No one in their right mind would dispute the fact that Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury, who died on November 24, 1991, was a fantastic vocalist. For one thing, he could color his voice to fit any kind of song. If you compare “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” with “We Are the Champions,” it almost sounds like different singers. He had tremendous range, from bass up to the highest tenor.
But to say Mercury was the greatest singer ever is a matter of opinion, though, right? Some European researchers have said it’s not. According studies conducted well before the release of Bohemian Rhapsody, Mercury was the one true all-time great, and they’ve got the acoustic research to prove it.
First a quick explanation: the word “vibrato” as it relates to the human voice is one of those terms that gets thrown around a lot and no one knows how to explain it. Vibrato is simple, though—it’s just the steady pulse of the voice above and below the tone, and it’s produced by a natural muscle reaction to air flowing through the throat.
Czech and Swedish voice researchers Christian T. Herbst Stellan Hertegard, Daniel Zangger-Borch and Per-Åke Lindestad did an acoustical analysis of Mercury’s voice and found that his vibrato was truly different from those of classically-trained (opera) singers.
According to the researchers, opera singers make their tones “more vibrant” and that vibrato sits at around 5.5 to 5.6 Hz. But Mercury’s vibrato was higher frequency—about 7.0 Hz, and had a signature irregularity—a kind of “vocal fingerprint” that could only be from Freddie Mercury.
Let’s be real: the study simply found that there was no way to really reproduce it or even properly imitate the singer’s style—Rami Malek didn’t even try in Mercury’s biopic. That’s not about the singer being the greatest so much as it is about him being a true, irreplaceable original.
The “Greatest singer ever” will be different in every culture. The Italians may think it was great opera tenors Enrico Caruso or Luciano Pavarotti. Germans might think it was some mountainous, horn-wearing Wagner soprano or, you know, David Hasselhoff. There’s no real way to pin that down with science.
But pretty much everyone does seem to agree that there will never be another Freddie Mercury.