Counterpoint (P.S.). Queen.

Freddie Mercury. The man that Rolling Stone called a 'fascist'. You can see that evil fascist grin. Alternatively you can do as I do and wipe your arse with Rolling Stone.

If you want a brilliant example of counterpoint in pop music, look no further than Queen's Killer Queen (below). I keep coming back to them because the genius of what they did is still passing a lot of people by. It's still being 'unpacked'.

First and foremost Queen were smart. Smarter than any other band. Not because they had degrees, but because they were one of the few bands who understood that intelligence and Barnum and Bailey style entertainment are not separate. Other bands are either 'serious' (and sing about 'issues', with more or less wit and art), while others are all about pure entertainment. Queen shat all over that distinction.

Critics hated them, and many still do. They trod all over the sacred, pure boundaries of rock and jazz and blues and folk and vaudeville, and you can keep going.

Anyway, Killer Queen. Sounds like a simple pop song. It is that, and a lot more, and that's Queen all over. Beautifully simple on the surface, but fantastically complex when you listen closely. The song is all about counterpoint, it's everywhere. Listen to the backing vocals, which weave in and out in magical contrapuntal lines, and the guitar doing the same, in the background and in the solo. (Brian May the guitarist is a passionate student of counterpoint.)

As a band they were often praised for their 'harmonies', but their harmonies were much more often counterpoint than they were plain harmonies. Melodic lines firing off every which way, harmonising with each other and with themselves. Their entire opus is like a modern Art of Fugue, with prodigious melodic and even lyrical cross-referencing within songs, between songs and even between albums.

Most of this passed critics and non-fans by, they were unable to get past the cheek and colour. This passionately tongue-in-cheek, witty band was always taken at face value by dunderhead morons, who had forgotten that performers put on performances, and that larger than life personas are just that - personas (Mercury was desperately shy when not performing, but critics took the enormous presence he had in performance and translated it into a man with a massive ego. Like assuming John Gielgud dressed as Hamlet at home.)

There was a time when entertainers unashamedly entertained, and that was 'serious' work. The best always offered something to everyone, at every level. Queen were like this, you can appreciate them at any level you like, because they packed it in at every level. More profound than all the acts who ooze profundity like snot from an infected nose. More light and colour and wit than the more flippant souls. All at the same time. (There's even an aural equivalent of an endless Escher staircase at the beginning and end of their Day at the Races album, as an example of how much intelligence was behind the chutzpah.)

Interestingly after The Beatles, Elvis, Michael Jackson, Abba and I think Nana Mouskouri (I kid you not), they've sold more albums than anybody. And without the benefit of the hype that vastly inflated the album sales of everybody above them.

So a lot of people 'got' it. If you didn't yet, have a go.


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