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'Living On My Own' celebrates Freddie Mercury's fun side [August 8, 1993]
Plus: Apache Indian, Hulk Hogan, and Juliana Hatfield
Hey, Time Traveller! 👋 Welcome back to August 8, 1993!
📰 Ruth Bader Ginsberg is sworn in as a US Supreme Court justice, the second woman to ever sit on the bench.
📽️ Whoopi Goldberg and Ted Danson comedy Made In America hits cinemas, giving Will Smith his first hit movie.
📺 Sky TV broadcasts the pilot episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which is the first Star Trek series set outside of the Enterprise.
🎶 And we have a new Number One song! Take That’s ‘Pray’ has been dethroned by…
Freddie Mercury, ’Living On My Own’
It’s September 1985, and David Wigg, showbiz editor of The Daily Express, is catching a plane to Munich.
Heathrow’s security guards pull him aside and ask him to open his suitcase. Inside, they find a bra, knickers, high heels, a petticoat, a wig and a fabulous evening gown. Wigg’s companion has similar attire, plus a stunning diamond tiara.
Wigg looks at the security guard and says, “We’re going to Freddie Mercury’s birthday party.”
The guard stares at him for a while, then says, “I’m sure you are, sir”.
Down on me, down on me
Ever since Freddie died in 1991, people have tried to sanitise his image.
That’s understandable to some extent. Freddie was perhaps the most high-profile AIDS casualty and lots of political discourse still centered on the idea of Good AIDS vs Bad AIDS, so it was expedient to gloss over Freddie’s legendarily debauched past.
Freddie Mercury, after all, had masterminded some of the wildest parties in rock’n’roll history. Queen’s launch party for their 1978 album, Jazz, was so excessive that the press nicknamed it “A Saturday Night In Sodom”, with rumours that Freddie had hired dwarfs to walk around with trays of cocaine strapped to their heads.
The coke waiters story is an urban legend (probably), but some of the other stories are true, such as the team of male and female prostitutes providing free oral sex to partygoers. “Some hotels offer room service,” said Freddie, “this one gives lip service.”
Attendees said that Freddie had an appetite for parties that made the likes of Led Zepplin or The Stones look like monks. Elton John once said:
“We’d be up for nights, sitting there at 11 in the morning, still flying high. Queen were supposed to be catching a plane and Freddie would be like, ‘Oh fuck, another line, dear?’ His appetites were unquenchable. He could out-party me, which is saying something.”
This side of Freddie was erased during his Princess Diana-fication in the early 90s, and the image of clean-cut Saint Freddie still persists today.
Bohemian Rhapsody—a truly terrible biopic—leans into the idea that Mercury was crying on the inside, using sex and drugs to cope with his terrible sadness. The climax of the movie shows Freddie living a joyless life in Munich in the early 80s, working on a disastrous solo album that he hates, unable to escape from this party lifestyle.
None of that is true.
Got to be some good times ahead
Back in the Cold War era, artists who wanted to do some mid-career reflection moved to Germany. Bowie went to Berlin in the 70s and wrote Heroes; U2 went there in the 90s and made Achtung Baby.
Freddie went to Munich, a less fashionable city than Berlin, but which was home to Giorgio Moroder’s Musicland Studios. Lots of big rock bands had recorded here, including The Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin and T. Rex, but the studio’s most important contribution to music was Donna Summer’s futurist disco masterpiece, ‘I Feel Love’.
Mercury was keen to explore a more club-oriented sound, so he talked Queen into working with Musicland’s resident producer, Reinhold Mack, to make a disco album. The resulting album, 1982’s Hot Space, wasn’t all that bad. However, it did prove to be a massive miscalculation—most of Queen’s fanbase were firmly in the Disco Sucks camp, and they hated this new direction.
Queen didn’t break up after Hot Space, but they did all agree to take a break from each other. For Freddie, that meant spending the majority of his time in Munich and working on his debut solo record, Mr. Bad Guy.
Got to be some good times ahead
Mr. Bad Guy took two years to record, mainly because Freddie was too busy having fun.
Munich had a thriving gay scene, with drag clubs, leather bars, and bathhouses where Freddie would begin partying on a Thursday night and finish on Tuesday morning. When he was done, he would wander around the street markets and mingle with the ordinary folk of Munich—something he couldn’t do back home.
