Play the game

PlayTheGame

The more I listen, the more I think this could be the quintessential Queen track.

It’s got every critical element, some to extremes. It’s a surprisingly complicated structure, with more memorable and diverse sections than you’d think. It’s simultaneously graceful and brooding. It’s the first time we’ve officially heard a synthesiser, but it’s used to provide two of the most obvious Queen staples, a weird-ass intro, and a phenomenally bombastic lead into the guitar solo. The synth runs through one of the heaviest pieces of guitar work we’ve heard from the band so far. And that’s in the middle of a delicate, heartfelt and slightly creepy love song.

Queen are a band of contradictions. This is a song with all of them.

And can you believe this is the first time the world saw Freddie’s iconic moustache?

Play the game.

(If anyone wants to buy me Freddie’s Flash T-shirt, by the way, I’d be well up for it.)

We open with the Oberheim OBX, presenting a science fiction soundscape of increasing intensity. It’s pulled to an abrupt and noisy head to make space for Freddie and the piano, promising to open up minds.

The band pulls over the top, and we’re riding the crest of a not totally upbeat piano ballad, with Brian’s guitar eventually thrusting in.

It’s a strange sort of seduction. Freddie’s laid back and sultry, the piano warm and welcoming, the guitar more suggestive.

The guitar pulls out again to make space, and the bass shifts to high harmonics for another bout of the intro/verse thing.

Light another cigarette and let yourself go

After the chorus, we increase in urgency and pitch, and Freddie starts dueting with the harmonies. It’s an intense and pulsing uptick in the energy of the song, but it’s the sense of longing that increases first.

The voices cascade downwards, and we have that immense heavy pounding call and response between the guitar and the synthesiser. warming up for the official guitar solo.

The solo is quickly joined by Freddie, and eventually makes way for another run at the chorus, which pounds upwards with guitar and drums until it all fades too soon.

It’s a glorious final chorus, utterly entrancing. The cheap fade out leaves you wanting more. The odds of you not singing along past the ending are excessively low.

But let’s slip back. That lead into the guitar solo, the sheer size of it.

All the harmonies beckon, and are replaced by the biggest slab of synthesiser on the market. The band didn’t just start using synthesisers, they grabbed them by the horns, and rode them naked through the centre of town.

And that fits, because they’re used to clear the way for these equally enormous guitar crunches. There’s a statement of intent there, Brian is not scared, the electronics will not best him, won’t overwhelm him, he’ll make quite the same racket.

It’s blissful in its hugeness. This three minute love ballad is centred on this towering edifice of noise.

Open your mind and let me step inside

Rest your weary head and let your heart decide

If we take the assumption that Freddie’s crooning seductively in bed, that synth and guitar is the moment he kisses you (I want to be more crass here, but I’m resisting). The huge swirl of emotions turns into something solid and physical and huge and inside you. It’s overwhelming, and it’s all part of the romance.

In the hands of any other band, what we’d have here would be a perfectly serviceable love song. A simple beat, a simple song, a verse and a chorus and a rinse and repeat. Here we have this array of contrasting tones, this physically arousing mass noise.

Nobody plays the game like these guys.

Love runs from my head down to my toes

My love is pumping through my veins

I’ve mentioned before, that this is the song that started this project going. Listening to it for the first time in a long while, I was shocked by just how hard and heavy the band grabbed the Oberheim. I told twitter about the intensity of power in that wall of noise. How it was inserted into such an open hearted and otherwise gentle piece of pop. How incongruous and wonderful it was. I’d never realised it was the first time they’d used a synth, that they’d taken it so fiercely on board. I’d never thought about it before. It was striking.

Someone said they’d pay for me to dissect every Queen song similarly.

And here we are.

If it wasn’t for that synthesiser, I wouldn’t be poring through this back catalogue, finding these delights, these weirdnesses, these monstrosities.

All you have to do is fall in love

And I have. A hundred times over. I think I’m genuinely surprised I still love them at this point.

