Freddie vs. Adam – or Adam vs. Freddie?

One of the first things I noticed about the Queen + Adam Lambert collaboration was the furious (and often vicious) debate it has caused on the web.  There seemed to be some distinct groups of people involved in it:

  • Old-time Queenies (like me) who just wanted to hear the music live again and were prepared to give a new person a chance – or who had already heard Adam and were suitably impressed
  • Existing Adam fans who were also Queen fans – these people mostly got very excited about the whole thing
  • Existing Adam fans who weren’t particularly Queen fans, but gave Queen a chance and found they liked the whole thing
  • Existing Adam fans who felt that the QAL collaboration was taking Adam away from them, and got upset/jealous about it
  • Old-time Queenies who thought that the rest of the band should have retired when Freddie died, and who are vehemently against QAL

That’s one hell of a lot of people to get involved in one argument, so it’s no wonder that it’s polarised opinion.

So – is it Freddie or Adam? Adam or Freddie? Should we even compare them?

lambertMercury

It’s not surprising that there isn’t an easy, or indeed a correct answer to this, as whether or not we like (or dislike) a singing voice is completely subjective.

There are some fairly obvious reasons as to why we will like one voice more than another, such as how well they can sing in tune, but when you put the technical basics aside and listen to two people with a similar level of vocal training, whether or not we prefer voice A or voice B just depends on our emotional response to that voice.  We have little or no control over that response – it is what it is.  There are some world-renowned singers whose voices I just am not turned on by – Elvis, for example!

Sometimes it can be related to whether or not we find that person physically attractive, but this isn’t always the case.  When I was at college, we all observed the phenomenon that you can find someone’s voice attractive without fancying the rest of them.  This was a bit bizarre and could lead to some rather unexpected liaisons when you were thrown together in an opera cast with the object of your “voice lust”. (It’s a bit like the “beer goggles” problem – you regret it the morning after)

Both Freddie and Adam got dealt the “attractive” card in slightly different ways – Freddie had the dark, smouldering looks of his Parsi ancestry; Adam has the sparkling, vivid blue eyes and engaging smile.  Fairly equal on that front, I think (depending on your taste in men).

But as for their voices; this is where we go right into the realms of subjectiveness.

Freddie had little or no vocal training.  His voice just came out “raw” – he had an astonishing range and an unusual, beautiful sound that just wasn’t like any other rock/pop singer around at the time.  Naturally, he was a baritone, which you can hear in his lower and middle voice (singers usually refer to this as the “chest” voice).  This was probably enhanced by him smoking like a chimney!  He had a huge top extension to his voice, and could use both head voice and falsetto. He also had a wide range of vocal colour which added to the overall sound he made.  I’ve always wondered how he would have sounded if he had started voice lessons as a teenager; he could well have been an operatic or music theatre high baritone.

In my opinion, this is Queen at their excessive, operatic best; you can hear the whole range of Freddie’s voice, through his chesty baritone to those fabulous high notes. I’m tremendously sad I never got to hear this song live.

In comparison, Adam has done a lot of training and coaching.  He has a great natural voice too, but over the years he has learnt the tricks of the trade – the breathing, support, and colouring the tone.  His stage training means that he has been coached in performance and delivery, how to pace yourself through a performance (very important for all serious singers), plus acting and dancing.  That’s a lot of resources to draw on when you’re performing; my first teacher always used to say that your technique was the autopilot – you learn it, then it carries on by itself without you interfering with it.  Adam has the technique in the background, so he can spend a lot of time thinking about how he is going to perform and engage himself with the music.  The stage training will naturally give any performer an advantage when you are standing on a stage; you will be confident about the way you move and the internal technique means that in general, you don’t need to worry about your voice too much; it’s lodged in your muscle memory and it will come out as it always does.

The muscle memory thing is incredibly useful when you’re having to multi-task (i.e. singing, dancing, moving) as Kinkykiedis’s great video from Nottingham demonstrates.  Warning: clips of Another One Bites the Dust tend to warp the mind somewhat!

So, they’re both uniquely gifted, but very different.  Does that mean one is any better than the other?

This is where the debate rages.

Some of it is about this subjective issue of whether you like the sound of Freddie’s voice over Adam’s, or Adam’s voice over Freddie’s.  Because Adam’s voice is a tenor, to pretty much any ear it will sound higher/thinner.  Also, Adam does have more ease at the top of his voice as it naturally “sits” a bit higher than Freddie’s, so he can do higher notes in live performance.  Brian and Roger have remarked on this, and it’s well known that some Queen songs were performed live in slightly lower keys than the recorded key.  This was largely a self-preservation measure to enable the band to get through a setlist – there is no value at all in your frontman running out voice at a critical moment!

Because of the physical differences in Freddie’s and Adam’s voices, some people are naturally going to prefer one voice over another simply because of their emotional response to it.  There is no right or wrong answer, and this is down to personal taste.

