Thursday, March 22, 2012

"Don't Stop Me Now" is Queen perfection

I've discussed on this blog just how hard I find it to name favorites. Favorite groups, favorite albums, favorite songs ... It all depends on mood, situation, memories attached, all of that stuff.

But one favorite I keep coming back to is Queen's "Don't Stop Me Now." At this moment, on this day, of this week ... "Don't Stop Me Now" is my favorite Queen song. And they are one of my favorite bands. Look at that, I'm just naming favorites left and right! (I know, you're amazed.)

I probably don't need to hedge my bets much on "Don't Stop Me Now," actually. It's been my favorite Queen song for a few years. Everything about it appeals to me. Feel like discussing it? Yay! Let's get down to it.

"Don't Stop Me Now" is one of the highlights of Queen's 1978 album "Jazz." "Jazz" is the last proper Queen studio album released in the Seventies, and it is something of a mixed bag.

There are a handful of good songs, including "Don't Stop Me Now," "Fat Bottomed Girls," "Bicycle Race" and "Let Me Entertain You." The rest of the album veers from pleasant-though-inessential ("Jealousy," "In Only Seven Days," "Dreamer's Ball") to jarring-but-interesting ("Mustapha," "If You Can't Beat Them") to substandard ("Fun It," "More of That Jazz").

The album was plagued by poor sequencing (I mean, c'mon, you can't ... or shouldn't ... separate "Fat Bottomed Girls" from "Bicycle Race," and how do you NOT start the album with a song called "Let Me Entertain You?"), a lack of zeal and appreciation for the material within the band (hey, "Jazz" was their seventh album and they'd toured a lot and they were all looking for inspiration and fun outside of the group ... stuff happens; you aren't going to love everything your bandmates come up with. Drummer Roger Taylor sure hated "Dreamer's Ball") and ... well, let's face it ... a willingness to settle for filler that the band hadn't shown on earlier albums.

C'est la vie.

Of course, other songs on the album are classics in their own right. "Bicycle Race" had its legendary provocative promotional video (naked girls on bicycles? ... Sounds like a plan) and "Fat Bottomed Girls" had that killer crunchy guitar riff going for it. Those two tracks were live favorites for a time (though they were dismissed themselves from the concert setlists all too soon). It seems that little from "Jazz" was appreciated, even within the band.

(Just in case any of you, my dear friends and readers, are easily offended ... you may not want to view the "Bicycle Race" video above. As the still image from the video clearly demonstrates, there's more than just Freddie Mercury being shown off here.)

But "Don't Stop Me Now" is the JEWEL of the record. The song perfectly captures that time of Freddie Mercury's life (he was partying more, getting looser, starting to hang out at more gay clubs), but spread throughout an emotional musical fabric that makes it a universal anthem for people looking for a good time ... whether they want it or just desperately need it.

Well, maybe it's a bit more universal now than it was when the song was released as a single in early 1979.

"Don't Stop Me Now" wasn't exactly a world beater as a single. Considering the success of "We Will Rock You" and "We Are the Champions" (both made the top 10 worldwide) just a little over a year earlier, Queen probably hoped for a similar reaction for "Don't Stop Me Now." It cracked the top 10 in the UK (No. 9), but that was its highest chart placement. In the United States, it got no higher than No. 86. At the time, it just didn't resonate with fans or concert audiences. It wasn't performed live by the group after the 1979 tour.

That's a real pity.

Take the song from the beginning. Freddie sounds tired, even frustrated. "Tonight / I'm gonna have myself / a real good time." He sounds like he's trying to coach himself out of a funk, pep talk himself into getting up and getting out of some sullen mood. He may say he's feeling alive, but we'll shortly hear just how alive he can get.

He launches into a vocal tour de force, and the band jumps in to send the song truly rocketing skyward. The lyrics are full of clever word play, sly winks toward sexual prowess, full of boasts and glory and some nonsensical (yet somehow coherent ... figure that out) language. How many songs would boast lyrics along the lines of:

I'm a shooting star / leaping through the sky,
Like a tiger / defying the laws of gravity
I'm a racing car / passing by like Lady Godiva
I'm gonna go go go / there's no stopping me

The fact that the lyrics are being spit out as fast as Mercury can deliver them (almost rap style, in a way) injects that vitality and passion right into the song. The harmony vocal lines at the chorus have that multitracked power of the classic Queen sound (a la "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Somebody to Love"), with the guitar muscle and energy of the "News of the World" album.

A big vocal crescendo leads into that soaring lead guitar work, courtesy of Brian May, which so perfectly captures the rush that Freddie is projecting. The band's intuitive feel for each other (and no doubt some woodshedding in the studio) paid off quite a bit in their long career, and this song demonstrates how perfectly the band could pull off music magic when they really hit in the pocket.

Then the song returns to the subdued mood from whence it came. Freddie sings by himself (to himself?), la da da-ing to the piano as the rocket crashes back to earth. A juxtaposition of reality and fantasy (where he's really low-key but acts the extrovert?), or just a great way to showcase dynamics? Heck, maybe it's a veiled description of his embrace of gay culture ... Who knows?

I prefer to think it's as real a snapshot into the mind of Freddie Mercury as listeners were going to get at the time ... Freddie Mercury being the explosive consummate performer, masking the shyness of Freddie Bulsara (aka Farrokh Bulsara, a Parsi born in Zanzibar who lived in India for a while before relocating to England ... already a stranger in a strange land, with an appearance that few would consider traditionally handsome AND a preference for male companionship).

This was a guy who thrived in the spotlight, but had to wear masks to do it. And since his personal life is so obscured, and information about the man when he wasn't being the musician and live dynamo was kept very private and shared with so few, one can sense that there was a man who was perhaps a bit resentful of being so defined by public image. So perhaps that introduction and then the fade of the song isn't so much sullenness as it is exhaustion, a man who is steeling himself to project the power and spectacle that is so expected of him.

But I could be full of it. Odds are good. ;)

In any regard, "Don't Stop Me Now" is an engaging song. Plenty of power, fun lyrics, and enough emotional tugging at the beginning and end to really make it hook the ear. Whether you're a loner or a partier, there's something about this song that just hits so perfectly.

And it has had its moment in comedy, as well. Witness the flick "Shaun of the Dead" and the thrashing of zombies to the beat of the song. Glorious!

So there you have it ... that's my favorite Queen song. At least for now. There are so many good tracks from so many classic albums. It'd be easier to choose a favorite song from each album than to choose a favorite song in general, but ... well ... Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and pick one.

"Don't Stop Me Now" tops my least of Queen songs.

Which Queen song is your best of the best?


  1. Good stuff mate. It too is my favorite, and was even voted in the UK as the top driving song (or something to that effect). I absoflippinlutely love it.

    1. Thanks for the comment, asdf! I'd read about "Don't Stop Me Now" getting an honor along those lines. Definitely deserved. When I'm driving and the song is playing, I can't help but get carried away and sing along.

      Thanks for visiting! I hope to hear from you again!

  2. The Prophet's Songs is my favourite for the day

    1. That song was one of my brother's favorites, and it is a dynamite opus on "A Night at the Opera." Love the rounds on it!


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