There’s a theme threaded through hip hop music of relentless hard work being prized. This sits in almost direct contrast to rock and roll, a lifestyle emblematic of not getting a job, of slacking off and treating creation as not the result of grit but rather as part of being a pulsing artistic vessel. Rappers seem to brag about their workload, almost as if to counter the “all praise to God” platitude that also pops up a lot with a firm, “but, having said that, I did put in a hell of a lot of work, too”. It’s not without its problems though. Kanye’s ‘Runaway’ is both “a toast to the jerk offs who never took work off”, and a warning shot fired at anyone seeking a conventional relationship with someone like that. Donald Glover’s (Childish Gambino) lyrics are so often obsessed with his hours that ‘Community’ creator Dan Harmon jokingly christened him MC Workaholic, and even schlock horror rapper Tyler, The Creator – who, by the way, keeps getting denied VISAs because of his fictional work despite Stephen King or Vince Gilligan being able to waltz freely from airport to airport – boasts frequently about his obsessive control freak tendencies when it comes to building his empire. They all seem to acknowledge, though, that this same drive is responsible for fractured personal lives.
Alongside their reputations as forefathers of the rap genre (See: classic battle rap ‘We Will Rock You’, crew anthem ‘We Are The Champions’, the street hussle of ‘Another One Bites The Dust’, that Vanilla Ice beat) Queen were also the first hip hop act to rap about work ethic as a moral failing and a band-aid for deeper cuts. In ‘Somebody To Love’, Freddie Mercury works hard to distract himself from the crushing loneliness that seems to flood his life. Never one for subtlety, Freddie wrings every drop of angst out of the lyric while somehow presenting one of the most massively chest-beating songs in their catalogue. Freddie’s loneliness can still fill a stadium, it would seem.
All of it is fairly ridiculous, which is to say, pretty amazing. Sonically, there’s the falsetto gymnastics, the spot-on guitar solo played with a coin plectrum by Brian May, the lonely football chant of “find me somebody to love”, the musical theatre of the call and response. Then there is the drama of the lyrics. He works hard ’til he aches to his bones, which is the deepest form of ache, but the real pain comes with having nobody to spend his “hard-earned pay” on. What is the point of material wealth without anyone to enjoy it with? He feverishly curses the Lord, he cries in the mirror each morning, he cries when praying, even his friends are saying he is mentally unstable. “Water on my brain” is such a polite British way of saying crazy, much like “eccentric”.
Things don’t seem good for Freddie. He is fixated on the belief that finding love will rescue him from this stark hellhole he has dug out for himself, and maybe it will, but he hardly seems in the right mindset to find out. He seems in no fit state to date, plus his long hours aren’t helping him find happiness, either. It’s too operatic and bombastic to be taken completely seriously – hence my flippant read of his crushing depression – but there is nevertheless something so glorious about the desperation of it all. If the band is going big, why shouldn’t the emotion? He really, really believes love will rescue him, which we all know is the perfect set up for a fall. Then again, those harmonies sound damn triumphant, so who knows how it will all turn out?