We have some terrific oldies radio stations in Chattanooga. A couple of them specialize in hits from the 1960s-80s era, and a few others feature classic top-40 songs as well. This morning one of them played Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” which according to legend, lead singer Freddie Mercury wrote in the bathtub. (I’ve had million dollar ideas in the shower too, but they seem to swirl down the drain). His bandmates say it took him all of ten minutes. He had to dry off quickly, grab his guitar and get the notes down before he forgot them.
It became a huge hit in England in late 1979, and a few months later some US stations got a hold of it, forcing Queen’s record company to release it here in the states. By that time, the band had become famous here for intricate harmonies, multi-layered vocal tracks and bizarre lyrics, so its management was concerned that Queen fans in America would be turned off by the song’s retro sound.
But within weeks, the song zoomed to number one on the charts (the band’s first ever), and it was one of my most requested songs on the KZ-106 morning shift. Then, and now, some people think it’s an Elvis Presley song. In 1980, some people swore to me that Queen had re-recorded one of Elvis’ old songs. Remember this was pre-Internet, you couldn’t look this stuff up. I’d say, I know a lot of Elvis songs, and I’ve never heard this one. “Oh it wasn’t a hit,” they’d say, “but Freddie Mercury must have found it on an old Elvis album.”
Truth is, Queen recorded it in the style of Elvis’ early rockabilly days, and even filmed a video that most of us never saw; MTV wouldn’t come along until a year or two later. Elvis and his fellow 1950s Sun Records artists (Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash) influenced many young British musicians of the 60s and 70s, and this was Freddie Mercury’s way of paying tribute to the masters. In the last years of Elvis’ life, most of his recordings were ballads and country-flavored songs, and the closest he came to his old rockin’ sound was “Burning Love” in 1972, five years before his death. We’ll never know how the King would have sounded performing “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” but I’ve always believed he would have nailed it, in his prime anyway. So sit back and enjoy this video. I think it’s one of the best-produced, best-performed records of the rock-and-roll era, and despite the band’s fears, it actually expanded their fan base worldwide. Ready Freddie?