“I had a lot of ideas bursting to get out and there were a lot of musical territories I wanted to explore which I really couldn’t do within Queen,” said Freddie Mercury, explaining his decision to release his solo studio album, Mr. Bad Guy, in 1985.
“He was an incredible musician”
The album was a labor of love. Work on Mr. Bad Guy began in 1983 and it took the perfectionist Mercury nearly two years to complete. He wrote all 11 songs on the album, sang the vocals, played piano and synthesizer, arranged the orchestration, and worked painstakingly with the sound engineers to obtain the sound he wanted during the recording sessions at Musicland in Munich. He also co-produced the album with Reinhold Mack.
It opens with the simple dance song “Let’s Turn It On,” which precedes the four-minute song “Made In Heaven,” the original choice of title for the album before Mercury settled on Mr. Bad Guy. “I Was Born To Love You,” the third track, was released as the first single and reached No.11 in the UK.
Mercury said he had to show “a certain amount of discipline” and resist the urge to ask Queen colleagues to play on the album, in order to prove he was genuinely “stepping away” from the band. Instead, he picked a variety of talented local Munich session musicians to play alongside him. Drummer Curt Cress, guitarist Paul Vincent Gunia, and bass player Stefan Wissnet were joined by Canadian-born rhythm guitarist and synthesizer player Fred Mandel. “Off-stage, Freddie was a pretty quiet guy, but he was an incredible musician,” said Mandel.
The track “Man Made Paradise” had originally been considered for the 1981 Queen album Hot Space, and the version for Mercury’s solo album features some Brian May-like guitar work from Vincent, along with some fretless bass from guest musician Jo Burt.
“Freddie was very happy with the album”
One of the key songs on Mr. Bad Guy is “There Must Be More To Life Than This,” which Mercury said was the nearest thing he ever wrote to a message song. “It is a song about people who are lonely,” explained Mercury. “It’s basically another love song, but it’s hard to call it that because it encompasses other things, too. It’s all to do with why people get themselves into so many problems. It’s mostly that, but I don’t want to dwell on that too much. It’s just one of those songs that I had for a while.”
The title song, “Mr. Bad Guy,” has proved one of the album’s most enduring tracks; in 2019, artist Jack Coulter created a painting inspired by Mercury’s song for Bohemian Rhapsody: The Queen Exhibition in Seoul. “Freddie was very happy with the album,” said Reinhold Mack. “I think one of the things he wanted to do most was the big orchestral thing on the track ‘Mr. Bad Guy,’ which he never really got to do with Queen.”
“It was a very personal thing”
Mr. Bad Guy as a whole features an interesting blend of musical styles: rock, disco, dance, pop, and a splash of reggae. Mercury, who said he was smoking a lot to keep his voice husky, sings the 11 songs with real verve.
The singer also said he was pleased with the moving ballads he had written – some of them “frivolous and tongue-in-cheek,” he admitted – and he picked out “Love Me Like There’s No Tomorrow,” written at the time of an affair with Austrian actress Barbara Valentin, as one of his favorite tracks from his solo work.
“I liked the way ‘Love Me Like There’s No Tomorrow’ came out,” said Mercury. “It was a very personal thing. I wrote it in five minutes and everything just gelled into place. It was just very emotional, very strong. I love that track.”
It is clear that Mercury put his heart and soul into the project, and Mr. Bad Guy reflects the diversity of his personality. His liner notes dedicate the album to his cat Jerry and all the cat-lovers across the universe (“screw everybody else”). Freddie added special thanks to his Queen bandmates, Brian, Roger, and John, “for not interfering.”
Mercury believed that his solo album, which was released on April 29 and went gold, would provide a “shot in the arm” for his return to working with Queen. So it proved. Less than three months after the album’s release, Queen took Wembley – and the world – by storm with their superlative Live Aid performance.
The career-spanning Freddie Mercury box set, Never Boring, is out now. Order it here.