Tag Archives: Rock

Historic album of the month – Live Killers by Queen

One of the world’s most influential bands release their first live album at the apex of their musical abilities. This, we think, describes a more than suitable candidate for a glance into rock history’s rearview mirror. That’s why this month we shine a light on the celebrated Live Killers by Queen. This record has, since its release in 1979, changed the definition of a rock show.

Thirty nine years ago in June, one of the world’s most extravagant acts released their first live album. At that time they had already recorded seven studio albums over a span of nine years. Live Killers is a compilation of a multitude of shows that the band played during their tour in Europe at the beginning of 1979.

Queen

Before we zoom in on this historical record, let’s travel back in time to the year 1970. The year that the band Smile falls apart and its young guitarist Brian May, then midway through his doctorate in astrology at London’s Imperial College, wants to be a full time musician. May and Roger Taylor, drummer and dentistry student, decide to find a singer to accompany them. A good friend and fan of Smile catches their eye, Farrokh Bulsara, born between the palm trees of Zanzibar. Bulsara’s itching to start his career as the frontman of a rock band.

As an art student he conceptualizes the band’s image from the get go as full of grandeur, provocation, art and a thick guitar sound. The name of the band should catch this in one stroke. In this starting period Bulsara and May are separately working on tracks, one called March of the Black Queen, the other White Queen. All three artists agree that the word ‘queen’ has the powerful feel that they’re looking for.

Freddie Mercury

After joining the band Bulsara immediately changes his name. He was looking for something more in line with a band that’s called Queen. Chris Smith, keyboard player for  Smile remembers it well. In the documentary Days of Our Lives (2011) he recollects how, one night, his buddy Farrokh sits in a bar with his hands covering his face.

‘I asked him if something was the matter’, says Smith. ‘He looks at me and tragically announces that he can’t be a popstar anymore.’ Upon asking ‘why’ Farrokh stands up and shouts out: ‘Because I, Freddie Mercury, will be a legend!’ The keyboard player grins. ‘No one took Freddie serious back then.’

Bombastic glam rock

The rock ‘n roll guitar riffs by Brian May, the stringent drumming by Roger Taylor and the exceptional vocal reach of Freddie Mercury, all fall right into place from start. When the group is complemented by bass guitarist John Deacon in 1971, who also appears to have a voice of gold, Queen is ready for liftoff.

With songs like Seven Seas of Rhye, Now I’m Here, Love My Life and of course Bohemian Rhapsody of their first three albums the band is creating a whole new sound. It’s rock, but with some new flavors, a special sauce of opera, theater and ballet. The different layers in the vocals sound like Brian Wilson’s wall of sound on steroids. In the instrumental pieces the piano and guitar are on a par with each other, which in most rock music is unheard-of at that time.

Punk era

At the end of the seventies the band’s popularity is receding, because they cannot connect with the younger audiences. The media also doesn’t hold the band in high regard anymore, on the contrary they print (extremely) critical articles and reviews. For example when Freddie Mercury muses about a combination of rock ‘n roll and ballet, this becomes the pinnacle for a negative article with the telling title: “Is This Man a Prat?”

It’s a period that’s characterized by a growing popularity for punk rock in the United Kingdom. Bands like the Sex Pistols and black Flag are slowly moving into the mainstream. Queen’s bombastic rock is not the pleasure trove it once was for the big audience. Nevertheless there is a big faithful group of fans that keep supporting the band.

In a reaction to these developments Freddie Mercury and Brian May are each working on a song that will immortalize them and make them into legends. We Are the Champions and We Will Rock You are going to be Queen’s answer to the changing musical landscape of the western world. Both songs have gathered a larger than life status over the years, and they have intrinsically altered rock music.

Stadium rockers

At the end of the seventies the act has grown so popular that they standardly perform for a sold-out stadium. This is when the usage of the term stadium rock comes into full swing. Their whole show and performance are adapted to the grandeur of the stadium. Everything is bigger, more bombastic, and has more extravagance. From the lighting to the outfits and the way Freddie addresses the public.

Along the way Mercury learns not be fazed by the huge audiences that move like waves in front of him. On the contrary, he starts to play games with them. One his favorite activities in between the songs is to engage the public in a play of call and answer. A skill that would later be adopted by bands like Guns ‘n Roses, Pantera, Nirvana and Faith No More.

Live Killers

This is the period that Queen records the album Live Killers. It’s a snapshot of a group that is full of passion and growing towards the top. They’re at the height of their potential and their eagerness, spirit and will to proof themselves is noticeable in every tone, riff and vocal punch. They have the raw energy, musical hunger and theatrical complacency of a band that’s at the top of their game.  

The album is put together from of a mixture of different performances taken from their European tour from January until March in 1979. The band mixed the tracks themselves in their then recently bought Mountain Studio in Montreux, Switzerland. In an interview Brian May and Roger Taylor later proclaimed the adrenaline rush to be so intense during those shows that they had trouble recollecting which song belonged to which show.

Remarkable

While the album went double platinum in America and shined at the top of the British charts, the band was not at all pleased with the sound and the mix. Nonetheless it’s a record full of remarkable compositions and melodies.

