More of that jazz

MoreJazz-01

Roger’s on a rage again.

And what a rage.

Once again, we’re taken to strange, experimental places. Slightly more successfully than on Fun it, but with a darker edge that makes it slightly less striking.

It still feels way ahead of its time.

More of that jazz.

Loop driven, the song is basically a pile of ominous guitars, stripped around threatening, miserablist vocal parts.

And of course, there’s that montage.

I love the laconic misery of the lyrics though. I want to pick out some of them before I try and pull why I find this song so strange and appealing.

Only our team

Is the real team

Bring out the dogs

Get on your feet

Lie on the floor

Kinda think I’ve heard that line before

It’s biting, cruel and dark.

Perhaps I’m attaching too much weight to it, on account of its appearance in that ludicrous computer game I’ve already mentioned. It’s a little bit of instrumental that suits the dystopian setting, and looping on its own, it gets increasingly dread-filled.

But it’s still stripped down and unusual. Feeling like a dark metal track, slowed down industrial, or maybe just some overdriven post-punk.

It’s a dark collage. Less electronic that Fun it, but sharing it’s stripped down approach, and of course, it has it’s own nod to hip hop, again, likely by accident.

Towards the end of the song there is a montage of the rest of the album, a collage of snippets run together. Licks and lyrics blend into each other, and we get a micro tour of the rest of that Jazz.

It’s a striking moment, and would just be a tape cutting oddity if it weren’t for the glorious mix back in. As the vocal of Fat bottomed girls blasts out, the guitar slowly returns, and places a wonderful minor inflection on the lyric. I would genuinely love to make that mix work live. It’s the perfect kind of juxtaposition. The only problem is it fades to quickly. When you’ve got a harmony like that, and a rhythm match so perfect, I don’t know why you’d let it go.

Perhaps this is why I go wrong.

Anyway, I think it makes the song. Not just for the pleasing blend, and the way it reforms the song (and the other song) in a new context, shifting mood and tone, and bringing a satisfying darkness. But also in the way it shifts a lot of that bitterness inwards.

Like Let me entertain you, there’s an undercurrent of self loathing. There’s a fear beneath the anger. Roger hates on competitive cultural identity, but worries he’s become part of it.

All you’re given

Is what you’ve been given

A thousand times before

By repeating the motifs of the album, Roger notes that Jazz is just more of that jazz. It’s a self doubting bookend, attempting to undermine the whole. Whilst also being one of the most experimental, shocking and bold moves of the record. It’s brooding guitar loop may be formulaic, but the whole is strange and eerie. It actually isn’t more of that jazz, it’s something else.

I don’t know exactly what, but I have a feeling it’s going to haunt me.

Which is a testament to Taylor’s song-writing.

It’s also an ending. A threat, maybe, or a parting challenge.

What a way to go.

I don’t know what to make of this record. It might be a mess, or it might be a line in the sand. It feels self aware, and surprisingly challenging. It alternates between breezy lightness and surprising darkness. It is a record of contradictions. Some of the greatest pop songs, alongside some of the weirdest digressions.

It’s very Queen.

No more

No more

No more

Of that jazz

The outro is perfect. The final drums are perfect. Everything stripped away.

No more.

 

 

 
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.

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Don’t stop me now

Don'tStop

I’ve been writing for nearly seven albums now. Seven months of blasting Queen at my neighbours, one track at at time, on loop, quite loud.

It’s getting tough, but if I had my way, and was allowed to skip Made in Heaven, this’d be the halfway point. It’s all downhill from here (my favourite contranymic idiom).

But you know what…

Don’t stop me now.

Going back to the practice of ludicrously out of keeping intros, Freddie saunters into view, and makes promises from his piano.

The band join in for some staccato lead in.

And the song rockets forward, clattering down the keys, the urgency doesn’t let up until the very end.

It’s a ridiculous song. You already know it. It’s a riot of colour and energy, but it’s thin, but pulsing. According to spuriously headline grabbing science, it’s the most feel good song of all time. It’s surprisingly believable. It’s fast, it’s upbeat, it pulls out every stop to be joyful.

For god’s sake, I’m generally struggling to write this because I can’t stop clicking my fingers.

My greatest pleasure right now is actually looking at any of those lyrics in isolation. It’s bombastic hyperbole at it’s best. Imagine actually being called ‘Mr Farenheit’, on account of how hot you were.

Imagine a tiger defying the laws of gravity.

Just try and imagine having sex, in space, with Freddie Mercury:

I’m a rocket ship on my way to Mars

On a collision course I am a satellite

I’m out of control

I am a sex machine ready to reload

Like an atom bomb about to oh oh oh oh oh explode

*fans self*

It uses multitracked harmonies to fill in every possible gap in the music. Freddie is talking to the band, is shouting at Freddie. The guitar solo is just as fast paced and punchy as everything else. The bassline rants and raves. The drums pulse and push and drive the whole thing.

It’s all so simple. It’s all so stupid.

I think it’s a bit rubbish. A bit cloying. A bit tired. A bit overworn.

But it’s also irresistible. It’s infectious. It’s wild and beautiful.

It only sounds clichéd because you’ve heard it too many times. Those lyrics are so absurd that nobody could have written them but Freddie.

I’m a racing car passing by like Lady Godiva

Freddie, driving naked through sky, like a tiger.

It’s an image.

There’s two things I remember from listening to this a billion times as a child.

Firstly, at various points, Freddie, low in the mix, yells ‘alright’. As a child, I always misheard this as someone shouting my name. It sounds just like my sister. I still twitch every time. And I’m pretty sure my family thought I was losing it at an earlier age than I actually did, as I’d occasionally come down stairs and ask them why they were shouting at me.

You’d be surprised how long it took me to realise that.

Secondly, I’ve always found it deeply reassuring, that Freddie sings a verse to a man, and a verse to a woman. Both will be made supersonic. Even before I really knew what sex was, I was conscious that this was a sexual piece of music. The promise was not just to have a good time, it was to have a good rude time. I didn’t really know where I was going at the time, but I noticed this, and I think it helped.

Even if just to know that everyone could have a piece of Freddie, as if that wasn’t made vividly clear by just how much of us he offered us in music.

He made a supersonic person of me.

Every time.

The song ends in a dreamy swirl of wordless vocal and piano. Floating around in ecstasy.

Frankly, it still does it for me.

 

 

 

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.

Leaving home ain’t easy

LeavingHome

We’re back in May territory. That of a folksy ballad that initially feels quite insipid, but weirdly grows on you.

Leaving home ain’t easy.

It’s actually a dlightful version of something that builds up out of something quite mundane, and slowly becomes more unusual, without every quite losing the essence of what it started with.

To my ear, it sounds like a kind of prog folk number. Built out of a conventional Fairport Convention, it goes a little off piste by using guitars to create a string/pad sound, and adding very Queenish harmonies. It also feels like it restarts itself a few time. I think this is time signature changes at odd intervals.

It also has sped up tape vocal sections for the bridge. All the vocal is Brian, as much as some of it doesn’t sound like him.

It’s weird, this ability to make a song that applies so many of the weirder Queen tropes (tape trickery, thick vocal harmonies, time signature shifts and odd time signatures) whilst still making that seems so plain and honest.

I was ready for this to be one of my ‘complaining about Brian missing the point’ tracks. But it just grows on me. I don’t like the vocal line much, and the lyrics are tedious, but everything underlying and supporting that is marvellous. And the rhythm of the words have some appeal.

And if you gaze into the melancholy, it does have some appeal.

I’m all through with ties

I’m all tired of tears

I’m a happy man

Don’t look that way

Maybe it’s just because I’m planning a move. Maybe I’m letting the theme suck me in, make me soft.

Because it is a simple song about convincing yourself to stay, or go. It’s not clear which. Which is generally what it feels like. You can make both cases, you don’t know which side you actually need to pull to.

Leaving home ain’t necessarily

The only way

Leaving home ain’t easy but

May be the only way

I also love the contortions used to squeeze that ‘necessarily’ into the rhythm of it. It’s the longest word in the song, by a long way, and it feels like he’s struggling to justify the word, the idea, the whole concept.

So yes, maybe I can get into the lyrics. As trite as some of it is, there’s something precise about the way Brian presents the case. Something particular. He sounds lost and torn.

His extra vocal line in the last chorus is cheesy as all hell, sounding so contrived, but because it’s wrapped in this thick pile of uplifting but unusual guitar noise, it all works out.

I’m still torn. Liking this song ain’t easy, but it seems to be the only way.

Because it does have that thick richness, that multi-layered depth. It sounds warm and welcoming. Even when it pitches up and sounds unsettling.

I think I’ll like it. But who knows if I’ll ever return. It’s not one to write home about.

What’s wrong my love

What’s right my love

But it works.

