Queen

Queen was an English rock band that released fourteen studio albums between 1973 and 1991. Their first two albums, Queen and Queen II, contain epic rockers by flamboyant frontman Freddie Mercury and guitarist Brian May, including their early anthem “Keep Yourself Alive.”

They scored a transatlantic breakthrough with “Killer Queen,” a cabaret rocker from their third album Sheer Heart Attack. Its followup, A Night at the Opera, catapulted Queen to the global major leagues with “You’re My Best Friend” and their magnum opus “Bohemian Rhapsody.” By now, bassist John Deacon and drummer Roger Taylor made regular songwriting contributions.

Queen proliferated with the 1976–78 albums A Day at the Races, News of the World, and Jazz. They adapted early to music video and scored further hits with “Somebody to Love,” “Fat Bottom Girls,” and “Bicycle Race.” Their 1977 hits “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions” have become perennials at sporting events worldwide. Queen’s music grew to encompass pop, funk, blues, hard rock, and piano ballads.

Queen embraced rockabilly on their 1979 single “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” which ushered their 1980 release The Game and its Chic-inspired hit “Another One Bites the Dust.” Later that year, they scored the soundtrack to the action-adventure Flash. In 1981, Queen paired with David Bowie for the single “Under Pressure,” which appears on the band’s 1982 release Hot Space along with the subsequent hit “Body Language.”

In 1984, Queen had back-to-back European hits with “Radio Ga Ga” and “I Want to Break Free” from their eleventh studio album The Works. After their 1985 performance at Live Aid, Queen performed “One Vision,” the theme song to the fantasy action-adventure The Highlander. The band’s 1986 release A Kind of Magic serves as the film’s unofficial soundtrack. During this period, Mercury released a solo album, Mr. Bad Buy, and charted with the Platters cover “The Great Pretender.” Queen reconvened with the 1989 release The Miracle, recorded after the singer’s HIV diagnosis.

In 1991, Queen made a comeback with “Innuendo,” the epic title-track to their fourteenth studio album, released months before Mercury’s passing from AIDS. In his memory, the surviving members staged a star-studded tribute at London’s Wembley Stadium. A final collection of songs appeared in 1995 on Made in Heaven.

Members: Brian May (vocals, guitar, piano, ukulele, synthesizer), Roger Taylor (vocals, drums, percussion, synthesizer, guitar, bass), Freddie Mercury (vocals, piano, synthesizer, guitar, programming, 1970-91), Mike Grose (bass, 1970), Barry Mitchell (bass, 1970-71), Doug Bogie (bass, 1971), John Deacon (bass, rhythm guitar, synthesizer, 1971-98)


Background, Smile

Queen evolved from the late ’60s psych-rock trio Smile, which issued the single “Earth” (b/w “Step On Me”) on Mercury Records in 1968. Guitarist Brian May (b. July 19, 1947) had played in bands since age 17, when he assembled the R&B/beat group 1984 with singer/bassist Tim Staffell.

May came to the scene with the Red Special, a custom-made electric guitar equipped with a 24-fret oak fingerboard, three single-coil pick-ups, and (originally) a built-in distortion circuit. He built the instrument with his father during 1963/64 and still uses it to this day.

May and Staffell formed Smile in 1968 with drummer Roger Taylor (b. July 26, 1949), who saw their ad on a college-notice board for a “Mitch Mitchell/Ginger Baker type” drummer. The band gigged for two years and recorded six songs in total. (One of these, the May/Staffell composition “Doin’ Alright,” was later recorded for Queen’s first album.)

Staffell, then a student at Ealing Art College, befriended classmate Freddie Bulsara (b. Sept. 5, 1946), who offered to take over vocal duties in Smile. Bulsara got the gig and Staffell soon left the band. The bassist formed a one-off trio, Humpy Bog, with drummer Colin Petersen (ex-Bee Gees) and singer/songwriter Jonathan Kelly. Staffell then sang and played guitar and percussion on the 1972 album Nova Solis by symphonic-rockers Morgan.


Queen Premiers

Bulsara, who favored a grand nameplate, suggested that Smile rename itself Queen. He adopted the surname Mercury after the line “Mother Mercury, look what they’ve done to me” in a new song he had written for the band, “My Fairy King.”

Queen’s premier London concert occurred on July 18, 1970. Their set comprised largely of material that they’d later record for their first two albums. After shuffling through three short-term bassists, they filled that slot the following February with John Deacon (b. Aug. 19, 1951).

In 1971, Queen was offered free recording time at Wembley’s newly built, state-of-the-art De Lane Lea Studios. They cut five demos and drew the interest of budding record producer Roy Thomas Baker (Free, Nazareth), who shopped the band to various labels. During 1972, the still-unsigned act spent eight months recording their first album at Soho’s Trident Studios. Recordings took place during off-hours with Baker, who produced this and the band’s subsequent three albums.

In March 1973, with their album in the can, Queen signed to EMI in a deal brokered by Neptune Productions, the managerial wing of Trident. In advance of the band, Mercury made his EMI debut on the June release “I Can Hear Music,” a Ronettes cover (written by Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich, and Phil Spector) backed with “Goin’ Back,” a Goffin–King song popularized by Dusty Springfield. The single was produced by Trident soundman Robin Geoffrey Cable and released under the name Larry Lurex, a spoof on Gary Glitter.


1973: Queen

Queen released their self-titled debut album on July 13, 1973, on EMI (UK, Europe, ZA) and Elektra (North America, Oceania, Japan). It opens with “Keep Yourself Alive,” a pyrotechnic rocker that ascends through multiple riffs to an anthemic chorus. The song appeared a week in advance as Queen’s first single, backed with the side-two cut “Son and Daughter.” May composed both songs, plus “The Night Comes Down” and the Smile co-write “Doing All Right.”

Taylor contributed the brief, brisk “Modern Times Rock ‘n’ Roll.” The remainder of the album consists of Mercury compositions: “Great King Rat,” “My Fairy King,” “Liar,” “Jesus,” and the 70-second postlude “Seven Seas of Rhye…,” which he developed into a full song for the following album.

