I can’t think of another band with so many songs I know so well, without ever actually listening to a single one of their albums. Or even making a conscious decision or effort to listen to a single one of their songs. Queen and their music are out there in the zeitgeist and there are probably more than a dozen songs that have unavoidably made their way into my subconscious.
I like most of them and hate none, but I’ve always just felt like I get it, I don’t need to dig any deeper. Those dozen or so songs have always seemed like more than enough to satiate any Queen urgings. But that zeitgeist infiltration also means I should dig deeper, regardless of my complete lack of Queen urgings. And since I love the Marx Brothers, I’m kicking it off with A Day at the Races.
One of the few things I know about this band, is that guitarist Brian May is considered to be right up there as one of the greats in rock history. That reputation is immediately justified with Tie Your Mother Down. Its blues based rock, but May’s guitar and Freddy Mercury’s voice add a real theatrical flair that takes nothing away from the rock edge.
The piano based You Take My Breath Away is like a song length version of the piano based intro to Bohemian Rhapsody. Unfortunately, it’s also a perfect representation of the preconceptions that have kept me away from Queen for so long.
But that negative reinforcement didn’t last long. Long Away couldn’t have been further away from what I expect from this band. Well, that’s not entirely true, I guess I would have been more surprised if it was some Skrillex style dub step. But my surprise was not unsubstantial. Long Away is almost late Beatles style guitar pop, a little dreamy, and complete melodic and harmonic perfection.
The second half of A Day at the Races kicks off with one of those zeitgeist invaders, Somebody to Love. It’s one of those songs that’s been so present for so long, that I have lost all perspective on whether or not I actually like it. I’ll say this much though, if it came on the wireless and I could change the channel, I probably would. But if I couldn’t change the channel, I wouldn’t be that perturbed.
Starting off as some experimental take on the blues, White Man got to the limit of my patience, but once they got their finger out, they really got their finger out, finishing with some of the best guitar work on the album. Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy starts out as a the kind of piano based gear I’m not on board with, but once the rest of the band kicks it, it becomes the kind of song that obviously influenced both Franz Ferdinand and the Scissor Sisters, just in different ways.
Songs like You Take My Breath Away and The Millionaire Waltz make me realise something. I like Freddy Mercury the singer, but I’m not a real big fan of Freddy Mercury the pianist. To me, the best Queens songs are driven by May’s guitar and mercury’s voice. Luckily, A Day at the Races has plenty of that combo on offer. So while I might not ever listen to it top to bottom ever again, it has given me a few awesome new songs to add into semi regular iPod rotation.