Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Paul Rodgers and Queen

I remember in the last couple years, it was announced that Paul Rodgers was going to join Queen to replace Freddy Mercury. Jon Rowe and Jason Kuznicki both posted on it, with Jon being mildly cautious about it and Jason calling the idea “insane”. I recall at the time thinking that Jason was closer to the mark, despite the fact that I think Paul Rodgers is great and never liked Freddy Mercury at all (for some reason, I always hated watching him perform – it was like watching someone “vogue”, just cloying and preening and posing). But he undeniably had a great voice and sang some of the great songs in rock history, and Paul Rodgers’ voice just didn’t seem to me like it would fit. Well color me surprised.

Last night, the reformed Queen performed on the VH1 Rock Honors and Paul Rodgers did a great job fronting the band. He didn’t try to match Mercury’s soaring vocals, he interpreted the song to fit his voice and his style. But it sounded great. Now, I don’t know if he can pull that off on all of their songs, but I actually liked that version of We Will Rock You better than I would have with Freddy Mercury singing it. But I’ve always been a Paul Rodgers fan.

Jason had suggested that only David Bowie or Peter Gabriel could replace Freddy, and those are good choices (except for the fact that Gabriel has totally lost his voice now and is painful to listen to – and that’s hard to admit for me because I love Peter Gabriel). Jon actually figured that Paul Rodgers wasn’t gay enough to replace Freddy. But based on that one song last night, I’m on board with it. I’d like to hear some other songs, but I frankly think I would like this version of Queen better than the original.

Comments

  1. #1 Jon Rowe
    June 4, 2006

    I watched the special and my thoughts exactly. It was nice to see that Rodgers’s voice sounds as good now as it ever did. Lots of great rock vocalists lose their voices as they get older because of all of the screaming they do.

  2. #2 Ed Brayton
    June 4, 2006

    Jon-

    Totally agree, I was very surprised at the quality of Rodgers’ voice at his age. Of course, he was never really a screamer to begin with and he never had great range. What he did have, and still does have, is a very distinctive tone and a unique style. What impressed me about seeing him last night was that he clearly understands who he is and didn’t make any attempt to become what he’s not. He pulled the song perfectly into his range without losing the essence of the song, and I didn’t think he’d be able to do that. For a guy who has been fronting great bands for nearly 40 years, it really is unusual that his voice still sounds as good today as it did when he started.

    I thought the contrast with some of the other old timers on the show was pretty stark. The singer from Def Leppard, who is probably 15 years younger, at least, than Rodgers, sounded terrible. Rob Halford was better than I expected for a guy his age who has always relied on the power of his upper range, but he was still clearly only about 60% of what he used to be. But Paul Rodgers sounded as good last night as he did with Bad Company or The Firm (a really good band that is rarely remembered today) decades ago. I certainly didn’t expect that.

    The other highlight of the show for me was Godsmack, a band I’d never seen perform live even on TV. Their Judas Priest tribute just roared off the stage.

  3. #3 Todd Crane
    June 4, 2006

    While Gabriel may have lost a bit on his fastball, his voice still packs an emotional punch that few pop/rock singers can match. To me, his voice was never powerful in the way that Mercury’s voice was. It’s all about the unique tension his voice creates for a song. It’s been said before that Collins is/was a better singer than Gabriel, but when Gabriel left Genesis a certain…I don’t know what…went with him. Gabriel still has that certain I don’t know what. Furthermore, whatever range he has lost (he’ll never be able to do Rythm of the Heat again) has been made up for by creative song writing and wildly entertaining live shows.

  4. #4 Ed Brayton
    June 4, 2006

    Todd Crane wrote:

    It’s been said before that Collins is/was a better singer than Gabriel, but when Gabriel left Genesis a certain…I don’t know what…went with him. Gabriel still has that certain I don’t know what. Furthermore, whatever range he has lost (he’ll never be able to do Rythm of the Heat again) has been made up for by creative song writing and wildly entertaining live shows.

    I think Peter Gabriel is a genius, but his voice is completely gone now. As for Genesis, I actually thought they did their best work after Gabriel left, but then they also did their worst work as well. They were absolutely at their peak, I think, with the series of albums that included Duke, Abacab, Three Sides Live and Genesis. And then they pretty much fell apart completely and turned pure pop. I’m really not such a big fan of the early Genesis art rock stuff, which is generally considered the time when Gabriel dominated the group. But I think he hit his stride after he went solo. I’m a huge fan of his solo stuff, from the early Solsbury Hill stuff to Secret World Live. After that, it seems his voice just gave out, but he still wrote some interesting material. I find it painful to listen to Growing Up Live because his voice is so obviously gone. But that happens to almost everyone. Very few singers retain their chops beyond early middle age, which is why I was so surprised to hear Paul Rodgers sounding so good last night.

