Queen are my favourite band of all time. Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon produced such incredible songs, albums, videos and live performances throughout their reign, with their own exceptional and wonderful sound, gifting us a magical legacy that will live on forever. Their music always makes me feel good, or in tougher times it makes me feel supported, and I never tire of listening to them.
Freddie’s premature passing will forever remain a heartbreaking loss, as nobody else has (or ever will) be able to match him. Yes, of course there are many other fabulously talented singers and musicians whom I also love, but Freddie was very much a one-off, in the best possible way. There was even a scientific study analysing his amazing voice a few years ago.
It’s also essential to credit the contributions of Brian, Roger and John too, of course, all of whom are awesome musicians in their own right. And as well as being great performers, Queen are the only band where every member has composed more than one chart-topping single, and all 4 members were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. And there are many other impressive sales figures and single statistics out there, including 50 incredible facts from the Official Charts, if further proof were needed,
I first discovered Queen back in the 1990s when I went to see a tribute act in concert with some school friends. I already knew a few of their biggest hits, naturally, but the show opened my ears to so much more. I immediately got Queen’s Greatest Hits compilations, then in later years dug deeper to explore their albums and videos, and have continued to be in love with them ever since.
And we’re now approaching a highly significant milestone, as it will soon be Queen’s 50th anniversary – although exactly when you celebrate it depends on which date you use. They first performed under that name on 18 July 1970, hence I’m posting this exactly 50 years on from that date, as it’s as good a reason as any. However, the lineup was only finalised when John Deacon joined the band on 1 March 1971. So the latter is really more appropriate, and for that reason Queen are going to be officially celebrating their 50th in 2021. But hey, as our actual Queen has 2 birthdays every year, I think her majestic musical namesake can have 2 as well, right?
With that in mind, therefore, and because I have plenty of time to kill given the current worldwide situation, it’s the perfect opportunity for me to start taking a deep dive into their work and write some reviews. After all, there’s so much to explore, with such a wonderful variety to their music, and they weren’t afraid to be ambitious and experimental. Even now I sometimes discover new things that I hadn’t noticed before.
It’s clearly going take me a long while, and I don’t know how frequent my posts will be or how many I’ll have the time to do, but we’ll see how far I get. It’ll just be fun to go through their output in detail, and I hope you enjoy coming on the journey with me!
Studio Album Reviews Introduction
Queen’s studio albums are all masterpieces in their own way, and they hold many gems that will be unfamiliar to those who only know the band’s biggest hits. I still have the 1994 edition CDs that I bought in the early 2000s, but I also have the 2011 expanded reissues from iTunes with bonus songs, videos and image galleries. Most of those videos I already have on DVD in better quality though, and I already had most of the live tracks from complete concert albums I already owned. But they still have other cool bonuses too.
Along the way I’ll also comment on related content, including:
- Music videos, including official promos, Top Of The Pops appearances, etc.
- Multitracks, which allow you to hear the vocals and instruments on their own. I won’t point to them directly as the links often change, but I will link to many of the Youtube videos that have been made from them. They’re always fascinating to listen to, regularly drawing your attention to things you’d never heard before, and even elements that were deleted from the final mix entirely. And it’s just wonderful to hear aspects like Freddie’s vocals or Brian’s guitar in isolation. Many of the isolated tracks have been extracted and shared online from the Rock Band video games, where the elements were separated to allow players to join in.
- Instrumentals, either officially released or created by fans from the multitracks. Freddie’s voice always takes things to another level, obviously, but focusing on the music alone can help you appreciate the underlying composition even more, and sing along karaoke-style if you wish!
- Variations including alternate takes, demos, extended versions, remixes, rarities etc.
- Selected live performances from concerts and BBC sessions.
- Any relevant clips from interviews and documentaries about the tracks.
- Cover versions, unofficial remixes and tribute videos. No cover can be as good as Queen, but there are still many exciting and entertaining interpretations out there. So hopefully you’ll like some of them.
Unless there is an exceptional reason to do so, as there will be e occasionally, I generally won’t be including:
- Alternate edits of tracks that are just a trimmed copy of the album version without any other changes (e.g. on certain singles or compilations). I will mention single edits that have more notable changes from the album version though.
