And then came The Game, which was both the high water mark of Queen’s American success, and the beginning of the end of Queen’s American success. It was their only #1 album here, mostly off the strength of Crazy Little Thing Called Love and Another One Bites the Dust, and it is those two songs that illustrate my point.
Crazy Little Thing was a rock song–an Elvis goof, for Christ’s sake!–and in the video, Freddie looked like this:
Which cannot, to our present-day eyes, look anything but incomplete and possibly photoshopped, but in 1980 this was an acceptable look for the general American public: lots of Rock Stars had been cutting their hair, and the leather was fine–Elvis wore leather, for Christ’s sake!–and Freddie wasn’t doing anything different from what he usually did.
By the time the album came out, however, Freddie looked like this:
In 1980, Freddie Mercury achieved his final form, and became glorious. Freddie’s mustache was his lightsaber, even though he didn’t like Star Wars. And from today, he is nothing but beauty and strength, but in 1980?
In 1980, that there was a faggot.
We speak now, again, to the Younger Enthusiast: 36 years is a long damn time. Marriage equality didn’t just happen, and the country used to be an openly and institutionally homophobic place–remember that the Stonewall riots had only taken place 11 years before–so gay folks tended to cluster together for protection. Boston had the South End, and Los Angeles had West Hollywood, and San Francisco had the Castro; as you might expect, a fashion sense emerged.
(That is not some sort of cheap gay joke: that’s how humans behave. The cool, good-looking people wear something, and then everyone copies them to the point where it’s a statement to not look like that, and then there are new cool, good-looking people; they have new clothes, and the cycle continues.)
America had one rule: don’t come out of the closet. Be as gay as humanly possibly just as loud as you can, wear clothes influenced by the gay scene, explore themes of your sexuality through your art, but just don’t say the magic words out loud. Elton John did once, in Rolling Stone, and then he scampered right back in the closet for a decade or so. (In Elton’s defense, he has a very nice closet.)
And that’s what that mustache (and haircut) was: a declaration, one that could not be misinterpreted. No man in 1980 would look like that were he not gay, except a man who was unafraid of being thought gay, and those men did not exist in 1980: either you were gay, or you would punch someone for suggesting you were. It was a different time, Younger Enthusiast.
(Ironically, the country’s homo-hatin’ eye only turned towards Freddie once he began dressing like a boy: when he dressed like a girl, in a leotard with long hair and makeup, no one cast a second glance.)
The disco did not help, either. The Game only had one disco tune on it, but it was Another One Bites the Dust, which was a worldwide #1 hit; this makes the argument, “Let’s do more dance tunes,” far more agreeable. John Deacon wrote Bites the Dust, after stealing it from Chic, but the rest of the band followed him down the synth-and-drum-machine path, and Hot Space is the result. It’s terrible.
(I know I skipped Flash Gordon. I’m gonna cover that with Highlander. Trust me; I’m a professional.)
The Game had Save Me on it, at least: Hot Space is an aggressively underdone offering. The songs are all half-written sketches, just drum machines and farty synth squibbles. (The Yamaha DX7, for the true Rock Nerd out there.) Lyrics include poetry such as:
You know a gun never killed nobody
You can ask anyone
People get shot by people
People with guns!
Put out the fire
You need a gun like a hole in the head
Put out the fire
Just tell me that old-fashioned gun law is dead!
Before Brian liked badgers, he did not like guns.
Even when Roger’s actually playing the drums, they’re processed to sound like a machine’s doing it.
Ugh, Jesus: this thing is fucking dire. When I first got into Queen, and bought all their CD’s, I saved Hot Space for last, and then put off the purchase for a while; I was correct in my apprehension. Las Palabras del Amor is for their Spanish fans, just as Teo Torriate was for their Japanese supporters; fittingly, it’s a direct ripoff of the first song, too.
Under Pressure got slapped on the album at the last minute, and saved it from sinking entirely in America, but Freddie had seen the razor and the damage done; this tour would be their last one in the States.
The tour looked like this:
You will note the gong: when drummers become Rock Stars, they are given their gong, much like when a Jewish boy turns 13, he receives savings bonds.
Most Queen biographies will pin America’s loss in interest in the band on the video for I Want to Break Free, but it was the mustache. Freddie’s face was now too in people’s faces. They would continue to sell out enormous soccer stadiums in the rest of the world, but would no longer play Peoria.