Brighton Rock

Brighton Rock-01

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.

Brighton Rock.

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.

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Killer Queen

Killer Queen-01

Okay, okay, let’s get this out of the way.

I know, I keep on going on about how terrible it is that people don’t know Queen beyond the greatest hits. That’s our starting point here, our thesis.

But I think it’s really important to add something to that.

The greatest hits are also incredible.

This isn’t some hipster death cult saying ‘oh, but you don’t really know Queen until you’ve listened to the Prophet Song acappella fifty times in a row*’. This is childish glee about just how excited it is possible to be about a band, an album, a song.

And this song is fucking glorious.

Killer Queen.

You can tell it’s up my street when Freddie describes it as ‘one of those bowler hat, black suspender belt numbers’. Either about a high class sex worker, or just a dig at high classness and what lies underneath.

It’s clearly about sex. Or rather, sexiness.

And it’s dominated by sultry lyrics, playful voices, jangle piano, glorious harmonies and an overwhelmingly endearing guitar solo.

Okay, maybe I don’t know what dominated means. I think I just want to be dominated by this song.

Which fits. It’s all fine here. We’re certainly not about to start shaming anybody, I hope.

Apparently Brian was ill, and they recorded the track, and he had to come in later, and drop in a guitar solo. And what a job. It’s so, so perfect here. Louche and dramatic, playful and engaging. It makes me want to move my body. My arms want to swirl away with it.

The way the piano slams into the solo, as well, offering a punchline, halfway through.

And, jumping ahead, the way the guitar sounds like it’s being joined by a bagpipe at the end, but it fact it’s just more guitar.

After slating May’s song writing on the first half of Queen II, I’m so hot for the way he counterpoints and complements Freddie here.

Because frankly, this is so clearly Freddie’s song. If you wanted an archetype for the pose that is Freddie Mercury’s stage persona, you’ve got it all on show here. Wittily scathing, broodingly sexy, flirtily ridiculous. Loud and hot.

Fastidious and precise

I’m so in love with Freddie here. I genuinely wonder how much of my sexuality came out of this song. The way desire is a performance, the way aloofness is made gorgeous, and wit is so, so very, very sexy.

I think I even find the finger clicking intro is sexy.

But the thing I love, I think, amongst the other things I love, is that it’s never about bodies. All this sex is about character, personality, excitement. We aren’t here to leer, we’re hear to learn.

A built-in remedy

For Kruschev and Kennedy

Or ‘fuck the cold war, let’s get hot’.

It’s wonderful, isn’t it, that after two albums of hard and fantastical rock, Queen get to stamp their presence on the world, their first international hit, with a piece of sexy vaudeville. A delicate but saucy piece of boudoir burlesque, that isn’t aggressive, but empowering.

Freddie says he’s taking the piss out of the high class by saying they’re all prostitutes, but I feel like he identifies more with the Killer Queen than he wants to give away. Or at least, that’s what his role is here.

And he revels in it, pours himself into it’s lustiness. Every breath. Every word. Every lilting bite.

I’ve been singing along with this song for as long as I can remember being alive. I had all the lyrics wrong, and I had no idea what they were about, but I knew I wanted to be Freddie, and I wanted to be the Killer Queen too.

Someone bring me my Moet et Chandon.

It’s in that pretty cabinet.

Insatiable.

 

*Though I have done 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.

Tenement Funster

Tenement-01

Roger Taylor continues his exploration of the rebellion of early rock and roll?

It starts of sounding like a cheap knock off of a certain track from Abbey Road, showing off his purple shoes, but it doesn’t take long to evolve into something more interesting.

But what the hell is a Tenement Funster?

I’m still not sure.

It definitely follows on from Modern Times Rock ‘n’ Roll. Thematically, it’s a simple teenage rebellion, although starting as a pretty melancholy ballad, in a way that’s pretty striking. It’s not the tone you normally sing about this in. Avoiding cliché by finding it pretty lonely.

It doesn’t last though, once he finds his ‘open car’ Taylor is carried out of the tenement by a squadron of guitars. It’s a real burst of freedom, musically, feeling the downbeat turned into an urgent and angry forward energy.

So the somewhat trite lyrics are transformed by a striking interplay of contradictory noises.

It remains pretty theatrical, which helps, as it’s the first of one of those sets of interlinked tracks we’re becoming familiar with. The final guitars evolving into the introductory piano of the next track.

