And it begins.
And it’s quite a beginning, actually.
I think if there’s one simple thing you could say about Queen, that covers a lot of bases, it’s that they know how to make an entrance.
In comparison to later intros, it’s fairly stark ground, but it’s a statement of intent, at least.
Quivering over the horizon, panning across from one speaker to the next, a steady, urgent guitar rhythm hammers, and a simple but gripping hook steps in. Punching a simple rock statement as it’s joined by a drum count in, eventually some bass, and Freddie’s first little spoken word.
But before that even, that first noise.
The first guitar note comes in, and it sounds like it’s unfolding. I just had to double check it wasn’t a distortion, like the sound of a record player pulling a track up to speed after you hit play. It’s not though, it’s just a microscopic strum on the way up to to the intended first note. Some guitar effect bending ever so slightly.
Anyway, it’s an intro.
It winds up, brings the urgency, and then folds into the beginning.
There’s a deftly held arrogance from the off, everything is counted in millions. Everything is counted in everythings. Nothing is small and minor.
‘Well I sold a million mirrors in a shop in Alley Way.
But I never saw my face in any window any day.’
the song isn’t a boast, necessarily, it’s simple advice; keep it straight forward, keep yourself alive. All the ambitious advice of cliche won’t actually get you fed. Look after yourself. Remember to survive.
I think I’m always going to have trouble parsing the potential ironies of Queen lyrics. The bombast and theatre give a lot of space for misreading. I honestly can’t tell if this is taking the piss out of the self centred, or telling you to be one of them. I’m probably going to err on the generous side, these songs are old friends of mine, some of my oldest. All that showing off, it’s got enough heart underneath, I swear.
Freddie talks over himself too, just to get everything out in time. Already, first track, first album, the signature multi-tracking allows him to start each new line before he’s finished the last. The whole piece falls over itself to move forwards. Everything is driving steadily, steadily onwards.
It’s amazing that this isn’t on one of the renowned greatest hits records. (Be warned, I may use that sentence a lot in this project). It’s a neat little capsule of raw energy – an immediate intro, an addictive chorus, a blast of earnest bombast – that tells you a lot, instantly, about who Queen are.
And an already archetypal solo.
Brian May guitar solos are secretly the most over the top and ridiculous thing about Queen. The first thing that comes to mind might Freddie’s immense range, charisma, presence, queerness, arrogance and intensity, and that’s all there, and all worth exploring, but take a step back, and tell me you couldn’t recite some of Brian’s guitar solos as easily as you could recite any of the lyrics. Even if you don’t like Queen, I bet you know at least one guitar solo by heart.
That particular overdriven sound, that delicate mathematical punchiness, that lyrical playfulness. Guitars that sound like they’re singing.
Right there from the start. At least three guitars, duelling each other, pounding folksy melodies and motifs, worming around each other into a tiny, dense, overblown knot of energy.
It’s a statement of intent.
Not just the solo. Not just the intro. Not just the lyrics. The whole track.
Welcome to the album, you’re going to remember it. You’re going to remember us. We’re going to move. We’re going to go far.
Come along, give it a try. Flick your hair back. Get yourself moving.
Keep yourself alive.
It’s quite a way to begin.
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.