If there were ever a band that perfectly embodied all of the massive excesses of late 70’s arena rock, that band was Queen. Occasionally ridiculous, often sublime, never boring, the four piece overtook The Who for stage spectacle and rock theatrics, and could boast of one of the most adventurous and innovative rock guitarists of all time in Brian May.
The rhythm section of John Deacon and Roger Taylor didn’t slouch either, but as we know, when we’re talking Queen, we’re talking Freddy Mercury, the most charismatic, powerful lead singer in rock history, or as Allmusic’s Greg Plato put it, “one of rock’s greatest all-time entertainers/showmen,” who “possessed one of the greatest voices in all of music and penned some of pop’s most enduring and instantly recognizable compositions.” I suspect there a little hyperbole there, but maybe not much.
In any case, Mercury sold all those “greatests” to hundreds of millions of fans, over a 20 year career spanning 26 albums and many hundreds of operatic megashows. Mercury and the band worked incredibly long and hard to earn every accolade, tribute, box set, and memorial since Mercury’s shockingly sudden (or so it seemed) death from AIDS complications in 1991. One of the most recent of those tributes is the documentary above Queen: The Days of Our Lives.
Released on the 40th anniversary of Queen’s founding in May 2011, the film takes its title not from the long-running soap opera but from the band’s final recording together, “These Are the Days of Our Lives” (below), written by drummer Roger Taylor and issued as a single in the U.S. just one month before Mercury’s death. The song (and video) subsequently became a poignant reminder of Mercury’s talent and presence; it is a fitting reference for a Queen film this comprehensive.
The “plot” of the documentary, so to speak, can roughly be summarized as: rise from band of hungry university students to global rock stars; declining sales, low times, infighting; rise again in triumphant revival after the ’85 Live Aid and the Magic Tour in 1986; and, finally, tragically, the end. Producer Rhys Thomas says of the film:
We have set out to make the definitive Queen documentary. It’s a funny, honest, inspiring and ultimately tragic account of ‘a certain band called Queen,’ as told by the band themselves. We tell the story of four students who met in West London, slogged hard and conquered the world, ultimately changing rock music forever.
Whether you think Queen always changed rock music for the better is a matter of personal taste, but they’ll never be forgotten. Originally released in two parts on UK television, the full version of the documentary above has Dutch subtitles, tons of archival footage and revealing interviews, and enough awesome guitar solos to fill up Wembley Stadium.
Josh Jones is a writer, editor, and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness