Huge slabs of guitar, punchy lyrics, and the inevitability of death.
We’re just waiting for the Hammer to fall.
It’s probably one of the straightest rockers on the second greatest hits. It’s so energetic and powerful and dramatic and memorable. It’s your perfect piece of stadium rock.
It manages to not be bland just by being so perfectly precise. Each riff feels heavy, but oddly delicate. There’s a lot of silences and sharpnesses, in amongst the blasts of guitar.
And it’s just a solid lump of badass, really. Queen never really abandoned rock, no matter what some people might say, and kept crafting perfect little blasts of guitar right to the end.
It’s still the perfect blend of theatrics and thumping though. The backing vocals (almost entirely May, who, predictably, wrote the song) give it drama and heft. The guitar solo is long and exploratory, with at least three distinct sections. The transition back to verse has a pleasingly thudding variant on the drum beat.
And Freddie just rips through it, making it sound about twice as fast as it actually is.
Lyrically, it’s bleak as all hell, whilst still managing to be inspiring.
Here we stand or here we fall
History won’t care at all
The world doesn’t care and we’re all going to die. But as long as we thump a guitar, strut a stage and belt out rhymes with verve, it doesn’t matter.
Which makes sense in the context of the final verse.
For we who grew up tall and proud
In the shadow of the Mushroom Cloud
Convinced our voices can’t be heard
We just wanna scream it louder and louder
It’s almost a vindication of the excess of the glam metal attitude of the 70s and 80s. If you grow up expecting people you’ve never met to annihilate the world, what else is there to do but shout and scream. The song actively justifies escapist rock as a vent for the powerless, and a challenge to the powerful. It has no hope, none at all, but it still wants to scream.
I admire that. It still fits. Part of me wants to brush it off as teenaged, but actually, it’s just a cry of disaffection, and a pretty nuanced response. I don’t think it’s just the guitar hooks that are very precise. It think this song is one of May’s more accurate pieces of writing.
But lift your face, the Western Way –
Build your muscles as your body decays.
It’s savage. It’s a brutal image. It’s smart.
What the hell we fighting for?
Just surrender and it won’t hurt at all
You just got time to say your prayers
While you’re waiting for the Hammer to Fall
There’s a desperation. A call to give up. Or you’re being told to give up. It’s ambiguous.
May’s on the record as saying it’s not intended as a grand political thing, but I think it’s inescapable. But for what it’s worth, Brian didn’t say it was just meaningless tosh, he says it’s simply about death. Waiting for us all, the big old hammer.
Either way, it’s a dark tone for such an uplifting and powerful piece of rock.
But it does work, because it asks you to revel in the little power you have. It asks you to look death and war in the eye, and keep on singing.
Which is beautiful, necessary and right.
Scream it louder and louder.
We’re just waiting….
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.