  5. #5 Patterico
    June 4, 2006

    I saw this lineup at the Hollywood Bowl last summer and enjoyed it. Paul Rodgers is one of my favorite all-time vocalists, and I agree that the Firm is a sadly forgotten but great band.

  6. #6 slpage
    June 4, 2006

    Gabriel’s voice has gotten raspier and raspier over the years, and I have not heard him recently. But it cannot be as bad as Greg Lake’s. His voice dropped a couple of octaves and is so gravelly as to be useless. His problem is/was smoking.
    I have to disagree with Ed about Genesis – we purists think they started going down when Gabriel left, and nose-dived just after Abacab. The pre-Collins-as-frontman Genesis had songs that were melodic and lyrical and actually had ‘stories’ to them. “Watcher of the Skies” is a very haunting, moving song – the introduction still gives me goosebumps, especially the live version. Foxtrot, Nursery Cryme, Seling England by the Pound – we shall never hear great songs like those found on such albums again, I fear.

    I missed the VH1 rock honors, but seeing Kiss and Def Leppard on the commercials sort of turned me off on the whole thing.

  7. #7 Jon Rowe
    June 4, 2006

    I agree that Halford last night wasn’t quite hitting the high notes. But I’ve heard recent stuff of theirs where he sounded 90-95% up to his prime.

  8. #8 Angela
    June 4, 2006

    Ugh. I disagree. First of all: David Bowie or Peter Gabriel? Neither one of them comes close to the range of Freddie, and their singing styles are nothing like Freddie’s. For the record, I’m a life-long fan of Queen, since 1973 (I even have their pre-1973 bootleg albums).

    The only singer I thought could come close to covering Queen songs in a way that would make Freddie proud was George Michael. If you ever heard his rendition of “Somebody to Love,” you’d know what I’m talking about. Heck, even Annie Lennox would be better than Bowie or Gabriel, and I can’t stand her (and I love Peter Gabriel).

    The Queen concert here in St. Paul, Minnesota was pretty lame, and the local DJs and music writers were ready for a disappointing show, rightfully so.

    While I love Queen and am thrilled to see Brian and Roger together (and I love their solo work), I think it’s time for what we all know as “Queen” to retire. RIP, Freddie. I think I’ll put on “News of the World” tonight. No way could Paul do “It’s Late,” and I don’t ever want to think that he’s attempted it.

  9. #9 Mephisto Stormbane
    June 4, 2006

    Ugh, I never approved of the idea of that combination. Admittedly, I haven’t heard it, but if there’s one rock band from the 70s I cannot stand, it’s Bad Company. I can see how Paul’s voice would be all right for a song like We Will Rock You (or for that matter, Another One Bites the Dust or Fat Bottomed Girls), but that’s just not what I think of when I think Queen. I think of songs like Bohemian Rhapsody, Bicycle Race, Seven Seas of Rhye, Killer Queen, things like that. Paul is all rock, but Freddy was more than that; Queen is more than that.

  10. #10 FishyFred
    June 4, 2006

    Some of you seem to be under the misconception that Paul Rodgers actually “joined” Queen. They have been billed as “Queen + Paul Rodgers.” Freddie was a one-of-a-kind performer. Nobody expected Paul Rodgers to replace him.

    slpage: It’s funny that you mention Greg Lake’s smoking. Freddie was also a long-time smoker. It did affect his voice slightly in the ’80s, but Freddie’s abilities were downright freakish.

    “Radio Ga-Ga” at Live Aid ’85

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” at Wembley ’86

  11. #11 Joe Shelby
    June 4, 2006

    Well, one nice thing about the ’91 Tribute Concert (now available on DVD) is that we got a lot of singers’ interpretations of Queen’s songs. Some were good (Robert Plant doing Crazy Little Thing; Hatfield reprising his vocal of Stone Cold Crazy), some were not nearly successful (Seal on Who Wants to Live Forever, Paul Young on Radio GaGa), some where “Why the hell did they bother?” (Liza on We are the Champions), and a few really rocked out (Extreme’s melody, probably not on the DVD; Roger Daultry on I Want It All). But the highlight of the night and the closest to the real thing for me was George Michael’s set including Somebody to Love and ’39.

