Queen has always been known for their outstanding live shows. A long time staple of the live Queen experience was a selection of cover songs. In the early days the band played a medley of rocked up songs from the 1950’s and 1960’s. The songs were made popular by artists such as Elvis, Ricky Nelson and Little Richard. It made sense to add these songs in the early days. As time went on and the band established themselves the live covers remained as fairly regular staples. Over time the band would drop in the rare cover of more contemporary acts. Some fans were treated to live covers of songs by Elton John, Led Zeppelin and John Lennon. Overall the majority of the covers tended to be old time songs.
The band produced high energy renditions of several songs throughout the years. Queen’s versions of Jailhouse Rock, Stupid Cupid and Be Bop A Lula are among my favorites. At the top of my list would be Big Spender. This is an oft covered song from the 1960’s. Queen only opted to play the first half of the song. After hearing the original version I understood why Queen omitted the second half. Musically the song shifts into a different direction. Queen could have made this work, but focusing on the best part of the song was a smart idea. The live Queen version is barely one minute. But the quality of Queen’s abbreviated rendition has left a lasting impression.
The first half of the song is pure camp and Freddie took full advantage. From the sexy opening guitar riff to the lyrics Queen really made the song their own. Of all of the live covers played by the band Big Spender is the one that I wish they had recorded in the studio. It would have been great if they wrote a second verse. In the studio the band could have given the song the full Queen treatment. To hear this song with stacked vocals, heavy guitars and pristine production would have been pure joy.
Playing cover songs can be hit or miss. As a fan I would much rather hear a band play their own music. However, occasionally an artist will take a cover song and make it their own. This was definitely the case with Queen, especially during the 1970’s. Big Spender is a prime example. Queen took a horn driven, jazz inspired song from a musical and totally rocked it out. I never had the opportunity to see Queen live with Freddie Mercury. If I had Big Spender would have been one song that I would have loved to have heard.