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Music / Brian May

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Brian May rockin' that Red Special!
Too much love will kill you, if you can't make up your mind.
Torn between the lover and the love you leave behind.
You're headed for disaster, 'cos you never read the signs.
Too much love will kill you - every time.
— "Too Much Love Will Kill You"

Dr. Brian Harold May, CBE (born 19 July 1947) is a British musician, best known as the lead guitarist of Queen and, after Freddie Mercury, the most famous member of the band. It should also be noted that May wrote many of Queen's most popular songs, including "We Will Rock You", "Tie Your Mother Down", "Fat Bottomed Girls", "Who Wants to Live Forever", "The Show Must Go On" (credited to the whole band, but written mainly by May), "Hammer to Fall", "I Want It All", "Flash", "Now I'm Here", "Brighton Rock", "The Prophet's Song", "Las Palabras de Amor", "No-One but You" and "Save Me".

Often overshadowed by Mercury's charismatic presence and the fact that he didn't sing much himself, May's talent as a guitarist got more attention when he went solo. He is well renowned for his virtuoso guitar work and Rolling Stone recognizes him as the twenty-sixth greatest guitarist of all time on their list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Sammy Hagar (Van Halen), Steve Vai and Frank Zappa, among others, have praised his excellence.


He is also a well known animal welfare activist and astrophysicist (as alluded to above, he has a PhD in astrophysics). An asteroid is named after him, and he took part in research activities for NASA's New Horizons probe to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.

Gwilym Lee portrayed him in the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody.

Not to be confused with the Australian film composer of the same name.

Studio and Live Discography:

  • 1983 - Star Fleet Project note 
  • 1992 - Back to the Light
  • 1993 - Resurrection
  • 1994 - Live at the Brixton Academy
  • 1998 - Another World
  • 1998 - Red Special
  • 2000 - Furia
  • 2013 - Acoustic by Candlelight: Live on the Born Free Tour note 


Brian May's work provides examples of:

