Brian May Recalls What Irritated Queen About Their Live Shows and How It Turned Into a Major Hit Song

In a lengthy interview now fully published by Total Guitar, Queen legend Brian May discussed the band’s entire career, from start to finish. Among various topics, Brian also touched upon one of Queen’s biggest songs — “We Will Rock You.” The piece that eventually became one of the crowd favorites was based on a principle that, according to May, initially irritated the band members. He recalled:

“The song was born one night in Bingley Hall in the Midlands. We were a group that was doing quite well, we had a good following, and we had this thing where people insisted on singing along to our songs. And I think we were quite irritated by it!”

When asked why they were irritated by the audience wanting to sing along to their music, May replied:

“Because we thought: ‘People, just listen. We’re working really hard, so bloody well listen!’ But they were unstoppable. And this particular night, they sang every word to every song, which was rather novel in those days.

For Brian, Led Zeppelin was one of the bands that he looked up to. And as he recalls, no one sang along to Zeppelin songs while they were playing live. Instead, everyone listened. He continued:

“I mean, I went to a Zeppelin concert and I don’t remember people singing along to ‘Communication Breakdown‘ or whatever they were playing.

“When Zeppelin played, they listened. They banged their heads, and they listened. And I thought about our concerts: why don’t you buggers listen instead of singing? Anyway, that night at Bingley Hall, we came off stage and we all looked at each other in amazement, because all that singing from the audience was so extreme.

Led Zeppelin - Communication Breakdown (Live at Royal Albert Hall 1970)

However, Brian thought that maybe Queen shouldn’t resist it but rather just go along with it. This is when things started to shift for them. As he explains:

“And I said to Freddie, ‘Maybe, instead of fighting this, we should be encouraging it. Maybe we should be harnessing this kind of energy which seems to be happening.’ And we all agreed that this was something really interesting that we should experiment with – letting the audience be a bigger part of the show.

“I thought, what can you ask an audience to do if that audience is all crammed in together? There’s not much they can do except stamp their feet and clap their hands, but they can also sing. And if they can chant, what would they chant? And with that, I could hear it in my head: ‘We will, we will rock you!’

Queen - We Will Rock You (Official Video)

“I was hoping that this would become something which would catch on. We would have a song which would be led by the audience. So that’s why there’s no drums on there – just the stamping and clapping that the four of us did. Very luckily, we found bits of an old drum riser lying around in the studio in Wessex in North London, which was perfect to stamp on. 

“And with the help of Mike Stone, I evolved a whole business of multi-tracking with various prime delays to make it sound huge, but not echoey. There’s no echo on that. So it sounds like you’re in the middle of a thousand people stamping and clapping. Then we put other stuff on it.

But as things were starting to shape up, May admitted that he was a bit anxious about the whole thing. After all, the song was unlike anything they’d done before. However, one thing made him feel much more confident about it. He continued:

“Now, I was very nervous about this, because it seemed like it was kind of over-simplistic, maybe. And I wasn’t sure if it was going to sound like a proper song. But as soon as I heard Freddie singing it, I started to be more confident, because he sounded like a kind of rabble-rouser.”

Queen - We Will Rock You • Live in Montreal 1981 Excellent Quality

“It sounded like he was going to encourage the audience to do this stuff. And so it was all aimed towards getting the audience involved. It was aimed towards the live situation. And somehow it worked.”

When asked whether the rest of the band shared his belief in this song, May replied:

“I remember Roger [Taylor] had severe misgivings about it. And he certainly didn’t want to put it at the beginning of the album. He said, ‘No radio station is ever going to play this! It doesn’t sound like a rock song.’ But I fought that corner. And generally, I didn’t win those arguments, but this time I won. So that was the beginning of the album.”

Queen - We Will Rock You (Live Aid 1985)

“And it was also my thought that we should weld ‘We Will Rock You‘ and ‘We Are The Champions‘ together as a couple. And that worked out very well – partly because those songs both have the same end in mind, they’re both enveloping the audience and involving the audience, treating the audience inclusively – and partly because it just made such sense musically. It just worked so well.

“So that was the beginning of the album, and that was the single – the two tracks together. It was number four in America, a big hit all over, really. And this whole thing changed our lives radically. Because from that point on, we stuck to that resolution – we became a band that encouraged participation. And that’s not the way we started off, but it became a great thing.

“It probably sounds all very obvious now, because everybody gets the audience to clap and sing along, but that’s not the way rock ’n’ roll was in those days. And I think it was a great bolt out of heaven. Looking back, it’s a no-brainer – but at the time, it was a radical departure.”

Queen - We Will Rock You (Live In Budapest 1986) 4K

When asked about the song’s guitar solo and what was his thought process was behind it, May replied:

“I don’t think it was planned. I just wanted to rock! But I did want to break that boundary as well – because everybody puts guitar solos in the middle of the song, and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted this song to happen with the audience, and that would then lead me to the stage, so the guitar solo would be the climax of the song.

“That was pretty unusual at the time, and I can’t actually think of another song that does that. So that was deliberate. And that little riff that’s in the middle there, I guess it must have been in my head someplace. But when I went in there to play that piece of guitar, I don’t think I actually had a plan.

Brian May: We Will Rock You Micro Moment #11 - 3 April 2020

“We’d played and played through the song and I tried to visualize myself on stage: what would people want to hear, and what would I want to feel like? And I played for a few minutes, and we just picked the bits that we liked.”

Photo: TheMillionaireWaltz (Μπράιν Μέι 2017.jpn)

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at Ultimate-Guitar.com, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.

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