The Great Pretender

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‘The Great Pretender’/‘Exercises In Free Love (Freddie’s Vocal)’ (1987)

With new creative impetus following his involvement with the Time stage show, Freddie put his all into a recording (and accompanying video) that took him to No.4 in the UK charts. With the benefit of hindsight, ‘The Great Pretender’ can be seen as Freddie confessing the double life of the tortured artist – part confident, powerful frontman for one of the biggest bands of all time; part loner, destined to never find that one, true love with whom to share his triumphs and trials. As ever, Freddie’s motto was: the show must go on.

Freddie’s version of this R&B classic perhaps owes more to Gene Pitney’s 1969 rendition than The Platters’ 1955 original – though he very definitely claims it as his own. The arrangement is divine, with lush synth strings underpinning angelic doo-wop backing vocals. Freddie nails the delivery, giving it his all and embodying the song’s message; yet behind the glory is an undeniable sense of sadness. If ever a song was made for Freddie, surely it was this one.

The accompanying £100,000 video is itself a masterpiece, following the singer as he walks back through his career, with nods to the videos he made for ‘I Want To Break Free’, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and other classics.

Perhaps the most poignant moment comes with footage of Freddie’s triumph at Wembley, saying his farewells to the crowd while draped in a regal crown and gown, as he sings, “Oh yes, I’m the great pretender, just laughing and gay like a clown/I seem to be what I’m not, you see, I’m wearing my heart like a crown.”

Paul McGuinness