Queen At 50 Reviews – Sheer Heart Attack

Booklet cover spread for the Queen album Queen 2. The back cover on the left has the tracks listed in red on a black background, above a smaller copy of the front cover. The front cover on the right shows the 4 band members laying on their backs and covered in water. Freddie and Brian are fully clothed and facing the right way up, while John and Roger appear upside down and have their shirts open to reveal their best chests. The colours are also over-exposed, giving it a more artistic feel. At the top, the words Queen Sheer Heart Attack, are in large red capital letters.

After the release of Queen II (which I reviewed last month), Queen made the most of its rightful success by going on tour in the UK, even playing in the Devon seaside town of Paignton where I was raised a decade later, and having their biggest gig at the Rainbow Theatre in London. They then embarked on their first ever tour of the USA, as the support act for Mott The Hoople, a role they’d also taken on during a UK tour the previous year.

Although Queen knew what they wanted and were keen to do their own thing, they also took the valuable opportunity to observe Hoople closely, and learnt a lot from them about performing live. The outcome was an everlasting respect and close friendship between the two groups, as recognised by the inclusion of All The Young Dudes during Freddie’s Tribute Concert in 1992.

Freddie didn’t enjoy being a secondary act however, recalling it as “one of the most traumatic experiences of my life”. But it’s Brian who can truly describe the experience in such terms, as he was struck down by hepatitis towards the end of the tour, from a dirty needle used for vaccinations earlier in the year, forcing their remaining gigs to be cancelled. He spent 6 weeks in hospital, doing a bit of songwriting when he could, while the rest of the band started to work on other new material in his absence. The initial joy at being discharged and returning to the studio was short-lived for Brian, however, as it transpired the hepatitis had aggravated an undiagnosed stomach ulcer, sending him back to hospital again.

When he was finally able to resume normal life weeks later, he found the band had been very busy on the new album, adding songs he hadn’t yet heard and leaving spaces for him to add his guitar and vocal parts. He later described it as being “very weird, because I was able to see the group from the outside, and was pretty excited by what I saw.” See this clip from the Days Of Our Lives documentary for a bit more detail into how it came together.

Despite those setbacks, what ultimately resulted was another wonderful record, that went to number 2 in the UK and number 12 in the USA. Having been excessively complicated with Queen II, deliberately and delightfully so, they now wanted to aim for a more chart-friendly sound with comparatively simpler rock songs. But there were still many carefully constructed layers and harmonies, and the use of varied styles and instruments, across all of the tracks. So it was still quite a complicated production really, and the glamour and majesty of Queen was still very much forefront. But this album marked the transition from their progressive rock roots and fantasy songs to the more accessible classic style of rock and pop that they became best known for.

The cover contains a nice photo by Mick Rock of the band members spread out on the floor, shining from the glycerine and water they’ve been covered with. The band wanted it to look a bit like they’d been washed up on an island. It’s a nice look, and is perhaps reflective of the metaphorical rough seas they had to battle through to produce the album. I imagine Brian in particular was quite exhausted by the end of it.

So yet again it’s a pivotal part of the band’s story. And here are my personal reviews of each of the tracks, along with many other related versions and performances that have caught my attention. I hope you enjoy!

Contents

See also: Ultimate Queen / Queen Vault / Queenpedia / Wikipedia / UDiscoverClassic Rock

The tracks on the album are as follows. Click their names to jump to the reviews:

    1. Brighton Rock
    2. Killer Queen
    3. Tenement Funster
    4. Flick Of The Wrist
    5. Lily Of The Valley
    6. Now I’m Here
    7. In The Lap Of The Gods
    8. Stone Cold Crazy
    9. Dear Friends
    10. Misfire
    11. Bring Back That Leroy Brown
    12. She Makes Me (Stormtrooper In Stilettos)
    13. In The Lap Of The Gods… Revisited

Roger Taylor also wrote a song called Sheer Heart Attack during the sessions for this album, but it wasn’t finished in time. It eventually saw the light of day on the News Of The World album instead.

The reviews below also include references to BBC sessions from the On Air collection, and tracks from other live albums.

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 those out (and my other Queen playlists too), and see which versions of each song you like best!


1. Brighton Rock

Written by Brian May

See also: Ultimate Queen / QueenpediaWikipedia / Song Facts / Lyric Video

This story of two young lovers at the seaside went by many working titles during its development, the most eye-catching being Happy Little Fuck, while more polite titles included Bognor Ballad, Southend Sea Scout, Happy Little Day, Blackpool Rock, Skiffle Rock and Herne Bay. The title they settled on was also the title of a 1947 gangster film, which includes a romance that may have inspired the song in some way. It’s also the name of the hard stick-shaped confectionery sold in the eponymous seaside resort here in the UK, for those of you overseas who may not be aware.

