Queen – “A Night At The Opera’ (1975) – Album Review (The Studio Album Series)

Before the band could record their fourth album, they had to go through a lot of a business crap. Money was becoming an issue in the fact they weren’t getting any. They were extremely disappointed, to say the least, with their current management and record label, Trident. The hired a lawyer and for nine months, battled back and forth until they were successful in getting released from the Trident deal. But it was costly. They were able to get ownership back of their first few albums, but it cost them 1% royalty on the next 6 as well as pay £100,000 and the tour that was scheduled had to be cancelled because it was set up by the old management. Now this was 1975, so that is a lot of freaking money.

Queen was able to get new management and they singed with EMI (UK) / Elektra (US) and were set to create their next masterpiece. This album would be the most expensive album ever to be made (at the time of 1975). It cost £40,000 (or $338,000 in today’s dollars). It was so expensive due to the fact they recorded the album in seven different studios, over 4 months and required a lot of multi-tracking and they ended up using a 24-Track set up. Their last album only used a 16-Track tape. Queen was going big or going home. And if you know them at all, going big is the only way they know.

The album was finished and finally released on November 21, 1975. The album would go to #1 in 4 countries including their home country, the UK, and #4 in the US. The album would go platinum in several countries as well including going triple platinum in the US with sales over 3,000,000 units. Queen was about to explode on to the world and there is one song on here that would change their lives for ever. A song so big that I don’t think there is anyone alive today that doesn’t even know that song and love it. In fact, my two teenage daughters love that song and sing that song even today. Queen, who consists still of Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon, had made it.

“Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to…)” is the opening track and it is a massive slap in the face to their former manager. Written by Freddie Mercury, he didn’t hold back and gave a brutally honest song about how he felt. And it is damning indeed. From anger, can come a great song and that is exactly what happened here. It opens with a piano arpeggio and then goes in to some heavy guitars and bass and is an incredible instrumental opening before Freddie comes in those piercingly brutal lyrics. It is a heavy rock song and if you have your headphones one while listening you can hear they used every millimeter of that 24-track tape as their is so much going on in the song it is almost overwhelming, but it is not. It is an amazing track to open the album.

The next track, “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon”, is another Freddie track. Freddie is on piano and vocals of course. The song goes in a totally different direction then the opening track. There is a campy, old-rag time feel to the song. The vocal effect is brilliant as they recorded the vocals and then reproduced them through a set of headphones place in a bucket to give it that old-timey feel. It is a short song, but actually quite enjoyable even with its campiness.

“I’m in Love With My Car” was actually inspired by one of the band’s roadies, Johnathan Harris. Johnathan loved his car to death which was a Triumph TR4. Roger Taylor wrote it and sang it and played all the instruments for the demo and the band kind of thought of it as a joke, but Roger wasn’t joking. They recorded the song and Roger pitched a royal tantrum to get on the B-Side of “Bohemian Rhapsody” which the band finally caved after Roger had locked himself in a closet (or cupboard) until Freddie finally agreed. This ended up causing a lot of tension between him and Freddie because Freddie was pissed he got as much in royalties for that “Bohemian Rhapsody” single he didn’t even write. But because his song was on the B-Side he got a big piece of the pie as well. Turned out that whole tantrum trick worked out quite nicely in Roger’s favor. Musically, Brain May’s guitar work is great as he recorded it with his own Red Special guitar. Freddy is on the piano playing away and Roger’s vocals sound great. The song ends with a motor revving and that was Roger’s own car which was an Alfa Romeo.

The next is the first song we’ve ever gotten from the great John Deacon called “You’re My Best Friend”. John wrote the song for his wife and it is a gloriously beautiful and touching song. Freddie sings the song and the chorus has some great harmonies with the layered vocals. John actually plays the Wurlitzer Electric Piano on the song as well as bass. It was the second single and went to #9 in the US and #7 in the UK sold well over a million copies. Not a bad go for his first song. It is wonderful pop song and I think one of the best songs they’ve ever done.

Then we get a Brian May song called “39” which sounds like a Sci-Fi folk song as the song is about a bunch of space explorers. When they return home over 100 years have passed. It sounds like a 60’s folk song and Brian sounds great vocally. His 12-string acoustic guitar gave it that folky vibe and his playing overall was fantastic. I have never liked a Brian song up to this point and I actually love this one. It is so weird and different and I have so much fun listening to it as I tap foot along with the beat.

The next song up is another May track called “Sweet Lady”. Freddie takes vocals on this one and it is Queen back to being a rock band. It is a very complicated song to play with the different time signatures and Roger has admitted it is a hard one. I guess since the song came from May, you wouldn’t expect the brilliant mind to make it easy. There are some cool guitar moments from May and it is an okay track overall, but not overly memorable for me and I tend to forget about it after it has been played.

“Seaside Rendezvous” is up next and is the strangest song on the album. It is flamboyant and over-the-top and feels a little like old rag time. There is an interesting instrumental break early on with horns and even a kazoo…oh yeah, and they aren’t instruments at all. It is actually May and Taylor doing all the instrument sounds with their voice. Like I said, strange song…but pretty cool at the same time.

The next track sees Queen go all progressive rock with “The Prophet’s Song” which was written by May. The song was based on a dream that May had when he was sick during the last album. It is basically the story of Noah and the Great Flood. It is another complicated song with so much going on and not set up in a typical song structure. It is Queen’s longest song (yes even longer than “Bohemian Rhapsody”. The song is over 8 minutes long and there is a part in the middle with layer upon layer of singing the line “Now I Know” and other phrases over and over and it is quite irritating as it goes on for over 2 minutes. Take that part out and you get a solid track. This detracts from the overall enjoyment factor of the song.