Baker co-produced Queen with John Anthony, a soundman for assorted acts on Charisma (Genesis, Lindisfarne, Rare Bird, Van der Graaf Generator) and Vertigo (Affinity, May Blitz), who recently produced albums by Al Stewart (Orange), Home (The Alchemist), and Roxy Music (For Your Pleasure). Aside from Baker, the credits list three engineers, including Mike “Clay” Stone (Pawn Hearts, Nursery Cryme) and David Hentschel (Atomic RoosterByzantium, Elton JohnJackson Heights, Michel Polnareff, Mott the Hoople).

May and Mercury designed the packaging of Queen with Taylor’s friend Douglas Puddifoot, who photographed Freddie live for the front cover. The back cover features a collage of group and member pics (mostly red-tinted) with their Queen Crest logo in the upper-center. It combines the zodiac signs of each member: two Leo lions (Deacon and Taylor), two Virgo fairies (Mercury), and one Cancer crab (May). Mercury designed the logo shortly before this album’s completion. Queen’s later Marx-titled albums display this logo with greater prominence.

Queen performed “Keep Yourself Alive” on a 7/24/73 broadcast of the BBC music program The Old Grey Whistle Test. In October, they did exclusive engagements in Bonn, Germany (10/13/73: Underground, Bad Godesberg) and Luxembourg (10/14/73: Le Blow Up). On November 12, they launched a 23-date UK tour with Mott the Hoople at Leeds Hall, wrapping with two shows on December 14 at the Hammersmith Odeon. On Dec. 28, they supported fellow newcomers 10cc at Liverpool’s Top Rank Suite. Amid these activities, Queen recorded their second album at Trident.


1974: Queen II

On January 27, 1974, Queen made their Australian debut at the Sunbury Music Festival, a four-day event at George Duncan’s farm in Diggers Rest, west of Melbourne, with sets by Ayers Rock, Chain, MacKenzie Theory, Madder Lake, Mississippi, Sherbet, and Skyhooks. Queen — who were scoffed as “poms” (antipodean slang for “English”) by the local crowd — promised they’d return to Australia as superstars.

Queen mimed the now-completed “Seven Seas of Rhye” on the 2/21/74 broadcast of the BBC music program Top of the Pops (rebroadcast 3/14/74). The song appeared on February 25, 1974, as their second EMI a-side, backed with May’s “See What a Fool I’ve Been.”

“Seven Seas of Rhye” is the closing track on Queen II, released on March 8, 1974, on EMI and Elektra. Side White (one) consists primarily of May compositions, starting with “Procession,” a guitar prelude that signals “Father and Son,” a lavish rock anthem that segues into “White Queen (As It Began),” a symphonic epic of soft–heavy dynamics. Taylor’s booming “The Loser in the End” closes out the side on a bluesier note.

Side Black (two) consists entirely of Mercury numbers, starting with “Ogre Battle,” a viscous rush of backward effects and multi-tracked vocals that segue into the galloping “The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke.” The piano–vocal interlude “Nevermore” precedes “The March of the Black Queen,” a smoldering epic of layered vocals and swelling interplay. Abrupt changes of style (opera, music hall) transition things to “Funny How Love Is,” a harmonized strummalong. The sparkling ivory intro of “Seven Seas of Rhye” now heralds a muscular, modulating uptempo rocker, graced with operatic harmonies and noodling cadenzas.

Sessions took place between August 5, 1973, and February 20, 1974, at Trident. Baker produced the bulk of Queen II amid work on albums by Welsh mainstays Man (Rhinos, Winos, and Lunatics), Danish rockers Gasolin’, and future Hawkwind frontman Robert Calvert. Cable produced two tracks (“Nevermore,” “Funny How Love Is”) concurrently with titles by Chris De Burgh, Dana Gillespie, and Jimmy Webb. Mike Stone, one of four engineers on Queen, served as the sole engineer on Queen II and the subsequent four albums.

Queen II sports a cover photo by Mick Rock, the famed photographer behind 1972–74 albums visuals for Be-Bop Deluxe (Axe Victim), Camel (Mirage), Cockney Rebel (The Psychomodo), David Bowie (Ziggy Stardust), Iggy & the Stooges (Raw Power), and Lou Reed (Transformer). The Queen II image — where Queen’s shaded faces form a rhombus in the dark with Mercury’s hands crossed shoulder-to-shoulder — would reappear in subsequent media, notably in the video of their 1975 magnum opus “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Queen II reached No. 5 on the UK Albums Chart. Queen promoted the album with a 24-date UK tour (March 1—April 2), supported on select dates by Liverpudlian hard-rockers Nutz. On April 16, Queen did their first US tour as an opening act for Mott the Hoople. Their April 20 show at Mid-South Coliseum, Memphis, featured a third act, soul rockers Babe Ruth. After a May 7–11 stand at Uris Theatre in New York City, Kirshner Records signees Kansas took the place of Queen, who left the tour after May suffered a bout of hepatitis.

Queen started sessions for their third album on July 7 at Trident.


Sheer Heart Attack

On October 11, 1974, Queen issued their third single, “Killer Queen,” Mercury’s tale of a French courtesan. With its cabaret piano verses; operatic, multi-tracked chorus; and sparkling, arpeggiated guitar fills, the song became their breakthrough international hit, reaching No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 12 on the US Billboard Hot 100. The b-side, “Flick of the Wrist,” is a brimming Mercury rocker with fidgety, pent-up verses and a floodgate chorus, replete with booming bass and flowing syllables.

Queen’s third album, Sheer Heart Attack, appeared on November 8, 1974, on EMI and Elektra. It features six Mercury numbers: both sides of the single plus “Lily of the Valley,” “Bring Back That Leroy Brown,” and two distinct songs titled “In the Lap of the Gods” and “In the Lap of the Gods…Revisited.” The album also includes four May compositions (“Brighton Rock,” “Now I’m Here,” “Dear Friends,” “She Makes Me (Stormtrooper in Stilettoes)”) and a contribution apiece from Taylor (“Tenement Funster”) and Deacon (“Misfire,” his writing debut). One track, the speed-metal archetype “Stone Cold Crazy,” is group-credited because they couldn’t remember which member penned the lyrics.

