We are slap dab in the middle of the Queen Studio Album Series. We are on album #8. We’ve done 7 and have 7 more to go after this one. I can’t believe it is going by so fast. We are also in to a new decade…the 80’s. This was also the time where my musical taste started to develop on my own without input from my siblings. I remember a couple of these songs on the radio so this album is a little special for me, but yet still years away before I bought one on my own. In 1980, I was just starting middle school so had no job and no money.
The band started recording in June/July of 1979 and a few songs were done, but things were brought to a halt because Queen went back out on the road in late 1979 on the Crazy Tour. When that ended, they went back in the studio on February and finished up the album by March 1980. The album came out on June 30, 1980 and was a massive success. The album went to #1 in the US and sold well over 4 million copies in the US alone. There were 5 singles so we have a lot to discuss. The line-up is unchanged as we still have Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon. Not many bands make it this far without a line-up change and Queen wouldn’t for years and years to come.
The album kicks off with “Play the Game” which was the third single off the album. It didn’t do as well as a couple other singles on the album as it only went to #42 just missing the Top 40. The song is also famous because it is the first song to feature a synthesizer. Queen had notoriously put on their previous albums that they didn’t use synthesizers. People thought that it was a knock against synthesizers, but reality is they wanted to let the world know that all those cools sounds that they made were actually done by guitar. It really wasn’t a knock on that instrument. Anyway, the song was written by Freddie Mercury and it is Queen being Queen. They don’t do anything simple and it has to be huge and grand and that is what this song is. Freddie’s vocal range on this song is insane. It has Freddie on piano and synthesizer for this one with Brian laying down a great solo that was played for the song and not all showboaty. It is a killer opening track.
Next up is the rocking track “Dragon Attack”. Written by Brian May it surprisingly has a nice bass groove. The song feels like it is strutting its stuff carrying a switchblade ready to cut you deep. Deacon’s bass is the start here as it is on most of this album. I love he finally gets to shine. And speaking of shining, May’s solo is brutal and this song is Queen rocking at its best. The band has so much confidence and it shows on this track.
“Another One Bites the Dust” was a departure for Queen as it was more funk and disco but it seems everything they do is a departure as they don’t follow anyone’s rules. The song went to #1 in the US and several other countries and sold over 5 million copies worldwide. It was written by bass player, John Deacon, and let me tell you there is some bass in it. The song was inspired by the song “Good Times” by the Chic and resulted from John hanging out a lot with that band as he was a big fan. Now, Roger Taylor wasn’t a big fan of the song, but Freddie loved it and worked hard to get everyone’s buy-in on the song and thanks to Freddie it was put on the album and the rest is history.
The song has so many effects on it, but none are with a synthesizer. It is all bass, guitar, piano and drums. Deacon played all the instruments except Roger’s drum loop. Brian May was on it as he added numerous sound effects using his guitar and a harmonizer. Some of the effects were the tape played backwards at different speeds. As a result of this effect, Christian groups protested the band saying the band was using backmasking to hide messages. They thought the band was promoting the use of marijuana. What I love about the song is that bass line which is so funky and danceable and so recognizable. You hear and you instantly know this is Queen. The drum sound on the album is really cool. To get the sound, the band stuffed blankets in to the kick drum to soften it. Another cool things is all the little fills with the guitar from both Brian and John. I think you hear different sounds every time you listen. And if that wasn’t enough, Freddie’s vocals are brilliant. They are tough, serious and he really sounded like a mean bad ass ready to kick your ass. He sounds angry and helped give the song so much punch and everything worked so well together, it was a kind of magic.
The final single from the album and another John Deacon song is “Need Your Loving Tonight”. I will be honest, I don’t remember this being a single. It is pure power pop and could easily be a Cheap Trick song as I could see Robin Zander singing it. There is also a great riff by May and Freddie sounds great as well as Roger’s killer drum fills. A solid track for sure.
The first single off the album is the rockabilly classic, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”. The song was written by Freddie Mercury and was a tribute to none other than Elvis Presley. Freddie wrote the song in only about 10 minutes and he wrote it playing a guitar. Freddie also plays rhythm guitar on the song as well which if I’m not mistaken is the first time he had ever done that for one of the band’s songs. In a Melody Maker interview back in 1980, Freddie had this to say about the song…
‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ took me five or ten minutes. I did that on the guitar, which I can’t play for nuts, and in one way it was quite a good thing because I was restricted, knowing only a few chords. It’s a good discipline because I simply had to write within a small framework. I couldn’t work through too many chords and because of that restriction I wrote a good song, I think. (Freddie Mercury)
I would say he did. The song is so simple, yet it is amazingly catchy and bores into your brain where it lives like a welcomed memory. It is almost magical. Once you here those first few notes, you know you are in for a good time as it has that old school rockabilly rhythm that you can’t wait to get to the sock hop and dance your ass off.
