How I learned to love Queen, by Soundgarden's Kim Thayil

Queen onstage
(Image: © Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

Long Live Queen: Rock Royalty Discuss Freddie, Brian, John & Roger, is a new book by Greg Prato that reflects on Queen's life and legacy, using the words of their fellow musicians. 

It features testimonials from the likes of Charlie Benante, Mick Box, Bumblefoot, Les Claypool, Billy Corgan, Paul Di'Anno, Geoff Downes, KK Downing, Joe Elliott, Steve Hackett, Rob Halford, Eddie Kramer, Yoko Ono, Mike Portnoy, Todd Rundgren, Dee Snider, Paul Stanley, Eddie Trunk and dozens more. 

In the edited excerpt below, Soundgarden's Kim Thayil talks about what Queen mean to him. 

Long Live Queen: Rock Royalty Discuss Freddie, Brian, John & Roger is out now, and is available from Amazon in the UK or the US

I was probably a sophomore or junior in high school. We Will Rock You was all over the place, and We Are the Champions was huge on the radio. I liked We Will Rock You a lot. With Queen, I was kind of hit and single oriented - I wasn’t band oriented. I was a young hard rock guy and liked metal, and eventually, punk rock. 

Despite the fact that Freddie Mercury is amongst one of the greatest rock singers ever, it didn’t seem wild and heavy - which were the elements I liked in my rock. Y’know, the MC5, the Stooges, or Zeppelin. I think it was because of the harmonies - the guitar harmonies, the vocal  harmonies, and his voice is so crystalline, and at times dramatic and operatic. And didn’t seem as dangerous or heavy or wild. It seemed very organised and musical.

I had the hardest time with Bohemian Rhapsody, because it was so operatic and dramatic. And the harmonies: It was too much for my hard rock sensibilities. I mean, things like Sheer Heart Attack and Stone Cold Crazy were amazing, because it was fast, the guitars are big and heavy - those are the things I loved. 

It had to do with my age, and what radio was like then. Young kids tended to orient towards top-40 radio, coming out of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, when a lot of kids had portable transistor radios, and you would pick up a top-40 radio station while you rode your bike. 

At the time, there was Sweet, Slade, and Queen. And these are conversations that I had with friends of mind here in Seattle, after I moved here. We would talk about the different ways we grew up, and we’d say, "There are people who like Queen, and they didn’t pay much attention to Sweet or Slade, and there are people who like Sweet, and there are people who like Slade, etcetera, etcetera."

All three of those bands had those vocal harmonies that they’d use in their choruses. But Queen is a much bigger band. They all are great, but Queen was “arena” - it was not just being in terms of a commercial success, it was being in terms of their sound and their material. It was much more orchestrated, much more sophisticated. 

When you get older, you get a stereo, and you flip it over to the FM station, which are more album-oriented rock, and you start hearing these deeper tracks off of Queen albums, like Stone Cold Crazy and stuff like that. And I would like individual songs.

But when I started finding bands that I could identify with - where if you liked a song or two, you probably liked everything on the album - I was probably getting into Kiss, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, and then later, Stooges, MC5, Ramones. Because I conveniently turned 17 in 1977 - which was when punk rock was breaking, and I’m learning how to play guitar. It was just perfect. So, that age just happened that punk rock comes out during this arena rock period in the late ‘70s. 

News of the World came out in ’77, and there’s the Sex Pistols - there’s my choice. But I’ve only got five bucks, and Never Mind the Bollocks is out there, and I want to check out that, because it sounds heavy and aggressive. And I’m at that age where I’m learning guitar, and you can’t get more aggressive than that to a 17-year-old, right? So, it just fit. Not only that, it’s not that 17-year-olds are just young and aggressive - they also tend to be going through puberty and the hormones are raging, you’re lost, you’re starting a new job, you’re learning how to drive, you’ll be starting college soon... and there’s the Sex Pistols. 

So, there was a lot of stuff that I skipped in that transition for me. And there are a lot of bands, like Queen, Budgie, and even some Sabbath, that I had to go back and re-learn later on in the early to mid ‘80s, once Soundgarden got going. And Queen was one of them. Matt Cameron is a huge Queen fan. Being a couple of years younger than me, had a few more years to embrace Queen. Matt really liked everything about Queen - he loves the drumming, the guitar playing, the vocals. And Chris held Queen in very high regard - obviously because of the vocals. 

It’s all so good, technically. And the songwriting: everything about it is crisp and solid.  

It’s all beyond criticism. 

Long Live Queen: Rock Royalty Discuss Freddie, Brian, John & Roger is out now, and is available from Amazon in the UK or the US

Queen: Long Live Queen book