Queen are ranked second to last in his RNR Hall Of Fame.
220. Queen — John Deacon, Brian May, Freddie Mercury, and Roger Taylor (2001)
When popularity is factored in, Queen is the most overrated band in the history of pop music. This preposterous aggregation looked and sounded awful from the beginning, their music a pastiche of pastiches of things no one in the band were inclined to understand, all of it culminating in “We Will Rock You.” Queen haters love to say the song is appropriate for a Nuremburg rally, but you can also sort of see Leni Riefenstahl giving it a listen, cocking her head and saying, “Nein. A little too much.” Their popularity in the U.S. went down quickly after their heyday, but they remained unaccountable super-duper-stars in the U.K. and in time became the rock equivalent to the beloved ugly toy you had when you grew up.
As we have seen with so many artists, the sliding scales of personal behavior and artistry are difficult to deal with. Having said that, I’ve always found Queen to be on the wrong side of just about everything. Right now the band is back in the news in the wake of the success of Bohemian Rhapsody and they’ve accordingly been shoveling their back catalog into TV advertisements. That’s not surprising for a group that played Sun City in defiance of the U.N. boycott of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Let me explain this to people too young to know about it: In the early ‘80s the U.N., in conjunction with civil-rights groups around the world, declared a cultural boycott of the fascistic and racist government in South Africa. All you had to do was refuse to perform in the fake homelands the regime had set up. Sun City was a casino in Bophuthatswana; Queen played there anyway and was duly and justifiably blacklisted by the U.N. “We enjoy going to new places,” said Deacon.
The band is being docked 30 notches, however, because of this: After the band’s closeted lead singer, Freddie Mercury, died of AIDS, the entire rock universe held a televised tribute show, broadcast on MTV, during which mentions of homosexuality and AIDS were kept closely under wraps. The band (and everyone else at the show) let a new generation of vulnerable kids — and thousands of the unloved, dying alone on the streets — know that, yes, they should be ashamed of who they are.
When this story was originally published last year, a lot of people said I was being too harsh on Queen and MTV; given the tenor of the times in the early 1990s, I was reminded, AIDS and homosexuality were sensitive subjects. Here’s the thing: Being in a rock band is fun. As I said above, there’s oodles of money and oodles of sex, money, and privilege that most of us don’t know about. The only downside is that if your lead singer happens to be gay and dies as part of an epidemic that is scourging a group that was already dealing with centuries of persecution, you should stand up and talk about it to make life a little bit better for the people who aren’t rock stars spending their last days covered with lesions and shunned by their families and society generally. Thirty years earlier, the Lovin’ Spoonful, in one of the best songs about rock and roll, captured it this way: “Believe in the magic that can set you free.” By that wholly credible standard, Queen aren’t rock and roll at all and don’t belong in the hall of fame.