“Rock It (prime jive)” was written by Roger Taylor who shares the vocals with Freddie. Freddie kicks it off with the first verse before Roger takes over. There are some biting synthesizer notes thrown in against a back drop of an old time rock & roll jubilee. Roger nails this one vocally and we can leave it to him to make sure that rock is never dead with his tracks. It is a fast paced, danceable “jive” and a whole lot of fun.
Then we get the unusual “Don’t Try Suicide” which almost sounds like The Police in its opening notes and then turns in to an almost lounge-lizard song. I am not sure how the world take this song today in this overly sensitive world we live in today. They are playfully saying not to kill yourself and it is quite a heavy topic. I don’t know whether to like it or hate it for that very fact. It is all over the place at times in structure and I don’t know how to rate this one. The song was written by Freddie who only had 3 songs on the album that he actually wrote which is crazy.
Next up is “Sail Away Sweet Sister” written and sung by Brian May. It is a power ballad in that it has its soft moments and then turns up a notch and brings the power. It is one of the few May sung songs that I actually don’t mind. Freddie does sneak in a vocal on the bridge and then Brian plays a subdued solo that again works perfectly with the song. A pleasant experience all around.
“Coming Soon” was written by Roger Taylor with Mercury and Taylor sharing the vocals. I love the hard pounding drum opening and then the driving beat Taylor is laying down. It is a fast paced rocker and another power pop song with a lot of new wave elements (and yes, Cheap Trick sounding). I find it a catchy and an uplifting song that puts a smile on your face.
The album ends with the classic Queen song “Save Me” and one of my favorite Brian May penned songs. May pays tribute to a friend whose marriage had just ended. May also plays almost all the instruments (not the drums though). Freddie on vocals sings with such heart and soul and then so much power as well. It starts off sad and lonely and then turns into a bombastic, over the top rocker as only Queen can do. It takes what has been a great album and takes it up another notch. What a way to go out!!
- Play The Game – Keeper
- Dragon Attack – Keeper
- Another One Bites the Dust – Keeper
- Need Your Loving Tonight – Keeper
- Crazy Little Thing Called Love – Keeper
- Rock It (prime jive) – Keeper
- Don’t Try Suicide – Keeper (1/2 Point)
- Sail Away Sweet Sister – Keeper
- Coming Soon – Keeper
- Save Me – Keeper
The Track Score is 9.5 out of 10 or 95% which might be the best score yet for me on one of their albums. Now, this album doesn’t normally rank high on most people’s favorite Queen albums, but I don’t care. I love this album and always have and I think it gets better and better still with each listen. Say what you will about the new electronic element they added, but for me it worked and added some new dynamics to their sound. The album didn’t venture in to many strange Queen dimensions that they tend to go and I really loved a lot of the Power Pop elements of the album. For all of that, I give this a 5.0 out of 5.0 Stars!! You can disagree with me, but it won’t change my mind. I am sure this won’t be the last time.
The Bonus E.P. has some great stuff including a great live version of the song “Save Me” that was recorded in Montreal, Canada in November 1981. The we get the B-Side to the song “Play the Game” which was called “A Human Body”. This song was written and sung by Roger Taylor and damn, it is another fine track. It is a little slower track and has some really great moments musically as you get lost in it but at the same time it is still a rocking track and hard to believe it didn’t make the album. We also get the first Take of “Sail Away Sweet Sister” with Brian scatting a little as lyrics weren’t quite finished. They had the meat of the song and it still sounds great with the heavier piano backing and May has a killer solo and then they just stop. So cool to get such an early take on the song.
Next up is “It’s A Beautiful Day” which was a spontaneous idea from April 1980. It has Freddie singing and I assume on piano. It is quite stunning and shows the raw talent of Freddie. This song along with “A Human Body” are two of the special moments of this bonus e.p. Lastly, we get a rocking live version of “Dragon Attack” from Milton Keynes Bowl in England in June 1982. Roger slams it home on the drums for the opening and the speed of his drum hits its killer when they finally bring in Deacon to lay down some nasty bass with Brian’s cool as riffs. It is a prime example how you can take a song live and add so many cool elements to let it breathe on its own and bring a new life to it.
Thanks for hanging around so long on this one. I hope you enjoyed and we will see you for the next one…