Queen – Sheer Heart Attack

I went to the movies the other day and one of the previews was for the upcoming movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” which is the story of one of the most creative bands to ever grace the face of vinyl: Queen.
I’ve had their music stuck in my head ever since.

When I first heard the song “Bohemian Rhapsody”, I thought it was the first song I had heard by Queen. A short time later, while rummaging through some records that belonged to my best friend’s uncle, I discovered it was not – “Killer Queen” off of Queen’s previous album “Sheer Heart Attack” was my first introduction to Queen.

“Sheer Heart Attack” is, in my opinion, one of the 100 albums everyone should hear before they die. I don’t know if it made Rolling Stone magazine’s similar list, but I’m not going to research it; it’s on mine and that’s all that matters (to me anyway).

“Sheer Heart Attack” was the first Queen album I had heard in its entirety and it absolutely blew me away – multiple times. From the echo effect Brian May uses in stereo to play guitar parts along side and along with himself to “Now I’m Here” which uses the same effect to make Freddie Mercury’s incredible voice bounce from here on the left side of the room to there on the right, to the metal edged “Stone Cold Crazy” to the campy “Bring Back that Leroy Brown” to the weird and wonderful “In the Lap of the Gods” to the familiar “Killer Queen”, on “Sheer Heart Attack” it seemed Queen was pulling out all the stops and not afraid to try anything. Little did I know that on their follow-up album “A Night at the Opera” Queen would prove they still had many more stops to pull out.

I am looking forward to the “Bohemian Rhapsody” movie as much as I have any Queen album. It has been a long time in the making and has seen numerous delays along the way. Still, even if it were to never see the light of day (which it looked like for a while) there’s always the music of Queen, and really, when you get right down to it, thats all that really matters.

Queen – Jazz

With Queen, you always had to expect the unexpected.

I remember when Jazz, Queen’s seventh album came out. I knew I was going to buy it before I ever heard anything on it. By the time it was released, “Fat Bottomed Girls” and Bicycle Race” were already two established hits on the radio. To say I was huge Queen fan is an understatement. Anyway, when I got home from the record store, I removed the cellophane from the cover and went to remove the sleeve with the record inside…but wait. There was something unexpected in there – a poster.

Back in vinyl’s golen age, every now and then, bands would include posters or other extras in with their albums. When I noticed the poster, I figured it was some sort of picture of the band. I’d check that out in a moment. The first order of business was the music. Jazz was everything I had come to expect from Queen. By that, I mean it was filled with lots unexpected musical moments I’m its songs.

Then it came time to check out the poster. Like I said, I had expected it to be a photo of Queen, either posing or performing live. I was wrong. The poster was a photo from the start of a bicycel race. Literally hundreds of bicyclists all lined up.

All of them women.

All of them naked.

Yeah, that was most unexpected.

Steve Hackett – Please Don’t Touch

“Please Don’t Touch” was the second solo album by Steve Hackett and his first after leaving Genesis.

Although Steve Hackett never achieved the mega-stardom that Genesis did, he has a strong, faithful following among music lovers. He is also regarded as one of the most influential guitarists in rock and roll. His guitar techniques have influenced numerous rock guitarists including Brian May of Queen and Alex Lifeson of Rush. Hackett was using the two-handed tapping technique in his solos years before anyone had heard of Eddie Van Halen. He has released 25 solo albums including 2017’s “The Night Siren”.

25 albums and this is the only one in my collection. There’s something wrong with that. I suppose I should do something about it…

…to be continued…

Queen – Live Killers

It’s kind of strange that when I first heard “Live Killers” by Queen I was disappointed, yet today it’s one of my favorite live albums. I think my problem back then, was that I was expecting carbon copies of what Queen had done in the studio played in front of an audience. That was not Queen’s intent for their first official live album. Like any exceptional live album, the purpose of “Live Killers” was to capture the energy, excitement, and atmosphere of Queen in concert; in that respect, this album kills it.

There are a couple sing alongs with the audience, a sit down acoustic set, lots of extended solos, and audience interaction; lots of audience interaction. Queen was a band that was all about performing. Whether it be in the studio or live on stage, they always strived to create something unique and original. And that’s what makes “Live Killers” so good. It is as original as Queen themselves.

I think that’s really why I had reservations about ” Live Killers” at first. I was expecting it to be a typical live album by a band. I should have known better. Queen is anything but a typical rock band. Why would I expect “Live Killers” to be anything like a typical live album?

Queen – The Game

Queen is one of the most versatile and creative rock bands ever.  Freddie Mercury has an incredible vocal range and knows how to use it. Brian May’s guitar extravagance in both tonal qualities and technical ability are unequaled. Roger Taylor has a unique drumming style that is immediately recognizable (for one, he loves to play the hi-hat just slightly behind the snare drum making it sound like one elongated beat) and John Deacon is absolutely solid on bass. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, they were a band that was never afraid to try anything new. Except for synthesizers.

