Roger Taylor

TrackAlbum / Single
I Wanna TestifyEMI 2679
Let's Get CrazyFun In Space
My Country I & IIFun In Space
Future ManagementFun In Space
Strange FrontierStrange Frontier
Killing TimeStrange Frontier
It's An illusionStrange Frontier
Final Destination (by The Cross)Mad, Bad And Dangerous To Know
Working Class HeroElectric Fire
Say It's Not TrueFun On Earth

Roger Taylor photo 1

 

 

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Roger Taylor playlist

 

Contributor: David Lewis

In any other band, Roger Taylor would be the lead singer. Not that that detracts from his incredible drumming. But he has a great rock rasp, a soulful whisper, a nice mid-range. Back in the day, he had an incredible high – he’s lost that ‘Galileo’ high – but that’s natural, those types of notes were never going to last. Nonetheless, Roger Meddows Taylor, drummer and vocalist for Queen is also a great songwriter. He wrote, for example, Radio Ga Ga which was a No.1 hit, making Queen the only band in which all members wrote a number one. (Ringo had a top 10 with Octopus’s Garden). Roger was the pretty one – the heartthrob. The shock of blonde hair with those piercing blue eyes melted hearts, while his musicianship melted minds.

He was born in Norfolk, but spent most of his childhood in Cornwall. He went to university, firstly to study dentistry, but then moved to biology. Of course, all this education was a distraction from his real passion – cars – and his personal ambitions – music. He’d been playing music since he was a child, eventually settling on drums as his main instrument. He answered an ad at Imperial College for a ‘Mitch Mitchell/John Bonham style’ drummer. He impressed, and was impressed by the young astronomy doctoral candidate named Brian May. They formed a band named Smile with another friend, Tim Staffell, and the rest is history. Mainly because Smile broke up, and they regrouped with a Parsi design student, Farrokh Bulsara, who called himself Freddie. Eventually they found a bass player named John Deacon, and renamed the band Queen. You may have heard of them.

I’ve written about Queen on this site; also Freddie’s solo work and Brian’s solo work on here. Freddie, it seems, did solo work to try and break away from Queen, with whom, I think, he had grown bored. (By the time of Live Aid, he’d been re-energised.)

The death of Freddie compelled Brian to launch a solo career.. He had done some stuff before, but it’s really after Freddie’s death he concentrates on his own work. John Deacon did one soundtrack – Biggles, and some production work for other bands’ singles that went nowhere, and retired permanently as soon as he was able.

Roger though was the first member of Queen to record a solo record, In fact, he released albums and singles he couldn’t promote properly because he had obligations to Queen. For me, at least, Roger’s solo work is the most interesting of the three (I haven’t yet heard Biggles, though by the time I finish this I may well have). Roger is a little more overtly political. He is also, it seems to me, less worried about stepping on, or overtaking Queen. Queen was always his priority, but his solo work is excellent.

Roger’s first single was the 1977 unique cover of the Parliament-Funkadelic song I Wanna Testify. Its a cappella opening (all Roger), with a neat guitar solo in the middle is a compelling approach to the song. As we will soon see, Roger does excellent covers, and this is a great opening to a solo career which could have perhaps reached more people.

In 1981, he released a solo album – Fun In Space. He didn’t tour it much as it clashed with promotional and tour work for Queen. But it is a solid album, and any serious Queen fan should have it in their collection. Roger plays everything on it and does a mighty fine job. Standout tracks include Let’s Get Crazy, a solid rocker with a great Elvis-ish vocal from Roger. Nice guitar work too. My Country 1 & II is Roger being political – he will not fight for his country, nor work to no rule – he is far too much of an individualist for that, and it is these things that cause oppression and a lack of freedom. Lovely melody, great playing all round. Future Management is reggae, with one of Roger’s best vocals, at least in terms of phrasing. His response to the call of You don’t need nobody else but me plays with the rhythms and the stressors in surprising and pleasing ways. A quick note on the cover – Roger is a science fiction fan and was behind the cover of the Queen album News Of The World, which was drawn by legendary sci-fi pulp artist Frank Kelly Freas, based on an issue of Amazing Tales Roger owned. Fun In Space was drawn by Jim Laurier – again based on a magazine cover. The back shows Roger reading the magazine the cover art came from.

