Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
I wasn't sure which discography I was going to do after Queen. I kind of wanted to do Gomez, but that felt too similar. I debated tossing up a couple of Best Of albums of artists that only have about one disc worth of material that I like. Then, I realized I had a pretty great Michael Jackson discography. But I was missing the Jackson 5 era, and wanted to take some time listening through that material before I decided how to divvy it up. But while listening to Jackson, I realized I did have a discography at the ready, The Weeknd!
One of my exes in 2011 was super into the Thursday mixtape so we listened to it quite a bit. But, unlike some of his other obsessions, I really liked The Weeknd, and have bought their albums whenever I hear a new one is released.
This past January, I was out buying a new cell phone when the sales person pointed out that the shoes I was wearing are the same pattern The Weeknd's orange camouflage outfit. We went out for drinks after.
I don't have any bad associations with The Weeknd, the way that there is a major mental hoop one has to jump through to listen to Michael Jackson's music. So I decided to do The Weeknd first!
If you're not familiar with their work, or have only heard their singles, cool. Welcome. This is going to be a mellow, slow journey. If you currently do, or once did any downers, you're probably going to be nostalgic for them in a non-toxic way. If you've been Straight Edge forever, that's cool, there's a bunch of intense, slow love songs in your future. You may get paranoid that you can see The Weeknd gazing through your window at you, Sure, it's a little creepy, but they're not going to hurt you, they're just sad, and staring at you reminds them of something they loved once. It's cool.
A lone bass riff evokes a bit of The White Stripes before the atmosphere drops us in the middle of The Weeknd's sadness. Where were you when I needed you eight months ago? is pretty much a great first line to introduce you to the experience of this album. For real, where were you? The Weeknd is sad, and it's your fault. It's The Same Old Song, which is, thankfully, not some heavily sampled Four Tops remix, but it's just a guy who thinks you've been fucking around on him. But he's not going to judge you too harshly because he has Definitely been fucking around on you. He does want you to rue the day he got famous, though. He's got that Lady Gaga Revenge Fever running through his veins.
There's a lot of Michael Jacksonesque crooning around this (and every other) song, and it quickly gives way to the drumbeat of Montreal. Here, The Weeknd is going to go all Carly Simon on you and let you know that this song is totally not about you, even though it totally could be. He also spends quite a bit of the song singing in French because he's bilingualer than you, and really thinks you should learn another language. His language. Learn to understand him. Though, Happiness exists when you don't know a thing.
Forgive me a little bit of laziness on this section of the album. You know I love to let songs flow into each other. Well, so does The Weeknd. They did a lot of work for me. So, just like on the original album, "Montreal" gives way to The Outside. There's a touch of Seinfeld here, as The Weeknd wants you to show him your ex's moves. Not just any ex. The one you really loved, and the one you lusted for. The Weeknd is going to take that move, work you like a pro, and improve it until you can't live without him. He is going to fuck you all night, baby. Partly because he really loves both you and sex, and partly because the drugs have made it so that he has trouble climaxing. And baby when (he's) finished with you / you won't wanna go outside. Probably because he came on your clothes. He's a mess.
I'm still riding his tracklist, as we segue into XO, where The Weeknd wants you to play The Blame Game about all of your life's problems, as long as the finger doesn't end up pointed his way. Tonight was not his fault. You were both fucked up. He didn't mean to jizz on your favorite shirt. (He) wanna catch you at your best, oh / When your hair's a mess / You look so depressed / And you're filled with regret / And you feel like you gotta go home, oh / 'Cause these nights pass, so much quicker than the days did. He totally loves you at your messiest. Because he's sloppy, too. But he loves you, you great big mess.
If you go to a party and The Weeknd is The Host, maybe bring a friend, and establish some some safe words. He is Super Creeper right now. He's trying to get you to ride it out with his many boys. Um, I don't want to make too many assumptions, but I'm pretty sure his boys got a bunch of rashes that can't be ridden out.
You've been going hard baby, and maybe you should go home. NO, NOT WITH THE WEEKND, no matter what he promises you, it's going to be sketch city. The Initiation has him shifting his voice through some deepening effects. You must be super high if that sounds sexy to you. You're definitely not at a level of consent where you and The Weeknd should still be talking. He definitely shouldn't STILL be telling you to ride it out.
The Fall is just The Weeknd letting you know he's going to blow money on you irresponsibly. Like, his 401K is NONexistent. You're going to get positively wrecked if you go out with him tonight, but he's not going to have enough left over to take a Lyft home tomorrow, so plan accordingly. He does a really good of reconfirming the album feel here, referencing previous songs, and hinting at songs to come. He has set up a whole vernacular for this rapey party scene.
Next does not come with an Aria Grande Thank You. Don't let the sultry piano and the moaning fool you, he's going to do you dirtier than Bieber ever did Grande. He's going to write songs about you where you are nothing but a person who done him wrong. And, again, it's almost definitely not your fault. When you sing this many songs about people who Done You Wrong, then You are the problem, not them. He's only 21 in this song, though, so trust he will get less creepier as he gets older. Prince did. I mean, he never got fully uncreepy, but he got significantly less creepier in his 30s and 40s. Oh, and he's definitely going to tell everyone you're a stripper and he met you in the club. He's Very 21. Yes, I know yes, I know yes, I know yes, I know.
Your honor, in the case of The Weeknd vs. All The Girls He Writes About On This Album, we'd like to present you with the lyrics to his song, Echoes Of Silence. Talk to me baby / Tell me what you're feeling / You say you don't need to go / Don't you pretend you didn't know / How all of this would end up / Girl, I saw it in your eyes / And baby I can read your mind / And expectations were not in sight / You knew that talking dirty to me / On the phone would get me here / 'Cause we both wanted to do this / But I could tell that you were scared / 'Cause you thought there was more to us / But you knew how this would end / It's gonna end how you expected girl / You're such a masochist and I ask why / And you reply/ I like the thrill / Nothing's gonna make me feel this real / So baby don't go home / I don't wanna spend tonight alone / Baby please / Would you end your night with me / Don't you leave me all behind / Don't you leave my little life / Don't you leave my little life. The Defense rests, Your Honor.
The song that propelled me from thinking of doing a reimagined discography of Michael Jackson to this one of The Weeknd is The Weeknd's cover of Jackson's Dirty Diana. It's pretty safe. It has the dark, atmospheric instrumentation of the rest of The Weeknd's album, but the vocals are almost precisely MJ. Usually, I like my covers to do a bit more, but this works out really well. It also lets me put this on work mixes. One of my coworkers like's Michael Jackson's songs, but can't listen to more than one of them, so having well done covers available is super helpful. And, yea, this is another song where a woman is blamed for being promiscuous, even though the singer is clearly a hornball / borderline sex offender. So, right in The Weeknd's wheelhouse.
Climbing out of the end of "Dirty Diana" is What You Need. Don't believe his nonsense about how your ex is what you want but how The Weeknd is what you need. He's clearly delusional. Unless you don't have a ride home from his house (an actual ride, not the kind he sings about), then you don't need a thing from him.
We get a little bit of bright, sunshiney guitar at the beginning of The Morning before THe Weeknd announces that he's fucken gone right now. All that money, the money is the motive, he sings over and over. See? You're just a prop in his song. Get out of there!
Are you ready for the pace to pick up, and everything to really rock out? Well, The Weeknd is too High For This, so don't hold your breath. This is another slow grind song about love. Only this time, he's letting you know that you want to be high before you fuck him, which doesn't seem super consensual.
Ooooh, here's some more upbeat rhythm. House Of Balloons (Glass Table Girls). He is still reminding you that fucking him is better when you're high, which is still problematic as fuck, Mr. The Weeknd. I'm seriously wondering if you aren't the worst lay in the world, and that's why you demand everyone get fucked up, so you can write mean songs about them later. It's Not Cool.
