Posts Tagged ‘Brian May’

Queen A Night At The Opera album cover with border web optimised 820

As the 1970s became the 1980s and all four members of the rock band Queen blossomed as songwriters, their albums started to sound like musical tugs-of-war. In fact, Freddie Mercury compared the group’s competitive streak and overall dynamic to “four cocks fighting”. However, the feathers were already flying on 1975’s ground-breaking, six million-plus selling fourth album, “A Night At The Opera”.

The UK tour to support the release of Sheer Heart Attack got underway during the autumn of 1974, and after taking in Europe and America, it finished at the Budokan in Tokyo, Japan, on 1st May 1975. Between the band’s return and the start of another UK tour on 14 November 1975, Queen recorded the album that would turn them from big stars to superstars. Work on Queen’s fourth album, another co-produced by the band along with Roy Thomas Baker, began in August 1975, and it was only finished shortly before the opening date of their tour at Liverpool’s Empire Theatre on 14th November. A Night At The Opera, as we all now know, is a masterpiece.

John, Roger, Brian and Freddie took much needed holidays before work on the new project began in earnest with a three-week writing and playing session in a rented Herefordshire house. They then decamped over the Welsh Marches once more to Rockfield Studio. The band later worked in five more studios (Roundhouse, Sarm East, Scorpio, Lansdowne, and Olympic) in their pursuit of perfection, and in so doing, their own self-belief was fully justified.

Everything about Queen’s fourth LP sounds big. The production. The performances. The sheer scope of the songs. You can boil it all down to the hit “Bohemian Rhapsody” if you want, but all of ‘A Night at the Opera’ is on this scale. It was their fourth studio album, and almost 45 years later the iconic “A Night At The Opera” is still one of the most talked about albums of all time. Queen’s discography spans over two decades, with 15 albums total, but “A Night At The Opera” is the masterpiece that made the band legendary.

“A Night At The Opera” set the forefront for rock albums to come. With its intricacies and surprising twists and turns, this album is anything but boring. And there is never a wrong time to review and talk about it.

The timeless and beloved hit song “Bohemian Rhapsody” changed how we listen to music today. With praise from big names from the ‘60s (The Beach Boys) and names from today (Panic! At The Disco), this song still is relentlessly covered, loud and relevant. Featured in movies like the famous scene in “Wayne’s World” and still one of the most played songs of all time, “Bohemian Rhapsody” isn’t your average album single. It’s what made Queen one of the most famous bands of all time.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” challenged all preconceived notions of what it meant to record a rock song. The song itself was never made for radio, clocking in at nearly six minutes long. It’s filled with obscure allusions and an inconsistent pace that should’ve sent fans running, but instead sent them to No#1 in the charts.

Though “A Night At The Opera” has one of the famous songs of all time, the album, overall, is full of incredibly organized chaos. Kicking off with a sneering “Death On Two Legs (Dedicated To…)” that’s followed by a less serious “Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon.”

The album isn’t complete without Roger Taylor’s tongue-in-cheek “I’m In Love With My Car,” a rock song that Taylor felt was more important and better quality than Mercury’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

“A Night At The Opera” explores various genres within itself. From the ragtime “Seaside Rendezvous” to the folky “‘39,” there is everything in the nearly 45-minute long, showcasing Queen’s ability to explore various genres, emotions and stories.

The ballad “Love Of My Life” was written by Mercury for his ex-fiance and close friend, Mary Austin. Mercury pleads in the song for his love to not leave him, a very different feeling than the seeming indifference he showcases at the beginning of the album. An orchestral feel with strings, piano and Mercury’s poignant vocals, that later progresses into a rock song with a brief Brian May solo, “Love Of My Life” reinforces Mercury’s lyrical vulnerability and songwriting expertise.

“A Night At The Opera” is a complete collection of everything good that’s ever come out of Queen’s songwriting. It’s intricate, in-depth, it has multiple layers. It’s to be taken very seriously and not seriously at all somehow at the same time. It’s incredibly detailed and has somehow managed to land among the greats. It is Queen’s career-defining LP, and to be taken seriously by many more generations to come.

The 12 tracks that make up A Night At The Opera comfortably broke the 43-minute mark, and like its predecessor, the sequencing of this record creates its own dynamic. This is an album that should be listened to in its entirety.

12) Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon

Rock, pop and vaudeville – it was all fair game to Freddie Mercury. As fun as it is, the trouble with Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon is that Mercury had already written one vaudeville pastiche, Bring Back That Leroy Brown on Queen’s Sheer Heart Attack album. The world didn’t need another. Freddie’s ‘Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon’ continued to showcase his piano playing skills and his growing confidence on keyboards helped to make the whole album so much better.

11) Good Company

Brian May has always been a one-man guitar orchestra, and rarely more so on this homage to Dixieland jazz, in which he sang a charming When I’m 64-style lyric while his guitar mimicked a ukulele-banjo and a clarinet. Once heard, rarely played again, though (unless it comes up unexpectedly on iPod shuffle and you can’t forward it quickly enough). Brian’s ‘Good Company’ is one of his wise family pieces – a song full of sound values and mature reflection. Recorded with the ukulele and his trusty Red Special to hand, their overlapping mimics a traditional Dixieland jazz band feel; the poignant narrative has a twist in the tale.

10) God Save The Queen

Queen’s version of the National Anthem closes A Night At The Opera album – and quite rightly so. Where else should it go? Still a testament to Brian May’s regal guitar skills, the most surprising thing about God Save The Queen is that it took the band four albums to get around to recording it.

9) Seaside Rendezvous

More old-time musical japes from Freddie. But preferable to Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon thanks to Mercury and Roger Taylor’s pin-sharp harmonies, some imaginative use of kazoo and the singer’s final payoff ‘Give us a kiss!’ which, unusually for Freddie, is delivered with all the grace and panache of driver Stan Butler leering at a buxom ‘clippie’ in the 70s TV comedy On The Buses.

8) Sweet Lady

Even Brian May’s tidy Zep-meets-Free riff can’t save Sweet Lady from obscurity. True, there’s a nice Communication Breakdown-style guitar dust-up at the end, but May would do it better in the years ahead (see: Tie Your Mother Down, Hammer To Fall…). Also contains one of the worst Queen lyrics ever: ‘You call me sweet, like I’m some kind of cheese…’ Brian’s ‘Sweet Lady’ accentuated the almost wilful diversity of Queen at this point in their career, with its live rhythm section and heavily distorted rock thrash in ¾ time. Mercury’s ‘Seaside Rendezvous’ is another track that shows the band’s inventiveness, since Freddie and Roger provide a woodwind section performed by just their voices, along with a tap dancing sequence they performed on the mixing desk with thimbles over their fingers.

7) The Prophet’s Song

On paper this Brian May-composed pomp epic should be one of Queen’s finest hard rock moments. But it struggles to match past gems such as Brighton Rock and Father To Son. Instead, it’s an oddly sluggish affair – like Jethro Tull on Night Nurse – but salvaged by that insane a cappella vocal mid-section. Brian’s lengthy, ‘The Prophet’s Song’, that was inspired, if that is the right word, when he was feverish with hepatitis during the Sheer Heart Attack sessions. A heavy, moody piece, ‘The Prophet’s Song’ was the ideal centrepiece for the forthcoming tour. Its Biblical atmosphere being accentuated by the guitarist’s use of the toy koto, a traditional Japanese stringed instrument more usually associated with experimental classical music.

6) ‘39

Brian May once described 39 as “sci-fi skiffle”. But while he does set a Robert Heinlein-inspired lyric to a Lonnie Donegan guitar thrashalong, its sing-song campfire melody and simple charm make it May’s best song on A Night At The Opera. Brian May’s ‘39’ is his first composition to appear on this album and it is a science fiction come space travel number that is a reminder of his learned interest in astrophysics and astronomy in general. Given the song’s weird skiffle arrangement, Brian asked Deacon to play double bass, and the number was included in Queen’s set-list by 1976, becoming an instant crowd favourite.

5) I’m In Love With My Car

Some would give Roger Taylor points on his licence for I’m In Love With My Car, the B-side to Bohemian Rhapsody. But why? The 1975-vintage Taylor, with his blonde girl’s hair and fine line in self-aggrandising, laddish rock songs (see also: Tenement Funster), captures the essence of Queen’s barefaced cheek and grandeur. Plus, any song that rhymes ‘forget her’ with ‘carburettor’ can’t be all bad, can it?

