For those of us who came of age in the 60s and 70s, the word “Queen” evokes memories of the rock & roll band led by singer/songwriter Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara in the Sultanate of Zanzibar in 1946). From the early 1970s until his death from AIDS in 1991, Mercury captivated audiences around the world with his four-octave vocal range, over-the-top performances and unique song-writing style. Perhaps best known for the masterful (and somewhat mysterious) “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Mercury wrote many of Queen’s biggest hits, including “Somebody to Love,” “Don’t Stop Me Now” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” But the song that resonated most strongly with millions of his fans was “We Are the Champions” from Queen’s 1977 album “News of the World.”
Now a popular anthem played at sporting events worldwide (it was the official theme song of the 1994 FIFA World Cup), “We Are the Champions” is a song about a person who has faced adversity and unfairness, but has never let either one beat him down. Although it certainly isn’t your traditional memorial or funeral song, it would be a perfect tribute for a loved one who lived a singular, perhaps even somewhat rebellious life. It could also be part of a unique send-off for a person who fought a long, difficult battle with a terminal disease.
The song begins:
I’ve paid my dues
Time after time.
I’ve done my sentence,
But committed no crime.
And bad mistakes
I’ve made a few
I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face
But I’ve come through.
This is followed by the iconic chorus, which ends with the song’s most famous line,
“We are the champions of the world!”
A bit reminiscent of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” “We Are the Champions” seems almost autobiographical for the openly bisexual Mercury. Growing up in a home where homosexuality was unacceptable (his parents practiced the Zoroastrian faith, which historically condemns homosexual behavior) and a society that was barely tolerant of it, Mercury most likely felt he was fighting an uphill battle for acceptance much of his life. Even after achieving a level of success most people only dream of, he seems to be telling us with this song that he still felt the need to fight for the right to live life on his own terms.
I’ve taken my bows
And my curtain calls
You gave me fame and fortune and everything that goes with it,
And I thank you all.
But it’s been no bed of roses,
No pleasure cruise.
I consider it a challenge before the whole human race
And I ain’t gonna lose.
Freddie Mercury’s “We Are the Champions” reminds us that life is challenging and unfair. Pain, loss, grief and sadness come to each of us. No one escapes, not even rock stars. And while some of us face these challenges with grace and equanimity, others have more difficulty coping. Some even succumb to hopelessness and despair. And then there are the “warriors” among us, the folks who always seem to come out swinging, ready to take on any challenge and determined to beat any odds.
“We Are the Champions” is a memorial song for that person in your life.
Watch Queen perform the song in the video below. You can also read the full lyrics here.