Play the game


The more I listen, the more I think this could be the quintessential Queen track.

It’s got every critical element, some to extremes. It’s a surprisingly complicated structure, with more memorable and diverse sections than you’d think. It’s simultaneously graceful and brooding. It’s the first time we’ve officially heard a synthesiser, but it’s used to provide two of the most obvious Queen staples, a weird-ass intro, and a phenomenally bombastic lead into the guitar solo. The synth runs through one of the heaviest pieces of guitar work we’ve heard from the band so far. And that’s in the middle of a delicate, heartfelt and slightly creepy love song.

Queen are a band of contradictions. This is a song with all of them.

And can you believe this is the first time the world saw Freddie’s iconic moustache?

Play the game.

(If anyone wants to buy me Freddie’s Flash T-shirt, by the way, I’d be well up for it.)

We open with the Oberheim OBX, presenting a science fiction soundscape of increasing intensity. It’s pulled to an abrupt and noisy head to make space for Freddie and the piano, promising to open up minds.

The band pulls over the top, and we’re riding the crest of a not totally upbeat piano ballad, with Brian’s guitar eventually thrusting in.

It’s a strange sort of seduction. Freddie’s laid back and sultry, the piano warm and welcoming, the guitar more suggestive.

The guitar pulls out again to make space, and the bass shifts to high harmonics for another bout of the intro/verse thing.

Light another cigarette and let yourself go

After the chorus, we increase in urgency and pitch, and Freddie starts dueting with the harmonies. It’s an intense and pulsing uptick in the energy of the song, but it’s the sense of longing that increases first.

The voices cascade downwards, and we have that immense heavy pounding call and response between the guitar and the synthesiser. warming up for the official guitar solo.

The solo is quickly joined by Freddie, and eventually makes way for another run at the chorus, which pounds upwards with guitar and drums until it all fades too soon.

It’s a glorious final chorus, utterly entrancing. The cheap fade out leaves you wanting more. The odds of you not singing along past the ending are excessively low.

But let’s slip back. That lead into the guitar solo, the sheer size of it.

All the harmonies beckon, and are replaced by the biggest slab of synthesiser on the market. The band didn’t just start using synthesisers, they grabbed them by the horns, and rode them naked through the centre of town.

And that fits, because they’re used to clear the way for these equally enormous guitar crunches. There’s a statement of intent there, Brian is not scared, the electronics will not best him, won’t overwhelm him, he’ll make quite the same racket.

It’s blissful in its hugeness. This three minute love ballad is centred on this towering edifice of noise.

Open your mind and let me step inside

Rest your weary head and let your heart decide

If we take the assumption that Freddie’s crooning seductively in bed, that synth and guitar is the moment he kisses you (I want to be more crass here, but I’m resisting). The huge swirl of emotions turns into something solid and physical and huge and inside you. It’s overwhelming, and it’s all part of the romance.

In the hands of any other band, what we’d have here would be a perfectly serviceable love song. A simple beat, a simple song, a verse and a chorus and a rinse and repeat. Here we have this array of contrasting tones, this physically arousing mass noise.

Nobody plays the game like these guys.

Love runs from my head down to my toes

My love is pumping through my veins

I’ve mentioned before, that this is the song that started this project going. Listening to it for the first time in a long while, I was shocked by just how hard and heavy the band grabbed the Oberheim. I told twitter about the intensity of power in that wall of noise. How it was inserted into such an open hearted and otherwise gentle piece of pop. How incongruous and wonderful it was. I’d never realised it was the first time they’d used a synth, that they’d taken it so fiercely on board. I’d never thought about it before. It was striking.

Someone said they’d pay for me to dissect every Queen song similarly.

And here we are.

If it wasn’t for that synthesiser, I wouldn’t be poring through this back catalogue, finding these delights, these weirdnesses, these monstrosities.

All you have to do is fall in love

And I have. A hundred times over. I think I’m genuinely surprised I still love them at this point.

I’ve also only just noticed that the lead in to the orgy of guitar and synth is the following line:

Come come come play the game

This isn’t just seduction. This is a song about sex. Simple and lustrous.

We definitely aren’t just kissing by that point.

I think this song might be a particular kind of perfect. Just give yourself to it, and let it take you.

I’m taken.



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.

One thought on “Play the game

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