The first-ever Rock In Rio festival, held at a purpose-built City Of Rock (Cidade do Rock) with a capacity of 250,000, over ten nights in January 1985, was a massive undertaking, in fact the biggest music festival ever held. AC/DC, Rod Stewart and Yes were among the headline acts, each artist committing to headlining two nights of the festival, but it was Queen, booked to open the spectacular event, who were the undeniable main attraction. So much so that, when they kicked off the festival on January 11 – technically January 12, as they took the stage at 2am – an estimated 325,000 fans crammed into the arena to see them.
Following performances from Whitesnake, Iron Maiden and more, Queen launched their headline set in majestic form, with Tie Your Mother Down, Under Pressure, Somebody To Love and Killer Queen among the opening numbers aired to rapturous applause. All was going fabulously well on the night, in fact, right up until the moment Freddie Mercury disappeared off-stage after an emotional Radio Ga Ga, and reappeared sporting an enormous set of false breasts under a pink sleeveless top for I Want To Break Free.
Precious few in the Brazilian crowd were aware that the singer was reprising his iconic appearance in the song’s Coronation Street-parody video, as MTV had effectively banned the video – “They didn’t think that men in drag was ‘rock’ enough,” drummer Roger Taylor explained – and so Mercury’s ‘new’ look was baffling, at best. And so the singer’s appearance was met with ear-splitting boos and jeers.
What Mercury, and his bandmates, were unaware of, was that I Want To Break Free had been adopted in South America as a song of liberation, and a protest anthem. After years of being governed by a military dictatorship, Brazil was set to hold its first democratic elections since 1964, and to the crowd, Mercury was mocking this cherished song of freedom. Fortunately, after flashing a false boob at the angry audience, Mercury sensed that the mood had changed, and his ‘falsies’ were soon discarded. High energy romps through Jailhouse Rock, We Will Rock You and a set-closing We Are The Champions ensured that Queen exited in triumph, faux pas forgiven.
When Queen returned to headline their second show on January 18, Mercury’s ‘Sweater Zeppelins’ were left in the dressing room. But, as reported in Classic Rock writer Mark Blake’s Magnifico! The A-Z of Queen, the singer was blithely unconcerned by the kerfuffle he had instigated.
“The trouble was, when I first tried [the fake breasts] in Brussels, some people said that, at the back of the arena, you couldn’t see them unless they were twice the size of Dolly Parton’s,” he explained. “So I had to get some bigger tits. In Rio they went a bit mad, and I thought [it was because] my tits were too big for them.”
Watch Queen’s two Rock In Rio performances of I Want To Break Free below:
And you can see more of their adventures in Rio in episode 29 of the Queen The Greatest video series, available on the band’s official YouTube channel, and embedded below: