Friday 7 January 2022

Queen - A Night At The Opera

By 1975, Queen had released 3 albums and were seriously in debt.  This debt is mainly attributed to their Management deal with Trident which gave them almost unlimited studio time when Trident Studios were free, in return for a ruinous Management Fee, and a deal which meant that their recordings could be sold on to the record company, but didn't have to be.
There'd been some minor success for the albums 'Queen' and 'Queen II' and they'd cracked the Top 10 with "Seven Seas Of Rhye".
It was next album 'Sheer Heart Attack' which proved the breakthrough as did the single "Killer Queen" - the band now had the bargaining power (an a tenacious lawyer) to break free from their Trident deal and start earning some cash from their efforts.

A proper deal with EMI was secured, as was committed management support.  But despite being skint, it cost £100k to get out of the Trident deal, plus they spent a further £50k preparing and recording their fourth album.
Money well spent on EMI's part, or certainly proved to be later.  By the end of the year Queen held the top spots in both the Singles and Albums charts.

Album opens with a blunt, bitter put down of their previous manager.  Whilst never being named (or as the sub-title of the song says "Dedicated To ...") the lyric leaves little doubt.  As does Freddie Mercury's stage introduction "this is dedicated to a m*ther-fucker we used to know"

There are shared credits, shared vocals, shared purpose, and a production sheen that sounds cleaner and advanced than most 1975 recordings (and indeed still cleaner and ahead of many from 1985).
One can almost feel the shared purpose and collaboration as they all hunker down together birthing and fettling each others songs into the best they can possibly be.

Whilst he may only have a single writing credit, John Deacon's "You're My Best Friend" must surely be the pension pot that keeps on giving.
Similarly, Roger Taylor's sole contribution "I'm In Love With My Car" ensured an unexpected windfall when it was chosen as the B Side for "Bohemian Rhapsody".

The remaining tracks are shared between Freddie Mercury and Brian May.

Freddie follows the bitter opener "Death On Two Legs (Dedicated To ...)" with Noel Cowrad-esque Music Hall camp of "Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon" and "Seaside Rendezvous".  He also gives some heartfelt balladry with "Love Of My Life"

Brian May is perhaps the most eclectic from going from skiffle ("Good Company"), spacey-psychy-folk ("39"), a dose of smooth yet tough rock that became Queen's trademark ("Sweet Lady"), and flexing his Prog muscles in the multi-part 8 minute epic "The Prophets Song".
Oh, and there is even time for his arrangement of the National Anthem to close the album - God Save Themselves, indeed.

But there's one more track on the album not mentioned - a track described by Roger Taylor in 2000 as "that bloody song!".
Yes, I'm sure it is over-played and overly familiar, but if you can transport yourself back to the first time you ever heard "Bohemian Rhapsody" I'm pretty sure your first response was "what the bloody hell is that!  Play it again."
A feeling shared by DJ (and friend of Freddie Mercury) Kenny Everett it who played it about 15 times over 2 days on his radio show.  Such was the demand, a sceptical EMI - who had initially refused to release it as a single claiming it was too long, had no hook, and no commercial potential - were left with no option to release it in November 1975.
Hello Christmas Number One, 9 weeks at the summit (which can't of hurt album sales), and today (including a number of re-releases) has shifted nigh on 15 million units worldwide.
I't one of those now hard-wired songs alongside "Imagine", "Hey Jude", "Stairway To Heaven", "Good Vibrations", "Satisfaction", and "Johnny B Goode" which just "is" and regularly vies for top spot in the Top 10 of All Time lists

There is a myth doing the rounds that the same piano was used for "Bohemian Rhapsody", "Hey Jude", "Life On Mars", "Your Song", "You're So Vain", and "I Don't Like Mondays" (and many others).
Whilst this may be true for many of the tracks, the piano in question - a 1920s Bechstein housed in Trident Studios - wasn't used for "Bohemian Rhapsody" as that was recorded at Rockfield Studios in Wales.  "Seven Seas Of Rhye" and "Killer Queen" certainly feature the Trident Bechstein, and whilst parts of 'A Night At The Opera' were recorded at Trident, the myth remains just that (a myth, but a great trivia nugget if it were true).

At the start of the year, the band were skint with a suffocating management deal and no real control over their own destiny.
12 months later they were headlining a sold out Hammersmith Odeon on Christmas Eve whilst simultaneously being broadcast to the nation on The Old Grey Whistle Test.

And from that moment, the world of Queen was changed - subsequent albums, tours, and general reception just increased with each movement, culminating in the monumental release of Queen's Greatest Hits in 1981.  An album which now (apparently) has a place in 1 in 5 homes in the UK, and is second only to Abba 'Gold' in the all-time sales list.

Now, I need to call out a slight mis-step and wane in popularity in the 1982/1983 period following the album 'Hot Space'.
They returned in early 1984 with the release of 'The Works' and two (late)career defining singles "Radio Ga Ga" and "I Want To Break Free".  There was a feeling of "returning Rock Royalty" with this album and the band now regarded with some affection (not quite National Treasures but not far off).
And then all good-will was starting to drain with the (ill advised?) performance in South Africa's Sun City. 
The route back to public adoration (possibly even greater than before) was to be 20 minutes at Live Aid, which included a performance of the now 10 year old "Bohemian Rhapsody"

'A Night At The Opera' - an album birthed in difficult circumstances, an album that assured Queen's place in the pantheon, and (for my money) the best album in their catalogue.


I'm In Love With My Car

Bohemian Rhapsody


  1. Can't disagree with any of that. One of the first albums I ever bought, on cassette. I then bought it on vinyl, and a few years later on CD.

  2. Great post. Enjoyed that, thanks.