Anyway, I can’t go any further talking about Roger Taylor’s track here without talking about Roger Taylor’s sweaty chest.

The band appear on the album cover again, for Sheer Heart Attack, and I think it’s a beautiful piece of work, actually. Bold red font at the top, and the rest given to a glistening knot of Queenflesh. It’s fascinating and strange, as covers go.

And Roger’s the lead, really. Sure, he’s upside down, but he’s got the most flesh on display, and he’s the only one looking directly at us. Freddie looks pensive. John looks like he’s stifling a laugh (possibly the most appropriate response) and Brian looks like he’s just remembered something important, but can’t work out if it’s a good or bad thing.

But Roger, he’s cricked his neck to look us right in the eyes. He does not look comfortable, but he looks like he needs us. Like Freddie, his eyes are gorgeous. But Roger wants us. Freddie doesn’t even need us.

I don’t know how to fit Roger into my Queen mythos, if I’m honest. He crops up as a bit of a distraction in these early albums, offering nice but off message little vignettes, contrasting to the theatrical and fantastical pomp around him.

Everyone else I kind of have an identity for. Freddie is the gorgeous, outrageous driving force. May is the technical counterweight to that, finding opposite ways of being just as full on. John Deacon is the quiet one, the beating heart, somewhat lonely but full of love (You’re my best friend is his, and it’s one of the most radiant pieces Queen ever produced).

But I don’t have a place for Roger yet. He’s clearly significant, this is a band, not just a set of characters. It always has been, as much as I focus on the songwriter, everything is so clearly collaborative, the way different instruments speak and engage with and challenge each other would be impossible for any but the most extreme auteurs to manage.

But I haven’t got a hold of Roger Taylor. I somewhat get the impression he’s the enthusiast. Queen’s biggest fan (my understanding is that he has driven most of the reunion projects).

I think this shows when he drifts out of an album to tell a little tale about the rock and roll. How it frees you. How it traps you. He’s in this for the music, I guess.

I hope I’m going to figure out more as we go along.

And see more of that glistening chest.

 

 

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.

Flick of the Wrist

Flick-01

A glittering piano heaves itself over the top of a hill, and drops down into a valley of bass and drum, beckoning a groove.

This is all the segue we need to introduce a piece of pure musical theatre.

Flick of the wrist.

Basically Freddie hating on the day job. Or the wider capitalist structure that upholds it and makes it necessary.

I don’t actually know if Freddie was a Marxist, but he certainly doesn’t like a boss.

Castrate your human pride

Sacrifice your leisure days

Let me squeeze you til you’ve dried

So the verses present a picture of capital as a flower press for humans. That’s pretty clear.

I can’t quite decide on the chorus though.

From one angle, it’s an exhortation to get the hell out of there, not turn around, and walk sassily and angrily away.

But there’s violence. And I can’t tell who is getting their heart eaten.

 

Flick of the wrist – he’ll eat your heart out

A dig in the ribs and then a kick in the head

He’s taken an arm and taken a leg

I’m hoping it’s the bosses, obvs.

But really, I think even after turning back, it’s Freddie being torn to pieces.

Like later angry ballad Death on two legs, this is purported to be about Queen’s manager at the time. This is openly admitted in regards to the later song, but apparently not clear here.

Musically, it’s pretty sparse, in some ways, and pretty ludicrous in others. It’s certainly got that penchant for drama. You can see how it became the back side of the Killer Queen single. It’s not quite up there, but it shares some of that aesthetic. Whilst being a different beast.

To be honest, this sounds much more purely like it’s lifted from a musical. It’s hard not to imagine Freddie striding and running back and forth on a stage, somehow inserting himself into a musical’s back alley scenery. I picture a Sweeney Todd style murder scene, all wrist flicking attitude, a song and a switch blade.

And the scene is injected in the midst of a tripartite segue. So this murderous wage slavery comes straight out of Taylor’s escape from the tenement. This fits the Norman Sheffield narrative. Rock provides an escape, but the music gets trapped by the money, and then…well, possibly escapes to Rhye. We’ll see that in the next track.

All of these tracks melding into each other really adds to these records though, and belie the nonsense of separating some of these pieces into individual chunks to discuss and digest. On one hand, they are separate things, and deserve attention, on the other, they clearly end up more than the sum of their parts. I think we’ve seen enough of that already (and I’m aware of enough of it later) to see that we could be on a fool’s errand.

