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Duran Duran

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Living Legends: Duran Duran Are Still Hungry After All These Years

In a career-spanning interview, Duran Duran bassist John Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor discuss surviving cultural shifts and the breadth of the band's discography.

GRAMMYs/Aug 23, 2023 - 03:31 pm

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, spoke with members of Duran Duran. The band is currently on tour with Nile Rodgers.

One of the biggest bands of the 1980s, Duran Duran captured the decade's exuberant pop ethos and influenced much of its fashion sense. Four decades later, the group remains ever-popular thanks to beloved hits, a potent live show, and their particular combination of the nostalgic and contemporary.  

Originally considered a teen band for their good looks, stylish dress, and sexy videos, the British pop-rock quintet have proved to be far more than an '80s time capsule, though their output from the period endures. 

Duran Duran’s first three studio albums and live release Arena were big hits in the early ‘80s. Their smash "Hungry Like The Wolf" won two GRAMMY Awards in 1984: Best Video Album and Best Video, Short Form. In 1985, they temporarily split into two popular side projects, Arcadia and Power Station, while simultaneously releasing their second No.1 hit as Duran Duran (the theme song to the James Bond movie A View To A Kill). 

Lineup upheaval followed. Overwhelmed by their massive success, drummer Roger Taylor departed the band and the music industry in 1986. Guitarist Andy Taylor went on to a rock-based solo career as an artist and producer. Frontman Simon LeBon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes, and bassist John Taylor continued on and brought guitarist Warren Cuccurullo into the fold in 1988.

Buoyed by the melancholy hits "Ordinary World" and "Come Undone," Duran Duran’s self-titled 1993 release (a.k.a. The Wedding Album) achieved platinum status. John Taylor departed for two albums in ‘97, but the classic line-up reunited and made the successful comeback album Astronaut in 2004. Andy departed again ahead of 2007's poppy Red Carpet Massacre (featuring appearances by Justin Timberlake and Timbaland), and current guitarist Dom Brown joined their ranks.

Since that time, Duran Duran have released three more albums (including the Top 10 seller Paper Gods), collaborated with Kiesza, Janelle Monáe, and John Frusciante, and were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. 

Duran Duran are currently touring with Nile Rodgers and Chic  — a fortuitous bill as members of Chic and Duran Duran became close friends and collaborators in the ‘80s. Duran’s latest album, 2021's Future Past, combines elements of their classic sound with contemporary influence from Blur’s Graham Coxon, producer/composer Giorgio Moroder, and notable guest appearances by GRAMMY-nominated Swedish singer Tove Lo and the genre-bending Japanese band Chai.

Bassist John Taylor and drummer Roger Taylor spoke to about the band's history and what makes them tick. After these interviews were conducted, guitarist Andy Taylor announced his first solo album in 33 years, Man’s A Wolf To Man. Taylor has been battling stage four prostate cancer for several years, and Duran Duran’s first show of the current U.S. tour on Aug. 19 will raise funds for him.  

You've been playing the eerie "Night Boat" from your debut, on this tour. That song goes back to your Rum Runner club days in Birmingham.

Roger Taylor: It's a pretty deep and epic piece of music, isn't it, for a bunch of 20-year olds? I was very impressed when we started to play it again because the arrangement is pretty out there. It's not your normal three or four minute pop song. 

All You Need Is Now from 2010 is probably the most ‘80s of your 2000s albums. However, a song like "The Man Who Stole A Leopard" is not something you would have heard from Duran Duran back in the day.

Roger Taylor: [Producer] Mark Ronson had that idea that we shouldn't be ashamed of ourselves. He said, "There's so many bands out there that are copying you or citing you as an influence that you shouldn't be ashamed to be who you are." 

And I think Mark Ronson definitely set us on the path to some sort of modern day self-discovery where we actually stopped running away from who we are. I think we did spend a lot of time completely trying to reinvent ourselves and sound completely different. I think Red Carpet Massacre [in 2007] was the tip of that iceberg. I think we've gone back into a little bit more of an organic sound. We've focused a little bit more on John and I playing together again. Nick [brought] out some of his organic synths from the early days. We've accepted ourselves and that got us to where we are now.