  • Brainy Brunette: Brian's hair was brown before it turned gray and he is shown to be very intelligent, as proven by his degree in Astrophysics.
  • Cool Old Guy: A virtuoso guitarist who was awarded a doctorate in astrophysics a month after turning 60? It's hard to get much cooler than Brian May.
  • Cool Teacher: Before Queen started to gain popularity and allow him a steady income as a musician, Brian used to be a maths teacher at a secondary school in London. Considering how maths tend to be feared and dreaded by many youngsters, it must have been certainly great to have a rock star as your lecturer. He still holds the occasional lectures at Liverpool John Moores University in astrophysics.
  • Everything's Better with Penguins: May dresses up as a penguin in the music video of "I'm Going Slightly Mad".
  • Friend to All Living Things: Badgers and hedgehogs, for example.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Brian May holds a PhD in Astrophysics. He also designed and built his guitar, the Red Special, with his father in 1964. The guitar's neck is mostly a piece of wood salvaged from an old fireplace mantle-piece, and the tremolo bar is a motorcycle handbrake combined with a knitting needle.The guitar's body was made out of an old Mahogany-table that was going to be replaced anyway.
  • Genius Bruiser: A world-renowned physicist and scientist, as well as a rock star and one of the best guitarists who ever played the instrument that will rock you the hell out.
  • Grief Song: While it was written years before Mercury died, completing and performing "Too Much Love Will Kill You" on his first solo album Back to the Light was part of Brian's mourning after Mercury's death.
  • Hairstyle Inertia: Brian May has kept the same haircut (huge, dark and curly) for the past 40 years (one of his conditions for Queen's inclusion in Lego Rock Band was that they portray his hair accurately). In the last few years, he has let its natural grey colour come through, but the cut has remained the same.
  • Hidden Depths: Brian May earned his PhD in astrophysics in 2007. He's also co-written quite a few books about different fields, ranging from astronomy to stereo photography, and is a political activist.
  • I Am Not Spock: Before happily embracing the Queen name since the late 90's, there was a period of almost a decade when Brian wanted to dissociate himself from the Queen name and brand as much as possible, and he tried to launch a career as a singer. It backfired, as he was still seen as "the guitarist of Queen". When he did a track live where he only sang and didn't play any instruments, the audience's reaction was polite at best; when he played a guitar solo instead, people would overwhelmingly cheer him. He eventually embraced that and gradually returned to being primarily a guitarist, and he's been producing a few singers instead of himself being one (though, to be fair, he still does a lot of backing vocals and the occasional lead).
  • I Call It "Vera": Brian May's guitar, the "Red Special" (also known as the "Fireplace" or the "Old Lady"), which he built from scraps as a teenager. Also of note was the amp often used with the Red Special, the "Deacy Amp", built by Electrical Engineer-turned Bassist, John Deacon.
  • Iconic Item/Signature Instrument: His Red Special guitar. Less popularly outside the fandom, sixpence coins (instead of picks), Vox AC30 and the treble booster. And, of course, his clogs and his hair.
  • I Am the Band: His first band after Queen was called "The Brian May Band".
  • Intercourse with You: "Let Your Heart Rule Your Head" is perhaps Brian's only song to contain outright come-ons.
  • Kindhearted Cat Lover: "All Dead, All Dead" was written after the death of one of Brian May's cats.
  • Large Ham: Even though he doesn't eat meat. Brian qualifies in some videos, especially "It's a Hard Life" in which he (according to Roger) "Gets dangerously close to acting".
  • Let's Duet:
    • He sang a duet with Hank Marvin in 1992: "We Are the Champions".
    • Some Queen songs are duets between Brian and Freddie: "Sail Away Sweet Sister", "I Want It All", "Mother Love", "Who Wants to Live Forever". On both "Flash's Theme" and "The Show Must Go On" Brian sang a single line by himself and Freddie sang lead on the rest of the track. The intro to "Fat Bottomed Girls" has Brian singing lead and Freddie doing backing vocals, so technically that could also be considered a duet. Then there's the 1997 song "No-One but You", the only post-Freddie release credited to Queen (as opposed to "Queen + Whoever") featuring John Deacon, which is a duet between Brian and Roger.
    • Mother Love is notable as it wasn't intended to be a duet; Freddie Mercury died before he could finish the full vocal, leaving Brian to sing the last verses.
  • Name's the Same: There was another Brian May, who has also composed scores for films and television, an Australian who mostly worked in his local film industry. He was best known for composing the scores for the first two Mad Max films. He died in 1997.
  • Nice Guy: Very sweet, caring and kind as shown in interviews and activism in promoting animal rights.
  • Non-Indicative Name: As mentioned above, he was actually born in July. The crab on the top of the "Q" in the Queen logo refers to his astrological sign, Cancer.
  • Pop-Star Composer: Brian wrote the soundtrack to a French movie called Furia. It sounds like he was chained to a copy of John Williams' Star Wars soundtrack. He also did the soundtrack for Rise of the Robots. It was far more epic than the game was. Then there's Flash Gordon.
  • Punny Name: Fans use variations of either his forename or his surname to make puns. Examples include "Brian the Brain", "Brain May", commenting on how he played a "May-estic" solo and, of course, the Portmanteau Couple Name for him and Roger, "Maylor".
  • Record Producer: Has been this for a number of singers, most notably Anita Dobson (who'd later on become his second wife) and Kerry Ellis. He also produced most of his own compositions both in Queen and his solo career, mixing them himself.
  • Repurposed Pop Song: The song "Anyone Can Fall in Love", sung by May's second wife Anita Dobson, was originally the theme song to the British soap Eastenders.
  • Renaissance Man: Everybody knows he built his main instrument with his dad and that he's an extraordinary guitarist and songwriter, but there's a lot more than that: he's an excellent singer, a very good pianist, a capable bassist, an occasional performer of other instruments (harp, ukulele, banjolele, koto, organ...), a successful record producer, an animal activist, a graduated PhD in astrophysics, a former maths teacher, a stereo photographer, a former chancellor of the University of Liverpool and an author.
  • Retcon: Everybody knows Brian made his guitar with his father and he calls it Red Special, right? Yeah, only that the story wasn't always told like that: in the early days, not a single mention of May Sr's contribution was made — perhaps the band's publicists thought it was more impressive to just credit Brian for it, it was more 'rock and roll' that way — and the nickname 'Red Special' only came much, much later in the story, and it might have been originated by either the press or the fandom, although now Brian uses it as well.
  • Self-Backing Vocalist: He's worked with a lot of magnificent singers (including some of his bandmates, of course) and composed and produced a number of them, but he's also a very accomplished vocalist himself. There are many songs (in Queen and his solo career) where he multi-tracked himself and did lead vocals, backing vocals, high parts, falsetto parts and low parts all by himself: "Good Company", "Sleeping on the Sidewalk", "Leaving Home Ain't Easy", "Love Token", "Resurrection" (three octaves, no effects), "Too Much Love Will Kill You" (his solo version of it), "Driven by You" (he sang the intro through harmonizer), "The Business", "China Belle", "Cyborg", "Wilderness"... and on many of those he played all instruments except bass and drums.
  • '70s Hair: May still has his old haircut after all those years.
  • Solo Side Project: Star Fleet Project, a 1981 collaboration with among others, Eddie Van Halen. He also contributed to Steve Hackett (Genesis)'s album "Feedback 86".
  • Step Up to the Microphone: He sings lead vocals on Queen's "Some Day One Day", "She Makes Me", "'39", "Good Company", "Long Away", "All Dead, All Dead", "Sleeping on the Sidewalk", "Leaving Home Ain't Easy" and "Sail Away Sweet Sister".
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: With Roger Taylor, whom he met before Queen formed and have been playing together, intermittently, for nearly half a century. They've admitted they haven't always seen eye to eye or been inseparable but, one way or another, they're like brothers after all this time, and they've been best men on each other's second weddings.
  • Weapon of Choice: The Red Special for Brian. So much so that when he played on Paul Rodgers' set at the "Strat Pack" concert, which was a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Fender Stratocaster, Brian brought the Red Special along, theme of the concert be damned.