I’ve also only just noticed that the lead in to the orgy of guitar and synth is the following line:

Come come come play the game

This isn’t just seduction. This is a song about sex. Simple and lustrous.

We definitely aren’t just kissing by that point.

I think this song might be a particular kind of perfect. Just give yourself to it, and let it take you.

I’m taken.

Hard.

 

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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Dragon attack

Dragon

Got a dragon on my back

Dragon attack.

The thing that surprised me here was that this is one of Brian’s. I assumed Brian would be less up for the stripping back and funkifying of this record, and certainly his other contributions are more traditionally rocking. But this is his.

It’s bass led, but totally demolished, deconstructed and torn apart by guitars in the second half, so I guess it does make sense.

It also doesn’t matter, as it’s clearly brilliant.

For me the biggest charm is in the surgically precise funk of the drums, and the stunning impression of carelessness in Freddie’s delivery.

The whole thing is built around this sharp drum loop and tense bassline, and Freddie purrs and yells near nonsensical (but surprisingly engaging) lyrics over the top.

Take me to the room where the beat’s all round

Gonna eat that sound – (yeah yeah yeah)!…

It’s such a line. Clear and precise and barely rational. I don’t know why Freddie and Brian are taking a dragon into a nightclub, but it’s a party I want to go to. The swagger and thrill of it. The sense of promise and threat. The sheer urgency.

And that ‘yeah yeah yeah yeah’ is just cast loosely out, but pulls you directly in. Freddie at that moment is at his most casual, his most throwaway, but still makes it arresting and powerful.

I love it.

I also love the way ever so slightly distorts both prisoners and business to get the rhyme to work. And it works.

Low down – She don’t take no prisoners

Go down –  Gonna give me the business

No time – Yeah chainted to the rack!

Show time – Got a Dragon on my back

Oh, and it’s filthy again. Obvs.

One last lyrics needs to be highlighted, because it has significance beyond me loving the way Freddie is delivering these lines.

-Gonna use my stack

-It’s gotta be Mack

Mack is their new producer, and symbolic of the bigger changes happening in the band at this point. This was the first record to be (partly) recorded in Munich. The first record with a keyboard synth. The first to rely on drum loops. The first with Mack. It’s a real step change, and actually has a particular feel of transition to it. The funk fights the rock, the synth fights the guitar.

Although I don’t think it is really oppositional. The record’s strength is in the way it pulls these ideas together and blends them in a distinctly Queen sound. Gone is a lot of the epic operatic tone, and in comes a lot more three minute pop songs. But at this point, that’s the only element missing, and to be honest, the scale is still there. There is no denying the massiveness of play the game and save me.

But yes, we have a step change, and Mack is a big part of that. I find myself confused on the studio savvyness of the band at this point, as Brian appears to credit Mack with teaching them that it was possible to edit takes together, so that they didn’t have to perform whole tracks in a single take. I don’t know how to square this with the claim that the ‘horn section’ of good company was cut together from hundreds of individual notes, but it’s the claim.

Whatever happened, it was a big deal. You can hear a tightness, a funkiness that wasn’t present before. The length is trimmed from tracks, and the density is more refined. There’s still a lot going on, but it feels more exposed here.

This is particularly vivid in Brian’s guitar teardown of this track. The simple core is not left alone, but is always present as Brian attacks it from different angles. Excoriating bursts of guitar ripple and burn through the song.

Brian is the dragon. His guitars the flame. He burns the song from the inside out. It’s a joy to behold. Genuinely destructive, hot as hell, it’s Brian at his best, frankly.

But the whole band is shining here. John’s bass is perfect. Roger’s drums suspend the whole thing perfectly. Freddie’s on peak form, spitting lackadaisically.

And Brian just flies in and sets it on fire.

It is, actually, a dragon attack.

 

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.

Another one bites the dust

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One of the things about these songs you all know, is that you probably know them so well you’ve never really looked closely at them.