Queen always seemed staunchly defiant to synths. Not to the point of ever talking negatively about them. But they did make a point on their first six albums to somewhere in the liner notes, point out that “no synths” were used on the albums.

Quite honestly, on those early Queen albums, synthesizers weren’t missed. It was actually quite amazing some of the sounds Brian May could wring out of a guitar, making tones and sonic fluctuations that many bands would need to use a synthesizer to even come close to. Then again the guy was a thesis away from a doctorate in astrophysics when Queen’s success took off, and did all his own guitar electronics, so it wasn’t that surprising that he could be pretty amazing. (He did finally write his thesis and receive his doctorate in 2007, and has since co-authored a book on the origins of the universe).

I don’t think any of my close friends would be surprised to know that I love reading liner notes on albums. I could say “the more the merrier” but that would be untrue. I don’t necessarily want to have the back cover or inner sleeve plastered in paragraphs of text, but it’s nice to have some interesting information about the songs or the band or the recording sessions – and lyrics are always nice. It’s all about the balance.

When I heard the opening to Queen’s seventh studio album, I knew – there was no doubt in my mind – I mean, Brian May could do some amazing things on guitar – but that was a synthesizer. And as I read the liner notes, there it was in black and white: “This album includes the first appearance of a Synthesizer (an Oberhein OBX) on a Queen album“.

There were no apologies or explanations given . Then again, none were really needed. Queen never denounced the use of synths. They just made it clear to those who paid close attention, that they didn’t use them. On “The Game”, they made it clear to that same crowd that on this album they were going to start.

The use of synthesizers didn’t ruin “The Game” – it made it a stronger album. Synthesizers allowed Queen to expand their sound beyond where they had gone before.

“The Game” went on to be one of Queen’s most successful albums, and one of my personal favorites by them. That’s in part, because they chose to use synths on it. “The Game” wouldn’t sound the same without them. Queen just had to know how to use them but not over do it. After all, it’s all about the balance.

Queen

One of the joys I’ve always had with record collecting, is going back and discovering earlier albums by bands I like. After first hearing Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, all over the radio, I was enthralled by their originality. After buying the album “A Night at the Opera”, and hearing “Sheer Heart Attack”, which a friend of mine discovered in his uncle’s record collection, I felt compelled to check out other music by this truly original band. Queen only had four albums out at this time and I had already heard two of them, so I figured I pick up their eponymous debut.

From the opening song , “Keep Yourself Alive” with is heavily phased guitar panning from the left to right speaker, I knew this was going to be a unique record that, just like their later records, would take full advantage of stereo sound. The production was a bit rougher than their later albums that I had heard, but it had a huge amount of variety and experimentation – a very ambitious album, especially for a band coming right out of the gate. The lyrics covered a wide range of topics from the mystic and medieval to religion; from personal introspection to songs that were about just having a good time.

When it comes to bands I like, I’ve always appreciated originality and innovation over virtuosity and technical ability, but I still highly regarded the latter. Queens first album had an abundance of both. It will always be one of my favorite albums of all time.

Billy Squier – Don’t Say No

I remember the first time I heard Billy Squire’s breakthrough album “Don’t Say No”. The song “The Stroke” totally grab me. When I heard it on the radio, I almost immediately went to the PX (that’s post exchange for anyone who hasn’t been in the military – kind of like a department store on a military base) and bought the album. 

I remember thinking when I first listened to it “what band did this guy used to play in?” I was amazed after doing some digging, that he hadn’t really played in any band that had ever made it. I had heard of the band Piper, but never heard anything by them. And seriously, does anyone remember Piper? Maybe I’ll have to try to dig something up by them at a used record store one day, just for the historical record. I like doing stupid stuff like that. 

But I digress.

Billy Squier was an incredibly talented guitarist. And he had some very talented friends who helped springboard his career. When it came time for William Haislip Squier to record his second album, he asked his friend Brian May, from the band Queen, to produce it for him. Unfortunately, Brian was tied up with Queen stuff. 

But… 

Brian May recommended the services of Mack, whom Queen had started working with on their album “The Game”. It was a natural fit. If you listen closely to “Don’t Say No”, it’s easy to hear the influence of Mack and Queen in Billy Squire’s sound. Billy remained friends with the members of Queen throughout his career, and even teamed up with Queen members Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor on his follow-up albums.

I have to say, I never thought after being a DJ many, many years ago that I would ever be asked to play requests again. But I had a good friend tell me she really wanted me to put Billy Squire’s “Don’t Say No” album on my blog. 

