In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: In honor of this week’s theme, we’re doing songs with Star Wars references.
When Freddie Mercury declaims “I don’t like Star Wars” halfway into the first verse of Queen’s single “Bicycle Race,” it’s not really meant as a cutting piece of cinematic critique. After all, the song’s context makes it clear that Mercury’s responding less to the content of George Lucas’ 1977 juggernaut, than to its inescapable cultural position. By 1978, when “Bicycle Race” was released (as part of a double-A-side record with “Fat Bottomed Girls”), Star Wars was already ubiquitous, as easy a touchstone for movie-going conformity as Steven Spielberg’s earlier Jaws. (Which, the singer just informed us, was never his “scene.”) Even moreso then than now, before prequel movies and decades of expectation were there to weigh it down, being against Star Wars was to be against the zeitgeist, to position oneself as the ultimate cultural contrarian. (It’s not for nothing that Mercury takes the same stance as Harlan Ellison, the cranky old man of science fiction, who once declared the movie “adolescent nonsense.”)
The irony then, is that for all its counter-cultural calls to just get on your bike and ride away, “Bicycle Race” and Star Wars have more in common than not. They’re both pop, first and foremost, exciting, engaging, and just a little bit disposable. Both feint toward something deeper—Star Wars and its mystical religion, Mercury and his idealization of freedom—while ultimately existing to deliver excitement and pleasure. Whether that comes in the form of a trench run on the Death Star, or a rising guitar lick, both “Bicycle Race” and Star Wars are pure, exciting sugar. The track is a Saturday morning cartoon of a song (albeit one with a hint of an edge, that answers “coke” with “caine” and features a music video full of naked women on bicycles), and for all its protestations against George Lucas’ fan-enslaving work, it ultimately shares (and succeeds at) the same crowd-pleasing goal.