Radio Ga Ga

radiogaga

The story goes that at some point during the ludicrously fertile recording sessions for this record, Roger Taylor said ‘let’s give them the works’.

And they did.

Radio Ga Ga.

And watch that video, by the way. A deal with Giorgio Moroder (who had worked with Freddie on his solo track Love Kills) and the Communist East German government allowed the band to insert themselves into Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. They spend half the video lounging in a car on a futuristic black and white skyway. It’s the best.

The album comes in at only nine tracks, but four of them deservedly made their way to the greatest hits compilations. The odds are that if you think of an eighties Queen track that isn’t Under Pressure, you’re thinking of a track from this album.

And this is one of the largest.

The record opens with the most synthesised of all possible drums, eventually joined by a Jupiter 8 synthesiser, and guest electrician Fred Mandel slowly integrating an arpeggiated bassline out of the whole thing. Other synths wash all over you, slowly broadening the track. John’s conventional bass joins in, sultrily seducing and sliding.

And Freddie sings.

It’s a plaintive song. Pleading nostalgically, whilst criticising and looking to the future. It sounds like the future of music. The video presents a dystopia, ruled over by the band. The song title is based on Taylor’s tiny child slagging off a band on the radio. The song clearly longs for people huddled around the radio. Remembers it as a childhood friend. It nods to huge historical moments from Welles to Churchill.

It refuses to make its mind up. It refuses to let you go.

It just gets bigger, more expansive. More lustrous.

After Hot Space was panned, the band needed to restate their identity. They held onto the synth and programming, but abandoned much of the funk and disco. They had to do something as epic and sweeping as their old hits, but having gone through all the changes pop had gone through since then. They could’ve gone hair metal, doubled down on the guitar, and forgotten what they’d learnt. But they didn’t, they went the other day, and became the synth era band we remember.

With this. This huge, sweeping, stirring anthem. It’s a track for bringing people together. It’s a track for clapping, for singing along.

So don’t become some background noise

A backdrop for the girls and boys

Who just don’t know or just don’t care

They throw the kitchen sink and sticking in your memory. Vocoder, synth, repetition. A hundred hooks.

But at the same time, the whole thing is so heavily focussed on Mandel’s arpeggiator. That the first half of the solo section is ceded entirely to an almost concrete thudding, only slowly being joined by May’s glass-slide guitar. It speaks of something huge and terrifying. It offers a darkness to the record, a thudding, throbbing denatured cruelty.

It is, frankly irresistible.

It’s Roger, going for that angry, conflicted nostalgia he’s always held for rock and roll, and (with Freddie’s help, apparently) turning it into one of the most broad, warm and kindly anthems you’d ever hear.

Radio Ga Ga is a band reasserting its importance. Saying nothing, except that they’ve got something to say, and they are going to say it loudly.

Radio, Someone still loves you!

It’s a riposte to Buggles, or an assent. It’s hard to say.

I just know it feels me with a genuine glee.

It doesn’t feel half as experimental as the best of Hot Space, but it maintains some of the edge. Just enough to cut deep.

And listen to the way John plays bass as a kind of duelling compliment to the synth. There’s so many lovely touches here. It feels like the song belongs to John, even if it’s written by Roger. The bass makes it, ever so quietly.

Bah. I don’t need to say it, just listen. Watch. Sink into it.

Radio Ga Ga.

Always.

 

 

 

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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Tear it up

tearitup

Okay. Okay. I literally just said they weren’t going to double down on the guitars. And yet, here we are, with May in charge, and a squadron of guitars is going straight for it.

Tear it up.

The first thing you hear is actually just some starkly pounded drums (weirdly, it’s a very similar drum beat to that on the synth drums an intro earlier, but who is counting).

To be fair. Here May conspires with Taylor’s simple stomping drum beat, and Freddie at full tilt to create a solid, simple, and perfectly outrageous rocker. There is almost no depth here, but the surface is immaculate. For any other band, this would be a stone cold hit, the track you immediately put to the front and sell as hard as you can. But of course, this is Queen, and this is the Works.

