In August 1973, the band started recording the follow-up to their debut album. The big difference between recording the first album and this one was now they actually could use a recording studio at any time. The first album, they were stuck recording only when the studio was not being used, now they were with a label, the sky was the limit. The band took full advantage of that and improved production and we even start to see the real over-the-top production we became used to seeing from the band. They finished recording in February 1974 and the album was finally released on March 8, 1974.
The album only had one single which actually charted giving the band their first hit since the song “Keep Yourself Alive” from the debut didn’t even chart. The album went on to go to #5 in the UK and up to #49 in the US where the band was just starting to catch on ever so slowly. The band was starting to get noticed and helped ever more by their touring and stage performances. Who knows, maybe they might make it big one day.
The album was broken in to two halves and not sides. You had the what would normally be Side 1 was called the White side and Side 2 was the Black side. The album wasn’t a concept album, but it was loosely tied together. The White side, which was almost entirely written by Brian May, was the more emotional side of the album and the Black side was written entirely by Freddie Mercury and its songs were loosely tied together with a fantasy theme full of fairies, queens and ogres. Okay…nothing odd about that. What was interesting to me is that not one song had a co-write. It was all or nothing with each song.
The cover of the album looks vaguely familiar, doesn’t it. That image was used as the basis for the video for the song “Bohemian Rhapsody” several years later. The image was inspired by a shot of Marlene Dietrich in Shanghai Express. The photo was taken by famed photographer Mick Rock and that is a cool name if you are going to photograph rock stars!
The album kicks off with the Brian May track, “Procession” which is basically a funeral march. It is a multilayered guitar track with only Brian May on guitar and there is a weird horn type sound that his May running his Red Special guitar through John Deacon’s custom made Deacy Amp. The only other instrument is Roger Taylor on his bass drum pedal. That is it. There isn’t much to it and then it bleeds in to the next track.
“Father to Son” is another song written by May and this one is a father talking to his son about life I guess. It has a lot of May on guitar doing what he did on “Procession”. Freddie Mercury is on vocals and this song goes through so many changes and is a little over the top at times. May’s guitars are really heavy here at times almost metal which is in direct contrast to the soft piano opening he did on the song. The highlight for me is Brian’s solo where he totally shreds and shows he is a force to be reckoned with.
The next track is a favorite of a lot of people. It is called “White Queen (As it Began)” and is yet another Brian May penned track. The song was inspired by the book ‘The White Goddess’ by Robert Graves and also inspired by this beautiful young lady who was at the university with May. She was his idea of perfect and they became lifelong friends which is really cool. The song itself goes from acoustic to heavy and does a back and forth dance with the tempos. It starts off softly with Freddie singing in almost a whisper accompanied by an acoustic guitar. It is sweet sounding and then explodes with May’s electric guitar and Taylor laying down some drum fills. The back and forth should keep the song somewhat interesting, but I will admit it lost me a little as it got boring, but not delete or skip it boring.
“Some Day One Day” is the only song that Brian wrote and sang. He also has three solos on the album and instead of harmonies with this guitars, each guitar plays a different sound. I’m not a huge fan of his vocals although it is not bad. This was a song that never caught me attention. It is a little too soft and not a strong enough for the ballad title.
“The Loser in the End” is the only contribution to the album for Roger Taylor. He both wrote and sang on the song. As seems to be typical for Taylor, the song is a straight up rocker. Full of energy and one of the heavier songs on the album. I do like Roger’s vocals and although this isn’t his best performance, it is still noteworthy especially with all the percussion instruments he uses. I also like the fact it isn’t all fairy tale themed and a simple killer rock song.
Now we are on to the Black side which is entirely written and sung by Freddie Mercury (although Taylor does help on one song). The first track is another one that goes a little metal on us with May’s guitar playing and Taylor’s drumming. It is “Ogre Battle” and I am starting to feel that we might have a Lord of the Rings type half of an album with all the ogres, fairies and queens. We are just missing elves, hobbits and a ring. The song is a little over the top like a lot of this half of the album, but I do like the heaviness and quick tempo of the song.
The next track is “The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke” which is taken from the painting of the same name by Richard Dadd. You had Mercury on the harpsichord and Roy Thomas Baker on the castanets which added a unique sound to the song. The song also has a lot of panning effect in the mix as the sound traveled from one ear to the other. It is one of those Queen songs that seemed to be so over the top that you think it would never work, but for some miraculous reason it does. I’m not really sure how to explain the song as it is all over the place and it is Queen.