 

 

 

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.

Fun it

Fun it

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.

Fun it.

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

Fun 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.

Fun it.

Don’t shun it.

Fuck it.

It’s brilliant.

 

 

 

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.

Dreamers ball

Dreamersball

It’s a tribute to Elvis, who died a year previously, but it feels like something else.

I guess this is because I forget about movie Elvis, and early Elvis, more laid back Hawaii and courtship than hips and swing.

But to me, possibly because I’ve drunk too much Queen at this point, it sounds more like a tribute to Freddie.

Dreamers ball.

It’s possibly a mis-step to think of the individual band members as having very distinct styles, mostly because all of them have such a massive range. But this feels like Brian May doing the sort of thing Freddie would do, only with a Brianish tilt.

So where Freddie might plunge himself into tin pan alley or vaudevillian piano, Brian plumbs the history of guitar music. He brings out an old timey blues number, turning brass into guitar (with slightly less panache and literality than Good Company), and just taking us on a nostalgic jaunt.

Which I guess isn’t a Freddie thing, it’s just a Queen thing.

It’s clear Freddie revels in it. If there’s one thing he adores, it’s putting a face on and pouring his voice through it. The sultry seductiveness on sale here is very different to his usual sort. Maybe it’s the sultriness that’s missing, actually. And if anything, the song is sulky.

Oh it’s someone else you’re taking

Someone else you’re playing to

Honey tho’ I’m aching

Freddie’s quiet little spoken bit over the solo is lovely. Again, all performance, any opportunity to take a voice and play with it.

I feel that very few people could pull off some of these lines, and it’s a testament to Brian that he can write so well for Freddie (I often think he writes better for Freddie than he does for himself, to be honest).

Make my life worthwhile

With the slightest smile

Or destroy me with a barely

Perceptible whisper

I love how Freddie can make bitterness sound like the peak of romance.

The song is miserable and lonely, but the greatest feeling you get is of a band having calm, measured fun. The guitar and rhythm is so simply structured, but the harmonies flow through and the delivery of everything is perfect. The parts are in awe of the whole, totally committed to the idea being expressed, the feeling of nostalgia, lightness and the fantasy of it all.

It is, quite literally, a dance for dreamers. When the vocal harmonies support Freddie’s voice, or the guitar harmonies swing their way upwards for the solo. It’s all dreams. It’s all pictures of something not necessarily contained in the song.

Queen stand as a rock band that loved playing with the broadest range of musical history they could find. As long as it could be given a theatrical bent, as long as it felt like a performance, they were up for it it seems.

This is in contrast to something we’ll increasingly see, as the band pulls forward and sideways, rather than just back. The band’s structural experimentation was foundational, their studio approach inventive, but increasingly, we’ll see them playing with weirdnesses and textures that are ahead of their time or outside the rock wheelhouse.

It’s going to be a bumpy ride, and some people will fall off as a result. But it’s striking to think about in light of these little nostalgic bursts.

Because it’s the same trick, even when it’s done with the future of music, or the contemporary vibes. Queen loved to emulate a sound. They loved music for music itself, and they wanted to explore it.

It probably hurt them, in the long run, but it’s also literally the only thing that makes a project like mine viable.

We never know where it’s going to go next.

I guess we’ll find out in the dreamers ball.

 

 
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.

In only seven days

7days

Okay. Okay. I know it wasn’t long ago I was saying John wasn’t the boring one, and since then Brian has made me laugh and feel nostalgic, and Roger is about to blow the roof off (with two dreadful and brilliant songs).

And now John is giving us the theme music to an imagined 70s romantic soap opera.

In only seven days.

Obviously I still love it.

It’s a song about going on a holiday. Falling in love. Then going home.

It’s kind of awful.

I have no justification here. Perhaps it’s just the contrast to the previous rockers. Perhaps it’s the weird guitar washes through the sort of solo and sort of finale.

Perhaps I just have terrible taste.

Weirdly, it actually reminds me of the (creepy) romantic bits from Bowie’s Labyrinth soundtrack. It’s got a bland ominousness to it. A synthetic tone to certain guitars that create a juxtaposition to the dominant romantic cliché of the main acoustic line.

But really, it’s just a throwaway thing. Unlike the romance that apparently haunts John.

I never thought that this could happen to me

In only seven days

It would take a hundred or more

For memories to fade

I mean, technically, in romantic terms, saying ‘I’ll probably forget you in about three months’ isn’t necessarily up there, but you know what he’s getting at.

