Dave Clark remembers how he felt when he heard Freddie Mercury sing his song, “Time Waits for No One,” for the first time. “It gave me goosebumps,” he tells Rolling Stone. “I thought, ‘This is magic.'”
The song was originally part of Time, a musical that was spearheaded by Clark, best known as the former leader and drummer of the Dave Clark Five. When Mercury’s recording of “Time,” which Clark cowrote with John Christie, came out on the soundtrack for the musical, it was schmaltzy and heavily produced with thick layers of backing vocals and heavy drums. It was also a big hit, making it to Number 32 on the U.K. chart. Now Clark has stripped the song down to the way he originally heard it for a special release out Thursday.
The new version features only Mercury’s voice and piano played by Mike Moran, who went on to accompany the Queen singer on his Barcelona solo album. Mercury’s voice starts smooth and scrunches and contorts into rougher sounds as he sings lines like, “We’ve got to build this world together or we might have no future at all, because time waits for nobody.” The stripped-back arrangement shines a spotlight on his vocal acrobatics in a way that was lost in the original, and it’s Mercury’s already well-recognized talent that Clark hopes people hear in the new recording.
“Freddie asked me, ‘How do you want me to perform this?'” Clark recalls. “I said, ‘As a cross between Edith Piaf, Jennifer Holliday and Shirley Bassey.’ He said, ‘Well, dear. I have all the dresses. I can do it perfectly.'”
Clark first met Mercury in 1976 when Queen played a powerhouse set at London’s Hyde Park. “I stood on the wings of the stage, and I was taken aback because this guy came out in a black leotard, and I thought, ‘Wow, what’s this? Liza Minelli?'” Clark recalls. “And then he opened his mouth and sang. It was unbelievable. What a performer. And the show went down amazingly.” The show ran long and the band wasn’t allowed to play an encore — London police threatened to arrest Mercury if he tried to get back onstage — so Clark accompanied them to restaurant Mr. Chow and they hit it off. It helped, too, that Mercury was a big fan of the Dave Clark Five, whose “Glad All Over” toppled the Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” for the Number One spot in the U.K. in 1964.
Several years later, when Clark was working on Time, he reached out to Mercury through the singer’s girlfriend who gave him a phone number in Munich. Clark had already lined up a stunning cast for the production, including Sir Laurence Olivier, Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick and Cliff Richard, and Mercury at first told him, “You’ve come a bit late there, haven’t you?” Nevertheless, Clark insisted that he fly over, play Mercury a tape of the song and see if he liked it. Fortuitously, Mercury did and they booked time in Abbey Road Studios in December 1985.
“Everyone said to me that Freddie would be a nightmare to work with because he was so meticulous,” Clark recalls. “I’m the same way. I want things to be right. If I didn’t like something, I’d say it and vice-versa with Freddie.” The session lasted from 6 p.m. until 6 a.m., with Mercury bringing in his personal chef, who cooked for everybody, “even the tape operators,” as they all shared champagne and vodka. Mercury hoped to record the song with Queen, but Clark convinced him to use his musicians. “I said, ‘If it doesn’t work, I’ll pay for the time and we’ll bring your boys in.’ And it really did work beautifully.” They ended up cutting both “Time,” and another song for the album, the similarly sentimental “In My Defence,” which was a posthumous hit for the singer in 1992.
There are, of course, more Freddie fans than ever who know how good he was thanks to the success of Bohemian Rhapsody. Clark is well aware of the movie’s popularity and says he’s waited to release this version so as not to seem like he’s cashing in on Queenmania. “We’ve been trying to do this for a decade or so,” he says. “I was finished with the film in the last spring of last year, and I heard they just finished the movie. The movie’s been off and on, no disrespect, for over a decade, and I decided it would be wrong to bring it out before the film or during it, so I waited.” He invited Queen manager Jim Beach to hear what he had been working on and surprised him with the new version of “Time,” and was happy the manager loved it.
They also filmed a video for the song at the time on the stage where the musical was produced. It was a rush job: The theatrical union gave them only three hours to shoot and little time to set up and break down before the doors opened. They transferred the footage from 35-millimeter film to video and crunched out a clip for Top of the Pops. For this release, Clark went back to the original films — shot on four cameras, with two angles never developed before — and cut a new video for this release.
“The nice thing about the film is it’s Freddie on his own without anybody else, and it shows the emotion of the song,” Clark says. “We all know he’s a great singer, but I don’t think he’s been seen on his own with just a piano like this. It makes you realize how good somebody is.”