John, I once read that you felt you overplayed on the early albums. How do you look back now on your playing?

John Taylor: You're learning tricks as you go along. When the first record came out in ‘81, I'd probably been playing bass for two years. What I'm playing on that first album is everything I know how to play. There's no selection process. It's Roger and I just trying to come up with grooves and licks and transitions — how should we go from this bit to this — and it was great, great fun.

There was a hierarchy of musicianship [in the band], if you will, but it wasn't that great that anybody felt left out. I think that's the key to any group of musicians really. If you've only been playing a year or two you don't want to be around virtuosos because you're always going to be catching up.

Roger, you’re intensely submerged beneath your headphones onstage. You have this juggling act of keeping the groove going, but occasionally things have to be locked in if there's some sequencing or rhythm programming going on. I assume that’s very challenging?

Roger Taylor: It's always been quite a challenging gig because, as you very rightly say, we're trying to keep an organic quality within the live performance. But then Nick is playing parts that are very rhythmic. We use a lot of sequencers, rhythm boxes, and programmed pieces of rhythm, and I have to keep in time with that.

So that's quite a tough job for two hours to make sure that you don't go out of time, you don't vary the tempo. It has to be really locked in. I now use a hybrid kit which is a mix of the live sound and samples from the record which are triggered by the live drums. So when you hear in the kit up front, you're hearing some of the live kit, but you're also hearing some electronic sounds mixed in with the kit.

John, you've played alongside three very distinctive guitarists – Andy Taylor, Warren Cuccurullo, and now Dom Brown. What's it been like for you to play alongside each of them?

John Taylor: Andy was very creative, and he just landed on top of this thing that Nick, Roger, and I had developed. We'd been working on this theoretical rhythm section – well, it wasn't theoretical, we were actually doing it – and we were firing off sequencers and copying our Chic riffs and developing this vibe. Andy just came in and found his way into what we were doing and took it to another level.

Warren's artistically a very powerful, very deep musician. The period of time that we were with Warren was interesting. The first couple of records we did with Warren we would really direct what we wanted him to do, but I remember going through a period in the ‘90s where I just stepped back. I didn't have all that much energy for the band at the time, and Warren just rose into this. Probably the greatest thing we did with Warren was "MTV Unplugged." He was really given the task to arrange that, and he did some very, very clever things.

Dom is old school, meaning he takes the guitar very seriously. He's a lead guitarist. I could count the amount of bum notes he's played with us over the years on one hand. He loves to jam. I think that the journey with him really has been convincing him of the [equal] importance of rhythm playing and just getting him to think like Steve Cropper and think like Nile [Rodgers].

In the mid-1980s Simon, Nick, and Roger were in Arcadia, and John and Andy went to Power Station. They represented two driving aesthetics with the band over the years: the atmospheric and at times darker side with the former, and the groove-oriented material with the latter. Duran’s "Night Boat" is such an interesting tune because it works in both ways. I don’t think some people realize how multifaceted this band is.

Roger Taylor: I think that was overlooked in the early ‘80s. We had a young female audience that used to come to the gigs and scream for most of the shows. We used to walk out and start with “Is There Something I Should Know?” and as the curtain would rise it would just be a deafening, high-pitched squeal. We really struggled to hear what we were playing, to be honest with you. 

I think people assumed that we were just a teen band that was just releasing these quite poppy singles. There was always what I call the dark side of Duran, and I think it took a few years for people to really appreciate that, that we had another side musically.

Andy loved AC/DC, Nick wanted us to sound like Kraftwerk, John and I wanted to sound like Chic. So we just had this mash of different influences that somehow created something very original. When I listen to "Hungry Like The Wolf," that couldn't be anybody else. Although we were trying to be other people at the time, I think we created something that's very original.

**I hear the darker side in a song like "The Chauffeur" from Rio or "Invisible" from Future Past. I also like the dreaminess of Arcadia’s "The Promise" a lot.**

Roger Taylor: I’ve gotta say, that [latter song] is one of my favorite piece of musics that I've ever played on. I really love that song, and [Pink Floyd’s] Dave Gilmour plays guitar on it. It had Sting on backing vocals. It was an epic song, and I think it’s really stood the test of time. 

