“Killer Queen” is a song by the British rock band Queen. It was their first international hit, reaching number two in the UK and becoming their first US hit. The song was written by lead singer Freddie Mercury, recorded for their third album Sheer Heart Attack.
The song is about a high-class call girl. It has been characterized as “Mercury’s piano-led paean to a Moët-quaffing courtesan”.
When released as a single, “Killer Queen” was Queen’s breakthrough hit, reaching number two in the United Kingdom and number twelve in the United States. It released as a double A-side in the UK, the US and Canada (where it reached number 15 in the RPM 100 national singles chart), with the song “Flick of the Wrist”. In 1986, it featured as the B-side to “Who Wants to Live Forever”. The song marked a departure from the heavier material of the band’s first two albums, as well as the beginning of a more stylistically diverse approach in songwriting. At the same time, “Killer Queen” retained the essence of Queen’s trademark sound, particularly in its meticulous vocal harmonies.
Mercury commented he wrote the lyrics before the melody and music, whereas normally he would do the opposite. The recording features elaborate four-part harmonies(particularly in the choruses, and also providing backing parts in the verses), and also a multitracked guitar solo by Brian May which makes use of the bell effect. The song’s first verse quotes a phrase falsely attributed to Marie Antoinette: “Let them eat cake,” she says, Just like Marie Antoinette.
Besides using his grand piano as usual, Mercury overdubbed the song with an upright piano to give the track a vaudeville sound. At one point there are two distinct bass guitar lines, one of which diverges into a descending run. Unlike the first two Queen albums, this song was partly recorded at Rockfield Studios in Wales.
The song was regularly performed between 1974 and 1981 as part of a medley. In 1974–75, the song was played following “In the Lap of the Gods”, and in 1975–76, the song followed “Bohemian Rhapsody”. In 1984 and 1985, during The Works Tour, it was reintroduced in a medley following a truncated version of “Somebody to Love”.
The third verse and chorus of the song were never performed live.
The song won Mercury his first Ivor Novello Award.
“Killer Queen” has been described by AllMusic as the true beginning of Queen’s “radio sound” and “recalls the cabaret songs of yesteryear, but also shows how Queen was fast becoming a master of power pop”. Rock historian Paul Fowles wrote “Killer Queen”, with its “sleazy Parisian imagery”, allowed “free rein” to Mercury’s “unique brand of rock theater”.
American pop singer Katy Perry cites “Killer Queen” as an important influence on her. She said: “Queen’s track ‘Killer Queen’ made me discover music and helped me come into my own at the age of 15. The way Freddie Mercury delivered his lyrics just made me feel like a confident woman.”
Killer Queen is also referenced in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 4: Diamond is Unbreakable. As the Stand (a phantasm-like projection of the user’s fighting spirit) of the part’s main antagonist, Killer Queen has cat-like features and can turn anything it touches into a bomb (both are references to the song’s lyrics).