The Spanish motif is suggested from the start; those little rifts at the beginning are sort of Bolero-esque. It seemed like the natural thing to explore those ideas on an acoustic guitar, and it just gradually evolved. Steve Howe helped out and did a fantastic job. We love all that stuff - it's like a little fantasyland adventure.
Innuendo was an improvisation type song where they actually recorded it here in the big concert hall, it's just next door, and we set up like a live performance, and they just started playing basically, and sort of got into a nice rhythm and a groove, and some chords and then Freddie said, "Oh, I like that" and rushed downstairs into the concert hall and started singing along with it, and obviously then, once that initial idea was down on tape, then there was a lot of rearranging and putting extra things on, but the actual beginning of it was like a live thing. It just happened. It was wonderful.
The lynchpin track is a sort of heavy-heavy Eastern flavoured boleroish epic with a bit of desert-type oasis thrown in the middle. Not surprisingly, it's called Innuendo!
I just KNEW we could [score a No 1 hit] with this one!
I think Innuendo is one of those things which either could go big or nothing. We had the same feelings about Bohemian Rhapsody, for one. It's a risk because a lot of people would say, “It's too long, it's too involved, we don't want to play it on the radio.” I think that could happen, in which case it will die a death. Or it could happen that people say, “This is interesting and new and different and we'll take a chance.”
It's just unusual and we liked it, it happened to be the track that we named the album after. We're definitely not trying to follow-up Bohemian Rhapsody, because it's such a one-off, anyway, I think that would be impossible, but it's very us, those bitty, odd things, the different changes in mood and tempo and it's just a track I rather like - I rather like it sort of epic quality, quite amazing, and it has that sort of weight and heaviness.
Innuendo is the title track, and that was one of the first things that came - it's got this bolero type rhythm, a very strange track. That's going to be the first single [in Britain]. It's a bit of a risk, but it's different, and you either win it all or you lose it all. It has a nice sound and feel, and we stuck with that. Innuendo was gradually evolved by the four of us, but not every track was done like that. Usually at one point one of us says, “Right! I'm going to take this track and finish it and make a proper song.” In the case of Headlong, that was me; on Innuendo, Roger actually decided to organise the words. We had a smattering of words but somebody actually has to decide what the song is going to be about, and in this case it was Roger.
The flamenco guitar segment in the middle of the song Innuendo is wild.
This was a genuinely cooperative effort. We made it a rule when we went into the studio to play together everyday. In Montreux we set the drums in the Casino concert hall - which is a big space - and played for a while just for the fun of it, making sure we kept the tape rolling. The main riff just came out - Roger played the beat and I played a riff, and it went from there. We did the keyboard part, then Freddie put down a guide vocal and it began to take shape. It was nice evolving that one because of the breaks we took from recording in Montreux. Every time we went back there we'd do a bit more on it. The Spanish feel to the track simply happened - no one really made a conscious decision about it. It's quite a good way of working - we do that a lot. When we had the backing track and the major part of it done we took away a rough rape of it at the end of the day to play in the car, just to live with the track a little. All that Spanish stuff is sort of implied in the beginning anyway because of the way the guitar chords move and in the bolero-type rhythm, so we were thinking Spanish from the start. It was sort of natural to do the acoustic Spanish guitar bit and see what happened. Freddie and I were sitting down throwing ideas around, and we'd already sketched out that Spanish/Flamenco bit in the middle. Steve Howe happened to be passing by because he was in a studio over there. Now, Steve is a much better acoustic guitarist than I am so I sat him down and said, “let's do something together - you can do the hard bits and I'll do the easy bits!” So, we did this little duet in the middle and it was great! We recorded the song in sections and arranged it together. We argue long and hard about whether something works or not, and usually whoever is the most passionate wins. Sometimes whoever is in the studio latest at night wins! We don't worry about how we're going to play something live when we're in the studio, but I think this would be really easy to perform anyway - I hope we end up doing it at some point.
Innuendo started off as most things do, with us just messing around and finding a groove that sounded nice. All of us worked on the arrangement. Freddie started off the theme of the words as he was singing along, then Roger worked on the rest of them. I worked on some of the arrangement, particularly the middle bit, then there was an extra part that Freddie did for the middle as well. It basically came together like a jigsaw puzzle.
I was in Geneva working with Paul Sutin and we had a day off or something, something else was happening. So I got in the car and drove to Montreux and I was just wandering around and thought I'd stop and have lunch. So I was in this restaurant that was a little bit below the pavement. I was sitting there and then this huge guy walked by called Martin who'd worked for Yes, Martin Groves, and he saw me there and I saw him and we kind of lept up and he says, “Well, look, the guys [Queen] are in the studio,” and he was only down the road, “Why don't you come in?” I was going to come by and see if anything was going on because Queen took over Mountain Studios which was originally a studio build built to record Montreux jazz, a terrific studio. So they invited me down. Well, I walked in and Freddie, Brian, and Roger Taylor were sitting there messing around writing stuff and they were friendly, “Come in, sit down, and listen to the album which we're just making.” So they started playing me all these tracks like I'm Going Slightly Mad and I Can't Live Without You which has been in my mind ever since, I still play it, it's such a powerful paradoxical description of life. And then they played me Innuendo and I go, “yeah, heavy metal flamingo!” And then Brian says, “Look, I'd like you play on this,” and I said, “you're joking, it sounds great, leave it like it is,” and he said, “No no no, I want you to play on it, I want to you to play really fast, I want you to run around the guitar a lot.” So within a couple of hours I tested some of his Gibsons, Chet Atkins classical solid body guitars, and found one that I helped balance the strings because he wasn't sure how to balance the volume between the different strings which is the important thing to do on those guitars. So I got up and running, we did a few takes, we edited it a little bit, we fixed up a few things, then we went and had dinner. So we went back to the studio and they said we really really like this and I said, “fine, let's go with it.” So I left very happy. I'd worked with people who were diehard Queen people, and a funny thing happened a little while later, I was on a ferry going to Holland and on this ferry which takes a long time, five hours, were the Queen fan club, all going to Rotterdam to a Queen event, and a couple of them saw me and they came racing over and they said, “You're Steve Howe! You're on Innuendo!” And they all came out of the room, sitting around talking and things… and my memories of Queen will always be emotional because they were a great band and it was just great, it really was a thrill to be part of that. There was a certain studio in London called the Townhouse, it was actually a Virgin studio, and they were there a lot, we were there, and we'd meet them, and run into them, and Freddie liked my roadie a lot, and of course Freddie was a friend, so they were always in and out of the studio. Brian has always been most polite and a sort of dedicated guitarist so we've always had a great deal of respect for each other. So there's always just been some friendship between us, and it's important to me, it's quite important.
