Somebody to Love. One of my favorite songs of all time. How much thought do you put into the genius of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury’s genius? I mean, we all love his music, of course. But the science behind how Freddie did what he did is fascinating.
Voice teacher John Henny did a video where he reacted and analyzed Freddie’s brilliant live performance singing “Somebody to Love” in Montreal in 1981. First of all, the coach said that it’s “pretty good quality for 1981.”
Somebody to Love by Freddie Mercury
As Henny watches Freddie Mercury begin “Somebody to Love,” you can see that he is visibly moved and perhaps even near tears. His reaction is pretty typical to anyone who hears Freddie at his best. He says that the fact that Freddie can play an instrument is important and that not all singers are musicians, but Freddie is (we knew that already!).
“He’s really got that riff down really well.”
Henny pointed out that “Somebody to Love” is based on a pentatonic scale and if you want to learn to sing vocal riffs, you need to learn your pentatonic scales.
Then, he discusses when Freddie hits “Love” and how he keeps it very bright. He notes that most students and singers will not be able to physically do what Freddie did to keep that note open.
Then, Freddie sets up the time with the piano riff very well. Side note: the teacher is impressed with how many beers Freddie has on the piano.
Those Beautiful A-Flats
Henny points out the high A-flats, yet you don’t hear the vocal chords clamping, but rather is flowing the air so the chords are nice and relaxed. Even with a half dozen beers. Ha.
When Freddie stands up and starts to sing, he starts playing with the rhythms, rhymithcally commanding the piece. This is where Freddie excels: when he quickly commands the stage.
Notable is that Freddie politely gets out of the way for Brian May’s guitar solo.
It’s when Freddie is sitting at the piano playing and singing that he’s really most focused and at his best. His voice is nice and smooth and connected and “really musical.” It’s awesome that in other parts of the song, he can contrast it. He does a “really nice job” of creating different effects with his voice and “emotional levels.”
Oh, Lord…Somebody to Love
Henny instructs his students to watch at 7:38 when Freddie sings the word “Lord” in A-flat.
“Watch his lips. If he pronounces it more like it’s spoken, you’re not going to get a lot of energy on that. What he’s doing is dialing his lips more into a smile. And what that does is shorten his vocal tract. You can see that from the vocal chords to my mouth, that’s a resoning (sic) tube.”
He notes that Freddie plays with the position of the corner of his mouth, tuning that valve in.
“You’ll see great singers do that.”
The teacher also mentioned how solid Roger Taylor is on the drums. Duh, of course, Roger is the world’s greatest drummer.
He wasn’t sure if Freddie would reach the high note at 11:43. But of course, he did. And then went right through the vocal transition with no break.
The Teacher Started Rocking
John Henny couldn’t maintain his “teacher-ness” indefinitely. He just started rocking. I mean, who wouldn’t. It’s Freddie Mercury.
As one YouTube commenter points out, Freddie did all of this naturally, with no teacher. And 40 years later, we study him. Freddie Mercury was a genius, y’all. That is all.
Watch Freddie sing “Somebody to Love” live in 1979 without a teacher’s commentary. Yes, this video is a little fuzzy, but it’s early Freddie, so…enjoy.