Yes, the story of Queen has been presented before on very credible documentaries. The surviving members of Queen have repeatedly told the history of their band and discussed the anatomies of many of their best loved songs in previous well-done hour-long tributes.
But the new 221-minute Days of Our Lives, directed by Matt O’Casey, is akin to The Beatles Anthology in that it’s the first in-depth video overview of Queen’s evolution told almost exclusively by the band itself. Along with the memories shared in new interviews with Brian May and Roger Taylor, archival footage previously unseen sheds new light on where the band came from and where it soared to. This includes the recently unearthed first TV performance, new promo videos containing unseen rushes, and studio outtakes.
The story is told in two episodes, the first covering the 1970s, the second the 1980s beginning with the theme to Flash Gordon. Episode one isn’t full of new revelations, but it does provide insights into how Queen built its complex and sophisticated sound by demonstrating how songs were layered and composed. While Freddie Mercury is presented as the powerful personality he was both on and off stage, it’s clear Queen was a band with all four members partners in the creative process. May and Taylor talk about critical and fan responses to their work and their surprise at how they were treated in the press. Anecdotes include how their early management took financial advantage of them to the point where they had no money and Taylor was told he couldn’t afford to break drumsticks on stage.
Episode two chronicles the group’s creative changes in their final decade, a time full of highs, lows, and lulls. Clearly, Taylor and May weren’t happy with the dance music pushed by Deacon. They have much to say on the different studios in Munich—they didn’t like it—and Switzerland—which they did. They acknowledge the importance of Live Aid which occurred at a time when they needed a spiritual boost and how the physical (but not artistic) decline of Mercury affected the band. Interesting stories here included their trying times in Argentina and their unfortunate concert in Sun City in South Africa. Of course, the final sections are poignant as the group realizes their lead singer has only a short time to live even though he insists on working until the end, leaving them with material to flesh out on a posthumous album.
Bonuses include a generous assortment of full-length videos of songs like “Killer Queen,” “Somebody to Love,” “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” and “Under Pressure.” We see the group in the studio working on “We Are The Champions.” We’re then given an expansive look into their last albums with interviews broadcast during the late ‘80s. Reportedly, the Blu-Ray edition of this set has even more features, but I must leave it to a different reviewer to comment on them.
In short, this is a bounty of Queen talking Queen, the music of Queen, and a tribute from band members justly proud of their legacy. The only glaring omission is the non-participation of Deacon, the bass player who retired from music in the late ‘90s and has refused to appear with his fellow group mates since. While many of the visuals show their age, that’s more than made up for as digesting this story will likely take up at least two evenings, two very good days in the viewer’s lives. Queen fans will quickly grab up their copies, but this retrospective deserves an even wider audience. Queen was just too important to be only remembered as the project that propelled Freddie Mercury and as a group responsible for some of the most memorable hits of two decades. They were rock artists who started as a rock and roll jam band who ended up raising the bar very high indeed for their contemporaries and musical descendents. If you care about rock history at all, this is an essential chapter to appreciate and admire.