**John, you have mentioned how you felt Simon really matured as a lyricist on The Wedding Album, especially with "Ordinary World” moving into a more personal area.**

John Taylor: To some extent, there was a throwing out the baby with the bathwater at the end of the ‘80s, and Duran were struggling to stay in the game. We took a lot of criticism for the very things that actually made us special. I look back on Simon's lyrics now from the early ‘80s — lyrics like “Cracks In The Pavement” or "New Moon On Monday" —  and "The Reflex" is as enigmatic a pop song as [Bob Dylan's] "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" and very weirdly interesting. Try getting that into the Top 30 today, you just couldn't do it. 

It just felt like there'd been such a shift musically and lyrically by the end of the ‘80s. We were quite keen to try to bring a greater sense of realism. I was tired of people saying, "What are those lyrics about anyway?" So Simon started experimenting a little bit with feelings, lyrics responding to emotional circumstances. And he reached it with "Ordinary World" and "Come Undone," two of the greatest lyrics of the ‘90s on the same album. 

When you're making music for as long as we've been making music…you're always questioning where you should be and what you should be doing in relation to your audience. From the ‘90s onward we had two bags that we could dip into: We had the detached, enigmatic, weird s—, and then we had the emotionally direct [songs]. I think for Simon it really helps when he has a theme.

We have this sandbox, and when we write together we get all excited. We all just set up in a room and start jamming. Simon's jamming on the voice or he might pull in a guitar, and he's got to pick his way through. I'm usually the first one [done]. “I’ve got the bass line!” Then a month later Nick's got the keyboard parts, and Simon's still trying to make sense of what his vocal sketches mean or what they could mean. And it's really difficult. I always say it's never been easy to make reasonably interesting music. 

2006's Reportage was shelved, but there's a possibility it might be released. From what I understand, the album is a bit more political, which is not typical of Duran Duran. Nick once described it as more of an edgy record. Do you remember recording it?

John Taylor: David Byrne was saying on CNN yesterday — everything's political these days, it doesn't matter what you do. Reportage was realism. That's why we call it Reportage – it felt very much like music that was reflecting stories in the news. 

There was a song on there that Simon had written about the Labour government in the UK, and I remember Nick and he got into a mighty argument about that. Duran Duran lyrics [should have] a fine gauze over the words, in a way. There's got to be a little bit of smoke, a little bit of atmosphere around the words. I think Simon is definitely interested in meeting the challenge of lyric writing, whether that is the perfect love song, a highly obtuse piece of intellectual wordplay, or some song that moves forward a cause of some kind.

John, a few years ago Nick told me that you and he were working on a musical, and it wasn't going to be a traditional musical. How is that coming along?

John Taylor: It's on hold at the moment. It was a really interesting exercise. I feel that we learned a lot in the writing of it – right back to that learning about a theme, learning about writing for characters, writing to move the plot forward. 

It's very likely that it'll see the light of day one day. Not everything has to see the light of day. Sometimes something can be like R&D and be just as important. But getting something like that onto the stage is a big undertaking.

Duran Duran originally peaked during an incredibly decadent time in the music industry when there was a lot of money being spent. Roger, you retired from music for a decade to live a normal life. When you talk to younger musicians who want to know about it, how would you describe that period of the ‘80s?

Roger Taylor: It was certainly a crazy period, and it was incredibly decadent. The record companies seemed to have endless millions that they'd made through the ‘70s [and] they were making millions again because they were releasing CDs. I remember going into EMI in Manchester Square in London — the record executives would have grand pianos in their offices and they'd be driving Rolls Royces and Jaguars and they'd be signing a dozen bands a month. 

We were just lucky that we made the next step. Very unusually, we managed to break America which was huge — and not just the edges of America. We broke all across America. It was just a wonderful period of different steps and opportunities that we just took, and everything just went right for us.

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Ray Parker Jr performing "Ghostbusters" in 2019
Ray Parker Jr performs "Ghostbusters" for Freeform's "31 Nights of Halloween Fan Fest" in 2019.

Photo: Image Group LA via Getty Images


10 Halloween Songs That Have Won GRAMMYs: "Thriller," "Ghostbusters" & More

With Halloween celebrations in full swing this Oct. 31, revisit 10 eerie or ghoulishly titled songs that have all been awarded music's top honor, from the 'Exorcist' theme to Eminem and Rihanna's "The Monster."

