As Queen prepared for their follow-up album to ‘A Day at the Races’, the musical landscape was changing in the UK. The Punk scene was starting to takeover so Queen decided to adapt to the times. No, they didn’t make a punk album, but what they did was drop the grandiose ideas of the previous albums and strip it all back to their rock roots and made it a little more raw. As a result, the band put out their most popular album they ever released.
It was released on October 28, 1977 and the band saw the album go to #4 in the UK and #3 in the US and the album went quickly to platinum status. In fact, the album has sold over 10,000,000 copies around the world marking it as their best selling studio album. With 3 official singles (4 if you count the B-side success of “We Will Rock You”), the band was ready to take over the world
The band was still in tact with Freddie Mercury, Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor. However, Brian and Freddie didn’t write the majority of the songs as usual. John and Roger both contributed 2 songs each this time around instead of their usual 1 song (well not usual for John as he had only one credit prior to this album). The band worked more as a band this time around. As a result, we get an album that completely feels like a full band contribution and we get a beast of an album.
Before we get to the music, let’s talk that cover. The album’s cover was inspired by a painting by American sci-fi artist Frank Kelly Freas. Roger saw it in an issue of Astounding Science Fiction (October 1953) which depicted a giant intelligent robot holding the dead body of a man. The band reached out to the artist, and he agreed to let them use it and he altered it to now be holding the bodies of the band. What is even cool, when I saw the band tour a couple years ago with Adam Lambert, they used the robot during the show in what looked like a 3D image popping off the screen and reaching out in to the audience. It was a pretty cool effect.
The album kicks off with a massive one-two punch with two of the bands biggest songs and two of the biggest songs ever from any band with “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions”. The first single of the album was actually “We Are the Champions” and “We Will Rock You” was the B-Side. The songs were so short at each under 3 minutes, that radio stations started playing both songs back-to-back and in turn made them both massive hits.
“We Will Rock You” was written by Brian May and aside from the guitar solo at the end, it is really just a “stomp”, “stomp”, “clap” and a “pause” for the next beat. Freddie is basically doing mostly a cappella for the verses. The whole foot stomp is really just the four band members, but the sound is layer, upon layer of the same foot stomps (slightly delayed with each one) to give that feeling that it is a whole mess of people involved. The intention was to make a rock anthem and that is exactly what they have done. In fact, it is still popular today and almost every sporting event, this song is played.
“We Are the Champions” was written by Freddie in response to what happened to the band after a show where the audience started to sing to them the song “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from the Rogers & Hammerstein musical ‘Carousel’. It moved Freddie a lot and must’ve made him feel like the band had truly made it. The song is based around Freddie’s piano with some killer guitar work by Brian. It sounds like a full on arena rock song and when paired with “We Will Rock You”, you don’t get a better combo of songs that make you feel so good. The song is so uplifting and powerful and like the opening track, it is usually played when a team wins the big game.
The next track, “Sheer Heart Attack”, was written by Roger Taylor. The song was sung with Freddie doing the verses and Roger handling the chorus. Now, I know what you are thinking, there is an album called “Sheer Heart Attack” so why isn’t the song on that album. Well, that was because Roger couldn’t finish it. It was only about half written. Luckily for us, it was finally finished a few years later. Roger actually plays all the instruments on this song with a little help from Brian on guitars. The song is a heavy rock track, with what sounds a little punk in its attitude. And what is more punk than just ending the song with a hard stop that you feel there is a problem, but nope, they stopped it suddenly. There is one thing Roger does well and that is make a straight ahead, driving rock song and this is one of my favorites by him.
“All Dead, All Dead” was written and sung by Brian May. The song was inspired by the death of his boyhood pet cat. The song is a ballad and has Brian playing the piano. Freddie joins in on the chorus and then the drums come in add a little more depth before going back to May’s piano playing. It is very melodic and full of harmonies, but it is a little dull for me and my tastes.
Then we get a power ballad with “Spread Your Wings”. This one was written by John Deacon and sung by Freddie. Freddie’s vocals are the reason the song holds together as he adds the heart to the lyrics and the power to “power” ballad. Since John wrote it, the bass playing is prominent and lays down a great groove. Another highlight of the song. This is a song that I wasn’t familiar with prior to listening to the album and to me is a forgotten gem in the bands catalog.
