Following on from my in-depth review of Queen’s debut album, we now move on to the imaginatively titled Queen II, released in 1974. It’s not a very well known album amongst casual greatest hits consufmers, but there are many in the Queen fanbase who regard it as their favourite of all the band’s studio releases. It’s certainly one of mine, it’s amazing.
Artists including Axl Rose and Steve Vai have cited the album as an influence on their own work. And Brian May once told Classic Rock Magazine that it was his favourite album for a long time too, only superseded by Made In Heaven decades later. So the band themselves are very fond of it. They certainly prefer it to their first LP, which they were never fully happy with.
And it’s easy to see (or indeed hear) why Queen II gets so much love, because this is where things really start to get interesting, with its intricately arranged, artistically multilayered and beautifully harmonic compositions in a mixture of styles. It’s essential to listen to the album with headphones to fully appreciate how much work and perfectionism went into it. And they had more of a structure to the album this time, with a White side containing more emotional songs (4 written by Brian and 1 by Roger), and a Black side presenting songs in more of a fantasy vein (all written by Freddie).
Queen were ready to experiment, explore and be excessive. They were keen to push the boundaries and the technology, even wearing the oxide layers off the tapes as they added more and more musical layers to get a grand orchestral effect. And they were determined not to be bossed around or fit in with any expected norms. Yet remarkably they completed the recording within a month. Check out this clip from the Days Of Our Lives documentary for an insight into how it came together.
This was their moment. They needed to stand out from the crowd if they were to have any chance of success. And they did. The album reached number 5 in the UK, staying in the charts for 29 weeks and achieving Gold status, a significant improvement over their debut. Their dominance of overseas markets was still yet to come, but they were already doing a bit better there too, peaking at number 49 in America.
So here’s my review of each of the tracks, including a look at alternate versions, live performances, covers and more that I’m aware of, as explained in my previous post. And as I’ve said before, I’m not a music expert, just a very keen fan, and I’m sure there will be other Queen fans who disagree with some of my opinions, which is fine. Ultimately, this is all just for fun. So I hope you enjoy!
The tracks on the album are as follows. Click their names to jump to the reviews:
- Father To Son
- White Queen (As It Began)
- Some Day One Day
- The Loser In The End
- Ogre Battle
- The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke
- The March Of The Black Queen
- Funny How Love Is
- Seven Seas Of Rhye
- See What A Fool I’ve Been (Non-Album B-Side)
You can see all the videos I mention in this post and more on my Queen & Covers playlists for this album. 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
This instrumental sets the tone for the album right off the bat, the steady heartbeat accompanied by beautifully harmonised guitars as you imagine the band confidently and regally striding into the room to take up their thrones. The left and right channels each carry their own distinctive melodies too. For the first half of the track, the right channel carries the main melody while the left provides a relatively simple accompaniment, like a bassline. Then they swap over for the second half, before finally merging into one at the very end. It’s very effective.
It’s as if the band have paraded ceremoniously around the room before finally approaching and surrounding you, ready to engulf your senses in what they have to offer. And they waste no time in doing so, the closing notes of the track acting as a neat segue into the next, not the first time that happens on this album.
A recording of this track was often used to introduce their live concerts during this period. Examples can be heard from the 13 September 1973 Golders Green Hippodrome show in the On Air collection, and the 31 March and 20 November 1974 shows in the Live At The Rainbow set. The Rainbow audiences greet it with much excitement, unlike the silent Golders Green crowd, who would never have heard it before as the second album wasn’t even out yet (it was held back a bit so as not to be released too close to the first one). In more recent years Queen have also used it in their concerts with Adam Lambert too, again much to the delight of the audience.
- There’s a wonderful orchestral cover by Carlos Bonell & The Lara Symphony Orchestra from his album Queen Guitar Rhapsodies.
- Yumeddie has posted a nice piano version accompanied by footage of the band.
- Ton Venhuizen has done a beautiful version on a single acoustic guitar.
- Reza Pratama and Kamoshita Hayato are just 2 examples of many Youtubers who have used multiple electric guitar parts to build up the harmonies, with all of the separately recorded clips on screen at once to show how it comes together. It therefore gives a simplified insight into how Queen did it. Kamoshita’s video even adds a breakdown of the various tracks at the end to demonstrate further.