“Love of My Life” was up next which was written by Freddie. The song is a beautiful ballad and sees Freddie on vocals and piano and has Brian on the Harp and several guitars as well. The song is a soft, gentle and loving song and is one of those song that when played live, the crowd sings along so loud Freddie could stop and let the crowd take over. A classic Queen song.

Brian May is back with another song and this one is called “Good Company”. It is the second song sung by May and feels like a Dixieland jazz band with May on the Ukele banjo and would be at home at any ho down. It shows the band does stick with one genre or idea and that they feel they can play and do anything they want…and they can. However, it is another song that I don’t really care for and can do without. Sorry Brian.

The first single of the album is the most iconic Queen song of all time, “Bohemian Rhapsody”. The song was written by Freddie and would see the band go to #1 in the UK and 6 other countries as well as #9 in the US. Where do you begin with such an unusually brilliant song. The song changes styles, themes and is all over the place. It stretches the boundaries of what a song can do. You could write an entire thesis on this song and still not touch on every aspect of it. And where do you begin on that amazing operatic chorus with May singing low, Mercury in the middle and Taylor going so high that glasses break and dogs cover their ears. You know what, I can’t even write how great this song is as it would take too long. Maybe I will come back and do a whole post on this song. You know this one, you love this one, what more else is there to say at this time…nothing!

The album closes with an instrumental of “God Save the Queen”. It is the traditional arrangement with May sprinkling guitar magic dust over it to make it Queen. It is okay, but unnecessary.

Track Listing:

  1. Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to….) – Keeper
  2. Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon – Keeper
  3. I’m In Love With My Car – Keeper
  4. You’re My Best Friend – Keeper
  5. ’39 – Keeper
  6. Sweet Lady – Delete
  7. Seaside Rendezvous – Keeper
  8. The Prophet’s Song – Keeper (1/2 Point)
  9. Love of My Life – Keeper
  10. Good Company – Delete
  11. Bohemian Rhapsody – Keeper
  12. God Save the Queen – Delete

The Track Score is 9.5 out of 12 songs or 79% which is lower than the album deserves. I have seen this album listed as their best album and I think they do that because of “Bohemian Rhapsody” which is not a bad reason. I think it is the most daring their album to date I see it as a band that is reaching for the starts and reaching them. The album is full of experimentation and band discovering there is nothing they can’t do. That they should listen to what their guts say about the music and the songs and go with it. For that, this could be the most important album in their catalog, It showed that you can make the album you want to make and succeed. I thoroughly enjoyed the album and for all these reasons I will give it a 4.5 out of 5.0 Stars. It is not a perfect album, but is damn near close to it.

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:

The Bonus EP starts off with the track “Keep Yourself Alive” which is a long-lost retake of the song. It is strange to have it here since the song is not on this album, but it sounds fantastic and I love this song so I will take it. Then we get a new mix of “Bohemian Rhapsody” which is called the Operatic Section A Cappella Mix and is just that. It is the vocals only of the operatic section of the song. It feels weird not having the music behind but shows how great these guys can sing. Next up is “You’re My Best Friend” backing track mix which is the song with out the main vocals. Only the backing vocals throughout and is sort of unnecessary.

Then we get a guitar & vocal mix of the Taylor song “I’m In Love With My Car” and since I love this track already and I love Brian’s guitar, this is a really cool mix of the song. Guitar and vocals only, no drums, nothing else. A+ for this one!! “39” is up next with a live version of the song recorded at Earl’s Court in June 1977 and it opens with May playing around on the guitar which has nothing to do with the song. It is Brian on the acoustic guitar strumming away, a great beat and the biggest difference is Freddie sings it and is just as good as with Brian on vocals. Lovely track. Last up is a live version of “Love of My Life” recorded in South America in June 1979. It is a great example of how the crowd takes over the singing and you can feel the power of the song. Awesome!!

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 DAY AT THE RACES’ (1976)

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)

41 thoughts on “Queen – “A Night At The Opera’ (1975) – Album Review (The Studio Album Series)

  1. I love hearing your thoughts on Queen’s albums, great review John! Honestly, the only reason why I remember “Sweet Lady” is because of that scene in ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ where Roger is arguing with the boys about “I’m in Love with My Car” and he calls out Brian for his weird lyrics in “Sweet Lady” (“You call me sweet like I’m some kind of cheese”).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Out of anger comes great tunes and Fred lays it down. Never knew about that backstory of Taylor and his car song. lol. I will add on the Montreal show this song is killer esp with Fred at the piano.
    That’s why I keep coming here for those little tid bits of rock.
    Awesome stuff sir!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great review – I like this one. I actually had this on vinyl and sold it a while back. Kinda regretted it, but I didn’t really listen to it often and figured I would be happy picking up a CD copy. Anyhoo, the only tunes I really don’t like are Sweet Lady, Prophet’s Song, and God Save the Queen (blurgh).

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for reminding me what a brilliant album this is! I can’t add anything more to what you said about “Bohemian Rhapsody” but I have always loved “You’re My Best Friend.” I love Roger’s drumming and the harmonizing on this song a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. First of all…any band that would name two of their albums after Marx Brother movies have to be great. This album kicked down the door for them…that is for sure. They first came on my radar as a kid with News of the World…I love this one though.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It was 3rd grade in the playground and a buddy of mine brought this album of this huge robot…I was hooked when I listened to it.

        Liked by 1 person

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