Queen’s “News of the World” is easily one of my favorite all-time album covers. Just like realizing a favorite Zeppelin song is actually a cover of some guy-you-never-heard-of’s original material, finding this book cover came as a little reality tweaker. The original painting was from 1953, by Frank Kelly Freas. However, the new one is by the same artist, who Queen commissioned to incorporate themselves into the image. So, the artist literally did a cover of his own art.
Queen did Freas a favor though, because his robot image is as far as I can tell his best work, and it would have lapsed into obscurity, rarely to be gazed upon, if the band hadn’t requested him to revise it for what turned out to be a platinum album.
I remember the first time I saw this record, which was in the back of a music store, and I was blown away. Of course, I was only eleven or twelve at the time and liked to draw my own robots. The design of the robot seemed antiquated and primitive, but what moved me was the remorse in its eyes for the terrible deed it had done, not realizing its own power or having prior knowledge of the consequences of its actions. I stood in the back of the store transfixed, trying to read the robot’s emotions. Not only did he seem to have evolved feeling (unlike the Terminator), he seemed to be looking up to his god for forgiveness or some explanation. I also carefully studied how the band members fell from his hand, and the blood dripping off of the finger. Somewhere, buried in a garbage heap there is a pencil drawing I made of this same cover.
The robot’s face is one you never forget, having seen it once, and why it was impossible for me to not immediately take notice when I happened upon the book cover today. And yes, it does seem terribly odd that I never saw the original cover before.
This painting in any of its incarnations occupies no place in the hallowed pantheon of art, and yet it is emblazoned in the memory of all who have seen it.