The New Freddie Mercury Demo Has a Vital Message for Our Time

Mercury's stripped-down rendition of "Time Waits for No One" from the multimedia musical "TIME" is a stunning gift from an unforgettable talent.

Dressed in white from head to toe, surrounded by smoke and stage lights, Freddie Mercury looks every inch an angel descended to earth in the video for "Time Waits For No One."

Mercury first recorded the song in 1986, and a version featuring a massive choir of backing vocalists was released that same year. Yesterday marked the release of a never-before-heard demo of the song, featuring only his voice soaring over a triumphant piano backdrop. On it, the singer's unmistakable vocals take center stage, and the stripped-down arrangement communicates the lyrics' message even more powerfully than the original.

Freddie Mercury - Time (Official Video)

"Time Waits For No One" is an almost painfully relevant song that seems handmade for our day and age—though, then again, its call to solidarity taps into something that humanity has seemingly always needed to hear. "We have to build this world together, or we'll have no future at all," Mercury sings, a resounding sentiment for our times and for all time.

The song is taken from a musical called TIME, with a book by David Clark and David Soames and music by Jeff Daniels. The show is about a rock star named Chris Wilder, who gets transported along with his band to the High Court of the Universe in the Andromeda Galaxy. Once there, he meets the Time Lord Melchisedic (allegedly inspired by the Time Lord of the Doctor Who series), who tells him that the moment has come to determine if the people on earth can be a part of the universal journey towards peace.

Time the Musical - Dave Clark and Cliff Richard, Freddie Mercury, Dionne

Though he never performed in the show, Mercury sang the main character's part on its concept album, which also featured Julian Lennon and Dionne Warwick. The show's spoken theme, which includes a philosophical speech narrated by Lawrence Olivier, was an unexpected hit on the charts in Australia, but in spite of this, the album remained offline until 2012, when a 25th-anniversary edition was released on iTunes.

"Time" (renamed with a longer title on the new demo) is the third track on the concept album. Apparently, Mercury preferred the demo to the official version. According to songwriter Dave Clark, "When we first recorded [the song], I went to Abbey Road and we ran through with just Freddie and piano. It gave me goosebumps. It was magic. Then we got down to recording the track and we [added] 48 tracks of voices, which had never been done in Abbey Road before, then the whole backing. It was fabulous—but I still felt there was something about the original rehearsal."

That something is palpable in the chill-inducing video from that first rehearsal. In it, Mercury is a larger-than-life presence, an embodiment of conviction and hope, communicating a message that seems to be largely absent in modern music. "Let us free this world forever, and build a brand new future for us all," he sings. His voice and presence, which radiate an almost unearthly star power even through the computer screen, are so powerful that you can't help believe in the possibility of a better world.

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I think we can all agree that rock has been toast for a while.

In 2017, Hip-Hop/R&B surpassed rock as the most popular music genre in the country, and its popularity has only grown since. Even pop is doing better than rock, with Ariana Grande recently tying The Beatles to occupy the top 3 spots on the Billboard Hot 100 consecutively. From Chad Kroeger and Corey Taylor's ridiculous beef to Tool's empty promises and Weezer just continuing to suck, rock has seen better days. But if you go on Billboard's Hot Rock Songs chart, what you'll see may just be the nail in the genre's coffin.

In recent months, Queen has made a strong comeback due to the popularity of Bohemian Rhapsody, and out of the top 50 songs on the Hot Rock chart, the legendary band holds 16 of the spots. Interspersed between are tracks by Panic! At The Disco, Imagine Dragons, John Mayer, Mumford & Sons, George Ezra, lovelytheband, Hozier, Twenty One Pilots, and some dude named Yungblud. Not one of these artists is a rock and roller. The only outlier is Cage The Elephant, whose latest single "Ready To Let Go" doesn't place until #21.

So what does this tell us? Well, for one, it's clear that people don't know what rock is anymore, and modern rock is in such a dismal place that listeners are revisiting Queen to scratch that itch. "For the last few years, the Billboard rock charts have been an abysmal slog of new pop artists that occasionally hold guitars like fashion accessories," wrote Noisey. The article goes on to cite the uncanny rise of The Guardians of the Galaxy 2 soundtrack, which dominated the chart for 22 weeks and eventually hit number one. At the 2018 and 2019 Grammys, they didn't even bother to air the Best Rock Album category. This year's winners, Greta Van Fleet, whose album Anthem of a Peaceful Army debuted at #3 on the Billboard 200, are only famous because they sound like a B-list Led Zeppelin. "Greta Van Fleet is all costume," read a scathing review on Pitchfork, referring to the band's cliche 70's fashion choices. "They make music that sounds exactly like Led Zeppelin and demand very little other than forgetting how good Led Zeppelin often were." The group's nostalgic appeal only adds to the stagnancy of modern rock and proves that even the genre's up-and-comers can't craft anything new from its ashes.

So what's next for rock and roll? Well, The Black Keys recently debuted their first new song in five years, but it's not exactly a groundbreaking addition to their discography. As for The Arctic Monkeys, their highly anticipated Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino polarized its fans, with many dismissing the project as melodramatic and self-indulgent. "Even a nice classic-feeling pop melody...devolves into a lurching drag," wrote Rolling Stone of the project. Critics had similar critiques on Jack White's Boarding House Reach. "Sadly, the years have steadily whittled the playfulness from White's material," wrote Pitchfork. "His work is now too lumbering and unmoored for anyone to take much pleasure in it."

Even the term "rockstar" is being pinned more frequently to rappers, with artists like Lil Uzi Vert and Danny Brown now claiming the title. As artists like Breaking Benjamin, Nickelback, Gerard Way, Slipknot, and Buckcherry continue to create carbon copies of their early 2000s sound, artists like Juice WRLD, XXXTentacion, and the late Lil Peep have fused rock with Hip-Hop influences – with the resulting concoction brandishing a whole new subgenre of music. Rock has officially retired, and the longer these dying acts hold onto the mantle (i.e. Adam Levine at the Super Bowl) instead of passing it over to where it belongs, the sadder they inevitably become. Let the greats be great, but can we stop pretending that "modern rock" exists?

Mackenzie Cummings-Grady is a creative writer who resides in the Brooklyn area. Mackenzie's work has previously appeared in The Boston Globe, Billboard, and Metropolis Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @mjcummingsgrady.

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