We end the album with some Wicked Games, as The Weeknd reminds you that he never loved you, and you never loved him, either. This whole ... night ? weekend ? month ? year ? was nothing but The Weeknd trying to get his dick wet (and jizz on your shirt, Never Forget). I hope you get over him soon, because trust, he's always been over you, even if he does like the way you dance. There is also something perversely satisfying to hear The Weeknd end the album with the line Even though you don't love me. Bumper humper, you never loved her, either. Time to spit the martyr out of your mouth, cut down on the pill intake, and find something new to write about.
This is it. The final Queen album in their discography. A long treatise on a slow and painful death. Kind of a bummer, but beautiful sounding. Like Bjork in Black Swan.
You'd think more Queen albums (especially if I'm organizing them) would start with an orchestral intro. But, here we are at the final album, and we're just getting to it. Beautiful Day is not the original version of the U2 song. It's a soft, lyrically straight-forward (because Freddy Mercury) song about the futility of trying to stop him from feeling great, but the music behind it makes you think that this is the ruse of someone extremely depressed.
Brian May wrote Too Much Love Will Kill You about the end of his first marriage, and the beginning of his first post-marriage relationship. But, during the lead ups to the release of the Bohemian Rhapsody movie, he talked about the band's concern about Freddy's "lifestyle" (and I don't read anything homophobic into his use of the word "lifestyle", I think he was was referring to the quantity of dangerous sex practices, which is a rock and roll "lifestyle" issue, and not a homosexual "lifestyle" issue). So I'm choosing to see this song through that lens, that May wrote it about Mercury.
Innuendo provides the first familiar sounding Queen song. With echoing vocals, fairly basic lyrics, driving guitars, this is pure 70s prog rock. But with flamenco guitars in the middle. You read that right, Steve Howe from Yes and Brian May perform a flamenco breakdown, followed by their usual more metal guitars hitting the same flamenco rhythm before laughing us back into the melody.
Were you waiting for a sequel to "I'm In Love With My Car" from A Night At The Opera / A Day At The Races? Well, it's your lucky lifetime. Ride The Wild Wind is another car song, but this time with a touch of "I'm nearing death, so fuck it, I'm going to live dangerously." And car effects, of course. This is a particularly New Wave sounding Roger Taylor song. There is occasional laughter near the end of the song, and along with the repeated lines and the intense drum ending, it's a perfect lead-in to
I'm Going Slightly Mad. A song about ... well ... deteriorating mental states in the face of death. It's a catchy song that has a Spread Your Wings feel before ascending into the prog rock epic of
One Vision. This is a symphonic prog rock track with the anthemic lyrics of Spread Your Wings, but also a bit of playfulness (the last line is not, in fact one vision but fried chicken. See? Slightly Mad!
The outro of "One Vision" probably gave The Christian Whackjobs Of America a conniption fit with its slowed out tape relay sounding vaguely satanic (even though it's actually just saying God works in mysterious ways). But it's a great lead-in to Queen's Highlander theme song, Princes Of The Universe. A song about immortality might seem a strange fit for this album about slowly dying, but there's always that hope, right? That we're somehow going to be the one who makes it out alive.
We slow things down for the summer ballady These Are The Days Of Our Lives, where Mercury remembers that the positive things in his life outweighed the negatives, while May's guitars wail in the background, and Taylor's drums have an 80s Phil Collins sound.
Taylor wrote Heaven For Everyone for a side project (but Mercury did the lead vocals for one version), and it was rerecorded with May's guitars and Deacon's bass for the first posthumous Queen album. It works really well with "One Vision" as it's a pro-tolerance song with a touch of death. It also has echoed Mercury vocals as the song winds down. But it lacks fried chicken.
The effects transition us into another song with echoed vocals, I Was Born To Love You. This is also a posthumously reworked Queen song. It was originally a Freddy Mercury solo track with a disco beat, but it's all Queened up here. The lyrics are about as trite as possible but Mercury sings them like he means every word.