Stylistically, Sheer Heart Attack adds traces of folk and retro music hall to Queen’s signature blend of symphonic-rock and glam-metal.

Brighton Rock” emerges from circus clatter with an exuberant riff and unrecognizably high-pitched vocals about two seaside lovers. The song speeds along with smoky riffs, echoing drums, and moments of smoldering free-form experimentation.

Killer Queen” starts with a cabaret piano-vocal arrangement (in C minor) and quotes Marie Antoinette (“Let them eat cake”) in its tale of a high-class serial mistress.

Tenement Funster” opens with a staccato guitar figure and Taylor vocals, joined by booming drums that herald the terse chorus line “Oh, give me a good guitar,” followed by soaring May leads. The track segues into Flick of the Wrist,” a fussy, flaring rocker that links to Lily of the Valley,” a tender piano postlude marked by Freddie’s angelic held notes and Brian’s searing sustains.

Now I’m Here” — which opens on a tense, closed-cadence descent (in D) — is a swaying rocker about self-exultation.

In the Lap of the Gods” consists of multi-tracked vocals, cascading piano, and a low-register verse with windy backward cymbals.

Stone Cold Crazy” sports a galloping, pummeling riff (in G minor), cut by frenetic ticking verses and a smoldering break.

Dear Friends” is a tender piano–vocal interlude.

Misfire” is a two-chord strumalong with wailing leads, rich harmonies, and double-tracked vocal counterpoint; capped by a modulating outro with searing runs.

Bring Back That Leroy Brown” is vintage ’20s/’30s music hall in galloping 2/4 with churning banjolele and saloon piano. Midway, legato guitar and scaling bass assail the “woo-woo” bridge.

She Makes Me (Stormtrooper in Stilettoes)” is a heavy ballad with doubled two-chord acoustic strum (D-D-D-A…, played by May and Deacon), topped with airy vocals and a gusty outro.

In the Lap of the Gods…Revisited” (thematically unrelated to its titlesake) is a cabaret piano ballad with emotive vocals; gradually overlaid with smoldering Red Special and grand choral vocals.

Sheer Heart Attack was recorded between July 7 and October 22, 1974, at studios in London (Trident, AIR, Wessex Sound) and Monmouthshire, Wales (Rockfield). Taylor conceived a title-track that went unfinished for the time being.

Baker produced Sheer Heart Attack just ahead of Futurama, the second album by EMI’s next-in-line, Be-Bop Deluxe, whose guitarist–frontman Bill Nelson plied May-like tones and cadenzas during this period. Continuing soundman Mike Stone also worked on 1974 albums by Headstone (Bad Habits) and Strawbs (Ghosts).

Mick Rock photographed the Sheer Heart Attack cover, which shows the group huddled on their backs in apparent heat strokes; flanked by the name and title in bold red all-caps. The back shows the same image under cracked glass.

Sheer Heart Attack reached No. 2 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 12 on the US Billboard 200.

Queen promoted the album with an 18-date UK tour that commenced on October 30 at Manchester Palace. They welcomed the holidays with an 11-date Continental tour (Nov. 23–Dec. 13). On December 27, Queen made their second TotP appearance miming “Killer Queen.” Their second US tour (Feb. 5–23, 1975) covered 15 cities with support on select dates by Kansas and Mahogany Rush. In April, Queen flew to Japan for a seven-city, eight-date tour, bookended by shows at Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan Arena. 


1975: A Night at the Opera

On October 31, 1975, Queen issued “Bohemian Rhapsody,” an operatic rock opus in three sections. Mercury developed the song piecemeal over a six-year period. It was accompanied with a music video directed by British TV producer Bruce Gowers, who also made the video to 10cc’s recent “I’m Not In Love.” With its impassioned verses, whimsical middle, and explosive climax, “Bohemian Rhapsody” topped the UK Singles Chart for nine weeks over the 1975–76 holiday season.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” is the penultimate track on Queen’s fourth album, A Night at the Opera, released on November 21, 1975, on EMI and Elektra. It features four additional Mercury numbers (“Death on Two Legs,” “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon,” “Seaside Rendezvous,” “Love of My Life”), four May contributions (“’39,” “Sweet Lady,” “The Prophet’s Song,” “Good Company”), and a song apiece by Taylor (“I’m in Love with My Car”) and Deacon (“You’re My Best Friend”). The album is titled after the 1935 MGM comedy film starring The Marx Brothers.

Musically, A Night at the Opera emphasizes Queen’s penchants for multi-movement epics (“The Prophet’s Song,” “Bohemian Rhapsody”) and retro music hall (“Seaside Rendezvous,” “Good Company”) with forays into folk (“’39”), balladry (“Love of My Life”), hot-rod rock (“I’m in Love with My Car”), harmony pop (“You’re My Best Friend”), and cabaret whimsy (“Death on Two Legs”).

Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to…)” opens the album with a piano cadenza, overtaken by grim riffage that breaks to a cabaret motif, flanked with wailing leads and biting lyrics (“You suck my blood like a leech, You break the law and you breach”) aimed at Queen’s first manager, Norman Sheffield, who sued the band for an out-of-court settlement. The song follows a stop–start structure marked with abrupt key changes.

Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon” is a piano cabaret miniature with campy, disguised vocals.

I’m in Love with My Car” is a slow, heavy freewheeling anthem with smoldering guitar and cocky vocals. Taylor lobbied successfully to have this as the b-side of the “Bohemian Rhapsody” single.

You’re My Best Friend” opens with sustained C notes on the Wurlitzer electric piano. It swells into a Beach Boys-style harmony pop number with quaint, nostalgic vibes. EMI lifted this as the album’s second single, which peaked at No. 2 in Canada and No. 7 on the UK Singles Chart.

“‘39” is a folksy acoustic strumalong about astral travelers who embark on a year-long voyage, then return to find that 100 years have passed due to time dilation. Deacon learned the contrabass for this number. May’s leads invoke a theremin tone (Star Trek style) on the break.

Sweet Lady” is heavy, mid-tempo harmony pop in 3/4 with a descending three-chord passage and a shuffling, double-speed chorus.

Seaside Rendezvous” is ’20s-style ragtime music hall with swooning vocals, speakeasy horns, and barroom piano.

