Eighteen of his albums with Queen have topped the charts, selling more than 300 million copies worldwide. May, who played the guitar solo in “We Are the Champions,” also sang the bass parts in Queen’s rock opera “Bohemian Rhapsody” and penned the classic anthem “We Will Rock You.” He’s on Rolling Stone‘s list of the Top 100 guitarists ever.
But May’s interests aren’t limited to the rock world. Before Queen made it big, May was studying astrophysics at Imperial College in London. He gave it up to hit the road with Queen, but his background in physics helped the band in the recording studio: In “We Will Rock You,” for example, he designed the sound of the famous “stomp stomp clap” section — in order to make it sound like thousands of people were stomping and clapping — based on his knowledge of sound waves and distances. (A more detailed explanation exists in interview highlights below, but he constructed the stomps based on a series of distances based on prime numbers.)
He tells Fresh Air host Terry Gross that ironically, that famous “stomp-clap thing” in “We Will Rock You” wasn’t even included in the original song. May explains that he got the idea after a particularly animated Queen show at Bingley Hall near Birmingham, England.