The gospel portions of Let Me Live are both wonderful and very unQueen. It's a prayer to be left alone by death for a little while and make a brand new start. It also has the rare feature of having Mercury, May, and Rogers all on lead vocals for different portions of the song. It definitely has a lot of "Take Another Little Piece Of My Heart" vibes (and lyrics!). The Meatloafy piano outro blends into the drum / bass beat of
Made In Heaven. The title song from the first Queen album released after Mercury's death, has an interesting guitar/bass break from the melody. Like "I Was Born To Love You", it was originally a solo track by Mercury, which the band rerecorded. This is good because the keyboards and synths solo version lacks the wonderfully hellish grind of the Queen version.
"One Vision" gets a callback as we launch into A Kind Of Magic, the title song from Queen's Highlander soundtrack. This is a Roger Taylor song based on a line from the movie, and it's ostensibly about being an immortal, but it also works, for this project, as a look at mortality.
The synths announce a rare cover song in the discography, as Queen delivers a version of The Platters's The Great Pretender, the classic theme song for people pretending to be happy when they're depressed and / or miserable. Of course, Mercury absolutely destroys this song. In precisely the opposite way that Axl Rose destroyed Queen's "Sail On Sweet Sister".
The thing about "The Great Pretender", though, is that they're rarely believed. So a series of echoes rolls over the end of this song, and sweeps into You Don't Fool Me. This song was created by Queen's producer, David Richards, who had some left over vocal track from the band's Innuendo album, and pieced them together into this song. May, Deacon, and Taylor then produced new music around it. So this is kind of the band and the producer's response to "The Great Pretender" but with Mercury on reconfigured vocals.
So The Great Pretender didn't fool you? C'est la vie. The Show Must Go On. So much of Queen's late 80s / 1991 tracks can be seen as songs about Mercury's death (even though most of them weren't). On this discography, this plays as Mercury's entreaty that Queen continue after his death. Or, it can be viewed as him acknowledging his awareness that everyone sees through his Great Pretender ruse, but he's going to keep it up because it's all that's keeping him going.
The penultimate track, and the final one to feature Mercury's vocals is Who Wants To Live Forever? A low hum ballad where Mercury's vocals are pushed further back in the mix than usual. And while this was actually recorded when he was still healthy, I choose to present it in this discography as a way to disguise how his voice is slightly faltering as he gets closer to death.
The final song is Track 13 from Made In Heaven, an almost completely instrumental track that sounds like the songs from the rest of the album trying to keep going. It's a buzzing, bright, symphonic dirge that's over twenty minutes long with very, very occasional clips of Mercury speaking. It does sound very haunting when his voice appears.
And that's it. We go out on an instrumental dirge.
I sort of assumed that this fourth album was going to be along the lines of Queen's Greatest Hits Vol 2, as its main throughline is: Songs By Queen From The 80s That I Loved That Don't Make Thematic Sense On The Final Album In The Discography. But, actually, the final album has more songs from Greatest Hits Volume 2 than this one, mainly because Queen's Greatest Hits actually encapsulates much more of their career than Volume 2, so some of these songs land on Volume 1, despite coming out much much later in their career.
If Flick Of The Wrist was an intro to their 70s AM radio style, and A Night At The Opera / A Day At The Races was their White Album, and Spread Your Wings is their Arena Rock album, then Radio Ga Ga is their fun, peppy album before they go dark. And the last album Will Be Dark.
A spaceship lands. Because this album is from outerspace. I mean, it has David Bowie on it. The song lands on the piano, of course, as Mercury invites us to Play The Game of love! Then more synth before the very May guitar riff lands. It's trademark Queen from beginning to end. With or without synths.
Hand clapping and bass lead us into the upbeat admonition to Don't Try Suicide. Every time I hear it, I think of the movie Heathers. But this is a way better song, informing you that Nobody's worth it and You're just going to hate it. Nobody gives a damn as a reason, hasn't aged well, but it's meant to be tongue-in-cheek. The breakdown in the middle of the song is amazing.