I could sing along to the whole of this track, but it turns out, I’ve always had a lot of nadsat style incomprehensible lyrics that I’ve just powered through. Thinking about it now, I must have just assumed it was sub linguistic vocalisations.

But it turns out there are actual lyrics throughout.

Did you know this song was about a guy called Steve?

Another one bites the dust.

Steve’s a badass though.

Steve walks warily down the street,

with his brim pulled way down low

Ain’t no sound but the sound of his feet,

machine guns ready to go

After Roger broke the funk seal with fun it, John takes it the rest of the way, adapting a bassline from Chic (after spending some time with them in the studio), and creating a loop that later got mashed with the same by the Grandmaster.

It’s obviously irresistible, and it feels pointless me describing it, because it’s simple and ubiquitous enough that you know it already. It’s pleasingly sparse, with a combination of synth effects and reversed piano adding tiny moments of texture, often pulled away sharply.

The core drum beat is just a simple rigid loop, and mixes blissfully with a particular Boards of Canada track, in one of my favourite mashups to pull off. It’s great, it makes the song feel haunted and lonely in a way that undermines its core aggression.

In traditional narratives, the success of this one song paves the way for the downfall of the band, luring them to try and make more disco inflected music, that further alienates their core rock audience.

I don’t know if I buy it, but I suspect I’m going to like Hot Space more than most. For me Queen have always been bringing together disparate tones and noises. Perhaps this is them at their most appropriative, in many ways, and we should highlight that, but for me, it feels more likely the beginning of their Berlin era. (Or their Munich, more precisely). Sure, they aren’t experimenting in the way Bowie did (at least on the records), but they are pulling apart their core sound, and redefining what Queen could be. This song is iconically Queen, but it sounds like little else they’ve done. Fun it is weirder, and later funk and disco tracks lack the anger and steel of this. And everything else sounds more directly like pop or rock or a tiny opera.

There is a raw sound here. Unlike anything we’ve heard from John before, this is sharp and precise and faintly brutal.

Poor Steve.

Out of the doorway the bullets rip

To the sound of the beat

It’s a fight scene set to music. A gangster film with a disco beat. It’s a dark and dangerous thing. It’s aggressive, defiant and pointedly brutal.

It all breaks down into its component parts, and Freddie’s yelps and bellows marry up with the abstracted noises and effects.

I quite like the way Freddie’s pacing matches the other elements of the track forever, whether he’s rapid firing along with the funk guitar, or imitating the weirder noises of the backing track, or just vocalising the bassline.

It means this stripped back and naked piece of music becomes a vessel for Freddie. It’s John’s track, but that doesn’t mean Freddie isn’t synonymous with every aspect. I almost feel like an instrumental version would be pointless, because Freddie is so interwoven with it. He is the fabric of this song, as immediate as the bass itself.

It’s too familiar now to imagine how striking it must have sounded on the first listen. It’s too engrained in our culture. They used to chant it on bloody Gladiators.

But I’d love to have heard it fresh. Known what it would feel like to hear this band suddenly pull their own rug out from under them, and rocket to the dizziest heights of success as a result.

It’s not my favourite track, but it’s damn striking.

And utterly unforgettable.

 

 

 

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.

Need your loving tonight

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After shaking the 80s by the hand (it’s clear  here that the band saw them coming), we enter the retro portion of the album, and grab ourselves a 60s beat pop track with a few smears of more up to date guitar and harmony.

Need your loving tonight.

It’s a pretty striking contrast, between the two parts of this John Deacon diptych. This is so much closer to what we’ve come to expect from John, a nostalgic love song, solid but lacking innovation. It’s the weakest track on this side, but (a) it’s a brutally top quality side and (b) it’s still a bloody great track.

No I’ll never, look back in anger,

No I’ll never, find me an answer,

It’s just a set of addictive hooks, tied together by a charming vocal, and played with adroit, warm efficiency. Cosy three minute pop, almost to the second. It feels like Queen doing an impression of the early Beatles, a tough thing to attempt. It doesn’t quite capture the charm of that quartet, but it hits a pleasing mark anyway.

