Queen seem to be one of those bands where everyone likes, a rare phenomenon in music. Universally accepted by old and young alike, their songs are anthemic, made to be sung in unison at huge events. ‘We are the Champions’ and ‘We will Rock You’ being two that spring to mind. Three greatest hit albums to their name and a wealth of albums to draw on until the tragic death of their lead vocalist Freddie Mercury.
A Night at the Opera is an album I found recently when looking through the vinyl collection I’d inherited. Of course the fact it had their most famous song, Bohemian Rhapsody, on it drew me to it. I must have come across it before as I recognised each song and anticipated the next. Brainwashed no doubt by my dad when I was a little nipper ;)So putting the LP on the turntable conjured up these memories.
This album is meant to be listened to as one piece of music, each track complementing the next and building to produce a coherent piece of music. It’s an event like going to a concert, not a piece to be pulled apart and listened to the odd track, although most of these do stand alone.
The album starts wonderfully like an orchestra tuning up. A quiet peace before the explosion that is about to happen. Death on Two Legs has everything you expect from Queen. An edgy vocal from one of those instantly recognisable voices in rock coupled with the unmistakable guitar of Brian May. A song that starts the head rocking. Allegedly written about an old agent who ripped them off. The voracity of the vocal implies to me he was hated.
Then a change of direction with a song that you imagine Freddie singing as he skips along Brighton promenade. A really quirky song that amazingly fits so well between the tracks around it. Freddie very tongue in cheek and making you smile. A welcome breath of fresh air before the album gains its rocker boots again.
The next track we change singer to Roger Taylor, the drummer. A track that starts with a driving beat (appropriately) and is a homage to the love of the car. ‘A machine of a dream’ Taylor eulogises. A track about the love affair between a man and his car.
We take the beat down for the next couple of tracks. The first is this beautiful song which is all about Your Best friend. John Deacon, the quiet bass player wrote and sung this wonderful track. ‘In rain and shine, you stood by me girl’ A song that almost makes you cry. The music in the background perfectly framing this song in warmth and grandeur. Amazing and heartfelt.
To me the next song is one of the best, if not the best on the album. Acoustic guitar starts this quirky reverent song from Brian May. A song that tells a story of discovery and loss. Revolving around Brian May’s passion for space and astronomy, it charts the voyage of a man to a far off star. On his return although he hasn’t aged much his friends have and are dead. He finds himself alone in a world he doesn’t understand. ‘All your letters in the sand cannot heal me like your hand, For my life, Still ahead Pity Me’. I love this track and it’s sentiments.
The quiet section over, Queen return with a rock song that hits all the buttons. Sweet Lady is a bitter sweet love song with a driving guitar and bass augmented by Freddie Mercury’s vocal. ‘You call me sweet like I’m some kind of cheese Waiting on the shelf’.
Another sort of music hall number from Freddie ‘You say you will if you could but you can’t, I love you madly, Let my imagination run away with you gladly’ Some lovely playing with words make this a very lighthearted and clever song, Freddie playing with his audience once again. I just love the light heartedness of it.
Then it’s straight into another longish song. For me another stand out moment, although not as well regarded as it should be. The Prophet’s song is one of those songs that builds into crescendos. There’s a little in it which hints of the pleasures to come in Bohemian Rhapsody. Some lovely moments ‘Beware the storm that gathers here. Listen to the wise man.’ I love this song, it brings together everything about Queen ‘Oh, oh children of the land, Love is still the answer take my hand’.
‘Love of My Life’ is a track made for Freddie. A vocal that berates the love of his life for leaving him, imploring them to return. A perfect love song, one we’ve all wanted to write and sing at those moments when life falls apart. ‘I will be there at your side to remind you how I still love you, I still love you.’ A beautiful trademark guitar solo from May makes this a total weepie.
A return to music hall for the next song, a cheerful number after the pomp of the previous track, perfectly picking the mood to interject a touch of fun and frivolity. ‘Take care of those you call your own and keep good company’ Lyrically another very clever song.
What can I say about the last full track that hasn’t already been said. The song that made Queen in the eyes of the world. There’s a touch of rock, folk and opera about it. Just turn it up and listen to the words, let the music flow over you. It’s an experience, the last act of a great album. Set on it’s own it makes you stop, but at the end of such a record, it’s a fitting end to this opus. Starting with just a piano and vocal it builds until the mock opera section hits. Then its rocks as well as anything before the storm dies and we’re wished ‘Any way the wind blows’. Then the big gong closes the piece. An absolute epic.
God Save the Queen follows. Like any Night at the Opera, the performance ends with the National Anthem. The guitar of May turning this usual piece of music from a dirge to an uplifting powerful piece of music.
The albums over and you sit drained from the emotions and power of the music. You resist the impulse to stand up and applaud. A truly epic album that is one of the most complete I have heard. Try listening as it was intended. Well worth 45 minutes of your life.
I hope the videos work 🙂