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5 things you should know about Freddie Mercury

Del Cowie

This week marks the 25th anniversary of the death of legendary Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. Mercury would have been 70 years old this year. Earlier this month it was announced that Rami Malek will play Mercury in an upcoming movie on Queen entitled Bohemian Rhapsody to be directed by Bryan Singer, who is currently helming the X-Men franchise. It's also 35 years ago this week that "Under Pressure," Queen's collaboration with David Bowie hit the number one spot on the UK charts. In sad Freddie Mercury-related news, Mercury's mother Jer Bulsara passed away earlier this month. Additionally, a new book entitled Somebody to Love by Matt Richards and Mark Langthorne was published earlier this week, looking into the personal life of the legendary frontman.

Born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar, Freddie Mercury was known for his presence, charisma and consummate showmanship, but his talents extended far beyond his stage moves. Mercury's voice was considered one of the best in modern pop music history. Indeed, earlier this year, a scientific study determined that Mercury's unique talent derived from his vibrato being noticeably different than those of other classically trained singers. Mercury wrote many of Queen's biggest singles on piano, although the 1980 hit "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" a song Mercury wrote in under half an hour, was composed by the singer on guitar.

To commemorate the anniversary of his passing, here are five things from Mercury's remarkable career you should know.

1. Humble beginnings

Before assuming the lead singer role in Queen, Mercury patiently waited for his break in the music business, singing lead in bands named Wreckage and Sour Milk Seas and as one of the hanger-ons for a group called Smile featuring future Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor. Mercury also ran a stall called 'Kasbah' in London's Kensington Market with Roger Taylor. In an excerpt from Somebody to Love, Taylor remembers, "We had a dream of being in a working band, but the only way to live was to sell the sort of outlandish clothes we loved."

2. Breaking convention

According to Somebody to Love, "Bohemian Rhapsody," from Queen's 1975 album A Night at the Opera, took three weeks to record, which was as long as it took most bands to make a whole album in the mid-1970s. Most of this time was reportedly spent on the middle operatic section. "Bohemian Rhapsody" was the most expensive single ever recorded at the time of its release and, at six minutes, was deemed too long to be played on the radio. But Capitol Radio DJ Kenny Everett, who was under instructions not to play the song, ended up playing it 14 times in two days on his radio show, ushering the song into mainstream consciousness before it had even been officially released. The rest, as they say, is history.

3. Butting heads with Bowie

"Under Pressure," Queen's 1981 collaboration with David Bowie came to be after Bowie had been asked to contribute his vocals to Queen's "Cool Cat." An impromptu studio session occurred, yet the song's creation wasn't quite as peaceful as one might think and this episode is recounted in Somebody to Love. "It was hard," [Queen guitarist] Brian May remembers, "because you had four very precocious boys and David," who was precocious enough for all of us. David took over the song lyrically. Looking back, it's a great song but it should have been mixed differently. Freddie and David had a fierce battle over that.'"

4. A performance for the ages

Queen's 1985 performance at the Live Aid concert to a global audience of a billion people is often referred to as being one of the most compelling live rock performances of all time. Amazingly enough, Mercury was suffering from a severe throat infection at the time and was advised by a backstage doctor that he was too ill to perform. But Mercury insisted, perceptively aware a good performance would boost Queen's then-waning fortunes. Opening with a segment of "Bohemian Rhapsody," Queen went on to perform stadium-ready songs like "Radio Ga Ga," "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions" and also led the crowd in a rousing in-between song call and response routine that featured a startingly long note, exhibiting Mercury's superior vocal abilities.

5. The last goodbye

Freddie Mercury's final public appearance was in February 1990 at the BPI Awards, commonly referred to these days as the Brit Awards. By this time, Mercury's fellow group members were very much aware of the decline in his health due to being diagnosed with AIDS. However, the group protected Mercury from the persistent questions about his gaunt appearance. Mercury would authorize a press release confirming he was suffering from AIDS 24 hours before his death. Mercury would pass away on November 24, 1991. At the Brit Awards, Queen walked on stage to receive an award for their outstanding contribution to British music with guitarist Brian May speaking to the audience. As the group walked off the stage, Mercury leaned in to the microphone to utter his final words in public, "Thank you, goodnight."

Follow Del Cowie on Twitter @vibesandstuff

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