It’s also got a surreal approach to love, that might actually be more authentic than most

I’m too exhausted to start a fight

And if I see her with another guy

I’ll eat my heart out ‘cos I love her,

love her, love her, love her

Eating one’s own heart seems to be an odd reaction to post break up jealousy. But it exposes a darkness hiding in the sweetness of the harmony and arrangement. This is the sound of a man swallowing his emotions, and believing in the power of love to fix it, without any thought of how to actual do so, or if it’s okay.

I mean, I guess that’s a typical trap of masculinity, but it seems odd to feel it expressed honestly, and with a modicum of self awareness. Maybe I’m being too generous, but I can easily read a darkness here, and the fact it’s hidden within such a plain and simple love song highlights the danger of simple romantic narratives. Is this what John’s going for? Or is it just another time when someone hits the clichés too closely, and without enough awareness to be critical of them.

There’s even an implied threat, repeated throughout.

I said I’d never, never be angry with you

It’s unpleasant to say the least, when we can’t see how the spoken promise matches the reality.

I can’t tell how deeply to look at The Game as an album. Ostensibly bouncing between love and violence as it is, there’s a weird and unclear pyschological depth to it. At least at times.

Seeing love and romance and as a game is inherently problematic; it reinforces notions of competitiveness and aggression into a thing that should be about understanding and empathy. On the one hand, the album seems aware of this issue, presenting clearly unsettling contrasts between aggressive songs and romantic ones. But maybe it’s just a random collection of moods, and we shouldn’t read so much into the juxtapositions.

But, well, I’ve got words to write, and am forcing myself to look closely.

I don’t know if it’s self aware or not, but the album is interesting. It has certain strangenesses, and we’re nowhere the most problematic part.

This song is probably a bad example, but I think there’s darknesses within, and in something so saccharine, that’s clearly interesting.

At least to me.

At least for now.

 

 
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.

Crazy little thing called love

Crazylove-01

Second bite of retro, and Freddie knocks out a rockabilly classic in the bath, in ten minutes.

Crazy little thing called love.

That’s the story anyway, ten minutes of songwriting in a bath in the Bayerischer Hof hotel in Munich. Then half an hour in the studio (a more believable six is reported by Mack). It doesn’t quite stack up, as I reckon it’s pretty hard to play the guitar in the bath (although admittedly, the Bayerischer might have a bigger bath than mine) and Freddie attributes the quality of the song to his being restricted by his unfamiliarity with the instrument, and so not getting to put as many chords in as he’d normally like.

I actually prefer the self effacing bit of that, damning himself for one of the things that gave his music such depth. Much nicer than showing off about how quickly you can bash out a number one hit (in the US, only number 2 in the UK).

Anyway, the thing we know for sure is that it’s Freddie’s and it’s the first time he’s played guitar on record.

And it’s not a bad try.

I mostly like it for the vocal. The chatter between Freddie and the backing vocals is addictively light, and the whole thing begs you to sing along. Freddie’s Elvis impersonation beckons you to impersonate his impersonation, revelling in the little squeaks and swaggers.

To me it feels like a much more fitting tribute to The King than Dreamer’s Ball, but also a less interesting song.

The breakdown is great though, especially hilarious in the video, where the handclaps emerge from underneath the catwalk. The on the nose-ness of the flattened boogie woogie bass is emphasised as the accompaniment kicks back in.

I shouldn’t pull away from it. My cynicism doesn’t belong anyway near such a radiant and precise track. While the guitar and vocal are looser than usual, they are pitch perfect for the intention. Everything is exactly in place, in a way that gives it a particular kind of timelessness.

Until I’m ready (Ready Freddie)

Crazy little thing called love.

