The group was plotting its next move following the modest success of 1978’s Jazz. While the album was far from a disaster, it failed to reached the lofty sales heights set by 1977’s News of the World.
“We heard that there was this great studio called Musicland in Munich, and we got into this rather indulgent way of just bowling into the studio with no ideas, or very few ideas, and just doing it from scratch,” guitarist Brian May said in the band’s Days of Our Lives documentary.
“The first thing we did was ‘Crazy Little Thing … ‘,” drummer Roger Taylor recalled in the documentary, where he also confirmed the long-held theory that Mercury wrote the song while in the bath at the Bayerischer Hof Hotel in Munich.
“’Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ took me five or 10 minutes,” Mercury said in a 1981 interview with Melody Maker. “I did that on the guitar, which I can’t play for nuts, and in one way it was quite a good thing, because I was restricted, knowing only a few chords.”
Fearing that inspiration would escape him as quickly as it had found him, the singer instructed the group rush into the studio to cut the song.
Reinhold Mack, the engineer who worked on what would become the group’s eighth album, The Game, recalled having everything ready to go in a matter of minutes, and laughed when he noted that Mercury told him they should record the song as quickly as possible, otherwise May would “make things take a little longer.”
In discussing the song with Absolute Radio in 2011, May said the song was “Freddie’s tribute to Elvis [Presley], in a way. He was very fond of Elvis and of Cliff [Richard]. Freddie wrote it very quickly, rushed in and put it down with the boys. By the time I got there, it was almost done. The sounds Mack managed to get were very elemental, real ambient sounds made it sound big. Everything about it is original rock ‘n’ roll sounding.”
Helping ensure they captured the ’50s spirit embedded in the song, Mack convinced May to step out of his comfort zone and perform a guitar solo with a Fender Telecaster instead of his usual instrument, the Red Special.
Watch Queen’s ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ Video
“I used one of Roger’s really old, beat-up, natural-wood Telecaster,” May said. “I got bludgeoned into playing it. That was Mack’s idea. I said, ‘I don’t want to play a Telecaster. It basically doesn’t suit my style.’ But ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ was such a period piece, it seemed to need that period sound. So I said, ‘Okay, Mack, if you want to set it up, I’ll play it.’ He put it through a Mesa/Boogie, which is an amplifier I don’t get on with at all; it just doesn’t suit me. I tried it, and it sounded okay.”
Not only was May being pushed out of his comfort zone with the song, Mercury was also headed into new territory with the track after it was completed. He may have known only a few chords on the guitar, but the singer ended up playing rhythm guitar on the album and during live performances.
“It took sheer guts and bravery,” Mercury told Circus in a 1980 interview, recalling the first time he walked out onstage with a guitar. “The first couple of nights were nerve-wracking, but it was okay after that. I wrote ‘Crazy Little Thing … ‘ on guitar and played rhythm on the record, and it works really well, because Brian gets to play all those lead guitar fills as well as his usual solo. I’m somewhat limited by the number of chords I know.”
Fans couldn’t have cared less about Mercury’s limited ability on the guitar. On Feb. 23, 1980, the song became Queen’s first No. 1 single in the U.S., reaching the top spot simultaneously in Billboard, Record World and Cashbox.
“We were still making the record [The Game] and were out in Munich, and somebody came up and said [“Crazy Little Thing Called Love”] had gone to No. 1 in America,” Taylor recalled.
Another single from The Game would become Queen’s only other No. 1 single in the U.S.: “Another One Bites the Dust” landed in the top position on Oct. 4, 1980.