Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Freddie Mercury 'The Great Pretender'

Chart Peak: 4

Following the success of 'Love Kills' and 'I Was Born To Love You', Freddie's new solo single is 'The Great Pretender'. The song was originally a hit for the Australian singer Jimmy Parkinson in 1956 and also the Platters later that same year.
So, Side 3 starts with another old song - it's a cover like the Boy George track on Side 2, and it dates back to the 1950s like the Jackie Wilson number back on Side 1. It's nearer in style to Wilson of course, being a doo-wop song; the Platters version is the true original (it was written by their manager Buck Ram) even though Parkinson beat them to the UK chart.

Back in 1987 I wouldn't have known the origin, though I remember it was a song I already knew and recognised as old. I was too young to wonder why he was covering the song at the time, but looking back it is slightly odd - the track wasn't from his solo album in 1985, and nor did it relate to his Barcelona album with Montserrat CaballĂ© later in 1987. In fact, the track didn't show up on an album until 1992's posthumous Freddie Mercury Album (it was re-issued as a single from that album and became a minor hit). With a bit more hindsight though, we know now that it would have been around this time when he discovered he had HIV, although he of course didn't reveal this publicly until the day before his death; his partner Jim Hutton claimed that he was diagnosed around Easter 1987, but presumably he'd suspected for a while. In that context, of course, the song of a man "pretending that I'm doing well" takes on a different poignancy.

Unfortunately, as a record it doesn't entirely work. Mercury was still capable of a belting vocal, but it's a bit of a mismatch with the song itself, which doesn't have the same bombast as a Queen original. He bellows too hard to make it plausible that he ever concealed anything. The production is a bit empty as well, and the effect is rather a hollow exercise.

Also appearing on: Now 10, 23 [both with Montserrat Caballé], 25
Available on: Greatest Hits III

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