4) Love Of My Life

It says much about Queen’s embarrassment of riches that this romantic ballad (reputedly written for Mercury’s soon-to-be- ex-girlfriend Mary Austin) was dropped from the set in the mid-80s despite becoming an audience singalong at shows in the late ‘70s. Other, lesser bands would have clung on to it for dear life – and forever.

3) You’re My Best Friend

Freddie Mercury nicknamed Queen bassist John Deacon “the ostrich”. Deacon’s songwriting moments were rare, but he laid some golden eggs (the most golden being Another One Bites The Dust). However, You’re My Best Friend, a slightly twee pop song dedicated to Deacon’s missus Veronica, came first. Not that his bandmates liked it: Taylor thought the lyrics too soft and Mercury refused to play electric piano, making The Ostrich play it instead. But what did they know?. More new ground is broken by John Deacon’s ‘You’re My Best Friend’, which in 1976 became the eminent bass man’s first composition to be released as a Queen single, and a hit at that. Very much John’s baby, he even supplies the Wurlitzer organ.

2) Death On Two Legs

For all his charm and wit, Freddie Mercury could be a vicious sod. And the opening track on A Night At The Opera, apart from being close to its best, is certainly its most vicious. Lyrics such as ‘You suck my blood like a leech’ were aimed at Queen’s ex-co-manager Norman Sheffield, and were so vituperative the now late Sheffield threatened Queen with a lawsuit. From its Hammer Horror movie intro through May’s scything guitar solo and Mercury’s impassioned ‘You’re tearing me a-p-a-r-t’, this is Queen at their rococo rock finest.

1) Bohemian Rhapsody

Over-familiarity, over-exposure and hearing that terrible version in a recent TV ad for a well-known holiday company, has truly taken the shine off Bohemian Rhapsody. Yet to put Queen’s mini-symphony anywhere other than at number one seems churlish and, worse still, fake. More than 40 years on, its daring fusion of heavy metal, show-tune balladry and light opera remains the high watermark on A Night At The Opera, and a tribute to 70s Queen’s collective imagination and sheer bravado. Composed in six sections, mostly by Mercury in his Holland Park home, this was the song that divided opinion even within the ranks. Surely they couldn’t expect to get away with this? Mercury was certain of its merits, but seldom gave much away concerning the lyrical structure and the references to classic opera, Old Testament seers and the principal characters Scaramouche and Galileo.

Ironically, prior to releasing it as a single, one senior EMI executive was convinced that it was too long and he tried to convince the band that it needed to be edited if it was to stand any chance of getting any radio plays.

Mixing the gloriously bombastic with the sweetly simple, May’s guitar solo is bang on the money. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was very much “Freddie’s thing” and also his tour de force, containing as it did elements of works in progress from earlier ventures.

As if the song wasn’t visual enough, it was accompanied by a ground-breaking video, and while it was said to be the most expensively constructed single made to that point in time,

And that wasn’t the end of the affair, and there was only one way to follow it. A revisit to May’s arrangement of the National Anthem, ‘God Save The Queen’ (surely that didn’t go unnoticed in Sex Pistols circles either); it was something they’d been using as a tour finale for some time. Instrumental, multi-layered and strangely affecting, May would achieve a kind of lifetime ambition many years later when he performed it from the roof of Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002; it was also a kind of homage to Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock version of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’.

And so the album was released on 21st November 1975 and as a result, that Christmas belonged to Queen. The sold-out tour that had begun a week before the album’s release culminated with a Christmas Eve concert at Hammersmith Odeon that was videotaped and broadcast by the BBC on The Old Grey Whistle Test.

Queen - A Night At The Opera

A Night At The Opera, as we all now know, is a masterpiece. Everything from its title (borrowed from The Marx Brothers 1935 movie) to the music, the album’s artwork and the whole pomp and circumstance of the entire package is majestic.

In early March of 1974, Queen did something that they’ve now done 54 times to date. They made the UK singles chart for the very first time, as ‘Seven Seas Of Rhye’ took its bow at a modest chart place No. 45. It was the first of what currently stands at 440 weeks overall on the British bestsellers or, to put it another way, nearly eight and a half years.

