The year is 1981, Lady Di is preparing to tie the knot with Prince Charles, the film Raiders of the Lost Ark marks its debut in theaters, Ronald Reagan becomes US President, and it’s also the year of the first American test-tube baby and the first flight of US Space Shuttle Columbia. In Canada, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau brings the constitution home from the Queen, and the band, Queen, is at the peak of their power! On November 24 and 25 of 1981, Freddie Mercury and the boys from Queen take the stage at the Montreal Forum for a concert film entitled We Will Rock You. Qello Concerts is celebrating the 40th anniversary of this legendary show with an amazing HD version! The show is entitled Queen Rock Montreal.
How Saul Swimmer convinced Freddie Mercury to film the show
At first, Queen was not really into doing a concert vfilm - in fact, director Saul Swimmer, who had quite the track record, having directed the movie The Concert for Bangladesh (George Harrison's iconic benefit concert in 1972), and co-produced The Beatles' documentary Let It Be, said the key factor in Freddie’s decision was the result of a trip to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. where Saul showed Freddie a three-story IMAX screen, suggesting that the frontman imagine himself onscreen. It worked. Mercury, as we all know, was a massive rock star, but he also just wanted to be loved, and this was a great vehicle for adoration, and with Mercury on board, the rest of the band followed suit.
The size and scale of the production was a bit much for audience members though, as they were forced to deal with massive IMAX cameras blocking their views from time to time. In fact, rumor has it, the band itself was not so enamored with the extent of the production. As the story goes: Saul Swimmer originally had an idea to film a Queen concert, in an extremely high 35-millimeter film. The band was not on tour at the time, so all the sound and lights, production and crew had to be re-assembled just for this occasion. Not to mention that the band was out of practice, so there was a lot of work to be done. Plus, the band didn’t get along with Saul Swimmer at all. Freddie, in particular, was not too thrilled with Saul and his way of doing things. According to band members, "this turned to something like hatred, when we discovered on the first night that Swimmer had put up his own lights on the audience, changed the colors in our lights, and had cameras all over the stage … obviously, we were not going to be able to treat it like a normal gig. It got worse on the second night, when Saul Swimmer demanded that Freddie wear the same clothes as the first night … and make the same moves … this guy had no idea that the show wasn’t choreographed … We basically did what we liked … So tempers flared … and it shows." Maybe not to the audience who were eating it up, though!
The first time Queen ever played Under Pressure live
The music was about as good as it gets! The show started with a fast and furious version of We Will Rock You, and you can really feel the band putting a lot of muscle and power into that version. It’s that power that was so striking about the band. This concert also marks the first time Queen ever played the song “Under Pressure” live. The song was wildly popular at the time, especially with the participation of David Bowie, and even though Bowie did not join the group on stage (some in the crowd were sure it might happen), they managed to pull off a killer version that had the crowd chanting for more. Little known fact: prior to becoming famous, Freddie met David Bowie at a stall where Freddie worked with drummer Roger Taylor in London’s Kensington Market, where Freddie sold Bowie, then also a struggling musician, a pair of vintage boots! So, their relationship goes way back.
Among the crowd was future Quebec rock star, Simon Fauteux, who was an impressionable young gentleman at the time - the young man, who went on to experience his own career as a singer/songwriter, with hits like “Elle,” “Laura,” and “Ou es tu,” drew inspiration from the show that essentially changed his life and made it clear for him that he wanted a life in music. Today, Simon is the founder of Six Media Marketing, and he works with acts like Ghost, Koriass, Bryan Adams, and Men Without Hats, to name a few. Simon remembers the night with crystal clarity, the barrage of sound that the band managed to create with just the four of them on stage was exceptional. Freddie was absolutely fabulous and that night, he proved himself to be the greatest and absolute best frontman in rock history. According to Simon, “The one-two punch of the opening track, the quick version of ‘We Will Rock You / Let Me Entertain You’ was tremendous! THAT’s one way to start a show. POWER POWER POWER!”
Queen in Montreal: production tricks
Incredibly, tickets for this show were in the $10 range! Imagine that! And it was a pivotal concert for many Montrealers, like Fauteux, who also says, “I remember Queen's light system which, at the time, was huge, with its removable panels - absolutely breathtaking! Not to mention Roger Taylor, the rockstar-looking drummer, was clearly an influence on some of my looks over the years!” According to Simon, and surely, this was the case for so many in attendance for the show, "that gig is by far the most significant show I've ever attended, to this day!"
The material was recorded with the highest-quality equipment, and the visuals were crisp and dynamic. There were some issues with the original footage, however, so the film was sent to the US to be fixed, through a process using algorithms, invented by John D. Lowry (from NASA) for rescuing the film from the Apollo Moon missions. We are talking major hi-tech solutions!
In fact, production-wise, they played some interesting tricks, as material from both nights has been used in the final version. In a number of instances, the footage is a mixture of camera shots from one night and audio recordings from the other night. At first the band hated the material, when it was released as a film called, We Will Rock You, but then they bought back the rights years later and re-released it with significant editing changes under the name Queen Rock Montreal. We’ve got it in all of its glory for your enjoyment, at Qello Concerts. It’s a click away!
Queen Rock Montreal tracklist
The tracklist from the concert is a veritable greatest hits from one of the hottest bands of their time. The songs span from early rockers like “Keep Yourself Alive” from their 1973 self-titled debut album, all the way up to “Under Pressure,” the new single from their (at-the-time forthcoming) album, Hot Space. Here is the complete list of Queen Rock Montreal:
- We Will Rock You (Fast Version)
- Let Me Entertain
- You Play the Game
- Somebody to Love
- Killer Queen
- I'm in Love With My Car
- Get Down Make Love
- Save Me
- Now I'm Here
- Dragon Attack
- Now I'm Here (Reprise)
- Love of my Life
- Under Pressure
- Keep Yourself Alive
- Drum and Timpani Solo
- Guitar Solo
- Crazy Little Thing Called Love
- Jailhouse Rock
- Bohemian Rhapsody
- Tie Your Mother Down
- Another One Bites the Dust
- Sheer Heart Attack
- We Will Rock You
- We Are the Champions
- God Save The Queen
It also bears mentioning that Montreal, at that time, was a hotbed of passionate music fans (and still is today). Back then, Montrealers were renowned for discovering and supporting some of the most innovative music happening in rock circles at that time. Bands like Supertramp, Genesis, Yes, Gentle Giant, and a host of prog rock bands from the UK were welcomed in this city way before they created a buzz anywhere else in North America. Montreal had already gained a reputation amongst music fans and musicians, alike, of being a musical Mecca! Fans came from everywhere to experience Queen at the legendary Montreal Forum, home to The Montreal Canadiens and their 20 plus Stanley Cup banners, and the site of some of the most incredible concerts to take place in the history of Canada. For anyone who was there to witness the regal rock ‘n roll of Queen at that iconic show, it remains a memory etched in time. For those who weren’t able to be there in person, now, you can live the entire experience in glorious HD thanks to Stingray Qello Concerts!
For details, click here.
Long live ROCK!