Today marks 31 years since Freddie Mercury tragically lost his battle with AIDS. During his final months, the Queen singer continued writing and recording for the band’s final album as a four, 1991’s Innuendo. Despite his declining health, the star remained defiant, giving his creative best, as recollected by Brian May.
Brian had penned The Show Must Go On, which would become Innuendo’s final track with lyrics reflecting what Freddie was going through.
The Queen guitarist said in recent years: “We didn’t discuss what the meaning of the song was, but it was of course evident in the background that it was an attempt to give a voice to the feelings that Freddie’s valiant fight against AIDS created in all of us, and even in Freddie. He was too low in energy to create it himself. But I had one unforgettable special afternoon working together with him on solidifying the lyrics of the first verse of this embryonic song about a clown whose make-up hid his pain, before he slid out to attend another treatment. That gave me enough lyrical material to later expand into the eventual two verses.”
With Freddie weakened, Brian was worried that he might not have the strength in him to give the song the full welly it needed.
The Queen guitarist continued: “I finished mapping out the song, sang the whole thing as a demo, including the added Wings of Butterflies section, which somehow appeared in my head very late one night, and I played it to him when he was next in the studio. The melody called for some very demanding top notes, and I’d only been able to demo them in falsetto. I said to Freddie, ‘I don’t want you strain yourself – this stuff isn’t going to be easy in full voice, even for you!’”
Brian remembered: “He then downed a couple of his favourite shots of vodka. Propped himself up against the mixing desk, and… delivered one of the most extraordinary performances of his life. In the final mix of The Show Must Go On, when you get to On with the Show, you are listening to a man who conquered everything to deliver his finest work.”
Tragically, Freddie’s untimely death at just 45 meant he never had the opportunity to sing The Show Must Go On live. However, his final partner believes it embodied his spirit during his final months.