- Low quality concert bootlegs, because the high quality recordings from official releases of other shows are normally sufficient as examples to include here.
- Fan recordings from Queen conventions. While the rarities showcased at these events are fascinating, and I will be highlighting a few of them, the recordings are often poor quality, and are regularly interrupted by a voice saying “Property of Queen Productions” to discourage sharing. Hopefully some of those tracks will see the light of day on special album reissues or box sets in the future.
I’ve also created 2 Youtube playlists for each album:
- Queen Playlist – These are tracks performed by the band themselves, including studio recordings, demos, multitracks, live versions, guest appearances, interviews, etc. They’re organised in the order of the songs on the album to keep everything together.
- Covers Playlist – A comprehensive collection of covers for all the songs on the album, sorted in order of popularity as determined by Youtube, so you can see which are apparently the best ones.
There will be far more tracks on those playlists, particularly in terms of live versions and covers, than I can possibly mention in these posts. And I will continue adding tracks as I become aware of them. So do have a look through them, you’ll find all sorts of little gems in there. And feel free to let me know of any other videos you think I should check out.
I’m not a professional music analyst, critic or historian, so I won’t be going into huge detail about the history and recording of each album or song. I’ll just give an overview based on what I’ve managed to find, and link to other sources of information that I believe to be accurate. And talking of knowledgeable people, I’m also grateful to my American friend Tina – another Queen aficionado and keen follower of my blog – who has encouraged me to do these reviews, and provided some of the links and a few other details you’ll see in these posts.
Ultimately, I’m just a somewhat obsessive fan sharing my opinions on their music, as my way of paying tribute to them. Many Queen fans will have different views on their work, and that’s fine. The band made such a wide variety of music, that’s enjoyed by such a huge fanbase, that we can’t agree on everything, except for the indisputable fact that Queen are awesome!
So let’s crack on with it. I hope you enjoy this epic voyage through my Queen collection over the coming months, and that it introduces you to tracks that you haven’t heard for a long time or at all!
Debut Album Introduction
Queen’s self-titled debut album from 1973 isn’t very well known to many casual fans who are only into the band’s greatest hits. And in its day it had very little interest. it failed to chart in the UK initially, only reaching number 47. It was only thanks to the release of their second album that people went back to check out their first, helping it to reach number 24 in the end. In the US it just about scraped into the top 100, running out of steam at number 83.
And yet it really shouldn’t be overlooked. Even at this very early stage, they had a great sound and lots of creativity, and their unique style was clearly starting to take shape. So there are some really good songs here, and it’s a key part of their story. See this clip from the Days Of Our Lives documentary for a look at how the band came together for it.
The liner notes are also interesting, in that the bass player is credited as Deacon John, apparently to make his name sound more interesting, and the drummer is Rogers Meadows-Taylor. John Deacon’s name was listed properly from the second album onwards, and the Meddows part of Roger’s name was omitted from the third album. I also rather like the photographer’s name, Douglas Puddifoot, for some reason (and he did capture many great images of the group).
Plus, of course, the band were keen from the outset to state that they weren’t using synthesisers, a note that was added to many of their albums, and it’s one of many reasons that their music is often so impressive.
The tracks on the album are as follows. Click their names to jump to the reviews:
- Keep Yourself Alive
- Doing Alright
- Great King Rat
- My Fairy King
- The Night Comes Down
- Modern Times Rock ‘n’ Roll
- Son And Daughter
- Seven Seas Of Rhye
- Non-Album Tracks
The 1971 De Lane Lea Studio Demos mentioned in the reviews are available on the 2011 reissue of the album.
You can see all the videos I mention in this post and many more on my Queen & Covers playlists for the band’s first 2 albums. So do feel free to check them out (along with my other Queen playlists) and see which versions of each song you like best!