There is little apart from Freddie’s inimitability that marks this as anything other than the authentic thing. It feels absurd to say this about a band as fluid as this one, but this actually doesn’t sound like a Queen track. It lacks the bombast. It’s too authentic a tribute, and that’s somewhat jarring.

It’s a lovely, simple song, that does everything it sets out to do, and is part of the band’s greatest successes. It’s a huge hit. It’s a huge part of the Queen canon, and it’ll be stuck in your head for days.

It really does swing, jive, and shake all over like a jelly fish.

But it doesn’t feel to me like Queen. Except that it is. It obviously is.

The swagger is different. The pace is off. The bombast has been turned too far down (not that the video would let you know).

But I guess that’s the crazy little thing.

Queen were whatever they did. Ferried to the top on a smorgasbord of styles and tones.

And whatever I say, I still want to sing it.

 

 
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.

Rock it (prime jive)

Rockit

It looks like Fun it wasn’t enough.

I’m thinking about starting a new conspiracy wiki. It’s called ‘Roger Taylor secretly invented everything’.

Not content with pages trying to support the ludicrous hypothesis that Roger Taylor invented hip hop, I’m now going to have to broaden it to include the principle that Roger Taylor may have actually invented the 80s.

Rock it (prime jive).

Originally I was going to say that Roger Taylor invented The Buggles, but it turns out they actually released Video Killed the Radio Star a year earlier, which should really put a kibosh on the whole theory, but I don’t care. I’m a Roger Taylor Truther now.

It’s that synth. Actually played by Mack. It turns what could’ve been a blandish rock song (and yet another Taylorian paean to rock and roll) into something that sounds like a precognitive gaze through the 80s. Perfectly biopsying the pulls of hair metal and synth pop, and slathering them over each other into a perfect little blast of danceable rocking messiness.

I’m sure there were a thousand people trying to do this at the time, but it amazes me to find something so on the nose, so joyously stupid, so blissfully childish buried in the midst of a Queen record.

But of course, that’s where everything is hiding.

Because Roger Taylor invented everything.

When I hear that rock and roll

It gets down to my soul,

When it’s real rock and roll, oh rock and roll.

Freddie introduces the show, with a tedious cliché rolling over some arpeggiated melancholy. His panache makes it bearable, and of course, it’s all just a set up for Roger to blast in with his own rock and roll. Full of synths and thus not ‘real’, but it races into the show and wiggles its ass about gleefully.

You really think they like to rock in space?

Well I don’t know

The drum beat is perfect, just a simple hard dance beat. The guitars mostly just hammer forward, except when responding to Roger’s first ‘we’re going to rock it’ where May produces a stilted, exploratory set of noises, abstract and weird, yet perfectly nestled into the structure.

The synths are really what make it though. They undermine the earnestness in a way that makes the whole feel like it’s giggling and wiggling and willing to dance.

Is Roger really trying to make rock and roll for space? Is the whole thing just a charmingly self effacing piss take? Undermining their non-synth stance, while revelling in the cornball fakery that they would have been purported to oppose. Is this real rock and roll? Do they care?

Roger has always had a traditionalist bent, at the same time as loving these strange oddities and experiments. I really can’t put a finger on where he stands. He spends all this time singing about rock and roll, but I still don’t know what he thinks it actually looks like. It’s been pretty much everything. From punk to funk to dance. Taylor will take us anywhere, if he thinks it’s interesting. If he thinks he can rock it.

I love this song. I’d never had time to pay attention before, but it’s yet another surprise that pulls me right in. It’s a perfect, perfect piece of 80s pop, amazing to discover tucked so tightly away. It really is prime jive.

And I’m definitely going to say ‘prime jive’ more often.

C’mon honey

Get me some of that prime jive

I still don’t know what to make of you Roger. But you win me over more often than I ever expect.

Thanks.

 

 
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.

Don’t try suicide

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Content warning: Extremely inappropriate approach to the topic of suicide. There are support lines available worldwide.

But here we go.

Don’t try suicide.