But I’m okay with that, I think.

Because even as it is part of an emotionally inconsistent but pretty engrossing trilogy, this is also just a nice little vignette within the evolution of Queen’s approach to the dramatic. Another little vaudeville nod to a cartoonishly violent evil, all for the sake of a dig at bosses (or one boss in particular).

This is how Queen does it. You know?

It’s not quite my song, but it’s catchy as hell, and it does its job.

 

—-
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.

Lily of the valley

Lily

Hold up. Hold up.

This is 1 minute 40 odd seconds long, and was released as a single. But that’s not even the ridiculous thing. This had Keep Yourself Alive as a B-side.

Can you imagine being intensely excited about the new Queen single. Picking it up, getting less than two minutes of piano balladry, and disappointedly flipping over the 7″, to find that particular blast of fury on the other side.

Bargain.

Anyway.

Lily of the valley.

To be fair, it grows on you pretty quickly. There’s some lovely touches in here. Freddie’s vocal stands alone for the most part (it’s him doing all the backing vocals too, apparently), and he takes advantage of the time alone to show off a little bit, but in that slightly more sensitive way.

Even with that, though, my favourite bit is the effect on the guitars towards the end. If you want to understand the reason Queen felt the need to clarify that they didn’t use synthesisers, at least half the story is on here. Brian May routinely used guitar effects to make incredible artificial noises, and the space age ending to this delicate ballad is precisely that.

It still seems unnecessarily aggressive (and the turnaround was swift and dramatic enough to make it mockable). Sure, there’s something to be said for noting that you’re clever enough on the guitar to not need synths to make something weird, but it also feels a little elitist. ‘We’re real, we don’t need synths’.

But then of course, synthesisers were still expensive room filling monstrosities at this point.

(Brief but somewhat relevant segue. There’s a bit in the 80s He-Man flick Masters of the Universe where someone mistakes the cosmic key for a synthesiser. For years afterwards, I thought all synthesisers were abstract, fantastical metal cylinders with illogically arranged buttons. I was pretty disappointed when I finally saw one.)

The point is, they made pleasing and strange rackets using guitars, and wanted people to know. I find it hard to believe anybody really doubted May’s sonic virtuosity. Even if you don’t like his elaborate and overwrought playing, you must be able to recognise it as unique and complex.

Anyway, May didn’t get a solo, so he makes some pretty noises over the final section.

I like it.

The other thing to note here, is that Mercury returns to Rhye, with a messnger of the Seven Seas flying in.

Wars will never cease

Is there time enough for peace

But the lily of the valley doesn’t know

I don’t know how to place this into the trilogy, apart from as a third opposite mood. From freedom to anger to a kind of poignant calm regret. Looking for answers, realising they aren’t there.

It’s a sweet sentiment, anyway, and Freddie’s voice does it well.

It’s also been a while since we had some nice fantastical nonsense to dive into. Maybe Freddie’s saying good bye to all that (as if he won’t return shortly). The fairy folk of the first few records seem far away, and maybe he’s lost without them?

Nah. I reckon he just wanted a sad bit on the record. He likes a good sad bit, and he’s got to spend some time working on the form (it’s not long before he nails it, too).

Yeah. That works.

Lily of the valley, token sad bit, good voice, good not synth.

It’s about flowers.

 

 

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.

Now I’m here

NowHere-01

Back on the greatest hits.

Here we have May re-establishing the band’s rockness pretty damn firmly, in a song that can’t be pinned down.

The vocals go from side to side, delay effects creating matching silhouettes. It’s smoke and mirrors but it sells itself. Urgent but lonely introductory moments, rolling solos. Angry cities.

Now I’m here.

It’s about touring with Mott the Hoople. Brian got sick after the tour, and wrote this in hospital. (For much of this record, the band would be writing most of the track, just leaving gaps for May’s harmonies and guitars. It’s surprising how much they got away with this.)

It’s not what I ever thought it was about. I always found this song faintly threatening. Warm, but lonely. There’s love, but it sounds a lot like getting lost.

But maybe that’s a joy of touring that I just don’t know about. Getting lost in a new city, with new people.

Down in the city just Hoople ‘n’ me

Don’t I love him so

Whatever comes of you and me

I love to leave my memory with you

I always heard ‘move hold of me’. But there you go.

There’s two voices in the song. A kind of fear (and a thrill in that) and a comfort, a love. It’s abstracted into nonsense at time, but I love the twin feelings. Adventure and fear, and slow burning love and closeness.