Written by Brian May
“But I tell you just be satisfied and stay right where you are. Keep yourself alive.” This is a strangely appropriate song right now, that’s for sure. Although sadly I’m not likely to get “a million women in a belladonic haze” or “a million dinners brought to me on silver trays” during lockdown – or at any other time for that matter. One can dream though! But in any case, lyrics like that give a little hint of Queen’s glamorous and majestic ideas from the outset. And it’s a great rock song overall. It’s not as complicated or as amazing as some of their later tracks, but it is a very solid and exciting start to their recording career, with its catchy guitar riff in particular getting your attention.
It’s easy to forget that Queen were once very unknown, and weren’t the behemoth of the music industry that it feels like they’ve always been. So it’s hard to imagine that this track was largely ignored upon its release, and is their only single that failed to chart. BBC Radio 1 refused to play it as they felt the intro was too long, denying it valuable exposure. Radio Luxembourg played it though, and it did do well in Japan and parts of New England for some reason.
But it’s a shame it wasn’t much of a success, because it’s a very strong and catchy opening, and laid solid foundations for the legacy of great music that they would continue to produce for many years. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked the track as number 31 in their list of The 100 Greatest Guitar Songs Of All Time, so at least in hindsight it has had some recognition.
- Official Video – This is a video of the band performing the track, mimed of course, as was often the case for promo videos back then. But it’s a cool first look at the band. Like the song, there are hints of extravagance, but it’s very understated and simple compared to their more elaborate productions later on. The spotlight is on Freddie of course, looking great with his long hair, leafy patterned jacket, chain mail around his wrists, his golden belt and a big striking necklace. Brian and John almost disappear into the background with their black outfits, but when the spotlight falls on Brian momentarily, you can see he has a shiny silver necklace on as well. Roger gets a few close ups too, wearing a shimmery sleeveless top that catches the light nicely. This video is included a bonus with the 2011 iTunes edition of the album.
- First Version – This enjoyable alternative video was shot in a much lighter studio, so you can see all of the group much more clearly. Freddie’s dressed all in white this time, but there is some nice patterning on the back of his jacket. There are a few strange visual effects now and again that aren’t really necessary, but some of the editing is good, including a nice set of jump cuts ending with a sliding bass note from John, just before they launch into the final repeating chorus.
- Queen Rocks Montage Video – This is a strange mash up of the 2 promo videos above plus old film footage of dancers, sportsmen, trains and other stuff from an Old Grey Whistle Test montage. It’s a fun alternative, but I prefer the videos above. The Whistle Test montage had been put together by the show’s producer, who didn’t know who the artist of the song was and just threw it in. But it helped to generate a bit of curious interest from people who wanted to find out who the band were.
- Vocals – It’s interesting to hear how Freddie’s lines overlap to keep the rhythm going here. You can also hear little exclamations like “take it on” near the beginning and “wow” near the end that get buried in the final mix.
- Guitar – This is awesome and easily the best part of the track, including some cool phasing effects, and you can pick out lots of little details when you hear it on its own like this.
- Bass & Drums – These form a solid foundation to the track and are quite simple for the most part. John’s bassline is mostly a steady one note per beat, but he does throw in one or two extra bits here and there. And there’s a nice drum solo along with a few little fills from Roger. Even though these parts only start midway through the intro of the song, you can quickly figure out where you are, and from that point you can hear the rest of the track in your head very clearly.
- The song also works well as an instrumental, where you can hear how all the different parts go together before Freddie’s vocals are added.
- De Lane Lea Studios Demo – This is fairly similar to the final version, but most notably has more prominent use of the acoustic guitar, and Roger’s drumming is pretty good too. So it’s a great early iteration, and it’s reportedly the version Brian May likes best. But I still prefer the final version personally, as I think the vocals and guitars sound better in particular.
- Long Lost Retake – Recorded in 1975 for a potential US single, but only surfaced on the 2011 reissue of A Night At The Opera. This is an even heavier version that sounds pretty cool, so I’m glad they eventually released it. I still prefer the original, but this is a very acceptable alternative.
- Lockdown Concerto & Tutorial – Brian gives a great instrumental performance of this, with a nice little flourish at the end, and it’s cool to get a close-up and slowed-down view of him playing in the second part. Other lockdown jams accompanying Brian’s performance included those by Cello vs Guitar and Kamil Piekos.