“Nevermore” comes without warning and just bleeds from the previous track. It is a piano based track that is light and airy and really short at 1:29. It is sweet and all, but doesn’t really do anything for me.
The track that follows, ‘The March of the Black Queen” takes back to a more rocking song full of guitars and Freddie’s vocals layered in all over the place. This is the one song that Roger contributes his vocals as well to accompany Freddie. With two different time signatures in the song, this song is very much in the vein of what would come later with “Bohemian Rhapsody”. And let me tell you it works here just as well. It is one of the best tracks on the album as when Queen goes all out and throws in everything under the sun, it can be quite magical.
“Funny How Love Is” is up next and sounds like a 60’s song. Uptempo song that feels so happy and giddy. Freddie’s vocals stay pretty high throughout the song and I am not sure how he keeps hitting those notes.
Then we get to the final song and the album’s only single with “Seven Seas of Rhye”. We first heard a short instrumental piece of this song on the debut album which did nothing for me, but here, the full song, works so well. It really sounds different than anything else on the album. It has some fast finger work on the piano and has some heavy guitar and drumming mixed in giving the album a cool rocker to end the album. Its quick tempo instantly grabs you and you can’t help but be swept up by the waves of music being thrown at you. I really love the whole bar feel to the song as everyone seems like they are standing there, arms around each other, drunk off their ass singing. It is by far, the best song on the album for me with “The March” song a very close second.
- Procession – Delete
- Father to Son – Keeper
- White Queen (As It Began) – Keeper (1/2 Point)
- Some Day One Day – Delete
- The Loser in the End – Keeper
- Ogre Battle – Keeper
- The Fairy Feeler’s Master-Stroke – Keeper
- Nevermore – Delete
- The March of the Black Queen – Keeper
- Funny How Love Is – Keeper
- Seven Seas of Rhye – Keeper
The Track Score is 7.5 out of 11 or 68% as there were a few songs that I didn’t find useful for the album or just didn’t connect with which is okay. I will say that I didn’t enjoy this one as much as the debut which I think is a result of the band trying to do too much with what they had. I know that is what they do, but I think this was them trying to find that balance of over-the-top with not being actually over-the-top. It is a valiant effort and I do still like it, but lower on the scale. I will give this album a score of 3.5 out of 5.0 Stars.
Now we aren’t done yet. I am not going to grade the Bonus EP that comes with each CD, but we will discuss it so you know what you are getting. We are only going to grade the original album tracks and rank them based off that part and not all the bonus material. However, I am sure you are curious about the bonus stuff as well as let’s get right to it…
The Bonus EP:
First up is the non-album track “See What A Fool I’ve Been” which this version is from their BBC Session appearance in July 1973 prior to the album coming out. It is such a great blues track written by Brian May. You can feel Freddie strutting his goods on stage while singing this song and musically these guys kill it with May playing some killer riffs and a solo. I think I might like this better than the B-Side version we get later. It has more energy and life.
Then we get a live version of “White Queen (As It Began)” that was recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon in December of 1975 and I love Freddie’s opening intro where he calls the audience “Darlings”, it is so Freddie. It is a really cool version of the song and a great piece to have. Then we get a full on instrumental mix of “Seven Seas of Rhye” that was mixed in 2011. It is great and all, but give me the full version any day.
Next up is another BBC Session of a song and this time around it is the ballad “Nevermore” from April 1974 right after the album was released. I think I like it better in this format, but still not a favorite. And finally we get the actual B-Side studio version of “See What A Fool I’ve Been” from February 1974. Again, this is a really cool song, wouldn’t have fit on the album, but a stellar blues track. As I said earlier, the live version that kicks of this disc is the preferred version for me as it is more straight up blues and this version is more sexualized by Freddie which is still cool, but not as rocking. I didn’t have this track before, so love that I have it now.
And that is everything. Thanks for hanging around for the Bonus material and I hope you enjoyed the review. I can’t wait to get through them all.
UP NEXT: ‘SHEER HEART ATTACK’ (1974)
THE STUDIO ALBUM SERIES:
- 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 (1980)
- Hot Space (1982)
- The Works (1984)
- A Kind of Magic (1986)
- The Miracle (1989)
- Innuendo (1991)
- Made in Heaven (1995)