What the fun?
What the actual fun?
Roger, where did this come from. You glorious beast.
I don’t know what to make of this.
It’s a funky disco track. Queen’s first of many, really. But this is so off piste, and in fact, feels to me more like hip hop than funk.
A few years later, Grandmaster Flash’s adventures will use a Queen bassline to bring hip hop’s cut and pasting to the masses. But here it feels like the opposite was trying to happen, with this weirdly awkward, jerky monstrosity of rock funk crossover. This feels like a presaging of something. The song feels weirdly ahead of its time.
It’s probably either a coincidence, or just that Roger actually took some time to find the more interesting disco of the era to bass his mood on. His attempt to strip down to nothingness, and the fact he was trying to blend unrelated textures, accidentally resulted in something so gloriously weird that it sounds like a future.
For a start, this could arguably be another candidate for first synthesiser in a Queen track, as Roger is on the Syndrum, one of the first electronic drum kits. It’s one hundred percent using synthesis, so it should count, but I’m going to largely ignore it for the sake of the next album, which is the first ‘official’ synthesiser.
The sound creates this wonderfully janky structure underneath the whole song. The beat is permanently off, looping around itself, and I would happily mix this into some pure hip hop (or at least try). It’s also roughly the same drum sound as the later, significantly more successful funk track, another one bites the dust.
The guitars are shrunk down to nothingness. Tiny clips of guitar whirl through the rhythmic pounding. Everything feels muted and unfinished. There’s so much held back, even when it builds in the bridge, there’s still so little to it.
The vocals end up sounding sparse and lost as a result. Architecturally abstracted, just another snipped and chopped up layer.
Don’t shun it
Of course, it isn’t actually cut and paste. It isn’t actually chopped up. It’s built relatively traditionally. There’s a pulling together of styles, but not (yet) the sampling of disparate sources.
It’s a stretch to say it’s proto hip hop, if only because it doesn’t share any of the necessary culture, attitude and history. It’s just one of those weird syncrhonicities, two entirely different routes from the same inspiration. Underground disco feeding two different creative forces, and them getting different structures out of it.
Because it’s definitely proto something. Possibly something that never really happened. Or at least, not without being put through a range of other blenders first.
I think it should shock people that this is in the Queen back catalogue, from 1979. It’s such a raw and unusual take on the disco scene, and it deserve appreciation for that. This was a band willing to experiment, and it’s so damn weird and kind of awful that I don’t think it even risks being appropriative. It’s so its own thing. It doesn’t really sound like the source material. Or even what it ends up sounding like.
Yeah. It doesn’t sound like what it sounds like. I said that. I’ll stick to that.
This is Roger being quietly brilliant.
It’s also kind of an awful track. It jerks wildly, the lyrics are terrible.
But it’s also incredible, wonderful, and I think I love it. It’s addictive, it’s got an energy that needs to be recognised.
It’s one of the weirdest things we’ve heard from Queen, and that’s saying something.
I love how it strips down, the builds up, then just rolls around its central motif. I love how it pulls in different direction, and returns to that core.
It’s also a hell of a riff, really, and the confidence to bet a whole song on it, and the ability to do weird drums around it, is a testament to Roger’s boldness.
It lays the ground work for Queen’s shift into the eighties, and was probably a few years too early.
But because it’s too early, it’s got this weird brokenness to it. It doesn’t quite fit, and I think I like it for that.
Don’t shun it.
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.