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In their prime, Queen were not only one of the greatest and most dramatic rock acts, but also one of the most cumulatively intelligent and creative. Guitarist Brian May studied astrophysics at Ealing College in London; bassist John Deacon was an electronics engineer who built some of the band's equipment, including the Deacy Amp; and drummer Roger Taylor was preparing for a career in dentistry. With a background like that, this was bound to be a band with some fascinating trivia behind it.
Most Queen fans know that the band started as Smile with a different singer, and then ex-bassist Tim Steffal introduced the group to Farookh Bulsara, who had studied piano in a boarding school in Bombay. Bulsara later changed his stage name to Freddie Mercury after leaving his band the Hectics, joining forces with Smile and convincing them to change their moniker to Queen. And the rest was history. The group went on to release 18 No. 1 albums and an equal number of chart-topping singles (every member of the band penned at least one), and sold more than 150 million records worldwide.
It's also common knowledge that Mercury died of complications from AIDS on Nov. 24, 1991, at the age of 45; that Queen were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001; and that members Brian May and Roger Taylor later toured with Paul Rodgers and now American Idol's Adam Lambert fronting the band. (The Queen + Adam Lambert U.S. tour kicks off June 19.) But there are many factoids that only diehard Queen devotees know. Here are our favorite 10:
1. Mercury accidentally pioneered the use of the mic stand stick. During an early Queen show, Mercury's microphone stand broke. Thinking on his feet, he continued to sing, holding the stub of the stand instead of finding a new one. Before long, he was constantly roaming the stage with his new prop. Mercury isn't the only one who decided running around with a stick attached to the microphone was preferable to dragging the entire stand or just singing with mic in hand. Over the years, Axl Rose from Guns N' Roses, Bret Michaels of Poison, Klaus Meine of Scorpions, and Joey Belladonna of Anthrax have all made efficient use of Mercury's accidental invention.
2. The legendary duet between Queen and David Bowie, "Under Pressure," wasn't planned in advance. Queen were recording their 10th studio album Hot Space at Mountain Studio in Montreux, Switzerland, when Bowie dropped by to record the title track for the movie Cat People. At first, Bowie was to add backup vocals to the song "Cool Cat," but he suggested writing an original together instead. Deacon came up with the standout bassline, and Mercury and Bowie constructed most of the rest of the track around it. Bowie insisted that he and Mercury not hear each other's vocals or lyrics beforehand, which gave the song a spontaneous, soaring appeal.
3. "We Will Rock You" didn't originally start with interactive stomp-stomp-clap electronic percussion. Brian May used his knowledge of astrophysics to create the sound after Queen played an explosive show at Bingley Hall near Birmingham, England. He wanted to approximate the sound of thousands clapping at once, so he employed what he learned in school about how soundwaves travel over finite distances, basing it all on prime numbers, and came up with one of the most instantly familiar song openings in rock 'n' roll.
4. When the King (of Pop) had an idea, even Queen took note. The band didn't plan to release the John Deacon song "Another One Bites the Dust" as a single from the 1980 album The Game. But when Michael Jackson popped up backstage at an L.A. concert and heard the song, he convinced the band that it was quirky and original enough to stand out as The Game's lead track. Some noted a similarity between "Another One Bites the Dust" and Chic's "Good Times," and even accused Chic of copying Queen. "Can you believe that?" Chic bassist Bernard Edwards once told NME. "The Queen record came out because the bass player spent some time hanging out at our studio. But that's OK. What isn't OK is that the press started saying we ripped them off. 'Good Times' came out more than a year before."
5. England honored Queen with a Freddie Mercury commemorative postage stamp in 1999. The photo chosen for the stamp featured Roger Taylor in the background, which irked royal loyalists. Traditionally, the only living people who can appear on British stamps are members of the Royal Family. Apparently, Lorde was right: Even Queen will "never be royals."
6. "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" was good clean fun, literally. It's hard enough for most people to read a book while in the tub. But Mercury was so multifaceted, he wrote an entire song while soaking in the suds. To engender the right mood to create "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," he turned on the tap, plugged up the bathtub, and hopped in. Reportedly, he had an assistant move his piano next to where he was bathing so he could play while he wrote. Good thing he didn't use an electric organ.
7. In the early '70s, Mercury actually had a serious girlfriend named Mary Austin. Even after he left her due to sexual preferences, they stayed close. In a 1985 interview, he even said she was his only true friend and that he didn't need any other friends. Mercury was the godfather of Austin's first son; he wrote "Love of My Life" about her; and in his will, he left most of his money, his house, and his recording royalties to her, reported Mentalfloss.com.
8. Mercury was a huge cat lover and at one point owned 10 kitties. He named his 1985 solo album Mr. Bad Guy after one of his pets, and dedicated the disc "to my cat Jerry — also Tom, Oscar, and Tiffany, and all the cat lovers across the universe — screw everybody else." Mercury wrote the song "Delilah" about his favorite tortoiseshell cat; that track appeared on his last album with Queen, 1991's Innuendo. "Delilah's" lyrics are touching, amusing, and a little bit nuts: "When you throw a moody, you're all claws and you bite/That's all right/… You make me so very happy/When you cuddle up and go to sleep beside me/And then you make me slightly mad when you pee all over my Chippendale Suite."
9. Having attended art college, Mercury designed Queen's logo, which he called the Queen crest. He debuted it with the release of the band's first self-titled album in 1973. Even though he claimed he wasn't interested in astrology, the logo featured the zodiac signs of everyone in the band. There were two lions for Leos Deacon and Taylor, a Crab for May (a Cancer), and a pair of fairies for Mercury, who was a Virgo. The logo was similar to the royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom, and was first used as a simple line drawing on back of Queen's first album cover. More colorful and ornate images of the crest graced subsequent albums.
10. A biopic about the life of Freddie Mercury is currently in production. Borat star Sasha Baron Cohen was originally slated to play the singer, but he pulled out last summer and was replaced late last year by Ben Whishaw, who played Q in the James Bond film Skyfall. May told Rolling Stone that the band felt Cohen's personality was too identifiable for the actor to be convincing as Mercury. "What led us to that conclusion was the last three movies that he's made — The Dictator, Les Misérables, and Hugo — in which he makes outstanding performances, but they're very much Sacha Baron Cohen performances. We thought there has to be no distraction in the Freddie movie. You have to really suspend that disbelief — the man who plays Freddie, you have to really believe is Freddie. And we didn't think that could really happen with Sacha." Dexter Fletcher is scheduled to direct the film, which has acquired the rights to use the songs "Bohemian Rhapsody," "We Will Rock You," and "Another One Bites the Dust."