Written by Brian May
Making this the first proper song on the album sets the bar really high from the outset. With its emotional lyrics about a parent passing a lifelong message to his child, layers of fabulously harmonic guitars (not just Brian on electric and acoustic, but also John Deacon on acoustic as well as his usual bass), lush backing vocals, occasional changes to the rhythm to keep things interesting, brief moments of calm to catch your breath, and a sing-along fade-out, they throw everything at this track and it’s gorgeous. It certainly doesn’t feel like it’s 6 minutes long when you get so absorbed in it. They even try and trick you into thinking that it’s about to end halfway through, making you feel all the happier when it kicks back in again. “Joyful the sound” indeed, as Freddie sings.
Live versions of this song can be heard in the 13 September 1973 Golders Green Hippodrome show, and the 31 March and 20 November 1974 shows from the Rainbow Theatre. The Rainbow versions are the best, because they’re amazing and powerful performances, and the overall sound mix is better. But the Golders Green performance is still good too.
- I mentioned one of his covers for the previous album, but Youtuber Oniric has done a great version of this track as well, playing every instrument himself. Not only that, but he embarked on a project to cover nearly the entire album. So I won’t mention him for the other songs, but his tracks are worth checking out, as they’re all great tributes to the originals. He even pulls off the more complicated songs really well.
- Queen Killers have covered this well on just piano and vocals, and have also done multiple songs from this album – not as well as Oniric above, but they’re still nice, and are grouped together near the end of my Covers playlist.
- Queen Kings included a fun live performance on their album News Of The Kings.
- There’s also a nicely arranged piano cover by David Lucas and a good live performance by a band called Smope. Sure, they sound nothing like Queen, but they make the song their own and do a decent job of it.
Written by Brian May
This is a gorgeous ballad, with a couple of very cool heavier moments here and there. Its poetic and sad lyrics. lovely instrumentation, and the multi-tracked illusion of a backing choir all come together wonderfully. It’s a firm favourite among many big Queen fans, myself included.
It was regularly on Queen’s live setlists for a while, and examples can be heard from the BBC Session on 3 April 1974, the Rainbow Theatre on 31 March & 20 November 1974 and the Hammersmith Odeon on 24 December 1975. The November performance from the Rainbow is one of the bonus videos on the 2011 iTunes version of the album.
These are all incredible performances that adapt the song perfectly for a live show, adding elements that are not present on the studio version. They’re most notable for the stunning instrumental section with Freddie and Brian jamming on the piano and guitar respectively, and there are superb solos from Brian too. Freddie’s vocals during the rest of the song are also naturally superb, Brian plays the guitar faultlessly across the spectrum from light to heavy, Roger’s percussion is brilliant as he gets regular opportunities to fill and keep things interesting, and John’s bass performance is solid as always. If I were forced to pick a favourite, I might go for the Hammersmith version, but it’s a very tough call.
- The Czech Symphonic Orchestra performed the song really beautifully at their Freddie tribute concert, marking the 10th anniversary of his death on 20 November 2001.
- Queen Kings play a good live rendition on their album News Of The Kings.
- There are nice piano renditions by Gabriele Baldocci, Lucie Halamíková and Daria Saenko. Lucie has also covered some other songs from this album nicely too.
- On guitar, there’s a very cool solo cover by Massimo Li Calzi on his Red Special, and a great version on multiple guitars by Rick Shaw.
- There’s a very different arrangement by I Am A Camera for Queen Week on Secret Sessions. It’s nothing like Queen’s version and thus nowhere near as good, but it’s still interesting to hear it done so differently.
Written by Brian May
This lovely, sweet song about optimistic hope for the future, during a time of darkness and fear, has felt rather apt this year. And here Brian blesses us not just with sumptuous guitar playing, but also his singing too, as he carries the lead vocal for a change. He doesn’t have the range or talent of Freddie in that department, sure, but he’s still very good, singing this beautifully and from the heart. And, again, there are gorgeous backing vocals too, along with another mention of being a queen in the lyrics. Sadly, Queen never performed this during their live concerts, which is a real shame.
- Andy Spiller has put together a solo performance that’s quite different to Queen’s original, but is still enjoyable and remains true to the spirit of the song.
- Valtteri Nieminen performs a good instrumental piano version.
- I don’t often look at foreign covers, but the Spanish version by Argentine rock trio Soda Stéreo entitled Algun Dia sounds nice to be fair. Youtuber Ravy Coyoy has even posted a mix with Queen’s version to compare them. And that version has in turn been covered on acoustic guitar by Youtuber Seba Lange.
