The iconic rock band, Queen, had a reputation for making epic videos – but perhaps their most unusual idea was to hire 65 naked cyclists to stage a race around Wimbledon greyhound stadium!
The oddest cycle race in history took place in 1978 to promote Queen’s single, Bicycle Race – although clever editing and special effects spared the blushes of the models who portrayed cyclists in the video.
© Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
At the time, Queen had already established their reputation as one of the world’s greatest stadium bands. The group had formed in April 1970, when vocalist Freddie Mercury met drummer Roger Taylor and guitarist Brian May through their involvement in the music scene around London.
They formed a band called Smile – later to become Queen after Mercury wanted it to have a “regal and splendid” name. They were joined by John Deacon on bass.
The band shot to fame after supporting fellow rock band Mott the Hoople on their UK tour in 1974. It went so well that Mott the Hoople then asked Queen to support them on their tour of the United States too.
Queen soon became one of the most famous bands in history, releasing a string of platinum hit albums, such as Sheer Heart Attack in 1974 and A Night at the Opera in 1975. Singles included the iconic Bohemian Rhapsody in 1975, Somebody to Love in 1976 and We Are the Champions in 1977.
Tour de France
Bicycle Race, written by Mercury, was a hit for Queen in October 1978, reaching number 11 in the UK singles chart and also charting all over Europe and in the United States.
It was written when the band were in France, recording their seventh studio album, Jazz, at Mountain Studios. Mercury had seen riders cycle past their hotel on the 18th stage of the Tour de France race in Montreux and he was inspired to write a song about bicycles.
It was released as a double A-sided single with Fat Bottomed Girls on 13th October 1978. To promote the single, Queen staged a cycling race around Wimbledon stadium, when 65 professional models rode nude.
They were filmed for the video, but their nudity was disguised, or the video would have been banned. A photo from the race appeared on the cover of the single but it was used in a similarly tasteful way, with a bikini photo-shopped on to the model.
A poster was also produced to go inside the record sleeve, but some retailers refused to stock it, as they felt it was immoral. Fans who didn’t receive it could order it through the post.
Rumours that the song was autobiographical were soon dashed. Mercury sang, “I want to ride my bicycle. I want to ride it where I like.”
According to Brian May, Mercury wasn’t a fan of cycling at all and he didn’t even have a bicycle. May recalled, “He preferred a Rolls Royce!”
There was also a line where the narrator sang, “I don’t like Star Wars,” yet Mercury loved Star Wars – and sometimes even had a Darth Vader character on stage during shows!
In fact, the lyrics contained topical political, social and popular culture references, mentioning the Vietnam War, religion, the Watergate scandal, the films Star Wars and Jaws, actor John Wayne and fictional characters such as Superman, Frankenstein and Peter Pan.
Following its chart success, Bicycle Race became a cult song at live gigs. It was reported that wherever Queen played, local cycle shops sold out of bells, as fans bought them to ring during the song!
At their 1978 concert in Madison Square Garden, New York, the band had scantily clad women riding their bicycles across the stage to recreate the video. Wow!
Do you want to ride your bicycle?
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