Queen’s last album during Freddie Mercury’s lifetime was released in 1991, just months before his untimely death at 45. Innuendo’s magnificent final track was the perfect ending with Brian May’s iconic The Show Must Go On, which the weakened singer belted out in the studio after a couple of strong shots of vodka. But after the star died, the guitarist, Roger Taylor and John Deacon knew there was another album left in them made up of the frontman’s unreleased recordings; a treasure trove of hidden gems.
In this week’s episode of the official YouTube documentary series, Queen the Greatest, Brian and Roger chart putting together what would be the band’s fastest-selling studio album.
Following the incredible Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992, the group had a break before facing their next challenge.
Then, in 1993, the Queen trio returned to their old stomping ground of Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland to unearth what they’d left buried.
Brian said: “Of course lurking in the wings was all the material we’d done with Freddie, which was unfinished, and what were we going to do with this? Would we manage to make an album with it?”
Roger remembered: “Things like A Winter’s Tale really came out of that, that sort of desperately ill stage. They were made very much out of an awareness that Fred wasn’t going to be around very long.”
Before being convinced to get to work on Made in Heaven, Brian hadn’t exactly been rushing back to face Queen without their frontman.
He said: “I think I kind of dragged my heels, I think I went through a very extended grieving process really because I kind of didn’t want to talk about Queen. I went out on my tour, solo tour, and, of course, all that people wanted to talk about was Queen and Freddie’s death and stuff, and I couldn’t deal with it. I just said, ‘Look, let’s just talk about what’s happening now’.
“So I had a bit of sort of denial stuff going on and I think I was reluctant to get back into opening those boxes and dealing with Freddie’s voice there. And it was tough, to begin with. Roger made the first inroads and he took some of the tapes down to his studio and started working on them. And, of course, that’s the trigger I needed because I hear what he’s done, and I go ‘No, no, no, don’t do it like this. You’ve got to do it like this’, y’know? So my juices were working and I just dived in before I had time to think, and I took over some particular tracks. It was a monumental task.”
At first, Roger felt it was “very weird” to be working with Freddie’s vocals coming out of the speakers, but admitted it was a “very interesting process.”
The Queen drummer said: “We knew that the situation was closing in on us… so we sort of made the most of every moment and then really enjoyed it. I think Brian and I certainly felt that we knew what Freddie would have been thinking. And, you know, he felt he was almost in the corner of the room and sort of knowing each other so well for so long, we sort of thought he’d like that bit but he probably wouldn’t like that bit. And so we sort of got there and I was very pleased with the result.”
Brian was particularly fond of the track Mother Love, which had a little piece of I’m Going Back at the end. The Queen legend said that the segment of the Carole King song was one of the first things that Freddie ever sang in the studio.
The guitarist said: “I wrote to Carol King to ask her permission to use it, and she was delightful, she was so supportive, and she said she was thrilled that we would consider it important to put on there.”
Freddie Mercury: ‘I was first to sing with Queen after his death’ [FREDDIE]
Freddie Mercury ‘full of beans’ and ‘reaching new heights’ on Innuendo [INNUENDO]
Brian May pays tribute to ‘dear’ Freddie Mercury 30 years after death [BRIAN ON FREDDIE]
Reflecting on Made in Heaven as a finished product, Brian said: “The whole album is a fantasy, really, because it sounds like the four of us are there all together having fun and making the album, but, of course, for most of the time when you’re listening, that’s not the case. Y’know, it’s built to sound that way. And a lot of love went into that.
“There’s tracks like I Was Born to Love You, which of course was never a Queen track, that was a solo track which Freddie did very hurriedly, and he never kind of bothered about the backing tracks. So we stripped everything away and lovingly, cherishingly re-edited all his vocal, put it all together, and I spent months and months piecing together our bits to make it sound like we were in the studio together.
“I think it’s one of our best albums, strangely. So good experiences all connected with that album, and I love the album I can put it on any time. And, obviously, there were moments working on it when you’re just listening to Freddie’s voice 24 hours a day and that can be hard, you know, you suddenly think, ‘Oh God, he’s not here’, y’know? ‘Why am I doing this?’ But now, having been through that, I can listen to the album and it’s just joy. I feel like it was the right completion, and it’s the right album to finish up on.”
Released in November 1995, Made in Heaven shot to the top of the charts and sold in excess of 20 million copies worldwide. Five tracks were released as singles, all of which ended up at Top 20 hits in the UK.