Few can muster the vocal power of Freddie Mercury—as any Queen fan can attest. Without its rough-hewn ferocity, “We Are the Champions” would be significantly less triumphant. The epic “Bohemian Rhapsody” is so affecting because of his tenor’s pure tones. Mercury’s voice is as malleable and as dynamic as any, and now we know it scientifically as well as rhythmically.
According to lore, Mercury was blessed with a four-octave range. To span four octaves is the equivalent of singing in both bass and soprano ranges—think Nick Cave plus Whitney Houston (for what it’s worth, Houston could allegedly span four octaves as well). In any case, Mercury’s vocal prowess exists in rarefied air.
The researchers writing in the journal Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology weren’t able to actually confirm that theory, but by using both archival performances and interview data, they found that he did some unconventional things that account for his fabled voice.
First, they discovered that his unusual finesse might be attributed to a high vibrato frequency—a couple notches higher than your standard, classically trained singer. The researchers also discovered evidence of subharmonics in Mercury’s voice, apparently due to vibrating ventricular folds, a technique that makes Tuvan throat singers sound so otherworldly.
In their report, the researchers explain that the use of subharmonics “aids in creating the impression of a sound production system driven to its limits, even while used with great finesse. These traits, in combination with the fast and irregular vibrato, might have helped create Freddie Mercury’s eccentric and flamboyant stage persona.” Certainly it was a combination of the tangible and intangible that made Mercury as great as he was, but it is cool to hear the specific acoustic explanation for his talent.
And this isn’t even the only time that science has demonstrated Freddie Mercury’s superhuman abilities. During Queen’s Live Aid show in 1985, you could actually see the speed of sound ripple through fans packing Wembley Stadium. That is how much passion and fervor the legendary musician stirred in people. He was one of a kind.
Now enjoy this unadulterated, stripped down recording of Mercury’s (and Bowie’s) vocal in “Under Pressure.”