The Story of... 'I Want to Break Free' by Queen

11 July 2023, 15:44

Queen's I Want to Break Free music video
Queen's I Want to Break Free music video. Picture: Queen/EMI

By Tom Eames

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It's one of Queen's most recognisable and popular songs.

'I Want to Break Free' has stood the test of time as one of the greatest songs of the 1980s, and you can't not picture Freddie Mercury hoovering in full drag as the band performed the song in the music video.

But who wrote the track, what inspired it and how did it perform in the charts? Here are all the big facts:

  1. Who wrote 'I Want to Break Free'?

    John Deacon wrote the song
    John Deacon wrote the song. Picture: Getty

    The song was written in 1983 by Queen bassist John Deacon.

    It was written for Queen's 11th album The Works, and was the LP's second single.

    Deacon wrote the song from the male perspective of the women's liberation movement.

  2. Who appears on the song?

    Queen in 1984
    Queen in 1984. Picture: Getty

    Alongside the band (Freddie, John, Brian May and Roger Taylor), the song also features session musician Fred Mandel on keyboards.

    Mandel got involved with the song when it only had a drum machine and guitar, and the song's famous keyboard solo was done in one take on a Rolan Jupiter-8 synth, apart from the last note, which was recorded via punching in.

    "John did NOT want a guitar solo" Roger Taylor later said. "So he got Fred, who's a very brilliant keyboard player, to improvise something around the main tune, and Fred did this brilliant take."

    'I Want to Break Free' has three verses with one bridge, but with surprisingly no chorus.

    In a swap of the usual run-times, the single version is actually longer than the album version, as it has a longer synthesizer solo.

  3. What happens in the music video?

    Queen - I Want To Break Free (Official Video)

    The song is best known for its music video, where all the band members are dressed in drag, an idea proposed by Roger Taylor and his then-girlfriend Dominique.

    The video was meant as a parody of the ITV soap Coronation Street. Freddie is the housewife, John is the grandmother, Roger is the schoolgirl, and Brian is another housewife.

    Freddie was apparently going to shave off his trademark moustache, but director David Mallet stopped that from happening. He told the documentary series Video Killed the Radio Star: "I said, 'No, the one thing you musn't do, the funny thing is that your moustache is there and you're in drag!' To this day, when he comes around the corner with that hoover I laugh."

    However, Freddie did remove the tache for the second segment in the video.

    The second part of the video features a collaboration with the Royal Ballet, and choreographed by Wayne Eagling. It was a reference to the French ballet L'Après-midi d'un faune, and its clean-shaven Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky.

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    While the UK loved the cross-dressing aspect of the video, it caused some controversy in the United States.

    Brian May later said that while the video was understood as a joke in the UK, the US audience failed to see the soap-opera connection. Roger said that MTV "was a very narrow-minded station then. It just seemed to be all f***ing Whitesnake".

    "It was a measure of the...thinking, MTV, that they...thought it was disgraceful, and didn't show it, and banned it".

  4. How did it perform in the charts?

    It reached number three in the UK, and the top 10 in many European and Latin American countries, but only at number 45 in America.

  5. Who else has covered it?

    Lisa Stansfield sang the song in The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, and the band Extreme also performed it as part of a Queen medley earlier in the concert.