Thank you Jeannette for having me scour the used record stores trying to find this album and to rediscover what a gem of an album it is.

Sweet – Give Us A Wink

Sweet was a band that never could really find who they wanted to be. But that’s not really a bad thing. In the wake of trying to find who they were as a band, they left a flood of great music. Hands down, “Give Us A Wink” was the hardest rocking album Sweet ever did. This was Sweet’s attempt at metal, and just like Led Zeppelin didn’t white nail reggae with their song “D’yer Mak’r” and Radiohead didn’t quite nail electronica with their album “Kid A”, sweet doesn’t quite nail metal here. But they come up with something that is so close, and at times, so much cooler.

There weren’t really any big hits off “Give Us A Wink”, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a phenomenal album. Sweet, up to this point has been restricted by their management and had a lot of their songs written for them. This was the album where they decided they were going to do what they wanted to do. And what they wanted to do was rock their asses off.

Sweet never holds back on this album. The “Action” starts with a synth leading into vocal arrangements that segues into distorted power chords, a cash register, and a great guitar solo (yes, I said a cash register). It doesn’t let up until the last song on side one, and then only slightly. “Healer” could hardly be called a mellow song – it has more of a slow, eerie and then bluesy feeling.

My only gripe about this album is that the beginning to side two opens with “The Lies In Her Eyes” with its synthesizer opening that is a bit too familiar with “Fox On The Run”, a previous hit by Sweet. But the moment is short, but Sweet.

Cockroach has one of the coolest reverb drenched drum intros of any song. It is followed by “Keep It In” which is an unbelievably twisted Jam. This was the song where Sweet put out to prove that as musicians, they were a force to be reckoned with. This was followed by the album closer, “Fourth Of July”, which brings it down just a little (but not much).

Previous to this album, I had heard Sweet only on their two hits at that time, “Fox on the Run” and “Ballroom Blitz”. A girl that I was seeing for very brief time, had an 8-track tape of “Give Us A Wink” and gave it to me because she didn’t like it. I loved it.

Queen – A Night At The Odeon

Christmas eve, 1975. A sold out show at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. One of the first times Queen played Bohemian Rhapsody live. A performance broadcast live on the BBC but never released (except as a bootleg recording) until 2015.

Queen was a band that not only did some incredible stuff in the studio, they knew how to put on one helluva show at their concerts. A Night At The Odeon is Queen captured live and in top form only a few weeks after the release of their fourth album, A Night At The Opera. In that short time, the album had already sold over one million copies, becoming Queen’s first platinum album, and Bohemian Rhapsody had just become the band’s first number one single in the U.K. 

From Brian May’s dual echo guitar extravagance in Brighton Rock to Roger Taylor’s blister pounding drum solo in Keep Yourself Alive. From John Deacon’s distinctly solid bass lines throughout to Freddie Mercury’s unbelievable four octave vocal range, this is Queen holding nothing back to give the audience, in the theatre and across the radio airwaves, a Christmas eve they would never forget.

Yesterday would have been Freddie Mercury’s 71st birthday. Sadly, he lost a long battle with AIDS at the way too young age of 45. 

Happy Birthday Freddie.  

Queen – News Of The World

Picking the songs on an album that are going to resonate with record buyers and give you a hit single can be a tricky thing, especially when you’re a band with songs as diverse as Queen. Sometimes the song you choose is right on the mark. Sometimes you pick one that goes nowhere and miss the one that could have been. Still other times, you get really lucky and pick a winner, but the throw-away you put on the B side becomes just as big of a hit.

“We Will Rock You” has become a song that almost everyone knows, yet Queen almost didn’t put it on their sixth album, “News Of The World”. In the end they decided to put it as the album’s opening song because it was short and seemed like a good prelude to kick the album off with; but surely not a hit single. They also decided to use it as the B-side to “We Are The Champions,” the obvious hit single to release from the album.

When radio stations received copies of “We Are The Champions,” they of course, started playing it. As anticipated, it resonated with listeners and became a hit for the band. But soon, radio stations also started playing the flip side to the single, “We Will Rock You,” because it was getting just as many requests from listeners. Since the songs were back-to-back on the album, when radio stations received copies it, they started playing both songs together, almost as if they were one song. So Queen decided to release “We Will Rock You” as a single as well, with “We Are the Champions” as the other A-side. Both songs are still played together regularly on classic rock radio stations and remains two of Queen’s most popular songs.

One song I always thought Queen should have released as a single off “News of the World” was “It’s Late.” It is one of my all time favorite Queen songs and perfectly highlights both the Freddie Mercury’s incredible vocal abilities and the guitar extravagance of Brian May.