Ruminations on TV Shows, Comics, And Music
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.