The BBC Sessions from 5 February 1973 & 25 July 1973 use the studio backing track with Freddie singing the vocals again over the top, and there might be one or two other minor additions. So they aren’t fully live and they don’t sound radically different to the album version. But they’re still nice to have.
In concerts, as was often the case with many of their tracks, this song was heavier and faster. Freddie was very keen to get the audience clapping and singing along, and Roger was able to indulge himself with a good drum solo in the middle.
There are several live versions on my playlist, including recent performances with Adam Lambert, but some notable examples from the Freddie era include:
- Rainbow Theatre, London on 31 March 1974 and 20 November 1974 – On the Live At The Rainbow album, these tracks have the drum solo and final reprise separated from the rest of the song, which is strange and rather pointless. So, in both shows, I’ve edited the tracks back together on my computer, as they sound better. That way, when I have my music on Shuffle Mode, I get the whole track if it’s chosen randomly, not just part of it.
- Hammersmith Odeon, London on 24 December 1975
- Live Killers – European Tour 1979 – This is the fastest version I own. It feels perhaps a bit too fast really, but it’s still good.
- Montreal Forum, Canada on 24/25 November 1981 – This includes some fun improvisation at the start called Sex Show, which Freddie exclaims as they launch into the main song. You can hear the vocals even more clearly in the semi a cappella mix Chief Mouse has made, by extracting the central surround sound channel from the DVD (as he’s done with all the other songs from the show). And you can hear Brian & Roger’s commentary from the Blu-ray edition of the concert too.
There are a few covers on my playlist, but here are some notable examples:
- The song features in a fun and important scene in the Bohemian Rhapsody Movie, showing the band first performing on stage, in front of a cynical audience who don’t know what to make of the new lead singer. Rami gives a great performance as Freddie Bulsara (prior to his name change), starting off awkwardly and having trouble with the microphone, before ripping the entire stand out of the ground and making the song his own, even if he hasn’t learnt the lyrics properly.
- Extreme covered the song at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. It’s not an amazing rendition, but it’s not bad either.
- Yngwie Malmsteen & Pat Travers have both released covers, but neither do the song justice in my opinion.
- C-Jam play an upbeat cello quartet version.
- Gerry Phillips impressively ‘hand-farts’ the song, in a skill called manualism.
Written by Brian May & Tim Staffell
This is a sweet little song, in a much calmer style to the previous track for the most part, although there is a very nice middle section that builds gradually to a heavier rock-out moment, and there’s another great guitar solo towards the end. It’s the first example that Queen can achieve the juxtaposition of slow and fast styles in one song to great effect. It was also released as the B-side to Liar.
Original Smile Version
The song was originally written and performed very nicely by a band called Smile, which featured Brian May, Roger Taylor and Tim Staffell. There’s no official album by Smile, as they didn’t record much, and as such only a set of intriguing bootlegs exist. However, the Bohemian Rhapsody movie soundtrack does include an enjoyable Revisited version of Smile’s recording. And there’s a nice scene referencing the song in the film, featuring Smile’s biggest fan – a certain young Farrokh Bulsara, who would later have a very different name thanks to track 4 here on Queen’s debut album.
- The BBC Session from 5 February 1973 is mostly similar to the final version, again using the backing track with fresh vocals and other little bits on top. But the piano sounds clearer here compared to the studio version, as it hasn’t had an echo effect added to it, and Roger sings the final verse instead of Freddie.
- Queen included the song in some of their concerts, such as the great performance at Earls Court in 1977. And more recently, Brian and Roger performed it with Adam Lambert, as can be seen in a few videos on my Queen playlist.
- Co-writer of the song Tim Staffell included his own version on his Amigo album, which has a very different feel and sounds nice, but Queen’s version is still much better. He’s also performed it live too.
- There were nice cover versions posted during lockdown by Cello vs Guitar & Rock You! Queen Tribute (both performed during lockdown), and there are one or two other versions in my covers playlist.
Written by Freddie Mercury
This epic track can easily be overlooked, but tells a dark but fun story, and I can imagine casual fans who are digging deeper for the first time might be surprised by a few of the lyrics. I love the guitar sections in this too, which feels like a cool jam session.