Are there some weird shifts to minor keys? Does Freddie inject just a bit more melancholy than needed?

I don’t know. I can’t focus on it. The closer I look, the worse it looks. The more I listen, the more I enjoy it.

I may genuinely have a John problem. I’ve gone too subjective.

What do I do?

Have I rambled about the album cover yet? Phew!

Yeah. Jazz is gorgeous. I love the art deco circles on the front (and the inversion on the rear). And I love even more the enormous studio photo in the gatefold. I love how Brian desperately seeks your attention. Roger watches, impressed. Freddie is clearly not bothered. And John is trying so hard to look nonchalant with his enormous gong. Tells you a lot, right there.

I’m slightly less impressed by the naked cycle ladies poster on the lyric sheet (apparently two very slightly different versions of this poster exist). It’s a fine photo, and I do love me a good naked cycle ride, and there’s always something incredible about photos of naked people not giving a shit about the camera (the woman pulling a wonky face as she combs her hair is my favourite, maybe), and there’s something striking about the one person who does look directly at you. But it does reek a bit of cheap titillation, rather than the study I want it to be.

Having said that, if I’d had this record as a kid, it would doubtless have formed part of my sexual awakening, and I’d probably now have a fetish for white Halfords caps.

So it goes.

Realistically, in seven days, I’ll have forgotten about this song. Sorry John. You’re still mine, though.

Always.

Oh no

I’m going back home on Sunday

Oh so sad

 

 
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.

Dead on time

Dead-01

Have the intros got a bit tamer lately?

I actually like this one quite a lot. Just broad booming chords, before a more conventional punchy start. But it feels like we’ve scaled down a bit since the operatic piano cascades of yore.

Anyway. This is Brian. He’s being rowdy. Very fast. Another hard rocker. Roger’s pounding pretty damn angrily throughout. Brian’s guitars are ranting and raving. Freddie’s keeping pace, but seems to struggle to put a stamp on it, which is strange.

Oh, and god has a cameo.

Dead on time.

Towards the end of the track, the lyrics Keep Yourself Alive are heard. And these are put in caps in the lyrics sheet. I think there’s a nostalgia. Queen trying to write a simple rock track like the old days. It even includes a crunchy guitar section very reminiscent of the opening of that particular track.

It doesn’t quite get there. The band have changed, the energy is different. It almost feels like they end up over-writing the piece, to try and capture that energy. The tone never really shifts, despite a lot of different variant sections.

Some of them are great though. The guitar solo is a monstrous pile of ideas, stretched out over a long enough period that the modulations seem wonderful. The fact that Freddie almost becomes a guitar for a part of it is wonderful. Taking part in an energising slam of power.

It’s all in the second half, actually. The track takes a while to build up steam, but once it gets there, it powers forward and does, perhaps, capture some of that old energy.

Fight your battle but you leave on time

That the whole thing is basically a song insisting on punctuality is so very, very Brian.

To be fair, there’s an escape message running across the second half of this album, so maybe I’m wilfully missing the point again.

Leave on time leave on time

Gotta get rich gotta leave on time

Leave on time leave on time

But you can’t take it with you

When you leave on time

Brian does have a sharp and dark edge sometimes. I shouldn’t be so hard on it. It’s weird how I’m getting a kind of reverse Stockholm Syndrome about Queen at the moment. Trying desperately to find things to hate, because they’ve got me trapped.

Because while the word doesn’t appear until the very end, this is a song about death. About rushing towards it and pretending that just isn’t what is happening.

Never got your ticket but you leave on time

What is more stressful: rushing for a train or the unstoppable nature of death?

Not sure.

But this song grows on me every time.

It is a very different energy to the early tracks, but it is as exploratory. It tries every avenue on its way forward.

And yeah. It ends with a thunderclap, an actual field recording by Brian, credited to god in the liner notes.

No synthesisers (yet) but we’ll let god do a bit of percussion.

It’s ridiculous. But it’s pretty Queen.

Freddie yells you’re dead, and we stand in the rain as the song closes.

Yeah. It’s a good ‘un.

 

 

 

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.

Let me entertain you

Entertain

Part of me is tempted to say that this song is critical to an understanding of the deeper mysteries of Queen.

It’s a simple rocker, with few interesting quirks. But more importantly it’s a statement of intent.

Even more importantly, it’s taking the piss out of itself.

Queen’s strength may secretly be in doing both things at once. Being massive, and undermining that. Simultaneously.