“Fight From the Inside” now sees Roger Taylor taking over the writing and the singing. The bass is stellar on this one as it is the main focal point along with the drumming. And interesting enough, Roger actually plays the bass and he even uses John’s own bass. Roger is basically doing the whole song himself with a few May notes thrown in. It is heavy and completely rocks out. Roger is two for two with his songs on this album. Another favorite, another killer track.
Then we get Freddie back with one of the band’s sexiest and most sexually explicit songs, “Get Down, Make Love”. The bass is all funked up, there are some psychedelic moments all done with Brian’s guitar (not a synthesizer) and the song is at times totally out there, but totally amazing at the same time. The aggression in the music and the dirty lyrics make for an all around fun, rocking song.
“Sleeping on the Sidewalk” is another Brian May contribution in songwriting and singing. It is a blues track, with a typical blues beat and is one of very few Brian songs that I actually like. Who doesn’t love some solid Blues guitar playing and May does it perfectly. The song drives forward at a great pace and gets you moving and that guitar playing sounds so dirty and nasty and distorted. Apparently, the music was recorded in one take and you can hear several mistakes by Deacon on bass and May laughing at the end…I can’t tell there are mistakes since I am musically illiterate. This proves a song can be full of mistakes and be almost perfect. It is all about feel and not perfection.
“Who Needs You” was written by John Deacon and sung by Freddie. It has May playing the Spanish guitar and the maracas with Freddie on the cowbell. If you listen carefully, Freddie’s vocals are only coming out the right speaker and is very pronounced on the headphones. It is a fun little track.
The band didn’t entirely dump long songs for this album as “It’s Late” is the longest at over 6 minutes. The song was written by Brian May and is basically a three-act theatrical piece. I would expect this from Freddie, but Brian…totally cool. It is the classic Queen style where they have to have a song that is over-the-top and nothing but grandeur. Now it isn’t a full on opera, but more a rock track from beginning to end with each verse taking a different act in the story. The story is basically a man with his woman, then he leaves and is with a lot of other women and then comes back home to the original woman. Man slut!! There are a couple things I love about the song. One is Roger’s drumming which is brilliant and the other is that the song is known for Brian May’s tapping technique on guitar which a year later would be famously done by the late, great Eddie Van Halen.
The album ends with the song “My Melancholy Blues” written by Freddie, it is totally Freddie. The song feels like a jazz lounge club full of smoke and people trying to be cool. There are no backing vocals, no guitars, it is all Freddie on piano, Roger on percussion and John Deacon on bass all playing their jazziest. It is a song that doesn’t fit with anything on the album, but no one cares as it is the essence of cool.
- We Will Rock You – Keeper
- We Are the Champions – Keeper
- Sheer Heart Attack – Keeper
- All Dead, All Dead – Delete
- Spread Your Wings – Keeper
- Fight From the Inside – Keeper
- Get Down, Make Love – Keeper
- Sleeping on the Sidewalk – Keeper
- Who Needs You – Keeper
- It’s Late – Keeper
- My Melancholy Blues – Keeper
The Track Score is 10 out of 11 or 91%. The album is as close to perfect as you can get without actually being perfect. The band gave us a straight ahead rock record without too much of the flamboyant, over-the-top craziness we know and love and it still works. Maybe even more so. As much as I do love the Queen theatrics, Queen giving us a full on rock album also has its merits. This album, even with one song dinged that I don’t like, is still a full on 5.0 out of 5.0 Stars. The band found the right mix of including everyone and giving us solid songs, short and sweet. A true rock album. A band that can do it all, showed that they really shine when they a simply a rock & roll band.
THE BONUS E.P.
The Bonus E.P. kicks off with the unreleased track “Feeling Feelings” which is Take 10 of the song from July 1977. The song never made it to the album and I can see why as it doesn’t quite fit (not that “Melancholy Blues” does. It is really short and doesn’t quite feel finished, but it is till really good track and as a bonus song it is awesome. We then get “Spread Your Wings” and “My Melancholy Blues” both from the October 1977 BBC Session. Both versions sound amazing actually, but “My Melancholy Blues” sees Freddie take it up another notch and really lay on the cheese in his vocal delivery and it is nothing short of spectacular.
Then we get two live tracks and first up is “Sheer Heart Attack” from Paris on February 28, 1979. The song feels even more lively and even more punk. The band attacks with a ferocity that would lay waste to everyone around. The last track is the “Fast” version of “We Will Rock You” from Tokyo in November 1982. I am not a fan of this as it takes away all the power and passion behind the song and turns in to a boring, uninspiring, regular song.
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.