Written by Roger Taylor
The percussive intro immediately gives away that this is a Roger composition. I rather like the rhythm he gives to this great rock song, and he has a good singing voice too. I would say I prefer this to his Modern Times track on the previous album, though that’s still a great song as well. Here he’s giving a message to the mothers out there, reassuring them that while they may lose their child when they move out and be left alone, and will always feel that sense of loss, they will still always be the mother on which their child depends. As with the previous track, this was sadly never performed live.
Apart from the great version by Oniric as part of his album project I mentioned earlier, and a nice piano cover by Lexico, the only other version I can find is a very strange cover by Jism for a tribute album that sounds nothing like Queen’s version and even incorporating brief snippets from other Queen songs for no good reason.
Written by Freddie Mercury
The thunderous soundscape of this song perfectly suits the event imagined by its title. It’s one of the band’s heaviest tracks – although you wouldn’t initially know it from the intro, which slowly builds from silence before eventually launching into a backwards copy of the outro, giving the song a kind of circular effect. It leads nicely into the main riff, and then Freddie launches into another fantasy story, the lyrics conjuring up some very interesting imagery of the eponymous giants, and there’s a great instrumental section full of power and conflict. that really helps you to visualise the battle taking place.
There is a Hollywood Records remix of this song but it makes a lot of unnecessary changes and doesn’t sound anywhere near as good as the original. It’s a bit more tolerable than some of the other Hollywood remixes though.
- Two versions were recorded for the BBC – one at Golder’s Green Hippodrome on 13 September 1973, then a John Peel session on 3 December that year. Both are great performances, although Freddie’s voice is a bit tucked away in the mix from the Golders Green show. In both cases the quiet intro from the album is replaced by some great guitar work from Brian, which is very effective at building things up before the song kicks in properly. “There’s a band of monsters for you”, John Peel remarks after the December session, while after the Golders Green performance the band members are introduced by the names listed on their first album (including Roger Meddows-Taylor and Deacon John), as that’s all the presenters had to go on at the time.
- Unsurprisingly the song also went down well when performed by Queen on tour, as they always put a lot of energy and power into it. The track can be heard on their live albums from the Rainbow Theatre on 31 March & 20 November 1974 and the Hammersmith Odeon on 24 December 1975. It was already part of their set list before they recorded Queen II, but they waited until this album to get it right in the studio. The 2011 iTunes edition of the album contains the Odeon performance as a bonus video.
- There is also footage of the band giving great performances of the song at Hyde Park in 1976 and Earls Court on 7 June 1977. It was dropped for later tours.
- This is a difficult song to do a decent cover of, especially with the high harmonies and the guitar parts that mark the original out so well. The best attempts I’ve found are by tribute bands Almost Queen, The Show Must Go On (featuring TV composer Bear McCreary), and Dutch group Miracle, plus Robby Valentine with great hair and nice guitar work at a Dutch Queen convention. None come close to Queen, but still sound good and are faithful to the original.
- A very short 30 second instrumental of this track features in the We Will Rock You musical, as can be heard in the cast recordings from London and Germany.
Written by Freddie Mercury
The end of Ogre Battle segues straight into this marvellous song, which is based on the painting of the same name by Richard Dadd, and the artist’s poem in which the characters are named. Some versions of the album even came with a fold-out reproduction of the painting, as recalled by Neil Gaiman. I’ve never read about the painting before now, so it’s quite interesting to take a close look at it and learn a bit about the artist, including the severe change in his mental health during his life.
It’s therefore well worth reading the lyrics as you listen to this track, as it’s full of fantasy, strange names and unusual phrases. The amount of detail in the song illustrates just how detailed the painting is. I strongly recommend headphones too, just like you should for all their songs, as there’s lots to pick out and enjoy in the mix, including the harpsichord played by Freddie and castanets played by producer Roy Thomas Baker, and there’s some nice panning between the channels too. Roger Taylor called the song “Queen’s biggest stereo experiment”.
The only live recording known to exist, and a brilliant one at that, is from the Rainbow Theatre on 31 March 1974. It was never performed again after the Queen II tour.
It’s another song that’s tricky to do justice to, but there are pretty good covers by Toehider and a tribute band called Queer, plus a very enjoyable adaptation by the Göteborg Wind Orchestra, and a nice version on strings by Takashi Kawaguchi. The video for the cover by Oniric includes an impressive 3D flyover of the painting to highlight the various characters mentioned in the lyrics.