The Prophet’s Song” (8:21) fades in at length on the toy koto, a Japanese zither. It bursts into epic mode on the line “listen to the wise man,” which signals a tense riff (in A minor) and a lurching, menacing passage (in D). May wrote the lyrics during his recovery after waking from a dream about a great flood of Noah’s ark proportions. The track swells on the pre-chorus (“I see no day, I heard him say, so grey is the face of every mortal”) with vocal flare-ups and intensified volume. A middle sequence of echoey, layered, multi-tracked harmonies gives way to a slide-laden rock jam before the song reinstates for a final chorus, swallowed by a chiming figure (in G), an explosion, and a recap of the toy koto, which segues into:

Love of My Life,” a piano ballad with melodramatic vocals and layered harmony passages, interspersed with ivory etudes.

Good Company” is a rustic, May-sung music hall number with knee-slapping banjo (lyrically stated) and manicured leads.

Bohemian Rhapsody” (5:55) opens on the multi-tracked salvo “is this the real life.” In the first section (piano ballad), the narrator offers glimpses of his troubled home life (“mama just killed a man”) and his need to go (“carry on, cause nothing really matters”). The second chorus is followed by wailing leads that break to a non-sequitur, cabaret midsection, where Freddie name-drops characters from classic art, literature, and astronomy — Scaramouche, Galileo, Figaro — possibly as metaphors for the band members, which engage in an operatic call-and-response (“he’s just a poor boy from a poor family”). A thundering line (“Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me..”) heralds section three: a bursting hard-rock riff (in D) interjected with salient lines (“so you think you can love me an leave me to die”). A sudden recap of the intro (“nothing really matters”) ends the song. Mercury welcomed multiple interpretations to the lyrics, which possibly deal with a teenager who flees home to find his muse but encounters seedy elements along the way.

God Save the Queen” serves as the album’s postlude: a Red Special take on Britain’s national anthem. Gentle Giant did a similar arrangement at the close of their debut album.

Sessions took place from August to November, 1975, at Rockfield and five London studios: Olympic, Lansdowne, Sarm, Roundhouse, and Scorpio Sound. “God Save the Queen” was recorded months beforehand at Trident, which Queen abandoned after breaking ties with Neptune Productions and hiring Elton John’s manager, Scottish music mogul John Reid. Baker produced A Night at the Opera concurrently with albums by Hustler, Gasolin’, and Jet (Jet), comprised of recent Sparks members. Stone also engineered 1975 albums by Peter Hammill (Nadir’s Big Chance), Starry Eyed and Laughing, and Who drummer Keith Moon.

A Night at the Opera sports a white gatefold cover design by David Costa, a onetime guitarist of English folk-rockers Trees. It shows the Queen Crest logo against the Japanese rising sun with the name and title in cursive. The original inner-sleeve features light-tinted, dry-ice-laden live shots of Queen. Costa also designed 1974/75 album covers for Elton and Kiki Dee (I’ve Got the Music in Me).

A Night at the Opera reached No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart and also topped the Dutch, Australian, and New Zealand album charts. In North America, it reached No. 2 on the Canadian Albums Chart and No. 4 on the US Billboard 200.

Queen promoted A Night at the Opera with a five-week, 17-city UK tour that started with a two-night (Nov. 14–15) stand at Liverpool’s Empire Theatre and wrapped on Christmas Eve at the Hammersmith Odeon. They launched their third US tour on January 27, 1976, at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, NY. The tour covered 21 cities and included a double-bill with Foghat (2/13/76: Riverfront Coliseum, Cincinnati) and a multi-night stand in Santa Monica (3/9–12/76: Civic Auditorium). On March 22, Queen opened their second Japanese tour with their third Budokan show. In April, they made their second visit to Australia where (as Mercury promised) Queen were now superstars.

Mercury produced “Man From Manhattan,” a folk-pop music hall song by singer–songwriter Eddie Howell. May plays a fifteen-second solo on the song, a Benelux hit that appears on the singer’s titlesake album on Warner Bros.


1976: A Day at the Races

Queen released their fifth album, A Day at the Races, on December 10, 1976, on EMI and Elektra. It features four songs each from May (“Tie Your Mother Down,” “Long Away,” “White Man,” “Teo Torriatte”) and Mercury (“You Take My Breath Away,” “The Millionaire Waltz,” “Somebody to Love,” “Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy”) and a song apiece by Taylor (“Drowse”) and Deacon (“You and I”). The album takes its title from the 1937 Marx Brothers film.

Musically, A Day at the Races, upholds Queen’s balance of hard rock, cabaret (“The Millionaire Waltz”), and romantic balladry, fusing the latter two styles on “You Take My Breath Away.” Some of the rockier numbers assume a newfound darker edge (“White Man”) and droning quality (“Drowse”). Their multi-tracked vocals now embrace gospel on “Somebody to Love,” the album’s lead-off single, which reached No. 1 in the Netherlands and No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart.

Tie Your Mother Down” opens with a gong-laden, double-tracked lead, enveloped in a blurry, circular, winding figure (a Shepard tone: an auditory illusion of continual ascent). At 1:01, the song congeals as a Gallagher-style boogie rocker (in A). The standard 12-bar arrangement takes a melodic twist on the harmonized “give me all your love tonight” refrain.

You Take My Breath Away” has an unaccompanied multi-tracked vocal intro. Overall, it’s a light cabaret piano ballad (in C minor) with airy, sustained syllables.

Long Away” sports a mid-tempo electric strum with humble May vocals about nostalgic longing.

The Millionaire Waltz” has a cabaret arrangement in stately 3/4 with staccato piano and Mercury’s angelic vocals; interspersed with operatic harmonies and May’s precise fills. The explosive mid-section breaks to a quote of Strauss.

You and I” is a flowing, optimistic number with Wilsonesque harmonies, a descending bridge, and a revved-up second half.

Somebody to Love” is a mid-tempo piano ballad with impassioned vocals about romantic yearning; capped by a grand gospel chorus.

White Man” has a dark, desolate intro (in D minor) with distant, sliding chords and bleak vocals about the plight of Native Americans. It swells up on the first chorus with searing, multi-tracked leads and layered vocals.

Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy” is piano-thumping music hall, countered with Freddie’s angelic vocals and May’s oozing sustains.

Drowse” is a slow, heavy, smoldering number with hazy, harmonized vocals; shadowy bass and searing slide guitar. The lyrics veer between youthful vigor and middle-age regret.

Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together)” is a slow, sad piano lament (in D minor) with a chorus in Japanese. May overlays the piece with distant, torrential atmosphere. The midsection showcases Queen’s swelling, multi-layered harmonies. The coda reprises the album’s introductory Shepard tone.

Queen recorded and self-produced A Day at the Races between July 12 and November 19 at four studios: The Manor (Oxfordshire), Sarm (East London), Wessex Sound (Highbury New Park), and Advision (London). Baker wasn’t involved due to the expiration of his contract with Queen. He instead produced 1976 albums by French-Canadian cabaret songwriter Lewis Furey, Welsh rockers Lone Star, and (with engineer Stone) Scottish popsters Pilot. Concurrently, Stone earned his first production credits on the debut albums by Charlie (Fantasy Girls) and Easy Street (self-titled).

On September 18, 1976, with sessions halfway finished, Queen played to an audience of 200,000 as part of a free outdoor concert at London’s Hyde Park. Virgin Records co-founder Richard Branson organized the event, which also featured sets by Kiki Dee, space-rock guitarist Steve Hillage, and Liverpudlian funk-rockers Supercharge. Among the attendees was Hugh Cornwell, the guitarist–singer of up-and-coming new wave rockers The Stranglers, who (in a 1977 interview with Melody Maker journalist Caroline Coon) described Queen’s sound as “immaculate” but the members as “aloof to the audience.”

A Day at the Races sports the second of two Costa designs, this time with the Queen Crest logo over a yellow variation of the rising sun on a black background. Here, one faerie sits while the other strikes a ballerina pose. The winged lion (right) is grey and the gold lion (left) holds a queen’s crown before the ring. The logo also appears on the LP label (Side 2). On the back cover, the two lions form a procession with the crab and a third faerie (blond). The innger-gate has lyrics and a sound-stage shot of Queen. The inner-sleeve has a medium shot of each member; Freddie’s hair is now trimmed at the shoulders. Costa also designed 1976/77 covers for Stackridge and Cliff Richard (Every Face Tells a Story, US issue).

A Day at the Races reached No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart and also topped the Dutch and Japanese album charts. In North America, it reached No. 4 on the Canadian Albums Chart and No. 5 on the US Billboard 200.

On December 1, 1976, Queen were slated for a segment on Today, an early-evening variety program that aired on Thames Television. When they pulled out from the slot, it was filled by a new EMI act, the Sex Pistols, who were goaded by show host Bill Grundy into a verbal match that culminated with guitarist Steve Jones calling Grundy (who mock-flirted with aspiring singer Siouxsie Sioux, a member of the Pistols’ entourage) a “dirty old man,” followed with “you dirty fucker… what a fucking rotter!” The incident made national headlines and catapulted the Pistols to household name status.

Queen promoted A Day at the Races with a 39-date North American tour that commenced on January 14, 1977, at the Milwaukee Auditorium and wrapped on March 18 at the Northlands Arena in Edmonton, Alberta. Their opening acts on this tour included The Outlaws, Head East (multiple Midwest dates), and Thin Lizzy (Northeast leg, including a 2/5/77 show at Madison Square Garden).

That March, Groucho Marx of the Marx Brothers kin invited Queen to his Los Angeles home, where they serenaded him (five months before his death) with an a cappella rendition of “39.” They continued promoting A Day at the Races with spring tours of Europe and the UK, culminating with a June 6–7 engagement at London’s Earls Court Arena.


1977: News of the World

On October 7, 1977, Queen issued two new songs: Mercury’s “We Are the Champions,” an anthem of perseverance and victory paired with May’s “We Will Rock You,” a sportsman chant. As joint a-sides, they hit the Top 2 in the UK and Netherlands. Both songs were played back-to-back on most radio stations in North America, where the single reached No. 3 on the Canadian RPM Top Singles chart and the US Cash Box Top 100.

Queen released their sixth album, News of the World, on October 28, 1977, on EMI and Elektra. In addition to the single, the album features three songs by May (“All Dead, All Dead,” “Sleeping on the Sidewalk,” “It’s Late”), and two apiece from Mercury (“Get Down, Make Love,” “My Melancholy Blues”), Deacon (“Spread Your Wings,” “Who Needs You”), and Taylor, who contributed one new song (“Fight from the Inside”) and a retooled “Sheer Heart Attack,” originally planned for the album of the same name.

We Will Rock You” rolls on a stomp–stomp–clap–pause pattern with no instruments until May’s climactic guitar solo. Freddie belts out three verses: each a challenge to meandering males at different stages of life (young boy, young man, old man). The chorus, sung in unison, acts as a call to arms. The stomp pattern was multi-tracked to feel like a stadium chant. “We Will Rock You” has since become a ball game perennial.

We Are the Champions” opens as a piano–vocal confessional (in C minor). As the narrator assures that he’s beaten the odds, Queen builds an operatic bridge (“And we mean to go on, and on, and on, and on”) to the grand chorus: a triumphant rallying cry where Mercury summons the winner in everyone.

Sheer Heart Attack” is a brisk ditty with a buzzsaw riff (in E♭) and choppy syllables (“I feel so inar, inar, inar, inar, inar, inar, inar, inarticulate”) sung by an unrecognizable Mercury. Taylor plays the bass and guitar parts in the recently codified punk style, which didn’t exist when the song was first demoed for the namesake album.

All Dead, All Dead” is a minor key lament to a deceased loved one, comprised of sad piano–vocal verses and a harmonized chorus. Midway, a droning guitar tone passes upward (to heaven’s gate?) May wrote this in memory of his boyhood cat.

Spread Your Wings” concerns Sammy, a young man eager to escape his dead-end situation and be someone. Piano ballad verses with gutsy vocals; rising bridge and swelling grand chorus with operative “fly away” repetitions and salient refrain: “Pull yourself together ’cause you know you should do better, that’s because you’re a free man.”