Seriously, this song is so deeply inappropriate that I’m uncomfortable writing about it. I’ve had beloved friends kill themselves, and suicidal ideations myself. There’s a small chance that I’m the one person in the universe that Freddie could pull back from the edge, but that rare exception aside, this is a massively problematic song.

Don’t believe me, haven’t listened yet?

Sigh.

Okay. I’ll try. But bear in mind, I’ve not been trained to talk about this properly, and I legitimately think this song and discussion is likely to be unsafe. Sorry.

So you think it’s the easy way out

Think you’re gonna slash your wrists

This time

Baby when you do it all you do is

Get on my tits

With a bit of distance, it’s hilarious, but it is also very literally someone saying ‘suicide is not the answer because I find it really annoying’.

My understanding of suicide changed quite fundamentally when I read an excerpt of something by David Foster Wallace (who did later kill himself), in which he describes a sort of fire of the mind. If you’re jumping, there’s something hideous that you’re jumping from, unlikely something positive you’re jumping to.

Freddie, normally my hero, boils it down to attention seeking. He genuinely uses the word ‘prick teaser’.

It’s grotesque.

Specifically, it’s grotesque tied to a really catchy blues beat, a punchy chorus and a slamming honky tonk rock middle eight.

I’ve had the song in my head for weeks. It’s hard to push it out. Again, because the main refrain is simply ‘don’t do it’ and the middle eight does lead with the sensible advice that ‘you need help’, it’s not the worst thing to have in your head, but it could easily turn on you.

I have no idea what Freddie’s intention was. Whether he genuinely thought he was being supportive, whether he’s taking the piss and has no respect for people with mental health difficulties, or if he was struggling with his own issues, and finding a safe space to voice them.

It’s definitely ways to chop up the song to make it someone at war with themselves. Someone’s mind arguing about the options, the possibilities, the reasons. Freddie often sounds like his own demons, and this could be another case of that. But wrapped up in the fingersnapping delivery, it just sounds awful.

Because it’s brilliant. It’s a perfect bit of nostalgic jazz, with a dreadfully wrong headed set of lyrics.

And part of me just wants to laugh. It’s so insensitive, it pulls you out of the subject matter, and lets you laugh. It’s hard to laugh while remembering dear friends killed by the subject matter, but then, I most want to remember laughing with them. So maybe, just maybe, it’s okay.

And it’s one of the things about death. It’s impossible to look at. Impossible to think about. Laughter and humour is often the only way to give ourselves perspective, to allow us to look it all in the eye.

Maybe that’s what he’s going for. As I mentioned before, this album is psychologically dark and nebulous. This maybe a bouncy bassline upon which Freddie dissects his own fiery mind, sanitised through musical lightness.

Or maybe he was a dick.

I don’t know.

 

Remember. If you are having suicidal thoughts, get help. 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.

Sail away sweet sister (To the sister I never had)

SailAway

It’s a shame that boy bands didn’t really take their cues from Queen more.

If every band had an incredible one, a quietly lovely one, a creepy but amazing at guitar one and a Roger Taylor one; the whole genre would’ve been improved immensely.

Yes. It’s time for Brian to be a bit creepy again. This time in a surprisingly sweet, but occasionally forgetting what he’s singing about, way.

Sail away sweet sister (To the sister I never had).

It’s a lovely, heartfelt, delicate ballad, which builds in urgency as necessary, and pulses with openness.

But of course, he ends up being weirdly suggestive and judgemental about his sweet sister.

You’re all dressed up like a lady

How come you behave this way

and

Maybe you find somebody

To love you half as much as me

and

I’ll always be in love with you

and

Forgive me for what I told you

My heart makes a fool of me

You know I’ll never hold you

I know that you got to be free

and not to mention

Hot child don’t you know you’re young

Ahem. That last verse, asking for forgiveness does make the whole thing seem more self aware than usual, but it does still sound like even when speculating about a non-existent sister, Brian knows he’s going to tend up apologising for some illicit promise.

