Lily of the valley


Hold up. Hold up.

This is 1 minute 40 odd seconds long, and was released as a single. But that’s not even the ridiculous thing. This had Keep Yourself Alive as a B-side.

Can you imagine being intensely excited about the new Queen single. Picking it up, getting less than two minutes of piano balladry, and disappointedly flipping over the 7″, to find that particular blast of fury on the other side.



Lily of the valley.

To be fair, it grows on you pretty quickly. There’s some lovely touches in here. Freddie’s vocal stands alone for the most part (it’s him doing all the backing vocals too, apparently), and he takes advantage of the time alone to show off a little bit, but in that slightly more sensitive way.

Even with that, though, my favourite bit is the effect on the guitars towards the end. If you want to understand the reason Queen felt the need to clarify that they didn’t use synthesisers, at least half the story is on here. Brian May routinely used guitar effects to make incredible artificial noises, and the space age ending to this delicate ballad is precisely that.

It still seems unnecessarily aggressive (and the turnaround was swift and dramatic enough to make it mockable). Sure, there’s something to be said for noting that you’re clever enough on the guitar to not need synths to make something weird, but it also feels a little elitist. ‘We’re real, we don’t need synths’.

But then of course, synthesisers were still expensive room filling monstrosities at this point.

(Brief but somewhat relevant segue. There’s a bit in the 80s He-Man flick Masters of the Universe where someone mistakes the cosmic key for a synthesiser. For years afterwards, I thought all synthesisers were abstract, fantastical metal cylinders with illogically arranged buttons. I was pretty disappointed when I finally saw one.)

The point is, they made pleasing and strange rackets using guitars, and wanted people to know. I find it hard to believe anybody really doubted May’s sonic virtuosity. Even if you don’t like his elaborate and overwrought playing, you must be able to recognise it as unique and complex.

Anyway, May didn’t get a solo, so he makes some pretty noises over the final section.

I like it.

The other thing to note here, is that Mercury returns to Rhye, with a messnger of the Seven Seas flying in.

Wars will never cease

Is there time enough for peace

But the lily of the valley doesn’t know

I don’t know how to place this into the trilogy, apart from as a third opposite mood. From freedom to anger to a kind of poignant calm regret. Looking for answers, realising they aren’t there.

It’s a sweet sentiment, anyway, and Freddie’s voice does it well.

It’s also been a while since we had some nice fantastical nonsense to dive into. Maybe Freddie’s saying good bye to all that (as if he won’t return shortly). The fairy folk of the first few records seem far away, and maybe he’s lost without them?

Nah. I reckon he just wanted a sad bit on the record. He likes a good sad bit, and he’s got to spend some time working on the form (it’s not long before he nails it, too).

Yeah. That works.

Lily of the valley, token sad bit, good voice, good not synth.

It’s about flowers.



Queen: An Exploded Diagram is me having big and little thoughts about every Queen song in chronological order. If you want to support me, making it more financially viable and easier to explain to people at parties, please back my patreon.

Illustration by Emma.

3 thoughts on “Lily of the valley

  1. This is another huge favourite of mine. I heard or read somewhere, a long time ago, in a place and time I can’t quite remember, that Brain believed this was a song about seeing a woman’s body and not being aroused. I’ve no idea of the veracity of that claim, but Freddie did apparently cloak many simple or sometimes even crude ideas in increasingly complex or romantic compositions. There’s a bit at the start of Peter Freestone’s Memoir where he describes Freddie jokingly saying how he can’t really sing “Come-stains on my pillow,” but perhaps “Guilt-stains on my pillow” might work. That became the opening line for Life is Real.

    So who knows what Lily of the Valley is about? I think it’s brilliantly written and put together, though.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That makes sense on a lot of different levels. And if what I found was ‘Looking for answers, realising they aren’t there’, on top of euphemistic title, it almost seems a little too on the nose, now I’ve seen it.

    I might need to get better at looking for the less obvious innuendos!

    It’s a lovely, lovely little track though, either way.


  3. Freddie loved lilies, it could possibly be about flowers. Lily Of The Valley is probably about fantasy. My Fairy King, Nevermore, Seven Seas Of Rhye and Lily Of The Valley had a lot in common and they were magical fantasy songs.


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