GRAMMYs/Oct 31, 2023 - 12:56 pm

If the holiday of trick or treating, pumpkin carving, and decorating your front porch with skeletons is your favorite of the year, then you'll no doubt already have a playlist stacked with creepy and kooky, mysterious and spooky bangers ready to fire up on Oct. 31. But if you want to add a bit of prestige to your supernatural soundtrack, there's another list of Halloween-friendly songs to check out — one that highlights another celebrated annual occasion.

While the GRAMMYs might not yet have awarded Rob Zombie, Jukebox the Ghost, or And You Will Know Us by the Trail of the Dead, it has embraced the odd musical spooktacular in several forms. In 1988, for example, it gave Halloween obsessive Frank Zappa Best Rock Instrumental Performance for Jazz from Hell. A year later, it handed Robert Cray Band Best Contemporary Blues Recording for Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. And it's also dished out goodies (of the statuette, rather than the sweet, variety) to the likes of Mavis Staples' "See That My Grave Is Clean," Chick Corea's "Three Ghouls," and Mastodon's "A Sultan's Curse."

With Halloween 2023 fast approaching, here's a closer look at ten other tracks which left the music industry's biggest awards show completely bewitched.

Stevie Wonder — "Superstition" (1974)

It seems unlikely that Stevie Wonder walked under a ladder, crossed a black cat, or 'broke the lookin' glass' while recording "Superstition" — the squelchy Moog-funk classic kickstarted his remarkable run of 25 GRAMMY Awards when it won both Best Rhythm and Blues Song and Best R&B Vocal Performance Male in 1974. Taken from what many consider to be his magnum opus, Talking Book, "Superstition" also gave Wonder his first No. 1 hit on the Hot 100 in over a decade. And the soul legend further leaned into its supernatural theme in 2013 when he appeared as a witch doctor in a Bud Light Super Bowl commercial soundtracked by the Tamla favorite.

Mike Oldfield — "Tubular Bells" (1975)

Incredibly, considering how perfectly it complements all-time classic horror The Exorcist, Mike Oldfield's prog-rock epic Tubular Bells was recorded long before director William Friedkin came calling. Mike Oldfield, then aged only 19, used a variety of obscure instruments across its two mammoth pieces. Yet, it's the brilliantly creepy Steinway piano riffs which open Side One that are still most likely to bring anyone who experienced the movie's hysteria in a cold sweat. Oldfield was rewarded for helping to scar a generation of cinemagoers for life when a condensed version of his eerie masterpiece picked up the Best Instrumental Composition GRAMMY.

The Charlie Daniels Band — "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" (1980)

The Charlie Daniels Band certainly proved their storytelling credentials in 1979 when they put their own Southern country-fied spin on the old "deal with the devil" fable. Backed by some fast and furious fiddles, "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" tells the tale of a young musician named Johnny who bumps into Beelzebub himself during a jam session in the Peach State. Experiencing a downturn in soul-stealing, the latter then bets he can win a fiddle-off, offering an instrument in gold form against Johnny's spiritual essence. Luckily, the less demonic party proves he's the "best that's ever been" in a compelling tale GRAMMY voters declared worthy of a prize, Best Country Vocal Performance By A Duo Or Group.

Michael Jackson — "Thriller" (1984)

The 1984 GRAMMYs undeniably belonged to Michael Jackson. The King of Pop picked up a whopping 11 nominations for his first blockbuster album, Thriller, and then converted seven of them into wins (he also took home Best Recording for Children for his narration on audiobook E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial). Remarkably, the title track's iconic John Landis-directed video didn't feature at all: its making of, however, did win Best Music Film the following year. But the song itself did pip fellow superstars Prince, Billy Joel, and Lionel Richie to the Best Male Pop Vocal Performance crown. Jackson would also win a GRAMMY 12 years later for another Halloween-esque anthem, his Janet Jackson duet "Scream."

