I’m likely to be a bit hard on this one.
It’s not terrible, but it is the only track I don’t like on one of the best sides in the back catalogue.
It’s interesting though. As it’s a rare single take track (not quite, the vocals were added later), so this is Queen playing as a more conventional band. Apparently apocryphally, it’s been claimed the band didn’t know that they were being recorded.
It’s essentially a tribute to a certain kind of American jangly storytelling style. Brian’s choice, compared to Freddie’s poaching of the tin pan alley or vaudeville styles.
It’s a standard rags to riches to rags thing. Equating being fleeced by your record label to being kicked out on the streets.
The saving grace is that at least it’s about a trumpet player.
They took me to a room without a table
They said “blow your trumpet into here”
I played around as well as I was able
And soon we had a record of the year
It is unclear if May is blowing his own trumpet here or not.
Anyway, it’s fine. It’s just a story, it’s just a song, it just doesn’t have much to shout about in it. It’s nice to hear May put on a bit of a character, and is kind of amusing sat next to some of Roger’s record label exploitation tales (or even Freddie’s). May definitely prefers a passive aggressive mode. Wrapping it up in a sweet little guitar song that sounds even more grandaddy than the song about being a sad old man.
It’s just blues, I guess. That bland sort of blues that it’s hard to really get excited about.
And that’s where I am. Not particularly excited.
It’d be fine in most circumstances, but we’re getting close to one of my all time favourite Queen songs, and while I’ll allow Deacon to get away with a cowbell led track in a moment, a blues number just feels like filler here. And most of the previous moments of dramatic incongruity on these records haven’t felt like filler, they’ve always felt like a part of the structure, even if just as a contradiction or counterpoint.
But it does make sense. Queen are poaching all the little bits of rock history, and you can’t have rock without blues. And you can’t have blues without boring guitar blues with boring stories. It’s all part of the game they’re playing.
I run so hot and cold on May. I feel bad for the man. His high points make me so much harder on his lows. What we have here is an accomplished little song, with a really nice change in form, simply by being a single track, and not an over produced studiowork. And I’m giving it absolutely no shrift whatsoever.
It’s odd. This record was intended to be stripped back to basics, after people slated Races for being all style and no substance (which isn’t necessarily entirely fair). Here is the band at their most stripped back, playing like a normal band, instead of the monstrous bombasts that they are.
But who the hell voted for that?
It’s fine, but it’s not really what we’re here with Queen for.
It ticks a box, but it’s not a box we needed.
I’m a right miserable arse today. Sorry.
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.