic percussion and synthesizers. And while it wasn't a commercial success, it features some now-legendary songs like "Living On My Own," "Made In Heaven," and "I Was Born To Love You."

Posthumous Success

Much of the success of these three songs, however, came after Freddie's death. In 1993, "Living On My Own" was remixed by the No More Brothers and it reached number one in the UK, Ireland, and France, becoming Mercury's first solo chart topper. Then, in 1995, "Made In Heaven" and "I Was Born To Love You" were central pieces of the aforementioned Made In Heaven album, albeit in newly-recorded versions.

Three singles were released from Mr. Bad Guy, two of them with non-album tracks. "I Was Born To Love You" was backed with "Stop All the Fighting" and "Made in Heaven" was backed with "She Blows Hot and Cold." Both B-sides were in the style of the album (i.e. very danceable), but maybe not as refined as the others. However, those two songs were included in future compilations.

Fun Songs, Dated Production

Overall, Mr. Bad Guy is enjoyable and has some fun songs, you just have to get past its dated production.

Freddie Mercury's 1986 single, "Time," from the musical of the same name.

Freddie Mercury's 1986 single, "Time," from the musical of the same name.

1986: "Time" and "In My Defence"

In late 1985, Mercury was asked by Dave Clark to sing two songs in the soundtrack for his upcoming musical, Time. The first song is the title track, written by Clark and Jeff Daniels, and released as a single in May 1986. A video was filmed at the Dominion Theatre in London, where a permanent stage was built for the musical premiere in early April. This song has been re-released many times over the years.

The other song recorded for the musical was "In My Defence," again written by Clark and Daniels. This beautiful ballad wasn't released as a single at the time, but after Mercury's death became kind of a hymn. In fact, a new videoclip was made by Rudi Dolezal to remember him in late 1991.

On April 14, 1988, Freddie made an appearance at one performance of Time at the Dominion Theatre. He sang three songs live: "In My Defence," "It's In Everyone Of Us," and "Born To Rock and Roll" sung as a duet with Cliff Richard.

This was Mercury's last public performance.

Freddie Mercury's 1987 single was a cover of The Platters' "The Great Pretender."

Freddie Mercury's 1987 single was a cover of The Platters' "The Great Pretender."

1987: "The Great Pretender" b/w "Exercises in Free Love"

One of the most famous singles in Freddie's solo career, this cover of the classic Platters song fit very well with his personality and vocal style. And even if the typical '80s production drags this version down a bit, it's still essential Mercury.

The video for the song is particularly fun, with parodies of past Queen videos by and the presence of Roger Taylor, actor Peter Straker, and Freddie himself as a trio of female backup singers.

The B-side of this single is a piano ballad called "Exercises In Free Love," in which Freddie sings in a very powerful operatic falsetto. He almost sounds like a real female soprano. A beautiful song that, as we'll see shortly, would later be re-done in a dramatically different way.

Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé on the cover of 1988's "Barcelona" album.

Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé on the cover of 1988's "Barcelona" album.

1988: Barcelona (ft. Montserrat Caballé)

Freddie Mercury was a big fan of opera singer Montserrat Caballé, so when an opportunity came to collaborate on a theme song for the 1992 Olympic Games—taking place in Barcelona, Spain—he jumped at the chance.

Mercury teamed up with pianist Mike Moran (who played on "The Great Pretender"), singing his parts and her parts in the same operatic falsetto heard on "Exercises In Free Love." They then sent the tracks to Caballé, and she recorded her parts in another studio.

One Song Became Full Album

It was very quickly decided that one song wasn't enough, and the collaboration was extended to a full album, which also included a new version of "Exercises In Free Love," with new lyrics in Spanish and a new title ("Ensueño").

The title track, "Barcelona," became a huge hit, and the album is surprisingly diverse, from the Japanese-inspired "La Japonaise," to the gospel of "The Golden Boy," to the heavy orchestration of "The Fallen Priest." Meanwhile, "How Can I Go On" sounds like a show tunes standard (with John Deacon on bass) and "Guide Me Home" is a majestic and operatic duet between Mercury and Caballé.

Barcelona is Peak Freddie

Barcelona is a crowning achievement in Freddie Mercury's career. And though it sounds like the singers are backed by a real orchestra, all sounds were made using synthesizers—this is an important detail, as we will learn soon.

Freddie and Montserrat performed together in 1987 and 1988, the first time at Club Ibiza, the second at La Nit in Barcelona. These ended up being some of the last times Mercury performed live. The song "Barcelona" ended up being used for the 1992 Olympic Games, inspired in part by Freddie's death in November 1991.

2012: Synths Replaced by Orchestra

In 2012, a new version of Barcelona was released, and it substituted the original synthesizer parts with the Prague FILMharmonic Orchestra, arranged by Stuart Morley. There are a few guest musicians, like Naoko Kikuchi, who plays a koto in "La Japonaise," and Rufus Taylor, Roger's son, who plays drums on "The Golden Boy" and "How Can I Go On."

The original vocal tracks are the only thing remaining from the first version—along with Deacon's bass playing on "How Can I Go On." This version is now considered definitive, being the only version present on streaming services. I don't really agree with this, but it's certainly a great alternative version of the album. I just wish that more respect was shown for the innovative synthesizer work done on the original.

