Queen – ‘Jazz’ (1978) – Album Review (The Studio Albums Series)

After the success of their album ‘News of the World’ and a very successful tour for that album, Queen quickly went back to work for the band’s seventh album, ‘Jazz’. They started recording the album in July 1978 in France and didn’t finish until October 1978. The album saw its release a month later on November 10, 1978 around a year after their last album. Upon its release, it wasn’t a critical darling, but the album did go to #2 in the UK and #6 in the US. The funny thing is that over the years, the critics have warmed up to this album and they usually rank it within the Top 5 Queen albums ever made. I don’t know about that, but we will see when I finally rank them at the end of the series.

The band is still Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon and that won’t change ever during these reviews as they are one of the few bands to not change their line-up during their studio album run. Not many bands can say that. We know after Freddie’s death, that will change, but it is really a touring band at that point, no more studio albums. Okay, we are getting a little sidetracked…by we, I mean me.

The album kicks off with that I think is the worst opening track they have ever had called “Mustapha”. I will admit the song is a little catchy and does explode in volume and tempo, but it sounds like gibberish. I now some of it is Arabic and Persian, but I think some is gibberish. The song to me is a little cheesy and the band is trying too hard to stretch the boundaries of what they can do. The song was written by Freddie and bring his background in to the band and there is nothing wrong to have a song with a Middle Eastern flair, but at least make the song accessible to your audience. This I believe is the biggest song mistake they have made up to this point. Well at least putting this as the opening track.

The opening track should’ve been the second song, “Fat Bottom Girls”. The opening a cappella vocals saw the band lay down some beautiful harmonies and it immediately grabs hold of its audience. The song kicks in to gear and completely rocks out. The song is one of the rare instances where the band actually uses drop D tuning believe it or not. I love the bluesy, gritty guitar sound from Brian who wrote the song and sings it with Freddie where Brian takes the chorus and Freddie the verses. It is a fun song with lots of energy and I love the part where they give a little shout out to Bicycles which will gets its very own song soon. There is a picture that went this single (and the album) of a bunch of naked ladies at the start of a bicycle race as the single was released with “Bicycle Race”. I didn’t feel it was appropriate to post a nude shot on the site, but there were boobies and butts if you have to know which is actually appropriate in the sense as both songs are a little cheeky…yes, I went there!

The next song up is called “Jealousy” which was written by Freddie. It is more of a ballad has a cool sitar guitar sound that Brian manages by making various tweaks on his acoustic guitar. It is a sweet and beautiful piano based song. Freddie’s vocals are feel like they are soaring high in the sky as pleasant as a summer’s breeze.

“Bicycle Race” is such a funtastic track. The layers upon layers of vocal harmonies, the ringing of the bicycle bells and the sweeping guitar solo that mimics a bicycle race and all over the top craziness and yet absolutely stellar. Freddie’s lyric delivery is both flamboyant at times and yet done so purposefully. The way he annunciates the lyrics is spot on to give it a silly yet dramatic effect. The song is experimental as the band loves to do and it is what is so great about the band wrapped in this joyous track.

Then we get the first John Deacon penned track called “If You Can’t Beat Them” which is not one of my favorite tracks. It feels a little more like filler and I tend to forget how it goes after it is done. There are some nice Brian May moments, but not enough to save this track for me.

“Let Me Entertain You” is another favorite track of mine. It was Freddie singing to his audience that he was there to entertain them. There are fun shout outs to other songs like Teo Torriatte and a shout to their former tour manager Gerry Stickells. The chorus sounds bad ass with the way Freddie delivers the vocals and May’s guitar tone is intense with a wonderful rhythm section from Roger and John. It was one of the heavier rock tracks on here even if there is a little cabaret-style to the song.

Brian May’s next contribution is the song “Dead on Time”. The song’s tempo is at warp speed with Brian’s guitar riffs slicing through the stars and leaving a trail of space dust. His solo is out of this world too and sucks you in like a black hole (what the hell is up with the space references…who knows). The song ends with a thunderous crash and then your dead…at least that is what Freddie says. It is the heaviest track and shows the band hasn’t forgotten how to rock despite the varied album we are listening to here.

“In Only Seven Days” is the other Deacon contribution and he plays both acoustic and electric guitar on this one. it is a quieter toned song, not quite a ballad but very pop like in presentation. It feels like Freddie doing old school contemporary style songs in the same vein as maybe Perry Como or Burt Bacharach and I’m okay with that. It is a tons better than the old jazz, ragtime song of “Dreamers Ball”. It is another instance with the band trying to do too much on this album. Variety is the spice of life, but too much variety can end up being just as boring and dull. It has a nice beat, but in the end leaves me feeling flat. Funny enough, this comes from Brian May and not Freddie as this feels like a Freddie penned track to me.

We finally get our first Roger Taylor song with “Fun It”. This is another out of left field as it is Queen being a little disco. There is a funky groove and has Roger playing almost every instrument. The one drawback is the use of the electronic drums and coming from Roger, I would rather have him pounding the skins. But that one negative still doesn’t take away from my full enjoyment of the song. I like Roger’s stuff for the most part and there are enough strong elements to keep me engrossed.

May’s last contribution on the album is “Leaving Home Ain’t Easy” and actually has him singing this one. It is a ballad and is pleasant enough, but I don’t find May’s vocals very engaging so it loses me and another to fall short and feel like filler.

