Music videos are a fascinating way to turn audio into a cinematic experience. Since today is Freddie Mercury’s birthday, I’ve been watching a lot of Queen’s music videos and the videos which have really stayed in my mind are the ones made for the singles from the last album released in Freddie Mercury’s lifetime, Innuendo (1991). As much as I love the rest of their catalogue, stretching back to the self-titled debut album from 1973, I have a real affection for this later opus. Its companion videos maintain the momentum of Queen’s longstanding musical themes but they also chronicle Mercury’s failing health due to AIDS. Keeping that in mind, let’s take a walk down memory lane, back to 22 years ago…
Lead single “Innuendo” artfully mixes different kinds of animation with Nineteen Eighty-Four-inspired clips. The song is darker and, I think, a little more daring than many of Queen’s singles had been in the 80s. The lyrics discuss the fine line between accepting the status quo and trying to live life the way it should be lived, without fear and with the hope of a better world.
The surreal style of “I’m Going Slightly Mad” is due in large part to the fact that Mercury had to hide his deteriorating looks with heavy makeup. Paired with the absurd outfits, props and general goings-on, however, the makeup works as costume. The song is also enjoyable as a departure from Queen’s often more dramatic epics and power ballads.
The video for “Headlong,” Freddie Mercury’s last one shot in color, accompanies a pretty great song. It’s got a terrific energy to it. It’s interesting to remember that Innuendo was released around the time that many of America’s young grunge bands – Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains – were gaining (or on the verge of gaining) popularity. Freddie Mercury’s passing more or less coincided with the meteoric surge of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” If Mercury had lived, I wonder if Queen would have continued with a more progressively alternative-sounding kind of rock.
It is impossible not to feel melancholy while listening to and watching the video for “These Are the Days of Our Lives.” While the song was written by drummer Roger Taylor, when Mercury sang it, the lyrics took on a whole new context. Like “I’m Going Slightly Mad,” this video was shot in black-and-white to minimize Mercury’s gaunt appearance, but this time he is unmasked, his illness much more obvious. I think the cinematography accomplishes a certain beauty in its simplicity, the light casting a soft glow over Mercury.
Given his weakening health, Mercury could not be a part of a video for “The Show Must Go On.” The song, which is the showstopping finale of Innuendo, has all the pomp and power to ensure that Mercury’s legacy ended on a (literal) high note. His vocal abilities astound me on this track. The video culls all of its images from previous Queen videos, causing this viewer to have a tear or two in her eye as visuals from bygone days of glory flash by. This is another power that the music video wields: not only to promote a band in its heyday but to remind the audience why the music, culture and fan appreciation exist.