It’s a really odd set of statements, in what I assume was intended to just be a story about saying goodbye to people you love. But gone is the sweet concision of loss found in ’39, and instead we just get the impression that Brian feels bad for groping his sister.

I know. I know. I’m equating sex with love, and misreading holding as hugging instead of stopping. Just for the sake of doubling down on my ‘Brian’s a bit creepy’ theme. It’s easy to take the whole and read it as it is intended. Brian’s saying good bye, tearful on the docks, and he doesn’t want to let go of a loved one, and has that weird mix of sadness and happiness you get at seeing someone you care for leave for a better life.

And frankly, right now, it’s all a bit much. A dearly beloved friend left for the North just today, and the sweet embrace of Europe is being pulled away from me.

I’m sad. Is what I’m getting at. I’m sad.

So even though I don’t trust his motives, it’s nice to hear Brian be sad too. It’s a beautiful piece of emotional guitar work, and it contrasts blissfully with Freddie’s more pointed piano.

I most love music when it can connect deeply to my emotions. I feel both music and emotions very physically, and when the pull is in harmony, so to speak, it feels deep, powerful and important. Maybe heartstrings are cheap, but they still need nourishment, and for all their bombast, I think Queen are surprisingly good at nesting their emotions deeply.

Here the most prominent feeling is of hope colliding with loss. The confusing mass of contradiction is vividly present in the chorus, in particular.

But it doesn’t stop it sounding like some creepy old guy telling his sister how to live her life (whilst quietly remembering he can’t).

And yes.

I am feeling sore.

 

 

 

 

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 (although I’m pretty sure she’s just stolen a photo of a nun).

Coming soon

ComingSoon_

Roger again? Already?

Is it a weirdly brilliant one, or a blandly forgettable one?

Both you say? Hmmm.

Coming soon.

There’s plenty of little weirdnesses to like a lot here. The pulsing drum beat is constant. The bass pulls some really nice little tones. The interplay between Freddie and Roger is pretty good.

It’s still presciently representative of the 80s it’s heralding, reminding me not a little of Fame, with it’s repetitive urgency. But it never quite explodes.

I love the echoes on the drum for the intro, the flattening out. I like the ooos and ohs of the second part of the intro, and I like Freddie’s lines a lot.

I get some headaches when I hit the heights

Like in the morning after crazy nights

Like some mother in law in her nylon tights

It’s basically just a list of compaints. Possibly about the future. Possibly about the children. Won’t somebody think of the children. I believe the children are our future. Etc etc.

There’s nothing much to digest in the lyrics to be honest, I’ve written half of them already.

But there’s moments, and there’s energy. The soloish bit, the build into the end. There’s weird noises, somehow sandwiched into this simple throbbing tautness.

It’s not striking enough, but it is striking.

I’m kind of stuck as a result. Nothing much to talk about, just a capable song that makes me smile, but won’t be remembered past the finale.

I’ve talked about this album in three distinct ways so far. As a herald of the 80s, as a slightly weird pyschological journey, and as the collision between ‘late Queen’ and ‘early Queen’. It’s so easy to make these broad sweeping statements, as if they mean much. I think I’m just curious about what people would’ve made of it at the time. This was Queen’s most successful record in America, and in many ways should be the record everyone knows. Of course, their catalogue got too big for albums, and they’ll always be remembered more for the hits and the compilations, such is the nature of success in this era, the consequence of such proliferation.

This project is all about the forgotten tracks (in theory), so it’s no wonder it trips over the forgettable ones.

Anyway, the point is that it is easy to look back and find these patterns, tell these stories. Decide that Brian is creepy and Freddie’s insensitive. Again, the problem with making art is that it will always be interpreted, and if it’s successful, re-interpreted and re-interpreted, again and again.

It’s subjectivity. It’s story telling.

Some stories get forgotten, and I hope Roger never reads this and sees how short a shrift I’ve given to some of his pieces.

