The man behind songs you know: Frank Musker on being ‘quietly famous’

3 Mins read

The British musician, who was one of the only songwriters to successfully collaborate with the world-famous band Queen, talks about his experience.

“To me, anything that inhibits creativity is bad,” states 72-year-old Frank Musker who, though largely unknown, has contributed to some of the most famed records in the last 40 years.

Having worked with the likes of Sheena EastonChaka Khan, and Queen, and his own band, World Goes Round, Musker could have been a formative name in the music industry.

However, the British-born musician is glad of his anonymity: “You know what’s lovely about being a songwriter is that you actually get to live in that world without having to deal with all the sort of stuff that goes with it,” he says.

“It can be pretty damaging. I’ve seen a lot of people go off the rails with just the pressures of being recognised everywhere. It’s very isolating apart from anything else.” 

Frank Musker with his guitar.
Musker has written songs for A-list musicians [Frank Musker]

Musker has been writing songs since he was young, meeting his lifelong writing partner, Dominic Bugatti, while in college. Halfway through his degree, Musker and Bugatti got a publishing deal and they took off from there.

“There’s a great John Lennon quote that says, ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’… and that was definitely the case.”

One of Musker’s biggest collaborations came in the form of Queen’s Too Much Love Will Kill You which was awarded an Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically in 1997.

Most people know the song but wrongly assume that it was written for/by Freddie Mercury who died from AIDS shortly after recording his vocals for the track. Though the song eventually did become a tribute to the incredible musician, it was actually conceived over cups of tea and tears shared between the group’s guitarist, Brian May, and Musker.

“Queen were utterly self-contained; the only time they ever shared a songwriting credit was with David Bowie for Under Pressure, so for them to record a song with an outside songwriter was unheard of; and if you’d proposed that to them, from a business perspective, it would have been rejected out of hand.” 

Talking about the circumstances surrounding the collaboration, Musker says, “My manager at the time was an old friend of Brian May. He called me up and said, ‘look Brian’s in town; he’s really lonely, he’s really upset, he’s going through a tough time, can he come up and have a cup of tea with you?’

“So, Brian came up and we sat and talked, it was almost like a therapy session. After about three or four days I just got my guitar and said, ‘come on Brian, we’re going to do something with this’, so we went into the music room and over a day and a night we wrote this song.”

May himself has stated that Too Much Love Will Kill You was “in a way, the most important song I ever wrote,” even introducing it at the 1992 tribute concert for Freddie as “the best thing I have to offer.” 

Though this was unarguably Musker’s biggest collaboration to date, he is still active within the music industry, having penned the guitar lick on Stardust’s Music Sounds Better With You (originally written for Chaka Khan’s Fate) which has now turned into a Gen Z club classic. Though he rarely, if ever, is credited for this.

Musker notes that “on Radio 1, in those days, when they were playing our stuff, they would also say, ‘that’s a song by Bugatti and Musker.’ I think we got a lot of name recognition.”

Though his name may not be shouted out on the radio or acknowledged as much these days, he maintains his satisfaction with his lifestyle. “In retrospect, I’m so grateful that we didn’t go down that road [fame] because I don’t think we would have had the mental resources to deal with it; it can be very distorting.”

Featured image by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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