Tie your mother down & snuggle up with a fat bottomed girl, if you like, as we take a look back at Queen's score for Flash Gordon, the 1980 release which saw them make inroads into the world of film.
Their official website remembers of their maiden voyage into cinema that,
"The band was first approached in 1979, and as writing film music was something they had all thought about but had not yet got around to, their Manager arranged a meeting with De Laurentiis and mentioned Queen’s interest in scoring the film.Drummer Roger Taylor was attracted by a sense of old-time science fiction!
Rumour has it that De Laurentiis’ first reaction was simply, “Who are the Queens?” They were, as it turned out, the first rock band he had ever listened to, and the outcome was that the band was commissioned to write the music for the movie."
“We’ve been offered quite a few films, but Flash Gordon was something which Brian [May] and I were quite attracted to because of its sci-fi thirties connotations."
What also proves interesting is to look at where Roger, Brian, John Deacon and Freddie Mercury were as a band at the time they were approached to record for Flash Gordon.
Following a run of seven classic rock albums beginning with their 1973 début & peaking by the time of News Of The World as punk took its first tentative steps in 1977, they immediately preceded the soundtrack for Flash Gordon with The Game, their eighth studio album which saw Queen make use of synthesisers for the first time. It also featured the disco-influenced Another One Bites The Dust...
The distinctive bassline was inspired by Chic's Good Times! Bernard Edwards, co-founder of the aforementioned funkmasters alongside Nile Rodgers, claimed some credit for it. As he told the NME,
"That Queen record came about because that Queen bass player... spent some time hanging out with us at our studio."Going on to sell over 7 million records worldwide, Another One Bites The Dust is Queen's best selling single (beating Bohemian Rhapsody by a cool half a million), making it no surprise that the group decided to stick with a similar dance-tinged flavour when recording the follow up album to their first foray into film soundtrack, 1984's Hot Space. So as work began on Flash Gordon, disco, funk, and rhythm and blues were just as much at the forefront for the band as their traditional rock style, and during the soundtrack recording sessions the group continued to make extensive use of synthesisers, and add sampling to their repertoire.
From one distinctive bassline to another...
Flash's Theme was not the first music produced for the album, that was Football Fight and The Kiss which were both recorded in February through March 1980 during The Game sessions. It was at this time that Brian May recalled seeing around twenty minutes of footage from the finished film and thinking it...
"...very good and over the top.And compliment the picture it did!
We wanted to do something that was a real soundtrack. It’s a first in many ways, because a rock group has not done this type of thing before, or else it’s been toned down and they’ve been asked to write mushy background music. Whereas we were given the licence to do what we liked, as long as it complimented the picture."
The remainder of the soundtrack was recorded from October through November 1980, with all but two of the tracks (Flash's Theme and The Hero) being instrumentals, although most feature dialogue sampled from the film. An idea the group came up with, as Roger Taylor explained.
"The album was totally under our control and it was our idea to put dialogue on the album. That wasn’t the original idea. We thought we’d get little snippets to give some idea of what was happening in the film and some atmosphere of the story.”
Side A of the album contains mostly synthesiser, vocal, guitar and drum soundscapes (accompanied by the movie dialogue samples), whereas Side B starts with similar compositions but develops for the most part around the full-band rockier themes. The last track, The Hero, while an individual song, reprises both motifs, with different takes of the song used for the end credits in the film and for the album finale.
The movie debuted in December 1980, two weeks after the single Flash was released. The 7" cut being a new edit of the album version (Flash's Theme) featuring dialogue taken from various parts of the movie, most memorably, Brian Blessed's character exclaiming "Gordon's alive?!"
Sung as a duet between Freddie Mercury and Brian May, with Roger Taylor adding the high harmonies. May played all of the instruments except for the rhythm section. He used an Imperial Bösendorfer Grand Piano (with 97 keys instead of 88, having an extra octave on the low range), Oberheim OBX synth (which he plays in the video) and his homemade Red Special electric guitar.
The single peaked at #10 on the UK chart, #42 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, #3 in Germany and #1 in Austria, and evidently rounded off an enjoyable experience for the awesome foursome of Freddie, Brian, John & Roger.
They would return to the world of film soundtracks for Highlander. But that's a different trip to the movies....