Sometimes, I put two songs together because it amuses me. That's why you get the stacatto bass and guitar, the synths leading you into Another One Bites The Dust. If you know me from slam in the late 90s / early 2000s, you know that I have a song based around an incident at my alma mater where a bunch of homophobes literally carved the word "Homo" into the back of a classmate who listened to Queen. I've refused to let that incident, or that poem ruin my enjoyment of this song. I love its unnecessary spaciness at the end, Mercury's echoey fade in and outs before the final verse. Unless you saw me perform it at my second Cantab feature, or at one of my last gigs on the Cape, you may not know that I wrote the poem precisely to the song, so that if you play the song behind the poem, any time I reference a lyric or sing, it's actually synced up timewise.
The space opera portion of the discography continues as we go to the only truly beloved song from Queen's Flash Gordon Soundtrack: Flash Gordon Theme. It's a predecessor for their also somewhat underwhelming Highlander Soundtrack: A Kind Of Magic, which appears on the next album. There are a bunch of clips from the movie, including silly laser sound effects to keep this song buoyant, despite its very spare lyrics.
From sci-fi we crash back into the fantasy realm where Queen lived in the 70s, as Dragon Attack ambles into a staccato territory somewhere between Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog" and Guns N Roses's "Paradise City". It's basic message: heroin isn't a monkey on your back, it's a fucken dragon. It's inspired by the Chinese expression "chasing the dragon".
Next up, Vanilla Ice! It's the promised David Bowie duet, Under Pressure. Another of my absolute favorite Queen songs. If you've never seen Vanilla Ice explain his way around his outright theft of the bassline as a sample, check out Youtube. Totally worth it. I debated putting this on the next album, as it does fit, thematically, but I like having this on an album with less weight.
When the snapping fades out, the synths come back in, as Dr. May takes over the vocals for Sail Away Sweet Sister, which definitely sounds like a band sailing out of the 1970s very slowly. Weirdly, Queen never played this song live, but the aforementioned Guns N Roses have. It's almost good, but it quickly devolves into fucken terrible. I can't link you to it. You are unlikely to have offended me enough that this is suitable punishment.
Drums and synth crash through the outro waves for the title track, Radio Ga Ga. This is anthemic enough to have been on Spread Your Wings but it's such a mid-80s tentpole. The performance of it at LiveAid is considered one of the best live rock moments in history.
A synth robot from space intercedes to bring us into Invisible Man, a very unQueen like mix that takes pieces of The Flash Gordon Soundtrack and A Kind Of Magic and takes them to a pop single extreme.
Drums shatter the end of the song, as we go rockabilly with Man On The Prowl. This song would be out of place, except rockabilly is going to come back later. This is a feel good bouncy song about embracing your inner-turd and being a lazy cheat trying to get laid outside your relationship, despite not doing much work. Session keyboardist and pianist Fred Mandel absolutely slays the end of this song.
We hit a weird 80s soft rock dance zone for Backchat. It's a funk prog rock fusion by Deacon. It's by no means one of their most successful singles but it's the best non-Under Pressure song on Hot Space, and it's definitely worth the listen.
Hammer To Fall brings the Anthemic 70s rock back. There's a darkness to this song if you view this Radio Ga Ga album as an aware precursor to Was It All Worth It? which will be the final Queen album in the discography. As it's sort of about The Cold War, but more about waiting for the inevitability of death, which is the entirety of the next album.
The guitars stay heavy and classic Queen for I Want It All. It's another hedonism anthem demanding immediate and constant satisfaction. This is another song that could have easily been on Was It All Worth It? but the trilling breakdown in the middle just works better on this album. And the driving guitars at the end are too heavy for that album.
In addition to "All", I Want To Break Free. It's the final synth poppy cut on the album. I hate that it has made me think of sugar free Coca-Cola products now. On the plus side, the original video to this song is amazing, and it's where the cover of this Radio Ga Ga album comes from.
The rockabilly returns for Queen's first #1 American single, Crazy Little Thing Called Love. It's an Elvis tribute that according to the band's mythos, was written by Freddy Mercury in under ten minutes, while taking a bath and playing guitar, which he sucked at.
