I Want to Break Free

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"I Want to Break Free"
Iwtbf fm.jpg
Artwork for UK release
Single by Queen
from the album The Works
B-side"Machines (or 'Back to Humans')"
Released2 April 1984
Recorded1983
Genre
Length3:19 (album version)
3:43 (soundtrack version)
4:18 (single version)
7:14 (12" extended version)
Label
Songwriter(s)John Deacon
Producer(s)
Queen singles chronology
"Radio Ga Ga"
(1984)
"I Want to Break Free"
(1984)
"It's a Hard Life"
(1984)
Audio sample
Music video
"I Want to Break Free" on YouTube

"I Want to Break Free" is a song by the British rock band Queen, written by their bassist John Deacon. It appears on the album The Works (1984), and was released in three versions: album, single and extended. It came to be included in most live concerts by the group.

The song is largely known for its music video for which all the band members dressed in drag, a concept proposed by drummer Roger Taylor, which parodied the long-running ITV soap opera Coronation Street. The second part of the video included a composition rehearsed and performed with the Royal Ballet and choreographed by Wayne Eagling. Whereas the parody was acclaimed in the United Kingdom, where cross-dressing is a popular trope in British comedy,[3] it caused controversy in the United States.[4]

After its release in 1984, the song was well received in Europe and South America and is regarded as an anthem of the fight against oppression. The single reached only number 45 on the US Billboard Hot 100, but reached number three in the UK and was certified silver with over 200,000 copies sold.[5] It also topped the charts of Austria, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The song features on the band's compilation album, Greatest Hits II.

Composition and background[edit]

The song was written in 1983 by John Deacon and released in April 1984.[6] Most of the song follows a traditional 12 bar blues progression in E major.[7] It has three verses with one bridge, no chorus, and relatively little section repetition. There are three versions of the song: album, single, and extended.

The album version is 3 minutes 20 seconds long. Its first 6 seconds repeat the basic rhythm played with electronic drums, a Gibson acoustic guitar, a Fender bass guitar and a Fender Telecaster electric guitar.[citation needed] This rhythm continues through most of the song, stopping only for its first line. The first verse ends at 0:37 and is followed by a very similar second verse, which is however shorter by one line. A stacked guitar accompaniment (Red Special) appears at the end of the second verse (1:03), and between 1:15 and 1:17 it is replaced by a synthesizer. A synthesizer(Jupiter 8) solo starts at 1:33 and is assisted by a guitar. The last verse starts in the second minute, it additionally features a synthesizer and a Fender Stratocaster electric guitar.[citation needed] The song pauses at the final line "I've got to break free", followed by the fade out. This version was released on the album The Works and on some singles.

The regular single version lasts 4 minutes 21 seconds and differs from the album version by the 40-second introduction and a longer synthesizer solo which starts at 2:33. The introduction is played on an electronic keyboard and is assisted by cymbals, drums and a guitar (Red Special). For the Bohemian Rhapsody soundtrack the single introduction is added to the album version creating a 3 minutes 43 seconds edit.

The extended version lasts 7 minutes 16 seconds and features a longer introduction and ending. It lasts until 6:04, and the remaining minute contains fragments of other songs from The Works.[a] The extended version was mostly distributed as 12-inch vinyl records and then reissued on the CD of The Works in 1991.

Besides The Works, the song was featured in the albums Greatest Hits II, Box of Tricks, Greatest Hits (1992 US 'Red' edition) and Absolute Greatest and in the box-sets The Complete Works and The Platinum Collection.[8]

Distribution[edit]

The song became the second single from the album The Works, after "Radio Ga Ga". The single was released on 2 April 1984[9] on 7-inch and 12-inch records and later as 3-inch and 5-inch CDs.[10][11]

The 7-inch records were distributed in 16 countries. In most countries, the A-side features the extended version of "I've Got to Break Free" while the B-side contains the album version of the song "Machines (or 'Back to Humans')". The US and Canadian releases feature an instrumental version of "Machines" as the B-side, while Brazil features "It's a Hard Life". In Argentina, the song was released as "Quiero Ser Libre".[10][11]

The UK 3-inch CD single features "I Want to Break Free" (album version), "Machines" and "It's a Hard Life". In Germany, the 5-inch CD single contains "I Want to Break Free" and "It's a Hard Life", as well as the video of "I Want to Break Free".[10][11]

Single covers feature pictures of the group from the cover of the album The Works. In countries where the single went in four different versions, each version has a picture of one Queen member, otherwise four images were placed together. The inscription "Queen. I Want to Break Free" is red, white, gold or black and the frame is red or white. The German 5-inch CD uses the cover for the "Radio Ga Ga" single. The reverse side is the same – a photo of the group on a red background, except for CDs which had a white background and no pictures.[10][11][12][13]

Chart performance[edit]

The single was received very positively over most of the world except for North America. In April 1984, it became number three in the United Kingdom, and was within the top 10 in many European and Latin American countries, but only peaked at number 45 on the US charts. The single was certified platinum in the UK.[14] MTV and some other US stations' minimal airing of the video played a role in the low US ranking.[15][16] The video was included in 1991 on VH1's My Generation two-part episode devoted to Queen hosted by guitarist Brian May. According to May in an interview about Queen's Greatest Hits, whereas the video was understood and taken as a joke in the UK, the US audience failed to see the soap-opera connection.[17][18] According to Taylor, MTV "was a very narrow-minded station then. It just seemed to be all fucking Whitesnake".[19] "It was a measure of the...thinking, MTV, that they...thought it was disgraceful, and didn't show it, and banned it".[20]

