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Freddie Mercury of Queen

Freddie Mercury in 1975

Photo by Keystone / Getty Images

Before They Were Queen:

The path from zero to one of the top rock bands in the world was actually a fairly short one.

In the late '60s there was a British group called Smile, who counted among its members guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor. In 1971, there was a singer named Farrokh Bulsara, who was a fan of Smile. He ended up joining the band, changing his name to Freddie Mercury, and the band's name to Queen. They recruited bassist John Deacon, and in 1973 released the first of a steady stream of incredibly successful albums.

Queen Earns Album Debut:

The band played club and college gigs in and around London for nearly two years before starting work on a studio album. It was completed by the end of 1972, but they got only one low ball offer from a record label. When they hadn't found a label by the summer of 1973, they released their first album themselves.

Queen - a combination of hard rock and heavy metal - did reasonably well in the UK, peaking at #24. It managed a fairly respectable (for a first album) #84 in the U.S.

Queen II, released eight months later, was a progressive-tinged concept album which made it to #5 in the UK and #49 in the U.S.

Third Time's the Charm:

Queen's next seven albums -- Sheer Heart Attack in 1974, A Night at the Opera in 1975, A Day at the Races in 1976, News of the World in 1977, Jazz in 1978 and The Game in 1980 -- formed the nucleus of some of their best, and most successful work. None charted worse than #6 in the US and all were in the Top 5 in the UK, three of them reaching #1.

By 1995, they had issued seven #1 albums, two them "Greatest Hits" compilations. Their total output includes 15 studio releases, five live albums, 10 compilations, two EPs, a soundtrack and more than five dozen singles.

The Freddie Factor

It would be hard to overstate Freddie Mercury's role in Queen's success. Besides being blessed with a powerful singing voice with a four-octave range, he was a talented writer and the consummate showman. He wrote some of the band's best known songs, like "Bohemian Rhapsody," "Killer Queen" and "We Are The Champions." Of the 17 songs on the wildly successful Greatest Hits album, 10 were written by Mercury.

On stage, his outlandish costumes and his ability to alternately shock and charm audiences made Queen a "must see" live performance band.

Mercury died of AIDS-related complications in 1991. Although a final original album containing his last work (Made in Heaven) was released in 1995, there was never any thought of replacing him. Deacon retired in 1997. May and Taylor have performed together a number of times, and they hooked up with ex-Free and Bad Company vocalist Paul Rodgers (2004-2009) touring and recording a studio album of new material as Queen + Paul Rodgers.

Queen's Legacy

Queen is cited by literally dozens of bands (from classic rockers like Journey, Kansas, Meat Loaf and Iron Maiden to contemporary artists like Lady Gaga, Foo Fighters, Katy Perry and Green Day) as a major influence on their music. According to Guinness Book of World Records, Queen albums have spent more time on the UK album charts (more than 26 years) than any other band or artist. Their Greatest Hits, the all-time UK best seller, has sold over 600,000 more copies than the next best selling album, The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Essential Queen Albums

Greatest Hits I & II (purchase/download)

Essential Queen Songs

"Bohemian Rhapsody" | "Killer Queen" | "Fat Bottomed Girls" | "We Are The Champions" | "We Will Rock You" | "Crazy Little Thing Called Love"

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