Freddie Mercury was an exceptional singer. Regardless of your taste in music, there is no denying his vocal talent. With the ability to hit both low F2 and high F6 notes, his near five-octave vocal range was incredible. He was also a gifted live performer who sounded as good on stage as he did in the studio.
As Wikipedia notes, the lead vocal, which uses many jazz chords, “is very demanding”. Stripped of the musical backing, one hears just how much control Mercury had of his phrasing. At times, in the verses, he comes across as playfully camp but for much of the song he manages to be strident without sacrificing modulation or the melody. As the curiously named Heterosexual women for Freddie Mercury comments below the video, “Freddie’s voice is like light going through a prism. He sings in colour”.
The Independent newspaper is even more forthright. “Freddie Mercury’s isolated vocals on We Are The Champions will haunt you forever” it proclaimed in a November 2016 article. The article also refers to a 2011 study by researchers at Goldsmith University which looked into the mathematical and physical characteristics of catchy songs. Queen’s We Are the Champions was top of their list of catchy songs. Queen’s Live Aid take of the track has been cited as one of Mercury’s most notable performances.
As in the vocal-only version, one is struck by the dynamism of Mercury’s singing at Live Aid. Despite the overall bombast of the song, there is plenty of variation and (comparatively) subtle asides. There are nudges and winks. It is a far cry from the often boorish sing-alongs belted out by supporters of the victorious team in a sports stadium. Not that these supporters can be blamed for lacking the vocal range and dexterity of Freddie Mercury. And they certainly can’t be blamed for getting swept up by We Are The Champions.
Dr Daniel Mullensiefen of the Goldsmith study reports that the research found “that there’s a science behind the sing-along and a special combination of neuroscience, math and cognitive psychology that can produce the elusive elixir of the perfect sing-along song.” So who can blame sports fans for belting out “the most catchy song ever” as they express the euphoria of victory? And, at such moments, who can expect exuberant fans to possess the ironic self-awareness that was such an integral part of Freddie Mercury’s artistry.
If Dr Mullensiefen and his colleagues are correct, there will continue to be overly strident sport-stadium sing-alongs of the song. At the same time, Queen’s original versions will continue to attract new listeners. Let’s hope that these listeners come across the revelatory vocal-only version with it’s clear window on the powerful four and five-part harmonies on the chorus so that they can be “haunted forever”. If you would like to see more from Queen, you can subscribe to their YouTube channel or follow them on Facebook.