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Queen – A Night At The Opera (1975)

November 8, 2013

[Album 259/1001]220px-Queen_A_Night_At_The_Opera

Typically, I say quality over quantity, less is more.  I generally prefer songs to be stripped down, leaving little doubt that the band would be capable of playing the songs live without all the studio trickery.

One Major Exception: Queen.  With Queen, more is more!

Mike Ladano recently reminded me of the brilliant television series, Classic Albums.  A Night At The Opera is among the featured records and it was neat learning about how they recorded the vocals.

Freddie Mercury, Brian May, and Roger Taylor would each record EACH vocal line.  Which means for every note in those patented Queen harmony sections, there are three voices singing each part.  Throw in multi-tracked guitars & more, no wonder the sound is huge!

I can see why people don’t enjoy Queen.  It’s over the top, even ridiculous at times.  The incomparable Bohemian Rhapsody is often cited as proof of this extravagance.

Which is exactly what makes Queen (and this record) so special: the flamboyance, the audacity, the diversity.

This was no group of high school dropouts that played a few noisy rock songs.  These are educated lads (Brian May even has a PhD in Astrophysics!) who wrote some very complex arrangements.

Great albums are often eclectic and A Night At The Opera is no exception.  Take Mercury’s first two tunes in the tracklist: Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to…) is scathing with a heavy riff, immediately followed by the jaunty Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon.  Only Queen could sing You’re My Best Friend and avoid accusations of being too saccharine.  Brian May’s ’39 is an overlooked gem and his guitar/uke/harp/toy koto work shines throughout the record.

I’m always partial to groups with four singers & four songwriters, such as Sloan or The Beatles.  Incidentally, in addition to their thousands of other accolades, The Beatles’ facial hair teamwork on Sgt. Pepper helped them become my #1 Movember artist from the 1001 list last year.  Last year’s #3? Who else but Freddie.

mercury_281

The beauty of Queen is that even without all the studio layering, their live performances were arguably even better!

Perhaps one has to be in the mood for Queen, but if the mood strikes, there’s nothing like it.

Even if not all of the songs on A Night At The Opera are direct hits, cheers to swinging for the fences.

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From → 1970s

20 Comments
  1. Love this write-up. Although they were an amazing live band, they never attempted to recreate the middle section of “Bohemian Rhapsody” in concert. Instead they played the recording and then theb and came back in at the end of that section. It’s a major regret that I never got to see Queen. I was a fan throughout the late-’70s & into 1980 (The Game was one of my favorite albums that year), but I lost interest by the time Hot Space came out (I eventually came back around to it…much better than its reputation even if it’s not a classic). Their last tour of the US was in ’82, with Billy Squier as the opening act, and for some reason I passed on that show. Seeing Queen + Paul Rodgers in 2006 was not an adequate replacement.

    • Thanks Rich – If time travel ever becomes possible, seeing Queen in their prime is definitely one of the first things on my to-do list!

  2. Great album and varied in a way albums seldom seem to be now. Bands like Queen and Zeppelin just seemed like they could do anything they put their minds to! ’39 and Prophet’s Song are two of my favourites on this one.

    • The teacher part of me I think likes the idea of the unified theme but the music fan in me loves the diversity. The White album’s probably my favourite example of each song being wildly different than the next!

      • I think the really good bands do both. Take Jethro Tull for example; almost any track is instantly recognizable as Jethro Tull, even if there is no flute, although the band have played a huge range of styles during their career. Also, on a given album, there is a common style; if one made a mix tape of one album and included a track from the next or previous album, it would stick out like a sore thumb. At the same time, each song on an album sounds like nothing else. (With some bands, one could take the refrain from one song and the verses from another and it wouldn’t sound strange.)

      • Aqualung is the only Jethro Tull one to make the 1001 list – I enjoy this line from Armageddon (at 1:26): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=INLo0Zr0_lA.

        I’d say that same argument holds true for The Beatles – Revolver has so many different sounds but put any of those tracks on Abbey Road, it would sound out of place.

  3. Thanks for the shout-out man!

    My favourite song on this album is ’39. I made a CD for Aaron a couple years ago. There was a “mystery theme” to the CD and he had to guess what it was. The concept was “science fiction” and I used 39 by Queen for that. How many other songs can you name about the theory of relativity? I love it.

    I believe I had You’re My Best Friend as one of my wedding songs too.

    • Anytime – thanks for the Classic Albums reminder, I fear my productivity may suffer with all the ones I want to watch but what a great series!

      You’re my best friend was one of the ones on our shortlist as well – I think it was a last round cut. A few songs made it into the dance playlist of course.

      Off-hand, I can’t think of any other e = mc2 songs. But to quote Neil Patrick Harris, challenge accepted, there’s got to be more out there!

      • Mike Ladano: “How many other songs can you name about the theory of relativity?” You can’t think of one? Really? You, the awesome metal man? 🙂

        Stephen: “Off-hand, I can’t think of any other e = mc2 songs.”

        There’s even one with “e = mc2” in the lyrics: “Brighter than a Thousand Suns” by Iron Maiden. Since it is such an awesome song on an awesome album by an awesome band, I just have to mention this awesome video:

        And from the same session, the current line-up playing an old classic:

        And, since Tull and Ian Anderson have been mentioned here recently, what about Bruce and Ian doing William Blake?

        (At least I hope this is the one where they do Blake’s “Jerusalem”; if not, it’s out there somewhere.

  4. Mark Lee permalink

    Great review. Queen was the favourite band of my best friend in high school. When Queen came to Toronto in ’82 for their Hot Space tour (Billy Squier opened – he was great), they played two nights at Maple Leaf Gardens. We went to both shows. (Sorry Rich). They were awesome. Everything you could want in a concert, with Freddie at the peak of his game. The four of them have very different musical personalities that really show through in the songs that they wrote. It seems that they were really comfortable with each other’s tastes and I think that’s why their albums (and concerts) were such a collection of extremes. There’s something there for everyone.

    • Thanks Mark – and absolutely. If anyone ever gives the Blanket statement of “I hate Queen” – it’s displaying that dangerous mix of ignorance and arrogance we discussed recently in another context!

      Even on Night at the Opera, admittedly I’m in love with my car’s not my favourite but that probably makes the album for some listeners.

      I think the word ‘show’ is the right term – from what I gather, this was not a band who ever phoned it in live. And you saw them twice, lucky!

  5. That ‘Classic Albums’ series is brilliant. I’ll watch any of them, even though my musical preferences lean towards prog/rock/metal. Great show. Loving the blog too!

    • My thanks!
      I think I appreciate the albums even more after seeing them deconstructed. Just had Deep Purple’s “Machine Head” episode on this weekend, I have a new respect for the often criticized Smoke on the Water!

  6. Nice review. Guess it’s almost too cliche to call this album a great piece of work, but I can’t help myself, because it really is. Looking forward to the rest of your project!
    Keep up the good work!

  7. A life gone too soon. I don’t know if you watched the IHeart radio concert that was shown on the CW (I only watched .. well cause I love music). Anywho… they had both Fun and Adam Lambert perform queen songs and it was pretty amazing. I could only really find amateur video but you should check it out. Both did very well http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EFeDHKyGMMw There are other videos too.

    • Good for them – Freddie’s definitely not the easiest singer to replace! From what I gather Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat) was supposed to play him in a biopic but that seems to have fallen through.

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