Got a dragon on my back
The thing that surprised me here was that this is one of Brian’s. I assumed Brian would be less up for the stripping back and funkifying of this record, and certainly his other contributions are more traditionally rocking. But this is his.
It’s bass led, but totally demolished, deconstructed and torn apart by guitars in the second half, so I guess it does make sense.
It also doesn’t matter, as it’s clearly brilliant.
For me the biggest charm is in the surgically precise funk of the drums, and the stunning impression of carelessness in Freddie’s delivery.
The whole thing is built around this sharp drum loop and tense bassline, and Freddie purrs and yells near nonsensical (but surprisingly engaging) lyrics over the top.
Take me to the room where the beat’s all round
Gonna eat that sound – (yeah yeah yeah)!…
It’s such a line. Clear and precise and barely rational. I don’t know why Freddie and Brian are taking a dragon into a nightclub, but it’s a party I want to go to. The swagger and thrill of it. The sense of promise and threat. The sheer urgency.
And that ‘yeah yeah yeah yeah’ is just cast loosely out, but pulls you directly in. Freddie at that moment is at his most casual, his most throwaway, but still makes it arresting and powerful.
I love it.
I also love the way ever so slightly distorts both prisoners and business to get the rhyme to work. And it works.
Low down – She don’t take no prisoners
Go down – Gonna give me the business
No time – Yeah chainted to the rack!
Show time – Got a Dragon on my back
Oh, and it’s filthy again. Obvs.
One last lyrics needs to be highlighted, because it has significance beyond me loving the way Freddie is delivering these lines.
-Gonna use my stack
-It’s gotta be Mack
Mack is their new producer, and symbolic of the bigger changes happening in the band at this point. This was the first record to be (partly) recorded in Munich. The first record with a keyboard synth. The first to rely on drum loops. The first with Mack. It’s a real step change, and actually has a particular feel of transition to it. The funk fights the rock, the synth fights the guitar.
Although I don’t think it is really oppositional. The record’s strength is in the way it pulls these ideas together and blends them in a distinctly Queen sound. Gone is a lot of the epic operatic tone, and in comes a lot more three minute pop songs. But at this point, that’s the only element missing, and to be honest, the scale is still there. There is no denying the massiveness of play the game and save me.
But yes, we have a step change, and Mack is a big part of that. I find myself confused on the studio savvyness of the band at this point, as Brian appears to credit Mack with teaching them that it was possible to edit takes together, so that they didn’t have to perform whole tracks in a single take. I don’t know how to square this with the claim that the ‘horn section’ of good company was cut together from hundreds of individual notes, but it’s the claim.
Whatever happened, it was a big deal. You can hear a tightness, a funkiness that wasn’t present before. The length is trimmed from tracks, and the density is more refined. There’s still a lot going on, but it feels more exposed here.
This is particularly vivid in Brian’s guitar teardown of this track. The simple core is not left alone, but is always present as Brian attacks it from different angles. Excoriating bursts of guitar ripple and burn through the song.
Brian is the dragon. His guitars the flame. He burns the song from the inside out. It’s a joy to behold. Genuinely destructive, hot as hell, it’s Brian at his best, frankly.
But the whole band is shining here. John’s bass is perfect. Roger’s drums suspend the whole thing perfectly. Freddie’s on peak form, spitting lackadaisically.
And Brian just flies in and sets it on fire.
It is, actually, a dragon attack.
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.