In October 1985, mere months after Queen’s iconic performance at Live Aid, Freddie Mercury was recruited by his dear friend, British Invasion pioneer Dave Clark, to record the track “In My Defence” for a star-studded concept album based on Clark's sci-fi/rock musical Time. The session at London’s Abbey Road Studios went so swimmingly that, Clark tells Yahoo Entertainment, Mercury asked him, “‘Have you got any other songs?’ I said, ‘Well, I have got the title track.’ And that was called ‘Time.’ I played it to him. He was totally committed, which is where this all came from. He was amazing.”
So, three months later, Mercury returned to Abbey Road to record that second song (which Clark co-wrote with John Christie), and Clark describes the day as absolutely magical. “Before any musicians came in, it was just Freddie and [session musician Mike Moran playing] piano. He sang, and it gave me goosebumps. Nobody was there. It was just amazing. I can't even explain it. Then of course, when everybody came in, we ended up with 48 tracks of backing vocals. … And the end result, with all the musicians and production, ended up at 96 tracks.”
But now, for the first time ever, Mercury’s original, pared-down “Time” — captured that day in January 1986 when Mercury was, as Clark puts it, still “buzzing” from his Live Aid triumph — is being released under the song’s full title, “Time Waits for No One,” stripping back those 96 tracks to a version with just one: Freddie Mercury.
Clark never forgot that moment, and he spent a decade trying to unearth Mercury’s lost vocal track. “I thought, ‘I'd love to hear the original performance,’ but I couldn't find it. It's because we did so many tracks. I sent my engineer down, and we went through [the vaults]. Couldn't find it. So I let it go. A few years later, I said, ‘Go on. Go through all the banks again.’”
Clark finally retrieved the audio from his tape archive last year and restored it at Moran’s studio in Buckinghamshire, England — though he sat on it for while longer, because he though it would be “wrong” to release it while the publicity campaign for the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody was still in overdrive. Eventually, when the time was right, he surprised Queen manager Jim Beach with the track. “He came over to my house, and before we started talking, I said, ‘I've got something I'd like to show you that might make you smile.’ I didn't say what it was. He loved it.”
Clark also commissioned a brand-new video for the recording, cut from original negatives and unused, unprocessed 35mm film footage from the 1986 “Time” video shoot. Listening back to the recording and watching the new clip, Clark still gets goosebumps. “Even more so now,” he stresses. “Yeah, I think ‘time waits for no one,’ it applies to all of us, on whatever level. You could go and win the lottery tomorrow, or we don't know what's around the corner. It's not heavy in any way, it's just that we've all got to enjoy ourselves. The world's not in a great state. It's sad. You’ve just got to enjoy every moment.”
Clark first met Mercury about a decade before the Time sessions, and enjoyed every moment of the friendship that ensued. “I went to [Queen’s] first major concert in Hyde Park, in London [in 1976], which was huge. I stood in the wings. He came on in a leotard with black nail varnish and I thought, ‘What's this? Liza Minnelli?’ Then he opened his mouth and sang, and I went, ‘Wow.’ He was unbelievable, just unbelievable,” Clark recalls. “An incredible performer. Then, after the show, we all went with Elton [John] to Mr. Chow's, which was a big restaurant in London. We were just mates. And that was it.”
Their friendship truly blossomed later at Abbey Road, after Mercury eventually agreed to travel from Germany, where he was living at the time, to London to work on “In My Defence” and, later, “Time Waits for No One” — despite music-biz naysayers claiming that this would never happen.“The record company said, ‘No, you'll never get him.’ His management said, ‘You won't get him.’ But I'm a firm believer of going to the source,” Clark chuckles. “I knew Freddie's girlfriend, Mary Austin. She gave me his number in Munich. I phoned him up and said, ‘Look, Freddie, I've got a track I'd love you to hear.’ He said, ‘Well, I've read all about Time.’ We [already] had Stevie Wonder, Laurence Olivier, you name it; everybody was on the album. He said, ‘You've come a bit late!’ — which was typical Freddie. He said, ‘I'm quite happy to listen to it.’ I said, ‘Well, I'll fly over [to Munich]. If you don't like it, don't feel embarrassed. I wouldn't want you to do it. It's got to be something you're really passionate to do. I'll fly over, and we can have a drink or a bite to eat, and I'll fly back.’ That was it. He bit the bullet, as they say.