The other, nastier part of the debate lies in whether Adam “should” be doing Queen’s music or not.  We go back to the list at the beginning – the oldtime Queenies who think that Brian and Roger should have retired along with John Deacon after Freddie died.  Unfortunately, these are the people who have heaped vitriol on Adam for daring to try and step into Freddie’s shoes.  The point of their ire is that they feel it is an insult to Freddie’s memory that someone else is doing “his” songs; they are sacred and should be preserved in recordings only.  They’ve even abused Brian and Roger for choosing Adam to perform with them and have suggested they should retire as they’ve got senile dementia.  This is just appalling, and I don’t understand how they can still call themselves Queen fans.

Hang on a minute; this is a rather odd view and one that has been challenged by “Phoebe” (Peter Freestone), the guy who used to be Freddie’s personal assistant and who spent years with him, including during his final illness. He wrote a wonderful, generous post on Facebook recently about his experiences seeing QAL.  He loved it, and he made the point that he thought Freddie would have loved it too.  Most importantly, he reminded us that most opera was written with a specific voice in mind; for example, Mozart wrote a lot of roles for his wife (and other sopranos that he fancied).  If we stopped performing music when the designated singer died, thousands of pieces of beautiful music would be completely dead to us because we would not be “allowed” to perform them.  Why should Queen’s music die when Mozart’s hasn’t?

In my opinion, this isolationism about Queen’s music is narrow-minded.  Brian, Roger and John weren’t Freddie’s backing band.  The four of them together were Queen.

I feel more than a bit sorry for the Adam haters, as they are missing out on a fabulous experience.  Their old heroes have got a new lease of life; they have played this tour with smiles on their faces as they have found someone who can make their music live again.  They clearly have a wonderful rapport with Adam and it’s obvious they adore him (and he them), which has made many an old Queenie shed a tear or two of joy. I think this wonderful photo of Adam and Brian says it all (credits on pic)

Pic credit: TALC tuke18 - wonderful!

The final point of all this is about how Adam performs Queen’s songs.  He’s not trying to be Freddie; he doesn’t need to be as he has his own voice and his own contribution to make to the music.  He’s also exercised great sensitivity and respect, which is a measure of how seriously he’s treated the whole experience. Importantly, he’s being Adam, and we Queen fans are so lucky he has come along to give us “our” music again.

 

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19 thoughts on “Freddie vs. Adam – or Adam vs. Freddie?

  1. Hey there just wanted to say I enjoyed reading your blog. I love the insight into singing and technique, I love Freddie’s voice but am rather obsessed with Adam and love his voice too. Saw Queen live years ago and QAL in the US. The haters are sad, I just say music is art and beauty is in the ear of the beholder 🙂 Freddies rawness is part of the rock sound I think and Adams voice is more polished and controlled but they both have amazing voices that allow them to sing just about anything – Adams covered everything from Donna Summer, Rhianna, Metallica and bob marley Just fun fact, Adam actually had opera singing training as well. you might like a you tube of him singing, a long time ago, come to me from brigadoon, anyways, interesting stuff, thanks 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this great blog. I’ve agreed with most everything you’ve said except one: IMO, Adam and Freddie are not anywhere equal in attractiveness. Never found Freddie remotely attractive or sexy and I’ve read many comments of people feeling the same way. Adam is drop-dead gorgeous and can easily be a model. Freddie never could be.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I realize it’s subjective. Attractive is one thing but drop-dead gorgeous enough to be a model is another. Adam has been on People magazine’s most beautiful issue I believe 3 times and was voted sexiest male artist by Billboard. So I think it is the general public, not a handful of fans, who feel he is gorgeous, not just attractive. I must have read thousands of comments/tweets from new Adam fans from this collaboration, including men, who have talked about how gorgeous and sexy he is, often before his voice. Even watchers of Glee and Idol who had not seen Adam in a while said “When did he get so hot?” I think if you put pictures of them full length side-by-side and people were asked to vote on who is gorgeous, Adam would win by a landslide. Adam has the looks and body to be a model or an actor. In fact didn’t you say your husband thought he was gorgeous? Did he feel the same way about Freddie? Anyway, we’ll agree to disagree on this one. I don’t mean any disrespect. I really value your opinion on his voice. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You have such a way with words, my dear! Such a lovely review of the collaboration of Queen + Adam Lambert. I love that you have voice training/ coaching experience background, it makes for a knowledgeable & readable column. I find it interesting & illogical that those who say Queen’s Brian May & Roger Taylor should have retired when Freddie passed. There are many bands that have replaced their lead singers without the general public going on these major rants. I think it says more about the person who is complaining and less about Queen’s choice of lead singer. Sadly, there are those who just love to hate, find fault with others and complain at the top of their lungs. When they complain that loud, can you explain what notes they are hitting? Ha!