Let me entertain you.

It’s a silly, stupid song, but it does act as that kind of bold shout. It clearly makes sense for the beginning of a show. Run riot through a load of promises for a hell of a show. It’s going to be hard for me not to just transcribe the whole lyric.

We’ll give you a crazy performance

We’ll give you grounds for divorce

We’ll give you piece de resistance

And a tour de force

Of course

The whole thing equates sexuality and performance constantly. Being on stage is equated to selling your body. There is promise of devices and S&M, alongside the amplification. We even get a look in Freddie’s kinkbox.

If you want to see some action

We get nothing but the best

The S and M attraction

We got the pleasure chest

Freddie revels in promising a show. It really is very clear statement about what Queen want to be, the key offer, the stage show, the over the topness. Why use one metaphor when you can use twenty.

I’ll pull you and I’ll pill you

I’ll Crueladaville you

And to thrill you I’ll use any device

He name checks the band’s record labels, promises lights, highs, dancing, jazz, rock, roll and of course entertainment.

It’s what they’re here for. Right?

And on one level, that is Queen, an oversexed source of amusement and diversion.

But there’s something in the delivery. The contempt in the backstage montage of voices at the end. The commerciality of it all.

Just take a look at the menu

We give you rock a la carte

We’ll Breakfast at Tiffany’s

We’ll sing to you in Japanese

We’re only here to entertain you

It’s not just that the band are for sale. It’s that ‘only’. The purpose of Queen dehumanises them. The entertainment is commodifying the expression of individuals. We have an art versus entertainment conflict, at the heart of this bold statement. It is at war with itself.

And it clearly believes in both points. Freddie’s voice carries a surprising depth of meaning, even for him. You can hear him suffering at points, but you can hear him glorying in it at others. He sounds self-destructive at times, but self-destructive in the way a villain who has just achieved their dream of godhood is. At the peak of his powers, Freddie may destroy himself. Lose his identity, become nothing but the entertainment.

Or maybe I’m imagining it. Maybe Queen are as simple as their detractors would have you believe. Maybe it’s just trashy noise for trashy people.

Which is okay too. Everybody deserves a racket, and this is one of those. It’s a song that delights in itself, hidden depths or no.

But that final montage of conversation does destroy the image. Turning the show into the backstage. Opening up the hood and showing you a mix of fawning and celebratory nonsense.

I love it for it. Such a simple song, with a surprising depth of storytelling at its heart.

High speed Freddie rhyme schemes are always full of these delightful little details. This is no different. It just has something else secreted with in. If you dare to look for it.

Sometimes it’s worth looking under the entertainment.

It’s got nothing to do with that Robbie Williams one.

 

 

 

 

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.

If you can’t beat them

BeatThem-01

I assumed it was Roger Taylor, but should’ve realised, it’s actually John Deacon doing a Roger Taylor impression.

In other words, it’s a weirdly feel-good but traditionally rocking number.

If you can’t beat them.

It actually just sounds like every rock song from the opening of every 80s teen romp ever. It’s got that relentless optimism, that precise but simple guitar hook, that pounding pace.

It’s got a mammoth guitar solo. One of Queen’s longest, and one that doesn’t really have Brian’s signature sound. It is Brian. It’s a rare Deacon track that has May’s guitars throughout. But it doesn’t sound like that typical overwhelming screech. It’s welcome though. It just fits the track. Let’s it sit happily and power on, after you’ve got bored of the lyrics, it just keeps rolling on. There’s some weird effect washes towards the end. There’s a lot of different uplifting moments throughout.

I’m stuck without much to say, because I like it, but there’s not much here to like. It’s just…well.. John.

I’m really going to get repetitive if I just say that I like John Deacon every time a John Deacon track comes up. Sorry. I’ll try to mix it up.

Come on go, get up, hey

Sure feels good

Digging a little deeper, there is actually something a little weird here. Sure, the first verse is just a lot of chipper positivity and platitudes. But the second verse has Deacon doing that now traditional Queen thing, and whining about record contracts.

Keep your big hands off my money

Don’t try and pull me down

You’re taking me out to wine and dine me

Trying to wind me round and around

And bind me to your legal contract

Rumour has it that you can play it dirty

I’ll tell you what I’ll do about that, that yeah

I’ll play you at your own game

Apart from being one of the most ineffectual threats of all time, it’s a kind of wonderful thing. For a start, John did actually take a lot of responsibility for the financial working of the band. Sealing his fate as ‘the boring one’ (which is bullshit, that’s clearly Roger….or maybe Brian), he did the money stuff, and tried to pay attention to the business side, while everyone else was taking cocaine or doing astronomy or whatever.

