Queen – ‘A Day At The Races’ (1976) – Album Review (The Studio Album Series)

For Queen’s fifth studio album, ‘A Day at the Races’ is considered a sort of companion piece to the preview album ‘A Night at the Opera’. The only connection I feel really is the fact both are titled after Marx Brother movies. Outside of that, they don’t feel connected to me at all. The album was recorded between July 1976 and November 1976 and get its release on December 10, 1976. The album was self-produced by Queen which is the first time they had done that and I am not so sure it worked as well as they hoped. Now their long time producer might be gone, but the band was still in tact. Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon are still going strong.

The album did ship Gold. went to #1 in the UK and #5 in the US and would go on to Platinum status so the band did something right. They released 5 singles and their popularity kept growing with each album release. However, this is not an album I ever really connected to and I gave it enough listens. I actually ended up skipping a couple songs on later listens of the album and that is never a good sign. Now, I am not saying the album is horrible, no as they do make worse ones down the road, I am only saying that I didn’t find this one to be as good as a lot of people say it is. Don’t shoot me, it is only my opinion and plus, I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about half the time anyway.

The album opens with “Tie Your Mother Down” which was written by Brian May back in 1968. When he brought the song to the band, Freddie loved it and they recorded it how it was written 8 years earlier. The song opens with a one minute instrumental and that instrumental tone and sound ends the album as well. After the instrumental, the song kicks in to gear, pushes the pedal to the floor and screams down the road. May’s guitar work is immense and brilliant and he slays on the slide guitar. Freddie’s vocals match the intensity of the music and take the song up in to 5th gear driving the song home. It is one of the heaviest songs on the album and what a way to start the album.

Then comes the song “You Take My Breath Away” which is a much loved song written by Freddie Mercury. It is a piano based ballad and it has a beautiful softness and passion feel that is really touching and wonderful. It is a great song, but I will be honest, I love the live versions of this song much better. Live brings a deeper emotion and a greater connection to the song. Freddie singing live takes it to a totally different level. The studio version never fully captures that same magic.

At the end of the prior song, there is a vocal interlude with layers and layers of vocals that say “take my breath away” before giving in to the next song “Long Way” which was another song written by Brian and this time he sang it as well. The song feels nostalgic at times filled with sadness. It is a mid-tempo song and has a 60’s vibe like the Beatles and yet never really takes off for me. It wants to travel somewhere but seems stuck.

Then comes the fun song “The Millionaire Waltz” written by Freddie and is exactly what it says, its a waltz. John Deacon’s bass is heard prominently with Freddie’s piano in the opening couple minutes. The song has a “Bohemian Rhapsody” feel with all the tempo and style changes. It is over-the-top and flamboyant which is something the band does so well. When it prannces along like a waltz or whether it full on rocks out, you are taken for a wild, fun-filled ride.

The final song on Side 1 is “You And I” which was written by John Deacon. Freddie sings, but features Deacon on the acoustic guitar as well as the bass. It is an upbeat track with Freddie on piano, Roger keeping rhythm and Brian wailing on guitar. It is rocking track with a great solo by May, but it is not a memorable song for me. I would forget it pretty quickly afterwards. After all the listens to this album, when it ended there were several songs I could not sing back in my head and this was one of them.

The second half of the album starts out great with the classic Queen song “Somebody to Love” which was written by Freddie. The song is full on gospel inspired by the likes of Aretha Franklin and it is filled with some pretty complicated musical parts and so many layers of vocals one on top of the other to give it that massive choir feel. May, Taylor and Mercury can be heard in all those layers. It feels like you are being taken to church and the whole church is up with their hands raised in the air praising at the alter of Queen. It is fantastic.

Then we get a third May song and this one is quite political in nature. The song is called “White Man’ is basically taken from the perspective of a Native American man talking about the destruction brought on by the European white man. It is a heavy, rocking track that first starts off with Freddie singing angrily and May on guitar, nothing else before it slams it home when Roger and John came blasting in with the heavy drums and thumping bass line and Roger feels like he is pounding the anger away with a tribal feel and some of his best work on the album. It is a heavy song both musically and lyrically and one of the cooler tracks on the album.

“Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy” is up next which is written by Freddie. It is heavily piano driven with Freddie tickling that ivory. It is an upbeat, lovable song that has a beat that makes you bop along and puts you in such a good mood. May’s guitar has a violin vibe to it and you even get engineer Mike Stone singing along at times with Freddie. At times the song feels like it is being played on an old-timey radio which is a cool effect. It is a good time had by all.

Now the album completely dies for me. “Drowse” is up next and this is the one and only Roger Taylor song and as much I have liked a lot of his previous songs, they have started being less entertaining. When he rocks out, he is great, but he doesn’t rock out here. It feels like it is a little psychedelic / 60’s vibe and has some nice slide guitar by May, but I can’t connect to it as the timing is strange and tough to find a groove a like and can relate.

