Queen – ‘Sheer Heart Attack’ (1974) – Album Review (The Studio Album Series)

The band set out on tour after ‘Queen II’ and that is when disaster struck. Brian May was diagnosed with Hepatitis and the band had to cancel the rest of the tour. With no more tour, they started to rehearse and prep for the next album. Luckily May got better and joined his lads when they went in to Trident Studio in July of 1974 to start recording the album. However, May got sick again. This time with a stomach ulcer and he missed some of the recording process. Thankfully for us all, he recovered and came back and finished his part of the album. The album was finally finished in October of that year and released a short time later on November 8, 1974. I guess back then you could get an album out a month after you finished it. Nowadays, you need a minimum of 3 months or more before the album will come out.

The band finally saw some major success both in the UK and around the World. In the UK, the album went platinum and sold over 300,000 copies going to #2 on the charts. In the US, the album went Gold and sold over 500,000 copies going all the way to #12. They released two singles off the album (although they could’ve released more in my book) and saw one go to #2 in the UK and the other to #11. Queen was starting to find its groove. With this album, I think that is true. They stepped away from the more progressive rock sounds and the fantasy themes from the first two album and honestly, I am glad they did. This saw them branch out more and turn out a more complete rock album. Of course, they still experimented with their sound and tried new things, they just weren’t as far out in left field as before. As you can see below, no line-up changes as it is still Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon as it should be.

I am sorry to say I get a little verbose with the first three songs. I did a My Sunday Song on each of those and I liked what I wrote so I used a lot of those post. I promise to not ramble on for the songs after that otherwise we will be here for hours reading and me writing. Enough ranting, let us get to the songs…

“Brighton Rock” was written by Brian May and the vocals were done by Freddie and Brian. Brian wrote the song during the Queen II sessions, but they didn’t feel like it fit that album so they worked it some more and it actually kicks off this album. The song is about 2 “Mod” kids in love, Jenny and Jimmy, who travel off to Brighton on Holiday. There is more, but the story isn’t the best part of the song as it is really secondary. It isn’t even Freddie’s singing that is best part even though his vocals are always stellar. What is incredible about this song is simply, Brian May. The guitar solo is probably one of the best he has ever done, hands down. It is the centerpiece of the song. There is an entire interlude in the song that is only Brian and that guitar. His use of delay for the harmony that sets the song apart. Brian was tinkering extensively with an Echoplex (a tape delay machine) to get the effects he wanted. The song contains one normal guitar sound and then one with the delayed effect and it must be heard to believe as I don’t know how to describe it in words. It is true audio experience.

“Killer Queen” was written by Freddie Mercury and is about a high class call girl that has been passed around from country to country by all sorts of men…very high-level and powerful men. I love the lyrics as they are all so playful and well-crafted to flow well together and piece together a funny, yet clever little tale. Musically, the song starts off with some snazzy finger snaps from Mr. Mercury. Then a piano joins in and Freddie’s miracle pipes chime in. The chorus is full of four part harmonies and there are so many different effects on the vocals as well. The music is as playful as the lyrics and Freddie’s performance is as flamboyant and theatrical as it comes which is a trademark Queen style. Brian May’s guitar work is also top-notched and layered with so many different tracks. It is an all around fun, good time song and one of the reasons Queen is so amazing. They pretty much can do anything and make it sound great.

The next track, “Tenement Funster” was written by Roger Taylor and seems to be about youth and rebellion which is a typical rock & roll theme. I am still not sure what a “Tenement Funster” is except maybe it is as simple as a guy who lives in a tenement (apartment) and loves to have fun and not worry about what everyone else thinks. Good enough for me. Musically, it is a solid rock track and Roger sounds really great on it. There are elements of the Beatles and yet there is still the Brian May guitar sound, the theatrical feel to it and the Queen backing vocals and if you listen close someone goes really, really high singing “Young and we’re crazy”, it is actually quite funny. You have John Deacon doing the bass and opening the track on the acoustic guitar while Brian still handles the lead. Freddie Mercury doesn’t do any vocals, but he does contribute on the piano. Roger’s drumming is great and it is an all around fantastic Roger sung song and one of my favorites of his.

