New album, new territory, with what can probably be described as Queen’s first adventure in minimalism.
Except it manages to be an absurdly arrogant burst of bombast too. Maybe.
It’s a tiny thing, with an enormous stature, partly just because of its simplicity. At just two minutes, this is a song that gives you everything it has to offer in the first few moments. I can’t present you with a story about how this one unfolds, it’s just a beat, a rant, and a chorus.
I guess there’s a solo at the end, but that’s your lot, and really I think its just a segue to lead us into the next shouting boast, which it is forever paired with it (the two were released as a single single, and apparently got a lot of radio play together).
According to May, it all stems from a live show, where the crowd tried to beckon them back on stage for an encore not by clapping and roaring, but by singing ‘you’ll never walk alone’. One classic football chant begets another, apparently, or two in this case.
It’s kind of fascinating, making the decision that they needed a song for people to sing back at them. As far back as in the lap of the gods (revisited), it looked like Freddie was trying for a sing along, an extra piece of the stage show, but it took this long to figure out just how simple it needed to be. Football simple.
And as much as this isn’t one of my favourites, by god did they nail it.
The beat is perfect, just a stomp stomp clap. So easily replicable, but also utterly recognisable. For the recording it is multitracked and delayed to all hell, so the four can sound like a thousand (apparently the delays are all timed to prime numbers THE MORE YOU KNOW).
Freddie’s verses are fast but clear. Each beat enunciated immaculately. Venom put aside for clarity, no matter how aggressive the lyric.
You got mud on yo’ face
You big disgrace
Kickin’ your can all over the place
And then they all sing together.
It’s barely there, but it’s immediate, loud, raucous and engaging.
It’s no wonder it caught on.
There’s something odd in the lyrics, too. The aggression is surprisingly personal, almost intimiate. And it’s really unclear whether the narrator is the one with mud on their face, or the attacker.
Beyond that, there’s a melancholy turn. The boy becomes a man becomes old. Mud turns to blood, and back to mud. Is it a lack of a rhyming dictionary, or something sadder.
I might be clutching at straws, but there’s also a line that you may not precisely recall.
Buddy you’re an old man poor man
Pleadin’ with your eyes gonna make you some peace some day
Make you some peace.
You can’t rock death.
But apparently, we will.
It’s not the most heroic chant, is what I’m saying.
If you want a change of pace, the ‘BBC’ fast version is a good listen. Though without the sparse blankness of the canvas, the song loses some of its shine.
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.