Anyway, my headcanon for this is now that John notice everyone else doing songs complaining about being ripped off, and he realised that he needed to make sure ‘the boys’ knew he was trying his best. So he inserts a half-hearted verse of complaining, bookends it with a promise to play ‘them’ at their own game, and then just returns to his weirdly up beat track.

I guess there’s a fundamental weirdness too, in that the old cliche is effectively a sign of giving up. Not fighting at all.

So I’ve no idea what’s being said here. I just know I like it. It makes me feel good. And I still love John.

I would totally trust him with my finances, too.

Be my accountant, John.

Please.

 


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.

Bicycle race

Bicycle-01

I’m going to give the opening of this review to youtube user RBLX minigear12, who comments: ‘IT Was A RUDE MAN ! YEA ! THERE IS MANy NAKED PEOPLES IS THIS MUSIC !!!!!!!!’

Too right.

Bicycle race.

I invite you to take a step back before listening to this track. See if you can remember it. It’s a popular song. It’s obviously ridiculous. You may remember it as a stupid song about how lovely cycling is.

But is it?

Really, it feels like an exercise in automatic writing. A mash of cultural references, noises, rhythms and that bit with all the bells.

Yeah. That’s the other thing. This is the one with a Musique Concrète segue into its guitar solo.

If ever there was a song to represent the absolute best and worst of Queen, it was probably this one. It’s wonderfully experimental. It’s mercurial. It never rests. It’s got breathtakingly stunning hooks. It’s got a ridiculously overblown solo. It pushes and pulls between all sorts of different moods. It begs you to sing along. It spends 3 minutes doing everything under the sun.

It’s also stupid, irritating, silly, earwormy, nonsensical and all those other things that people probably hate about Queen.

Needless to say, I love it.

Not least because I’m pretty sure it led to me asking my Dad what cocaine was at a very tender age.

You say coke I  say caine

You say John I say Wayne

Hot dog I say cool it man

I don’t want to be the President of America

The stream of consciousness ranting of the verses has literally nothing to do with the bicycle desire of the chorus. But by god does it get stuck in your head.

Also, Brian says that Freddie actually didn’t like riding his bicycle, but did like Star Wars.

Income tax I say Jesus

Apparently they were recording in Montreaux, and the Tour de France went by, and the rest was history. That the lyrics sound so lazily thrown together should make you wonder at how the hell they still ended up embedded in a pile of music so restlessly creative and changeable.

Really, it’s a microcosm. In the same way that the average Queen album takes in a stupid breadth of musical styles, so does this.

The chorus has two contrasting parts, Freddie’s calm warmth, and the harmonised demand, occasionally fighting each other within single phrases. The verse is as stripped back foreshadowing of later funk-infused numbers, with clattering piano, and two duelling vocals. The bridge is this expansive breathing out of all that tension and contrast, but actually just counts in the next load of ranting choruses, which in turn builds and drops out in time for the bells, a slowly building mass of bells. And those just herald the guitar solo, a squadron of racing guitars, each clattering upwards one after the other. The race itself.

Sure, structure returns, but even then, it feels like the song ends unfinished, a lingering vocal, part way through another chorus.

There is so damn much in this tiny, stupid song. It’s outrageous. It’s a complex idiocy. A byzantine piece of pop fluff.

And it’s wonderful for it.

I’m sure half of you hate it. And maybe you’re right. But to be honest, this isn’t about right, this is about Queen. This is about awesome.

And this, frankly, is awesome.

I’m off to ride my bicycle.

 

 

 

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.

Jealousy

Jealousy

I’m find it hard to capture my thoughts on this one. It feels like a departure.

It’s not unusual for Queen to suddenly slam in with a number that doesn’t really sound like anything they’ve done before. And this hits that criteria, but it feels like there’s something a little extra different this time.

It’s pretty mundanely unique, within the catalogue. I think we’ll hear more like this later, and maybe this is just an important first example, a watershed.

Jealousy.

Believe it or not, in the USSR, Don’t Stop Me Now was the B-side to this one. Oh those Russians.

Brian’s got a bit of piano wire on his frets, so he can sound a bit like a sitar. Freddie’s got a quiet on. John’s higher up in the mix than usual. Roger’s quite gentle and restrained.