Fight from the Inside” is a raunchy mid-tempo rocker with sliding licks over chugging chords (in E). Taylor sings and largely performs this cut with apparent flanging (akin to “Life In the Fast Lane”) and a high-pitched rasp. The song has echoes of Derringer.

Get Down, Make Love” opens with a bobbing octave bassline (in E), overlaid with howling guitar sustain. Mercury belts and sighs in a raunchy, suggestive manner (“I suck your mind, you blow my head”) over minimal verses, filled randomly with sparse piano and manicured guitar amid Taylor’s syncopated sixteenth note rhythm pattern. The smoldering mid-tempo chorus (in G) precedes a spacey, psych-tinged break of shimmering, echoing “cosmic vortex” sounds, which May achieved (without synthesizers) by filtering the Red Special through an Electroharmonix Frequency Analyzer pedal.

Sleeping on the Sidewalk” is a mid-tempo boogie blues (in B) with muted fuzz guitar and dark walking bass, meshed low in the mix under May’s vocals. The track’s overall groove is reminiscent of “Revolution” by The Beatles.

Who Needs You” is light bossa nova with carefree vocals and Latin guitar filigree over a tight rhythmic motif (in A).

It’s Late” (6:26) takes shape as a slow, closed-cadence blues (in A). The first verse is exclusively May and Mercury with a shuffling riff mixed low under Freddie’s soaring, earnest vocals. Grand harmonies surround him on the explosive chorus. May plays two solos in succession: a wailing passage over raunchy mid-tempo chords (in F#) and a smoldering run at high velocity (in C#). The fast sequence recaps at the coda with pummeling drum rolls.

My Melancholy Blues” is an after-hours torch song with subtle traces of jazz (loose piano, ride cymbal, brushes). This song showcases Mercury’s emotive yet newly refined timbre; understated like the music.

Sessions took place between July 6 and September 16, 1977, at Sarm and Wessex Sound. Queen co-produced the album with Stone, whose concurrent credits include the debut single by The Motors and the second album by Easy Street (Under the Glass).

As Queen laid tracks for News of the World, former labelmates the Sex Pistols (now signed to Virgin) were in an adjacent studio recording tracks for Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. One afternoon, the Pistols’ acting bassist John Simon Ritchie (aka Sid Vicious) came face-to-face with Mercury and asked “Aren’t you that Freddie Platinum bloke who’s selling ballet to the masses?” to which Mercury quipped “Yes, Simon Ferocious, I’m trying my best, dear.”

News of the World is housed in a gatefold with art lifted from the October 1953 issue of the American sci-fi publication Astounding Science Fiction. Queen contacted the artist, Frank Kelly Freas, who modified the vertical outer-fold illustration to incorporate the band members, portrayed as victims of a giant deadly robot. The inner-gates show the robot tearing into a crowded stadium as people flee in horror. The album got its title from a UK Sunday tabloid that ran from 1843 to 2011. Five months after this album’s release, The Jam used the title for a stopgap single.

News of the World reached No. 1 in France and the Netherlands; No. 2. in Canada; No 3. on the US Billboard 200; and No. 4 in the UK and Norway. Queen promoted News of the World with a 22-city North American tour that launched in Portland, Maine (11/11/77: Cumberland County Civic Center) and wrapped in Inglewood, Calif. (12/22/77: Forum).

Elsewhere, Mercury and Thomas Baker co-produced This One’s On Me, the 1977 third album by Jamaican–British actor–singer Peter Straker. Mercury befriended Straker sometime beforehand and helped secure him a deal with EMI. The album mixes music hall and glam camp, exhibited on the theatrical rocker “I’ve Been to Hell and Back.”


1978: Jazz

In April 1978, Queen launched a 12-city European tour at Stockholm’s Ice Stadium. In England, they played two multi-night May engagements in Stafford (5/6–7/78: New Bingley Hall) and London (5/11–13/78: Empire Pool). Brian May fled to Canada for tax reasons.

In July, Queen regrouped at the Montreux Jazz Festival, a two-week event (7/7–23/78: Casino de Montreux) with sets by Aquarelle, Chris Hinze, Didier Lockwood, Guido Manusardi, Jan Akkerman, Joachim Kühn, Jukka Tolonen, Airto Moreira, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Patrick Moraz, Ben Sidran, Dixie Dregs, Entrance, Larry Coryell, Sea Level, Billy Cobham, Freddie Hubbard, and Pharoah Sanders.

Queen released their seventh album, Jazz, on November 10, 1978, on EMI, Elektra, and Ariola (France). Mercury wrote the bulk of side one (“Mustapha,” “Jealousy” “Bicycle Race” “Let Me Entertain You”) and the penultimate “Don’t Stop Me Now.” May wrote “Fat Bottomed Girls” and three numbers on side two (“Dead on Time,” “Dreamer’s Ball,” “Leaving Home Ain’t Easy”). Jazz also contains two songs each by Deacon (“If You Can’t Beat Them,” “In Only Seven Days”) and Taylor (“Fun It,” “More of That Jazz”).

Mustapha” opens with Mercury bellowing the name Ibrahim, a prophet in the Islamic faith. A frantic, galloping cabaret ensues with Mercury singing taut syllables in Arabic, Persian, and English, culminating with a gasping chorus (“Allah-i, Allah-i, Allah-i, Ibra-Ibra-Ibrahim, yeah!”) and explosive riff-laden passage.

Fat Bottomed Girls” opens with a harmonized, chorus, followed by a bluesy riff in drop D tuning. The first verse recounts a boyhood experience of the narrator losing his virginity to a naughty older woman. Mercury belts over a stomp–kick drum rhythm amid May’s sustained, smoldering tones.

Jealousy” opens with mournful piano (in G minor), joined by sitar-sounding strings. Mercury emotes in his angelic balladeer style. While ostensibly about post-romantic sadness, the lyrics address not a human subject but jealousy itself. May’s buzzing tone emanates from a Hallfredh acoustic guitar with a customized hardwood bridge and fret wire enhancements.

