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 ambitios alblum, 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 tring 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 reister). 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 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, Had an 8-track tape of “Give Us A Wink” and gave it to me because she didn’t like it. I think I broke up with her because of her poor taste in music.

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.

Brian May and Friends – Starfleet Project

When Brian May went into the studio with Eddie Van Halen and Alan Gratzer (drummer for REO Speedwagon) to record the songs on Starfleet Project, he had no intention of releasing the songs from the sessions.  Because of his son, he had become a fan of a Japanese sci-fi show on the BBC, and had been wanting to record a hard rock version of the program’s theme song.  Fate be as it may, Eddie, and Alan happened to be in the same town as Brian one day – and they all had some down time away from their repective bands. So they hooked up with a couple well respected session musicians and booked a nearby recording studio.

Of course, they all wanted to get a feel for playing together, so they warmed up by doing a couple improvised jams together. One was on top of a song Brian had recently penned and the other was a totally improvised, nearly thirteen minute instrumental blues jam. All three songs come across with such a loose feel, that it’s easy to picture them smiling at each other as they find their muse within each other. 

I’m just thankful that after hearing the songs, Brian’s family was able to convince him to release the songs from the sessions as a Mini LP.

Vinyl Jungle Trivia:  Brian May has a PHD in astrophysics and co-authored a book on the origins of the universe.