- Preliminary Mix – Released on the 1994 reissue of the album, this is much the same as the final version, but reflects the fact that the original tapes were too damaged to produce remasters from, so they had to use a mix that was as close to the final version as possible. So it does sound slightly different, with an imperfect stereo mix that has moments of silence in the left or right channels at certain points.
- De Lane Lea Studio Demo – The song is basically complete in this 1971 demo, they just polished it up when they came to record it for the album, So it’s a good alternative take. There are even earlier demos called Take 1 and Take 4 online, but they’re very poor quality convention recordings unfortunately.
- BBC Session – 3 December 1973 – This is a great version of the song as well. It’s not performed to a backing track unlike some of the earlier sessions, so it’s a proper live performance.
- Rainbow Theatre – 31 March 1974 – This is a bit faster, heavier and longer than the studio version and has fabulous jamming by Brian and Roger during it, so it’s quite possibly the best version of the song.
- There are very few covers of this song out there, but a few bands have performed it live, such as Smørmøll from Norway.
Written by Freddie Mercury
Apart from telling a lovely story with very poetic lyrics, including lines from Robert Browning’s poem The Pied Piper of Hamelin, this awesome song forms a key part in Freddie Mercury’s story, as it’s believed to be the inspiration for his change in surname from Bulsara, given the “Mother Mercury” line. It’s also the first song in which he gets to show off his piano skills (as it was Brian May tinkling the ivories on Doing All Right). The vocals on this track are amazing too, with some incredible high notes from both Freddie and Roger, and beautiful harmonies throughout, on top of wonderful instrumentation. There are so many great layers to the whole thing. So it’s easily one of the most underrated tracks in Queen’s catalogue that too few people know about.
- This was the first track that Queen played on the radio, as part of a John Peel BBC session on 5 February 1973. It uses the backing track from the album with fresh vocals and other little things on top, so it doesn’t sound radically different.
- Queen tribute band Valensia included their own version on their Queen Tribute album. It’s an impressive performance given that it’s not an easy song to cover.
- It’s even harder to perform live, and Queen never attempted it (all I’ve found is a brief snippet of the intro in a 1985 medley). But tribute band Galileo have done a good job of it, so kudos to them for that.
Written by Freddie Mercury
Many people don’t realise that Queen have a number of tracks longer than Bohemian Rhapsody, and this is the first such example. While it’s not as epic in structure and style as Bo Rhap, or even My Fairy King immediately preceding it, Liar is still a fantastic rock song and one of the album’s top highlights, with a lot of power thanks to Roger’s thumping intro and energetic percussion, Freddie’s pleading vocals, Brian’s fabulous guitar work, and John’s excellent bass playing. It very effectively brings forth the anger and derision of those who think the central character in the lyrics isn’t telling the truth.
- Official Video – This is very similar to the Keep Yourself Alive video, as it was recorded on the same day, with the band again doing a mimed performance. They’re all wearing black this time, even Freddie, and it suits the theme of the song. Both Freddie and Roger have sparkly tops on – Roger’s being sleeveless ,while Freddie’s has a deep v-neck – and it’s a look that suits them both.
- Alternative Version – This is shot in the same studio as the alternative video for Keep Yourself Alive, so it’s much lighter and easier to see the group. It has some brief visual effects that prevent you from seeing anything, but otherwise the band look very cool here.
- De Lane Lea Studios Demo – This is a brilliant early version of the track that’s nearly 8 minutes long, with extended guitar and percussion sections, and slightly different vocals here and there. It’s a great alternative to have.
- US Single Version – Liar wasn’t released as a single in the UK, but this 3 minute edit of the song was released in the States without the band’s consent and has understandably had widespread disapproval. As you can imagine, cutting the song down to half its length requires the removal of a lot of great material. It might not have been quite so bad if they’d just trimmed it down to an uninterrupted 3-minute section – 0:20 to 3:25 could work, for example. starting with the guitar riff, and ending with the group chanting “Liar” after Freddie sings it three times. Still far from ideal, but better than the method used here instead, chopping out different sections of the song all over the place, meaning the jumps are really awkward to listen to. It’s sacrilege to edit down any Queen song really, they should all be heard in full every time. But if it really has to be done, there are better ways than this!