“Tenement Funster” was actually part of a medley with the songs “Flick of the Wrist” and “Lily of the Valley”. The songs all blended together although listed as separate tracks on the CD. “Flick of the Wrist” was up next which was written by Freddie and is about a con-man and some think it is about their manager which Freddie has denied and said it is a made-up song. The song has layers of Freddie’s vocals at different octaves and the backing vocals and lead vocals are back and forth with each other through the chorus. Brian lays down a sweet solo and I like how the song changes tempo here and there and keeps things interesting. The song fades in to “Lily of the Valley” which is a softer piano based track and sees Freddie’s falsetto go in to overtime. It is a sweet heartfelt ballad that shows the softer side of Freddie and the band.

That leads us to “Now I’m Here” which is another classic Queen song. Brian May wrote this one while he was in the hospital recovering from his many issues. The song is about the time the band toured with Mott the Hoople and he references Hoople in the song. It is a straight up rock track going to #11 on the UK charts as it was the second single off the album. The song has some heavy guitar riffs and Freddie is really aggressive with his vocals and sounds so tough. You have Freddie on the Hammond and Brian on Piano all dueling with Brian on the guitar as well. It is a rockingly fun song.

The second half of the album kicks off with Roger Taylor getting kicked in the balls because no one can sing that high without that happening. “In the Lap of the Gods” was written by Freddie and contains some interesting sound effects on his vocals. There is a ton of overdubbing on his and Roger’s vocals. The song is piano driven and a little over-the-top and very flamboyant. There is another “In the Lap of the Gods on here with the “….revisited” version, but is completely unrelated.

The band goes full on speed metal with the next track “Stone Cold Crazy”. The song is credited to all members because no one remembers who wrote the lyrics. What kinda drugs were they on??? The song is about Al Capone and gangsters. It goes at a frantic pace and full of distorted guitars and has to be an early example of speed metal or at least an inspiring piece. By the time it ends, you are exhausted and exhilarated at the same time. It is a freaking beast!!

“Dear Friends” is another ballad and this one was written by Brian, but sung by Freddie. It is another piano driven track. It has a soft lullaby feel and is sweet and tender, but also a little boring for me. And then we get the first ever song from John Deacon with “Misfire”. It is an upbeat, fun song with a nice beat and a bounce to its step. You even get Deacon playing the guitars. Roger has a nice touch on the drums and some sweet fills. A pretty cool track.

The band goes completely in a different direction with the ragtime, flapper styled song “Bring Back That Leroy Brown”. The song features a banjo and ukele to give that vintage sound. It is a so strange and yet wonderfully thrilling. The song was written a year after the death of Jim Croce who wrote “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” and is a wonderful tribute.

Next up is another Brian May song and this time he sings lead. The song is “She Makes Me (Stormtrooper in Stilettos)”. You have both Brian and John on acoustic guitars. It is another slower tempo, ballady styled song. Brian’s voice is soft and the song has great harmonies from the band. Again, not a song I am thrilled with as it doesn’t go anywhere. The song does end with some city-sounds like sirens and all sorts of other noises, but not enough to save it for me.

The final track is “In the Lap of the Gods…revisited” and is Freddie’s attempt at a rock anthem to be played live which he would succeed with greatly down the road with another attempt. It doesn’t grab hold and isn’t very rocking which you think you’d want in a song you want people to sing along with. I don’t really want to do that.

Track Listing:

  1. Brighton Rock – Keeper
  2. Killer Queen – Keeper
  3. Tenement Funster – Keeper
  4. Flick of the Wrist – Keeper
  5. Lily of the Valley – Keeper
  6. Now I’m Here – Keeper
  7. In the Lap of the Gods – Keeper
  8. Stone Cold Crazy – Keeper
  9. Dear Friends – Delete
  10. Misfire – Keeper
  11. Bring Back That Leroy Brown – Keeper
  12. She Makes Me (Stormtrooper in Stilettos) – Delete
  13. In the Lap of the Gods…revisited – Delete

The Track Score is 10 out of 13 Tracks or 77% which is decent, but the quality of the Keeper tracks are really strong. Overall, this is one of my favorite albums by the band. If you’d take those 3 songs off and keep this at 10 songs it is easily a 5.0 out of 5.0 for me, but it can’t get a perfect score since all the songs weren’t perfect. It will be a small ding as I will give the album a 4.5 out of 5.0 Stars. This was more of what I like from the band. Less fantasy and more straight ahead rock and roll. They keep they experimentation and flamboyance, but they were able to reel in the creativity to a more manageable level. The band had found themselves and were ready to explode on to the world.

