Freddie Mercury was "fighting for his life," Adam Lambert said of the song

By Karen Mizoguchi
August 27, 2020 07:00 PM
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Adam Lambert and Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor premiered a live performance of a very meaningful song.

On Thursday, the group debuted the video of their performance of "The Show Must Go On," which was filmed during the second of their two shows at London's 02 Arena on July 4, 2018. Before this, May, Taylor and John Deacon performed the song live for only the second time at the opening in Paris of Maurice Béjart's Ballet For Life.

As Queen fans know, the 1990 song was recorded near the end of Freddie Mercury's life when the lead singer continued to perform while keeping his HIV/AIDS diagnosis out of the public spotlight.

May, who wrote the song, recalled recording it with Mercury, who died in November 1991.

"Even though we were all aware of Freddie's impending tragedy, we had some inspired and joyful times in the studio, making the Innuendo album. We didn't speak much about Freddie's illness — he just wanted to get on with 'business as usual' as far as possible. But already there was only a day or two per week when Freddie was well enough to come in and work with us. We grabbed those precious moments and made the most of them," May, 73, said in a statement.

"I'd been working on 'The Show Must Go On' as an idea, but I was uncertain whether the title was too obvious. Freddie heard it and loved it and dismissed any thoughts that there was a problem with the chorus or the title. He wanted to work on it. We didn't discuss what the meaning of the song was, but it was of course evident in the background that it was an attempt to give a voice to the feelings that Freddie's valiant fight against AIDS created in all of us, and even in Freddie," the musician remembered.

"He was too low in energy to create it himself. But I had one unforgettable special afternoon working together with him on solidifying the lyrics of the first verse of this embryonic song about a clown whose make-up hid his pain, before he slid out to attend another treatment. That gave me enough lyrical material to later expand into the eventual two verses," he said.

"I finished mapping out the song, sang the whole thing as a demo, including the added 'Wings of Butterflies' section, which somehow appeared in my head very late one night, and I played it to him when he was next in the studio. The melody called for some very demanding top notes, and I’d only been able to 'demo' them in falsetto," May shared. "I said to Freddie … 'I don't want you to strain yourself - this stuff isn't going to be easy in full voice, even for you!’ He said, 'Don't worry — I'll f---ing nail it, Darling!' He then downed a couple of his favorite shots of vodka, propped himself up against the mixing desk, and… delivered one of the most extraordinary performances of his life. In the final mix of 'TSMGO,' when you get to 'On with the Show' you are listening to a man who conquered everything to deliver his finest work."

Peter Still/Redferns; Mairo Cinquetti/REX/Shutterstock

Lambert, who first performed with Queen in 2009, also honored Mercury in his own statement.

"'The Show Must Go On' is a song with a very deeply resonating message. I think we all have moments in life where we feel the odds are against us and the climb is a steep one," the American Idol alum, 38, said. "I always sense a great cathartic release throughout the audience during this song. I think we all recognize that it was a big statement for Freddie at that point in his journey as well; he was fighting for his life."

"The Show Must Go On" made its on-stage debut nearly two years after Mercury's death in the star-studded Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert at London's Wembley Stadium in April 1992. At the time, Elton John was the lead vocal, and Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi was the guitarist.

Lambert and Queen's first album together, Live Around the World — which will feature 20 tracks, a compilation of highlights from their world tours as selected by Taylor, May and Lambert from over 200 shows -- will be released worldwide on Oct. 2.