But I think the prize here has to go to the young Lorenz Haselsteiner, playing all the many instrumental and vocal parts in his wonderfully performed and very well edited video, that combines the song with the next track Nevermore, just as it does on the album.
Written by Freddie Mercury
The closing notes of the previous track continue into this gorgeous and sad little ballad, just 1:19 in length. Freddie sings both the lead vocal and the backing harmonies so beautifully here. It’s sublime and really sticks in your head after listening to it.
The song was never played at any of their concerts, unfortunately, but they did perform it during a BBC session on 3 April 1974. It’s not radically different to the album version, but it is a completely fresh recording without a backing track, meaning Freddie’s piano playing and vocals have subtle differences, and there’s a little bit of extra percussion and guitars too. So it’s nice to have a slightly different version of it.
This is a relatively easy song to cover compared to some other tracks on the album, although nobody can match Freddie’s voice of course, and there are some very demanding high notes. So it’s not surprising that there are quite a few attempts out there.
- During my research for this post, I was surprised to discover that Midge Ure had covered this on his album 10. He’s extended it to nearly 3 minutes, although without adding any new lyrics, instead just repeating the verses in a slightly different way. I can’t say his version appeals to me particularly, and his singing ability is very inferior to Freddie’s, but it’s still interesting to hear him do it.
- There’s a nice version by tribute artist MerQury & Orchestra Opera Leipzig on his album Queen Classical II.
- This is the second song from Queen II covered by Carlos Bonell on his album Queen Guitar Rhapsodies. There’s also a lovely guitar cover by Dylan Ryche, and a nice version with vocals by Baptiste Defromont.
- Among the inevitable piano covers are very nice instrumentals by Jazzy Fabry (which extends the song by a couple of minutes), Alexander Lioubimenko and Valtteri Nieminen, plus lovely versions with vocals by MNB & Meli Mizrahi, Lauren Coates and Lucie Halamíková.
- There’s a big music video for the version by Christina Reese, which takes a little while to get to the song itself (for which there is also a shorter video of the studio recording), but it does have some nice visuals, including a reference to Freddie’s original name. The apparent use of autotune does detract from this version though, which is a shame.
- There’s a wonderful performance by a group of Korean singers, and a nice a cappella version by Ashley Ann.
- Queen remixer PiotreQ has produced a remix that adds some guitar by Mark Roskilly and some drum samples. None of which is necessary given that the track is perfect on its own, but it’s interesting to hear it.
Written by Freddie Mercury
This bears many similarities to its clear successor Bohemian Rhapsody, and this is even longer than that track. Freddie had been working on it from before Queen were formed, and “wanted to give it everything, to be self-indulgent or whatever”, as he told Melody Maker in 1974. And he really did throw everything at it. There’s so much in here, and every time you listen you can spot something new, making it all the more delightful. Again, headphones are strongly recommended to explore it fully, including the gorgeous backing vocals and all the instrumentation.
The range of styles, rhythms and tempos, from fast hard rock sections to slow thoughtful ballads, represent the spectrum between darkness and light, or evil and good. And the conflict between those extremes lies at the heart of the song, as the Black Queen uses her power to coerce you to walk with her. It could even refer to a relationship, where the woman has a lot of power over her man. But whatever the meaning – and as with most Queen songs the band are encouraging you to interpret it any way you like – it is undoubtedly awesome.
The whole song was never performed live in its entirety as it was far too complicated to do so. However, the upbeat section from the middle of the song (“I reign with my left hand…”) was included as part of a medley, which can be heard on the official recordings from the Rainbow Theatre on 20 November 1974 and Hammersmith Odeon on 24 December 1975, and footage from Hyde Park in 1976. As on the studio recording, Roger gets to sing briefly in this section too.
The opening section, meanwhile, was played at Providence Civic Center on 14 November 1978, apparently in response to a fan calling out a request for the song, so the band played it as a lead-in to Bohemian Rhapsody. I have seen one or two comments on videos claiming that Queen did perform nearly the whole song live at some point in their early days, but I haven’t come across any evidence of it.
The track was also broadcast during Queen’s 4th BBC session on the radio, but it was just an edit of the album version, not a fresh recording like the other tracks, again due to its complexity no doubt.