Duran Duran — "Hungry Like the Wolf" (1984)

Produced by Colin Thurston, the man behind another early '80s Halloween-friendly classic, (Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy"), "Hungry Like the Wolf" cemented Duran Duran's status as MTV icons. Alongside their much raunchier earlier clip for "Girls on Film," its jungle-themed promo was also responsible for giving the Second British Invasion pin-ups the inaugural GRAMMY Award for Best Music Video, Short Form; it featured on the Duran Duran compilation that was crowned Best Video Album, too. Frontman Simon Le Bon had been inspired to write their U.S. breakthrough hit by Little Red Riding Hood, giving the new wave classic its sinister, and appropriately predatory, edge.

Ray Parker Jr. — "Ghostbusters" (1985)

Ray Parker Jr. not only topped the Hot 100 for four weeks with his ode to New York's finest parapsychologists, he also picked up a GRAMMY. Just don't expect to hear "who you gonna call?" in the winning version: For it was in the Best Pop Instrumental Performance where "Ghostbusters" reigned supreme. The fact that Parker Jr. wrote, performed, and produced the entire thing meant he still took home the trophy. However, Huey Lewis no doubt felt he should have been the one making the acceptance speech. The blue-eyed soulman settled out of court after claiming the spooky movie theme had borrowed its bassline from "I Want a New Drug," a track Ghostbusters' director Ivan Reitman admitted had been played in film footage intended to inspire Parker Jr.

Ralph Stanley — "O Death" (2002)

Traditional Appalachian folk song "O Death" had previously been recorded by the likes of gospel vocalist Bessie Jones, folklorist Mike Seeger, and Californian rockers Camper Van Beethoven, just to name a few. Yet it was Ralph Stanley's 2002 version where GRAMMY voters first acknowledged its eerie a cappella charms. Invited to record the morbid number for the Coen brothers' period satire O Brother, Where Art Thou, the bluegrass veteran won Best Male Country Vocal Performance at the 2002 ceremony, also picking up a second GRAMMY alongside the likes of Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, and Emmylou Harris when the soundtrack was crowned Album Of The Year.

Skrillex — "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites" (2012)

David Bowie fans may well feel aggrieved that his post-punk classic "Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)" was entirely ignored by GRAMMY voters, while the bro-step banger it inspired was showered with awards. The title track from EP Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites added Best Dance Recording to Skrillex's 2012 haul: the asymmetrically haired producer also walked away with Best Dance/Electronica Album and Best Remixed Recording: Non-Classical for his work on Benny Benassi's "Cinema." Packed with speaker-blasting beats, distorted basslines, and aggressive synths, Skrillex's wall of noise is enough to scare anyone off their pumpkin pie.

Eminem and Rihanna — "The Monster" (2015)

Who says lightning can't strike twice? Just four years after picking up five GRAMMY nominations for their transatlantic chart-topper "Love the Way You Lie," unlikely dream team Eminem and Rihanna once again joined forces for another hip-pop masterclass. Unlike their previous collab, however, "The Monster" didn't go home empty-handed, winning Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the 2015 ceremony. The boogeyman hiding under the bed here, of course, isn't a Frankenstein-esque creation, but the mix of paranoia, self-doubt, and OCD that leads the Real Slim Shady into thinking he needs a straitjacket.

Jason Isbell — "If We Were Vampires" (2018)

While the Twilight franchise may have failed to add a GRAMMY to its trophy cabinet, it did pick up several nominations. But four years after the Team Edward vs Team Jacob saga wrapped up, folk hero Jason Isbell proved mythical bloodsuckers weren't a barrier to awards success. Emerging victorious in only the fifth ever Best Americana Roots Song category, "If We Were Vampires" is a little less emo than the various Twilight soundtracks. Still, as a love song dedicated to wife Amanda Shires, and the quiet acceptance that the Grim Reaper will inevitably end their story, it's certainly no less emotional.  

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Queen in 1973
Queen in London in 1973.

Photo: Michael Putland/Getty Images


Queen's Debut Album Turns 50: How The Self-Titled LP Signaled A New Rock Dawn

A half-century after introducing the world to Queen — and perhaps even more notably, their mercurial frontman — looks back on the eponymous first album that took rock music to new theatrical heights.

