40 years of “The Works” by Queen: superstars in the granny fumble

Effortlessly bringing 70,000 people or more into ecstasy is an image that has remained of Queen even after Freddie Mercury’s death. But this probably wouldn’t have been possible without reviving itself through a vintage sound that incorporated the achievements of the 80s production splurges. This was ensured by “The Works”, released on February 27, 1984 and only containing nine songs, all of which became singles and B-sides.

The success of Live Aid, with which the band stole the show from all other participants just a year later, would actually be quite right, without the framework of this back-to-rock album, which was again produced by Reinhold Mack in Munich but largely recorded in the USA. Plate wasn’t possible at all. And that’s not because “Radio Gaga” and “Hammer To Fall” were later able to casually get the masses clapping along, but because Queen was able to deal with infectious smashers like “I Want To Break Free”, rugged ACDC rockers (” Tear It Up”) and a return to old-style power ballads like “It’s A Hard Life”.

Queen performing in Montreux in 1984

Queen wanted to be superstars (and showed it)

That was also necessary. The funk-disco tragedy “Hot Space” may be forgiven today, but at the time it wasn’t just the critics who complained; many fans also didn’t want to come to terms with the group’s smooth side or found the move to the mainstream at the time unbelievable. The fact that even the most mediocre Queen album still produced gems like “Under Pressure” cemented the reputation of being rightly part of the supergroup league, even if the competition with U2 and The Police and “The Works” also grew at times cannot hide the longing for the magic days of the 70s.

The American ROLLING STONE then promptly judged that the album was something like the “Led Zeppelin II” of the 80s. Malice from pop critics has accompanied Queen ever since their debut. But this surprisingly short record (just 37 minutes) also marked a self-deprecating and self-confident metamorphosis into an unassailable superstar mode. Freddie Mercury transformed from the mercurial leader of a pomp-driven hard rock formation that never really found a consistent style, but was always able to provide enough flashlights, into a conductor of the masses.

The video for “Radio Gaga,” driven by “Metropolis” footage and Leni Riefenstahl aesthetics, made this confidently clear. The sentimental criticism of the emerging MTV era was undermined by the fact that Queen found an audience of millions with two video clips – although the “Coronation Street” parody of “I Want To Break Free” in stockings and with a queer mom style came later was blamed for the British losing ground in the USA. In fact, the record sold there worse than any before.

It remained a flaw that Queen couldn’t care less about. Probably also that her frivolous use of gay codes was not understood by many. At a performance in Rio, one of their biggest and most legendary ever, there was almost a mini-riot because of the drag gear on stage. Mercury had not yet made his sexuality publicly clear at this point.

Freddie Mercury shows off his fake breasts
Freddie Mercury shows off his fake breasts

Opera in the mixer with Eurodisco flair and ACDC power

The ideological powerhouse of “The Works” was a symbolic battle of people against machines (or: Queen against progress), made abundantly clear in the indiosyncratic collage “Machines (Or Back To Human)”, in which the entire spectrum of the 80s -Studio technology was used and in which the band’s courageous but somewhat fishy-seeming symbiosis between Kraftwerk and rockabilly pastiche is so clearly achieved that you don’t want to listen for too long.

Sound experiments of this kind, which also strip away the single costume, were still found on almost every Queen LP, such as the “Prophet’s Song” on “A Night At The Opera”. But nobody has to be ashamed here, despite the robo-filter and nasty vocoder. But then a little for the platitudes of “Keep Passing The Open Windows”, which are perhaps a mental health number today. Queen are caretakers, they give their listeners instructions on how to carry on despite adversity. Either with carefree headbanging like in “Hammer To Fall” or with the point that someone should take care of Mother Earth before she is destroyed by all the cynics and super-rich (“Is This The World We Created…?”, of course). the wise foresight of “We Are The World”).

More about Queen

Queen have reinvented themselves with “The Works” without having to stretch themselves to the ceiling. They simply wrote some of their songs again (“Man On The Prowl”/“Crazy Little Thing Called Love”) and Freddie Mercury heated up his penchant for operatic fantasies with Eurodisco fuss. Not everything fits if you listen to the record again today with open ears and without focusing on the eternal hits. But despite all the efforts to make a grand gesture, to reconcile the artistic excesses of the previous decade with the challenges of the angst-ridden Thatcher era, much was achieved because the band did not ignore the details.

And if it was just that Roger Deacon insisted that Brian May save his guitar solo for the concert version of the piece in order to use the previously frowned upon synthesizer for the studio job.

Follow the author if you like Twitteron Facebook and on his Blog.

David Redfern Redferns

Solomon NJie Getty Images