Remembering Freddie Mercury’s Hauntingly Epic Swan Song: Queen’s “Innuendo”
Those are the words so passionately sung by an ailing Freddie Mercury towards the end of a grand, poetic six and a half minute Queen single released 28 years ago this month. Little did we know how foreboding and ultimately prophetic those words would turn out to be.
It was on January 14th, 1991 that Queen released their brand new single to radio. It was the title track to their upcoming album 'Innuendo' which was set to hit record stores the following month. At that time there was no internet to fan the flames of rumors. The handful of tabloid newspapers and TV shows that existed were the only ones to start and eventually continue to spread any secrets that public figures wished to keep sealed. Freddie Mercury was certainly one of those public figures at the time.
There was talk in January of 1991 that Freddie was ill and that he may have been fighting a years-long losing battle with the dreadful disease known as AIDS. Without any confirmation from Queen or Freddie, however, it was all left to nasty rumors and, yes, innuendo. Thus the title of Queen's new album and song that really gave fans cause for concern. Was Freddie trying to tell us something? If you were to pull out a dictionary (yes, a dictionary, remember those?) at the time you would see that the definition of innuendo is: "an allusive or oblique remark or hint, typically a suggestive or disparaging one".
I was going to college at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven at the time. I distinctly remember the moment when I heard the song and the "Freddie is dying of AIDS" rumor for the first time on the radio. I was sitting somewhere in the secluded corners of the school library by the window with my Walkman on while working on some dreadful homework assignment I couldn't remember if you paid me to. What I do remember as it if were yesterday was hearing Ed Sabatino aka "Eddie Sab", a friend of i95's, on the New Haven rock station getting on the air after the song saying he had heard that both the song and album may be Freddie's way of telling us something and it wasn't something good. He was right.
'Innuendo' would be Queen's last album to be released in lead singer Freddie Mercury’s lifetime. It was recorded between March of 1989 and November of 1990. As we would later find out Freddie had been diagnosed with AIDS in the spring of 1987, although he kept his illness a secret from the public and denied numerous media reports that he was seriously ill. The band and producers were hoping for a November or December release date to capitalize financially on the Christmas market but Mercury's declining health delayed those plans so a February 5th, 1991 date became the official release date. Less than a year later Freddie was gone. On the evening of November 24th 1991, just over 24 hours after issuing a statement confirming his AIDS diagnosis, Mercury died at the age of 45 at his home in Kensington.
At six and a half minutes, "Innuendo" is one of Queen's epic songs and their longest ever released as a single, outdistancing "Bohemian Rhapsody" by 35 seconds. The song began as a jam session in Switzerland with guitarist Brian May, drummer Roger Taylor and bassist John Deacon back in the spring of 1989. Freddie heard his band-mates playing from upstairs and felt that familiar feeling of musical inspiration that only May, Taylor and Deacon could give him. Not only did the members gel musically but, lyrically, it seemed as the four had shared the same brain at times. Interestingly, it was Taylor who wrote the lyrics which is mind-boggling considering how much they connect with Freddie's situation at that time. Then there is that beautifully constructed interlude including the flamenco work of Yes guitarist Steve Howe and Brian May. That section was written by Freddie and it remains the most powerful part of the song. It still gives me the chills every time I hear it:
THE MAKING 'INUENDO' FROM THE DOCUMENTARY "DAYS OF OUR LIVES":
The single "Innuendo" went straight to Number 1 in the UK Singles Chart in January 1991 while reaching #17 in the US Mainstream Rock Chart. The album 'Innuendo' was also a huge success as it reached the No. 1 spot on the UK album charts and stayed at that position for two weeks. It also peaked at No. 1 in Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, staying at No. 1 for three weeks, four weeks, six weeks, and eight weeks, respectively. Here in the US it reached #30 on Billboard and was the first Queen album to go Gold in the US upon its release since 'The Works' in 1984