Cover Story – Queen – “Queen II”, art direction and photography by Mick Rock

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Subject – Queen II – a 1974 release by Queen on EMI/Elektra Records, with Art Direction, Cover Design and Photography by Mick Rock.

Mick Rock’s cover photo for Queen’s 1974 recording has the distinction of being an image that both served to establish the band’s unique “class act” image and, later on, provided the setting and inspiration for the video production that convinced record labels and music fans that “the music video” could be much more than simply “promotional”.

Queen II was the second album by the band and featured two different themes – their “white”/emotional side (side A) and their “black”/fantasy side (side B) – as well as their individual and collaborative songwriting and performing abilities. And while not a commercial success when compared to later releases (while it was their first Top 5 album in the U.K., it only reached #49 on the U.S. album charts and did not “go gold” until many years later), it showed the band maturing and a new confidence in their abilities to produce over-the-top glam/prog songs and still rock with the best of them. They certainly were not trying to be a “pop” band – only one song (“Seven Seas of Rhye”) even attempted to serve as a “pop single” – but it set the basic formula and dramatic tone for the next records, starting with Sheer Heart Attack later in 1974 and then A Night At The Opera (which featured the aforementioned music video – for the epic “Bohemian Rhapsody”).

q2brin1.jpgImage Copyright 1974, 2007 Mick Rock www.mickrock.com

Photographer Mick Rock had a feeling about this young band and their approach towards their music, their image, and how the two could be artfully combined to show just how special they were. They knew that, based on Rock’s success with Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and others, they’d found someone with the creative chops to establish their “look” from that point forward. How did he do it? Let’s let him tell you in this edition of Cover Stories…

In the words of the photographer, Mick Rock (interviewed August 2007) –

“One day in the late summer of 1973, while recording ‘Pinups’ with Bowie, David’s co-producer/engineer, Ken Scott, told me that there was a new band who was very interested in working with me. They were signed to a production company, Trident Audio Productions, who also owned Trident Studios in London where Ziggy Stardust and Transformer, among many other classic albums, were recorded. Ken Scott, was also managed by Trident. They were virtually unknown at the time (I didn’t know anyone who’d heard of them). They told me that they were especially impressed with the work I had done with Bowie, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, and so I agreed to meet with them.

Later that year (in October 1973), we met in the board room at Trident Studios. Their first album Queen had been released and had garnered little interest. They wanted to grab some of the ‘glam’ allure that was the hot image at the time. It was almost certainly Freddie’s idea. And of course I had all the right credentials!! They were very articulate and confident and when they played me the Queen II acetate I understood why – it was a unique and powerful sound. ‘Like Ziggy Stardust meets Led Zeppelin,’ was my immediate response. And that was what they wanted to hear from my mouth – I’d ‘gotten it’ immediately – it was ‘the sound of success’! So the game was afoot. They needed two things from me – a publicity session to try to help their first album get some attention, and then a package for their new album. The publicity photo session took place in December of ’73, and then it was on to the cover for Queen II. As was often the case in those days, I served as both the art director and the photographer for the Queen II cover (no one got paid very muck for either job back then, so it made sense to do both if I could!). The band’s brief to me was: it had to be a gatefold cover (those were the days!!), it had to have a black and white theme and it had to feature the band. After that I was on my own.

From the power of the music and the palpable ambition of the band I knew that the image had to have a ‘grand’ quality. I really only came up with one basic idea. I had recently come across a photo of Marlene Dietrich on the set of Shanghai Express with her arms crossed, fingers spread. I showed it to Freddie and he got it immediately and corralled the rest of the band. This would be the ‘black’ image. Of course there was also the ‘white’ image, and we shot both on the same day (there was no budget to shoot a second day!).

It was just the band and me. No one else was needed. They were very strong-minded, and even though they hadn’t sold many records, they were masters of their own destiny and insisted on doing it their way from the start. I had to make sure I had clean black and white seamless paper. I had an assistant and a makeup artist and the band bought or brought their own black and white clothes. Everything else was about lighting and composition.

It did take a few Polaroids and a lot of adjusting to get the angle and the band’s heads lined up in the right way to achieve the required effect and Queen were a very lively (if inexperienced) band. This was only their second ever studio session (after the publicity shoot I had done in December so they did have some experience of working with me ); they already knew that I was a fan of their music. I took a lot of frames in both black and white and color film, though of course it was the color ones that ended up on the cover.

q2br2.jpgImage Copyright 1974, 2007 Mick Rock www.mickrock.com

The tricky part was the politics of deciding which image would go on the outside of the cover and which would go on the inside. This was left open when we actually did the session. For a while afterwards Brian, John and Roger were leaning towards the ‘white’ one. They were somewhat concerned that the obvious power of the ‘black’ one would leave them open to criticism that it was ‘pretentious’ since they were a virtually untested band. As I recall this was a word that one of the few critics who had bothered to review their first album had applied to their music and it bothered the three of them somewhat. But not Freddie. He and I were firmly and unshakably in the ‘black’ camp from the start! And as seemed to be the case for most things visual about the band in those early days, Freddie could always armtwist the others in the final analysis. ‘Pretentious’ was not a word that could scare Freddie!