Closing out the album we set Mercury in front of a piano again for Save Me, a Dr. May song about the ending of a marriage. It may seem odd to end their most 80s album with a ballad from the late 70s but I really like it as the final song before the band's impeding climactic album.
Really, I hope you enjoy this album, because, I can't stress this enough, the next album is filled with music I love but it's a major, major downer to end on.
It's possible to make a sports arena playlist without any Queen on it, but you'd be a fool to do so. From the stomp stomp CLAP stomp stomp CLAP of "We Will Rock You" to the completely overplayed and, most likely, unnecessarily hyperbolic "We Are The Champions" to the probably inappropriate "Another One Bites The Dust" when someone either strikes out, or their NASCAR vehicle has to pull over due to being completely on fire, there's a Queen song for every sports occasion.
Often "We Will Rock You" and "We Are The Champions" are packaged together, one immediately following the other, even though it makes no narrative sense, and the songs don't really flow into each other. So I've taken my favorite late 70s Queen songs and strung them between these two classics, not to provide a narrative, but to give them some breathing room, and make Queen's most anthemic album of this discography.
I have cheated a bit. I know I said I was going to start with "We Will Rock You", and I sort of do, but I wanted to give it some sort of build-up before the clapping and stomping, so the album actually beings with an Intro containing the first twenty seconds of "Mustapha". This should also keep all of your racist relatives from stealing this fictional CD from your imaginary CD player.
Then stomp stomp CLAP stomp stomp CLAP, We Will Rock You, probably Queen's most famous song for elementary students. It's pure banner waving aggression and braggadocio. By the time the guitar hums in, the song is almost over. It's an unnecessary flourish to the song that I wish had been kept off. But, ehhh, it's part of history now.
More Of That Jazz is a weird suite of songs wrapped into one. It's a Taylor song with him doing all of the vocals, and most of the instruments. Mercury isn't the only one who can bogart a studio. The guitar riff is straight 70s metal. But then, about three minutes into the song, there's a harsh cut into other tracks from the album for reasons I don't understand. It was the final track of the album Jazz, so I guess it served as a coda. Here, it's an aggressive appetizer.
Before I heard the original, Queen version of Get Down, Make Love, I heard a version of Nine Inch Nails' cover as part of a 90 minute long mix of NiN songs from the early 90s. The original is relatively tame, with its simple bassline, spare piano chord progression, and occasional drums and guitar riffage. The instruments only come together during the chorus.
A piano riff that Billy Joel left, forgotten, in a bar too well lit for anything dangerous to happen, gets picked up by Dr. Brian May, who was just there to use the rest room. He gives it to Freddy Mercury, Jealousy ends up sounding like almost every late 70s piano ballad.
Bicycle Race doesn't sound like anything but a weird Queen song. The lyrics are the most pop culture-focused you're likely to find in a song that's mostly Mercury talking about how much he wants to ride a bicycle. He also drops a reference to the impending "Fat Bottomed Girls" in this song, and a fun little bicycle bell solo in the middle.
And, lo, do the Fat Bottomed Girls show up right at the end with a choral acapella intro, followed by a guitar riff buried into one track of the stereo recording in a frustrating way. I almost edited this into mono just to relieve the tension from the tonal imbalance. In 2000, I read a poll where this was voted The Worst Song Ever Recorded. In 2001 it was unseated by Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight". Those are both sound choices. This song is completely ridiculous, but it's very much pro-fat bottomed girl. It's the 70s prototype for Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back". It ends with a fury of guitars.
It's Late is a historically weird little song. It's a Dr. May concept where he treats each verse as an act in a romantic farce. He also uses a guitar technique called "tapping" which is most associated with Eddie Van Halen, whose debut album, Van Halen, came out just a few months after the "It's Late" single. It's, by far, the longest track on the album, ending with a killer gatling drum effect.
Mercury croons Don't Stop Me Now with a beautiful staccato chorus. It's the theme song for hedonism and selfishness. But it's so fun, and it has such a magnificent jacknife guitar riff about two and a half minutes into the song.