The song has, of course, taken its rightful place in Queen history, both for being their chart breakthrough and for representing the band at the height of their rocking powers. But when Roger Taylor spoke to Record Mirror in 1975, he revealed that he hadn’t expected it to do well, and that he had thought their earlier, debut single, which wasn’t a chart item, would perform better.

“Apart from ‘Killer Queen” he said, “which was obviously catchy, I don’t think of our singles as being immediately commercial. For instance, when ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’ was a hit, I was very surprised. It was only intended really to draw attention to the album. I thought that ‘Keep Yourself Alive’ was a much more commercial song. I think it is probably an advantage not to know exactly what will sell, “because then you are not inhibited in your choice of a single.”

As ‘Rhye’ made its chart debut, the album it was on, Queen IIwas new in the shops, and the single and LP would climb the UK charts in tandem. After that No. 45 entry, ‘Seven Seas’ climbed to No. 30 and then No. 15, where it seemed to have stalled before it rose again, peaking at No. 10 in mid-April. Queen II would within two weeks it was in the top ten, for a No. 5 peak. Queen’s sales momentum was now well and truly under way.

Seven Seas of Rhye” was primarily written by Freddie Mercury, with Brian May contributing the second middle-eight. The song is officially credited to Mercury only. A rudimentary instrumental version appears as the final track on the group’s debut album Queen with the final version on the follow-up Queen II , The completed version served as the band’s third single, It was publicly premiered when Queen were offered a sudden chance to appear on Top of the Pops in February 1974, and was rushed to vinyl two days later in February. It became their first chart entry after gaining airtime on BBC Radio 1.

Stop The Press! Queen Announce Five-Disc ‘News Of The World’ Box Set

In 1977, Queen were the champions. They came to rock you. While much of the music press was getting in a lather over punk and predicting the death of classic rock (wrongly, as it would turn out), the real headlines were these: Queen had a new album out. They’d penned two juggernaut songs – alongside a host of other genre-hopping tracks – and, in News Of The World, they were poised to break America.

Forty years after Queen truly elevated themselves to arena-filling live act, “News Of The World” is set to reappear in a 40th-anniversary box set edition spanning one LP, three CDs and a DVD, and featuring previously unheard recordings that will rock you all over again.

Due for release on 17th November, the original News Of The World album is bolstered with a whole CD of previously unheard takes from the recording sessions, making up an alternative Raw Sessions version of the album. Among the surprises on this disc are a recording of Brian May’s ‘All Dead, All Dead’, sung by Freddie Mercury and only ever heard by the band’s closest confidants; an unedited version of ‘Sheer Heart Attack’, with its intro and ending fully intact; and another unreleased full-length recording in the shape of one of the album’s indisputable classic cuts, ‘We Are The Champions’.

With a host of other differences between the Raw Sessions and the released News Of The World album versions, this disc marks one of the first times that Queen’s archives have been opened to such an extent – and it reveals plenty more jewels in the band’s crown.

One of the most stylistically varied albums in Queen’s wide-ranging body of work, News Of The World itself appears in the box set as both the 2011 CD remaster and also a band new Pure Analogue LP cut, taken direct from the unmastered analogue tapes and housed in a replica of the original 1977 artwork. A third CD offers further rarities, among them a seven-song BBC radio session, instrumental backing tracks and live recordings, while a 60-page booklet and a DVD of the unreleased Queen: The American Dream documentary take further in-depth looks behind the scenes of a phenomenal year in Queen’s truly regal history. Tracking the band both on tour and in the recording studio, Queen: The American Dream in particular captures the group as they were poised to take over the US – and further stake their claim as one of the world’s greatest rock bands.

Queen’s News Of The World: 40th Anniversary Edition box set is due for release on 17 November. A limited edition print is available for orders placed through Queen’s online store

The 40th anniversary News Of The World box set is issued next month and the band have just made available a couple of previously unreleased outtakes from the ‘Raw Sessions’ disc (CD 2 in the box), namely We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions. 

