Hear Freddie Mercury’s Vocals Soar in the Isolated Vocal Track for “Somebody to Love”

For some time now, cer­tain fans of Queen have sought the elu­sive answer to the ques­tion “what made Fred­die Mer­cury such an incred­i­ble singer?” That he was an incred­i­ble singer—one of the great­est in terms of vocal range, emo­tive pow­er, stage pres­ence, song­writ­ing, etc.—is hard­ly a fact in dis­pute. Or it shouldn’t be. You don’t need to love Queen’s music to acknowl­edge its bril­liance, and mar­vel at its frontman’s seem­ing­ly super­hu­man pow­er and sta­mi­na. The expla­na­tions for it are mul­ti­ple and have become far more sophis­ti­cat­ed in recent years.

Sci­en­tif­ic research has exam­ined the pos­si­ble phys­i­o­log­i­cal struc­ture of Mercury’s vocal chords, and con­clud­ed that he was able to vibrate sev­er­al vocal folds at once, cre­at­ing sub­har­mon­ics and a vibra­to faster than that of any oth­er singer. It’s a com­pelling the­o­ry, albeit a lit­tle gross. Who wants to lis­ten to “Some­body to Love”’s glo­ri­ous, swoop­ing soul­ful vers­es and Broad­way show­stop­per cho­rus­es and pic­ture vibrat­ing vocal folds? Mer­cury was a show­man, not a singing machine—and his unique inflec­tions derived not only from biol­o­gy but also—argues Rudi Dolezal, direc­tor of Fred­die Mer­cury: The Untold Sto­ry—from cul­ture.

Mercury’s for­ma­tive expe­ri­ences as a child in Zanz­ibar and India, and the “cul­ture shock” of his move to Lon­don as a teenag­er, may have con­tributed to his expan­sive vocal prowess: “it was mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism that was com­bined in Fred­die Mer­cury,” says Dolezal, sug­gest­ing that Mercury’s voice went places no one else’s did in part because he com­bined the strengths of East­ern and West­ern music. Maybe. Mer­cury grew up emu­lat­ing Eng­lish and Amer­i­can artists like Cliff Richard and Lit­tle Richard, but one of his biggest influ­ences was Bol­ly­wood super­star Lata Mangeshkar.

Mer­cury him­self had his own unusu­al the­o­ry, believ­ing that his dis­tinc­tive over­bite some­how played a part in his singing abil­i­ty, which is why he nev­er had his teeth straight­ened despite a life­time of self-con­scious­ness about them. Maybe the most hon­est fan answer to the ques­tion might be, “who cares?” Just enjoy it—over-analysis of the parts takes away from the expe­ri­ence of Queen’s bom­bas­tic the­atri­cal whole. That’s fair enough, I sup­pose, but if there’s any voice worth obsess­ing over it’s Mercury’s.

If you’re still in doubt about why, lis­ten to the iso­lat­ed vocal track at the top for “Some­body to Love” from start to fin­ish. You’ll hear a singer who sounds capa­ble of doing pret­ty much any­thing that it’s pos­si­ble to do with the human voice except sing off-key. Yes, of course, it’s impres­sive in con­text, with the band’s vocal har­monies lift­ing Mercury’s voice like a great pair of wings. Take them away, how­ev­er, and strip away all of the song’s instru­men­ta­tion, and Mercury’s vocal seems to soar even high­er. I’d kind of like to know how he did that.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What Made Fred­die Mer­cury the Great­est Vocal­ist in Rock His­to­ry? The Secrets Revealed in a Short Video Essay

Sci­en­tif­ic Study Reveals What Made Fred­die Mercury’s Voice One of a Kind; Hear It in All of Its A Cap­pel­la Splen­dor

Fred­die Mer­cury: The Untold Sto­ry of the Singer’s Jour­ney From Zanz­ibar to Star­dom

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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