“It was amazing, because everybody said he would be a nightmare to work with. I'm very focused on what I want to do, and it's got to be right; Freddie is the same. The amazing thing was, I didn't agree with certain things, and he gave into it. He came up with things that I wasn't sure of, but we were working to make the best possible record. There was never any arguments or anything like that. He was amazing. It worked. …The friendship really developed then.”
Two years later, in April 1988, Clark staged a benefit concert, Give Time for AIDS, at London’s Dominion Theatre — the same West End stage where the “Time Waits for No One” video was shot — and Mercury participated. (“It was in the days when people didn't understand [AIDS]. They knocked it. It was like a leprosy, in a way,” Clark recalls.) It turned out to be one of Mercury’s last live performances. Three and a half years later, in November 1991, Mercury himself succumbed to AIDS. And Clark was at the bedside vigil. “I did see him right at the end,” Clark says softly, though he doesn’t “really want to get into that,” explaining, “I've done this [“Time Waits for No One”] for a tribute to Freddie. I don't want to get into [talking about] the end, because I think we're talking about Freddie when he's alive and the amazing contribution he made.”
However, Clark is willing to discuss the “horrific” way the tabloid press hounded Mercury in his final days. “All the nasty press, writing terrible things, they weren’t thinking about his loved ones and his family. They couldn't care less,” he grumbles. “But the thing about the press is, with all that bad press, he still had multimillion-selling records, because people loved him. That's what it's all about. … And I've got an opinion: It doesn't matter who you love or how you love, it's that you love. Freddie loved life. I think that was wonderful.
“There's one little thing when he passed away that really moved me,” Clark continues. “What really blew me away was, when Freddie died, all the taxis that went past his house turned their lights off. Now, these were really working-class, Cockney-type people, you know? I found that very moving. Also, when they were doing all the press and the television cameras were outside his house, I always remember there was this Cockney couple, a young guy and his girlfriend. And he said, ‘What do you think about him? He's gay.’ She said, ‘We love him!’ And so did the guy. He said, ‘We couldn't care less. He made us feel good. He made us happy.’ I think that's the important thing. … Music is as an emotion to move you. Either makes you feel happy, or sad, or whatever. With Freddie's music, it was always to make you feel good.”
Reflecting on the recent resurgence of love for Queen since the massive box-office success of Bohemian Rhapsody — perhaps the best revenge against all those vicious paparazzi and trolling reporters — Clark laughs, “When they got the Oscar and the BAFTA and everything else, I thought, ‘Freddie will be up there, smiling.’ I know what he'd say. … He would say, ‘F*** 'em all!’ That's what he would say.”
Clark has no doubt that if Mercury had lived, he and the Queen legend would have worked on more music together. In fact, they even recorded a demo of another Time tune, “Born to Rock'n'Roll,” but the album spot had already been promised to Time star Cliff Richard. Sadly, Clark can’t find the Mercury demo now, although rough audio of a live duet version of the song between Mercury and Richard, from the above-mentioned Give Time for AIDS charity gala, exists online.
“Cliff wanted to do [“Born to Rock'n'Roll”]; I didn't tell him that Freddie wanted to do it, so I couldn't renege on it. Freddie said to me, ‘Leave it for a year or so, Dave. I'll come in and rerecord it,’ because we did a demo for it, and it was amazing,” Clark reveals. “We would have done it. Yeah, we would have done a lot more things if the time had been on our side. … There was all the time in the world to do it, at that stage. But that was it. That's life.”
Freddie Mercury’s “Time Waits for No One” can be streamed and downloaded here.
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