Bicycle Race” opens with the harmonized word “bicycle” over a chromatic descent (from E♭), followed with an ascending piano–bass figure where Mercury, in mock-juvenile innocence, confers “I want to ride my bicycle.” A string of jerky exchanges ensue where Freddie gainsays every color, car, character, and creature that the band puts forth. A litany of names (Jaws, Superman, Frankenstein, Peter Pan, John Wayne) are given the short shrift. In the “Bicycle Race” video, Queen mime on a soundstage with intercuts of a nude women’s bicycle race at Wembley. “Fat bottomed girls” are mentioned in the bridge. Mercury wrote this song after Queen attended the 1978 Tour de France on July 31 (Freddie’s 31st birthday).

If You Can’t Beat Them” starts with an electric three-chord strum (D…A-G). Taylor’s booming drum roll ignites a flowing verse where Mercury extols “Give as good as you get.” Each refrain (“You’re never gonna help yourself”) cuts to a chordal ascent with searing guitar and a swaying, downbeat-heavy rhythmic pattern. May smolders over the flanged, elongated fadeout.

Let Me Entertain You” enters on a pensive drum–bass figure (in E), soon overlaid with jumbled riffing and sassy vocals. The song passes through multiple key centers in a raunchy, medium-uptempo arrangement as Mercury mocks the artifice of showbiz (“I’ll pull you, and I’ll pill you, I’ll Cruella DeVille you”). Each chorus hammers the pensive opening figure, pausing as Freddie bellows the syllables “‘TAIN YOUUUUUU!”

Dead on Time” follows a smoky, cymbal-laden intro with a lightning-fingered metal riff (in F#). Mercury lets out a rising scream as the band congeals. The lyrics invoke a free-wheeling conman; each verse line ends with “leave on time.” Freddie’s belted lines intersperse with operatic multi-tracked harmonies. May overtakes the song with pyrotechnic licks and brisk bar chords. Musically, this song recalls “Stone Cold Crazy.”

In Only Seven Days” is a mid-tempo piano ballad about the misgivings of part-time love. Freddie gives another angelic vocal performance amid jazzy key changes; laced with Spanish guitar and fuzzed, echoey Red Special leads.

Dreamer’s Ball” is a medium-slow blues that opens with double-tracked thirds. It proceeds through crooning verses in a 2/4 acoustic ragtime groove with multi-tracked backing vocals.

Fun It” is a funk raveup built on a tight bass figure and echoey Syndrum pattern, inter-cut with clipped, edgy guitar licks and cocky vocal swagger.

Leaving Home Ain’t Easy” starts with a brisk acoustic strum, overlaid with a violin-like Red Special effect. May sped-up his voice to achieve the girlish tone on the middle-eight. It’s a folk harmony number, possibly inspired by his exit from Britain as a tax exile.

Don’t Stop Me Now” is a theatrical show tune in the vein of Rodgers and Hammerstein. It starts as a slow piano-vocal inspirational, then swells into a high-energy singalong.

More of That Jazz” opens with a syncopated mid-tempo drum pattern, overlaid with two contrapuntal guitar lines: one clean and staccato; one gruff and distorted (in E). Taylor, who sings and plays most of the instruments, hits several uncharacteristic high notes. The track climaxes with a snippet loop of prior tracks on the album.

Queen recorded Jazz between July and October 1978 at three studios: Mountain (Montreux), Studio Miraval (Correns), and Super Bear (Berre-les-Alpes). Roy Thomas Baker returned as producer, having recently worked with engineer Geoff Workman on albums by The Cars (self-titled), Journey, and Starcastle (Fountains of Light, Citadel). Queen used Mountain at the suggestion of David Bowie, who also booked the studio that fall for his 1979 release Lodger. The two parties met at the Montreux Jazz Festival.

Jazz is housed in a gatefold conceived by the band. The front shows a white-on-black concentric Moiré pattern with the name Queen (x5) overhead and the title (in hot pink) bolted from the center. The back shows a reverse image: black-on-white with the title (x6) overhead. A procession of cyclists line the bottom and circle the LP labels, which sport the hot-pink title font. The inner-gates shows a monochrome wide view of Mountain’s interior, where the members are seen afar amid their large equipment arsenals. The inner-sleeve features a group shot of Queen, who now sport medium-length hair (May excepted).

In advance of the album, Queen issued “Bicycle Race” and “Fat Bottomed Girls” as a double-a-sided single. It reached No. 11 on the UK Singles Chart. In January 1979, EMI lifted “Don’t Stop Me Now” as a second single (UK No. 9). April saw territorial releases of “Mustapha” (Germany) and “Jealousy” (US). Jazz reached No. 3 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 6 on the US Billboard 200.

Queen began its promotion of Jazz with a North American tour that opened on October 28, 1978, at the Dallas Convention Center. They played 30 cities across the US and Canada, concluding with a three-night engagement (December 18–20) at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif. By now, Deacon sported short hair and Mercury wore head-to-toe leather.


1979: Live Killers, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”

In January 1979, Queen embarked on 21-city European tour that included eleven dates in Germany and two in then-communist Yugoslavia, the epicenter of a growing Eastern rock scene. They also performed in the French cities of Lyon and Poitiers, culminating with a three-night stand (Feb. 27–March 1) at the Pavillon de Paris. During April–May, they did a 15-date, eight-city tour of Japan that included two multi-night engagements at Tokyo’s Budokan Hall.

A document of the European tour, Live Killers, appeared as a double-album in June 1979 on EMI/Elektra. It features 22 numbers from their repertoire: one song from Queen (“Keep Yourself Alive”), three from Sheer Heart Attack (“Killer Queen,” “Now I’m Here,” “Brighton Rock”), seven from A Night at the Opera (“You’re My Best Friend,” “’39,” “Love of My Life,” “I’m in Love with My Car,” “Death on Two Legs,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “God Save the Queen”), one from A Day at the Races (“Tie Your Mother Down”), five from News of the World (“Get Down, Make Love,” “Spread Your Wings,” “Sheer Heart Attack,” “We Are the Champions,” “We Will Rock You”), and four from Jazz (“Let Me Entertain You,” “Bicycle Race,” “Dreamer’s Ball,” “Don’t Stop Me Now”).