- Hollywood Records Remix – I’ve never been a fan of the Hollywood Records Remixes, as they add unnecessary effects and elements that detract from the core essence and enjoyment of the tracks. This mix by John Luongo and Gary Hellman isn’t too bad relative to some to be fair, but there are still a few odd effects and extra percussion parts that aren’t needed.
- Interestingly, and perhaps confusingly to some fans, Roger Taylor’s band The Cross also recorded a track called Liar, but it’s a completely different song.
- The BBC sessions from 5 February 1973 & 25 July 1973 both use the original backing track, with Freddie singing over the top and a few other small additions, so they don’t sound a lot different to the original. They’ve clearly added more live elements in the second recording though, as there are notable differences compared to the original, so it is the more interesting out of those sessions.
- Out of the various official concert releases, all of which are great, I think my favourite versions are from the Rainbow Theatre on 31 March and 20 November 1974, as there’s incredible energy and power to the performances. A video of the November performance is included with the 2011 iTunes edition of the album. But pretty much any version you can find from the 1970s is a winner, it’s tough to choose between them. Other examples include Hammersmith Odeon on 24 December 1975 and Houston in 1977.
- With any performance of this song, it’s well worth honing in on John Deacon’s bass playing, as it’s the perfect showcase for his abilities. With some songs the bass can be quite simple, but here it’s energetic, rhythmic and melodic, with a nice solo in the middle, and he doesn’t often get the spotlight and appreciation as often as he deserves or wants. A good example is a video from London on 6 June 1977, where you can see and hear him quite well.
- The band continued performing the song in full until 1982 it seems. But by the mid-1980s the song had become much shorter, forming a 2-minute segment of a medley with other tracks like Keep Yourself Alive. One example is from Rio in 1985, and here Freddie isn’t singing it as strongly as a decade before, his voice cracking as he tries to hit one or two high notes. However, even when Freddie isn’t quite at his best he still sounds awesome. And when the medley of songs is heard in full, it’s great to hear Liar in there. It just sounds rather short all by itself.
- During their Magic tour the following year, the only remnant left was the riff leading into Tear Me Up.
- There is also interesting footage from the Rare Live compilation video, and an amusing clip of a powercut they had while performing the song, which in the interview Brian says was quite normal at shows back in those days!
There’s an interesting version by tribute band Valensia, who have put their own spin on it so it sounds very different indeed, even incorporating little elements from other Queen songs. Queen’s version is far superior, but this is still nice in its own way.
Written by Brian May
Just like Doing All Right, this song gives you a chance to catch your breath after the rock-out nature of the track preceding it. There are no heavy sections to catch you off guard this time, just a beautiful song about self-reflection, with some nice harmonies.
What it does have in common with Liar is a very long intro lasting over a minute before the vocals kick in (just over 1:10 for this track, and 1:25 for Liar). Which isn’t a bad thing, they actually sound really nice in both cases. But it’s notable relative to the rest of the album, and indeed in comparison with many of Queen’s later hits, where they try and get to the vocals as soon as possible to ensnare people’s attention, especially for radio play.
- The album track is actually a revised mix of the De Lane Lea Studios Demo. Even though, like all the other demos, the song was re-recorded for the album, Brian felt that they couldn’t improve upon their original recording, so arranged for that to be used with new mixing instead. You can hear the difference in the mix very clearly, with the final album version being much cleaner.
- There’s a nice solo cover by Baptiste Defromont on Youtube, who’s good at hitting the high notes.
- The song was used in Episode 10 of the HBO series Vinyl. I’ve never seen the show, but it looks quite effective from the clip.
Written by Roger Taylor
This is Roger’s chance to shine, and he wastes no time in doing so, with a raw and frantic rock song that packs quite a lot into less than 2 minutes. It’s not as special as some of the other songs on the album for me, but it’s still great to rock out to.
