Great artists—whether they’re involved in music, painting, sculpting, whatever—should make other artists think, Damn, I have to live up to that? And they should make kids think, That’s what I want to do when I grow up! This is what comes to mind when I hear Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”
Everyone who was around in the early days of rock and roll was mesmerized by Elvis. I first heard Elvis almost two decades after he scandalized America with his swivel hips, and I know I was fully captivated at age 5. He meant a lot to me. I knew little about him except his music and what he looked like, but that’s all that mattered anyway. When I first started listening to music all I had was a record player and a radio. There was no MTV yet, no internet or iThings. I watched Solid Gold and American Bandstand and Dance Fever and Soul Train, but most of the records I had were not featured on those shows. I played Elvis, Chuck Berry, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, the Everly Brothers. I was listening to the same music Queen loved.
Music in the late 70s and early 80s was different from the older stuff I listened to most, but looking back it seems almost as innocent and simple than what it was about to become thanks to MTV and the new recording technologies that were coming in the next few decades. MTV started when I was 7 years old, and I did get hooked pretty quickly. We all learned about new music from the radio, but now there was a new way to get your music heard. That was good and bad for artists and the music industry. Quality music was not as important as how you showcased whatever limited talents you might have. If you could make cool videos, you could make lots of money.
Elvis made a lot of mediocre films, but every single one of them made money. He always wanted to be taken seriously as an actor, but he was so famous that it was difficult for him to ever been seen as anyone but Elvis. One could argue that those movies, and the Monkees TV show, for another example, were early examples of style over substance when it came to promoting rock and roll personalities through venues other than audio recordings. Back then, though, most performers did not have much control over their careers. They had record companies and movie studios banking on them, so they pretty much had to do as they were told.
Still, the influence that Elvis had over his generation and future generations is unmatched. Nobody will ever again have that kind of impact on not only music, but on society as a whole. Nobody.
I’m not sure when I first heard “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” It was probably when Queen performed it at Live Aid in 1985. Everyone my age watched that concert. I knew Queen because of “We Will Rock You,” “Another One Bites the Dust,” and “Radio Ga Ga.” I’m not sure how much “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” affected me at the time, but when Dwight Yoakam recorded it in the late 90s it sounded oddly familiar. I thought it was an Elvis song—can’t you just hear him singing it?—but it’s not. Dwight’s version is flawless, and I almost never like covers. Only an authentic country singer could perform a rockabilly song like this with any bit of integrity and respect for both the original performers and the inspiration behind it.
There goes my baby
She knows how to rock n’ roll
She drives me crazy
She gives me hot and cold fever
Then she leaves me in a cool, cool sweat
Honest to God, I get goosebumps every time I hear Queen perform this song! Freddie’s voice is always impressive, but what affects me most about the way he sings this song is his obvious affection for Elvis. Anyone can do an exaggerated imitation of Elvis, but that’s not what Freddie does here. This really is an exceptional tribute to not just the man who died just a few years before, but to the music that was such a necessity, such a vehicle for so many young people who desperately needed something to call their own. And think about those kids in England in the 50s: Freddie, Brian May, Roger Taylor, and Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, Paul McCartney, John Lennon—think about what their lives were like when they were not even ten years old, their families still consumed with the horrors of WWII, and then this crazy music comes over, something so different, so real and fun and new, something that pisses off their parents, something that was made just for them. Imagine what that must have felt like for them. Elvis gave them all a way out of the dreariness, the depression, the blandness. With Elvis, all things were made possible.
I gotta be cool, relax, get hip
Get on my tracks
Take a back seat, hitch-hike
And take a long ride on my motor bike
Until I’m ready
Crazy little thing called love