The opening for instance is a faster version of We Will Rock You. The songs Killer Queen, Death on Two Legs and Bicycle Race have been put into one medley seamlessly melts them together. Mercury’s voice is clear and deep, like we’re used to from their  studio albums. The band plays rigidly and doesn’t defer from using different kinds of effects that we also hear on the record, like heavy echoes and delays.

End of an era

Over the course of the eighties Queen matured into one of the biggest and most renowned bands of the world. But, after a gig in Sun City, South Africa they were accused of supporting apartheid, which made for a undeserved blot on their image. Their big revival for the public eye came with their appearance at the immense charity drive Live Aid in Wembley Stadium in 1985.

The show that Freddie Mercury puts on here is of such a high caliber that all the performing artists, from Phil Collins to David Bowie and Elton John bow their heads for the kings of arena rock. It comes as no surprise that this show was chosen by the BBC as the best live performance of all time. But we shouldn’t forget that the band made their first steps on the path to true stardom with the Live Killers record. A historical moment to be cherished. happy jamming! 

Five chords that will turn every campfire into a rockshow

The days are getting longer, the temperatures are rising, and the flowers are in bloom–enough reasons to light up a campfire, grab your guitar and burst into song. To turn every campfire into a rock show, we’ve drawn up five chords with which you can play almost any pop song.

The holy grail of the pop industry has always been based on only five basic chords. “No, that can’t be true”, we hear you thinking. Yes, it can! From Lady Gaga’s Poker Face to Van Morrisons’ Brown Eyed Girl. You can play them all with five basic chords.

Intervals

The secret of the five chords is not the specific chord diagram, but the interval between the chords. Let’s take a look at Poker Face by Lady Gaga. If you click here you will see that the original track is in G-sharp Minor. But what happens when you click on the capo tool and place it on the fourth fret as shown on the picture below?

Indeed, you see that the chords suddenly changed to the very basic E/Em, C, D, and G chords. Logically, you can now just play the song at the top of the guitar neck. The only difference is that you no longer sing in the tricky G-sharp Minor, but in E Minor.

 

The secret of the five chords

When we talk about five basic chords, we’re talking about the D/Dm, the A/Am, the G/Gm, E/Em, and C/Cm chords. Now we hear you thinking again: “These are ten chords!” Well, yes and no. When you look at the construction of basic chords, you see that the minor or major is determined by only the third (interval).

The root and fifth remain the same, so you’re really talking about an almost identical chord with a different mood. For the sake of convenience, therefore, we have taken the root note of the basic chords as our starting point. Another secret of the five chords is that they occur more often in a combination of four than all five at the same time.

Campfire hit

Let’s see how that works for different songs. Take, for example, Rockstar ft. 21 Savage by Post Malone. As with the Lady Gaga example, the first thing you see is an impressive display of chords that you probably didn’t know existed. Press the capo tool, place it on the third fret, and voila!

These are simply basic chords again! Yes, there is indeed a strange C major seventh in there, but if you look closely it is actually a simplified C: the chord diagram resembles the “normal” C major chord, only the index finger on the B-string is missing. In other words, you can play the standard C chord and choose whether or not to fret the B-string.

Capo Tool

In short: don’t be fooled by chords that initially seem difficult. It’s not a disaster that you don’t know what an A-sharp major seventh is. Play around a little with the capo tool and you can transpose this chord to a more understandable pitch, such as C.

Caution! In theory, you don’t have to put a capo on your guitar, you can just use the tool to see if you can convert a song to the recognizable five chords that you can then just grab at the top of the guitar neck (also called ‘first position’).

Simplicity is key

If you still end up with more difficult chords, always look at the fundamentals like the root tone and at the third. Returning to the C major seventh from the Post-Malone track, you know that the root is a C and that this chord is in major. In other words, you can simplify the chord by playing a normal C major.

Simplicity is key when jamming at the campfire. Remember this and apply it to every song you want to play. This way you change every campfire you sit at into a real rock show. Try it out and if you need more inspiration check out the YouTube video above. Happy jamming!

Bon Jovi is finally included in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame

FI-NAL-LY! Bon Jovi is included in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. It took the organization some time to make the decision, but in the end they did and the rock band is happy. Founder Jon Bon Jovi told the crowd last week that he had prepared several speeches over the years. Some started with ‘Thank You’ others with ‘Fuck You’.

The old rockers became known in the eighties with the songs You Give Love a Bad Name, Livin’ on a Prayer and Bed of Roses. In the nineties the comeback came with songs like It’s My Life.

Successes

Bon Jovi is an indispensable part of the rock scene. If we look at the statistics, it did indeed take a very long time for glam rockers Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, David Bryan, Tico Torres and Alec John Such from New Jersey to be included in Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.

The band played a total of 2600 concerts in more than fifty countries for 34 million fans. In addition, the act sold more than 120 million records. To quote Darth Vader: “Impressive. Most impressive.”

Setlist Bon Jovi

Bon Jovi is still performing. It is the driving force, the passion of the glam rockers. As can be heard on their last album, the New Jersey boys do not care about trends. This is also reflected in the songs they choose to play. Their last performance consisted of this short but powerful setlist.

Prepare yourself, because the New Jersey rockers are coming this summer with their This House is Not For Sale USA Tour.