Mercury rising

Nov 25, 2018, 06:57 IST | Rahul da Cunha

Freddie Mercury could pen songs that ranged from the boppy, dance track 'Another one Bites the Dust' to the cerebral 'We are the Champions' to the parody, 'Death on Two Legs'

Mercury rising
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Rahul da CunhaFreddie Mercury was of Parsi descent. Freddie Mercury was a Panchgani boy. Freddie Mercury had piranha-like buck teeth (which he hated). Freddie Mercury had a set of pipes with a four-octave range. Freddie Mercury was a pop icon. Freddie Mercury was a prancing rock star. Freddie Mercury was a preening crowd-puller. Freddie Mercury had a stage presence matched by no one else. Freddie Mercury played the piano like a wizard. Freddie Mercury could pen songs that ranged from the boppy, dance track 'Another one Bites the Dust' to the cerebral 'We are the Champions' to the parody, 'Death on Two Legs'.

As singers go, Ian Gillan has a more muscular scream. Robert Plant has that incredible falsetto. But, in my book, Freddie Mercury had the most versatility. Biographer David Bret described his voice as "escalating within a few bars from a deep, throaty rock-growl to a tender, vibrant tenor, then on to a high-pitched, perfect coloratura, pure and crystalline in the upper reaches".

Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé said, "His technique was astonishing. He sang with an incisive sense of rhythm, his vocal placement was very good and he was able to glide effortlessly from a register to another. He also had a great musicality. His phrasing was subtle, delicate and sweet or energetic and slamming. He was able to find the right colouring or expressive nuance for each word." In other words, the dude could sing anything.

Freddie Mercury was a poignant songwriter and he wrote 'Bohemian Rhapsody', Queen's most famous song. 'Bohemian Rhapsody' is that one song that all bands strive to write. It becomes their stamp of class, their signature song, one that outlives them, loved by the masses and musicians, filled with enough moments for the rest of us to karaoke, hum along or just exclaim, "Wow, how did they do that part?" For me, that kind of song means one thing as a 17-year-old, and becomes more holistic, 40 years on.

The band had more popular numbers that '90s discos never got tired of playing: 'I Want to Break Free'. And, 'Another One Bites the Dust' has that same catachability that equals Pink Floyd's 'We Don't Need No Education'. But, 'Bohemian Rhapsody' was that complex composition that had everything — rock, pop, classical and an opening a cappella section.

And, as I wait to enter Metro Cinema to see the movie Bohemian Rhapsody, my mind goes back 40 years to when I first heard this epic song playing on a small cassette player in St Xavier's College canteen. Pink Floyd was the definite progressive rock quartet, Deep Purple the ultimate metal band, Led Zeppelin, the virtuoso guitar-led foursome.

And then, there was Queen, which starred the physicist-turned-guitarist Brian May, and the Bawa-turned-Brit, Farrokh Bulsara, their music flitting between opera, opulence, oozy rock 'n' roll, ogre-like rock and orchestral masterpieces. A totally original sound. I guess somewhere in our collective hearts, we feel that the man was one of
us. Zanzibar-born, but a son of aamchi Mumbai.Chalo, movie about to start, and I'm ready to go gaga.

Rahul daCunha is an adman, theatre director/playwright, photographer and traveller. Reach him at rahuldacunha62@gmail.com

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