Peter Freestone, Freddie’s PA at the time, said:
“I think there was a sense of freedom in Munich that Freddie Mercury didn’t get in London. Freddie felt he was able to do what he wanted there. He had friends there who closed ranks around him, so he could go wherever he wanted and do what he wanted without being so much in the public eye.”
He fell in love, assembled a close group of friends, and—in the proud tradition of British ex-pats living in Europe—refused to learn a word of the local language apart from a few swearwords.
Meanwhile, he worked meticulously working Mr. Bad Guy, micromanaging every aspect of the instrumentation with a Prince-like mania. It was his first time doing this alone, and he said that the hardest part of the process was restraining himself from calling the other Queen guys for help.
One person who did (almost) help with the album was Michael Jackson. Jackson had really liked Hot Space and cited it as a major influence on Thriller, so he was happy to sign on when Mercury asked him to collaborate. Freddie flew to California and began working in Jackson’s home studio.
The sessions did not go well. Clean-living Jackson was appalled at his houseguest’s habit of snorting coke through $100 bills. Mercury, meanwhile, couldn’t deal with Jackson’s quirks. At one point, Freddie called his manager and said, “You have to get me out of here. I’m recording with a llama. Michael’s bringing his pet llama into the studio every day and I’ve had enough.”
Jackson and Mercury recorded three tracks together during the early 80s, although only one of them has ever seen the light of day: ‘There Must Be More To Life Than This’, which Freddie later released as a solo track on Mr. Bad Guy.
I don’t have no time for no monkey business
Freddie always said he was happy with how Mr. Bad Guy turned out, even if it wasn’t a commercial success. It sold okay, but nothing close to Queen numbers. The second single, ‘Made In Heaven’, failed to make the Top 40.
A few months after Mr. Bad Guy launched, Freddie threw an epic 39th birthday party in Munich. Around 500 of Europe’s most interesting people were invited to attend “A Black And White Drag Ball” at Old Mother Henderson’s, one of the city’s most popular gay venues.
Once the guests arrived in Munich, they were taken to the Hilton Hotel, where a team of makeup artists made everyone look fabulous, before a fleet of horse-drawn carriages took them to the party. David Wigg (the guy who got searched in Heathrow) said, “We were all in our frocks and make-up. It felt like a regal procession.”
Henderson’s had been transformed into a Versailles-style palace of mirrors, and the only drinks available were from the giant tower of champagne glasses in the centre of the room. At 10pm, Freddie presented himself, “wearing a black and white harlequin leotard, braces decorated with mock bullets and a military-style jacket with vast epaulettes designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel, who created Princess Diana’s wedding dress four years previously.”
Freddie hired a film crew to get footage of the party, which was intended as the video for his next solo single, ‘Living On My Own’ (Which possibly made his party a tax write-off? Smart if he did, because the final bill was around £200,000.) On the night, the crew shout eight hours of footage. Very little of it was usable, mainly due to the fact that many of the guests ended up naked after a few glasses of champagne.
The next day, a very hungover Freddie and some friends went back to Henderson’s to shoot some B-roll, most of which became the final video for ‘Living On My Own’. BBC decided that even this footage was too lewd to broadcast, and ‘Living On My Own’ didn’t get the push it needed to succeed in the singles charts.
Got to be some good times ahead
It’s tempting to narrativise these events and ask questions like, Was Freddie’s hedonism a cry for help? Also, did he know at this point that he was HIV positive?
(Bohemian Rhapsody answers the latter question in the most hack way imaginable. During the Mr. Bad Guy recording sessions, Freddie coughs blood into his handkerchief as if he’s a consumptive poet in a 19th-century melodrama, or Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge.)
Regardless of all that, one thing is undoubtedly true: Freddie loved to party. He did it a lot, and he was very good at it. His 40th birthday party in Ibiza was so legendary that they’ve celebrated Freddie’s Birthday Weekend there every year since.
The 1993 remix of ‘Living On My Own’ was something of a surprise hit, but it does a great job of capturing the outrageous, debauched side of Freddie. And the BBC finally agreed to play the video, allowing the rest of the world to see the good time they’d missed in September 1985.
