You may prefer the heaviness of the first three albums or the commercialism of the mid-eighties but with their fourth album, Queen burst into the mainstream and created (in my opinion) their masterpiece.
- Death on Two Legs (Dedicated To…) (Mercury)
- Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon (Mercury)
- I’m In Love With My Car (Taylor)
- You’re My Best Friend (Deacon)
- ’39 (May)
- Sweet Lady (May)
- Seaside Rendezvous (Mercury)
- The Prophet’s Song (May)
- Love of My Life (Mercury)
- Good Company (May)
- Bohemian Rhapsody (Mercury)
- God Save the Queen (Trad arr May)
FREDDIE MERCURY: lead vocals, piano
BRIAN MAY: guitars, stringed instruments, vocals, lead vocals on 5 and 10
ROGER TAYLOR: drums, percussion, vocals, lead vocal on 3
JOHN DEACON: bass, electric piano on 4
Produced by Queen and Roy Thomas Baker
Queen had arrived. Two hit albums and three hit singles meant they were a fixture on the scene but it took a multi-genre epic and its equally eclectic parent album to make them truly major and guarantee that they’d be staying in the public consciousness for longer than the likes of Bad Company or Mott the Hoople.
The release of Bohemian Rhapsody as a single on October 31st was one the band had had to fight for – running at just under six minutes and alternating between opera and hard rock with three or four different sections it wasn’t the kind of thing a record company chose as a single and only when Capital Radio’s Kenny Everett played short snippets did demand arise to hear the whole thing and for a single release. Four weeks later, it peaked at number one just as the album made its chart debut. But we will analyse the song and its success further down.
The album too showed a stylistic branching out. Queen had never been just any old band in terms of songwriting and had already proved themselves just as capable of writing two-minute vignettes as side-long epics but now the eclecticism that had only come out in brief gasps on songs like Bring Back That Leroy Brown was reigning supreme. Freddie Mercury’s songwriting was becoming so naturalised to English whimsy that you could barely guess that for the first 17 years of his life he had divided his time between Africa and India as Farokh Bulsara (he adopted the name Freddie at his Anglophone boarding school in India). Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon summarised a week in the life of a Victorian socialite while Seaside Rendezvous saw Mercury and Roger Taylor playing rather more than just “tiddly-om-pom-pom” on scat brass, though the opener Death on Two Legs proved he could still tear into his former manager in true rock n roll style and the piano-driven Love Of My Life, though tender, sounds like it’s being sung by a man not taking himself too seriously, a recurring hallmark of Mercury’s vocal work.
Brian May too was truly multi-faceted here providing straight-down-the-line hard rock in Sweet Lady but getting totally poetic too (“You call me sweet like I’m some kind of cheese”) and keeping to the band’s prog-metal roots in the epic Prophet’s Song. I do however find his self-sung acoustic contributions here to be somewhat ill-advised – ’39 is pretentious sci-fi under a pseudo-WW2 title (though it became a live favourite) and the ukulele-led Good Company has a somewhat throwaway feel to it.
But even Roger Taylor and John Deacon shine brighter than usual here – you wonder what producer Roy Thomas Baker was putting in their tea. Taylor’s I’m In Love With My Car took his obsession with fifties paraphernalia to a whole new level as he hollered his hymn to hubcaps and carburettors which became his live anthem and best known song for some years (the first Taylor track to make a Queen A-side was Radio Ga-Ga in 1984).
But it was bassist John Deacon who came up with the biggest surprise. You’re My Best Friend was only the second song he had contributed to a Queen album but this simple electric piano-driven tribute to his newlywed bride (forty years later they’re still together and have six children) is just that. With Deacon you often got the impression he’d really rather be off watching his kids compete in the sack race but his writing here is so unpretentious that it provides the perfect contrast to Mercury’s vocal. The fact that it was chosen as the follow-up single to Bohemian Rhapsody and followed it into the top ten speaks volumes.
Bohemian Rhapsody itself needs no introduction. Opening with a three-part harmony by Mercury, May and Taylor it laces neatly into a two-verse piano ballad before a frenetic guitar solo showers over the sound, giving way to disconnected but highly enjoyable bits of faux-opera (perhaps this gave the album its title) then a rock anthem with more guitar than vocal finally leading back into a reprise of the piano ballad melody and the sentiment that “Nothing really matters” before a final short piano and vocal gives way to the clash of a gong.
On the album, the perfect way to follow this was with May’s guitar arrangement of the UK national anthem which was played over the speaker systems at the end of Queen concerts and which May had the privilege of playing on the roof of Buckingham Palace in 2002 at Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee rock concert.
1975 left many fine albums that have stood the test of time:
- The Eagles’ One of These Nights where country and rock had never been so well wed.
- Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks where the collapse of his marriage appeared to have given his creativity a long-overdue second wind.
- Fleetwood Mac‘s self-titled first effort with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks which brought them back to success and still sounds fresh long after you’ve played Rumours to death.
- Little Feat’s The Last Record Album which proved that although Lowell George seemed to be losing inspiration as a writer, he could still produce a fine album that brought out the best in the eclectic six-piece.
- Thin Lizzy’s Fighting where the twin guitar sound of Brian Robertson and Scott Gorham gelled perfectly with Phil Lynott’s folk sensibilities.
But A Night at the Opera still tops them all for sheer eclecticism and colour.
SINGLE STATS: Bohemian Rhapsody pushed Billy Connolly’s parody of Tammy Wynette’s D.I.V.O.R.C.E. off the top spot on November 29th. It remained there for nine weeks tying with Paul Anka’s Diana for the most consecutive weeks at No 1. Ultimately the song with the line “Mama Mia let me go” was toppled by ABBA’s Mamma Mia with its line “Why why did I ever let you go”. Just one of life’s little ironies.
ADDITIONAL STAT: Only two other singles tied with the nine-week record before Bryan Adams broke them all with his 16-week run in 1991. They were Wings’ Mull of Kintyre and John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John’s You’re The One That I Want.
ALBUM STATS: The album topped the UK chart for the last two weeks of 1975 supplanting Perry Como’s 40 Greatest Hits. Perry briefly got his own back the following week only for A Night at the Opera to topple him once again for another two weeks only to be supplanted for good by The Best Of Roy Orbison.