Back in the early noughties, when The Darkness hit big with their debut album Permission To Land, frontman Justin Hawkins had the perfect riposte to a critic who dubbed them “the gay AC/DC”. “I prefer to think of us as the straight Queen,” Hawkins said.
Two decades on, as Hawkins talks to CR about the music that has shaped his life, the name of Queen comes up time and again. Not because The Darkness’ drummer is Rufus Taylor, son of Roger Taylor, but because Queen are a profound influence on a man whose penchant for cat-suits was inspired by Freddie Mercury.
The first music I remember hearing
When I was a kid, my parents were running a pub in Colchester and they were still partying then. There was a lot of music around. My mum was into reggae and my dad was into dad rock like Dire Straits.
The first song I performed live
I have a vivid recollection of playing the intro from AC/DC’s Thunderstruck to my cousins and uncles when I was fifteen. And I remember my dad saying: “Look at him go!”
The guitar hero
Mark Knopfler. He’s such an expressive player. His skill is the way he tells a story with his fingers. You never get bored with a long Mark Knopfler solo because he does so many things that are melodic and moving. For that, he’s the best.
When you’re into Queen you never have a time in your life when you’re not aware that Freddie Mercury was the greatest of all time. I’ve been obsessed with Bon Scott and Steven Tyler, but all that was against a backdrop of an abiding love for Freddie.
All four members of Queen were great songwriters. And the Bee Gees, of course!
I like Ron Sexsmith’s songs too – he’s very underrated. But a friend of mine’s dad
says the only thing that Bryan Adams is better at than singing is songwriting. And I agree. If you want an anthemic mega-song, he’s your man.
The best band I’ve ever seen live
It has to be AC/DC. You see bands now and they’re using click tracks and there’s stuff on tape. But for me, rock’ n’ roll is about people with guitars in front of amplifiers. And that’s the struggle – man against something that’s difficult to tame. That’s where the excitement of a rock ’n’ roll show comes from, and that’s what makes AC/DC so great. It’s wild and sweaty and deafeningly loud.
The most underrated band of all time
I’m in it! But to be serious for a moment, I’d say it’s The Cult. There are three albums from the eighties that are up there with the all-time great albums: Love, Electric and Sonic Temple. I think people have overlooked just how powerful those albums are.
The greatest album of all time
I’m beginning to think it’s Exile On Main St. by the Rolling Stones, as obvious as that sounds. For years I was resistant to Exile, because people are always going on about it, and I’m quite contrary. But about ten years ago I started listening to it and I haven’t stopped.
The greatest cover version
I’m not a fan of the cover version, but I like what Aerosmith did with I’m Down on Permanent Vacation. You know it’s a Beatles song as soon as it starts, and it sounds fucking fantastic. That’s the key to a good cover song – making it sound ‘of the moment’.
Oh god, do I have to say We Will Rock You? I think so. It’s the ultimate anthem, because everybody in a stadium loves it as soon as they hear that drum beat. To have a really successful anthem, you’ve got to take away anything that could piss off a percentage of your audience – and there’s nothing else in We Will Rock You but a drum beat, a bit of guitar and a bloke singing ‘We will rock you!’ So that’s the perfect anthem.
The best record I’ve made
It’s obvious – Permission To Land. It’s the most successful one. I can hear character in the songs and the performances, and it’s mixed in a way that makes the guitars really in-your-face. We wanted to make a record that was powerful in the way that AC/DC’s Powerage is. And we did it in a time when nobody else was doing that.
The worst record I’ve made
Any of the others!
My guilty pleasure
I don’t have guilty pleasures. Somebody else is never going to tell me what I should listen to. Art has to be subjective. I like the big voices from the valleys: Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey. I like a lot of gay anthems.
My Saturday night party song
Blackout In The Red Room by Love/Hate. It’s great when they sing: ‘It’s party time!’ But our drummer Rufus has good taste in music, and he almost has a gag response to this song.
The song that makes me cry
You Take My Breath Away by Queen. It’s so beautiful. It moves me.
The song I want played at my funeral
The theme from Blazing Saddles by Frankie Laine. ‘He rode a blazing saddle, he wore a shining star…’ It would be a moving tribute to myself, and if I’m survived by my parents it will give my dad a laugh.