I’m in Brighton right now. It’s where I live. It’s not normally this cold though.
Anyway, that’s got nothing to do with this, a love story that just happens to be set on our fair promenade.
But that’s not what’s wonderful here. What’s wonderful here is the feeling of the Queen sound broadening out, whilst still being raucous, unpredictable and ridiculous.
I guess this is a straight up rocker in many ways, but it also really isn’t.
Apparently, the working title at one point was ‘Happy little fuck’.
And what a happy little fuck it is.
There’s three things that stand out most prominently..
We start the track, and so the album, with the sound of the fairground, engine driven wurlitzers and people in chaos. It’s almost concréte. Engines blur with guitar and song proper begins.
I like it a lot. It’s not as roaring as the debut album’s start, or as refined as the second’s, but it’s a bit of a surprise, some lovely scene setting.
Anyway, Freddie’s falsetto pounds in, and leads me to my second stand out: that bit where he drops out of the falsetto.
It’s not the right time to do it. It’s mid sentence. According to the lyrics sheet, it’s in the middle of a quoted line. Later, the voices converse, the high and the low, Jimmy and Jenny.
But that first drop, repeated later, is for no good reason, but it’s incredibly lush. The way his tone shifts, slows and wraps around the ‘magic in the air’.
Goosebumps, I swear.
Thing three is probably pretty obvious.
It’s the third or fourth chunk of the guitar solo. We’ve already had a load of pounding instrumental sections, and then we retreat into what sounds like a bucket, where May is just going to have a conversation with himself and a delay pedal.
Apparently this is what all the live Queen solos were based on. Up to this point, May was overdubbing for the studio, but that wasn’t possible live, so his main trick was put on a delay and simply play against his future and past selves. Live these different versions would run into different speaker stacks. Live there’d be an extra echoed voice. Apparently, live the solo goes on for 9-13 minutes.
It’s intricate, it’s alluring, it’s pretty damn clever.
It’s what May did in the largely pointless closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. Just a chunk.
So here we are, proving my point. May’s signature move, off the books of the greatest hits.
A happy pair they made, so decorously laid
‘Neath the gay illuminations all along the promenade
“It’s so good to know there’s still a little magic in the air
I’ll weave my spell”
We’ve all been there.
If it wasn’t for the faintly ridiculous chorus, it’d be a favourite. And actually, you barely hear that chorus.
I think it works particularly well as a lead in to this particular record. Queen and Queen II were exploring a particular aesthetic. Exploring it to extremes, yes, but staying within its bounds.
Sheer Heart Attack is just going to be about exploring. We’re going to see beaches, buckets and rocks, from all across the world.
It’ll weave it’s spell.
And it starts with a simple love song, complicated enormously by found sound and technical and ambitious guitar parts.
Nothing’s going to be simple here.
But it’s going to be great.
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.