And that isn’t the worst of it, we then get “Teo Torriate (Let Us Cling Together)” which is a May’s tribute to the Japanese fans and he actually sings two choruses in Japanese. I, however, don’t like this one at all. I am sure it is a great song, but I felt empty hearing it and it was another song I couldn’t remember after I played it. The chorus is the problem with it has it is flat out horrible. The verses are nice, but the chorus is so bland and uninteresting. It actually kills the vibe of the song. The outro of the song is the book ending to the opening intro of the album on “Tie Your Mother Down”. They are similar instrumental pieces that were meant to open and close the album. That might be the only thing interesting for me about the song.

Track Listing:

  1. Tie Your Mother Down – Keeper
  2. You Take My Breath Away – Keeper (1/2 Point)
  3. Long Away – Delete
  4. The Millionaire Waltz – Keeper
  5. You and I – Delete
  6. Somebody to Love – Keeper
  7. White Man – Keeper
  8. Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy – Keeper
  9. Drowse – Delete
  10. Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together) – Delete

The Track Score is 5.5 out of 10 or 55% which is not good at all in my book. I think not having a producer hurt on this one and the album felt a little disjointed and all over the place. I think more work needed to be done on a few songs and as a result it felt like a lot of filler. However, the songs I liked, I really liked and are some great classic Queen songs and some cool deep cuts. Overall, the score is a 3.0 out of 5.0 Stars mainly due to the songs that were good were so good. I am not going to connect to every album and I am not going to kid myself that I will, but I was a little disappointed I didn’t like this one as much as I hoped. Each listen didn’t make the album better, it only confirmed my thoughts on it. Hopefully the next album will go back in to the win column.

BONUS EP:

The bonus EP kicks off with a backing track mix of the song “Tie Your Mother Down”. What that means is that is it the exact song as the studio track except the main vocals are stripped out and only the backing vocals are left it. It is pointless and a waste of time in my book. Then we get a live version of “Somebody to Love” from the Milton Keynes Bowl from June 1982. Freddie changes up the opening and it is him and a piano and he shows off his vocal talent with this little runs and then we get the song as we know and the band does a stellar job. And man, can Freddie control a crowd. The next song is a love version of “You Take My Breath Away” which was recorded live at Hyde Park in September 1976 prior to the song actually being recorded for the album. This song proves to me the live version is better than the studio version. It has more heart, more soul, more power and more of a connection. It is bloody brilliant!!

The next song is “Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy” from the Top of the Pops in July 1977. I mean, how can you not love this song no matter studio or live. It is an all around fun song and you can’t help but get swept up in its infectious groove and sing along. The final bonus track is an HD Mix of “Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together)” and sadly, even putting it in HD does nothing for me. I didn’t like it before, I still don’t like it. Sorry.

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: ‘News of the World’ (1977)

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)

28 thoughts on “Queen – ‘A Day At The Races’ (1976) – Album Review (The Studio Album Series)

  1. Oh man, if you can’t remember it now, I reckon you ought to give “You And I” another chance, its one of my favourite Queen tunes of all time. To the point that I had it played at my wedding. Its crazy memorable for me. That bit where he sings “Oh, laughter ringing in the darkness, People drinking for days gone by…” is such a killer hook with such a great soft vocal. Magnificent.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I think the May stuff is good – Long Away and the closer are both good in my book. I agree it’s a big step down from the last few – I reckon Mercury stepped down a lot and never really recovered. He was so good is early Queen. Somebody to Love is one of their best though.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t know why but I will take Taylor’s stuff over May’s any day. His writing was great though. It was his vocals I didn’t always enjoy. I do like some of his songs as will be evident down the road.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes I like You and I too, but the album is overall a mid-classic. Not quite in their upper echelon. I agree Tie Your Mother down opens the album perfectly. One of the earliest songs I ever remember. Thanks for the series. Looking forward to your review of personal favourite Hot Space.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Well if u loved everything that would be bogus. lol and fake news…haha
        Keep these coming John. Great stuff and I really look forward to when u get to Cheap Trick!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I can’t either on Cheap Trick. I am hoping to start in June (which means you will get it starting in July/August). I will finish Kiss in May for writing the posts. Only 5 more to go plus a Ranking.

          Like

  4. The Millionaire Waltz I always loved because of one reason…the solo by May…loved what he did in that. Somebody to Love may be my favorite Queen song.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Being a guitar player…that one just knocked me out… and I love the We Are The Chapions solo on News of the World. Most of his solos…you can hum…they are so melodic.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. YOU DON’T LIKE “DROWSE”?!?! DO YOU NEED A DOCTOR OR SOMETHING?!?! Nah, just joking. It’s cool we like different things. I like Queen’s rock tracks, less experimental stuff (cause I get impatiently easily). So stuff like “You Take My Breath Away” and “The Millionaire Waltz,” I hate them. Great review John!

    Like

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