I have heard this song a million times since it came out in 1980, but until I got the Queen boxed set for Christmas this year it never occurred to me how big a part of my childhood it was. I slipped the first CD into my car stereo as I left my parents’ house on Christmas night, and as soon as that opening baseline started I suddenly exclaimed out loud to myself, “Skating parties! That’s what this reminds me of!” This was a very, very popular song at the many roller skating parties I attended in the 1980s. I would get terribly excited when it was played, and my 10-year-old self always skated ferociously when it came on.
I’m not sure why it hadn’t occurred to me before this past week. Maybe because I have been playing this CD every day and remembering all these great songs I grew up with. I always liked Queen, and despite that they are one of those bands whose records I never bought. I don’t know why that is, and now that I have this collection I am quite ashamed to have just acquired my first Queen CDS at almost 40 years old. I prefer to own actual albums, vinyl when available, because I think they give a better sense of what a band is all about. But this collection has all the stuff we know and love, so it’s what I wanted right now. I’ll get their regular albums soon enough.
The other thing I didn’t notice until I played this song obsessively all week is that it is based on a disco beat. Now this is pretty obvious, but when I was listening to it in elementary school in the 80s, that’s just what most music sounded like so I didn’t identify it as disco. But that funky beat really got inside me over the past few days, and then I realized how much it sounds like The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” who of course borrowed the baseline from Chic’s “Good Times.” Blondie also borrowed parts of the music for “Rapture,” and countless other artists used it as well. I can hear it in “Billie Jean,” too, which is funny because Michael Jackson is the one who convinced Queen to release “Another One Bites the Dust” as a single.
Back to totally awesome skating parties in the early 80s. Those parties were like monthly nightclubs for elementary school kids. We would feather our hair and apply gallons of Aqua Net, pick out the perfect braided headband (mine was turquoise with gold strands throughout) to strap across our foreheads, squeeze into our Jordache jeans (though I never had name brand stuff, so I wore really tight off-brand jeans instead), grab our awesome roller skates, hop into Mom’s station wagon, and roll on out for a night of skating, singing, and trying to get cute boys to notice us. I watched Dance Fever and Soul Train and shit, so I wanted to be part of that faraway world where everyone wore the hippest clothes and danced to the best music and was just sexy as hell all the time—at least, for that hour that they were on television. Skating parties lasted several hours so I had more time to be fabulous. And if someone else’s parents drove I knew they would be less watchful than mine, so I felt much freer to pursue the boys of my dreams by any means necessary. Not that it usually worked, but once or twice I got to skate with the boy I liked, and I felt like I was on the way to my own version of being Phoebe Cates in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. I pretty much always wanted to be a slut. But that was not to be until many, many, many years later.
“Another One Bites the Dust” was played at every skating party I ever went to. I had no idea what the lyrics were other than Another one bites the dust/Another one bites the dust/And another one gone and another one gone/Another one bites the dust, eh. But that’s all we really needed to know! It’s fun to sing like Freddie Mercury, even if you are just making up words. This is another thing I have discovered this week as I listen to all these Queen songs. He had one of those amazing voices that could work in pretty much any style of music. Most rock singers have decent or subpar voices; I think we can agree to this. Very few of them have Freddie Mercury’s power and stamina and drama. That’s what makes it so much fun to sing like him. When you’re driving around in your car with the volume turned up to 11 (and by the way, playing this music on a really good home stereo and in your car–and at a skating party–are the only acceptible ways to listen to this recording; digital shit just doesn’t get all up in ya the same way) you can convince yourself that you’re doing justice to these songs. And that’s what makes them awesome.
So anyway, now that I know what all the lyrics actually are I can see how violent this song really is. Yes, it’s about “another one” biting the dust, so that seems like it has at least some undertones of violence. But it tells a story of a guy named Steve, sort of an old school gangster type, I imagine, who is out for revenge.
Steve walks warily down the street
With the brim pulled way down low
Ain’t no sound but the sound of his feet
Machine guns ready to go
Are you ready, hey, are you ready for this
Are you hangin’ on the edge of your seat
Out of the doorway the bullets rip
To the sound of the beat – yeah
It sounds like Steve is ready for anything. He’s got some rival gang members hot on his trail. But it also sounds like he’s got woman trouble, which men like Steve tend to be surrounded with.
There are plenty of ways that you can hurt a man
And bring him to the ground
You can beat him
You can cheat him
You can treat him bad and leave him
When he’s down, yeah
But I’m ready, yes I’m ready for you
I’m standing on my own two feet
Out of the doorway the bullets rip
Repeating to the sound of the beat
Steve ain’t gonna take no shit off no bitchez, neither. But whatever he’s going through, however those bullets fly, it’s always to that funky disco beat. Steve always has the time to get down.
And that’s how those skating parties went, only without bullets. But we did have lots of prepubescent intrigue and a good beat that you could skate to. My whole social world revolved around those skating parties. They were my time to shine! I would be noticed for sure, maybe even by a boy at another school. Never really happened, but every party was a new opportunity to be popular with boys. Maybe if my jeans had been a little tighter.
Just as important as the opportunity to be sexy and 7 years from 17 was the chance to spend the night listening to music. There was a lot of great pop music at that time, as cheesy as a lot of it was. We also had classic songs like “Another One Bites the Dust,” but those nights were filled with liberal amounts of Pat Benatar (our inspiration for those fierce headbands!), Rick Springfield, Journey, Duran Duran, and Michael Jackson. Skating parties were like our Studio 54, with less powder. And less Liza.