|Posted by Violet on January 15, 2013 at 11:00 AM|
"They knew they had the magic", photographer Mick Rock says after he first laid eyes on the callow, unapologetically pretty Queen. “That was firmly imprinted on me. And having told me how good they were, they played me the music – it was ‘Queen II’, which they had just finished recording. They asked me to describe it, and I said: ‘It’s Bowie meets Led Zeppelin’. That was good; they wanted to work with me, but they wanted to know that I got it. They were picky from the get-go. It was trial by chatter...” Mick Rock can recall that encounter exactly: September 1973, in a meeting set up at Trident studios in London. “Trident was a den of iniquity,” he remembers. “ ‘Ziggy Stardust’, ‘Transformer’ and ‘All The Young Dudes’ were made there. I walked in and they swarmed me like kookaburras. They were confident in the way that Bowie was...” While Queen were keen to test out Rock, both parties were aware that this photographer’s celebrity exceeded that of the band’s, at least for now. Rock had already shot some of the era’s defining images; he had befriended David Bowie and had photographed him as Ziggy Stardust and made him and glam-rock iconic; he’d shot the cover of Lou Reed’s ‘Transformer’ album and Iggy & The Stooges’ ‘Raw Power’; one of his first jobs had been photographing Syd Barrett for his ‘The Madcap Laughs’. In a time when nobody thought any of it was going to last, Rock was where it was at.
“People had this idea of me, as a result of my association with Bowie and Lou and Iggy... the importance of the image. They believed that I could help get them over, if you like.” Rock bonded with Queen quickly, especially with Freddie, in whom he saw many of the same qualities as the other showmen he had followed: “There was something slightly otherworldly about them,” Rock explains. “To me they look mythological. I never saw them as inhuman, just more like fantastic creatures, chimaeras in the pre-Raphaelite world. I was soaked in that stuff.”
The first rolls of film that Rock shot became what he now calls The Nudie Sessions. The band, rail-thin and pouty, were stripped to the waist, and “would have looked like a bunch of schoolgirls if they’d had boobies. The other three didn’t quite want it, but Freddie loved it, of course. Those pictures got them their first serious attention, although it was somewhat disparaging. Must have been from the NME – they were in the knocking business.” Rock then shot the band at their first big London gig, at Imperial College. He was impressed by the large crowd that had turned out, even though the band had sold very few records and rarely appeared in the music papers. “The fans were right up against this little stage, and Freddie was like he was in a stadium already. He had a visionary quality.” The band asked Rock to design and shoot a cover for the ‘Queen II’ album. “The brief was that it was to be a gatefold cover – they had wangled that – and the theme was black and white. Around that time I’d got to know John Kobal, who had all of these Hollywood pictures he’d picked up for free on the studio lots. He was making these little books, and he’d done one on Marlene Dietrich. There was this shot of her with her arms crossed, taken on the set of Shanghai Express. I shot some live stuff of Queen up in Manchester, and then I hung out with them afterwards. I showed Freddie this book with the picture, and he said: ‘I shall be Marlene...’.
“We did the ‘black’ shots and then the ‘white’ shots on the same day, and we’d still made no decision as to which we’d go with. We looked at everything, and they picked out two shots, one black, one white, but they couldn’t decide which one would go on the outside cover. Me and Freddie were on the same one, we wanted the black. The other three were more for the white. Freddie badgered them, and the black became the cover.
And that shot has haunted them...” Rock also designed the cover and did the paste-up work himself. “I don’t suppose I got more than three hundred quid. If I did I was doing well. In those days you just didn’t see it as this thing that would last in any way. Although thank God that it has.” Rock worked with Queen until 1975. “By the time we did some of the later pictures, the glammy thing was still there, they were still kind of pretty, but as time went on they were less overtly poofy. But they’d made the statement, they’d got the attention.
“Freddie was fascinating. You know, you wake up thirty years later, and you realise that in the purest terms he had the greatest voice to come out of rock’n’roll. I was very fond of him. We would work with those extraordinary teeth. He had an overbite caused because he had four extra teeth at the back of his mouth. He would never have them removed, though, because he felt that it expanded his palate and if they came out it might interfere with his voice.
At first he would have his mouth closed, and I would let him place his lips over his teeth. Later, of course, they became something he was known for.” Soon after Queen’s ‘Sheer Heart Attack’ album, Rock went to New York and became embroiled in punk and new wave. Queen recorded ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in the year that punk hit. The paths of the band and the photographer divided.
Rock’s photographic catalogue, of which his work with Queen is an important part, is now one of the most iconic and relevant in rock’n’roll history. “It’s strange,” he says in parting. “There weren’t even that many photographers around. There weren’t that many outlets for these pictures. Not that many photographers were interested in these bands. Quite often, I was the only one there.” It was everyone’s good luck that he was. Queen were a complete and utter embarrassment. "So I did what any other staunch, resolute and single-minded music- paper scribe would do: I started to believe them".
The pictures come from the books "Killer Queen" (2004) and "Classic Queen" (2007).