I mix the climbing piano of All Dead, All Dead into the end of "Don't Stop Me Now". This is Brian May's solo work, as he sings, and plays both piano and guitar on this track that's ... ummm ... about the death of his cat.
The piano keeps on going into one of Deacon's songs, Spread Your Wings. It's pretty much High School Poetry 101. Inspirational song about flying, dedicated to someone in the service industry that the egocentric narrator really believes in, man.
My Melancholy Blues tells the story of the aftermath of "Don't Stop Me Now". It's a bluesy piano ballad about what happens when all the partying stops, and you're left behind.
The final track on the album, as promised is We Are The Champions, which I always feel starts as if it's the second or third line of the song. It's another banner-waving braggadocio anthem, this time with guitars all the way down.
This is the best Queen album you're ever going to get that isn't just a Greatest Hits album. It has their best song. It has their most cohesive sound. It has their most creative arrangements. It's their most operatic, and it's tied with their best produced of these reimagined albums. And yet, it has only two actual hits.
In the real world discography, I would argue, and find a lot of support for my theory, that A Night At The Opera is the best Queen album. Any top ten or top one hundred list of The Greatest Songs In Rock And Roll History that don't include Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" don't know what the fuck they're talking about. Science will back me up on this.
If you're looking for a Queen album to put on at a party, this one is not the correct choice. You're going to want to go with Spread Your Wings (the next album) or Radio Gaga (the fourth album). But if you want the best album in the reimagined discography OR in their real discography A Night At The Operais the place to go.
Whether you're British or American, it's a terrible time in world history to be patriotic about it. We're both shameful, racist nations. America has proven that Representative Democracy has an expiration date, and we've past it, and England has proved that trying to mix Representative Democracy and a Monarchy is just as poor an experiment. So why does this album open with God Save The Queen? (which is also the music to America [My Country 'Tis Of Thee] ... which would be a much better national anthem for The United States Of America) Well, one because this version rocks, and two because I choose to believe that, despite it's title, it's actually an instrumental version of The Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksmen Theme Song. If the inclusion of the song offends you, please take a knee. No matter what anyone says, it's a respectful way to protest.
A trilling piano skips us away from any controversial or subversive thoughts, as we go Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon. Mercury's vocals sound like a tinned 40s recording while the harmonies and guitars sound decidedly 70s. It's a glorious earworm.
Sweet Lady is A Dr. May song written in a slightly complex time structure (for a rock band ... plenty of pianists and classical musicians seem to be able to handle it). It's an unrequited love song with heavy guitar riffs.
The first time I tried to mix these albums was in 2014, I was getting ready for a poetry tour, and I wanted a Queen road mix. I had never, until then, truly appreciated I'm In Love With My Car, a Roger Taylor song. It was inspired by a roadie who ... well ... listen to the song. It's been used in a few car commercials since I first began to appreciate it, but, more importantly, it's part of a fantastic scene from the TV adaptation of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's "Good Omens". There are a ton of Queen songs in the series, because according to Terry Pratchett, "All tapes left in a car for more than about a fortnight metamorphose into Best Of Queen albums."
As the revving car fades out, the piano fades in, then the guitars hit heavy. It's time for Death On Two Legs. Which hops back and forth from heavy sci-fi to light and fluffy pop in an entertaining way. It's Queen's only good diss track, against their former manager, whom they never named, but who sued them, and who then wrote a book titled Death On Two Legs: Set The Record Straight. Dude, you're a manager in the music industry. As soon as you introduce yourself as such, people know you're a dogshit human being. I have, literally, never heard anyone say anything positive music management.
Let's get the taste of diss out of our mouths with a bright, sunshiney love song that Deacon wrote for his wife. You're My Best Friend just sounds like the ending credits theme for a movie about summer camps in the 1980s.
