It's Saturday...time again for another long nerd-essay about a great album from the past!!! Last week, I got sexy with the Stones and SOME GIRLS...but this week it's only F-ING ROYALTY for me!!!
At home in the concert hall, the beer hall, the soccer feilds, and anywhere good rock still ROCKS, Queen crafted their best record in 1977 when they recorded NEWS OF THE WORLD, a materpiece of sound and rock-glory. So sit back and enjoy another installment of Classic Albums Revisited:
Queen is an amazing band. Period. Freddie Mercury is, in my opinion one of rock's greatest front-men. What I like about Queen how conflicted they are--masculine AND feminine, deadly serious AND fucking hilarious, heavy metal AND operatic, gay AND straight. Queen's fourth album, A DAY AT THE RACES (which has the band's most famous piece, "Bohemian Rhapsody") is generally regarded as the band's best record--but I just gotta disagree.
For me, it's NEWS OF THE WORLD. The band's sixth album, but second to be completely produced entirely by the band, NEWS OF THE WORLD is damn near a perfect record.
Recorded in July of 1977, the album was recorded in two months--but still sends shock waves that reverberate through the known (rockin') universe. Have you ever been to a *fill-in-the-blank-public-sporting-event*? If you have, then I guarantee that you've heard one song of this album. I speak, of course, of the album's lead single "We Are the Champions." Written by Freddie Mercury, specifically about football (the British kind), this song is a staple of every sports team everywhere. Ironic, since Mercury was not really the football-ing type (if ya get my drift). Still, the song perfectly captures the visceral feeling of winning, and has attitude to spare ("No time for losers/'cos we are the champions/of the world" not really aiming for anything other than the very tip top there).
The record company famously suggested that the song be linked/paired/married to the band's other famous single from NEWS OF THE WORLD, "We Will Rock You." Unlike "We Are the Champions," "We Will Rock You" was written by guitarist Brian May, who consciously wanted to write a song that would allow for audience participation--hence the simple "stomp/stomp/clap" repeated in basic 4/4 metere. It's been often said "keep it simple stupid," which is probably why this song is so famous--it's impossibly simple and yet, highly charged with the same visceral stuff of "We Are the Champions." Normally I hate it when people other than the band monkey around with songs, but I think the label was right here--these songs were made to go together. Even to this day, radio stations cannot play one without playing the other (an instant Queen two-fer!).
Those two genius songs are enough to make NEWS OF THE WORLD great, but believe it or not, the deep cuts are just as good as those singles.
The funky "Fight From the Inside" is more balls-to-the-walls machismo mixed with soaring "oohs" and "ahhs" and features drummer Roger Taylor on vocals (which explains it's killer percussions). Then there's the psychedelic, sexy "Get Down, Make Love" which is both hot and weird (the song has a brilliant, almost Asian flavor).
Like last week's Classic Album, NEWS OF THE WORLD was written during the 70's and you can hear punk's influence on the band. Notably on "Sheer Heart Attack," an extremely down-and-dirty, earache of a song that seems to almost be a parody of band's like The Sex Pistols (who crashed NEWS OF THE WORLD's recording sessions) who had a lot of conviction...but not much in the way of musical chops. Leah once heard this song's outro and asked me to shut it off. The song fucking rocks that hard. It's interesting that a band that could record a song like "Bohemian Rhapsody" (which is literally musical heaven) COULD ALSO record a song like "Sheer Heart Attack" (which is clearly supposed to be musical hell). Quick and aggressive, it's my favorite song on the record.
Ballads are also a Queen staple, and NEWS OF THE WORLD has a couple of killer ballads. The best is "Spread Your Wings," a story-song about a guy stuck in a shitty job--one that he's too good for (spoiler: the inspirational ending is he quits). This song is notable as it's the first Queen song to feature on vocal harmony. It's a fantastic, uplifting song. The next time you're fired or quit a shitty job, give it a listen--you'll feel better.
On the other end of the emotional spectrum is Brian May's "All Dead, All Dead." This song's stomping, steady drum-beat is toe-tapping awesome--though the subject material (losing pretty much all your dreams and loves) is sad. I absolutely love the synthesizer near the end of the song. Mercury's piano playing is also effortless and sad (people forget he was a fantastic musician as well as an amazing singer).
Can you believe that Queen recorded a blues song? About Eric Clapton? Yeah. Me neither, but that's what "Sleepin' on the Sidewalk" is. A blues song by Queen. Legend has it that the song was recorded while the band was just jamming--without them knowing they were being recorded. That's supposedly why the track is so different than the rest of the record (i.e. not as good). This is the albums' weakest track, but it's Queen PLAYING THE BLUES it ROCKS. Brian May does a pretty good American accent, too.
The album's most "epic" moment is the song "It's Late." This song is everything that Queen came to eventually represent--soaring vocals, sweet (almost choir-like) harmonies, awesome guitar-solos, and epic length (6:23). While not as epic as "Bohemian Rhapsody," I think (prepare for blasphemy) that this song is BETTER. Listen to the crunchy ass guitar solo at 3:50 into the song. That's brillant, makes-angels-cry rock.
I've listened to a lot of Queen, and I think they have many fine albums--but none as 100% perfect as NEWS OF THE WORLD. The only bad part about it is listening to it makes you miss Freddie all the more.