We just played that in the studio. It evolved slowly. We were lucky with Freddie: some singers will wait until the very end to do the vocal, but usually Freddie was in there with us. I'm trying out a riff, which has come to my head; Roger is doing a pattern which is in his head, John is kind of looking at us and feeling out what's happening; Freddie is there, and he's playing keyboards, and he's sort of singing what comes into his head, what works with the riff as we keep going around it. And so we already have an idea where the song will go, ‘cause really, you could have the greatest riff in the world, and if you don't have a song, you don't have anything.
I've always loved Brian's individual style of guitar playing, and the production and recording style that Queen had was very British, and totally true to form. It was very honest, and when you had something, you really knew what you were listening to. What happened was, I was in Montreux. I'd been in Geneva working with my friend Paul, and I love Montreux. I had gone there for lunch, and the next thing I was recording a Queen record, so it was the most in-by-chance incident I can recall - marvelous, some of the by-chance things just like that. I was sitting in a restaurant and somebody saw me and said, “Hey, what are you doing here? I'd love to come down to the studio.” By the time I got there, it was all set up. They played me the whole album, and then they played me Innuendo and said, “We'd really like you to play on this.” I just kind of laughed, and said, “You are joking.” Brian's got some really great guitar stuff on there. “What do you want me to do?” And then they played the particular area, and they said, “We'd like some racing around the guitar a bit.” So, I mean, I think we threw it together very quickly, and maybe even they and I maybe would've liked to have revisited and done it sort of what we call properly. But we didn't apparently need to do that. We went and had dinner, came back and listened to it, and in that time I sensed this tremendous bond between Brian, Roger and Freddie. The bass player actually wasn't there at this time, but these three guys were so tight, they were so close they could say this is the epitome of a band. They could say, “No, I don't like that,” and nobody takes offense. They understood, better than Yes, sometimes, that there was a common goal and when the guitar sounds great, it makes the vocals sound great. When the bass sounds great, it makes the drums, it's all a collective thing. And Queen were really assured of that, and I think Innuendo is a very powerful record. I've got songs on there that bring me to tears. I think they would've done even if I hadn't been there and been around them just that little bit. So I really did a very small thing for them, and Brian did a lot more detailing with the Spanish guitar. But, you know, I'm happy to have added just something they wanted. They wanted a little bit more racy Spanish guitar, and Brian wasn't comfortable with doing that.
Brian had his shot with it and had done what he'd wanted to do with it but thought that someone else could race about with it and add some excitement to those structures. They jokingly said I could do a bit of Paco De Lucía with it. I could see what they were after so I did some improvising and they loved it. I was so proud to be on that record.
I was in Montreux, and Queen were recording at Mountain Studios - the same studio where we made Going for the One. I go in, and they played me the whole album, but they saved Innuendo until last. I was incredibly blown away. They said, “We want you to play on that. Why don't you race around like Paco de Lucía?” Brian May had three Gibson Chet Atkins, which are Spanish guitars. I found one I liked, we started doing takes, we tried different approaches, and then we went to dinner. After dinner, we went back to the studio, listened through, and comped together what you hear today. It was just a lovely experience with a lovely bunch of guys.
I was moving around Switzerland at the time, doing some recording. I had some days off and I went to Montreux because of the memories of [the Yes album] Going for the One being made there. I was in a restaurant that was slightly below the ground. A guy walks by that goes, “Steve!” And I look up and it was a Queen crew member that used to be a Yes crew member. I think his name was Martin. He said, “Do the guys know you're here? Can you come down to say hello?” I finished my lunch and went down there and it was a setup job. I walked in and we chatted a bit and they said, “We want to play you the album.” I was like, “I've got loads of time. Play me the album.” They play the album, but they save “Innuendo” for last. When it finishes they go, “Do you think you could add some guitar to that?” I said, “I don't think you need any. There are some great parts there.” They said, “No, no, no. We want something more.” I said, “I'll give it a run.” They had a Gibson Chet Atkins guitar, which was a solid Spanish guitar. That is what Brian [May] had used on it. I used one of his and over a couple of hours in the late afternoon, we took a few takes, took a break, took another take. It really was just improvisation. That's what they wanted. They didn't want any structural type of functions that I could do. They were just like, “Play anything.” That has always been something I've been able to do. I don't know how or why, but thank God because it's something that I love to do. Very good things happen in that process before a producer can wear you out by saying, “Can you do another take?” “Well I've done 10! What do you want out of me? Blood?” The guys were really cool. They wrote me a letter to thank me for doing it and gave me a credit. That was it. It was a wonderful time to meet the guys, before we lost Freddie. I found that, particularly Roger, Brian and Freddie, they were really kind. That was really a band. They were so tight. They sat together; they agreed. They were so similar. It was a beautiful thing.