There's nothing new about TV ads using pop songs in their soundtracks. Think of all those Levis ads from the eighties - not only did they shift truckloads of jeans, they made the tunes hits all over again. From the Spice Girls flogging crisps, to The Rolling Stones pushing video cassettes (younger readers, please ask your parents), lending one's music to the dirty old marketing business has been a useful source of extra income for decades.
Queen are no exception. In fact, they're one of the most popular bands with advertisers. Over the years they've provided 'We Are The Champions' to Viagra, 'Don't Stop Me Now' to Cadbury's, and right now 'I Want To Break Free' is being used in the USA for a Wi-Fi campaign, and the same track appears in a lavish spot for UK vacuum cleaners.
I don't really have a problem with this. The only time a pop song in a commercial annoys me, is when it's re-worded, which I loathe. But I am a bit perplexed by the continued adoration of Queen.
From The Olympics to Live Aid, if a rock act is required to stir the nation, we turn to Queen. Her Majesty herself even suffered the indignity of Brian May and his homemade guitar wailing away on her roof as part of her golden jubilee.
If a magazine or radio station compiles the best British singles of all time, you can clear off before the climax. It will be ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Guaranteed. There’s no denying Queen have carved themselves a special niche in the British psyche, they are the de-facto national band. I just don’t know why. I've always thought they were overblown, tacky and irritating.
I know the arguments against this position. ‘Freddie was such a great showman’, they say. Really? I’ve watched many Queen concert performances and I would concede that Mercury could prance around a stage, twirling that weird mic-on-a-stick with the best of them. But getting the crowd to do a call-and-response (‘Eeee-oooohhhh’) is the oldest trick in the book. And inviting the audience to put their hands above their heads will never constitute the height of creative performance.
‘But the songs are brilliant’, others will assert. They’re not though, are they? On the whole they are just very loud and very dumb. ‘We Are The Champions’, ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, and ‘We Will Rock You’ are the closest to Spinal Tap a real band will ever come. When numbers like these strike up, my toes curl. It’s rock music as football chant, but with perhaps, less emotion. Look further and find the hideous ‘Bicycle Race’ and its flipside ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ – songs about girls with big arses. The album ‘Jazz’ even included a poster of naked women riding bikes. Either Queen were dreadful misogynists or it’s all an infantile, unfunny joke.
Following the death of Freddie Mercury in 1991, it was widely assumed Queen would come to an end. After all, the singer was their main attraction – their USP. But no. There was a lot more juice to be squeezed from those tiresome anthems, as these advertisements show.
What's more, thirty years ago, if someone had told you Ben Elton would leave the alternative comedy arena to work with Andrew Lloyd Webber, you’d have laughed. If they’d told you he'd be writing a musical based on the songs of Queen, you may have slapped them for their foolishness. But so it came to pass.
I don’t know if you’ve seen ‘We Will Rock You’ – and it’s not for me to dictate your theatrical choices – but it really is the most astonishing nonsense. It’s set in a future when music is banned so the teenagers are really bored, but then they dig up an electric guitar and one of them called Scaramouche decides to … no, sorry … I really can’t go on. Needless to say the show is, inexplicably, a worldwide smash.
Nope. No matter how often I'm told otherwise, nor how many vacuum cleaners they shift, it will always be a mystery to me why we choose the lumpen, pantomimic bulldozer of Queen to be our national rock band.
Magnus Shaw is a blogger and copywriter