So this is basically a forgotten B-side.

The lyrics are almost literally nonexistant.

My favourite bit is actually the chorus of people going ‘oh yeah’ in response to some particularly cliched rock nonsense.

(Oh yeah)

But maybe that’s a bit harsh.

We’re centred on a rock foundation so traditional it actually gets away with equating Freddie’s sexuality to a wind up train.

I wanna be a toy at your birthday party

Wind me up – wind me up – wind me up – let me go

That is literally the only lyric that couldn’t have been written by a four year old with the assignment to say ‘what rock sounds like’ and it’s possible that they would still do it if they were close to their next birthday.

But it doesn’t matter. This sort of rock is about attitude, a kind of macho sass. And that’s what it has. My guess is that Brian thought he had to prove something to the audience, or that it might be worth having a back up single in case the poppier stuff didn’t cut it. If Radio Ga Ga had bombed, I imagine this would’ve been the next single.

In case of emergency, break glass.

Tear it up

Stir it up

Stake it out – and you can’t go wrong

There was, of course, no need. Queen had shifted, metamorphosised, and found their way back into synch with the market. Even the rockingest rocks were ready for theatrics at this point.

Oh god. I wasn’t paying enough attention. At the last minute I’ve found another exhibit for the ‘Brian May’s Creepy Creeping’ museum.

It ain’t not time for sleepin’ baby

Soon it’s round you street I’m creeping

-You better be ready –

At least he’s getting more self aware, I guess.

Although that’s basically worse.

Anyway. It’s rock, we aren’t supposed to look at it like that, it’s the sonic embodiment of the male gaze. The brash guitars and power fantasies are the bread and butter of this sound. And to be fair to Queen, one of their charms is how often they undermine that.

But not always, as we’ve seen.

But hey, at least it sounds like a thumping classic.

I gotta tell you baby you’re driving me Ga Ga

Sigh.

 

 

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.

It’s a hard life

hardlife-01

Recipe for gorgeous: kick of with a literal opera, and then sing about how relationships are difficult.

It’s a hard life.

But such an easy song.

Not to write or perform, but to hear. To love.

It does open with a bit ripped off from an opera, giving this huge tearing sense of drama to the opening, presumably representative of the break up bringing about the bout of introspection the rest of the song brings up.

I don’t want my freedom

There’s no reason for living with a broken heart

It’s tough and bleak and powerful. But everything from that moment is empathetic and reassuring and heartfelt and, well, frankly true.

I try to fight back the tears

They say it’s just a state of mind

But it happens to everyone –

Lyrically, there is nothing bold here, but it has a specificity and kindness that makes it feel so damn real. Allegedly intended as a follow up on the same relationship started in Play the game, we check in on Freddie and find things in pieces, inside and out, but Freddie taking a more honest and open approach to it than almost anyone who’s been broken up ever.

I think he’s probably being his own best friend here. Throwing out kindnesses and promises and reassurances to try and mend the unmendable. To try and restore faith in the process of time. The process of living. The things it can do.

It’s hard. But it goes.

And so does the song. It goes on, upwards, outwards, richer and deeper. It’s one of Freddie’s masterpieces. A huge sweeping piece of piano and song wrapped in so much pompous warmth.

In a world that’s filled with sorrow

There are people searching for love in every way –

Is there a more hopeful, more optimistic song about sadness and difficulty out there.

A song that begins finding life worthless but ends with a bold, solid and furtive statement on the deep abiding worth of love and life itself.

It’s a long hard fight –

But I’ll always live for tomorrow

I’ll look back at myself and say I did it for love.

Yes I did it for love – for love- oh I did it for love.

And what did he do for love?

He lived.

That’s all.

It’s such a humane song. Such a necessary positivity. The hopefullness cuts right into it’s ivory bones, with a welcoming deep hug of pianowork.

Freddie acts as his own shoulder to cry on, and in so doing, gives us all a shoulder (I’d recommend not the one with the enormous feathery shoulderpad).

