A bilingual journey to reappreciate Queen through lyrics

The Japan News

By Yukiko Kishinami / Japan News Staff WriterQueen: The Complete Lyrics (Queen Shishu Kanzenban)

By Queen

Translated into Japanese by Yasumi Yamamoto

Shinko Music Entertainment Co., 336pp

The triumph of the film “Bohemian Rhapsody” has created yet another Queen craze all over the world. Japan is no exception. According to Twentieth Century Fox Japan, the film had been watched by over 9.4 million people and earned ¥13 billion in box office revenue in Japan as of mid-May. Worldwide, the film grossed more than $900 million.

Related products riding the wave include a new edition of “Queen: The Complete Lyrics” (Queen Shishu Kanzenban), a bilingual compilation of the lyrics of 163 songs by Queen from the rock band’s 15 studio albums, from “Queen” (1973) to “Made In Heaven” (1995), which was released after Freddie Mercury’s death, as well as two further compilations.

The original lyrics and their Japanese translations are printed on facing pages. As Queen has enjoyed sustained popularity in Japan since the early 1970s, the existence of such a book is no surprise. Originally published in 2011, it has been expanded and updated since then.

Each Japanese translation is followed by a footnote introducing a little anecdote about the song, such as that Michael Jackson rightly recommended the release of John Deacon’s “Another One Bites the Dust” as a single. It would have been perfect if those footnotes were bilingual, too, and if the book carried an English translation of the five Japanese lines in “Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together).”

I have never been to a Queen concert, but I do own some of their albums, and many of their hit songs are forever linked with memories of what I was doing at the time.

Some might question whether lyrics by a rock band can be appreciated in their own right like a book of poetry. Mercury is known to have characteristically composed the melody first and then set words to it. (One exception is “A Winter’s Tale,” said to be the last song he wrote.)

However, reading the verses from their debut single, Brian May and Roger Taylor’s “Keep Yourself Alive” in 1973, to “The Show Must Go On” in 1991, their last single released before Mercury’s death, becomes an interesting journey through the band’s history — the rise to stardom, a danger of breakup, a reunion, and the death of the lead singer.

Queen is a rare band in that every member is a composer/lyricist and has written at least one No. 1 hit song. Although the majority of their biggest hits, including “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “We Are the Champions,” were written by Mercury, with May’s tally close behind, the creative talents of the four definitely gave variety to their music. Mercury’s allegorical songs are often sprinkled with such grand words as “gods,” “king” and “queen.” May’s lyrics often show his sensitive, intellectual soul although he has also written some naughty songs, like “Tie Your Mother Down.” Taylor writes straightforwardly but sometimes displays a unique quality in his choice of words, such as in “Radio Ga Ga,” and Deacon has written surprisingly romantic lyrics.

On the band’s 13th studio album, “The Miracle” (1989), all the songs are credited as written by the four members. Apart from some obvious joint collaborations, it is widely known among fans and critics which member was responsible for writing which song.

Of course, Queen the band is still alive and kicking, with May and Taylor continuing to perform with guest musicians such as Adam Lambert. I’m pretty sure this book will have another edition, with yet more lyrics added.

— Yukiko Kishinami

Japan News Staff Writer

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