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.
If you have only one Queen album in your record collection, it should be “A Night at the Opera”, and not just because it has “Bohemian Rhapsody” on it. The album as a whole is probably the most diversified and eclectic collection of songs Queen ever recorded on one piece of vinyl.
And that’s saying something.
The songs on “A Night at the Opera” range from whimsical ditties like “Seaside Rendezvous” and “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon”, and all-out rockers like “I’m In Love with My Car” and “Sweet Lady” to folksy strummers like “’39”, and the classically infused “Love of My Life”. All these songs are complemented by a unique array of instruments including toy koto, Aloha ukulele, and classical harp – all played by Brian May.
And then of course there’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”
One of my favorite things about “A Night at the Opera” is how Queen takes full advantage of stereo sound. I can’t think of another band before or since who so effectively use the two channels of stereo to add another dimension to their music. Although evident on all of the songs on the album, it is most predominant on “The Prophet’s Song”, which features Freddie Mercury using only his voice and a perfectly timed double echo to create a mosaic of vocals that bounces from the left to the right and forms a three-part harmony with itself. I am mesmerized every time I listen to it.
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.
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.