I can’t separate the voices in the song. On some level, I think we’re supposed to picture two friends walking down the street, deep in self care. One’s travails, and the other’s reassurances. But they aren’t separated out. Because while this is a song about surviving alone, it’s also a song about living together. How hard that is.

But it doesn’t sound needy. It doesn’t sound desperate.

It doesn’t once sound like Freddie is going to go back and try and hold on to the broken pieces of relationship. He just needs the pieces of himself, and the love to carry on..

And he finds it. Not in another person, but in everybody. In the simple act of living

The chorus extends, every repeat. Every time it becomes too obsessed with putting the lost back together, it leaves it hanging, until it eventually finds something else.

The hard fight, not just of a relationship, but of life itself.

Because everybody is searching.

Freddie doesn’t want to fix that one relationship. He starts a new one with the world.

It’s beautiful, simple, and it makes my heart burst.

I think there are few love songs so precise, so correct. So honest, so optimistic, and so willing to let go.

But not of everything.

It refuses to let go of life.

No matter how hard.

For love.

 

 

 

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.

Man on the prowl

manontheprowl

Ugh.

I just can’t get on with the rockabilly, Elvis impersonator thing.

Man on the prowl.

I get it. I get it. It serves a lot of purposes. It’s a tribute to a hero. It’s roll in nostalgia. It’s weird riposte to the accusations of going too synth. It counterbalances the futurism with a backward gazing nostalgia.

And yes, you do a pretty good Elvis voice.

But, well, I just can’t get on board.

I don’t think I can even be bothered to wonder whether you’re being creepy, or making an ironic comment on the creepiness of rock music in general. I can’t be arsed to attempt to give you credit for subversion that probably isn’t there.

I can’t even be bothered to look at that instrumental bit at the end where it all gets a bit chaotic and interesting for about ten seconds before signing off with a little piano rock coda.

I might just give it the credit of searching for a lyric with a rude word on it.

ass

But really, I’m just not interested in Queen as tribute act.

But on that note, I’ll digress, so we’ll all be fine, and I’ll still hit word count.

I’ve only seen two Queen tribute acts. They’re pretty weird things. For a start, neither of them have singers with Freddie or Roger’s range, so they miss notes that are absolutely critical.

For a second, this was a band with furious presence and legendary charisma. Its inimitable.

On some levels, this doesn’t matter. The songs are what we’re here for, and knowing you’ll never see the real thing, it’s still lovely to stand with a huge crowd of people and sing along to wonderful songs that are buried deep in your psyche.

But on other levels, you often drop into the uncanny valley, where something sounds so nearly right, that it’s really unsettling when a note is pitched wrong, or even just missed out entirely.

It seems rude to want a perfect rendition, when the band would’ve screwed with things no end (and in fact, many tributes will do the research, and do the slightly different versions from various live records). The live performances are broadly out of the scope of this project, because for me, my idea of a Queen live show is this fantastical set of performances that has swum through my head since I first heard them.

So of course, a tribute act is competing with an unfair dream version of a thing.

But then, that’s what you sign up for, I guess. Always being second rate, but getting to lap up some of that love, even if you know you are just channelling it back to a band that no longer really exists. To a hero that has left the building.

I think it’s respectful though. Even if it’s never quite hit the spot.

Which I guess is what’s going on here, too. Yet another tribute to the hero Elvis, trapped in a valley of never being able to be the thing it tries to be.

I can’t be arsed with it.

It sounds like a functionally upbeat piece of rockabilly about being creepy and desperate.

Hope that’s not too much of a cop out.

 

 

 
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.

Machines (or Back to humans)

machines-01

I’ve spent a lot of time recently watching a fictionalised account of the origins and development of personal computers during the period this album was recorded and released.

I also spent a chunk of last night discussing the ethics of robotic sex.

So I’m probably about ready for this slightly paranoid, but mostly exploratory expression of human machine interfacing.

Machines (or Back to humans).

Narratively, the song can’t seem to decide if it’s describing an apocalyptic vision of the future, or of the present, or a utopian one of either. It might just be paranoia, predictions of being replaced by robots or drowning in computer devices.

