Today I offer for your consideration Side 1 of Queens third album.
Queen are a band with a massive back catalogue. The obvious choice for a good one is “A Night At The Opera.” The album which brought us Bohemian Rhapsody. Personally, I prefer Shear Heart Attack.
Let us not forget that as well as the good we have also had the bad (Flash Gordon) and the ugly (Hot Space). The first two albums, creatively titled Queen and Queen II, were an out-spilling of years of ideas. They threw in the kitchen sink and most of the central heating plumbing as well. On this offering they found a level of musicality and demonstrated exceptional writing and playing skills.
When this album was released in 1974 in they were still still under their original poor management and didn’t have a pot to piss in, despite some chart success and a strong live following. They got out of this after this album and wasted no time venting their spleen with the opening track of ‘Opera. A caustic little ditty called “Death on two legs”. So we have a quartet of young hungry musicians already at the top of their game.
As is often the case, the album has some terrific stuff and some absolute stinkers. Here though they have the grace to put all the good stuff on side 1 and relegate the rest to side 2. In the vinyl world we do not have the option to track skip, so this is nice touch.
Side 1 is book ended by two of my favourite Queen tracks. The opener, “Brighton Rock” later took on a life of it’s own in live performance. The guitar solo showcases Brian’s use of twin echo to build up complex guitar parts without resorting to extra live musicians. Check out Queen’s various live albums to see how this grew to the point where they actually dropped the rest of the song and the partnering drum solo (which included Timpani in the 70’s) and re-branded it as “Guitar Extravaganza”. This was all a bit Spinal Tap and not really a great look. Her though, in it’s original concise form, it is a master class in interplay between a ingenuous guitarist playing a unique instrument and an exquisite drummer whose playing defies your expectations of one so young (25) and so pretty!
The last track on side one is the magnificent “Now I’m Here”. This is another all out rocker which shines when performed live. The finest moment I have experienced at a concert is this song at the Liverpool Empire theatre in December 1979. This was in the days before sound level regulations. The onslaught of sound pressure and photons delivered at the point where the whole band comes in left me deaf and partially sighted for about a week. It was another fortnight before the grin subsided though. This album was recorded in the days when Queen proudly proclaimed “No Synthesizers”. I’m sure I can hear some sort of keyboard providing back fill on this track. A Hammond organ perhaps?
In between these two Brian May penned rockers we have excellent contributions from Freddie and Roger. John, who’s creative genius was to flourish later by writing some of Queens greatest songs, does not get a look in until side 2.
Some may say the highlight is “Killer Queen”. It’s good. But Brighton Rock is better.