Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Oliver: Queen - Crazy Little Thing Called Love; The Pogues - Streams of Whiskey (24 November 1991)

I've put these two videos together because when Peel played these tracks on 24/11/91, they were linked by a definite sense of an ending.  Two apparently disparate bands had both lost their superstar frontmen - one permanently, one temporarily.  One to the sadness of music fans around the world, one to the relief of his bandmates and at their choice.

Over the weekend of the 23/24 November 1991, Queen vocalist and visual focal point, Freddie Mercury publicly announced he was HIV-positive and died the day after the announcement.  Peel was never a great one to run to the record library after a rock star death.  He was broadcasting in 1977 when Elvis Presley died and although he acknowledged it on air, he didn't play anything in tribute.  One of the first retrospective Peel shows I heard, a few years after his death, came from July 1979 and saw him play Little Feat's, Fat Man in the Bathtub, after which Peel tied himself up in knots over whether it should be considered a tribute play for the recently deceased Little Feat leader, Lowell George.  And when, a year later, he found himself on Radio 4 the morning after John Lennon's assassination, he admitted to John Walters in a subsequent interview his unease at being considered a
professional friend of the dead.

But with Freddie Mercury there was no such reticence and Crazy Little Thing Called Love from 1980's The Game album was given a spin, shortly after Peel himself confirmed the news on his programme.  In many ways it's just the track one might expect Peel to pick, being closer to the spirit of 50s rock'n'roll and a million miles away from the overblown but exhilarating anthems which Queen are better known for (and indeed, a re-released Bohemian Rhapsody would be the UK's Christmas Number 1 a few weeks later).   However, their back catalogue makes for an intriguing aural wonder and a review of The Game will surface here in due course.  Freddie was pretty much irreplaceable.  Bassist, John Deacon, knew that and effectively retired from rock music, though guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor have periodically kept the flame going by working as Queen + Paul Rodgers in 2008 and just three short weeks ago, while channel hopping on New Year's Eve, I chanced upon Queen + Adam Lambert, an American Idol contestant for God's sake, giving their all on a performance of The Show Must Go On.  It's easy to be cynical, so I won't.  A million times this rather than May and Taylor rocking out while a holographic Freddie goes through its life cycle next to them.  But no one talks about the Queen + Paul Rodgers album (maybe I will).

I may be legally bound to open any piece of writing about Shane MacGowan by marvelling that he hasn't joined Freddie at the great hooley in the sky, but he's still with us and since 2001 has been back with The Pogues.  But by late '91, he was out on his ear.  The heavy drinking, which is still part of the package with MacGowan so, you know, he won, combined with unreliability and a deterioration in his singing voice, which saw more members of The Pogues taking lead vocals as the records got slicker and slightly more tenuous in their connections to the "Gaelic punk folk" of their initial records, saw him sacked from the band during a tour of Japan.  MacGowan himself cites the moment he fell out of a stationary train as the point of no return for his bandmates.

Being close to Christmas 1991, Peel resisted the temptation to play THAT song and instead played a
standout track from 1984's debut album, Red Roses For Me.   Streams of Whiskey brings together

two of MacGowan's favourite lyrical themes: Irish literature (a dream about Brendan Behan) and drinking.  I'm seriously considering having it played at my wedding in South Kerry this coming summer (assuming no one takes offence at the lyrics).  The video is a good deal less slick than Queen's and while Freddie could get away with wearing some pretty outrageous clothes and showing some skin, he was trumped by MacGowan's willingness to sit around in red Y-fronts.  Note too, the director's unwillingness to let the camera get too close to Shane's face lest it push the video after the watershed.  But he was a handsomer divil back in 1984 to be sure.

One final detail.  The Pogues replaced MacGowan with Joe Strummer, formerly of The Clash, and latterly producer of their final album with MacGowan, Hell's Ditch.  You see, Brian and Roger, if you're going to build on your legacy, aim high.

Is this a tribute to Lowell George or not?

Videos courtesy of Queen Official,  ThePoguesOfficial and albafinc.

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