It’s been 38 years since one of the most recognizable bass lines in the history of Rock and Roll dominated the Billboard charts. This Throwback Thursday, we’re looking back at the time Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” hit the number one spot.
First released in 1980 off of the album “The Game,” “Another One Bites the Dust” was first declared a Billboard number one on October 4 of that year. It would remain in the top spot for a total of three weeks.
— Old School 80s (@OldSchool80s) October 4, 2018
Perhaps no one was as surprised by the success of the track than the band itself. Freddie Mercury and the rest of the band — including the songwriter, bassist John Deacon — would release it as the fourth single of the album and even debated releasing it as a single at all. The band’s surviving members have often recalled the fights they had about the song, with guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor stating that they felt the song wasn’t rock enough.
“‘[It] was a bit of a departure for Queen. Roger, at the time, certainly felt that it wasn’t rock and roll and was quite angry at the way it was going,” May would say in 1998. “And Freddie said, ‘Darling, leave it to me. I believe in this.’”
While Mercury’s vocal support of the song was integral, it was actually New York City’s black radio stations that were instrumental in getting the track the airplay and audience it needed to rise in popularity. The book “Queen: The Complete Works” noted that disk jockeys in New York, Philadelphia and Detroit immediately adopted the song as a funk anthem.
“I could hear it as a song for dancing but had no idea it would become as big as it did,” Deacon would later say. “The song got picked up off our album and some of the radio stations started playing it, which we never had before.”
That much needed support from black audiences came at a time when some of Queen’s longtime fans were turning away from the band because of Mercury’s changing public image and physical presentation. It was in 1980 that Mercury cut his long hair, began wearing a leather jacket and grew what is now his famous moustache. Not all fans at the time were happy with Mercury’s open embrace of gay style.
Queen’s journey and Mercury’s evolution will soon hit the big screen with the upcoming biopic “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which is set to be released in the United States on November 15. “Mr. Robot” star Rami Malek will portray the enigmatic Mercury, who died of AIDS in 1991.
While “Bohemian Rhapsody” promises to tell the story of the band from its earliest days through the height of its fame, it remains unclear how the movie will dive into Mercury’s Parsi background. Born in Zanzibar to parents from India, Mercury would attend boarding school in Bombay before to England in the 1960s due with his family.
Mercury’s Asian background has received renewed focus by music historians and journalists in recent years. In 2011, the United Kingdom’s Asian Awards posthumously honored Mercury for his contributions to music.
“Freddie was a Parsi and he was proud of that, but he wasn’t particularly religious,” his mother Jer, who died in 2016, said at the time.
Hopefully Mercury’s Parsi heritage and Indian childhood will be addressed in the upcoming film. At a time when creators and fans are more aware than ever of the whitewashing of history, we hope “Bohemian Rhapsody” acknowledges all of the ways Mercury was a trailblazer.