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In 1983, Michael Jackson had cemented his reputation as a bona fide pop star with his multi-Platinum selling classic Thriller, landing number one hits with Billie Jean, Beat It and his Paul McCartney duet Say Say Say. Queen, meanwhile, had only sold enough copies of their latest release, Hot Space, to be certified Gold, although the album would produce the classic track Under Pressure.
Before moving onto their subsequent projects, Jackson and Queen frontman Freddie Mercury collaborated together on three tracks in Encino, California, where twenty-four-year-old Jackson’s studio was based. One of the tracks recorded during the six-hour session, State of Shock, surfaced the following year on the Jacksons’ album Victory, with Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger replacing Mercury on vocals.
According to author Laura Jackson in her biography, Mercury’s drug use caused tension between the two singers, ‘Mercury was still using cocaine, and initially, while recording with Jackson, aware of his views on the matter, he would discreetly vanish to the toilet. But the necessity to disappear so often irritated Mercury. Although he was not in the habit of wilfully upsetting outsiders with his behaviour – be it drug-taking or homosexuality – this time he grew sloppy. Seemingly Jackson witnessed Mercury snorting cocaine, and this was enough to freeze their friendship.’
Thirty years on from their session, which also produced the tracks Victory and There Must Be More to Life Than This, and Queen‘s guitarist Brian May has revealed that the demos will be released later this year, now that Jackson’s estate have given permission for their use. Unable to organise a second session, the tapes remained unused, while Mercury returned to Queen to work on their next studio album, The Works (which produced the hits Radio Ga Ga and I Want to Break Free), and Jackson collaborated with his siblings on the Jacksons album Victory. The Times report that the three tracks will surface later this year, although no official date has been given as yet.
Earlier this week, Borat actor Sacha Baron Cohen reportedly backed out of the role of Mercury in a biopic of the legendary Queen singer. In September 2010 it was announced that Baron Cohen had been cast in the role of Mercury in a proposed biopic, based on a screenplay by Peter Morgan who, ironically, had also scripted the 2006 drama The Queen. While the project has remained in the early stages of development, Baron Cohen appeared in Martin Scorsese’s fantasy Hugo, the satire The Dictator and the the Academy Award-nominee Les Misérables, leaving the Queen biopic on the back burner.
In an interview last year with Collider, producer Graham King said, ‘You know, Freddie’s got such a distinctive voice. Sacha sang Sweeney Todd. That was his voice. And he’s got a fantastic voice as well. We haven’t quite put them together yet to see the match.’ Deadline, who first announced the project in 2010, have revealed that Baron Cohen has now backed out of the role due to creative differences with members of Queen.The site reports that, while Baron Cohen hoped for a ‘gritty, R-rated tell-all centred around the gifted gay singer,’ the surviving members of the group intend on producing a PG movie.
Talking last December with Access Hollywood, Baron Cohen discussed how he had prepared for taking on the iconic role; ‘I’ve become a homosexual, and I am living with a man at the moment. And it’s a challenge at the beginning, it made my eyes water, but now it’s fine, I’m getting used to it. And I’m also trying to lose six inches for the role.’
Mercury, born Farrokh Bulsara in Zanzibar, passed away on 24 November 1991 at the age of forty-five, less than a year after his final album with the band, Innuendo.