“I Want to Break Free” is a song by the British rock band Queen, from their eleventh album The Works (1984). It was written by bass guitarist John Deacon and was released in three versions: album, single and extended. It came to be included in most live concerts by the group, in several videos and in The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert where it was sung by Lisa Stansfield.
The song is largely known for its music video for which all the band members dressed in women’s clothes, a concept proposed by Roger Taylor, which parodied the long-running ITV soap opera Coronation Street. The second part of the video included a composition rehearsed and performed with the Royal Ballet and choreographed by Wayne Eagling. Whereas the parody was acclaimed in the United Kingdom, it was considered controversial in the United States and banned by MTV and other stations.
After its release in 1984, the song was well received in Europe and South America and is regarded as an anthem of the fight against oppression. The single reached only number 45 on the US Billboard Hot 100, but reached number three in the UK and was certified silver with over 200,000 copies sold. It also topped the charts of Austria, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
The song was written in 1983 by John Deacon and released at the beginning of April in 1984. The main idea of the song lies in its title, which is repeated through the text. A love theme is also present as the protagonist “has fallen in love”, “can’t get over the way you love me like you do” and “doesn’t want to live alone”. Most of the song follows the traditional 12 bar blues progression in E major. It has three verses with one bridge, no chorus and relatively little section repetition. There are three versions of the song: album, single and extended.
The album version is 3 minutes 20 seconds long. Its first 6 seconds repeat the basic rhythm played with the drums (Ludwig), an acoustic guitar (Gibson), a bass guitar (Fender) and an electric guitar (Fender Telecaster). This rhythm continues through most of the song, stopping only for its first line. The first verse ends at 0:37 and is followed by a very similar second verse, which is however shorter by one line. A stacked guitar accompaniment (Red Special) appears at the end of the second verse (1:03), and between 1:15 and 1:17 it is replaced by a synthesizer. A synthesizer solo starts at 1:33 and is assisted by a guitar. The last verse starts in the second minute, it additionally features a synthesizer and a Fender Stratocaster guitar. The song pauses at the final line “I’ve got to break free”, followed by the fade out. This version was released on the album The Works and on some singles.
The regular single version lasts 4 minutes 21 seconds and differs from the album version by the 40-second introduction and a longer synthesizer solo which starts at 2:33. The introduction is played on an electronic keyboard and is assisted by cymbals, drums and a guitar (Red Special).
The extended version lasts 7 minutes 16 seconds and features longer introduction and ending. It lasts until 6:04, and the remaining minute contains fragments of other songs from The Works. The extended version was mostly distributed as 12-inch vinyl records and then reissued on the CD of The Works in 1991.
Besides The Works, the song was featured in the albums Greatest Hits II, Box of Tricks, Greatest Hits (1992 US ‘Red’ edition) and Absolute Greatest and in the box-sets The Complete Works and The Platinum Collection.
The song was made available to download on 7 December 2010 for use in the Rock Band 3 music gaming platform in both Basic rhythm, and PRO mode which allows use of a real guitar / bass guitar, and MIDI compatible electronic drum kits / keyboards in addition to up to three-part harmony or backup vocals.
The song became the second single from the album The Works, after the song “Radio Ga Ga”. The single was released on 2 April 1984 on 7-inch and 12-inch records and later as 3-inch and 5-inch CDs.
The 7-inch records were distributed in 16 countries. In most countries the other side of the disk contained the album version of the song “Machines (or ‘Back to Humans’)”, in the US and Canada there was an instrumental version of this song, and in Brazil the other side featured the song “It’s a Hard Life”. The label also depended on the country: Capitol Records in the US and Canada, Toshiba EMI in Japan, and EMI in other countries. In UK, US, Portugal and South Africa several records of the song were sold at the same time, differing only by covers. There were special editions, such as a record with empty side B in UK. The song title Argentina song on was “Quiero Ser Libre”.
In all countries except for US the A side contained the extended version of the song, side B featured “Machines” and the disk had EMI label. In the US, side B had either an instrumental version of “Machines” or the album version of “I Want to Break Free” and the label was from Capitol Records.
The single was also distributed on the 3-inch and 5-inch CDs. In the UK the 3-inch CD featured “I Want to Break Free” (album version), “Machines” and “It’s a Hard Life” and had a Parlophone Records label. In Germany, the 5-inch CD had an EMI label and contained “I Want to Break Free” and “It’s a Hard Life”, as well as the video of “I Want to Break Free”.
Single covers contained pictures of the group from the cover of the album The Works. In countries where the single went in four different versions, each version had a picture of one Queen member, otherwise four images were placed together. The inscription “Queen. I Want to Break Free” was red, white, gold or black and the frame was red or white. The German 5-inch CD had the cover for the single of “Radio Ga Ga”. The reverse side was the same – a photo of the group on a red background, except for CDs which had a white background and no pictures.
The single was received very positively over most of the world except for North America. In April 1984, it became number three in the United Kingdom, and was within the top 10 in many European and Latin American countries, but only peaked at number 45 on the US charts. The single was certified gold in the UK. MTV and some other US stations refusing to air the video played a role in the low US ranking. The video was finally aired in 1991 on VH1’s My Generation two-part episode devoted to Queen hosted by guitarist Brian May. According to May in an interview about Queen’s Greatest Hits, whereas the video was understood and taken as a joke in UK, the US audience failed to see the soap-opera connection and might have interpreted the video as an open declaration of transvestism and Mercury’s bisexuality, which could explain why the video wasn’t aired in that country.
In some other countries, such as South Africa and in South America, the song was highly praised because it was seen as an anthem of the fight against oppression, whereas the reaction to the video was mixed. Illustrative in this regard was the live performance of the song in Rio de Janeiro in 1985. When Mercury appeared in front of an audience of 325,000 and started singing “I Want to Break Free”, stones were thrown at him. He quickly realized that his female outfit was the reason and removed his wig and false breasts, which calmed down the audience – they did not wish to see the song about freedom mocked. This incident however puzzled and disappointed the singer.
After the release of The Works, the song was performed at almost all of Queen’s live concerts. Spike Edney usually played the synthesizer introduction, after which Mercury appeared on stage, often in the outfit worn in the video – dark bobbed wig, pink blouse and false breasts – which he would remove later during the song. Brian May played the guitar solo on his Red Special. Some lines were sung by the audience, and “God knows” was chanted by the whole group. Live recordings of the song appeared on the concert albums Live Magic, Live at Wembley ’86 and Return of the Champions. In addition, the song was performed at several concerts which were then included in Queen’s videos such as Queen at Wembley, We Are the Champions: Final Live in Japan, The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert and Return of the Champions.
Lisa Stansfield led the song in The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. She appeared on stage dressed as a housewife with a vacuum cleaner, as in the original video. The song was also performed in many concerts of the project Queen + Paul Rodgers, where Paul Rodgers took vocals, Danny Miranda played the bass guitar and Spike Edney was at the keyboard.
Starting in July 2004, a remixed one-minute version of the song was featured in a Coca-Cola C2 video advertisement.