Then we get to one of the coolest tracks on the album, hell of all their catalog, “Don’t Stop Me Now”. Written by Freddie it is really a good time song. The lyrics are the heroes here and I love the pre-chorus that goes…

“I’m burnin’ through the sky, yeah 200 degrees
That’s why they call me Mister Fahrenheit
I’m traveling at the speed of light
I wanna make a supersonic man out of you”

Yeah, here is where I should’ve used those space references to describe this one. Too late, but this song is so hot, it is scorching even. With Freddie on piano and his fingers leaving burn marks on those keys make for a happy, uplifting vibe that could set the world on fire as they dance to the beat. There is something special about this song and it gets better with every listen and still after 40+ years I can’t get enough of this one.

The final track on the album is the Roger penned song and album namesake, “More of that Jazz” is a strange beast like it is playing on a loop, but does have a killer guitar riff (played by Taylor). There is a strange part near the end that plays bits of most of the songs on the album and then goes back to the song…strange for sure. Roger, vocally, really nails some high notes, but we knew he could do that from “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Despite its strangeness, I still kinda dig this one.

Track Listing:

  1. Mustapha – Delete
  2. Fat Bottomed Girls – Keeper
  3. Jealousy – Keeper
  4. Bicycle Race – Keeper
  5. If Can’t Beat Them – Delete
  6. Let Me Entertain You – Keeper
  7. Dead On Time – Keeper
  8. In Only Seven Days – Keeper
  9. Dreamers Ball – Delete
  10. Fun It – Keeper (1/2 Point)
  11. Leaving Home Ain’t Easy – Delete
  12. Don’t Stop Me Now – Keeper
  13. More of That Jazz – Keeper (1/2 Point)

The Track Score is 9 out of 13 or only a 69%.  I think the album is better than that score.  The songs that are really good on here are some of the best the band has done.  Some truly classic Queen songs.  I do think they tried to do to many styles and experimented a little too much, but in the end it is still a fantastic album.  When four of my favorite tracks are on one album, that speaks volumes.  Overall, the score is 4.0 out of 5.0 Stars.  I think the band might have had a few swings and misses, but in the end it is a solid in the park homerun at the very least with the rest.  I can see why the critics might have been apprehensive at first but now with time to digest over the last 40+ years, it does sparkle a little brighter in the end.

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…

BONUS E.P.

The bonus E.P. kicks off with the single version of “Fat Bottomed Girls” which is just as good as the original album version. It shaves off about a minute so you get a skinnier track but still just as fat in its enjoyment. Next up is an instrumental of “Bicycle Race” and really completely unnecessary as it is the lyrics that really make that song so much fun. This one loses that spark and feels like the chain came off and therefore is no fun to ride. Then we get “Don’t Stop Me Now” and this time a version called the Long-Lost Guitars mix which doesn’t really improve a song that is already basically perfect, but it does give it a slight new dimension to it.

“Let Me Entertain You” is up next and is a live version taken from the Montreal show in November 1981. It shows how great this song is as a live piece. It is a good time for Freddie to well, be Freddie. The song is as playful as he is and rocks out just the same. Lastly, we get an early acoustic take from August 1978 of the song “Dreamers Ball”. I’m not a fan of the album version at all, but I found the acoustic take a little more palatable. It still feels like ragtime, but its slower tempo actually has a little more heart and is my preferable version of choice.

UP NEXT: ‘The Game’ (1980)

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)

47 thoughts on “Queen – ‘Jazz’ (1978) – Album Review (The Studio Albums Series)

  1. I was pretty disappointed by this one – I love the double single, and it’s kind of the big sprawling record I usually really like. But I think it’s a bit flat in a lot of places – I have it at #10 of their albums.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is the one that some nitwit used to accuse them of being fascist right? It’s a cool record, some all time classics, but not my favorite of theirs. Still a damn fine triumph.

    Funny, their name is Queen, and their singer was a legit legendary homosexual icon, and they’re still nowhere near as gay as Styx.

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  3. Great review John! Oddly enough, I don’t care for “Bicycle Race,” except for the references about Peter Pan and not liking Star Wars. I don’t listen to Queen much nowadays, but I still sing along to “Fat Bottomed Girls” every chance I get. When looking up “Don’t Stop Me Know” after watching ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ I saw this part, “I’m burnin’ through the sky, yeah 200 degrees / That’s why they call me Mister Fahrenheit / I’m traveling at the speed of light / I wanna make a supersonic man out of you,” and had to do a double take because of how off it was haha!

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  4. I do love Jazz, although they used to make fun of the song Fun It at the record store. The lyrics are kinda funny.

    Those bonus EPs are really great too. Unfortunately I think they are still holding out tracks that will be released on yet another future edition.

    Liked by 1 person

          1. Queen, The Ultra Deluxe Complete Masterwork set. For just $1,000,000, you can have everything Queen has ever done, shipped to you in a rocket engineered by Brian May. Roger Taylor will personally come to your house and abuse your toilet, and John Deacon might come out of hiding long enough for you to see his shadow and determine how many weeks of winter are left. Order now!

            Liked by 1 person

              1. You saw that too? What a joke.

                According to South Park, AIDS has been funny for almost twenty years now, but I’ll not go there. I think their rule was it takes 22.3 years for a tragedy to become funny. That means in a few years when 9/11 is funny, all bets are off.

                Liked by 1 person

  5. I pretty much said the same as you when I reviewed this album what seems an eon ago. The only exception was that I liked Mustapha, at least when the guitars kicked in.

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      1. News of the World was the first exposure but The Game…got me hooked…but yes I like more than just that…and I like the one everyone hates…we know which one that is.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m assuming you mean cassettes as this album isn’t hot right now. I know, all the local record stores are now putting up more and more shelving for cassettes and all artists are starting to put their new stuff out on it as well. Heck, even Motley Crue is doing an Record Sore 40th Anniversary release cassette box set of their first 5 albums.

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