When the machines take over

It ain’t no place for [rock and roll]*

Freddie sings the human side, criticising and fearful, while Roger reassures as the vocodered robot.

The whole thing is actually a collaboration between Brian and Roger. And it sounds like it. There’s the throbbing experimental darkness you’d expect from Roger, and the edgy, frantic and powerful guitars you’d expect from Brian. Mack provides a bedrock of synthesised ‘demolition’ too.

So you end up with a caustically electronic stomper. It’s got weight and darkness, but accidentally sounds too rich and engaging to be as bleak as the pictures it paints.

Also, I’m giving a bit too much semantic weight to lyrics that are clearly just an attempt to chuck as many computerised puns and rhymes into as small a space as possible.

What’s that machine noise

It’s bytes and megachips for tea

It’s that machine, boys

With Random Access Memory

Different elements slowly drip into each other. Brian’s guitar riff emerges in fragments, stopping constantly, waiting to be rebooted. Freddie’s second verse starts talking over Roger’s robot. The whole thing feels like it’s relentlessly growing. Bigger, darker, more brutal. But it also feels like it’s opening out, getting warmer, fuller…more productive.

Maybe I’m wrong to detect positivity in there, but I just think it’s too warm an apocalypse. Too welcoming a beat to tell us something’s awful.

It’s software, it’s hardware

It’s heartbeat is time-share

It’s midwife’s a disk drive

It’s sex-life is quantised

It’s self perpetuating a parahumanoidarianised

I guess we’re also talking about Terminator here, but I can’t help that they’re tugging at a humanity in machines. Not finding it, but hoping for it.

And the quantised sex-life line is a perfect little bite of the future. I love the idea that Freddie is mostly worried that sex with robots could be boring because they don’t have quite enough swing in their step. Nobody wants their lovemaking run through an autocorrect, right?

It’s obviously not even as deep as that, just a set of lyrics come up with whilst flicking through the manual of your new synthesiser.

But I kind of love the world it paints, subtle details enough to detail a war taking place not on the battlefield, but in the living room. Even if it posits a conflict, it really doesn’t paint it as Skynet’s terminators, but simpler appliances.

We have no disease, no trouble of mind

We’re fighting for peace, no regard for the time

We never cry, we never retreat

We have no conception of love or defeat

There’s a real set of contradictions and questions there. Are we more worried about machines not understanding love, or not knowing defeat? Is peace worth time? What does that even mean?

It’s absurd fearful nonsense, but it nudges at all the right and real questions. Once we’ve got a computer that can do a reasonable impression of Roger Taylor, what do we do with it? How do we relate to it? Should we be scared? Horny?

And in the end, the question is simple. When the world changes, how do we live?

Living in a new world

Thinking in the past

Living in a new world

How you gonna last

Machine world… it’s a machine’s world…

Because the world had already changed. And it already has. The grand philosophical questions are occasionally useful tools, but mostly just for making us flexible enough to adapt to these changes. The question is not about whether we’ll survive the robots, still be human. The question is how we’ll live with them.

And by the time we’re asking that question, we’re probably already there. We just won’t have noticed, because it’s already that world.

Back to humans?

There’s no going back. No back to go to.

Only humans. Still figuring it out.

 

 

* Freddie definitely sings rock and roll, but the liner notes have you and me

 

 

 

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.

I want to break free

breakfree-01

This song legitimately provided me one of the happiest moments of my life.

Mornings are horrible for me, and sometimes I power through them with bombastic, uplifting music. In my old flat, I’d taken to listening to stuff on headphones to avoid disturbing my housemates. I’d also got accustomed to the fact that I could slip my netbook into the pocket of my dressing gown, and use it as a walkman.

I head downstairs to put the kettle on and fry something unsightly. And I can’t help but sing along.

I don’t think I even noticed I was doing it.

But the next thing I know, my housemate’s partner is singing with me.

We slowly realise that everyone in the house is actually up, and I switch sound to run through the speakers.