Elsewhere in the charts
[Number 2 ↑] Urban Cookie Collective, ‘The Key, The Secret’
Diane Charlemagne is the vocalist on this absolute stormer of a dance single. She shows up on plenty of other classics in the 90s, providing the stunning vocal on Goldie’s ‘Inner City Life’ and touring as Moby’s live singer.
Diane sadly passed away in 2015. A great loss.
[Number 8, New] Apache Indian, Nuff Vibes EP
And you know what? Good for Apache Indian! He produced the most interesting records of the 1993 reggae revival, such as the innovative genre-blending of ‘Arranged Marriage’ and killer big beats of ‘Chok There’. He deserved to have a big pop hit that is, hopefully, still bringing in residual royalties.
[Number 11 ↑] Michelle Gayle, ‘Looking Up’
A debut single from Michelle Gayle, who was best known for being sexually harassed by Ian Beale on Eastenders at this point. This song is okay, but she won’t truly step out of Beale’s shadow until she releases ‘Sweetness’ in 1994.
[Number 30, New] Hulk Hogan & Green Jelly, ‘Leader Of The Gang’
A truly, truly cursed record. Novelty rock band Green Jelly (recently seen singing ‘Three Little Pigs’) team up with legendary jerk Hulk Hogan to record a song written by literal paedophile Gary Glitter.
Towering over this mess is Simon Cowell, who pioneered the singing wrestlers genre and will continue to release some of the worst records of the 90s (coming soon: Mr Blobby’s debut single).
Credit where it’s due though, Cowell did mastermind the Bret Hart/Stock Aiken & Waterman collab we never knew we needed. Stopped clocks and all that.
[Number 33 ↑] Ali & Frazier, ‘Uptown Top Ranking’
Another Simon Cowell novelty song! This man is an invasive weed in pop music, choking out all of the natural fauna in the Top 40. Ali & Frazier (who seem to have vanished after this record) is clearly an attempt to cash in on Ace Of Base’s success, to the point where it borrows the sax riff from ‘All That She Wants’. Terrible and tacky…
…and yet, I don’t hate it as much as I should. ‘Uptown Top Ranking’ is such a great pop song that it’s almost impossible to ruin it, even when Cowell is involved.
Album of the Week
The Juliana Hatfield Three, Become What You Are
People hated Juliana Hatfield back in the 90s. She was equally attacked on all sides: her female colleagues despised her for her seeming willingness to trade her sex appeal (they even accused her of singing in a higher register to sound more baby-girlish), while the misogynistic music press complained that she wasn’t sexy enough (Hatfield once joked about being a virgin, which lead to years of feverish speculation about whether Evan Dando had popped that cherry).
People hated Juliana so much that, when ‘My Sister’ became an alt-rock hit, someone on her own label wrote a diss track . Melissa Ferrick’s ‘The Juliana Hatfield Song (Girls With Guitars)’ has lyrics like:
Juliana Hatfield, well she don't even have a sister
Yeah but that's okay…
You know everybody loves a brown-haired, blue-eyed
Good-lookin' girl from Boston with a guitar
It’s true that Hatfield doesn’t have a sister, but still. Holy shit.
All of this might explain why her second album is credited to The Juliana Hatfield Three (with Dean Fisher on bass and Todd Phillips on drums), as Hatfield may have wanted a break from the spotlight that comes with a solo career. The boys do create a slightly crunchier, grungier sound—Fisher lays down a killer bassline on tracks like ‘For The Birds’—but Become What You Are is still very much a Hatfield record.
While her lyrics are sometimes a bit rough, she occasionally hits the mark such as on the face-slap opener, ‘Supermodel’:
The highest paid piece of ass
You know it's not gonna last
Those magazines end up in the trash, yeah
The tentpole single is ‘Spin The Bottle’, which was featured on the Reality Bites soundtrack and includes lyrics about casual sex (“She's such a sucker, he don't want to fuck her/He is gonna kiss me, if he doesn't miss me”) that probably didn’t change any pre-existing opinions about her. But it’s a bop and shows her knack for writing pop-rock melodies, so it became a hit.
It’s a shame that her career was clouded by all the backstabbing and media nonsense because Become What You Are is a strong and highly enjoyable indie record that easily stands alongside things like Belly’s Star.
But it was a hit nonetheless, and Juliana has outlasted her critics. She’s since recorded 19 studio albums over the years (including a very fun collection of Olivia Newton-John covers) and album #20 is on the way.
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