"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, the track was recorded for their third album Sheer Heart Attack.
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.
When released as a single, "Killer Queen" was Queen's explosive 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.
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.
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.
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.