The management and record company had no involvement at all in the process, and we didn’t show them anything or even describe it to anyone. There were no comps or sketches. They were going to have to use what we came up with. The band was not at all interested in their comments. They trusted me and their own instincts. It was entirely their decision to work with me. Because of my own rising star at the time I don’t think anyone had any objection, but the band wouldn’t have cared if they did!!

As Brian May says in the introduction to our beautiful photobook Killer Queen, ‘We were full of ideas and precocious enough to want to control everything. But in Mick Rock we had found our match, our foil, stocked with his own ideas and his own matching stubbornness.'”

About the photographer, Mick Rock –

Often referred to as “The Man Who Shot the Seventies”, legendary rock and roll photographer Mick Rock first met David Bowie in early 1972. Most of the memorable images of David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust were shot by Mick Rock in his capacity as Bowie’s official photographer.

Rock was instrumental in creating many other key rock ‘n roll images such as album covers for Syd Barrett’s The Madcap Laughs, Lou Reed’s Transformer and Coney Island Baby, Iggy and the Stooges’ Raw Power, Queen’s Queen II (recreated for their classic music video ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’) and Sheer Heart Attack, the Ramones’ End of the Century and Joan Jett’s I Love Rock ‘N Roll. He was the chief photographer on the films The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus. He also produced and directed the seminal music videos for Bowie to be found on Bowie’s Sound and Vision DVD collection: ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’, ‘Jean Genie’, ‘Space Oddity’, and ‘Life On Mars’.

Mick’s massive (186 prints) 2003 retrospective exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography was dubbed ‘one of the finest collections of pop art to ever reach these shores’ in the local press. Mick Rock’s enthusiasm for his art has remained undimmed and he has continues to capture the musical spirit of succeeding eras through his work with musicians of the 1980’s and 1990’s and the new millennium.

His 150 print exhibition at Manchester, England’s Urbis Cultural Centre (which ran from Sept 2005 to Jan 2006) was voted Manchester’s # 1 exhibition for 2005, and after reviewing it the London Times dubbed him ‘ the music world’s top snapper’. In the feature Mick, talking about how he shoots, is quoted – “I’ve never felt like a voyeur, although I’ve certainly done plenty of looking! I work from the inside out. Like a cook, I gather all the ingredients and keep mixing and stirring and tasting until this kind of effluvia starts to rise, then I’m off to the races. It’s an addictive kind of a feeling that I need a regular shot of otherwise I don’t feel right…”

He has had major exhibitions in London, Liverpool, Berlin, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oslo, Stockholm and Rotterdam, with upcoming ones for 2008 in Milan, Paris, Adelaide and Helsinki.

His recent subjects include Michael Stipe of REM, Kate Moss, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Chemical Brothers, The Rapture, The Killers, Razorlight, The Libertines, Queens of the Stone Age, New Order, The Editors, the Magic Numbers, The Flaming Lips, Kasabian, The Scissor Sisters, Snow Patrol, The Fratellis, The Horrors, Mika, The Klaxons, Peaches, Franz Ferdinand, Fat Joe and old friends Bowie, Lou Reed and Debbie Harry.

In recent years, he has published a series of books, many based on his classic images, including: A Photographic Record 1969-1980 (Century 22 Books 1995), Glam: An Eyewitness Account with foreword by David Bowie (Omnibus Books, Spring 2006)), Psychedelic Renegades / Syd Barrett (Genesis Publications 2002), Moonage Daydream / Ziggy Stardust (with David Bowie)(Genesis Publications), Rock ‘n Roll Eye (Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography 2003), Killer Queen (with Brian May and Roger Taylor) (Genesis Publications 2003), Picture This – Debbie Harry & Blondie with foreword by Debbie Harry (Omnibus Books 2004), Raw Power – Iggy & The Stooges with foreword by Iggy Pop (Omnibus Books 2005), Rocky Horror with foreword by Richard O’Brien (Schwarzkopf & Schwarzkopf, Autumn 2006) and Classic Queen (Palazzo Editions 2007)

Upcoming publication: Exposures – a 35 year retrospective (Palazzo Editions, Autumn 2008)

To see and buy the beautiful co-signed and slipcased limited-edition Killer Queen photobook featuring the photos of Mick Rock , please visit the Genesis Publications web site at www.genesis-publications.com

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As mentioned above, Mick has a new book coming out in the U.S. at the end of September called Classic Queen. For more information on this item, please visit the Sterling Publications web site at www.sterlingpublishing.com

To see more Queen-related items in the RockPoP Gallery collection, please follow this link – http://rockpopgallery.easystorecreator.com/items/queen/list.htm?1=1

About “Cover Stories” – Our weekly series will give you, the music and art fan, a look at “the making of” the illustrations, photographs and designs of many of the most-recognized and influential images that have served to package and promote your all-time-favorite recordings.

Every Friday and syndicated on The Rock and Roll Report the following week, we’ll meet the artists, designers and photographers who produced these works of art and learn what motivated them, what processes they used, how they collaborated (or fought) with the musical acts, their management, their labels, etc. – all of the things that influenced the final product you saw then and still see today.

We hope that you enjoy these looks behind the scenes of the music-related art business and that you’ll share your stories with us and fellow fans about what role these works of art – and the music they covered – played in your lives.

All images Copyright Mick Rock 1974, 2007 www.mickrock.com

All text Copyright 2007 – Mike Goldstein & RockPoP Gallery – All rights reserved.