GRAMMYs/Jul 13, 2023 - 02:39 pm

Much of Queen's 1973 self-titled debut appears to have been erased from the rock giants' remarkable history. It's conspicuous by its absence on Greatest Hits, the 1981 compilation that remains the U.K.'s best-selling album ever. The Adam Lambert incarnation has only ever played two of its songs. And in one of many, many examples of revisionism, the Bohemian Rhapsody film would have you believe their first recorded effort was their second album's closer "Seven Seas of Rhye." And yet, it's a vital first chapter of Queen's story — one which laid the groundwork for all of the genius, and indeed chaos, that was to follow.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary on July 13, Queen derived from a five-song demo frontman Freddie Mercury, guitarist Brian May, bassist John Deacon and drummer Roger Taylor had shipped around numerous labels the year previously. Charisma Records was the only one to bite. But as the home of the already-established prog rockers Genesis, the band reportedly believed they wouldn't get the attention they required and turned the offer down.

Queen did, however, forge a connection with John Anthony, the producer of Genesis' second LP Trespass, and his Neptune Productions co-founder Roy Thomas Baker. The pair subsequently guided sessions at the same Trident Studios whereThe Beatles, a particular favorite of May's, had laid down "Hey Jude." But unlike the Fab Four, Queen were only allowed to record out-of-hours, an arrangement that Taylor laterrevealed in 2011 documentary Days of Our Lives wasn't always conducive to full concentration: "You could see the working girls at night through their laced curtains, so while we were mixing, we would have a little bit of diversion."

Like any young band, Queen took a while to nail things. Opener "Keep Yourself Alive," one of the album's few songs to enjoy a healthy shelf life, had to be re-recorded eight times before a mix by longtime engineer Mike Stone finally achieved the band's approval. "Mad the Swine" was discarded completely due to conflicting opinions over its rhythm, only later showing up as a 1991 B-side. And the atmosphere between the group and Baker was continually fraught, with May later remarking, "We were fighting the whole time to find a place where we had the perfection, but also the reality of performance and sound."

Queen's teething problems didn't subside once they waved goodbye to the studio. Once again, the group struggled to attract any major label interest. In fact, it took eight months for their debut to find a home: it was eventually issued by Trident Studios via a licensing deal with Elektra Records in the States and EMI in the U.K. The former's founder, Jac Holman, certainly made up for the lack of enthusiasm elsewhere, though, declaring in a 1972 memo to his staff, "I have seen the future of pop music, and it is a band called Queen."

Unfortunately, by the time the record eventually hit stores the next year, the band themselves believed that, far from forward-thinking, it was already something of a relic. Speaking to Guitar magazine just weeks later, a disillusioned May remarked, "Most of the songs were written about three years ago. We just feel that, as a band, we've gone past what's on the album. We put it down in order to progress to different things." Within a month, Queen had returned to Trident Studios to start work on its follow-up.

Luckily, the reaction outside the band was less fatigued. Although it hardly set the charts alight, peaking at No. 83 on the Billboard 200 and No. 32 on the UK album chart, Queen sold steadily enough to achieve gold status. A headlining national tour which began, rather appropriately, at Basingstoke's Queen Mary's College and a support slot with Mott the Hoople also helped to spread the word.

And the press instantly latched onto a band whose mission statement, as Mercury told Melody Maker, was to instantly shock: "We don't want people to have to think of [whether] they like us or not, but to formulate an opinion the moment they see us." In one of the album's more rhapsodic reviews, Rolling Stone declared "this funky, energetic English quartet has all the tools they'll need to lay claim to the Zep's abdicated heavy-metal throne, and beyond that to become a truly influential force in the rock world."

Those only familiar with the group's crowd-pleasing stadium anthems may be surprised to hear of comparisons with Led Zeppelin and talk of heavy metal. But the Queen of 1973 was a different beast to the Queen that conquered Live Aid. Their eponymous debut is indeed a place where the riffs are thunderous, tempos are forever shifting and lyrical themes are grounded in the mystical and medieval. There's little here to inspire mass singalongs a la "We Will Rock You" or "Don't Stop Me Now."

