Down to Earth
Song - Artist - Album
The Toonerville Trolley - The Electric Prunes - I Had Too Much to Dream Last Night
Skid Row Bassist—1986-present
Rachel Bolan remembers the exact moment when he first heard about Queen from his older brother, Richie. “We were driving in his Gran Torino, and he’s like, ‘You hear this new band Queen?’”
The love of Queen developed much later than his adulation of Kiss, and later the Ramones. “I was kind of a late bloomer,” he says about A Night At The Opera being his formal introduction to the band. The cut-rate Columbia House mail order club was the means to getting the older albums, although his Queen record was actually bought at a garage sale.
“There was no one at all like them,” he recalls. “It was so left of everything that was center at the time.” But the British allure appealed to Bolan and his friends, much like the Beatles, and later the Sex Pistols and Def Leppard. “But as young as I was, I knew great songs.”
Rachel formed Skid Row with Dave “Snake” Sabo in 1986, but their partnership started in a songwriting capacity. Although he isn’t sure that Queen is a conscious reference while composing songs, he can immediately recognized their influence when it happens.
“Radio Ga Ga” might be the best example of how they possibly have affected his approach to writing songs. He didn’t like the track, until he really started to understand it. “Roger Taylor wrote that song, and he was cynical and optimistic at the same time. If anything influenced me, it’s to be able to be cynical about something, but kind of see the positive in it.”
He does know that the full tilt version of “We Will Rock You” from Live Killers that absolutely floored him was a blueprint when Skid Row recorded a punk version of “I Remember You.” Their 1989 Top 10 hit was re-recorded for the ThickSkin CD in 2003, and throughout the process of reworking the arrangement, Queen gave license by example.
The sound of John Deacon’s bass is something Rachel readily admits he envied. “The tone was just incredible,” he recalls. “I believe he played a Jazz bass most of the time, and I play a Precision bass, but it’s still a Fender sound.”
“At times he could be a very violent player, and you could almost hear the strings buzzing against the neck.” A perfect example, he says, is “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” Rather than playing a standard walking bass line, John attacked the strings. “He kind of stabbed at the notes, and it was really incredible.”
Like Brian May, Rachel says Deacon had an instinct for playing to perfectly compliment a given track. “He’s one of the bass players from that era that always played the right thing. Sometimes the right thing would be nothing at all, and it would just make things breathe. Queen didn’t play stock parts, and that’s what made them so much different from everyone else.”
Pressed to pick a favorite Queen track, Rachel chose “I’m In Love With My Car,” laughing because Freddie didn’t even sing the studio version. “You’re My Best Friend” is his choice of songs featuring the frontman’s vocals. “That is one of the most beautiful songs ever written.”
To his disappointment, Rachel never got to see Queen live. He was in the eighth grade and short of money—and waiting instead to see Kiss soon after—when Queen played New York City on the Jazz tour. “The next day, everyone came back [to school] and was just like, oh my God!”
Skid Row were in Europe when CNN announced that Freddie Mercury had died. “We were like, wow, this big part of growing up is gone. Snake and I were getting ready to do an interview, and the journalist said, ‘Did you know Eric Carr died on the same day, too?’ We knew Eric, so it was a double-whammy.”
Admittedly like many US fans who disregarded Queen from Hot Space forward, Rachel now appreciates in hindsight that the band was still formidable through the ‘80s. “As I got older and wrote songs, then had a career writing songs, I understood a lot more. Who the hell was I to sit there and say that it sucked?”
Maintaining a career for ten years without change is impossible for a band, let alone twenty. Bolan alludes to his own band by saying that he knows all too well about audience expectations. Reforming Skid Row nine years ago without singer Sebastian Bach, he knows firsthand that “it’s up to the fans whether they want to make the changes with a band or not.”
That includes Roger Taylor and Brian May resurrecting the Queen name with Paul Rodgers. “Why not?” Rachel asks. “There are no rules. That’s the beauty of music. You don’t have to conform to anything, and you don’t have to play by any guidelines. It’s their legacy and their songs. They were a part of why that band was huge, and why that band influenced a lot of people.”