Brian May's first solo hit, and the unforgettable TV ad it was made for, came from the most unlikely of origins.
"Driven By You" is, without doubt, one of rock's most rousing and lasting anthems. Originally written for a Ford car television commercial, the solo track was a worldwide hit when it first debuted as a single off May's 1992 "Back To The Light" album. But the unforgettable song had its beginnings oceans away from the open roads of the U.K. countryside that were framed in that TV ad.
Originally released in November 1991, "Driven By You" saw success worldwide, including reaching No. 6 on the U.K. Singles chart and No. 9 on the U.S. Billboard album rock chart. Re-released to download on June 25 ahead of the forthcoming remastered reissue of May's "Back To The Light" album on August 6, the reissue of the track comes with a scorching new 30th-anniversary video edit. The performance was originally filmed when the QUEEN legend sang the track live for the first time at the 1991 Guitar Legends concert in Seville, Spain, and during his 1992 South America tour.
The energetic footage features Brian performing the song with an all-star band, including Cozy Powell on drums, Neil Murray on bass and Steve Vai on rhythm guitar. Plus, Rick Wakeman and Mike Moran on keyboards, alongside Maggie Ryder, Miriam Stockley and Chris Moran on backing vocals.
Sharing the backstory to "Driven By You", May cites a Los Angeles pool bathroom as the unlikely starting point for his classic song.
"There's a kind of mystery about writing songs. You never know where they come from," he says. "All I know is I was sitting around a swimming pool in Los Angeles with an ad producer. He's sitting there sunning himself. I'm there with my future wife sunning myself by the pool, and we get talking. And he says, 'Oh, you write songs don't you?' I said, 'Yeah, I write songs.' He said, 'Well could you write a song for an advert? Have you ever done that?' And I went, 'No, I've never done it.' He asked, 'Would you like to?' And I said, 'Yes, I'd be very interested.' He then asked me how I would feel about a slogan that goes, 'Everything we do, we do for you'.
"And I went, 'Yeah, I could relate to that' because I can feel that in my own mind about my own self. And it got modified later on. It became 'Everything we do is driven by you' because it was about cars and I liked that even more. And as soon as he said that, I went off to the bathroom with my little tape recorder and sang some stuff into the tape recorder. I sang most of the verse and a bit of the chorus, which is the way it happens with me. Suddenly a light goes on and I could hear it in my head, I could hear the whole thing, 'Driven By You', and I wrote it for them, for the Ford car company, and completed it very quickly. I went into the studio when I got back, completed it quickly for them, and then they liked it."
Revisiting "Driven By You" today, May has also revealed how the song helped create a special understanding with Freddie Mercury in his final days and how the QUEEN singer encouraged his dear friend and bandmate to 'find his wings' in his solo career.
Talking of Freddie, May says: "I played it to Freddie and I said, 'Freddie, you know if this becomes a QUEEN track, which it might do, obviously you should sing it.' He listened and went, 'You've done it very well darling, and I think you should sing it'. Now whether that's because he really did think I sang it well or just because he didn't want to sing anything, I don't know. But he said, 'It's beautiful. It's great. It's very complete in its own way. You should do it.' And he said something very profound at the time. He said, 'You know we're all thinking and wondering what's going to happen to me, and you don't have to feel embarrassed about it. You know you should be thinking about your solo career at this time and if this is the beginning of your solo career then it's a very worthy beginning. This is probably the beginning of your finding your wings as you need to do.' So Freddie was very far-sighted and very generous as always and sort of gave me permission to do this as a solo track, which I did.
"I rewrote the words as a piece of relationship therapy, you know, 'Everything I do is driven by you' and put it out as a single and it was a hit. So it was a nice boost to me to feel I could do things on my own. I wasn't just a piece of QUEEN. And that's what I believe about the core of songs; sometimes you don't know why you're writing them. You don't know where it's coming from, but it can be channelled into a way which makes sense in various ways. And things are always about life for me; they're always about relationships. Either my relationships or relationships with people around me. It's about humans interacting. That to me is the most exciting thing in the world; the most important thing and the hardest thing to get right in your life. A lot of people can do great stuff. You know, fly aeroplanes, go to the Moon. Relationships… not so easy. So it's about that as always."
"Out Of The Light", the companion release available in the "Back To The Light" box set and on the 2CD and digital formats, features three alternative versions of "Driven By You" including the original Ford ad version and a Cozy and Neil '93 version.
"Driven By You" is available to download and stream from June 25.
"Back To The Light" remastered reissue is available on August 6 on CD, vinyl, cassette, digital download and streaming formats.