|Single by Queen|
|from the album Sheer Heart Attack|
|A-side||"Flick of the Wrist"|
|Released||21 October 1974|
|Recorded||1974, Trident Studios|
|Label||EMI (UK), Elektra (US)|
|Producer(s)||Roy Thomas Baker, Queen|
|Queen singles chronology|
"Killer Queen" is a song by the British rock band Queen. It was their first big international hit, reaching number two in the UK and becoming their first US hit. Written by lead singer and pianist Freddie Mercury, it was featured on their third album Sheer Heart Attack and later appeared on the band's first compilation album, Greatest Hits.
The song is about a high-class call girl. It has been characterised as "Mercury’s piano-led paean to a Moët-quaffing courtesan". It has also been described by AllMusic as the true beginning of Queen's "radio sound" and "recalls the cabaret songs of yesteryear, but also shows how Queen was fast becoming a master of power pop". Rock historian Paul Fowles has written that "Killer Queen", with its "sleazy Parisian imagery", allowed "free rein" to Mercury's "unique brand of rock theater". The song won Mercury his first Ivor Novello Award.
Background and release
When released as a single, "Killer Queen" was Queen's breakthrough hit, reaching number two in the United Kingdom and number 12 in the United States. It was released as a double A-side in the UK, the US and Canada (where it reached number 15 in the RPM 100 national singles chart), with the song "Flick of the Wrist". In 1986, it was featured as the B-side to "Who Wants to Live Forever". The song marked a departure from the heavier material of the band's first two albums, as well as the beginning of a more stylistically diverse approach in songwriting. At the same time, "Killer Queen" retained the essence of Queen's trademark sound, particularly in its meticulous vocal harmonies. According to Q Magazine, Killer Queen's guitar solo is the 2nd best in all time.
Mercury commented that he wrote the lyrics before the melody and music, whereas he would typically do the opposite. The recording features elaborate four-part harmonies (particularly in the choruses, and also providing backing parts in the verses), and also a multitracked guitar solo by Brian May which makes use of the "bell effect". The song's first verse quotes a phrase widely attributed (falsely) to Marie Antoinette: "Let them eat cake," she says, Just like Marie Antoinette. The melody is very similar to a famous French song from the previous decade called Les Champs-Élysées, itself based on an English song called Waterloo Road.
Besides using his grand piano as usual, Mercury overdubbed the song with an upright (credited as "jangle piano"), to give the track a vaudeville sound. At one point there are two distinct bass guitar lines, one of which diverges into a descending run. Unlike the first two Queen albums, this song was partly recorded outside England, at Rockfield Studios in Wales.
Queen on the record
|“||People are used to hard rock, energy music from Queen, yet with this single you almost expect Noel Coward to sing it. It's one of those bowler hat, black suspender belt numbers – not that Coward would wear that. (...) It's about a high class call girl. I'm trying to say that classy people can be whores as well. That's what the song is about, though I'd prefer people to put their interpretation upon it – to read into it what they like.||”|
|“||'Killer Queen' was the turning point. It was the song that best summed up our kind of music, and a big hit, and we desperately needed it as a mark of something successful happening for us... I was always very happy with this song. The whole record was made in a very craftsman-like manner. I still enjoy listening to it because there's a lot to listen to, but it never gets cluttered. There's always space for all the little ideas to come through. And of course, I like the solo, with that three-part section, where each part has its own voice. What can I say? It's vintage Queen. The first time I heard Freddie playing that song, I was lying in my room in Rockfield [a residential recording studio in Wales], feeling very sick. After Queen's first American tour, I had hepatitis, and then I had very bad stomach problems and I had to be operated on. So I remember just lying there, hearing Freddie play this really great song and feeling sad, because I thought, 'I can't even get out of bed to participate in this. Maybe the group will have to go on without me.' No one could figure out what was wrong with me. But then I did go into the hospital and I got fixed up, thank God. And when I came out again, we were able to finish off 'Killer Queen.' They left some space for me and I did the solo. I had strong feelings about one of the harmony bits in the chorus, so we had another go at that too.||”|
The song was played from 1974–78 live as part of a medley. In 1974, the song was played following "In the Lap of the Gods", and in 1975–76, the song was played after "Bohemian Rhapsody". In 1977, the song was played as the introduction to a medley, followed by "Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy", and in 1978, preceded "Bicycle Race". In 1979, the band played most of the song, and after the guitar solo ended, the opening bars of "I'm in Love with My Car" were played. The song was played at the Montreal Forum, Quebec, Canada in November 1981, and is recorded in the live album, Queen Rock Montreal. In 1984 and 1985, during The Works Tour, it was reintroduced in a medley following a truncated version of "Somebody to Love". Later, they made live video of 1974 live performance which is in list of performers on Top of the Pops.
American pop singer Katy Perry cites "Killer Queen" as an important influence on her. She said: "Queen's track 'Killer Queen' made me discover music and helped me come into my own at the age of 15. The way Freddie Mercury delivered his lyrics just made me feel like a confident woman."
Weekly singles charts
Sales and Certifications
|United Kingdom (BPI)||Silver||250,000^|
^shipments figures based on certification alone
- Freddie Mercury - lead and backing vocals, piano, jangle piano
- Brian May - electric guitar, backing vocals
- Roger Taylor - drums, backing vocals, triangle, chimes
- John Deacon - bass guitar
On some performances Deacon provided backing vocals and played the triangle.
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cheeky art-pop romps ("Killer Queen")
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three near-perfect minutes of orgiastic heavy glam rock
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the song recalls the cabaret songs of yesteryear, but also shows how Queen was fast becoming a master of power pop
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