I think it’s all in the arrangement. This track sounds so quiet and gentle and poppish. It’s not quite doing an impression of anything, but it doesn’t quite sound like Queen, beyond Freddie’s voice and those harmonies.

My favourite moments are the subtler oddities of Freddie’s delivery. Those ‘oh-oh-how’s, that ‘surpri-i-i-o-ise’, the minor ‘mistake’. It’s full of these vocal fripperies, cliches given surprising depth.

Honestly. I’m running out of steam. I’m scared I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, now I’m past the records I know, and everything’s a surprise. I don’t really have anything I’m that familiar with until we hit The Miracle, and that’s a long way off.

I came home from work, shattered and tired, and I couldn’t face putting on any Queen. I couldn’t remember what the next track was, but I knew I couldn’t face it.

But I forced myself. Lifted the needle, dropped it in, and this came out.

Quietly seductive, without bombast, Freddie just made me feel comfortable, homeful, and rested.

Sandwiched between one of  music histories most ridiculous double A sides, is Jealousy. A perfectly turned out quiet pop ballad, entirely out of place, unprecedented, and out of keeping with the band performing it.

I wasn’t man enough

To let you hurt my pride

I think we’re seeing a transition, at this point. Jazz is the last of the ‘no-synth’ records, and it’s a strange one. I think it’s another one that will suffer from being sliced into its component parts. It would be too easy to let it just feel derailed and absurd. Queen trying to go too Queen, have a bit too much of everything, and not paying each element enough attention.

But that would be a foolish, foolish reading. Jazz feels so threateningly self aware. The name itself an obvious challenge to anyone trying to pigeonhole the band. The design, that artwork, is gorgeous, strange and unusual. Hearking to something entirely unlike your expectations.

Like this album.

Like this song.

Jealousy is a quiet tale of a relationship broken down by envy. It’s just Freddie telling a story. It’s all I’ve ever really needed. I’ve got to remember that.

It’s the simplicity. Sometimes. It’s the heart.

To be honest, once the trust is gone enough to get jealous, we’re already doomed.

Stay with me. Don’t get jealous. Just trust me. And I’ll trust you. And I’ll trust Queen.

And maybe we’ll get through this.

 

 

 

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.

Fat bottomed girls

Bottom-01

Sigh.

On the one hand, what we’ve got is a classic case of Brian May’s lechery. The song provides the basis for Spinal Tap’s ‘Big Bottom’, and just sounds like a sleazy drunken uncle.

On the other hand… Well, there’s lots of other hands, and some of them probably belong on the same side as that first one. So I’m not sure where to put my fat bottom.

Fat bottomed girls.

It’s hard when something is being body positive from the male gaze position. (And of course, it’s still only being positive about one type of body). And by hard, I mean it’s obviously shitty.

I’m almost pissed off that Alexis Petridis (who I once dreamed helped me murder my brother in a pastry shop) has already beaten me to a subversive reading. According to his review of the album*, it’s a story of child sexual abuse, with a ‘naughty nanny’ sexualising the narrator, and binding them to a butt fetish ever since.

I suspect it’s still just lechery, the common ability of kids of a certain age to sexualise any situation, meant it always just sounded to me like someone’s first awakening to arse coming at a particular time, and staying forever.

There’s a Freudian reading, if you want it, but right now, I’m a little too tired.

Because lets be honest here, butts are great. I love my arse, and I’ve loved other people’s. That the song glories in a lovely body part isn’t in itself a problem, and it has a charm for it. It is a joy to sing, with perfect harmonies and ripping vocal lines. It’s easy, memorable and instant.

There’s surprising depth too. Again, the heroes at Queensongs.info nudged me to notice something I’d never normally spot (more prominent in the extended album version than the one you may know better). Take a close listen to the bits where the drums are stopped, particularly in the intro. When the guitar is left on it’s own it is dropping beats and adding measures furiously. Fills start early or go too long, pulling wonderful little details out of nowhere. It’s a curious rhythmic trick in a song that sounds so simple, and you never notice it, because it’s the sort of song you’ve known for ever, more suited to a rowdy pub chant than a close analysis.

But that’s part of what we’re here for. Listening to these things hard enough to notice the little details that make them special.

I’ll be honest. I still love me a fat bottom. And I think I still love me this song. It’s hard not to be swept up in the joyous celebration of it. The groove is addictive. The verses playful. The chorus begs you to belt along.

