The Queen song Freddie Mercury wrote in tribute to John Lennon after his shocking death
15 May 2023, 14:36 | Updated: 15 January 2024, 12:04
The day John Lennon was murdered sends shockwaves through the music world even still.
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On 8th December 1980, most people were gearing up for the first Christmas of the new decade, whilst Mark Chapman was readying himself to assassinate the beloved Beatle.
After signing an autograph for Chapman, the killer shot John Lennon later that night as he returned to his New York home at The Dakota apartments having finished a recording session.
The tragic incident changed the world and how the public viewed celebrity, as they were no longer untouchable stars.
Of course, it sparked global outrage, that someone who has altered popular music indefinitely was mindlessly murdered at the age of just 40.
- Remembering when Yoko Ono's screaming shocked Chuck Berry during John Lennon live TV duet
- John Lennon claimed Cliff Richard was the best thing to happen to British music
- Freddie Mercury’s isolated vocals for Queen’s first hit ‘Killer Queen’ proved he was one of a kind
- Brian May says he "overreacted" to Freddie Mercury's death and "denied the existence of Queen"
Whilst most people were in sheer disbelief about Lennon's assassination, musicians themselves were shook to the core when news of his death reached them.
Now, at any point, a mad man with a firearm could come into contact with them, given how Chapman tracked down where John Lennon lived and hung around by his house - chillingly, he even hung around the scene after he'd shot John.
Freddie Mercury's response was similar, feeling the fear that he was no longer invincible. And understandably, it frightened him.
So he channelled what he felt into the lyrics of a Queen song which became a heartfelt tribute to John Lennon in the wake of his murder.
'Life Is Real (Song For Lennon)' was released in 1982 on Queen's tenth studio album Hot Space.
Despite the overall negative response to their R&B, synth-driven funk direction, 'Life Is Real (Song For Lennon)' was singled out for praise.
The pensive ballad sees Freddie mirror the style of John's songwriting, which could even sound like one of the 'Imagine' singer's own songs if Freddie's voice wasn't so distinctive.
Though Freddie was fearful over the tragic murder of one of the world's greatest ever musicians, the lyrics don't focus on his own fears.
Instead, they describe how Freddie came to his own realisation that John Lennon would never be coming back, and that he was gone forever.
Queen - Life Is Real (Song For Lennon) (Official Lyric Video)
It indicated the impact that John Lennon and his music had on people, even though Freddie had never met John in person.
Mercury even wrote the lyrics to the song before his fellow Queen bandmates Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon wrote the music together, which was a uniquely unusual way of working for the legendary rock group.
The chorus "life is real" was supposed to emulate Lennon's lyric "love is real" from the song of the same name that he wrote whilst in The Beatles.
The ultimate tribute to a legend lost too soon, Freddie later stated in an interview that "I just feel that I’m not equipped enough to do certain things that John Lennon did, and I don’t think anybody should."
It wasn't known whether or not the song was too painful to perform live, as 'Life Is Real (Song For Lennon)' was only played a couple of times on the North American leg of their tour for Hot Space.
John Lennon's tragic murder did inspire Queen to start performing his iconic peace anthem 'Imagine' on tour, however, which they continued to do even when Paul Rodgers joined the band many years later.
Freddie's touching tribute to Lennon took on an entirely new life and new meaning after his death in 1991, because of the lyrical themes of coming to terms with death and its finality.
Brian May would regularly perform 'Life Is Real (Song For Lennon)' when toured with Kerry Ellis on their Born Free tour.
During the performance, a montage of Freddie Mercury images would play on the screens behind them, as the song could now be seen as a tribute to both legendary icons of popular music that were taken from us too soon.