- It’s a brave artist that takes on this song live, but Johan Boding can be seen singing it with the Night Of Queen tribute group here, here and here. And while they’re inevitably inferior to Queen, they’re still great performances to be fair. It’s the backing vocalists that really help to sell it, their harmonies are beautifully done.
- There’s also a nice performance by vocal group She Sings, while Thomas Schiphof and friends gave it a go for their final exam, which isn’t as good as some of the other covers I’ve seen, but it’s a valiant attempt and I hope they got a good result.
- The Queen Cover Project have made a beautiful acoustic guitar instrumental.
- Ilmo The Dude & Xenobii play very nicely arranged piano instrumentals.
- There’s an incredibly elaborate video by Schlegel Flegel with his cover of the song. It’s very weird, and be aware that it does contain some rapid flashing images for those affected by such things, but it’s impressive and amusing.
- And, even more randomly, there are a couple of Lego videos by Krikonn and MFLego81 to accompany the song. They must have taken ages to put together, and they’re quite fun. Do be aware of strobing effects in those videos too though.
Written by Freddie Mercury
The previous song segues very nicely into this one, which is why the intro sounds a bit odd when the track is heard in isolation (an edit with a clean start was issued on a Japanese CD single). But if you view March Of The Black Queen as being in reference to a relationship, then it makes perfect sense that they form one continuous piece of music.
This track is significantly simpler in structure though, reflecting the fact that it has a basic message – love is omnipresent. So in the very traditional alternation of verses and choruses, we have beautiful phrasing that summarises how love manifests itself in so many ways. There are no fantasy characters or unusual words, just lyrics that every listener can easily understand and relate to. Musically it’s relatively straightforward as well, although there are layers of nice harmonies beneath Freddie’s lead vocal, there’s a nice rhythm to it, and it uses the Wall Of Sound technique to good effect. But Queen never performed the track live.
- There is a recording of Take 5 that’s been shared online, which is an early instrumental take. However, as noted on Ultimate Queen, it’s a fan recording of the track when it was played at a convention, and has been edited to remove the constant voiceover “Property of Queen Productions” by repeating certain sections, plus it has one or two noticeable jumps. So it’s not strictly the original recording, and it isn’t radically different to the final version either.
- It seems almost nobody has attempted to cover this. But it has been recorded very nicely by Oniric as part of his Queen II cover project that I mentioned earlier, incorporating the final section of March Of The Black Queen to lead into it.
Written by Freddie Mercury
This great song gets your attention immediately from that fast and memorable piano riff, which was always impressive to see Freddie perform in concert, where he made it look easier than it probably is. And it’s a wonderful, catchy rock track overall, every member of the band contributing significantly to it, and it does get stuck in your head.
The fantasy land of Rhye, which Freddie reportedly created with his sister Kashmira during their childhood, is referenced in some other songs on Queen’s first few albums too, connecting them together (including My Fairy King, The March Of The Black Queen and Lily Of The Valley). And here the song is all about a commanding figure in that land, just like Freddie is in the musical world, a fact you very much appreciate by the time you get to this track on the album, as by this point you’re more than aware of what he’s capable of.
At the end it fades out with a rendition of I Do Want To Be Beside The Seaside, perhaps suggesting another beautiful part of that mystical place. That tune is then whistled during the lead-in to the first track on their next album (Brighton Rock on Sheer Heart Attack), subtly linking the albums together. And talking of elements being used elsewhere, the track’s signature piano run was included in the reprise of It’s A Beautiful Day on the Made In Heaven album.
The song also accompanies the photo gallery on the Greatest Video Hits I DVD, which has lots of great images in it.
The official music video shows footage of the band performing live on stage in Rio (though the audio is the studio track of course), coupled with some brief but lovely clips from their visit to Japan in 1974, in which it’s great to see all the band members smiling and having fun.
Most importantly, however, this song also marked Queen’s first appearance on Top Of The Pops. It came about by sheer good fortune, as the band were hastily brought in as a replacement when David Bowie had to pull out. A BBC strike meant they had to perform it in the weather studio rather than on the main stage, plus of course they had to mime as was often the case on that programme. So it wasn’t the most thrilling experience for them, although Brian and Roger have expressed differing opinions about it.
But it was the major breakthrough they needed, as it led record company EMI to rush out the track as a single in just 5 days after their appearance was announced. It gave the band their first ever British chart entry, peaking at a highly respectable number 10. We can only wonder how different things might have been if Bowie had been able to appear on TV that fateful day in February 1974!