    I agree Gabriel’s not a great “singer” anymore. He’s still a very strong songwriter (and knows exactly when he’s got the sound right, like bringing in the Blind Boys of Alabama for Sky Blue) and he’s one of the best on-stage *performers* ever, but his performance isn’t just in the vocals. Its in the whole assembly of a show so strong that the impact can even get across on home video. Secret World and Growing Up are just fantastic dvds, worth every second.

    I’ve always wondered what it is about British classic-rock lead vocalists that have that something that no American has (in my opinion) ever achieved. The charisma and power that men like Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, Freddie Mercury, David Bowie, Fish, Steve Hogarth, Joe Elliot, Roger Daultry, Ian Anderson, and Jon Anderson (just to name a few) can draw upon on stage is something I’ve just never seen from any American male bandleader, ever.

    Neal Young can do it, but hey, he’s Canadian. Supposedly Kirk Cobain had it, but I never saw it…everything about Nirvana was overrated.

  12. #12 Jon Rowe
    June 4, 2006

    I think Freddie knew how to take care of his voice. I think knowing proper vocal training, how to sing, even sound like you are screaming but without straining your vocal chords, is necessary. If you scream/sing without the proper training — 20 years of doing that practically guarantees that your voice will deteriorate.

  13. #13 Patterico
    June 4, 2006

    “i have to disagree with Ed about Genesis – we purists think they started going down when Gabriel left, and nose-dived just after Abacab. The pre-Collins-as-frontman Genesis had songs that were melodic and lyrical and actually had ‘stories’ to them. “Watcher of the Skies” is a very haunting, moving song – the introduction still gives me goosebumps, especially the live version. Foxtrot, Nursery Cryme, Seling England by the Pound – we shall never hear great songs like those found on such albums again, I fear.”

    Hear, hear!

  14. #14 Ed Brayton
    June 4, 2006

    Well you see, that explains it. I never fancied myself a purist, I just know what I like.

  15. #15 Jon Rowe
    June 4, 2006

    Joe:

    I’ve got three words for you: Ronnie James Dio. I could name other American singers as well, for instance, Steve Walsh of Kansas. But, unlike Walsh, Dio is better known.

    Walsh alas, was one of those folks whose voiced changed because of all of the scream/singing. Before it changed, I’d rank him up there with Freddie in terms of both range and emotion (and like Freddie, Walsh was also a big fan of Paul Rodgers).

    Walsh was actually invited to join Yes to replace Jon Anderson. It didn’t work out. And though no reason was given. I’m almost sure it was because his voice had changed and was not the singer the other members of Yes thought he was.

    Walsh reached a low point in the early 90s but regained some of his voice after he cleaned his act up. I’d say he’s about 60% of what he used to be. (On Live at the Whiskey, he was maybe 30%, LOL).

    Here is what he sounded like before his voiced changed. And here is a clip from the mid-90s where he is about 50% of what he used to be, but still sounds better than most of what’s out there.

  16. #16 Jon Rowe
    June 4, 2006

    I third the sentiment seconded by Patterico.

  17. #17 Ed Brayton
    June 4, 2006

    I’ll give you one American singer that I’m sure few people have heard of, but he is every bit the equal of the ones we’ve mentioned: Greg Volz. He was the original lead singer of a Christian rock band called Petra. He had a 4 octave range and a voice that could absolutely soar and give you goosebumps at times.

  18. #18 Jon Rowe
    June 4, 2006

    Can you recommend any Petra CD I should try first?

  19. #19 Ed Brayton
    June 4, 2006

    Hmm. I’ve got a bunch of old Petra MP3s and I could send you some of them. I doubt the old stuff that includes him is still available anywhere. He quit the band about 15 years ago.

  20. #20 Joe Shelby
    June 4, 2006

    well, i wasn’t thinking just raw singing ability, but the charisma to front a group on stage and just command the audience into total submission to the moment.

    In this, I’ve actually thought of two that did it, each when in their prime – David Lee Roth and then Sammy Hagar, when each fronted Van Halen before egos tore the band’s identity apart.

