Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Speaking of Queen…

I had a friend/coworker “back in the day” named Tim whose two favorite bands were Queen and Judas Priest. At the time that didn’t seem to make much sense, but as I got to know Tim better it did; and as I got to know both bands (because of him) better, it did even more so.

Tim was a bit older than me and full of rock lore (among other things – dude was crazy brilliant). He also had some very unique takes on a lot of the music he (and subsequently we) listened to. One thing that he often pointed out when we’d have discussions about music – which were frequent, usually stemmed from me asking a question about this or that and often filtered back to either Queen or Priest – is that John Deacon, bassist for Queen, was a much underrated songwriter (not to mention bassist).

John Deacon, with Queen, top left

Or rather is one, ‘cost he’s still alive, just not writing songs anymore. Also, as far as I know, Tim is still alive too.


It’s easy to assume that the lead singer is the principle writer of any given band, at least lyrically, and from a superficial point of view (fanwise) that’s to be expected. But Queen was very much a democracy, and while Freddie Mercury was the undisputed focal point and certainly penned a great number of their tunes, Brian May equaled and maybe even surpassed him with contributions. Even drummer Roger Taylor (and I say “even” simply because drummers aren’t typically known for their sole songwriting credits) delivered at least one rocker from the very first album onward.

When I was first immersing myself in Queen, beyond the obligatory greatest hits collection, Tim would write down three to four songs per album that were must listens and, more often than not, one of them was a John Deacon offering. John didn’t begin writing until album number three, Sheer Heart Attack, with an easy going, mid-tempo rocker called Misfire that, while not the standout of the album, certainly wasn’t a misstep, or fire, either.

Tim said more than once, “John Deacon could always be relied on to provide at least one hidden gem per album.” Only this isn’t always the case…sometimes they’re one of the obvious highlights. You and I from Day at the Races, In Only Seven Days from Jazz and Who Needs You, one of the few songs I can tolerate from News of the World, were all penned by John Deacon. Oh, and maybe you’ve heard You’re My Best Friend and a little ditty called Another One Bites the Dust. You see what I’m saying?

I know it takes a real enthusiast (nice way of saying “geek”) to break down the-who-does-what and learn these things, but doing so helps catch a glimpse into the heart of the songwriter, and with a band as musically (and personally) diverse as Queen, the effort reveals fascinating layers later enhanced by repeat listens. Roger Taylor could have never written Spread Your Wings, but likewise John Deacon could have never written I’m in Love with My Car (one of my all-time Queen faves). These were two entirely different songwriters bringing in their separate facets to shine on the same diamond. The results, more often than not, are stellar.

John was the quiet, no frills member of a band who was known for, well, “breaking free” of so many type casts (and yes, John wrote that one as well). His songs are for the most part sweet, personal and deeply sentimental. You’re My Best Friend has probably been on thousands of mix tapes over the years, and Who Needs You on nearly as many break up compilations. These are songs the every-boy (or girl) can relate to and that’s part of what makes them so endearing. If Freddie was the passion, Brian was the precision and Roger was the balls out rock n roll insolence of Queen, John Deacon was certainly the heart.

I find it fitting that he has decided to retire from Queen and music altogether. It suits his personality, one I know mostly through the songs he wrote, which is legacy enough.

Also, Tim McDonald, if you're out there...thanks!!!

1 comment:

Niall young said...

What a nice post...I'd always thought similar things of John's role in Queen.