I can’t really connect with the idea of Mott the Hoople, beyond a song written for them by David Bowie that I always thought was actually just David Bowie, but I still find heart in the image of Brian finding such companionship, travelling across America.

It makes sense on a record that has taken us on so many journeys, to explore the city from this angle as well. Not the thing to be escaped, but as the thing to get lost in.

From the first moments, the song is entrancing. Freddie stands, looks around. Disappears and moves. Then keening, shrieking guitars wrap around him, and a huge stonking riff takes him out into the city.

You can see a dark alley opening up into the bright lights of the city, and excitement pouring out, as two bands run into the night.

You can see why it became a solid fixture of the live show. Not just the roaring drama of it, but the closeness. Every band should have a song like this, to remind them and the show why they’re out there, slogging across the world. Taking hands and burning bright.

It’s a simple rocker. At core, once you lose the delayed vocal passages, but it’s got so much damn verve. The way Freddie sings ‘eye’, just before the Hoople line. It’s incredible.

To hear Freddie, the senator of pomp, putting on the graces and tics of a more trad rock band of the era is enticing.

There’s so much affection on every level. A band so happy to have toured supporting someone they’ll later eclipse. It paints a sweet picture.

It’s May at his most vivid, capturing Mercury’s mood and selling every line with relatively straightforward guitar work, Taylor’s drums pumping the whole thing full of energy. Deacon’s bass providing some added heft.

And that piano glissando, buried in the middle of everything else as we roar back into it.

Now they’re here.

 

 

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, using an icon from the noun project by John Caserta.

In the lap of the gods

Lap-01

HELLO SIDE TWO!

There’s a lot going on here, but at the same time, it’s incredibly simple.

This side is bookended by songs about fate, little in common musically, but titles tie them together, and I think they might be part of the same story.

It doesn’t matter though, because right now this song excites me more than enough just on its own.

In the lap of the gods.

Firstly, we have the piercingest shriek yet. Taylor at the top of his top end, with a few layers of Mercury underneath. (Taylor drifts back in later, sounding like a direct tribute to Pink Floyd, but the rest of this is all Mercury).

The intro is enormous, too. High paced (artificially sped up?) pianos loop relentlessly around the guitar and vocal lines, before culminating in an absurdly over the top statement of the title, with a sustained final note that fades, pans around you and explodes out of itself.

Then we get a simple bit of piano balladeering, with the lovely and ridiculous flourish of having Freddie prefigure Karin Dreijer of the Knife by a good thirty something years. Sure, other people have done it before, but this sounds SO much like that particular genderbent repitching and harmonising. I think it’s the classic ‘record at high speed then slow it down’ distortion, and it creates a beautifully monstrous sound.

Basically, it sounds like one of my favourite bands covering one of my favourite bands nearly forty years early, replacing synths with slow rock, but otherwise nailing it.

The whole piece rests around these vocal manipulations (artificial or not), and it sells a charming little intro to the side. I love the way the pianos clatter out of the vocal at the end, leaving space for a lovely final drum coda, that feels like an unwinding. Ready for the urgency fo the next.

It’s full of these glorious little details, while also being this lovely simple ditty about leaving things in the hand of fate. A lonely monster considers his fate, and decides he’s stuck in the lap of the gods, and that’s okay, maybe.

There’s an incredibly long repeated ‘leave it in the lap of the gods’ ostinato in the middle, with the guitar wrapping the closest it gets to a solo around it.

There’s that enormous intro (the biggest yet?), undermining itself with one sort of ridiculous, but then panning around to another.

I love bass Freddie, and the way he falsettos his way into the drum for the chorus.

(I also love how bewildered the Queensongs.info team are by the chorus).

It’s a fascinating structure, built out of weird little bricks, and I think it’s a new favourite.

I don’t think many people bother to think of Queen as an experimental outfit. But really, they were pushing at the boundaries of rock as hard as anyone in the era. They knew how to freak out a studio. The nods to Dark Side of the Moon here are clear, but there’s also a strangeness all their own.

Perhaps it’s just the sense of irony baked into it. Or lack of irony. I can’t tell the difference sometimes. Mercury’s most bloated affectations don’t feel affected, but they are still permanently aware of the ridiculousness of the whole.

This is a heartfelt song about leaving things to fate, totally honest, whilst wrapping that notion in monstrous vocal effects, absurdist screams, and silliness.

