Freddie Mercury (real name Farrokh Bulsara) was an English singer and pianist, most notable as the lead vocalist of the band Queen. Joining the band in 1970, Mercury was a critical force in the band’s songwriting from the very beginning, and by the mid-late 1970’s he had become one of rock music’s most prominent and popular frontmen, providing a dynamic display of stage presence and charisma rivalling the best to ever perform live. Thanks to this, Queen became arguably the biggest live band in the world up until their retirement from touring in 1986, a decision hastened by Mercury’s diagnosis with AIDS one year later. While the disease took his life in 1991, his significance to music’s history has remained the stuff of legend ever since, and he is often ranked at or near the top of “greatest rock singers” and “greatest frontmen” lists.
Mercury’s voice type is one that has been debated by numerous people, but overall he seems to best fit the qualities of a low tenor. Easily the most distinguishing part of his voice was his unusually chesty belting style, a style apparently self-developed in an attempt to distract from his naturally lower-placed tessitura. This style wouldn’t be fully mastered until the late 70’s, with his earlier work featuring a lighter tone with less grit. Freddie’s voice can be said to have peaked in two different time periods: the first from 1980-1982, when he had mastered the practice of adding girth and weight to his lower fifth octave belting, and the second from 1987-1991, as his retirement from touring caused his voice to become less fatigued and thus giving it a lighter yet still resonant tone in his higher range. In particular, 1991’s Innuendo, recorded approximately a year before his death, showcases arguably Mercury’s finest moments as a vocalist, most notably with tracks like “The Show Must Go On” and “Don’t Try So Hard”. Even the last tracks Freddie put his vocals to (“Mother Love” and “A Winter’s Tale”, recorded six months before his death) showcase him in excellent form vocally. Neither an extremely adept low singer nor a frequent user of falsetto, Mercury was actually not especially known for his versatility. Regardless, even if he wasn’t quite the God Of All Things Singing that some have believed him to be, he still remains one of the definitive rock singers of all-time.
1969-1973: Displayed a noticeably light tone throughout much of this period, helped in part by his tendency to utilize falsetto more frequently. Belting technique is clearly a work-in-progress here, most notable in some of the live Ibex recordings like “Communication Breakdown”.
1974-1975: Higher belting gains noticeably more power as time goes along here, particularly on A Night at the Opera. Lower singing is clearly stronger on here as well, and thus Mercury starts layering more and more of the harmonies (as opposed to the early days when three-part harmonies were more common). From a vocal and compositional standpoint “Bohemian Rhapsody” stands far beyond anything he had produced prior.
1976-1978: Tone starts to darken slightly but not enough to where it’s a drastic change. “Somebody to Love” represents yet another tour de force for him vocally; by this time he’s clearly mastered the various aspects of his voice and he showcases it exceptionally on that track. Towards the Jazz period his belts get even grittier, as tracks like “Dead On Time” prove.
1979-1982: Mercury’s first “vocal peak”, with his higher belting as powerful as it ever was during this era. Hot Space in particular shows Mercury’s voice to be very versatile, with agile and playful singing going from gritty belting to even softer falsetto on songs like “Cool Cat”. The appearance of his famed moustache only serves as an additional correlation to easily his gruffest period vocally.
1983-1986: Not much change during this period except for a noticeable increase in consistency with his live performing. The A Kind of Magic album/corresponding tour sees Mercury with a bit of a harsher sound to his vox on tracks such as “One Year of Love” and “Gimme the Prize”, in part due to intentional stylistic choice and in part because of wear and tear from touring. Following this period the band retired from live performing.
1987-1988: Vocals are slightly cleaner in this period, which features a number of Mercury’s best vocal moments on Barcelona. Lower register is utilized a lot more in this period, with his voice taking on more of the weight of a baritone in songs like “Ensueno” and “The Golden Boy”.
1989-1991: Vocals have become noticeably lighter and thinner as his disease has progressed, but still retain excellent resonance and power. Higher range has expanded as his vocals have become cleaner, very evident on Innuendo, the album that demonstrates his voice at its highest capabilities. Both the lower and higher ends of his voice are on exquisite form. Even up to the Montreux sessions in May 1991 his voice, while thin-sounding, was still strong and could portray emotion exceptionally well.
Top Ten Studio Vocal Performances (as decided by the members of The Range Place)
1a. The Show Must Go On (1991)
1b. Guide Me Home/How Can I Go On? (Demo Version) (1991)
3. Somebody to Love (1976)
4. Bohemian Rhapsody (1975)
5. Innuendo (1991)
6. All God’s People (1991)
7. Don’t Try So Hard (1991)
8. In My Defence (1987)
9. The Golden Boy (1988)
10. Who Wants to Live Forever (1986)
Honorable mentions: “The Prophet’s Song”, “Don’t Stop Me Now”, “Another One Bites the Dust”, “One Year of Love”, “Gimme the Prize”, “A Winter’s Tale”
Top Ten Live Vocal Performances: 1. Radio Gaga (Live Aid 1985)
2. Somebody to Love (Edinburgh 1982)
3. See What a Fool I’ve Been (London 1977)
4. Spread Your Wings (Newcastle 1979)
5. You Take My Breath Away (Edinburgh 1976)
6. Save Me (Newcastle 1979)
7. A Kind of Magic (Leiden 1986)
8. My Melancholy Blues (Houston 1977)
9. Liar (Newcastle 1979)
10. We Are the Champions (Live Aid 1985)
About The Researchers: Gregsynthbootlegs is The Range Place’s resident bootleg expert. Collector of hundreds of live recordings related to Queen, Elton John, Iron Maiden and others, he operates his own personal YouTube channel and has researched artists such as Freddie Mercury and Elton John. If you wish to contact him regarding any of his works, you can send him a private message after registering at http://therangeplace.boards.net.
The Long Shot joined The Range Place in 2014 and has partaken in some of the site’s largest notewatching projects, including research of Freddie Mercury, Frank Sinatra, Elton John, Billy Joel, and all of the Beach Boys (even the ones you’ve never heard of). If you wish to contact him regarding any of his works, you can send him a private message after registering at http://therangeplace.boards.net.
Photo taken from an unspecified early 1980’s Queen concert.