In some other countries, such as South Africa and in South America, the song was highly praised because it was seen as an anthem of the fight against oppression, whereas the reaction to the video was mixed.[6][21]

Live performances[edit]

After the release of The Works, the song was performed at almost all of Queen's live concerts. Live recordings of the song appeared on the concert albums Live Magic, Live at Wembley '86 and Return of the Champions. In addition, the song was performed at several concerts which were then included in Queen's videos such as Queen at Wembley, We Are the Champions: Final Live in Japan, The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert and Return of the Champions.[22]

Lisa Stansfield led the song in The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert.[23] The song was also performed in many concerts of the project Queen + Paul Rodgers, where Paul Rodgers took vocals, Danny Miranda played bass guitar and Spike Edney was at the keyboard.[24]

Music video[edit]

The musicians dressed as female characters from Coronation Street. Left to right: Roger Taylor (as Suzie Birchall), Brian May (Hilda Ogden), Freddie Mercury (Bet Lynch) and John Deacon (Ena Sharples).

Following in the tradition of cross-dressing in British comedy, the music video for "I Want to Break Free" sees the members of Queen appear in a suburban house dressed as women, a parody of the characters from Coronation Street.[4] The idea was "[s]uggested by Roger's then-girlfriend Dominque".[25] "And then I thought what character to make Fred? And I thought Liverpudlian slag is the answer".[20] Mercury, as a Liverpudlian slag, vacuums the floor and sings the first verse. He opens a door leading to a dark space, where the group appear surrounded by figures wearing miner's helmets. Mercury dances to a glowing box and reappears with several dancers dressed in spotted leotards, and perform a dance. In the house, Mercury sings and goes upstairs. The group appear in the dark space again.

The video opens with a scene of typical British residential streets in the morning, intercut with shots of a teasmade waking Brian May's character up. The terraced houses are located in Leeds, in the neighbourhood Harehills. The roof of a terrace, most likely between "Sandhurst Terrace" and "Dorset Rd" can be seen in the opening shot. In the second scene the camera pans along a terrace and stops at the house where the action supposedly happens. It is located on "41 Dorset Mount" in real life and has a slightly different floor plan than the set used in the video.[26] A part of the "Dorset Mount" street name plate can be seen on its wall just a second before Brian May gets out of bed.[27]

Production[edit]

The "I Want to Break Free" music video was directed by David Mallet. It was shot on 22 March and 4 May 1984 at Limehouse Studios.[25][28]

Poster depicting Nijinsky in costume for L'après-midi d'un faune, the inspiration for the central section of the video.

The video spoofs the ITV soap opera Coronation Street, as proposed by Roger Taylor at his girlfriend Dominque's suggestion: "We had done some really serious, epic videos in the past, and we just thought we'd have some fun. We wanted people to know that we didn't take ourselves too seriously, that we could still laugh at ourselves. I think we proved that."[29]

The video depicts Mercury as a Liverpudlian slag, loosely based on Bet Lynch, who wants to "break free" from his life. Although Lynch was a blonde, Mercury thought he would look too silly as a blonde and chose a dark wig. He wears a black wig, pink earrings, pink blouse with size-able false breasts, black leather miniskirt, knee-high stockings, and heeled shoes. During rehearsals, Mercury realised that he could not walk freely in high-heeled shoes and settled on 2-inch ones.[28] May plays a more relaxed housewife based on Hilda Ogden. Deacon appears as a conservative "grandma", while Taylor plays a schoolgirl, who like Mercury wants a different life.[15][28]

The composition was choreographed by Wayne Eagling, a friend of Mercury who had helped him with the choreography of "Bohemian Rhapsody".[30] Eagling was then a leader of the Royal Ballet which was involved in the video.[31] Mercury shaved his moustache in reference to Vaslav Nijinsky as the faun in the ballet L'après-midi d'un faune. The shooting took much practice, especially the conveyor rolling part.[32] According to Eagling, despite being a natural performer on stage, Mercury could not stand performing any choreographed act himself, which is why he was mostly picked up and moved around in the ballet part of the video. The rehearsals with the Royal Ballet were organised by Eagling secretly from his superiors, something that placed him in serious trouble when discovered later.[33]

Track listings[edit]

7" single

  • A side. "I Want to Break Free" (single version) – 4:18
  • B side. "Machines (or 'Back to Humans')" – 5:07[34]

12" single

  • A side. "I Want to Break Free" (extended version) – 7:14
  • B side. "Machines (or 'Back to Humans')" – 5:07

Personnel[edit]

Charts and certifications[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ In order of appearance: "Radio Ga Ga", "It's a Hard Life", "Man on the Prowl", "Machines (Or 'Back to Humans')", "Keep Passing the Open Windows", "Hammer to Fall", "Tear It Up", "Is This the World We Created...?"

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Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]