The Cassingle Vault: Queen, “Too Much Love Will Kill You”

Written by Music, The Cassingle Vault


Queen – Too Much Love Will Kill You (1995)

[Jefito’s Note: As Mr. Davis (of Mrs. Davis fame) astutely and oh-so-humorously noted a couple of months ago, jasonhare.com is this blog’s longtime companion. Not only did I design the site, but Jason is a true friend — there are days when I probably talk to him more than I talk to my (tirelessly patient) wife. And yet, Jason has never written an Idiot’s Guide; he’s an expert on a handful of artists who’d qualify and benefit from the treatment — including the Who, Barenaked Ladies, Indigo Girls, and, um, Queen — but he’s too busy crying about being too busy to actually sit down and write one.

Of course, this means that Jason, nice guy that he is, is full of guilt, meaning he’s periodically a very soft touch for posts like the one below. He says I’m a jerk; I say you should thank me, because what you’re about to read is the kind of thing I wish I could write more of. Enjoy. —J]

When Jeff informed me that Queen’s “Too Much Love Will Kill You” was an upcoming choice for his famed Vault O’ Cassingles, I immediately lit up and, like any obsessed respectable Queen fan, began spouting useless facts about the song and its origins. Rather than allowing me to bore him back to sleep on a Monday morning, Jeff wisely suggested I write the entry. I know that at first glance, this sounds like a generous offer; however, take a second to realize that he’s just sharing his misery with all of you. What a jerk.

“Too Much Love Will Kill You” had been lying around the Queen vaults for at least seven or eight years before its release. The track was originally written sometime in the late ’80s by Elizabeth Lamers, Frank Musker and guitarist Brian May, most likely inspired by his recent divorce. May presented the song (either as a solo version or as a duet with Lamers) to Queen during sessions for their 1989 album The Miracle. The band gave the song a few attempts, but ultimately, it wasn’t included on the album; some say it had to do with legal/copyright issues, some say it’s simply because the band had stronger material from which to choose. (This doesn’t explain or excuse at least three of the songs that actually made the album, but I digress.) Whatever the reason, the track was left behind when Queen moved on to 1991’s Innuendo.

After Mercury’s death in late 1991, Brian May dealt with his grief by going straight back to work, and forged ahead with a solo record, 1992’s Back To The Light. I rushed to my local CD store and bought the import as soon as it made its way to the U.S. See, I was 15 years old, and was in the unfortunate position of becoming a die-hard Queen fan only months before Mercury’s death. I was desperate to get my grubby little hands on any Queen-related material possible, and May’s solo album was going to be the best I could do for at least the foreseeable future. (I did, however, draw the line at any Roger Taylor solo records. I have standards, you know.) “Too Much Love Will Kill You” was included on Back To The Light (download), and I immediately loved the track. The lyrics are ridiculously, almost humorously morose (“I’m just the pieces of the man I used to be / too many bitter tears are raining down on me,” to say nothing of the actual line “too much love will kill you”), but hey, at the melodramatic age of 15, I was feelin’ it. May doesn’t have the strongest voice in the world, but that was part of what made the track so beautiful; the fragility in his vocal was utterly sincere.

May gave a tentative performance of the song at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in April of 1992; by the time he took his band out on tour with Guns N’ Roses a year later, the song had become half ballad and half rocker, picking up after the second verse — which finally brings us to the version Jeff originally suggested I write about. I’m nothing if not long-winded.

After the release of Innuendo, it was painfully clear that Mercury only had months left to live, and he wanted to spend them recording with his band. Rather than go to the effort of writing new material, the band chose to focus on previous Queen songs in the vaults. Mercury made his way to the studio and gave whatever he could, before his body got the best of him and forced him to return home. One of the songs the band returned to was “Too Much Love Will Kill You” (download).

While there’s certainly nothing wrong with the song, quite honestly, it pales in comparison to May’s solo effort. Mercury’s voice is strong, but it’s absent of all passion or desperation (a little odd, considering the title), and the song becomes little more than a pop ballad. Sadly, it resembled much of the other songs on their final album with Mercury, Made In Heaven; it’s clear that this was a band running on borrowed time, making the best of what was available to them. It’s for that reason that I can’t really rip this song (or the album) apart for being relatively lame. I’d almost rather hear Freddie Mercury sing his heart out on bland material than not at all.

The B-side, “Rock In Rio Blues” (download), is barely worth a listen. Queen wasn’t known for their brilliant improvisations in concert, yet in the late ’80s, they insisted on including a “jam” in every one of their shows. What makes “Rock In Rio Blues” different from any of their other jams is beyond me, other than the brilliant lyrics.

Looking through my vast Queen collection, it barely fazes me when I realize that I have at least seven different versions of “Too Much Love Will Kill You” lying about: multiple demos, instrumentals, instrumentals with lead guitar replacing the vocal line, etc. At the end of the day, I’m still going to go with May’s version as the best of the bunch. And although it’s never been confirmed, I’d put money on the fact that Mercury sings on the very opening vocal lead-in.

Shorty after receiving my import copy of Back To The Light, a girl in my high school asked if I would accompany her on piano while she sang at our school’s talent show. I agreed (she was hot), and offered that we sing “Too Much Love Will Kill You” as a duet. (Shut up, you bastards! I was 15!) The song was cheesy, our version likely mediocre, but it was the first time I had ever really sung in front of an audience, and was also the first time I worked with Mike, who had only picked up the guitar a couple of months prior. If not for that silly performance, I don’t necessarily know if I ever would have joined a band, nor would I have performed with Mike or that girl ever again. (As it stands, the three of us will be performing together again in a few months, some 15 years later. She’s still hot.)