  21. #21 Joe Shelby
    June 4, 2006

    I know Walsh, I have pretty much every Kansas release including the Two for the Show live album and the recent ones. I think they should give Billy Greer a bit more to do as he does damn well hitting Elefante’s high notes on “Play the Game Tonight” and “Fight Fire with Fire” in the dvd. I’m not quite sure he measured up to the same level of dominance over the audience, the same charisma, that some of the chaps I mentioned have/had. But then again, for the 70s material, there’s little to go on if you weren’t already there (and I was still a kid).

  22. #22 Jon Rowe
    June 4, 2006

    – I think they should give Billy Greer a bit more to do as he does damn well hitting Elefante’s high notes on “Play the Game Tonight” and “Fight Fire with Fire” in the dvd. –

    Well, I’m impressed that you have all of the Kansas stuff like I do. Yes, they are certainly relying more on Billy Greer to hit some of the high notes in their vocal harmonies so Steve doesn’t have to struggle as much. If you listen real carefully to their live DVD, you hear that Walsh purposefully takes the lower harmonies and gives Greer the higher ones because Walsh is trying to preserve his voice.

  23. #23 Jon Rowe
    June 5, 2006

    Joe:

    You may have a point. One of the amusing things about Kansas, more so back then, is how strange they could be. I find it amusing. But it was not exactly “charismatic.” Presently, they appear to be a bunch of normal guys in their 50s. But back then, they worse strange clothes, some of them of them looked like something out of Deliverance.

    And even though Walsh was good looking and had a great body, he was (and still probably is) a very strange person. At one point at the end of the 70s he adopted a sort of 70s gym teacher motiff on stage, with a real tight Adidas outfit. Just looking at the cover to his first solo album (so bad that it’s amusing) you can see what an odd fellow he was.

  24. #24 Gretchen
    June 5, 2006

    Ed, you might want to check out a band I’ve fallen in love with, Elbow. To me, their lead singer Guy Garvey often sounds like Peter Gabriel when he sounded good.

  25. #25 Alan Lund
    June 5, 2006

    Funny that Ed would mention Greg Volz and Petra. That was my favorite band in high school, and I agree that Volz was a great vocalist. When he left the band, his replacement was nowhere near as good.

    It appears that Petra CD’s can still be purchased from some of the usual places. Amazon has samples you can listen to. My favorite albums were Never Say Die, More Power to Ya, and Not of This World.

    Despite no longer being a Christian, I have fond memories of Petra, including the first concert I ever attended.

  26. #26 Ed Brayton
    June 5, 2006

    Alan Lund wrote:

    Funny that Ed would mention Greg Volz and Petra. That was my favorite band in high school, and I agree that Volz was a great vocalist. When he left the band, his replacement was nowhere near as good.

    His replacement downright stunk, I thought. And I, too, was a huge Petra fan in junior high and high school. I saw them live many times and was impressed that Volz could pull off his vocals in that setting as well.

    Despite no longer being a Christian, I have fond memories of Petra, including the first concert I ever attended.

    Me too. I am not a Christian any more, obviously, but Petra was a big part of the soundtrack of my life so I still listen to them and enjoy them. Another Christian artist I still listen to once in a while for the same reason is Amy Grant.

  27. #27 slpage
    June 5, 2006

    “slpage: It’s funny that you mention Greg Lake’s smoking. Freddie was also a long-time smoker. It did affect his voice slightly in the ’80s, but Freddie’s abilities were downright freakish.”

    Freddie definitely had talent, no doubt about it. Of course, he could actually sing his high notes, whereas most vocalists sort of scream them. A big loss to music.

  28. #28 slpage
    June 5, 2006

    Ed:
    “Well you see, that explains it. I never fancied myself a purist, I just know what I like.”

    In your wardrobe?

  29. #29 SharonB
    June 5, 2006

    I don’t think anyone can hit Freddie’s stride on songs like “I get so Lonely (livin by myself),” “Under Pressure,” and “too much love will kill you.” His voice was nearly miraculous. Amazing also because of his orthodonture (or lack thereof, LOL).

    About the only singer I know who would have been a replacement, was George Michael, as some have suggested. Queen+ George Michael – now there’s a billing I would pay an astronomical amount to see!!!! How sad his life is so “in the loo” right now.

  30. #30 Jaanus
    November 4, 2006

    When I had seen David Bowie perform in St. Paul in 1998, His bass player was Gail Ann Dorsey. Not only a great bass player and a vision of beauty, she totally nailed Freddie’s part of ‘Under Pressure,’ playing bass @ the same time with aplomb.

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