Over the weekend, I caught up on Best Picture Nominee Bohemian Rhapsody (more on that later). Given that I was six when Freddie Mercury died, I never had the chance to catch the arena rock band live. The movie did allow me the chance to revisit one of my favorite live albums: the Queen + Paul Rodgers record Return of the Champions.
The 2005 record is a double live album that was mostly recorded during a Queen + Paul Rodgers concert in Sheffield, England. The 29-track LP also includes a performance of “Imagine” from a Hyde Park gig.
The Queen + Paul Rodgers tour itself was the first “Queen” concert series since 1986. While substituting another singer into Freddie Mercury’s spot is up for debate, the tour was essentially Queen guitarist Brian May and Queen drummer Roger Taylor with Paul Rodgers.
There are few singers who have the vocal range of Freddie Mercury. The seemingly ageless Rodgers is as close as Classic Rockers get. The frontman capably sang Mercury’s parts. The highlight of the album is how well May and Taylor gave life to Rodgers’ own music from Free and Bad Company.
The criminally underrated Paul Rodgers does not always come to mind when thinking of the great Classic Rock singers. Free and Bad Company did not reach the same heights as The Who and Led Zeppelin, but Rodgers matched his contemporaries when backed by Hall of Famers May and Taylor.
This is evident on the Return of the Champions songs, “Feel Like Makin’ Love” and “All Right Now.” Both live songs have so much more life in them the Classic Rock radio staples.
May and Taylor also provided the same magic on the subsequent Rock the Cosmos Tour. In addition to the acoustic song “Seagull,” “Shooting Star” and “Bad Company” were highlights of the DVD filmed in the Ukraine.
“Bad Company” is an amazing piece of arena rock. May’s searing guitar solo alone is worth a listen. The Queen version stands far and above Bad Company’s radio single.
That 2008 tour was the last of the two runs of Queen + Paul Rodgers. Queen has since toured with American Idol winner Adam Lambert. The musicians will play together again in 2019 as part of The Rhapsody Tour, a concert series that is undoubtedly capitalizing on the success of the film.
Even though it was a brief run together, Queen + Paul Rodgers was a perfect rock ‘n roll marriage. A frontman who could kind of sing like Freddie Mercury. A band that could add flash to a handful of songs that haven’t aged as well as other hits from the area. All documented by an undervalued live album that marks a cool, yet brief union of incredible musicians.
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