Keeping it poppy and friendly, we have a banjo strumming Dixieland song by Dr. May called Good Company, which seems competitive with the previous track, as it's about how great his wife is. It has a very Beatles White Album vibe, which I love. But as it goes on, the wife and friends leave him, and the song is more about how content he is with his business, and how he doesn't care that he's alone. I love it.
Seaside Rendezvous brings Mercury back to vocals, on another Beatlesque happy track. The middle song has an amazing vocal part where Mercury and Taylor ape a variety of instruments, such as kazoos, tubas, and clarinets for no damned good reason, other than it adds to the ridiculous fun of the song.
Ballady piano kicks in, and then a fucken harp as Mercury croons for the Love Of My Life, who has, of course, left him. Because lovers are like that. If they don't treat musicians so bad, what would they write about?
And now, perfection. Yes, it's their most successful (if you count the multiple times it's charted, it was not their most successful song during its first run) single, and best song, Bohemian Rhapsody. Even the muppet version of this song is amazing. The scene in Wayne's World where they sing along to "Bohemian Rhapsody" in the car, is the highlight of both Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey's film career.
Thus ends the A Night At The Opera portion of the album. I chose not to interweave the albums partly because they do both have slightly different feels and partly because there is only one way to follow "Bohemian Rhapsody" and that's to have it's closing gong overlap with the opening gong of Tie Your Mother Down, the first track from the A Day At The Races portion of the album. This is one of the tracks where I wish I had the original recordings to smooth out, because there's a jagged transition a little after the one minute mark, resulting from the limited technology at the time, and the band's decision to sometimes physically cut and tape tracks together. Sometimes, like with "Bohemian Rhapsody", it ends up flawless. Othertimes, less so. But there's a whirlwind effect for the guitar riffs that I love.
Long Away ambles along the thick, thick, boundary of The Who and The Byrds, with Dr. May on vocals, it falls well on The Who side of things. It's as folky as I'm willing to put with when listening to Queen.
A piano breaks through the wall of guitar. Freddy is back on vocals, crooning about whether or not he thinks about you when he's gone. I mean. Yes. The soaring vocals really elevate the pedestrian love song lyrics. When the chorus hits, it's all Sgt Pepper's on Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together), even the ending sounds like Sgt. Pepper's production.
More piano. Scattershot bass riff. A playful back and forth between the instruments before Mercury comes in for the lighthearted Millionaire's Waltz. It's really spare for a track on this heavy mother of a record until it surrenders to bombast. The guitars thunder down, the vocals get pushed back in the mix, and then everything lightens back up, and gets heavier again. It's a fun ping pong match.
Mercury comes in acapella on You Take My Breath Away, for a long stretch before the piano comes in. Again the vocal range and the piano make you ignore how utterly basic the lyrics are. This could be from a Mercury solo record, as there are no other instruments aside from his voice and his piano.
White Man hasn't aged super well, even though its message is completely relevant. Mercury, himself, is of Indian (from India) descent, but this song is from the perspective of Native Americans, and it's about how awful British colonizers were as they were becoming Americans. And it's totally right. And it has a killer metal inspired guitar riff, and the chant of White man, white man is perfect. But lyrics like You took away the sight to blind my simple eyes and the repeated use of the word simple to describe the non-white people is a pretty dated stereotype. This was progressive and interesting in 1975, but it's a shame that song is just a few edits away from being a timeless takedown of colonization.
We go back to Roger Taylor for Drowse, another song in an unusual time signature, this time with added slide guitar. If "You Take My Breath Away" could have been a Freddie Mercury solo album cut, this one is definitely from a Roger Taylor side project.
Mercury and his piano come back for Good Old Fashioned Loverboy. It's another think of me when I'm not with you song.
We close out the album with another song with magic production. Somebody To Love is an amazing ballad. The vocal mix is astounding. The simple lyrics come off as more direct than empty. The drums are so perfect that you barely notice they're there. While there are several songs on this album that you can go "Oh, that sounds a bit like (name of another band)", this song, like "Bohemian Rhapsody" is one that just sounds like Queen. It could end a minute earlier and still be perfect, but I do like the over-the-top repeated chorus ending.