I always wanted this to be a song about mushrooms, but I just can’t make it scan.
We aren’t the champignon.
There is actually a lot I like here. Freddie’s take on the bombastic sing along isn’t as much of a diversion from the ‘Queen sound’ as Brian’s is, but it is a strikingly weird take.
First and most, the piano song at the core of this is utterly, completely gorgeous. The opening notes pulls you right into it, Mercury purrs and softens and lures you in with so much delicate pain. It’s all wrapped around a perfectly strange and emotionally pulsing piece of piano. John’s direct input bass pulls out these delicate little details and Brian does some of the same.
And then the noise has to kick in for the uplifting dirge of the chorus.
Oh, it’s still lovely to sing. It does everything it sets out to do, and again, it has a melancholy conflict at it’s heart. A conflict between the hurt self and the bullying one. Freddie’s performance is irresistible, and pulls you between these contrary points.
When he says there’s no time for losers, you get the impression he’s somehow stopping there from being any losers. The ‘we’ here is completely inclusive, everyone is listening, there isn’t supposed to be an out crowd.
But there is. Isn’t there.
There always is.
The inclusive intent is immediately undermined by it’s ties to competitive sport and boastliness.
It’s the dirty side of the bombast, in some ways. The arrogance necessary to be this ridiculous contains within it too much actual arrogance.
Don’t get me wrong, I want Freddie to keep on fighting. I’m glad he’s come through, and I adore the way he calls everyone friend.
I just don’t know if that’s how everyone singing along hears it.
We are the champions –
We are the champions
At least it’s all so damn sad.
The whole song aches with longing. It’s the sound of someone cast aside and desperately lying to themselves. Like making a speech thanking the world for getting you here from a gutter.
Of course, it sounds different from a stage, with a thousand singing along, whilst wearing an actual crown.
It’s still about seeking togetherness though. So clearly. The one thing I can count on Queen for is that they are really just about bringing you together.
It’s precisely why the final line doesn’t resolve. The last ‘of the world’ is left hanging. On the record, it makes it sound like a dream being whisked away, cutting back to reality, slowly fading.
But of course, back on that stage, it never stops, it just passes into the crowd. Like in assembly, where it’s impossible not to say ‘said he’ at the end of every single ‘I am the lord of the dance’. (Or more accurately, settee).
The song is a part of the bands stagecraft. A part of the intense and wonderful audience rapport that Queen built themselves upon. The albums only tell one side of the story, and so some of the greatest moments end up sounding flat or arrogant.
But you’ve got to remember that other half. Just because it’s a thing I never experienced, doesn’t mean I haven’t dreamt about it. And it’s songs like this that make that dream easy, because they beg for that space, that noise, that environment.
You can barely hear it without closing your eyes and imagining being arm in arm with strangers, crying.
Because it’s so damn sad, that so often we turn into bullies just so we can feel somhow special.
Queen: An Exploded Diagram is me having big and little thoughts about every Queen song in chronological order. If you want to support me, making it more financially viable and easier to explain to people at parties, please back my patreon.
Illustration by Emma.