Most of these performances are from their February 2 show at Frankfurt’s Festhalle. They elongate the Sheer Heart Attack numbers “Now I’m Here” (8:44) and “Brighton Rock” (12:13). “Bohemian Rhapsody” opens with the intro from “Mustapha.” Live Killers includes two performances of “We Will Rock You,” one with a rocked-up arrangement (Lyon) and one faithful to the original (Frankfurt). The album is housed in a gatefold with a collage of performance pics on the inner-gates.

On August 18, Queen played Saarbrücken Open Air ’79 at Ludwigsparkstadion in Saarbrücken, Germany. The one-day festival also featured sets by Rory Gallagher, Ten Years After, Molly Hatchet, Lake, and Voyager.

On October 12, 1979, Queen returned with a new Mercury-penned single, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” a rockabilly tune with a strummed riff (Dsus3), air vocals, standup bass, and angular guitar licks. They recorded the song during June–July at Musicland Studios in Munich. The picture sleeve shows an image from the video shoot with the band all leather-clad and short-haired (May excepted). The video shows them miming on a small soundstage as Freddie struts the catwalk in camp ’50s poses, flanked with scantily clad “rock ‘n’ roll” women.

“Crazy Little Thing Called Love” reached No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100. It also topped the charts in Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands. As sessions continued at Musicland for their eighth studio album, Queen embarked on a late-autumn UK tour.

On December 26, 1979, Queen played the Hammersmith Odeon for the opening night of Concerts for the People of Kampuchea, a four-day series of benefit shows for the war-torn Indochinese nation. The concerts were organized by Paul McCartney and featured sets by The Clash, The Pretenders, The Who, The Specials, Ian Dury & the Blockheads, Elvis Costello & the Attractions, Matumbi, Wings, Rockpile, and Rockestra, a McCartney-led supergroup with musicians from the other bands.


1980: The Game

Queen opened the new decade with the single “Save Me,” a May-penned ballad that features their first use of synthesizer. It reached No. 11 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 5 on the Dutch Top 40, but wasn’t issued in the US, where “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” began its month-long run at the top.

The “Save Me” video shows the band miming on a soundstage with Freddie in red leather trousers; interspersed with animation of a woman and dove. It was directed by Keith “Keef” MacMillan, the photographer behind classic album covers on Vertigo (Affinity, Gasoline Alley, Paranoid, Valentyne Suite) and RCA/Neon (Spring, Time Is…) who directed the early videos by Kate Bush.

Queen’s eighth studio album, The Game, appeared on June 30, 1980, on EMI and Elektra. It features the prior two singles and opens with Mercury’s “Play the Game,” released weeks beforehand as the third single. The album features two additional May songs (“Dragon Attack,” “Sail Away Sweet Sister”) and two contributions each by Taylor (“Rock It (Prime Jive),” “Coming Soon”) and Deacon (“Another One Bites the Dust,” “Need Your Loving Tonight”), plus another Freddie rockabilly number, “Don’t Try Suicide.”

“Play the Game”

“Dragon Attack”

“Another One Bites the Dust”

“Need Your Loving Tonight”

“Crazy Little Thing Called Love”

“Rock It (Prime Jive)”

“Don’t Try Suicide”

“Sail Away Sweet Sister”

“Coming Soon”

“Save Me”

Queen co-produced The Game with Reinhold Mack, a veteran Munich soundman who worked with numerous early ’70s Krautrock acts (Abacus, Out of Focus, Sahara, Subject ESQ., Sunbirds) and more recent titles by Electric Light Orchestra (Out of the Blue), Paice Ashton Lord (Malice in Wonderland), Rory Gallagher (Calling Card), Violinski, and Gary Moore‘s G-Force. Apart from the two earlier singles, sessions on The Game took place between February and May 1980 at Musicland. Mack, who played synthesizer on select passages, encouraged a looser rhythmic approach and used newly developed editing techniques to smooth out imperfections.

The Game sports the same photograph as the “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” picture sleeve. The back cover features medium shots of each member from the same photoshoot as the picture sleeve for “Play the Game,” which (along with the video) marks the first appearances of Mercury with his trademark ’80s-era mustache.

In the video for “Play the Game,” May forgoes the Red Special for a Telecaster, which Freddie wrestles away then runs, turns and throws back at Brian. Mercury sports a t-shirt bearing the word “Flash,” an early hint of a film project in the works involving Queen. “Play the Game” reached No. 14 on the UK Singles Chart and hit the Top 10 in Ireland, Norway, and Switzerland. The single is backed with “A Human Body,” a non-album Taylor composition with acoustic strum, twangy leads, booming drums, harmonized refrains, and a vocoderized chorus.

In August, Queen lifted “Another One Bites the Dust” as the fourth single from The Game (b/w “Dragon Attack”). This was done at the urging of Michael Jackson, a huge fan who attended the band’s Los Angeles shows. The video shows them miming on a soundstage with Mercury in a yellow tank top and Taylor in a grey sharkskin suit. The picture sleeve shows Freddie midair in a screencap from the “Play the Game” video.

“Another One Bites the Dust” spent thirteen weeks on the US Billboard Top 5, including three weeks at No. 1 during October 1980. The Game reached No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart, the Billboard 200, and the Canadian and Dutch album charts.


Flash Gordon [OST] (1980)

Hot Space (1982)

The Works (1984)

A Kind of Magic (1986)

The Miracle (1989)

Innuendo (1991)

Made in Heaven (1995 — recorded 1980–93)


Discography:

  • Queen (1973)
  • Queen II (1974)
  • Sheer Heart Attack (1974)
  • A Night at the Opera (1975)
  • A Day at the Races (1976)
  • News of the World (1977)
  • Jazz (1978)
  • The Game (1980)
  • Flash Gordon [OST] (1980)
  • Hot Space (1982)
  • The Works (1984)
  • A Kind of Magic (1986)
  • The Miracle (1989)
  • Innuendo (1991)
  • Made in Heaven (1995 — recorded 1980–93)

Sources:

1 thought on “Queen

  1. From the original beta draft: “Comprised of four distinct personalities who each contributed material, the band became globally revered for a series of monumental albums and anthemic singles that have since achieved evergreen status.”

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