Who is Rock’s Greatest Frontman?
The question of who is Rock’s Greatest Frontman has taxed the minds of the finest academics across the land, and has been debated in some of the most important arenas including Cabinet Rooms, Parliament…
…Buckingham Palace, and not forgetting The Crooked Billet pub in my home town of Leigh on Sea.
I have seen a few of the greats (he stealth-boasted): Mick Jagger, Robert Plant, Axl Rose, Steven Tyler, Ozzy, Bono, Alice Cooper, Iggy, Dave Lee Roth, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Tony Hadley from Spandau Ballet…(joke). I’d put Jarvis Cocker up there too. Humour and charisma are important.
The greatest frontman I ever saw however (and who had both the above qualities in spades) was Queen’s Freddie Mercury.
And in my view he was leagues ahead of the competition – like Donald Bradman‘s batting average, or Mario Balotelli’s firework displays.
Shortly after One Vision capped Queen‘s triumph at Live Aid and confirmed there was life in the old dog yet (or poodle in Brian May‘s case) the newspapers announced Queen were playing a show at Wembley Stadium on Saturday 12th July 1986. Now a confirmed Queen fan – I had Live Killers from the library, taped Night at the Opera from a friend and had Works on LP – I posted a breathlessly excited cheque for £10 and camped out by the letterbox to wait for a ticket to float down onto the doormat.
Such was the demand, an extra date was hastily added for the Friday, and before too long my whistling postman was delivering me a Golden Ticket to Wembley. I was as pleased as a certain wife-beating, crocodile-terrorised baby-dropping 350-year old wooden puppet.
I had arranged to meet a couple of school friends at the stadium – but quickly regretted not bringing a mobile phone – although I wasn’t too hard on myself – they had yet to be invented.* It turned out that finding a couple of friends in a crowd of 80,000 was going to be, if I may use my own neat simile, like finding a needle in a haystack.
I elbowed my way as far to the front as I could whilst Status Quo Caroline’d and Paper Plane’d their way through their support set. I wasn’t too worried about having missed an unknown Australian band first on the bill called Inks (spelt INXS for some reason). I reckoned they wouldn’t amount to much…
The thing about Freddie was that he wasn’t as good as people would have you believe. He was much, much better.
The subsequent performance remains one of the greatest rock gigs I have ever seen – even during Brian May’s ten minute guitar solo during Now I’m Here – a “highlight” of the show usually greeted by
rapturous applause a flood of people heading to the bar.
Mercury was a phenomenon. I sang my lungs off to Love of My Life and at one point inflatable Kind of Magic style figures of the band floated off into the air above the adoring crowd. The whole of Wembley (including people in many of the surrounding houses I dare say) raised their hands as one during Radio GaGa. It was like a Religious Revival, only more fun and with much better tunes.
Freddie had such rapport with the crowd, effortlessly toying with us like Sachin Tendulkar might were he pitched against the Somerset under-ten’s cricket team (ladies division) – if you’ll forgive another cricketing analogy…
Freddie was full of energy, involving us at every turn, prowling the stage, thrusting out his chest and so on. I feel so fortunate to have seen the band and Freddie in particular at the peak of their success.
XFM recently held a “Greatest Frontmen” poll and Mercury placed second despite Queen not exactly being a regular on the indie-filled XFM playlist. Believe me, he was far more compelling a front man than the winner of the poll (Liam Gallagher) even allowing for their difference in style.
I’ll place Mick Jagger as my number two, and Steven Tyler not far behind, so you have my top three list.
* More or less…
Record #41: Queen – Tie Your Mother Down – Live at Wembley Stadium 1986
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