- BBC Sessions – 3 December 1973 & 3 April 1974 – These are very similar to the album version, although the 1974 session is much slower, which feels a bit strange.
- Rainbow Theatre – 31 March 1974 & 20 November 1974 – This was naturally very well suited to an energetic live performance, which they extended a little for a bit of a jam. It didn’t stay in their set for long though, as it’s not one of their better known tracks.
- An instrumental version was released as part of their unsuccessful video game The eYe. It’s not a fancy instrumental, especially by Queen standards, but there’s some nice guitar work that’s easier to focus on this way.
- Kevin Dubrow has done a nice cover that’s quite faithful to the original.
- Blue Fox have done a good version for a tribute album called Horse Feathers & Animal Crackers: A Tribute To Queen, and have performed it live too. There are a lot of tracks on that album – some much better than others, that’s for sure.
Written by Brian May
This is another of Queen’s very best tracks from their earliest days, and was the B-side to Keep Yourself Alive. It has a much slower tempo than the previous track, but is still heavy and powerful and full of energy, and again has great harmonies and guitar parts, including the memorable riff at the heart of the song. It also has a rare occurrence of swearing in the lyrics (“shovel shit”), resulting in a rather awkward-sounding edit on the Australian single, removing the entire line and thus disrupting the rhythm of the song.
The BBC Sessions from 25 July 1973 and 3 December 1973 are brilliant and very interesting performances. They’re a good 3 or 4 minutes longer than the original album track, thanks to an extended jam section in the middle with a driving beat and a great guitar solo, featuring riffs that would later become part of Brighton Rock on the Sheer Heart Attack album the following year. Freddie, meanwhile, censors the lyrics because he’s on the BBC, singing “shovel shhh…” or “shovel it” instead of the alternative.
And the closing comments by the DJs are interesting too, with Alan Black observing that “they’ve been holding back until they feel they’re ready, and I think that time has arrived”, while John Peel remarks that they’re “a band that sounds like nutters actually, and I like that.” Getting an endorsement from presenters like those was a badge of pride for any artist back then, as they really knew their stuff.
The On Air box set of BBC sessions also includes a performance from Golders Green Hippodrome on 13 September 1973, while Live At The Rainbow includes performances from 31 March 1974 and 20 November 1974. And they’re all amazing to listen to. Every member of the group shines, particularly Brian with his awesome extended solos and Roger’s frantic percussion, while John is keeping up beautifully on the bass and Freddie is singing as powerfully as you’d expect. Interestingly, Freddie continues to sing “shovel it” in the Rainbow shows, instead of the original line, despite the fact that he wasn’t averse to swearing on stage occasionally.
In all of those cases, however, the song is split into 3 separate tracks on each album, much like the Rainbow versions of Keep Yourself Alive that I mentioned earlier. This time it’s been done to separate the guitar solo in the middle (which was used on stage to give the rest of the band a chance to rest and change outfits). But as fantastic as the solo is – especially in the latter of the two Rainbow gigs where it’s nearly 5 minutes of pure heaven – I’d rather hear the whole song in its full extended glory, as it deserves to be consumed, and I would never have a need to listen to the short final reprise section on its own. So I’ve merged the 3 tracks together in each case on my computer. This gives a much clearer sense of how long the performances are, with two of them lasting over 7 minutes, and the final Rainbow performance (the best of all these versions) clocking in at over 10 minutes!
In contrast, the version from the Hammersmith Odeon on 24 December 1975 only lasts a minute and a half, tagged on to the end of Brighton Rock and its guitar solo. So you’re basically getting the reprise of Son And Daughter without the beginning part of it. The 2011 iTunes version of the album contains a bonus video of this performance.
Written by Freddie Mercury
This song doesn’t resonate as strongly with me as it might to others given my personal beliefs. Although, to be fair, Freddie’s family practised Zoroastrianism rather than Christianity, which may seem confusing. But it’s still very possible that he believed in God or some kind of higher power, or simply found the Bible story interesting. Maybe there’s a deeper meaning we’ll never know. Clearly it was worthy enough of a song in any case. But whatever the reason behind the composition, it’s still a good track, concisely referencing aspects of Christ’s life, while adding a wonderful and lengthy guitar section in the middle. And let’s face it, Freddie’s existence and talent does make a fair argument that some kind of deity might exist. Hard to explain him in any other way.