For a band in their infancy, the sense of ambition is remarkable — yet as they'd prove throughout their career, hardly an outlier. Plucked from May and Taylor's former band, Smile, "Doing All Right" lurches from prog and folk to proto-metal with aplomb. With galloping rhythms, acoustic breaks and an interpolation of nursery rhyme "Old King Cole," the baroque and bizarre "Great King Rat" contains more ideas in its near-six minutes than many of their peers managed in their entire discographies; "Jesus" celebrates Christ's power to cure the sick over a marching beat and swirling guitars that border on the psychedelic.

As signified by the album's artwork — a purple-tinted spotlight glaring solely on their arms-outstretched frontman — Mercury is undoubtedly the star of the show. Not only does he co-write half the 10 tracks, he takes nearly all the main vocal duties, too, and even gets to debut his piano skills on "My Fairy King." This Tolkien-esque saga ("Ah, then came man to savage in the night/ To run like thieves and to kill like knives") also introduced the fantastical world of Rhye that would be explored further in Queen's commercial breakthrough.

However, Mercury's bandmates still get the chance to shine. You're never more than 30 seconds away from May attempting to emulate the overdubbed theatrics of his guitar hero Jimi Hendrix, like on "Son and Daughter. " He was so keen to prove his six-string wizardry was the real thing, he insisted in Queen's  liner notes that "nobody played synthesizer."

It's May's solo compositions that are the album's most accessible. The propulsive opener "Keep Yourself Alive" hints at the band's excessive tastes ("Well I've loved a million women/In a belladonic haze/And I ate a million dinners/Brought to me on silver trays," Mercury sings on the second verse); "Night Comes Down" is an introspective coming-of-age tale with a lyrical nod to the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."

Setting the template for every future Queen album, Taylor grabs a lead vocal on "Modern Times Rock 'N' Roll," a short but fast burst of pre-punk that takes aim at the state of the early '70s music industry. And while Deacon's basslines are generally buried a little deeper into the mix, they come to life on "Liar," a full-throttle confessional where Mercury tries to atone for some undisclosed sins.

Although Queen were keen to move on from their debut, its follow-up still had several ties. Despite their previous creative differences, Baker returned to the production fold, as he would for the band's subsequent two releases. And it also closed with "Seven Seas of Rhye," the original brief instrumental in Queen that was expanded to a full vocal-led version — and  wound up becoming the band's first notable hit in 1974.

And over time, the group appeared to recognize Queen's merits. "Keep Yourself Alive," "Seven Seas of Rhye" and "Liar" all returned to setlists during their stadium tour phase. And in 2011's 40 Years of Queen book, May acknowledged that the LP possessed two qualities lacking elsewhere in their oeuvre. "That album had the youth and freshness which was never regained, because you're only young once," he wrote. "I would never think of going back and redoing it, or anything like that, because I think it has a freshness we won't have again."

Indeed, Queen might not have the same stature as A Night at the Opera, News of the World or any of the other four studio efforts that positioned Mercury and Co. as the true champions of '70s rock. But in allowing the band to explore and develop their love of the grandiose, it was an undeniably pivotal stepping stone for one of rock's game-changing groups.

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Elton John on Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour

Elton John

Photo: Faith Moran/Wireimage/Getty Images


Elton John Celebrated With Britain's Exclusive Highest Honor

Olivia Newton-John, Roger Taylor of Queen, Billy Ocean and Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol are also among the artists on Britain's 2020 Honours List

GRAMMYs/Dec 31, 2019 - 06:00 am

GRAMMY-winning music legend Elton John is being celebrated by his native Britain for his incomparable contributions to music, philanthropy and culture with the exclusive title of the Order of the Companions of Honor.

"I'm humbled and honoured to be among such highly esteemed company in receiving the Companion of Honour. 2019 has turned out to be a truly wonderful year for me and I feel extraordinarily blessed," the enduring "Rocket Man" wrote on Twitter.

The news comes with the recently released 2020 Honours List, in which Queen Elizabeth celebrates 1,097 new rankings of dames and knights each year. GRAMMMY winners Olivia Newton-John and Billy Ocean, along with Roger Taylor of Queen, and Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol are also among the other musical artists on the list of high-level contributors to British society with several different ranks.

Watch: Elton John Discography: Icon Reflects On His Personal Favorite Albums

Australian-British singer/actress Newton-John "was made a dame for services to charity, cancer research and entertainment," as noted by The Guardian. Per Billboard, she is fighting breast cancer for the third time and has worked for years to support cancer research and funding with various philanthropic efforts, including the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne.

