Q1 — Queen
Queen’s ornate, over-the-top coat-of-arms logo perfectly captures the flamboyance, bombast and campness of the band.
It’s hardly your typical punchy typographic marque, but a baroque, tongue-in-cheek ‘royal crest’, laden with elaborate symbolism and layers of hidden meaning. It first appeared on their eponymous debut album ‘Queen’ in 1973, as a small sketch on the back cover collage.
While it’s not unusual for band members to design their own logos, the results can be ‘mixed’ (see ‘Is this the worst rock logo of all time?’ and C1 The Cramps). But the Queen crest, conceived and drawn by Freddie Mercury (at this point still trading under his real name Farrokh ‘Freddie’ Bulsara), manages to be original, ambitious and amusing.
That Queen guitarist Brian May studied Maths and Physics at Imperial College (where he famously built his own, bespoke guitars) is well documented. What’s perhaps less well known is that Mercury took Art and Graphic Design at Ealing Art College in west London, and was no slouch at illustration. And while May dabbled in astrophysics, Mercury was obsessed with astrology.
Consequently, the cod-heraldic Queen logo manages to seamlessly combine the zodiac signs of all four group members. There are two lions for bassist John Deacon and drummer Roger Taylor, both Leos; a crab for Cancerian May; and two fairies representing Virgo Freddie Mercury (although there may be additional subtext here).
The lions rampant embrace a stylised letter Q, seemingly made from artfully swirlled ribbon, while the crab sits languidly on top of it. Inside the bowl of the Q, there’s an ornate, bejewelled crown, while the entire tableau is framed by a large, pointy-tongued phoenix rising from flickering flames.
Later, Mercury’s crest would be joined by a relatively sedate but elegant logotype designed by the band’s long-time photographer and visual artist Richard Gray. Set in all caps, this is most notable for the long flourish of the Q’s tail and the exaggerated spiky serifs on the two E’s.
And the crest wasn’t just used as a b(r)and marque — it was painstaking enlarged, lavishly coloured and rebooted for the cover of the band’s most celebrated album, ‘A Night at the Opera’. And then tweaked again and reprised for its follow-up ‘A Day at the Races’.
Art direction for these instantly recognisable covers is credited to David Costa of Wherefore Art?, although, judging by the commentary on his website, he seems surprisingly underwhelmed by his efforts — “Queen: two early album sleeves best not remembered but selling in prodigious quantities”.