- The 2011 reissue of the album also contains the De Lane Lea demo for this song, which is slightly slower but considerably longer, thanks to an even lengthier instrumental section. So it’s a great alternative version to have in the collection.
- There’s a nice piano cover by Lucie Halamíková, who has loads of other covers on her channel, including with her group Lucie & The Diamonds.
Written by Freddie Mercury
This is an early instrumental version of the song that appeared in its more complete form on the next album, so I’ll discuss it properly there. It’s a nice little coda for this album though.
Mad The Swine, written by Freddie, was intended to be the 4th track between Great King Rat and My Fairy King. But there were disagreements over the quality of the recording they produced and it was left off. Many years later, in 1991, it was polished up and released as the B-side to the single of Headlong in the UK and as a bonus track on the Hollywood Records re-release of the album. It was then released again on the 2011 album reissue.
It’s a nice little song that again has a religious focus, with a unique and catchy percussion style that isn’t heavy like some of the other tracks. It’s not a major problem that it was left off the album, it works well without it. But it would have added a bit more variety if it had been included. At least we finally have it now.
Hangman is a song that was apparently written by Freddie when he was in a band called Wreckage for a short period. A studio recording is rumoured to exist but has never been released. However, bootleg recordings show that it was performed live, some of which were included in the Top 100 Bootlegs project. That project aimed to release the best quality bootlegs in a more official way, but was abandoned after 32 albums. I did buy a few of the albums at the time to try it out, but the audio quality really isn’t great, so I’d rather stick with the professional recordings that Queen made themselves. From what I have heard of this particular track, however, it’s a great rock song, with a decent riff and a strong rhythm to it, so it’s a real shame we haven’t got a clean studio version of it.
Polar Bear is a lovely little song for which only a demo exists, and is a cover of the song by pre-Queen band Smile. The Smile version is arguably better, as it’s sung very well by Tim Staffell, whereas Freddie perhaps sings it a bit too high in the Queen version. But both are great in their own way. There’s a nice cover by Valensia too.
Silver Salmon is a great heavy rock track, and again only a demo exists. There seems to be no clear consensus as to whether this was recorded around 1973 when working on their debut album, or in 1977 during sessions for News Of The World. Either is possible, but given that the track is written by Tim Staffell, who was in Smile and co-wrote Doing All Right, it feels like it belongs in this post. It’s well worth a listen in any case.
I may look more closely at the pre-Queen groups and available tracks at a later date, as that could easily take up a whole post. For now I want to focus on the band’s main work before I get into other things they’ve done. But it is worth looking up some of those early tracks, as it’s fascinating to get an insight into the early days of all the band members. The Gettin’ Smile album (featuring tracks by Smile & 1984, plus a couple with Eddie Howell) gives you a good selection of songs, and there are a few important rarities on the Freddie Mercury Solo Collection box set too.
Finally, Queen didn’t do covers on their studio albums, but in their live concerts they did like to let their hair down with a bit of rock and roll, with songs like Jailhouse Rock, Lucille, Tutti Frutti, Hello Mary Lou, and so on. It was always great to see them paying tribute to some of their favourite artists in such a lively way, as illustrated from a show in London in 1977. A studio Rock And Roll Medley is rumoured to exist but has never been released.
Queen’s first album is an absolute treasure with a great variety of songs, and deserves more attention than it receives. Sure, they hadn’t yet fully pinned down their unique sound, and it’s not the very best album they ever produced. But it’s still pretty damn good and certainly up there with their best. And it did lay a solid foundation for their many successes to come, so it’s a vitally important piece of music history.
Check out my Queen & Covers playlists for the band’s first 2 albums, to explore the official videos, alternate versions, live performances, rarities and more. I’ll update them in the future as I become aware of new videos. If there are others I should check out and consider adding to these lists (or any of my Queen playlists for that matter), do let me know. And I’ll see you next time for the second album!