Frankly, as much as anything, it makes me want to be a fat bottomed girl. Always has.

It’s still lechy. It’s still sleazy. It’s still just male gaze all over the place. But I can’t help but get swept up.

I could try and hide behind irony, wonder if the song is intended to parody sexualised rock in the same way Spinal Tap did. But it still sounds gross when you listen closely, or at all.

I’m torn. My bottom says yes, my brain says no, and my heart just loves hearing Freddie, and thanks Brian for the tiny weirdnesses.

At least we know the physics are wrong, I guess.

That’s something we can rely on.

 

*Spoilers for the next few months of Exploded Queen, I guess.

 

 
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.

Mustapha

Mustapha-01.jpg

I have ended up down a rabbit hole.

The song itself is an odd creole of a song. Arabic, Parsi and English mashed together, with elements of muezzinish vocal stylings and klezmeric rhythms. It sits somewhere between a call to prayer and a shouting stamp, and a not entirely vague sense of appropriation.

My musicology isn’t strong enough to dig around what’s actually going on here.

So I tried to dig into what was being appropriated, and what it might mean, and instead ended up drowning in Freddie’s early life and the politics of Zanzibar.

Mustapha.

So Freddie was born in Stone Town, Zanzibar, to an Indian family. His surname was Bulsara, taken from the town of Bulsar near Ahmedabad, in Gujarat. His family lived in Zanzibar for the bulk of his childhood, although he actually went to school near Mumbai. Zanzibar (now part of Tanzania) remains a 99% Islamic country, and it’s highly likely this is where some of the inspiration for the prayer like elements of this song comes from, but who knows. His family was Parsi Zoroastrian, with roots in Persia, rather than India.

Zanzibar was part of the Portugeuse colonies for quite a while, before being taken over by Oman, and then becoming a protectorate of the British Empire. This meant it kept sovereignty with the Arabic Sultanate, but was effectively part of the Empire. The allegedly Empire got involved mostly to stop the slave trade (but was no doubt benefiting from it up to that point, so lets not pretend there were any good guys here).

And of course, the Sultans ruled under the approval of the British, so when one they didn’t like came a long, they just put some governors in their place. (In order to do this the Royal Navy declared war, destroyed the palace, and a ceasefire was declared 83 minutes after the start of hostilities, officially the shortest war ever. Again, let’s not forget we’re talking about people dying horribly so that Britain could get it’s way and keep its trade routes open.)

So Freddie and family were born into this situation. Part of a wealthy ruling class. But in the early sixties people were getting pissed off. The British were pulling away, and installing somewhat democratic institutions. Gerrymandering meant that majority of votes in elections were going to African-aligned parties, while the government was still being held by the Arabic-aligned parties. The racial divisions were clear, and almost as the British pulled out (not quite granting independence, as technically it was never a colony), a revolution happened, leading to brutal violence across the country directed at the Arabic community.

Unsurprisingly, this was all pretty grim. It doesn’t feel like anyone comes out of the full story well.

Freddie and family got out just before all of this (I’ve read conflicting reports here, some put it a year before the revolution, some put it during). So he was fleeing from his brutal racially motivated, after enjoying the benefits of colonially supported class privilege, all while being dominated by the biggest, nastiest empire.

I have no idea what to make of it.

I’m glad the song pulled me to dig into this. It’s so easy to broadly wash out the years of Empire as ‘bad things a long time ago’ and not think of the detail and horrors that came from it. It’s also terrible to oversimplify in the way I have above…but hopefully you know I’m just trying to point you towards a lot of bigger and smaller stories. And you can dig in yourself.

And all that really leads me to the song is that yes, Freddie will have heard a lot of Islamic singing as a child.

The other bit of reading, perhaps a little more warming, is this interview with his family, discussing his pride in his Parsi roots.

The song is a rollicking intro to an odd album. It marks Queen as very different to other bands, although it still makes me worry about how sensitive they are to the cultures they pull from (importantly, Islam is not Freddie’s culture, and, with regard to previous worries, his childhood was likely spent very close to racist attitudes towards black Africa).

The mash of languages is matched by the mash of tones and musical styles. The whole thing sits very oddly, but the record would be less rich without it. And Freddie’s voice is incredible.

For what it’s worth, apparently Freddie said it was all nonsense loosely based on bits of languages, but not really with any underlying meaning.

I don’t know what to make of it. But I’m glad I tried.

Sorry if I’ve got everything horribly wrong.

 

 

 

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.