Queen was a musically eclectic group. Freddie Mercury and his bandmates wrote songs of many different genres. Listen to their catalogue, and you’ ll hear heavy metal songs, synthpop songs, and even 1950s-style rock ‘n’ roll songs.
In addition, they also drew lyrical inspiration from a variety of sources. Their songs were inspired by everything from Mercury’s personal life to the lives of biblical figures like Noah and Jesus Christ. They even once wrote a song inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King.
When Freddie Mercury wrote a song inspired Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is undoubtedly the most famous American speech of the 20th century. Millions of American children learn about it in school and some even memorize it. It’s been alluded to countless times in popular culture. For example, it inspired one of the lesser-known songs in the Queen canon.
According to Bohemian Rhapsody: The Definitive Biography of Freddie Mercury, the speech is so famous it inspired a song by a a non-American band. The BBC reports the song in question — “One Vision” — was a collaboration between all members of the band. Firstly, Brian May devised the song’s guitar riff. Secondly, Mercury crafted the song’s vocal melody. The other members of the band contributed as well.
When Queen released “One Vision,” the press interpreted the track’s lyrics as being about the band’s legendary performance at Live Aid. The members of Queen were upset by this interpretation.
After that, Roger Taylor, one of the members of the band, was quick to point out the track was actually inspired by the “I Have a Dream” speech. Interestingly, the track opens with backwards vocals. Played forwards, the lyrics are “God works in mysterious ways…mysterious ways.” King, the most famous Christian minister of the past century or so, might have been pleased by Queen’s choice of lyrics.
The song’s place in the cultural landscape
“One Vision” wasn’t a big hit in America. Billboard reports the track only hit No. 61 on the Billboard Hot 100. For a less commercial band, reaching No. 61 in America would be a triumph. However, Queen had multiple big hits in America before that, so the track’s performance there was underwhelming. In contrast, the Official Charts Company says the track reached No. 7 on the British charts.
However, the book Queen: Album by Album says it later got featured in the American movie Iron Eagle. Iron Eagle, an American war movie, has very little to do with the themes of the song or the inspiration behind it. The fact that “One Vision” was used in the film just goes to show the song was strong enough to be used in different contexts.
“One Vision” is far from the only song inspired by King’s life and legacy. Stevie Wonder, U2, Kris Kritofferson, Dion and many others paid tribute to the civil rights icon through music. King will remain an inspirational figure for artists and activists for years to come.