Reissue Theory: Queen, “The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert”
Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, where we reflect on notable albums and the reissues they could someday see. On an iconic rock star’s birthday, we hope for a concert celebrating his life and work to make it onto CD someday.
On this day, 66 years ago, Farrokh Bulsara was born in Zanzibar. The world would, of course, know him by another name: Freddie Mercury, the iconoclastic frontman for the British hard rock band Queen. Between 1973 and 1991, the band’s idiosyncratic sense of vocal and guitar harmonies, affinity for baroque pop melodies and penchant for studio trickery had earned them a devoted following worldwide. Even as the band moved into the ’80s and adapted both New Wave stylings and MTV-ready visuals to suit their needs, the crowds still went wild; one needs only to watch Mercury’s command performances with Queen at Live Aid in 1985 and London’s Wembley Stadium the following year to understand why.
Of course, we all know the story of Mercury’s has a tragic ending. In 1991, literally hours after announcing his long-hidden battle with AIDS, Mercury would succumb to complications from the disease. Freddie’s life was one of many at the time rightly memorialized to raise awareness and money for AIDS research. Twenty years ago, Freddie bandmates, guitarist Brian May, bassist John Deacon and drummer Roger Taylor, united to fight AIDS the best way they could: through rock music. A concert held at Wembley on April 20, 1992 attracted some 72,000 attendees and, thanks to simultaneous live television and radio broadcasts, a worldwide audience of some 1 billion. Mercury’s showman spirit was celebrated by fellow rock gods and contemporaries who guested with Queen during the show, including members of Guns N’ Roses, Extreme, Metallica, Black Sabbath and appearances by David Bowie, Roger Daltrey, Robert Plant and George Michael. All profits from the concert founded The Mercury Phoenix Trust, an AIDS charity still active to this day.
Mercury’s life has been well-celebrated in recent years. This year alone – after a 2011 that saw a flurry of catalogue activity – Island reissued a greatly-expanded edition of Mercury and Montserrat Caballe’s Barcelona this week, with a new Mercury documentary, The Great Pretender, due out on DVD this month and a live Queen show from Hungary being screened theatrically as well. (Mercury even made the transformation to Angry Bird as part of this week’s “Freddie for a Day” event.)
But through all the catalogue celebration, it’s surprising that the landmark concert itself has never been released on CD. We explore further after the jump!
That’s of course not to say that the concert has never been released. A VHS and laserdisc release of most of the concert, including the pre-Queen performances by Metallica, Extreme, Def Leppard and Guns N’ Roses. (Only the Metallica and GN’R sets were presented in full.) Within the concert, there were some edits; notably, the omission of part of Robert Plant’s set with Queen. This was done at his own request, as he did not feel his performance were up to par.
Metallica and Guns N’ Roses each released parts of their individual sets for consumption. Metallica’s three-song set (“Enter Sandman,” “Sad But True,” “Nothing Else Matters”) was released as a U.K. single, as was GN’R's version of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” (That single, released as a double-A side with the Use Your Illusion studio version, was a U.K. No. 2 hit.) The only part of the concert that did end up on CD was George Michael’s two performances, a killer rendition of “Somebody to Love” and a duet on “These Are the Days of Our Lives” with Lisa Stansfield. Coupled with three GM solo live performances, Five Live (1993) was a U.K. chart-topper and sold some 5 million copies worldwide.
In 2002, Parlophone released a 10th anniversary edition of the concert as a double-DVD set, adding rehearsal and documentary footage to the concert program (now trimmed to just focus on the Queen portion of the show). A theoretical CD presentation remains unreleased, though – likely the result of artist clearances and other legal entanglements. Our vision sees that Queen concert, presented as wholly as possible (i.e.: only part of Plant’s set), so fans can take the concert with them in the car or on their iPods. And all proceeds, of course, would go to the Mercury Phoenix Trust.
Queen, The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert 1992 (Island)
- Tie Your Mother Down – Queen + Joe Elliott and Slash
- Heaven and Hell/Pinball Wizard/I Want It All – Queen + Roger Daltrey and Tony Iommi
- Las Palabras de Amor – Queen + Zucchero
- Hammer to Fall – Queen + Gary Cherone and Tony Iommi
- Stone Cold Crazy – Queen + James Hetfield and Tony Iommi
- Crazy Little Thing Called Love – Queen + Robert Plant
- Too Much Love Will Kill You – Brian May
- Radio Ga Ga – Queen + Paul Young
- Who Wants to Live Forever – Queen + Seal
- I Want to Break Free – Queen + Lisa Stansfield
- Under Pressure – Queen + David Bowie and Annie Lennox
- All the Young Dudes – Queen + Ian Hunter, David Bowie, Mick Ronson, Joe Elliott and Phil Collen
- “Heroes” – Queen + David Bowie and Mick Ronson
- The Lord’s Prayer – David Bowie
- 39 – Queen + George Michael
- These Are the Days of Our Lives – Queen + George Michael and Lisa Stansfield
- Somebody to Love – Queen + George Michael
- Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen + Elton John and Axl Rose
- The Show Must Go On – Queen + Elton John and Tony Iommi
- We Will Rock You – Queen + Axl Rose
- We Are the Champions – Queen + Liza Minelli and Full Ensemble
Tracks 16-17 previously released on Five Live – Hollywood HR-61479-2 (U.S.)/Parlophone 07777 89418 2 8 (U.K), 1993. All other tracks previously unreleased.
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