Queen frontman Freddie Mercury would have turned 65 on Monday. To honor him, Google created an animated video that's about as colorful and imaginative as the man himself. The tribute, set to the band's hit song "Don't Stop Me Now," follows a cartoon Mercury as he ventures from center stage to outer space.
The search engine also reached out to Brian May, Queen's guitarist, to see if he'd like to write about Mercury. The songwriter-turned-astrophysicist looked back on how the two first met in 1970. At the time, Mercury was just a fan in the crowd.
"I was first introduced to Freddie Mercury—a paradoxically shy yet flamboyant young man—at the side of the stage at one of our early gigs as the group 'SMILE.' " he writes on Google's official blog. "He told me he was excited by how we played, he had some ideas—and he could sing! I'm not sure we took him very seriously, but he did have the air of someone who knew he was right."
At the time, May and drummer Roger Taylor were content with their current band. But there was something special about Mercury. Born Farrokh Bulsara in Stone Town, Zanzibar, Mercury grew up in Africa and India. It wasn't until his teens that he moved with his family to England. The boy was "frail but energized," says May. He urged Smile to experiment with recording and showmanship, qualities that would one day make Mercury famous.
"A while later we had the opportunity to actually see him sing ... and it was scary!" writes May (the ellipsis was his). "He was wild and untutored, but massively charismatic. Soon, he began his evolution into a world-class vocal talent, right in front of our eyes."
Smile's bass player left the band later that year, opening up a spot for Mercury to join shortly after. At his request, they changed the name to Queen – and young Farrokh Bulsara adopted the stage name Freddie Mercury.
Once in the band, Mercury pushed even harder for musical experimentation. He developed a striking stage presence, which would soon fill stadiums with ecstatic fans. But before you can book international tours, you need a hit – so Queen innovated in the recording studio as well.
"I remember one morning after a particularly tense discussion he presented me with a cassette," May writes. "He had been up most of the night compiling a collage of my guitar solos. 'I wanted you to hear them as I hear them, dear,' he said. 'They're all fab, so I made them into a symphony!' "
Sometimes, Mercury's ideas were too far out there, May admits. But the singer often caught himself before falling off a creative edge. "Oh – did I lost it, dears?!," he remembers Mercury asking the band.
Twenty years and many hits later, Mercury announced that he had been diagnosed with AIDS. He died shortly after. However, Mercury's memory lives on, not just on classic-rock radio but in today's biggest pop acts.
Another upstart musician with a flare for style, Stefani Germanotta, named herself Lady Gaga after the title track of a Queen album. "I adored Freddie Mercury, and Queen had a hit called 'Radio Ga Ga,' " she told The Daily Mail. "That's why I love the name."
Anyone interested in a deeper look at Mercury's life should know that there's a biopic in the works. Screen writer Peter Morgan, who coincidentally wrote "The Queen," has signed on to pen the upcoming film. The producers announced last year that "Borat" star Sacha Baron Cohen will play Mercury.
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