I think one of my greatest delights in Queen is their ability to do this. Wrap the honest in the absurd. Feel heartfelt and knowing at the same time.

Every wink brings you closer to the heart of it.

I love it.

Leave me in its lap.

 

 
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.

Stone Cold Crazy

StoneColdCrazy

So we go full theatrical, and then come back to some ‘hard rock’. This one’s practically a thrasher. Whipping along at a hell of a pace.

It’s an early track apparently, recorded in the studio after having been played live long enough for nobody to remember who actually wrote the lyrics.

Which makes this the first track credited to the whole band.

Stone Cold Crazy.

Apparently Freddie even played it live with Wreckage, his pre-Queen outfit. It’s possible that the lyrics are Freddie’s, and May built the track underneath, so they shared the blame.

The song itself is simple enough, in the way that running down a hill is simple. Energetic, childish and exhilarating.

It’s just one of those classic rock things that never slows down. Where a lot of the time Queen’s rock sounds inspired by Pink Floyd, or occasionally Black Sabbath, to me (who doesn’t actually know much about rock of the era) this one feels like Zepellin.

Everything is fast and urgent. The guitars wail and surge, only willing to make way for Freddie to urgently spit lyrics over drum lines. And spitting feels right. There’s only a few moments (that glow as a result) where Freddie’s trademark insouciance blurs the machine gun rhythmic flow.

Lyrically, the song blends twenties gangster imagery with something sillier. I think it tells you something about the fact that Metallica had to change the lyrics in order to cover it. As I understand, the key changes were swapping a slide trombone for a saxophone, a water gun for a not water gun and adding a few fucks.

Because the saxophone is clearly the more metal instrument, right?

Rainy afternoon I gotta blow a typhoon and I’m playing on my slide trombone

It’s very Queen to not feel the need for that, I think. This is more Bugsy Malone than Bugsy. And that’s okay. Even at the hardest edge of their rock, Queen revel in the theatricality of it.

At this point in the project, it already feels like a throwback, and not an unwelcome one. This and Brighton Rock are probably the only two tracks on the album that could’ve sat on one of the earlier records (without sticking out in the way that, admittedly, a couple of tracks did). This is a restatement of the energy and excitement of Keep Yourself Alive and the like.

It’s the lyrics that keep the new vaudeville theatre styling, I think. Stone Cold Crazy is an old timey chase scene: from waking up, dreaming of Al Capone, to a jail cell, contemplating a future in heaven or hell. (I like that this guy’s fate is still in the lap of the gods).

This whole record feels like it’s about performance. Showing all the different ways you can show off. My first glance left me thinking the album was a hodge podge. Messy masses of different ideas, pulling in different directions. And it is, but it’s also something else. There’s side one, the tale of various folk in the city, an urban tale, full of people acting out and presenting sides.

Side two is presumably in the lap of the gods. Contemplating fate, or perhaps just singing about how people like to show off.

And I think Stone Cold Crazy belongs here, pounding onwards, running from the law, but still finding time for a slide trombone, and ending up wondering if you’re due for heaven or hell.

As if we haven’t all been there.

 

 

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.

Dear friends

DeerFriends-01

So dear friends, your love is gone

This basically sounds like a tiny hymn.

Everything’s there, churchly simplistic piano chords. Old fashioned vocal harmonies and something like a mawkish sentiment.

There is nothing here for me to talk about.

Shit.

Dear friends.

It is a sweet little lullaby though. I don’t dislike it. And as a soporofic break from the hi-octane chase of Stone Cold Crazy, it does its job.

It’s just a lullaby.

It probably seems surprising to anyone who strongly associates Queen with Bohemian Rhapsody, but one of Queen’s charms is the concise brevity they are willing to approach a piece with. If a song or idea only needs a few lines and a simple piano part, they don’t feel the need to shower it in baroque ornament or stretch it out. I get the feeling that here, May wanted to say something simple, and so he laid it out.

We’ll later see how brevity is the soul of wit, but here, it’s just a way to keep things simple. Make a short statement (still exposing the fateful balance of the side, never out of sight), provide a buffer between the raucousness of the last and the….wait for it…of the next.

Like Nevermore before it, a transition is needed, or the album would overwhelm. I love this focus on the overall flow of an album. Again, breaking it into chunks does it a disservice (as well as forcing me to waffle on these sharp vignettes). But it’s okay. It means I can always obsess over the structure when I’m running out of time.