"The Freddie Mercury Album" (1992)

"The Freddie Mercury Album" (1992)

1992: The Freddie Mercury Album

This is a compilation released on the one year anniversary of Freddie's death. It features the original versions of "Barcelona," "Love Kills," "The Great Pretender," and "Exercises In Free Love," as well as a number of remixes. For example, the aforementioned No More Brothers remix of "Living On My Own" is included here.

Mildly Controversial?

On one hand, this album shed new light on Freddie Mercury, the solo performer. On the other hand, these tracks (as released) were obviously not what Freddie originally intended for his songs. Granted, the operation was approved by Queen manager Jim Beach and producer Reinhold Mack, so it's likely they had more information about Mercury's intentions.

Mild criticism aside, it's a good compilation and the remixes provide a different perspective on Freddie's material. For a long time, it was also the only way to own these songs, since several were singles, and Mr. Bad Guy was out of print.

The Great Pretender (U.S. Version)

Please note: The U.S. version of this album was released as The Great Pretender, featured a remix of the title track, a second remix of "Living On My Own," and a new remix of "My Love Is Dangerous" in place of "Barcelona," which was not included.

The definitive Freddie Mercury compilation, "The Solo Collection" (2000)

The definitive Freddie Mercury compilation, "The Solo Collection" (2000)

2000: The Solo Collection

Sadly out of print, this box set is THE definitive compilation of Freddie's solo career. With twelve discs, two of them DVDs, there is an abundance of material. First of all, the original LP versions of Mr. Bad Guy (Disc 1) and Barcelona (Disc 2) are included, as well as The Great Pretender (Disc 3), the U.S. version of The Freddie Mercury Album.

Singles

Discs 4 and 5 compile two decades worth of singles, from Larry Lurex in 1973 through the 1993 "Living On My Own" remixes—even including some extended versions only released on 12" singles. After an interesting, though inessential disc of instrumentals (Disc 6), comes three CDs of rarities.

Disc 7 covers the Mr. Bad Guy era, with loads of demos and unfinished songs. Disc 8 covers Barcelona, so it's a unique chance to hear Freddie and Mike Moran's early demos with Mercury singing Montserrat Caballè's parts.

Rarities

Disc 9 includes material from various sources, including two rarities from 1969: A live cover of the Beatles' "Rain" by his pre-Queen band, Ibex, and "Green," a rehearsal from his other pre-Queen band, Wreckage. There's a couple collaborations with Billy Squier from 1986 and several unfinished demos.

Disc 10 is a collection of interviews with Freddie conducted by his longtime confidante, British journalist David Wigg. Disc 11 is a DVD collection of Mercury videos and Disc 12 is The Untold Story, a documentary on Freddie's life.

Solo: Three-Disc Sampler

The Solo Collection was also released as a three-disc sampler entitled Solo. It included Mr. Bad Guy, Barcelona, and a third CD with seven songs, mostly singles, selected from the box set.

"Lover of Life, Singer of Songs," a 2006 compilation released in the U.K. to coincide with Freddie Mercury's 60th birthday.

"Lover of Life, Singer of Songs," a 2006 compilation released in the U.K. to coincide with Freddie Mercury's 60th birthday.

2006: Lover of Life, Singer of Songs: The Very Best of Freddie Mercury Solo

A compilation of solo songs released to celebrate what would have been Freddie's 60th birthday and issued in both single-disc and two-disc versions. The first disc compiles the usual songs and adds a few remixes.

Remix City

The second disc is almost entirely dedicated to more remixes, with no less than four versions of "Love Kills," not including the two from the first disc! Disc 2 also includes a few tracks from the 2000 Solo Collection.

The "Love Making Love" demo is the most interesting choice; the others are demos, a cappella versions, and extended versions. All in all, the first CD is fine but not essential, the second CD is mostly forgettable.

Videos and Documentary

What's maybe more interesting is the release of the two DVDs from The Solo Collection—the videos and the documentary—as a standalone release. Also titled Lover of Life, Singer of Songs, it's nice to have this available in one place.

"Messenger Of The Gods" (2016) collects all of Freddie Mercury's singles on 2 CDs.

"Messenger Of The Gods" (2016) collects all of Freddie Mercury's singles on 2 CDs.

2016: Messenger of the Gods: The Singles

As the title says, this is a two-disc compilation of Freddie's singles (A-sides and B-sides). Most of this material is available on 2000's Solo Collection, but I guess it's nice to have it as a standalone release. This is especially true for some of the obscure B-sides like "Stop All the Fighting" and "She Blows Hot and Cold."

Again, nothing essential here, but another solid compilation.

"Never Boring" is a 2019 box set with three CDs,  a collection of videos, and a book.

"Never Boring" is a 2019 box set with three CDs, a collection of videos, and a book.

2019: Never Boring

This is a weird release, available as three individual CDs or as a three-disc box set. Disc 1 compiles the usual singles, songs from Mr. Bad Guy, and songs from Barcelona.

However, the songs from Mr. Bad Guy are remixed to sound less "dated" (less reverb and more stripped down). The most interesting discovery on the first disc is the newly-unearthed piano and vocal demo of "Time."

Freddie Mercury in the Spotify Era

As for the other two CDs in the collection, Disc 2 is a remixed Mr. Bad Guy and Disc 3 is the 2012 version of Barcelona. It's worth mentioning that these versions of the album are the ones represented on streaming services like Spotify.

In a sense then, the remixes have become the "standard" editions, more or less cancelling out the original versions, which are long out of print. This is obviously something I don't agree with, and it weakens what could be an essential release.

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