John Deacon is here, sweeping up the Emerald Bar.
This is John doing what John does, simple uplifting songs, with hearts of gold. I’m fond of it.
I’m also tempted to shoehorn it into my stealthy narrative of Queen as romanticised Marxists, which remains a struggle.
Apparently the first single to have no vocal harmonies, Freddie’s voice stands alone here. (Weirdly, Roger sings some backing vocals on the video. There are none. He’s just trying to keep warm, presumably.)
We’re introduced to Sammy, ready to leave a dead end job for totally unspecified dreams.
Then their boss is a dick.
Then Freddie tells them to spread his wings.
Rinse and repeat.
His boss said to him
“Boy you’d better begin,
To get those crazy notions right out of your head
Sammy who do you think that you are?
You should’ve been sweeping up the Emerald bar”
What we see here is the dehumanising nature of labour in a coercive economic structure. Sammy’s boss needs to undermine and infantilise them, so Sammy’s needs can be subsumed as less important than those of the Emerald bar. We’re talking classic false consciousness.
Now, my problem at this point is that Freddie’s chorus is almost as patronising. So I’m worried he’s representing a paternalistic totalitarian approach to revolution and class struggle. He may just be trying to demonstrating solidarity from a position of privilege, and so failing to undermine all the underlying ideological structures, a likely habit of being trapped within the state’s apparatus.
It’s also possible I’m just trying to push this a little too far.
Pull yourself together
‘coz you know you should do better
That’s because you’re a free man
I love it.
I just feel like so much of this song is layered to push the song upwards and outwards. The piano brings you into a nest, and the build up to each chorus sets it on fire, and the chorus itself sends you soaring. It’s a perfect match of music to narrative, simpler than so much of Queen’s output, but also just solid and heartfelt and honest.
This is all reflected in a sweet little video, where everyone pretends to play the song in Roger Taylor’s back garden, in the snow.
That Freddie manages to look so perfect in a dodgy aviator jacket, star-shaped sunglasses (on an overcast day in the snow) and thick gloves with duct tape wrapped around his fingers. Roger and John look like 8 year olds, and Brian’s got a really lovely scarf.
This is rock and roll.
For all the bombast, I think it’s the solid simplicity of certain Queen moments that make them so powerful. This gets me, possibly just because I love John so much, and love hearing his voice (through Freddie’s) expressing such simple and heartfelt hopes.
The final guitar solo is strange, as well, sounding nothing like Brian’s trademark sound, and actually just being a relatively simple part. It suits the song perfectly, and shows that Brian knows when not to stamp his mark on what he does.
At it’s simplest, it’s a song that makes me smile. That wraps me up warm and asks me to keep moving. Good music is often empathetic, our link to it more about feelings than meaning. That’s true here. It just feels like being lifted up.
And that’s what I need to get me out of the Emerald bar.
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.