Sail away sweet sister (To the sister I never had)


It’s a shame that boy bands didn’t really take their cues from Queen more.

If every band had an incredible one, a quietly lovely one, a creepy but amazing at guitar one and a Roger Taylor one; the whole genre would’ve been improved immensely.

Yes. It’s time for Brian to be a bit creepy again. This time in a surprisingly sweet, but occasionally forgetting what he’s singing about, way.

Sail away sweet sister (To the sister I never had).

It’s a lovely, heartfelt, delicate ballad, which builds in urgency as necessary, and pulses with openness.

But of course, he ends up being weirdly suggestive and judgemental about his sweet sister.

You’re all dressed up like a lady

How come you behave this way


Maybe you find somebody

To love you half as much as me


I’ll always be in love with you


Forgive me for what I told you

My heart makes a fool of me

You know I’ll never hold you

I know that you got to be free

and not to mention

Hot child don’t you know you’re young

Ahem. That last verse, asking for forgiveness does make the whole thing seem more self aware than usual, but it does still sound like even when speculating about a non-existent sister, Brian knows he’s going to tend up apologising for some illicit promise.

It’s a really odd set of statements, in what I assume was intended to just be a story about saying goodbye to people you love. But gone is the sweet concision of loss found in ’39, and instead we just get the impression that Brian feels bad for groping his sister.

I know. I know. I’m equating sex with love, and misreading holding as hugging instead of stopping. Just for the sake of doubling down on my ‘Brian’s a bit creepy’ theme. It’s easy to take the whole and read it as it is intended. Brian’s saying good bye, tearful on the docks, and he doesn’t want to let go of a loved one, and has that weird mix of sadness and happiness you get at seeing someone you care for leave for a better life.

And frankly, right now, it’s all a bit much. A dearly beloved friend left for the North just today, and the sweet embrace of Europe is being pulled away from me.

I’m sad. Is what I’m getting at. I’m sad.

So even though I don’t trust his motives, it’s nice to hear Brian be sad too. It’s a beautiful piece of emotional guitar work, and it contrasts blissfully with Freddie’s more pointed piano.

I most love music when it can connect deeply to my emotions. I feel both music and emotions very physically, and when the pull is in harmony, so to speak, it feels deep, powerful and important. Maybe heartstrings are cheap, but they still need nourishment, and for all their bombast, I think Queen are surprisingly good at nesting their emotions deeply.

Here the most prominent feeling is of hope colliding with loss. The confusing mass of contradiction is vividly present in the chorus, in particular.

But it doesn’t stop it sounding like some creepy old guy telling his sister how to live her life (whilst quietly remembering he can’t).

And yes.

I am feeling sore.





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 (although I’m pretty sure she’s just stolen a photo of a nun).

6 thoughts on “Sail away sweet sister (To the sister I never had)

  1. I had the second no stuck in my head, so I played it and the video happened to have the lyrics. I felt exactly the same way. “Whaaaaaat!?” Brian, you’re not supposed to be “in love” with your sister. You can love them, but not like that, bro.


  2. Unless I’m missing something here, I never interpreted the sister as being an actual blood sister, but rather a girlfiend/lover, and the “sister” term was used for effect.


    1. On the one hand, I’m mostly being as uncharitable in my reading as possible, for comic effect, so I’m sure you’re right.

      In the other hand, I still think sister is a slightly creepy thing to call a romantic partner. It makes much more sense applied to a friend, at which point the song still sounds a bit suggestive, which still seems inappropriate.

      I think it’s still a lovely song though. It does lift you up, and give you that longing melancholy ache, while also feeling close and hopeful. It’s a nice balance. It’s just that the lyrics that fit my ‘Brian May’s slightly creepy’ narrative, so an uncharitable reading was inevitable.


  3. I see the “sister” as an unanswered, unreachable love. Back in the days I had a friend. I was madly in love with her, but she saw me as the big brother she never had. No matter how hard I tried to convince her I was the right guy for her, she never answered my affection.
    Years went by and I saw here making mistake after mistake, picking the wrong types along the way. Each time she would come back to cry on my shoulder, until I came to close and she pushed me away again.

    I’m 40+ now, married and with children, and I haven’t seen her since her father passed away 10 years ago. But there’s a small little place in my heart that still has that feeling for her.

    To Wanda, the sister I never had..


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