Look.

I’ll be honest.

I’ve worked too hard this month, and I’m currently nearing panic attack levels of anxiety, trying to work out whether or not I’ve correctly filed a tax return for my worker’s co-op.

I needed a lullaby. I found one.

I’m writing to calm myself down, you see. Maybe Brian May was doing the same.

It’s incredible the effect a simple traditional styling can have. Those simplistic piano chords should put you at ease. That bed of harmonies should relax and soothe.

It’s simple. It’s a bit boring. It’s what the album needed. It’s what I need right now.

Honestly, I don’t normally use lullabies to calm me, though music does help. There’s something special in the way sounds surround us. Music is like a bath or a duvet, it wraps around you and holds you close.

So when I’m called a dear friend by a stranger, when I’m sung to, harmonised with and told to calm down…

It helps.

So dear friends your love has gone

Only tears to dwell upon

I dare not say as the wind most blow

So a love is lost, a love is won

 

Go to sleep and dream again

Soon your hopes will rise and then

From all this gloom life can start anew

And there’ll be no crying soon

I don’t think he’s singing about a tax return. But I can hear it like that.

Music is the best and worst communication. It gets us so deep, but it isn’t always clear. Even something this simple is full of mystery. Why are we being reassured? What has gone so badly wrong?

Queen are about friendship, in many ways. And this is just as simple as someone picking you up when the tears are on your face.

The bare minimum time (but the maximum heart) given over, to let you know it’s alright, before they get up and get ready to move onwards.

You barely notice it when you’re listening as an album.

But I’m glad it’s there.

 

 

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.

Misfire

Misfire-01

HELLO JOHN!

That’s right. This is John Deacon’s first Queen song, and my word am I happy to hear it.

Misfire.

John did ‘almost all the guitars on Misfire’, according to the sleeve, which is quite a lovely feat. It pleases me that he barged Brian out of the way for this one, for whatever reason.

It kind of feels like Queen does yacht rock. A simple upbeat bouncer of a track. John’s guitars are more open than Brian’s. It’s a wider sound, simpler, more repetitive, but warmer.

It’s also a bit filthy, if you choose to take it that way.

Your gun is loaded, and pointing my way

There’s only one bullet, so don’t delay

Got to time it right, fire me through the night

Ahem.

It’s also probably got my favourite outros so far. Just this layering of a single guitar riff, already key changed up a few times, into a kind of upward spiral. It’s a bland fade, but only after the whole thing has exploded upwards and got caught in a battle with itself.

It’s jangly, it’s sun filled, it’s optimistic, it’s simple, it’s heartfelt, it’s utterly infectious. It’s got the most forward bassline we’ve heard so far, and the shortest, simplest guitar solo (actually best marked by some lovely backing vocals).

It feels to me, from the outside, like the first time Freddie and John got to just bounce off each other, and you get such a new energy from that. It’s open and gentle and warm and friendly.

I don’t know that the innuendo is intentional (though god knows Queen are quite happy to heap on the innuendo at will….if you haven’t heard ‘get down make love’, you’re in for a filthy treat a little further down the line), but it does fit. John writes a love song, but fills it with something extra to make Freddie giggle.

Don’t you misfire

Fill me up

With the desire

To carry on

And Freddie just opens up. It’s not his most virtuosic number, but he goes at it with heart, nailing the ever so slightly nervous optimism, and warming it up further with the extra harmonies. I love the way he passes from speaker to speaker, talking over himself, building in urgency, just like the guitar layers.

John was the quiet one, apparently, who kept track of the finances. But he’s also referred to as the one who got hit hardest by Freddie’s death, or at least, the one least into trying to continue in any form without him. He’s now a bit reclusive and tucked away.

For some reason, I find that breathtakingly sad; that someone can create such open hearted loveliness as this (and later tracks), be part of one of the hugest, loveliest things, and still end up lost and shut in. I hope it’s a positive choice, and not depression, though either way I can identify.

We get no sense of that here. Even as it is a song about failing, or possibly failing (still in the lap of the gods?), we hear nothing but optimism and kindness. We are encouraged and supported.

It’s good to have finally heard from everybody. Have all of the pieces to put together, and watch how they build and evolve. Looking ahead, I can tell you some of my favourite moments will be when we drop in on John. He’s an important contrasting tone, even as you’ll rarely notice him in the numbers that aren’t his.

