QUEEN: Why I like Hot Space!
WHEN CLASSIC ROCK AND PROG TOOK ON THE SHOCK OF THE NEW WAVE!
OK, they are not new wave per sé, nor are they one of my fave bands, however buoyed by the movie named after that bloody song I wanted to take a look at this most maligned record. You only need to see the press conference in the film to see that no-one gave Hot Space the time of day. While QUEEN are not a new wave band, this period could probably be defined as such.
I say probably because things are always up for discussion. Whatever your opinion, it is without question the one QUEEN record that always receives short shrift. According to some it’s a ‘disaster’ (broadcaster Paul Gambaccini) and officially where they lose the plot (Q Magazine), but did they?
Did Genesis not take to the eighties with great aplomb (Duke, Abacab)? How about RUSH? (Moving Pictures, Signals) and King Crimson reconfigured themselves with Discipline and Beat, Paul McCartney (McCartney II) – itself condemned and left for dead by the critics. YES? Well that’s another one up for debate.
So did QUEEN lose the plot? I don’t think so. If you look at their predecessor The Game, it was only natural to follow it with something in the vein of Hot Space. They were like their peers continuing their journey, attempting to keep up with the zeitgeist.
That said, should Body Language have been a Freddie solo single? Possibly but then you could say that of Genesis No Reply at All, surely much better suited to Phil Collins Face Value than Abacab but this is all relative and confined to the annals of music history. Mercury’s eventual solo foray Mr. Bad Guy is also considered a disaster though I’ve not heard it myself. Fortunately, QUEEN were waiting to pick up the pieces with Live Aid and A Kind of Magic.
PUSHING THE ARTISTIC ENVELOPE
All great artist’s push the artistic envelope at some point (Achtung Baby, Synchronicity, KID A). Though you could also say Ghost in the Machine and, The Unforgettable Fire for The Police and U2. Only Roxy Music are an anomaly who started with the envelope fully extended then receded to a respectable swoon (Flesh and Blood, Avalon) by early eighties standards. As English composer and to some extent cultural icon John Foxx would observe, a Roxy ‘devoid of danger’ and a complete contrast to their contemporaries including QUEEN.
1982: MUSIC AND RUBIK’S CUBE
Released in an explosive year for music (1982 birthed New Gold Dream, Gabriel 4, Primitive Man and there on the shelves… RIO and that cover). QUEEN meanwhile went for a more simplistic approach with bold colours to embody the equally bold disc within. In cultural terms it has more in common with a Rubik’s Cube, so it’s very much at home in the early eighties. In other words there are many faces to QUEEN, not just rock.
The single sleeves meanwhile didn’t quite connect on a level of continuity. Body Language took its cue from the video, plenty of skin and graphic arrows which I don’t think allude to anything. Back Chat is similar to the album but why not play around with that theme a bit more, perhaps using the backs of their heads with the same animated technique as the album utilised. Under Pressure and Calling All Girls were plain boring; black covers with white type. Las Palabras de Amor? A close up of a baby’s face to celebrate The Words of Love. Hmm.
WHY HOT SPACE?
Getting back to the mainframe of this blog, why I like Hot Space. Quite simply it’s another band trying out, or rather embracing, the shock of the new. Aside the aforementioned, look at Led Zeppelin’s ‘Fool in the Rain’ not very Led Zep is it? But unashamedly wonderful.
Hall & Oates a couple of years later and BIG BAM BOOM – not their norm, fusing the dynamics of the studio and technology into their rock and soul hybrid – result? Essential listening. If anything Hot Space has a kinship with Robert Plant’s Shaken n’ Stirred; two classic rock acts courting the New Wave.
Hot Space begins with Staying Power, a slice of new wave funk with synth bass and horns! If you didn’t guess Freddie was gay then the ‘yes sir’ in the middle of this sonic cabaret show should have been a dead giveaway. A b-side in some countries, an A side in Japan, elsewhere a missed opportunity along with Cool Cat, keep reading for that one.
On my iTunes I sequence Body Language to be the second track. Despite its frequent disdain from the critics I can see the fun in its lyrics as well as the sexy sheen of that synth bass and the quirky synth slides – the only way I can describe them.
The biggest surprise is that it was a much bigger hit in the States and more so Canada, even though its musical vocabulary lies very much in eighties Europe (particularly France though there is no mention of its chart position there on the wiki page). The song did equal its Canadian peak in of all places Poland.
Next up on my list of faves is Roger Taylor’s Action This Day, very cool, a sharp beat and duet between Taylor and Freddie. Cool Cat to my mind had summer single 1983 stamped all over it. Love Freddie’s falsetto on this one.
It ended up being being paired with Las Palabras de Amor in the summer of 82, oh well, another almost and a year early which would make QUEEN trendsetters wouldn’t it? John Deacon’s Back Chat has more in common with Blondie particularly toward the end with Freddie’s ad-libbing.
The record concludes with Under Pressure with David Bowie from the year previous. Like Bohemian Rhapsody (that song again) it’s a work you’ve heard a bazillion times so for that reason I tend not to play it. So did QUEEN lose the plot? No more so than anyone of their peers. While it’s not a classic in the way Synchronicity is, neither is Abacab. You could look on Hot Space, as not quite a miracle but a kind of magic, and I’d rather Hot Space than Flash or Princes of the Universe any day.
PLAYLIST AND CREDITS
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Whodunnit – Genesis
New World Man – RUSH
Satori in Tangier – King Crimson
Frozen Jap – Paul McCartney
Leave It! – YES
Body Language – QUEEN
No Reply at All – Genesis
India – Roxy Music
Colours Fly and Catherine Wheel – Simple Minds
Lonely in Your Nightmare – Duran Duran
Trojan Blue – Icehouse
Shock the Monkey – Peter Gabriel
Back Chat – QUEEN
Fool in the Rain – Led Zeppelin
Bank on Your Love – Hall and Oates
Kallalou Kallalou – Robert Plant
Staying Power – QUEEN
Action This Day – QUEEN
Cool Cat – QUEEN
A Kind of Magic – QUEEN