In 1983, Roger released Strange Frontier. I was somehow able to obtain the cassette – I grew up miles from anywhere with a record shop that wasn’t top 40, easy listening or country. I played it and played it, and really, it’s my favourite Queen solo recording. Rather than Roger playing everything, Freddie appears on Killing Time – he’s credited with keyboards, and the rumor is that he sings some backing. I’m not sure – Freddie had the range, but … I don’t know.

As I write this, the world is shutting down with coronavirus, we have some questionable figures as leaders, Australia is burning, America is going insane, the UK is changing fundamentally. Roger felt the same in 1983 – Strange Frontier has the line, People say this could never happen here/ but this is a strange frontier. A case of plus ça change? Or a prophecy? Or have things always been strange, and we make sense of them later? David Richards’ keyboards complement Roger’s keyboards nicely. And I like the percussion.

Although Man On Fire was the single, it’s a little too close to Springsteen (and Roger does Springsteen a bit better on his cover of Racing In The Streets from the album), and his performance in the promo video is, well, it’s … he’s a great singer, songwriter, drummer, … let’s leave it there. Brian May plays rhythm guitar on it, but it doesn’t quite make my list. Instead I’ve gone for It’s An Illusion, which features Status Quo’s Rick Parfitt on vocals and John Deacon on bass. The other near miss was Roger’s take on Dylan’s Masters Of War, which captures Bob’s bitterness perfectly.

Brian May said once “you’re only ever in one great band”, and that is true, but The Cross was a great band, for what it was. They released three albums – Shove It (1988), Mad, Bad And Dangerous To Know (1990), Blue Rock (1991) – and were a real band, as opposed to a rock star’s vanity project. He advertised anonymously, and apart from Queen backing keyboardist Spike Edney, recruited three others. Roger sang and played rhythm guitar. He doesn’t really appear on the third album, but all three are excellent. All members contributed songs. I’ve selected Final Destination, though I nearly went with Heaven For Everyone which features Freddie and whose lead vocals were reused for the Queen album of the same title.

Roger’s version of Lennon’s Working Class Hero is outstanding. He does a fairly straight cover but his excellent vocals reflect the cynicism of the original lyric. I’m not sure either Lennon or Taylor were working class heroes – that’s a debate for the comments – but Roger sells it.

From Roger’s most recent album, Fun On Earth, I couldn’t go past Say It’s Not True. Apart from being a lovely ballad, it features Roger’s son Rufus, on drums and Jeff Beck on guitar. Rufus is the drummer in the Darkness, so a rock star in his own right, and a very fine drummer. I saw him with Queen and Adam Lambert about five years ago and was impressed. Beck sounds like his guitar was made for the song, as he always does. At Beck’s best, superlatives don’t really do him justice.

Roger Taylor is incredibly talented. Although Queen is touring with Adam Lambert (and I’ve seen them three times and have thoroughly enjoyed each show), I hope Roger does some more solo work. His release in 2013 of The Lot, which is everything he recorded, suggests he’s finished. If so, it’s a shame, but I’m grateful. If not, I can’t wait to hear what’s next.

 

 

Roger Taylor photo 2

 

Roger Taylor official website

Roger Taylor Albums Discography

Roger Taylor Singles Discography

Queenpedia – the Queen Encyclopedia

Shane’s Queen Site

Queen Toppermost #152

Freddie Mercury Toppermost #825

Brian May Toppermost #836

Jeff Beck Toppermost #247

Roger Taylor biography (Apple Music)

David Lewis is a regular contributor to Toppermost. A professional guitarist, mandolinist, banjoist and bassist, he plays everything from funk to country in several bands and duos. He is a professional historian and a public speaker on crime fiction, adventure fiction, philosophy art, history and popular culture. More of his writing can be found at his rarely updated website.

TopperPost #858

2 Comments

  1. Andrew Shields
    Apr 23, 2020

    David, thanks for this excellent piece on a very fine musician. And how prescient was ‘Strange Frontier’?
    Also Jeff Beck’s playing on ‘Say It’s Not True’ is worth the price of admission in itself.

    • David Lewis
      Apr 26, 2020

      Thanks Andrew. There’s very little Jeff can’t improve, even when the song is already great.

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