I think they’d have misfired without him.

 

 

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.

Bring back that Leroy Brown

Leroy

So, there I was, assuming this was a tribute to music hall vaudeville, and it actually turns out that that isn’t the origin of Bad, bad, Leroy Brown, and actually this is Freddie’s elegy to some guy I’d never heard of.

My first contact with bad bad was in Gang Show, see. When Scouts and Guides got together and sang songs in a variety style. I still don’t know whether to be embarrassed by this part of my history (well, apart from the brief part as Commissioner Gordon, which I have repressed utterly). But this is how I first came into contact with a lot of what I think of as music hall type performances.

Actually, it’s a hodge podge of references. Songs from Snoopy, the Muppets*, Cole Porter and indeed, Jim Croce merged with what I saw as one particular part of musical theatre history.

Which is basically to say, that my childhood was a mush of schmaltz and smeared semiotics that I still can’t really make any sense of. I’m a pretty unreliable narrator at the best of times, but particularly when it comes to genre definition. I tend to dabble with labelling, but only when I feel like the genre name is onomatopaeic enough (or the nearest equivaent) to make sense whether you know the strict meaning or not.

Anyway, it turns out that this isn’t a tribute to the music hall, it’s a tribute to Jim Croce.

I feel like only Freddie would toast a recently deceased hero with such a ludicrous vaudeville melodrama.

Bring back that Leroy Brown.

Apparently, Tin Pan Alley, is what it’s supposed to be calling back to. Or the Pointer Sisters.

Whatever it is, it’s a riot. Barbershop harmonies bounce off dixieland ukulele-banjo, double bass fills and jangle piano (which is a piano with drawing pins or equivalent in the hammers). Everything is artificially aged except the energy, which actually feels parallel to barn stormer Stone Cold Crazy.

My favourite moment is actually the breakdown. Everything slows, and the harmonies soften, only for the whole thing to storm back into near full charleston.

It’s that or the old timey electioneering of ‘we want Leroy for president’.

Or just that double bass bit.

It’s got a lot of highlights, basically, as long as you’re willing to give yourself over to the logic of it. (Could that be a motto for this project?)

Commit to the notion of a tribute to one guy, by singing about bringing back another, and doing it in the style of something even further else, and it all works.

Tonally, it’s different to the rest of the album, but it’s still just an extension of the logic of Killer Queen and Stone Cold Crazy. Play for the audience, revel in the theatre. And by training us to constantly shift up and down in beat and rhythm and mood and mode, the song even sits well in the record.

And you’re going to have it jammed in your head for months.

 

*Actually also originally from the Snoopy Musical. Which may prove my point. Also, if you watch the whole Jim Henson tribute and don’t cry a little, I don’t want to know you.

 

 

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.

She makes me (stormtrooper in stilettos)

Stormtrooper-01

It’s a hell of a title, you’ve got to give him that.

She makes me (stormtrooper in stilettos).

In some ways, it’s a companion piece to White Queen (as it began), in that it’s Brian May mooning over a distant, idolised woman. In others, it’s got a brooding darkness and weirdness that makes me much more intrigued.

It’s simple and slow, but not quite dirge-like. There’s an urgency that grips after a few listens. The simple acoustic hook and pounding relentlessness of the kick drum give Brian a lot of opportunity to sing longingly, in a way that sounds just right.

It’s the sound of a man overpowered.

Who knows who she’ll make me

As I lie in her cocoon

This feels like something other than teen horniness, and closer to a particularly specific play scene.

Again, we find that without mentioning bodies, Queen are quite capable of fishing up a dose of raw and interesting sexuality. Romantically, soothingly sexual, if not exactly vanilla.

I like it a lot.

Something about it’s simplicity (which it seems unlikely to be finding as a thread between May’s tracks…a willingness to just right a simple and open song, despite being the master of the elaborate and ridiculous solo).

But he has nothing to master here, he cedes control to his stormtrooper. He gives himself to the music. To the she.

It’s not warm though, even if it is open-hearted. Well, maybe it’s warm in the final verse, but then it descends into a darker space. Feedback and echo meld with sirens and heavy breathing. The whole becomes ominous and unsettling.

Apparently the dark street sounds were recorded from May’s hospital bed (and suddenly I worry that he’s actually just feeling trapped in hospital, and leering at a nurse), but they make for a pleasing hellscape to paste the music over. We end with a rolling jostle of toms, pinning the music down to the end. Ending the lonely, heartfelt moment.