A full colour recording of the performance is believed to exist but has never been released by the band. The Days Of Our Lives documentary DVD has an extra feature with a compilation of clips from their appearances on the show though. Otherwise, the only other sources seem to be old VHS tapes. Fans have therefore attempted to reconstruct the band’s first, second and third appearances on the programme using the best clips they can get their hands on (only a few snippets were available for the third outing it seems), so at least we can see this pivotal moment in Queen history in some form. It’s a shame they’re mining instead of performing live, but they still look great.
- Piano – Beyond the introduction, this gets a bit buried when the rest of the band start playing, so it’s interesting to hear it on its own, and takes quite a bit of skill to play. That said, it doesn’t get as varied and complicated as some of the other elements. Instead, it nicely lays the foundations on which everything else is built.
- Guitar – This just goes to the show that the track would work very well as just a Brian May solo, as it sounds really cool and the driving rhythm is very catchy. In fact, the multitracks I have split the guitar part into 2 distinct layers, so it’s even more interesting to hear each of them independently, especially as some of the more melodic moments, fills and background harmonies are a lot more prominent that way. There’s quite a bit here that you don’t appreciate in the finished song.
- Vocals – What’s better than Freddie singing? Freddie doing a duet with himself of course! I don’t have a separate track for each layer, but you can hear the subtle differences between them quite clearly anyway. And the harmonies from the band sound great when they kick in too.
- Drums – There’s an interesting rhythm to the percussion here that repeats throughout the track, and which you don’t really fully hear in the final mix. There are some nice little fills as it goes along as well.
- Bass – John can be very unfairly underrated as a bass player sometimes, but this shows his skills very well, with lovely rhythmic playing and plenty of variety from start to finish, including one or two nice runs along the strings here and there. You might not have heard any of it in the final track if you weren’t listening really closely.
- Instrumental Mix 2011 – This was generated from the original multitracks and included on the 2011 reissue of the album. Not only is the track brilliant in its own right even without Freddie’s vocals, but it’s especially interesting because you get to hear the complete original ending, without the Seaside song over the top and no fade out. Plus you get to hear Freddie counting in at the start and a brief remark from him at the end.
- There was an early instrumental version on their debut album. It’s slower, shorter and simpler in construction, but still sounds good and has some nice guitar playing in it.
- The Hollywood Records Remix by Freddy Bastone completely overhauls the track to create a dance version, only retaining Freddie’s vocals from the original. It has a definite 90s feel to it, reflecting the time it was made, and the beat itself would be quite catchy if it were with a proper 90s song. But it really doesn’t sound right for this song. It also often feels like it’s out of tune when the bassline doesn’t change in line with Freddie’s singing, and there are random samples from other Queen songs added to the mix that sound out of place. So it all feels rather strange.
- Queen performed the song in full during their 70s concerts, until they dropped it in 1976. It can be heard in the recordings from the Rainbow Theatre on 31 March and 20 November 1974, and the Hammersmith Odeon on 24 December 1975. They’re all fabulous performances. But I think the Rainbow performances are the best ones if I had to choose, as you get to hear the backing harmonies more clearly from the other band members. Plus there’s a fun moment at the end of the November performance when Freddie has a little joke with the audience about his diamond claws.
- They resurrected the song during their Works and Magic tours in the mid-80s, but only as a much shorter version as part of a medley. I’m not going to list every such recording, as there are many and they’re all very similar. But I do particularly enjoy the videos from their Wembley 1986 shows, because you clearly get to see how fast Freddie’s fingers move on the piano. The 2011 iTunes edition includes a video of the Saturday night performance.
- Their performance of the song at Knebworth on 9 August 1986 is also significant, not only because it was their final ever live concert, but also because Freddie’s introduction – “This is what you wanted, this is what you’re gonna get” – was used to launch Queen’s set at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert 6 years later.
- Midge Ure gets a second mention in this post, as he joined Brian and Roger to sing this song during Queen’s set at the Prince’s Trust Rock Gala on 17 November 2010. It’s a great version too. Midge sings it really well, while Jamie Cullum does a fine job accompanying them on the piano. In fact, Brian and Roger are joined by Midge on guitar and Jamie on piano for their full set of 5 songs, which is well worth checking out if you haven’t seen it before.
- Queen + Adam Lambert have included the song in some of their concerts too, which Adam sings very well.
