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7 October 2020, 17:00
Brian May composed one of the band’s greatest anthems - but how did Freddie Mercury and co turn it into a rallying cry for rock fans everywhere?
The genesis of both We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions came after Queen played a gig at Bingley Hall in Stafford on 29 May 1977. The group were riding high after the success of Bohemian Rhapsody at the end of 1975, and the following year had seen the band play a huge free show at London’s Hyde Park in the long, hot summer of 1976.
’77 had seen the band tour America to huge success and the tour that saw them stop off in Stafford wound up with two huge shows at London’s Earls Court.
But at this hall in the West Midlands, Queen were astonished when, at the end of the show, the crowd began to sing the classic football anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone.
Brian May later told Radio 1: “We were just completely knocked out and taken aback – it was quite an emotional experience really, and I think these chant things are in some way connected with that.”
Following the experience at Bingley Hall, the band wanted to come up with a similar anthem that Queen fans could sing along to… or even stomp along to.
Independently, Freddie Mercury and Brian May both wrote songs that they thought would fit the bill.
Mercury’s contribution was the grandiose We Are The Champions, his own attempt at a self-confident ballad like My Way.
May, meanwhile, went for a more visceral approach. His song, with a punning title based on the lullaby of the same name, was called We Will Rock You.
The simple composition was given an extra sonic boost in the studio by getting everyone involved in stamping on the floor and clapping, overdubbing the effect several times to make the crowd effect bigger… and bigger…
We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions were meant to be a pair - an ideal way of whipping up Queen fans into excitement, and the ideal way of kicking off their new album.
The song was the opening track on News Of The World, which was followed hot on the heels by We Are The Champions. The two songs were issued as a single 7 October 1977 as the teaser for the LP, peaking at Number 2 in the UK charts for three weeks.
The single was accompanied by a promo video that saw Queen perform the song in Roger Taylor’s back garden and We Will Rock You quickly became the opening number on the band’s winter tour, segueing into a “fast version” of the song.
As expected, We Will Rock You became one of Queen’s most famous songs and a moment of audience participation at the band’s shows. It also was picked up at sports events, particularly in the US, when hockey and baseball games would play the track over the PA.
The song, with its segue into We Are The Champions, was a highlight of Queen’s set at Live Aid and the sight of a full Wembley Stadium clapping along to Freddie Mercury’s vocal was unforgettable.
Despite an ill advised collaboration between May, Taylor and boy band Five in 2000, We Will Rock You remains one of Queen’s best-loved tracks.