"The Show Must Go On" is a song by the English rock band Queen, featured as the twelfth and final track on their 1991 album Innuendo. It is credited to Queen, but written primarily by Brian May. The song chronicles the effort of Freddie Mercury continuing to perform despite approaching the end of his life; he was dying from complications due to AIDS, although his illness had not yet been made public in spite of ongoing media speculation claiming that he was seriously ill.[1] Mercury was so ill, and could barely walk, when the band recorded the song in 1990, that May had concerns as to whether he was physically capable of singing it.[2] Recalling Mercury's performance, May states; "he went in and killed it, completely lacerated that vocal".[2]

It was released as a single in the United Kingdom on 14 October 1991 in promotion for the Greatest Hits II album, just six weeks before Mercury died. Following Mercury's death on 24 November 1991, the song re-entered the British charts and spent as many weeks in the top 75 (five) as it did upon its original release, initially reaching a peak of 16. A live version with Elton John on vocals appeared on Queen's Greatest Hits III album.

The song was first played live on April 20, 1992, during The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, performed by the three remaining members of Queen, with Elton Johnsinging lead vocals and Tony Iommi playing rhythm guitar.[3] It has since been played live by Queen + Paul Rodgers with Rodgers citing one of the performances as the best of his career. Since its release, the song has appeared on television, film, and has been covered by a number of artists.


 [hide*1 Songwriting and recording process

Songwriting and recording process[edit]Edit

After listening to John Deacon and Roger Taylor playing the chord sequence that later on would be the basis for almost the entire song, Brian May sat down with Freddie Mercury and the two of them decided the theme of the song and wrote some lyrics. May wrote down the rest of the words as well as the melody, and added a bridge with a chord sequence inspired by Pachelbel's Canon.

Demo versions featured May singing, having to sing some parts in falsetto because they were too high. When Brian May presented the final demo to Mercury, he had doubts that Mercury would be physically capable of singing the song's highly demanding vocal line, due to the extent of his illness at the time. To May's surprise, when the time came to record the vocals, Mercury consumed a measure of vodka and said "I'll fucking do it, darling!" then proceeded to perform the vocal line in one take without problems.[2]

For the record, May sang most of the backing vocals (including the very last line) and played Korg M1 synthesiser as well as guitar. Producer David Richards suggested the key-shift in the third verse.

"'The Show Must Go On' came from Roger and John playing the sequence, and I started to put things down. At the beginning, it was just this chord sequence, but I had this strange feeling that it could be somehow important, and I got very impassioned and went and beavered away at it. I sat down with Freddie, and we decided what the theme should be and wrote the first verse. It's a long story, that song, but I always felt it would be important because we were dealing with things that were hard to talk about at the time, but in the world of music, you could do it."[4]

—Brian May – 1994

The lyrics are full of allusions, metaphors and other figures of speech, making it somewhat difficult to understand. Thinly disguised tragedy ahead is announced. In the end, the text refers to the determination, the furious desire to live ("I have to find the will to carry on with the show") in spite of vanishing strength ("inside my heart is breaking").[5] From the perspective of harmony, the song begins in B minor; then there is a modulation to C# Minor as if the song implied a hope (an increase of tone); but eventually it falls back to B minor.[6]

Jim Hutton, Freddie's partner who was with him for the last 6 years until his death, mentions the lyric that refers to the use of make up[7] during his last days:

To me, the most autobiographical line was: 'My make-up may be flaking but my smile still stays on.' That was true. No matter how ill Freddie felt, he never grumbled to anyone or sought sympathy of any kind. It was his battle, no one else's, and he always wore a brave face against the ever-increasing odds against him.[8]

—Jim Hutton – 1994

Promotional video[edit]Edit

Due to Mercury's deteriorating health at the time, no new footage of the lead singer was shot. The music video instead consisted of a montage of clips spanning Queen's music videos from 1981 to '91 (but does not include the ones from 1973 to '80) as a precursor to the imminent release of the band's Greatest Hits II album spanning that period.[9] Footage from all promo videos from the 1980s are shown in the montage, apart from "Under Pressure" and "Hammer to Fall".[9]

The music video was compiled and edited by Austrian director team DoRo, consisting of Rudi Dolezal and Hannes Rossacher.[5]

Live recordings[edit]Edit

Charts and certifications[edit]Edit

Chart performance[edit]Edit

Chart (1991) Peak


Weeks on


Dutch Singles Chart[12] 7 12
French Singles Chart[13] 2 21
German Singles Chart[14] 7 26
Irish Singles Chart[15] 17 3
Italian Singles Chart[16] 10 13
New Zealand Singles Chart[17] 20 5
Polish Singles Chart 3 1
Swedish Singles Chart[18] 30 6
Swiss Singles Chart[19] 11 11
UK Singles Chart[20] 16 10
U.S. Mainstream Rock Charts[21] 40 11


Region Certification Sales/shipments
France (SNEP)[22] Gold 250,000
United States (RIAA)[23] Gold 500,000^

  • sales figures based on certification alone ^shipments figures based on certification alone xunspecified figures based on certification alone

Cover versions[edit]Edit


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