It’s surprisingly gripping, for such a slow ballad with so few lyrics and so little development beyond that sink into confusion.

But I like it, it reminds me of some of Velvet Underground’s bleaker moments, a real feeling of New Yorkian loneliness.

So it fits into the city narrative of the first side, and joins it with the powerlessness of the second side. Once again, we’re in the lap of the gods (possibly one very specific god here, but nonetheless the theme stands).

It’s such a striking counterpoint to the last track. The absurdity of going from bar-room knees up to this is probably the biggest, fastest shift of the record. It only works because we’ve been trained to expect it. It’s a neat trick.

I just hope it’s respectful as it sounds. It sounds like a nice healthy submission. Which is what I’d want in this sort of scene.

I’m warm and terrified

She makes me so

So what?

I think we know what.

I love this for effortlessly blending the sexual and the lonely, the submission and the affection. The heartfelt honesty.

It could just as easily be expressing something unhealthy and problematic, but it still feels just about right. Something about the intimacy of the music. The honesty of that heavy breathing. The delicacy of the sound. And the reality of the night time street.

It feels like home, even in it’s darkness. And that’s warmth enough.

 

 

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 the lap of the gods…revisited

LapOfTheGods-revisited

I love this.

I’ve had it in my head pretty much all month. It’s such a louche and lovely thing. Strange and purposeful and lovely, and the perfect wrap up to an album as weird and offbeat as this.

Knock out some piano from a chaise longue, and sing some nonsense at people. Argue with your backing vocalists, get into a singalong and end with a bang (never a whimper).

In the lap of the gods…revisited.

So Freddie was faintly obsessed with getting a song that everyone could sing along with at the end of gigs. Something chanty and over the top and looping.

I think we all know where he ended up on that one, but I love where he started.

Trying to convince a crowd of football hooligans to sing about being cursed by fate, from a clearly audible chaise longue. Can’t you hear it? Can’t you picture Freddie, cast back and seductive. Listen closely to the ‘pr’ at the begining of ‘pretending’ in the second verse. He’s so laid back I assume he’s forgotten he’s recording.

So Freddie beckons us in to his boudoir, and begs us to start shouting. With an incomprehensible, slightly odd but very specific pattern of wordless vocals.

This is Freddie’s first stadium stormer, and it’s gorgeous. Lustrous. Sexy and sultry and utterly absurd.

I’m so in love at this point.

No beginning, there’s no ending

There’s no meaning in my pretending

Believe me, life goes on and on and on

Forgive me when I ask you where do I belong

I think it makes me sad that the singalong football song is the arrogant one, not the one about being lost.

I mean, I understand how it happened, but I wish Freddie had made this one work.

It makes me dream of going to a Queen gig at this point in their career and getting swept up properly in this. It’d be incredible. Barn storming. Roof raising.

Wo wo la la la wo

Wo wo la la

Wah wah ooh

It’s totally transcribed into the lyrics sheet.

As the extra voices come in at the end, it gets shoutier and shoutier. Freddie’s interjections slowly getting buried, in bawdy bawling drunkenness.

Even that layers up the central theme here.

It’s pure melancholy on one level but it’s also totally evocative of that coming together. Is Freddie getting lost in the crowd, or carried away by it?

We don’t find out, because it all explodes at the end, and the album’s over.

I could dance and sing with Freddie forever. The Freddie here I still want to do that with, but also that I want to hold close and tell just how wonderfully he reaches out to people. I feel owned by him in this song. He pulls me in and makes me want to shout. It’s so intimate; alongside this full, multi-layered bombast.

You can do it

You can do it

You can go and set him free

That’s the rest of the band, interlaced with Freddie’s:

You say I can’t set you free from me

But that’s not true

It’s a glorious little bit of vocal harmony and semantic disunity.

A little charming and gripping moment in the middle of this tiny and immense song.

How did I now know about this sooner? How does the world? Why is this not sung at the end of everything ever?

The next album ends with the UK national anthem, but by every bone in my body I’d rather have this one.

It’s in the lap of the gods.

Wo wo la la la wo

Wo wo la la

Wah wah ooh

But that’s not true.

It’s in the lap of the Gods.

That’s not me quoting me lyrics. That’s me singing. Full pelt, right into your face.

Wishing I had a chaise longue.

 

 

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.