- The band are seen recording the song in a fun little scene in the Bohemian Rhapsody movie, as they experiment with the stereo panning to make it sound better.
- The song has also been introduced to a new generation in a trailer for Borderlands 3.
- The song is performed very well in the We Will Rock You musical, as can be heard in the London & Germany cast recordings (both in English). It’s very faithful to the original, even including the Seaside fade out at the end. Some people have posted versions from their own local productions of the musical too, such as the ones from Elon University Music Theatre, Llantwit Major School.
- The Queen Extravaganza group have done a good job of performing it live. There are quite a few audition clips on their channel too.
- Robby Valentine also performed this song at the Dutch Queen convention I mentioned earlier.
- Peter Johansson included a live performance on his album Champions Of Rock: Live In Concert.
- Amateur rock band Flat Feet included it as part of a live Queen set in 2016.
- During lockdown this year we’ve had fun covers by Cello vs Guitar, Breakthru and Säwström & Son, all very different.
- There’s an impressive orchestral version by the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, from their album Rhapsody – A Symphonic Spectacular.
- There’s an interesting version by Ska Flashes from their album The Carstomites, one of the styles i would never have imagined this being adapted for.
- Freeman Dance Training have had their students dancing to it here and here.
- And when you’ve finished checking out those, how about relaxing with a beautiful jazz piano version.
Written by Brian May
This B-side to Seven Seas Of Rhye wasn’t included on the album, so is the true definition of a hidden gem. But it has since become available in a few sets, including the first box set of Queen’s singles and on the 2011 reissue of Queen II, and it’s the latter where I acquired it.
It’s a complete contrast to the A-side, and indeed to the Queen II album really, being a much slower, blues-style number, expressing regret about a woman leaving a relationship. And it sounds beautiful. Freddie sings it in a very appropriate way, as the downtrodden character in the song, throwing in a few powerful notes and little ad-libs here and there, so the vocals are always interesting. And there’s great guitar and percussion work going on here too.
It was only with the 2011 reissue of the album that Brian was able to track down the original inspiration for this track – a enjoyable song by blues legends Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee entitled That’s How I Feel. While it’s clearly a completely different song, there are still obvious sections and ideas that Brian carried over to the Queen track, so it’s very interesting to hear it.
The song was also performed in Queen’s second BBC session on 25 July 1973, just 2 weeks after the release of their first album, and quite a while before it was released as a B-side was released in February 1974. As such, it’s still very much in development. So while the basic melody and structure of the song remains the same, the lyrics in this earlier version are completely different, making it a fascinating insight into the song’s evolution.
Queen have released it in 2 slightly different mixes:
- The 2016 On Air album of BBC sessions contains the original mix, including a line of dialogue from DJ Alan Black at the end.
- The 2011 reissue of Queen II, however, contains a slightly remixed version. This is basically identical, but has been given a heavier sound, and Freddie sings the line about catching a train differently at the start of the second verse. Why they did this for the reissue, I don’t know, but it’s a nice alternate version to have.
They also played the song live in concert a few times, as can be heard in the strong performances from the Rainbow Theatre on 31 March 1974 and as the closing number on Hammersmith Odeon on 24 December 1975, straight after Seven Seas Of Rhye. I know, it’s hard to imagine Queen finishing shows without We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions, but those songs didn’t exist back then, even though it feels like they always have.
The only cover version I can find is an pretty good instrumental by Japanese tribute band Flash!
However, I’ll finish this post with a very special video of Brian playing the song on 27 May 1998, teaching Magnus von Keil during an appearance at Radio FFH in Frankfurt to promote his solo album Another World. What an incredibly special moment that must have been for Magnus!
It says much for the quality of the songs on this album that, despite all the other fantastic releases that came after it, this remains a firm favourite among many fans, including myself. The band threw everything at it, and it pretty much all stuck, the amount of time and effort clearly evident when you hear the final results. And you can hear something new every time you listen through it. So if you’ve enjoyed some of Queen’s other work, but haven’t checked out this album for yourself yet, I highly recommend doing so.
You can explore the official videos, live performances, rarities, and other versions of the songs on my Queen & Covers playlists for this album, including videos not mentioned above. They’ll be updated over time as new videos come to my attention, or if I need to replace any videos that are taken down. And if there are others I should take a look at, or if you spot something suitable for any of my Queen playlists, feel free to let me know.
So thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed all of that, and I’ll see you for the next album review soon!