Decades ago, Queen‘s “Bohemian Rhapsody” posed an existential question: “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” So, what better soundtrack for a cool new virtual reality interactive called the Bohemian Rhapsody Experience?.
Queen have paired with Google Play and Enosis VR to create this 360-degree 3D journey, which runs on both iOS and Android. Check it out at the official site, where it can be downloaded via Google Play or at the App Store. You can also watch the interactive through Google Cardboard or as a 360-degree video on your mobile device.
“It’s fully interactive, where most of the things are triggered by your gaze,” Enosis founder Vangelis Lympouridis told the Creators Project. “As you view it, a lot of things pop up in front of your eyes. You don’t necessarily feel that you trigger them, but you do. Where your attention goes, that’s where action unfolds.”
Want to find out more? The above video takes fans on a behind-the-scenes tour to see how the Bohemian Rhapsody Experience was created.
Audiophiles will notice something too. Dolby laboratories took the original master tapes for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which date back to the Queen sessions for 1975’s A Night at the Opera, and gave them a sparkling new remix. “Brian May said it’s unbelievable how immersive the mix is and that we a great job,” Lympouridis added. “Having the band proclaim that the audio is superior is obviously really great.”

Take a behind the scenes look at a virtual reality experiment from Google Play and Queen. The Bohemian Rhapsody Experience offers a journey through Queen frontman Freddie Mercury’s subconscious mind and recreates the sensation of being onstage with the band, with visual and audio elements that respond to your movements. The content is also available as a 360 degree video for you to experience even if you do not own a Google Cardboard.

Queen

Queen in concert at The Hippodrome, Golders Green, recorded on October 20th, 1973 by BBC Radio 1 for their weekly In-Concert series. Queen came along at a time when seemingly everything in Rock was up for grabs – changes were all over the place. The 70s were the decade of Prog, Hard Rock, Country-Rock, Glam, 50s Revival, Disco, Punk and New Wave (and probably several more that flew by).

A lot of musical changes were crammed into the space of 10 years, and the business itself was changing considerably during those ten years. Rock had grown up – was now a huge business; it was something that entertained corporate stature. And even though it was still a bunch of kids getting together in a garage and working on music and struggling to make it, it was now big business – very big business.

Queen came along, following in the footsteps of David Bowie, Mott The Hoople and Glam in general. However, they represented a different approach as to how music and bands were looking at business and their careers. In the 1970s many bands were setting up their own production companies and in some cases their own labels. It was a way of maintaining artistic vision and retaining control over what they were putting out. Quickly fading were the days when an artist or band would be signed to a label and have three songs cut; one for the a-side of a single, one for the b-side and one extra in case neither worked out. Based on sales and how that single did, they would go on to the next step and record an albums worth of material (sometimes quickly, which meant a lot of “filler” was involved). It was pretty much to the dictates of the label – and some labels were unscrupulous (and still are, according to quite a few). The business was now evolving into an atmosphere where Managers and Production companies were beginning to call the shots.

In the case of Queen, they were aligned with producer Roy Thomas Baker and Trident Studios; a relationship which was the catalyst and model for many other artists to follow later on. Baker and Trident negotiated what at the time was barely heard of – especially for a new act – leasing masters and negotiating with labels in other territories to release their albums. Baker, Trident and Queen were in a position, not only to call the shots, but to preserve their artistic direction and vision – something previously known in the world of Music as a crapshoot.

But the fact that Queen were high-energy and coupled with excellent production, made them an instantly accessible band. I remember when their debut album was issued in the U.S. via Elektra (they were on EMI in the UK), it succeeded in dropping jaws and creating a lot of excitement. This concert comes just about two months after that debut album was issued and you get the unmistakable feeling something is starting to happen.

By 1975 however, Queen had become major. And thanks to their 3rd album Sheer Heart Attack, they were became international successes. Remember, this is all before A Night At The Opera, the pivotal album which turned them into superstars and filled arenas to overflow. This concert finds them heading in that direction. Propelled by the soaring vocals of Freddie Mercury and the virtuosic efforts of Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon.

The story of Queen is not unknown to fans – the story of Freddie Mercury and his battle with AIDS took a ravaging disease and brought it closer to home.

But that’s all in the future – here we are, and it’s 1973. The Hippodrome is playing host to Queen and BBC Radio 1 are preserving it all. You get to listen to it now and be reminded or become introduced to one of the extraordinary bands of the 1970s and hear why they became household names.