For just a few minutes, the whole house is singing, early in the morning, just revelling in it, before we get ready for our respective drudgeries.

It was perfect.

I want to break free.

The album version cuts out part of the intro, and half of the synth solo, so you may want to remember the full edit, including the naked body conveyor belt. Why the video is remembered for the drag, and not the naked body conveyor belt in the cupboard under the stairs, I’ll never know.

Not least because the conveyor is made up of the Royal Ballet, and Freddie is dressed as Njinsky’s faun from Debussy’s L’Après-midi d’un faune. Fuck yeah, Freddie.

The video turned the song into one about a form of liberation, I think, and according to the traditional story, it was this, more than the album’s worth of disco, that turned off America to Queen. There was too much queerness here, for the yanks, or so we’re told. A step to far for real rock.

But of course, it’s idiotic no matter how you spell it.

I want to break free is a phenomenal pop song. John Deacon proving that when he nails it, he nails it to the wall, and then the wall falls down, because he’s just that good.

A simple, subtle little loop of bass guitar and drum purrs underneath, given ever such a tiny bit of texture by extra guitars (only really becoming invasive during for the bridge (or is it just a weird chorus? I can never tell).

Judging from the notes I’ve been reading, John spent a long time trying to secure a single without a guitar solo, and here’s where he finally gets it. The irony being that the first half of the solo (the only part on the album version) is basically just a synthesised impression of a traditional Brian.

It doesn’t matter. It’s still gorgeous. A big throbbing slab of passion, in the midst of this blissful little love song. It’s near comical, but it’s also just perfect. It’s the sound of being free. Of the Njinsky’s faun in all of us. The milder warmth of the extended solo, which runs as washes under the next repeat of the chorus/verse/whatever it is.

There is a contradiction in the lyrics, somewhere. It’s a song about being free, wanting to escape from something, but it’s also a story of being recently broken up. The narrator walks away from love, but keeps coming back. Identifies it as romance, walks away, but then can’t get used to living without, living without, living without you.

It’s just open enough to be about anything, to appeal to any heart that’s ever been in conflict. It’s a love song, I’m sure, but it’s mostly about being free, being yourself.

It’s got one of those perfect little contradictions in it:

I’ve fallen in love

I’ve fallen in love for the first time

And this time I know it’s for real

That ‘for the first time, and this time’ is just typical, just brilliant. It’s a proper universal, the feeling of excitement and self delusion. Every time is the first time. This time it’s not a mistake. Because it’s the first time. The other times don’t count.

Not now

And really, the whole song is this sort of observation. It might be incredibly, incredibly cynical. Trying to piece together how one person can oscillate so quickly between wanting to break free, and not wanting to be alone, is basically one of the core tenets of relationships. Balancing acts. Understanding.

(Assuming, that is, that there is such a thing as a core tenet of relationships in a world where everything is unique, and nothing is universal, and most of our relationship rhetoric is based on straight, bland, patriarchal assumptions.)

But I hope that Deacy gets it. Maybe.

I don’t want to live alone, her

God knows, got to make it on my own

So baby can’t you see

I’ve got to break free.

Don’t live alone. Got to break free. It’s not a long journey from one to the other. Do we see the contradiction? Does being free mean capturing someone else?

To be honest, I don’t feel like it’s about relationships. It’s always felt like a song about hearts.

Hearts that want to be free.

And either way, as long as it’s this much fun to sing along, and I can belt it out with friends and loved ones, it’ll always be a perfect piece of pop.

Because it’s about being together, as much as being free.

And that’s clearest when you sing it loud.

 

 

 

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.

Keep passing the open windows

OpenWindows-01.jpg

It’s an odd one. Not particularly experimental, but very different in tone to much else that’s here.

Keep passing the open windows.

It was part of a soundtrack to a film, but they decided they were too busy, and the film decided that it wanted to go classical.

That might be because this would’ve sounded really weird in just about any film.

It opens with a burst of drums, and a cascade of corny lyrics, sprawling slowly, before suddenly bursting up and out into a totally different tone.

