I Want to Break Free
|"I Want to Break Free"|
|Single by Queen|
|from the album The Works|
|B-side||"Machines (or 'Back to Humans')"|
|Released||2 April 1984|
|Format||Vinyl records (7", 12"), CDs (3", 5")|
|Length||3:20 (album version and radio edit)|
3:43 (soundtrack version)
4:21 (single version)
7:16 (extended mix)
|Producer(s)||Queen and Reinhold Mack|
|Queen singles chronology|
"I Want to Break Free" is a song by the British rock band Queen, written by their bass guitarist 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, in several videos and in The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert where it was sung by Lisa Stansfield.
The song is largely known for its music video for which all the band members dressed in women's clothes, a concept proposed by 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, it was considered controversial in the United States.
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. It also topped the charts of Austria, Belgium, and the Netherlands. The song features on the band's compilation album, Greatest Hits II.
The song was written in 1983 by John Deacon and released at the beginning of April in 1984. The main idea of the song lies in its title, which is repeated through the text. A love theme is also present as the protagonist "has fallen in love", "can't get over the way you love me like you do" and "doesn't want to live alone". Most of the song follows the traditional 12 bar blues progression in E major. 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 the drums (Ludwig), an acoustic guitar (Gibson), a bass guitar (Fender) and an electric guitar (Fender Telecaster). 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 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 guitar. 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 longer introduction and ending. It lasts until 6:04, and the remaining minute contains fragments of other songs from The Works. 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.
The song became the second single from the album The Works, after the song "Radio Ga Ga". The single was released on 2 April 1984 on 7-inch and 12-inch records and later as 3-inch and 5-inch CDs.
The 7-inch records were distributed in 16 countries. In most countries the other side of the disk contained the album version of the song "Machines (or 'Back to Humans')", in the US and Canada there was an instrumental version of this song, and in Brazil the other side featured the song "It's a Hard Life". The label also depended on the country: Capitol Records in the US and Canada, Toshiba EMI in Japan, and EMI in other countries. In UK, US, Portugal and South Africa several records of the song were sold at the same time, differing only by covers. There were special editions, such as a record with empty side B in UK. The song title Argentina song on was "Quiero Ser Libre".
In all countries except for US the A side contained the extended version of the song, side B featured "Machines" and the disk had EMI label. In the US, side B had either an instrumental version of "Machines" or the album version of "I Want to Break Free" and the label was from Capitol Records.
The single was also distributed on the 3-inch and 5-inch CDs. In the UK the 3-inch CD featured "I Want to Break Free" (album version), "Machines" and "It's a Hard Life" and had a Parlophone Records label. In Germany, the 5-inch CD had an EMI label and contained "I Want to Break Free" and "It's a Hard Life", as well as the video of "I Want to Break Free".
Single covers contained pictures of the group from the cover of the album The Works. In countries where the single went in four different versions, each version had a picture of one Queen member, otherwise four images were placed together. The inscription "Queen. I Want to Break Free" was red, white, gold or black and the frame was red or white. The German 5-inch CD had the cover for the single of "Radio Ga Ga". The reverse side was the same – a photo of the group on a red background, except for CDs which had a white background and no pictures.
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. MTV and some other US stations' minimal airing of the video played a role in the low US ranking. 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 and might have interpreted the video as an open declaration of transvestism and Mercury's bisexuality. According to Taylor, MTV "was a very narrow-minded station then. It just seemed to be all fucking Whitesnake." In Canada, the video was in regular rotation on MuchMusic, Canada's answer to MTV.
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. Illustrative in this regard was the live performance of the song in Rio de Janeiro in 1985. When Mercury appeared in front of an audience of 325,000 and started singing "I Want to Break Free", stones were thrown at him. He quickly realised that his female outfit was the reason and removed his wig and false breasts, which calmed down the audience. This incident puzzled and disappointed Mercury.
After the release of The Works, the song was performed at almost all of Queen's live concerts. Spike Edney usually played the synthesizer introduction, after which Mercury appeared on stage, often in the outfit worn in the video – dark bobbed wig, pink blouse and false breasts – which he would remove later during the song. Brian May played the guitar solo on his Red Special. Some lines were sung by the audience, and "God knows" was chanted by the whole group. 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.
Lisa Stansfield led the song in The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. She appeared on stage dressed as a housewife with a vacuum cleaner, as in the original video. The song was also performed in many concerts of the project Queen + Paul Rodgers, where Paul Rodgers took vocals, Danny Miranda played the bass guitar and Spike Edney was at the keyboard.
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. Mercury, as a housewife, 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 spoofs the ITV soap opera Coronation Street, as proposed by Roger Taylor: "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."
The video depicts Mercury as a housewife, 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 a sizeable false breast under it, black leather miniskirt, knee-high and heeled shoes. During the trials Mercury realised that he couldn't walk freely in high-heeled shoes and settled on 2-inch ones. May plays another, 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.
The composition was choreographed by Wayne Eagling, a friend of Mercury who had helped him with the choreography of the "Bohemian Rhapsody". Eagling was then a leader of the Royal Ballet which was involved in the video (one of the dancers was Jeremy Sheffield). Mercury shaved his moustache to portray Vaslav Nijinsky as a faun in the ballet L'après-midi d'un faune. The shooting took much practice, especially the conveyor rolling part. 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.
- Freddie Mercury – vocals
- Brian May – electric lead guitar
- Roger Taylor – electronic drums
- John Deacon – bass guitar, synthesizer, electric and acoustic rhythm guitars
- Fred Mandel – synthesizer solo
Uses in media
In 2017, the song featured in the third episode of the fourth series of the British television show Sherlock, named "The Final Problem". As James Moriarty enters the island of Sherrinford, getting out of a helicopter, he is shown listening to the song.
Charts and certifications
Sales and certifications
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