A pure listening experience that opened up a whole new world.
For us serious music lovers, having to pick a favourite album is akin to having a thousand children and being ordered to save the life of one of our sprogs as the rest are set to be erased from existence. Aside from the fact we'd happily sacrifice any little gits who've shown a disturbing love for Justin Bieber and reality TV, it's an impossible decision that would lead to everything from sleepless nights to assaulting the nearest wall with our dazed and confused craniums. So with insomnia and a banging headache currently present, here's why I chose this splendid live record.
The albums I cherish most are the ones that resonate with pivotal moments in my life. Works of sonic succulence that transport me to another time and place. Musical experiences that helped me through tough periods or records that are hugely significant in spite of not necessarily being the finest of their ilk. The latter perfectly describes how I feel about Queen's bombastic double opus 'Live At Wembley '86'.
Now, I could easily bang on about the band's musical brilliance, the sheer awesomeness of their songs and the fact that this incredibly entertaining effort captures one of Rock's greatest acts at their stadium-straddling peak before things took a cruel turn for the worst. However, I really wouldn't be adding anything that hasn't already been written. So instead I'm going for the personal approach and would like to explain why this record, in spite of not being anywhere near my favourite, was a special release for a fourteen year old kid who just happened to share my name.
Queen were the first band I worshipped and, way back in the Grunge-infused mists of 1992, this was the first Compact Disc I purchased. Prior to that, it was all about cassettes, be they originals or crappy copies. CD's, on the other hand, had always seemed exotic, alien and financially out of reach; something parents owned because they could afford the cost. Hell, my musically ambivalent Dad even had Queen's badly edited 'Live Magic' on CD, but 'Live From Wembley '86' was different. This... was... mine.
I forget how I scraped the cash together to pay for the album, although I'm fairly certain no laws were broken... fairly sure. Anyhow, it not only kicked off my CD collection but shaped my idea about exactly what a concert should entail and how set-lists could be constructed to deliver the best possible show. At times, the momentum here is absolutely flawless and, from the moment 'One Vision's' futuristic fanfare of synths and accelerating beat tweak the anticipation to breaking point before the band explode onto the stage, the opening twenty minutes is a breath taking thrill ride.
The awesome foursome subsequently rip into 'Tie Your Mother Down', its finale an explosive treat of shock and awe pyrotechnics, swiftly followed by 'In The Lap Of The Gods... Revisited', a swaying sing-along which involves the audience early and cements the bond betwixt band and crowd. The Hard Rocking medley of 'Seven Seas Of Rhye', 'Liar' and 'Tear It Up' instantly follows and finds Brian May's guitar work firing on all cylinders as the first act reaches its power packed climax before a succession of greatest hits take over.
Such a heart stopping opening showed me how songs could flow seamlessly into each other, maximising the energy and mesmerising fans. Just compare it to tedious groups who stop after every song, prattle on without a hint of charisma and regularly change their instruments. Constructing a killer live show and satisfying their crowd isn't even an afterthought.
Furthermore, that barn storming start also demonstrated the importance of re-working material for the live arena, instead of boring everyone by knocking out identikit recreations of the originals. It's all about keeping the audience attentive through surprise and pacing, shifting gears when necessary and creating a satisfying ebb and flow. Acoustic sing-alongs 'Love Of My Life' and 'Is This The World We Created?' feature later in the set and not only give everyone a chance to catch their breath but, by imbuing a sense of contrast, accentuate the dynamism of the music, with the slow songs feeling emotionally richer and the Rocking moments hitting harder as a result.
To this day Freddie Mercury is still my favourite front-man and his ability to enthral stadiums remains unsurpassed. That the Wembley gig was amongst the last shows he ever did with the band adds extra resonance. His seemingly tongue-in-cheek remark to the audience before an immensely profound 'Who Wants To Live Forever' is, with the benefit of hindsight, all the more heart breaking. When discussing talk of Queen breaking up, he simply quipped "so forget those rumours, we're going to stay together until we fucking well die I'm sure'.
When I first heard this album I was too naïve to analyse it properly. I hadn't heard Queen's entire back catalogue, nor other live albums and therefore had little to measure it against. Nowadays, I can easily pick holes in the set-list and would gladly hear 'Spread Your Wings', 'Don't Stop Me Now' and 'Stone Cold Crazy' ahead of covers of 'Tutti Frutti', 'Hello Mary Lou' and 'Big Spender'. I'll also concede that, for all the expert pacing elsewhere, the show sags in the middle with a dull 'Impromptu' bit followed by May's ten minute snooze-fest guitar solo 'Brighton Rock'.
None of that mattered back then and, in all honesty, I love this album because it reminds me of such blissful ignorance. Everything about it felt fresh and exciting and, because there were no parameters or precedence by which to critique the release, it was a pure listening experience that opened up a whole new world. That's why I've chosen this album and that's why it will have a special place in my heart until I fucking well die I'm sure.