"I am extremely excited, honoured and grateful beyond words to be included with such an esteemed group of women who have received this distinguished award before me," the "Grease" star said via Billboard. "As a girl born in Cambridge, I am very proud of my British ancestry and so appreciative to be recognised in this way by the United Kingdom."

Other powerful names in entertainment, like Oscar-winning British film directors Steve McQueen ("12 Years A Slave," "Widows") and Sam Mendes ("American Beauty," "Skyfall"). But as the Guardian points out, the majority of the list (72% this year) are made up of names we are less familiar with, yet nevertheless have dedicated themselves to public service. Simon Stevens, the Chief Executive of England's NHS, is one of these people, who has spent 31 years fighting for better public health funding.

According to BBC News, the honours list is published twice per year—during the New Year and on the Queen's birthday—and are informally approved by the Queen after nominees are approved by committees of "independent experts" divided by subject matter. "The system is overseen by the Cabinet Office Honours and Appointments Secretariat, and British nationals or citizens of the 15 Commonwealth realms can be nominated," BBC explains. Foreigners can receive honorary honours.

Read: 5 Ways Elton John Supports Philanthropic Causes

John was first knighted back in 1998—when he received his "Sir" title—and now joins a group of just 65 as a Companion of Honour. Fellow knighted GRAMMY winner Paul McCartney is also among this group, whose limit of 65 members at any given time includes the royal monarch himself.

He also received France's highest civilian honor, the Légion d'Honneur, earlier this year. The Elton John AIDS Foundation, which has organizations in both the U.K. and U.S., has raised over $400 million towards money to support HIV/AIDS research and prevention since 1992.

One of 2019's biggest music biopics, "Rocketman," highlighted the personal struggles of low self-esteem, toxic relationships and drug addiction John faced while bringing joy to many with his charismatic stage persona and groundbreaking blend of folk, pop and glam rock.

Kicking off in 2018, his massive farewell tour, appropriately titled Farewell Yellow Brick Road, has seen him bringing his joyful catalog of music to his countless fans around the world, with dates extending into 2020.

Giles Martin On 'Rocketman,' Elton John, Reinventing "Tiny Dancer" & More

Queen + Adam Lambert

Adam Lambert + Queen

Photo: Craig Sjodin/Getty Images


Queen + Adam Lambert 'The Show Must Go On' Documentary Coming In April

The two-hour TV special will feature exclusive interviews and concert footage, plus a behind-the-scenes look at how the band teamed up with Lambert in 2012

GRAMMYs/Feb 26, 2019 - 06:58 am

On Feb. 25, less than 24 hours after their killer opening performance at the 2019 Oscars, Queen + Adam Lambert, as the revived glam-rock group calls itself, announced the release of a new documentary, The Show Must Go On: The Queen + Adam Lambert Story.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">So excited about our documentary “The Show Must Go On - The Queen + Adam Lambert Story” airing on <a href="">@ABCNetwork</a> on April 29th!! <a href="">@QueenWillRock</a></p>&mdash; ADAM LAMBERT (@adamlambert) <a href="">February 25, 2019</a></blockquote>

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The two-hour special will air on ABC on April 29 and feature, according to the press release, "rare concert footage and exclusive, revealing portraits of the band members offstage." The film will tell the story of Queen's remaining founding members, guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor, bringing on Lambert on lead vocals to rebirth the group in 2012, following their first performance together on the "American Idol" stage in 2009, when Lambert was a contestant on the show.

In addition to offering fans the story directly from the group's members, the documentary will also feature insight from Lambert's family, former Idol judge Simon Cowell, Foo Fighters' Taylor Hawkins and Bohemian Rhapsody lead Rami Malek.

Malek portrayed the late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in the biopic that swept the Golden Globes and last night's Oscars, where Malek won for Actor In A Leading Role. Bohemian Rhapsody currently stands as the highest-grossing music biopic of all time.

Queen + Adam Lambert will embark on a previously announced North American arena tour this summer with 23 shows across the country.

Adam Lambert & Queen Open The 2019 Oscars