Because the secret is, every song is a wonderful little creature. Whether you like it or not, it’s a little orb of noise and storytelling, a little burst of creativity that’s encased in vinyl and sent out into the world.

It’s how I’ve got away with this, so many ways to retell a story. So many moments to pull apart and dissect.

But let us not forget the artful beauty at the heart of the matter. The simple act of telling stories with noises, sending messages with sound, burying acoustic treasure, for everyone to find.

Don’t listen to critics. Just go find the music you love, and let it pour through your ears and into you.

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.

 

 

 

 

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.

Save me

SaveMe

Melancholy bombast.

It’s a hard thing to pull off.

But it’s here. A delicate tale of loss, ensconced in a rousing, desperate anthem.

Save me.

Writing a song for a recently separated friend, Brian finds all his honesty, concision and vividness still intact. Hitting much more precisely a point not far off Sail away sweet sister. The sense of loss here is palpable in every moment, every melody, every word.

The years belie we lived the lie

“I love you ’til I die”

It’s a genuinely heartbreaking turn of phrase. Smartly rhyming to conceal itself, but baring all.

We start off wrapped in piano, the vocal alone and empty. As Freddie sings of crying, he’s soon joined by one set of guitars, and the bass.

The chorus, of course, is enormous. Huge pleading cries, each matched with a weight of guitar. It’s the first time we hear drums, and they punctuated the rest of the song perfectly.

The guitar leads, with bass and piano both flourishing in different directions occasionally. The second chorus is less urgent than the first, but no less powerful.

The addition of synth washes to the pre-solo solo just underscore the memorable sadness of it all.

The chorus is so big, the solos raging alongside. The music creates little less than a sense of drowning, being swept away. It’s a torrent of noise. Never actually dangerous. Never too big to identify with, but it’s still big and scary and dangerous.

Which matches the desperate urgency of the lyrics perfectly.

That little piano coda is haunting. A last tilt of the head downward, the sound of someone giving up (whose going to be okay anyway, because time is time, and life is life).

I love it. So much it hurts, every time.

I love the marrying of vivid details. The striking image early on:

I clothed myself in your glory and your love

twinned with the raging loneliness of the chorus:

I’m naked and I’m far from home

It’s a vivid, sharp description of becoming part of someone’s life, and then extricating yourself. The vulnerability, the suffering. It’s expressed not as anger (for all the raging guitars) but as desperation. It describes so quickly what has been lost, which makes the loss that much more painful.

Being clothed by the love, by someone else’s glory. The everydayness of it. The essentialness.

The starkness of its loss.

I hang my head and I advertise

A soul for sale or rent

I have no heart, I’m cold inside

I have no real intent

It’s one of the loneliest lyrics I’ve ever heard. A sheer and electrifying emptiness.

I love that it doesn’t actually sound like someone trying to beckon back to someone. It’s just someone crying out for help. For support. From anywhere. There’s an awareness so often missing. It feels like someone finally turning outwards, recognising their part, taking responsibility, but still needing help.

Each night I cry, I still believe the lie

I love you ’til I die

The love is a lie. It’s pure and simple, right there. You can’t make the impossible promise, because we’re all fallible, naked and alone. At heart.

I have no real intent.

It doesn’t sound bitter. It doesn’t sound angry. It’s the sound of someone lost at sea.

It’s immediately recognisable.

I think what I love most is how these simple, stark and precise lyrics get driven so deep into your heart by the music. This is Brian’s brilliance. His guitars are singing the underlying pain of the words. His guitars keen and wail and cry. As much is communicated musically as lyrically. Each word driven home and reinforced by the accompanying dance of instruments.

It’s most vivid in those choruses. Where every chord stands desperate and alone. Alongside Freddie’s immaculate vocal painting.

It’s a perfectly stunning piece of song writing, and I’ll hold it in my heart forever.

Even when it hurts.

When I’m naked, and far from home.

 

 

 

 

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.