    Like you, I have been a Queen fan since the 70″s and was fortunate to see them perform live a couple of times. Live Aid in ’85 was especially memorable. That said, I have been a fan of Adam’s since his musical theatre days, I caught him in Wicked & Ten Commandments and thought, “Who is this boy?”
    I couldn’t believe it when I saw him on AI, I fell out of my chair but joyfully & religiously watched that season. Adam’s journey on American Idol was interesting to watch, not just for his growth as a singer & entertainer but his interaction with other contestants & the judges. All the hype with the media speculation regarding his sexuality had me confused and left me wondering, “What is all the fuss about? I was officially a Glambert by the time the Idol tour was complete.

    In the Spring of 2014, it was announced that Queen + Adam Lambert would be touring the US and I gladly bought tickets for both nights they played in Las Vegas. The Joint at the Hard Rock was a smaller venue, hence the two night stay. Both nights were amazing to watch, it was evident that Brian May & Roger Taylor were having a blast being on stage again and Adam’s vocals were extraordinary. Overall, the concerts were successful, fans leaving were humming and singing to the tunes they had just heard. It was wonderful to witness.

    I hope the collaboration of Queen + Adam Lambert continues on in whatever form the members agree to. I will attend, I will sing along, I am a fan.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. BEAM (rearranged acronym for My Badass Alter Ego) —
    After reading your very enjoyable, informative and spot-on (for me) comments, I’m moved to believe that your Beam shone more light in a heart that has adored Adam Lambert since first laying eyes on him on AI and spent more hours than I personally can believe following his career since then and listening to his music. The collaboration with Queen seems most remarkable. I was a classical pianist during the Queen years and didn’t really listen to their music until soon after Freddie died. I’ve been catching up ever since. What is truly remarkable to me besides the collaboration and response to it that seems to be echoing around the world is not only getting to “be in” on Adam’s growth since his AI journey and through his dates with Queen, but it’s watching the incredible transformation of Brian and Roger too. If you go back to footage from the dates they did in London on the brief tour several years ago and compare them to what we’ve seen on this most recent tour, we’ve watched a metamorphosis occur before our eyes. The relationship between the three of them and all of the band together is truly as heart touching at times as the music they gift to us. They’re all real, all present, all giving their all — it’s simply a collaboration made in heaven.
    I’m a fan — thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. To read this was just as to read some of my very own thoughts. I knew Adam earlier and loved Queen since my childhood so I put myself into the category of the people that were thrilled. Singing from my childhood – no, I am not a singer, I just have sung as solist in some choruses and so on – I am more musician these days – I can appreciate the voice and the skills he has. Mixed with his fine personality he is the best singer for Queen I can imagine.
    Thank you for those beautiful words. I was at the Prague concert – I think maybe the only one that couldn´t be streamed because of the blocking it in O2 Arena as they always do – and it was (according to all the streams I have heard) one of the bests on tour and I agree – one time is never enough. But we are blessed to have opportunity to hear and see them playing live.
    Just one thing – Simon Cowell mentioned the theatricality but whole the mood of the audition was made with the help of cutting of the video. There is possible to find other pieces to fill it. And Simon very quickly found that Adam is special. He was probably the one who arranged the meating with Queen for the finally of American Idol 2009.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Pingback: Adam Lambert Week – March 1-7, 2015 |

  7. Well, it seems that I am in the 5th group, not mentioned here :). I am an old-time Queen fan, who has nothing against Brian and Roger continuing after Freddie’s death and John’s retirement BUT I preffered them with Paul Rodgers.

    I have seen both Q+PR and Q+AL live and I think that with Paul it was unique and different in a way, while with Adam it’s more like Queen coverband/tribute act. Rodgers is far, far away from Freddie’s style, so Queen songs sung by him had more bluesy edge, etc. (generally – they had his own influence). Lambert’s style is closer to Queen, but probably too much “musical-ish” and to less rocking.

    However I have nothing against Adam Lambert, actually, lately he seems to be more respectful to Freddie, his legacy and previous Brian/Roger projects than May and Taylor themselves (especially Brian mocking TCR album ;)). Adam is just not my cup of tea – I don’t his vocals (however he got better since 2012), his annoying vibratto and his style. But if that’s what Brian, Roger and Adam want to do – I have nothing against, I just won’t be part of it.

    I have to say that I really enjoyed your artcle. I disagree with “Q+AL as a fabulous experience part”, but I’m glad that you’re not trying to hate the haters, as that kind of “discussion” would lead us nowhere ;).

    Like

  8. Pingback: MY BADASS ALTER EGO: Freddie vs Adam ou Adam vs Freddie? « Adam Lambert Brasil | A sua maior e melhor fonte brasileira sobre o cantor!

  9. Interesting that I read your word “sacred” as “scared” the first time I read it at 4 am. I think scared is just as good a word to use to describe one of the categories that you delineated at the beginning. I think there is a group of Queen fans that are “scared” that Freddie will be forgotten because Adam is so good. They wonder if Freddie will be included in QAL shows in the future. Will new fans who see Queen for the first time with Adam care about Freddie? Older people already know Freddie and they may have an affinity for Freddie. Will new fans develop an affinity for Freddie having known Adam first?

    Like

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