photo & text by nacrowe
QUEEN was always an acquired taste in my estimation. boundlessly INVENTIVE and idiosyncratically SOPHISTICATED to the extreme, the band were entirely UNIQUE amongst their HARD ROCK brethren in the 1970s and their genre-skipping, MARX BROTHERS-referencing fourth album A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (ELEKTRA, 1975) was the culmination of such DISPARATE interests. that complexity of vision is in part the consequence of band whereby each member was a (somewhat) VIABLE songwriter, not just the recognizable faces like the universally CELEBRATED, LARGER-THAN-LIFE frontman FREDDIE MERCURY and LEGENDARY guitarist BRIAN MAY.
case in point is a track like the SELF-EXPLANATORY "I'M IN LOVE WITH MY CAR" written and, notably, sung by drummer ROGER TAYLOR. its a pretty STRAIGHTFORWARD declaration of his LOVE for, well, his car. nothing much more to say about that i guess. definitely a LAME track. similarly, bassist JOHN DEACON wrote the AFFECTIONATE yet CONTRIVED "YOU'RE MY BEST FRIEND" about his wife. that these two songs (i'd strongly argue FILLER tracks) ended up on such a record is a testament to QUEEN's mutual support of each other's DRIVE, TALENT and CREATIVITY, which is definitely an outlier in the world of ROCK AND ROLL where writing credits and the largesse associated with such is often a BITTER source of CONTENTION and the root of many a breakup. definitely not the best moments by any stretch, but necessary and REVEALING about the economic nature of bands during this period.
obviously the main attraction with QUEEN is very much MERCURY and MAY and they absolutely deliver on SEMINAL A NIGHT AT THE OPERA tracks like "LAZING ON A SUNDAY AFTERNOON," "DEATH ON TWO LEGS" and the immortally EPIC "BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY." what i love about these specific tracks are how all over the map they are lyrically and stylistically. "LAZING ON A SUNDAY AFTERNOON" has a CAREFREE, waltz-feel with a megaphone-like effect on MERCURY's VOCALS that emulates an old cylinder phonograph record from the end of the 19th century. it feels almost NOSTALGIC for a VICTORIAN era long-gone by as MERCURY sings jubilantly about his walk around town on a nice afternoon. part of the song's appeal is that it comes right after the opening track "DEATH ON TWO LEGS" which is easily the most MEAN-SPIRITED and PUNISHING QUEEN song ever, long rumored to be public RETRIBUTION against their former manager and his LESS-THAN-HONORABLE business practices. in VICIOUS, UNAMBIGUOUS terms the song basically character assassinates an unknown figure for being a snake, complete with KILLER BACKGROUND VOCALS and a MEMORABLE GUITAR SOLO. i dont consider myself a QUEEN fan, but "DEATH ON TWO LEGS" is pretty undeniably POEWRFUL in its absolute PETTINESS and HATEFUL NEGATIVITY, enough so that MERCURY had some reservations about the track in retrospect, feeling he wanted to put out music that was POSITIVE and uplifted people.
the centerpiece of the album, and the track most synonymous with the band is of course "BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY." full disclosure, i have a relative who worked on WAYNE'S WORLD (PARAMOUNT, 1992) as a music supervisor who was involved with the ICONIC interior car singing scene at the beginning of the revered PENELOPE SPHEERIS-directed MIKE MYERS and DANA CARVEY comedic vehicle. the song itself, written by MERCURY, is as EPIC as it is RIDICULOUS. there are multiple parts, which were reportedly recorded separately by the band with no inkling of their ultimate arrangement in the track, and a famous harmonized A CAPELLA section that lyrically references famous OPERA characters, the BIBLE and the QU'RAN, for reasons unknown. the song should be irredeemably PRETENTIOUS, but the combined FULL-THROATED CONVICTION, PASSION and vocal DEXTERITY of MERCURY renders the song CONTAGIOUS in its idiosyncrasies. that song is completely UNIQUE and a one of one. i dont believe anyone in ROCK AND ROLL history has ever attempted something that is as CATCHY as it is completely SELF-INDULGENT. and i think that car scene in WAYNE'S WORLD picks up on both the IRREPRESSIBLE ENERGY and THEATRICAL ABSURDITY of that song for comedic effect. they arent making fun of the song at all, in fact they are making light of the song's effect on their behavior, the EPHEMERAL, TRANSPORTIVE state of PURE BLISS without inhibitions that it has unlocked in a cohort of young men. and for me that FLEETING state of DELIGHT in PERFORMATIVE ECSTASY is what sums up FREDDIE MERCURY's appeal and that of his band QUEEN at their apex, which A NIGHT AT THE OPERA arguably represents to most of the listening public.
A NIGHT AT THE OPERA is required listening. most definitely worth checking out for fans of ROCK AND ROLL writ large.