You just gotta be strong and believe in yourself

Forget all the sadness ’cause love is all you need

It’s not the most original sentiment, and maybe the whole song isn’t.

But as the drum explodes, the bass thrums and the piano hammers, it starts to charm. Guitars are cut in and out, and eventually it all picks up, after a segue of odd guitar and percussion, into the core beat. Which is pulsing and energetic in a kind of optimism that feels so wholly eighties that it’s hard to resist.

Apparently the title is the catchphrase of the lead family of the film. Keep passing the open windows as a motivational statement, a way of saying ‘keep at it, carry on’. It’s grim though, it’s because someone failed to pass the open window and killed themselves. It reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut’s heartbreaking koan of a catchphrase, ‘so it goes’.

But it sounds like a mess of corn and cliche in this context.

The wrapping is strong though. It commits fully to that feeling. The sentiment is simple, so the tune is too. Pianos plug away, guitars occasionally go wild, but mostly just punctuate and stab. The bass and drum just hammer away, making sure everything keeps moving. It’s fairly by the numbers.

And really, it’s good advice, keep passing the open window, keep on moving, it’ll be okay if you keep moving.

So the song never slows, always passes. Naturally it’s a slow fade.

Those two slow bits, one at the start, one at the halfway mark, are the only times it opens out, and those are were Freddie tries to pull you closest.

Wake up screaming in the middle of the night

You think it’s all been a waste of time

It’s been a bad year

And of course, the lyrics are brutal and harsh throughout. As warm and forward moving as the song is, apart from the chorus and those breaks, it paints a bleak picture, and just asks you to carry on. On little more than a platitude and a pulsing drumbeat.

I kind of want to watch this film now, The Hotel New Hampshire. It feels like it might have a tone almost as awkward and confused as this song. Although I still can’t quite see how you’d fit this song into a film.

I guess it was the 80s, tone was different then, maybe.

Although that lost album, the potential soundtrack this could have spawned..sure, it would’ve given me more writing to do, but I wonder what the hell it would’ve sounded like. Without sci fi to let them be ridiculous, could Queen make something restrained enough for a real world?

I’d have liked to hear it.

But that’s not how it happened, and we’ve just got this.

I don’t think it’s going to help much, but I’ll keep taking the advice.

And keep passing the open windows.

 

 

 

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.

Hammer to fall

hammer-01

Huge slabs of guitar, punchy lyrics, and the inevitability of death.

Hell yeah.

We’re just waiting for the Hammer to fall.

It’s probably one of the straightest rockers on the second greatest hits. It’s so energetic and powerful and dramatic and memorable. It’s your perfect piece of stadium rock.

It manages to not be bland just by being so perfectly precise. Each riff feels heavy, but oddly delicate. There’s a lot of silences and sharpnesses, in amongst the blasts of guitar.

And it’s just a solid lump of badass, really. Queen never really abandoned rock, no matter what some people might say, and kept crafting perfect little blasts of guitar right to the end.

It’s still the perfect blend of theatrics and thumping though. The backing vocals (almost entirely May, who, predictably, wrote the song) give it drama and heft. The guitar solo is long and exploratory, with at least three distinct sections. The transition back to verse has a pleasingly thudding variant on the drum beat.

And Freddie just rips through it, making it sound about twice as fast as it actually is.

Lyrically, it’s bleak as all hell, whilst still managing to be inspiring.

Here we stand or here we fall

History won’t care at all

The world doesn’t care and we’re all going to die. But as long as we thump a guitar, strut a stage and belt out rhymes with verve, it doesn’t matter.

Which makes sense in the context of the final verse.

For we who grew up tall and proud

In the shadow of the Mushroom Cloud

Convinced our voices can’t be heard

We just wanna scream it louder and louder

It’s almost a vindication of the excess of the glam metal attitude of the 70s and 80s. If you grow up expecting people you’ve never met to annihilate the world, what else is there to do but shout and scream. The song actively justifies escapist rock as a vent for the powerless, and a challenge to the powerful. It has no hope, none at all, but it still wants to scream.

