Brian May gets his second vocal of the album, and it’s time for him to indulge his own particular nostalgias.
The ukulele banjo is out, and he sounds like Paul McCartney, singing a song about work-life balance.
Because it wouldn’t be Queen without incongruity, and this side would’ve actually had a relatively consistent tone without it.
Honestly, it’s a perfect little bit of fireside warmth. Precisely produced to grant it the atmosphere it calls for, bouncing on the knee of an archetypal father, learning life lessons. Joyfully feeding on the mistakes of our elders (and proceeding to ignore them).
It’s a lovely sing-a-long, and I adore the way that for most of the song, Brian’s guitar acts as the vocal harmonies. It’s an incredible little treat of production and arrangement.
But, but, none of that is the real treasure here.
Once again, it’s all about learning the extent Brian will go to for a particular sensation.
That final finale. After the song’s over. Are you paying attention to it? The whole song drops into immaculate dixieland jazz.
And it’s all Brian, all on guitar. A perfect brass band, with this strangely hypnotic electrical quality.
Apparently he recorded the whole thing one note at a time, as it was the only way to get the effects to work properly, and give him the chance to build a guitar trombone (and the rest of the horn section).
So not just a perfect arrangement, but a ridiculous and ludicrous amount of technical effort.
Critically, not particularly strong evidence of a good work-life balance.
But I love it. This whole album is clearly a band at their peak, attempting to put heart and soul and all the time imaginable into a deep, rich and intensely experimental work. To the extent where what could easily be dismissed as one of three novelty tracks has a short section of it that will have required actual days of studio time, if not more. A beast of a thing, composed of tiny chunks and, effectively, hand-crafted samples, just to get a jazz band on the end of the banjo track.
All my friends by a year
By and by disappeared
But we’re safe enough behind our door
All this gleeful dixieland is just to drive home the punchline of a lonely little domestic tragedy.
If there is a connection for this side of the record, it is this loneliness and loss. It’s a tragic opera we’re playing in, even when it’s bouncing on the banjo-uke knee.
And for all of the sadness, it’s still the simplest message possible.
Remember your friends, stay with them, love them, love your lovers too, and keep them as friends forever.
Again, we’ve got some solid themes running through the record.
I do think that Queen is a band about friendship.
It’s not relevant here, but one thing I’ve learnt, is that one of the distinctive things about Queen’s vocal harmonies is that all three of the singers (John doesn’t really take part) generally sing all the parts.
So while Roger is best at the top range, Brian is best and the bottom, and Freddie can belt out anything, they all do everything. So the high bits have all of them, the low bits have all of them. It gives them this thick, complementary togetherness.
And togetherness is where we’re at, what we’re selling.
The reason people love Queen, for the most part, isn’t the technical depth, but that it’s so damn fun to sing. Not just good to sing, but good to sing with your friends.
We’ll get to that in the next track, I suspect, but I just wanted to note it now.
Queen is about friendship.
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.