As I was putting Christmas lights on our porch today, I caught myself murmuring “Las Palabras de Amor,” a song that matches this holiday season so well, with cold weather raging outside, and us huddling together in the safety of our houses and apartments, close to our family and pets, grateful for this warmth, in both literal and figurative sense of word. I feel this warmth in the gentle lyrics, in Freddie’s voice, in the colorful synthesizer chords, in beautiful and clear harmonies. This is exactly what we need right now.
Just like A Day At the Races, I missed this album in my young years – with the difference that we actually had this cassette, as you can see on a title image that shows family’s collection of the Queen records. In the 1990s I preferred their songs from later period (like Miracle, A Kind of Magic, or Innuendo); and recently I have become the fan of their 1970s era, with its theatricality, baroqueness, and complexity. The disco and synth sound of Hot Space did put me off for a while, until I found a key to this album, and it became one of my most favorite Queen records of the 80s, a treasury of amazing poetry and tunes.
What won my heart was an outstanding and underrated song by Freddie, his heartbreaking and poetic tribute to John Lennon’s memory. John is immediately recognizable in this meditative piano, in the rhythmic structure and music themes, from “Real Love” and “Imagine” to “Mind Games” (or, as one fellow fan told me, “Mother”). You are submerged in the world of the post-Beatles 1970s, feeling it, as Freddie said “in every pore” of your body and soul. But even more stunning are this song’s lyrics, probably, one of the most honest and piercing examples of Freddie’s poetry. And of course, we can guess that the lines “Success is my breathing space / I brought it on myself / I will price it / I will cash it I can take it or leave it / Loneliness is my hiding place / Breastfeeding myself / What more can I say” are not just about Lennon. When talking about the songwriting process, Freddie mentioned this song in particular, saying that “the words came first. I just really got into it, pages after pages, all kinds of words. Then I just put it to a song. I just felt that it could be a Lennon-type thing.” Similarly, Paul McCartney wrote his “Friends to Go” thinking of George Harrison, or rather “I was just sat down to write and the feeling of George came over me and I just kept writing it thinking ‘George could have written this.’“
It’s interesting that in this album we see many layers: experimenting with genres and sounds, the influence of disco, funk, and r&b; we also hear classic Queen harmonies in “Las Palabras de Amor” or “Put Out the Fire;” and very importantly, we mourn, along with the band, John Lennon’s untimely death. This theme also comes up in Brian’s “Put Out the Fire,” an emotional appeal to people to stop aggression and put down the weapons. The first lines refer to the chillingly recognizable details of Lennon’s murder (“They called him a hero / In the land of the free / But he wouldn’t shake my hand boy / He disappointed me”), punctuated by the explosive guitar riffs and the drum beats that sound almost like gun shots.
And I cannot miss the amazing disco part of this album; these songs remind me of my childhood, with disco parties, and widespread love of aerobics (many girls of my age would spend time in front of their TVs, trying to imitate the movements). Of all dance songs of Hot Space, I love “Cool Cat” most of all, for its playfulness and lightheartedness, for Freddie’s impeccable falsetto, and for John’s amazing bass line.
“I will not write about ‘Under Pressure,'” I told myself as I was working on this essay, “because anything I would say about this song would be a banality, a trifle not worthy of this masterpiece. And yet, something inside tells me that this is how I must finish my text, because this is how Queen concluded their bold experiment of Hot Space. To avoid saying stupid things, I will resort to my own personal experiences, like weeping for David Bowie in January 2016, playing this song in different versions, including the isolated vocals video, with the crystal-clear voices of David and Freddie resonating deeply in my soul. I remember a dark movie theatre in Toronto, on a first night of “Bohemian Rhapsody” screening, with tears in my eyes, when this song started playing in a dramatic and cathartic moment of this movie. And of course, I can hear, even in the original Queen record, the voices of Adam and Roger, singing to each other, one of the most uplifting moments of a QAL show. And how after every concert of Queen and Adam, Bowie’s “Heroes” starts flowing from the speakers, commemorating the creative friendship between the greatest musicians of our times.
Katya Neklyudova, 2020