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 on the Bonus is a live version of “Now I’m Here” which was performed in December 1975 at the Hammersmith Odeon a classic venue. The song sticks to the album and is a solid song to be played live as it is a full on rocker and a lot of fun. Then we get two songs from the October 1974 BBC Sessions. First is “Flick of the Wrist” and I find to be equal to or even slightly better than the album version. It has a lot of umph and the band is killing it. Then we get “Tenement Funster” which is a little more laid back and still as a solid sounding song. Roger sounds great and although lacking some of the energy of the studio version is still one that shows how underrated he was as a singer. Have I mentioned I really like Roger’s songs.

The next track is an all A Cappella mix of the song, “Bring Back That Leroy Brown”, done specifically for this release as it was mixed in 2011. It sounds great, but I really love the ragtime sounds of the banjo and ukele. That version I expect to see a flapper come out and dance for us, but not with this version. But with this version, you really hear the layered vocals and that is cool. Finally you get the live version of “In the Lap of the Gods…revisited” which was recorded at Wembley Stadium in 1986. Now, I think I like this song better live. It doesn’t connect as well in the studio, but live they’ve added punch and the crowd sing along is much better as you don’t get that vibe otherwise. I definitely prefer this version to the studio.

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: ‘A NIGHT AT THE OPERA’ (1975)

THE STUDIO ALBUM SERIES:

  1. Queen (1973)
  2. Queen II (1974)
  3. Sheer Heart Attack (1974)
  4. A Night at the Opera (1975)
  5. A Day at the Races (1976)
  6. News of the World (1977)
  7. Jazz (1978)
  8. The Game (1980)
  9. Flash Gordon (1980)
  10. Hot Space (1982)
  11. The Works (1984)
  12. A Kind of Magic (1986)
  13. The Miracle (1989)
  14. Innuendo (1991)
  15. Made in Heaven (1995)

46 thoughts on “Queen – ‘Sheer Heart Attack’ (1974) – Album Review (The Studio Album Series)

  1. It seems like this has been on my list forever, but I just haven’t gotten around to listening (properly- I had given it a cursory listen via Spotify a while back). Anyhoo, a very good and thorough review… I’ll make an effort to set some time aside for a listen.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “In the Lap of the Gods…revisited” is unnecessary because the lyrics are lazy and “In the Lap of the Gods” is better (because Roger hello!). I still can’t believe a band like Queen wrote a straight-forward headbanger like “Stone Cold Crazy.” Every time I think of “Now I’m Here,” I think of how Rick Allen NAILED his drum parts when Def Leppard performed it with Brian May at Wembley. His fills had me shook! Great review John!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. yes. loving this one. Not sure what happened with the previous one. Need to come back to that one later in this tournament.
    Went crazy and just ordered 12 cds!!! It’s my birthday this week and they were on sale. Old Frontiers cds. Oh man. Kxm, tora tora, inglorious, kane roberts, unruly child, tyketto etc…cannot wait.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. “Stone Cold Crazy” deserved three keeps, so 13 from 13.
    This album had everything in it.

    Metal speed rock – check
    Opera rock – check
    Blues hard rock – check
    Progressive rock – check
    Acoustic rock – check
    Pop rock – check

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I had this album in the 80s and loved it. I’m happy they left the themes behind also. Brighton Rock may be my favorite off the album. Good review John.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Nice one John. I don’t know why you dislike Dear Friends. Sure a little boring, but delete? I remember the first time I heard it, I had no idea what it was. It was one the Five Live EP with George Michael and I assumed it had to be a new B-side.

    Liked by 1 person

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