I admire that. It still fits. Part of me wants to brush it off as teenaged, but actually, it’s just a cry of disaffection, and a pretty nuanced response. I don’t think it’s just the guitar hooks that are very precise. It think this song is one of May’s more accurate pieces of writing.

But lift your face, the Western Way –

Build your muscles as your body decays.

It’s savage. It’s a brutal image. It’s smart.

What the hell we fighting for?

Just surrender and it won’t hurt at all

You just got time to say your prayers

While you’re waiting for the Hammer to Fall

There’s a desperation. A call to give up. Or you’re being told to give up. It’s ambiguous.

May’s on the record as saying it’s not intended as a grand political thing, but I think it’s inescapable. But for what it’s worth, Brian didn’t say it was just meaningless tosh, he says it’s simply about death. Waiting for us all, the big old hammer.

Either way, it’s a dark tone for such an uplifting and powerful piece of rock.

But it does work, because it asks you to revel in the little power you have. It asks you to look death and war in the eye, and keep on singing.

Which is beautiful, necessary and right.

Scream it louder and louder.

We’re just waiting….

 

 

 
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.

Is this the world we created…?

world

This is about as simple as it gets. Freddie and Brian watching the telly, getting sad and writing a song about it.

Is this the world we created…?

There’s an amount of emotional whiplash coming straight out of something that treated death and abandoned hope as something fill a stadium with and in to this. We just have a simple, super short guitar ballad, played quietly, with simple but impactful lyrics over the top.

Is this the world we created

What did we do it for

Is this the world we invaded

Against the law

So it seems in the end

Is this what we’re all living for today

The world that we created.

On the one hand, it’s trite as fuck, and falls into that trap of focussing on how sad it is for someone to see someone else suffering. On the other hand, it does mostly take responsibility, including acknowledging (‘the world we invaded | against the law’) the crime of colonialism.

It does always frame it as a question though. Taking the focus away from responsibility, and back on the fear of having done something wrong. Which again, is avoiding the point.

And of course, it’s best known for its performance at Live Aid 85, which I’m too young to remember except by reputation (and actually used to mix up with the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert in my head, for a while). Part of the finale, it’s exactly the sort of tone of that event. With all the side-eye that demands, but also maybe some of the praise. I still don’t really know the value of awareness raising, but it’s so easy to see the smugness of it, that I don’t know how to measure or think about the real cultural impact of what was happening at the time. There’s a falseness to a load of wealthy rock stars suddenly developing a conscience, but there’s also a realness to the idea that the way people were looking at the world was changing. You can’t really undermine the impact of 1.9 billion viewers across the world.

And so Freddie and Brian did their job. They expressed a sadness for people to connect with, hoping to help take responsibility and make some changes.

But of course, the real problem is that the chances aren’t simple. You can’t just throw money at problems and walk on. And of course, songs like this aren’t here to think about what to do, they just want people to listen, pay attention.

But it’s not clear if that’s enough.

And married to Hammer to fall, which revels so hard in the hopelessness of controlling the world and our lives, it makes for a strange diptych.

The final verse reaches for god, and almost sounds like it’s ducking the blame, trying to turn us into people who lost sight of someone else’s plan, rather than people who are responsible.

If there’s a God in the sky looking down

What can he think of what we’ve done

To the world that He created.

It’s the kind of sentiment that sticks in my craw, not because it features a deity, but because it seeks to void responsibility and look up to an invisible father figure for punishment.

Although maybe that’s my lapsed Catholic upbringing, always equating God with unusable guilt.

I’m probably sounding just as trite and preachy and lacking in solutions as the record, so I’ll stop.

I just think that the explicit political message here is weaker than the implicit ones we’ve seen elsewhere in the back catalogue. The problem with spelling out your message is that it just doesn’t cut as deep, or feel as personal.

But, it’s also a hard message to argue with.

Because, on the most basic of levels, this is very much the world we created.

And we do have to deal with that.

 

 

 
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.