Brian had written the song during the development of Queen II, but the band hadn’t had time to record it. It also includes a nice segue from that album to this one, by incorporating a whistled refrain of I Do Want To Be Beside The Seaside during the carousel music in the intro, which had been sung during the outro of Seven Seas Of Rhye on Queen II.

And then of course we launch into the song proper, and what an awesome way to kick off an album it is. Primarily it’s a vehicle for Brian to show off his incredible guitar skills, especially during his long solo, with the echoes and repeats that he always uses to such great effect. They came about from his experiments with an Echoplex machine, which he modified for his own purposes (and let’s not forget that he built his own guitar too). Guitar World voted it #41 in their list of 100 Greatest Guitar Solos, and that interesting article explains a bit about how he achieved his sound, as does this audio interviewvideo demonstration and Star Licks tutorial, along with many other interviews that are out there.

On this song he’s accompanied for some of the solo by Roger, who also deserves much love for his brilliant percussion here, while John also provides a very accomplished bassline to underpin it all. Freddie only sings at the start and the end, but it sounds like he’s covering pretty much his entire range, as he portrays both characters in the lyrics by singing lower parts for Jimmy and higher parts for Jenny, sounding great in both cases. So it’s a strong opener from all of them, they all get to show off their skills. It’s also cool that the song was brought to the attention of a new audience a few years ago, when it was featured prominently in the film Baby Driver.

Isolated Tracks

The multitracks I have for this song are fascinating, because there are so many of them:

  • Guitar – There are 11 separate tracks for this alone, which just goes to show how complex it is. They’re full of interesting little details and outtakes, so it’s truly fascinating to hear it broken down so thoroughly. In the 2 lead guitar tracks for example, the intro and outro sections are reversed copies of each other, which gives the resulting duet a very unique sound. You have to listen very closely indeed on the final track to hear it, as you might not notice otherwise. And some of the tracks are awesome guitar solos on their own.
  • Vocals – There are 6 tracks that break down Freddie’s performance nicely here. The way he switches between the higher and lower passages so smoothly is very impressive. And whenever he records multiple takes of the same lines in his songs, to add extra breadth to the vocals when they’re merged, they’re always remarkably similar, and you have to listen carefully to pick up on the subtle differences where they exist. These multitracks are a perfect example of that. And then there are other enjoyable details like the rolling R’s, the brief but beautiful “Rock of Ages” choral section in the middle, and that funny high-pitched laugh at the end.
  • Drums – This consists of 5 distinct tracks (Kick, Kick Room, Snare, Tom Mid & Tom Floor). Some of the multitracks for other songs split Roger’s kit in a similar way and some don’t, and I won’t mention those splits every time. But in any case, Roger’s on fire here, it’s a very busy track. There’s a consistent rhythm during the main verses, but there are various fills and additions thrown in here and there. It’s a great drum solo in itself, basically.
  • Bass – There are 2 tracks here, though they’re the same bassline recorded from a direct feed and via the amplifier, so they can be merged together. And it’s brilliant, providing a great counter-melody to the main tune, yet it no doubt goes unnoticed by many who hear the song in its entirety. So it really is worth hearing in isolation, as another example of how accomplished John is as a bassist. It sounds great when mixed with Roger’s percussion too.
  • Carousel – The circus music at the start of the song isn’t part of the multitrack set because it isn’t by Queen. It was taken from a sound effects library (so it will have been used by other people too), and only the first 20 seconds were included in the song. It’s not particularly interesting, but it’s a nice little curiosity to hear for the sake of completeness.

Live Performances

When performing this song live, Freddie was sensible in not straining too hard to use his full range, as Roger was able to provide the high notes in the background, and it’s amazing just how high he can get. Brian’s guitar solos were also an important opportunity for the other band members to go off stage and take a breather for a few minutes.

  • The longest and best version of Brighton Rock to be officially released is from Live Killers, which presents us with an epic 12 minute performance, apparently an amalgamation of performances from different venues on their 1979 Jazz tour. The way Brian gets his homemade guitar to sing in so many different ways is always astonishing, and his solo here is a real tour de force. Roger gets a nice little drum solo as well, which doesn’t happen in the other versions mentioned below, and Freddie has fun with his vocals during the opening and closing sections.
  • There’s an equally impressive and just as long performance from Earls Court on 6 June 1977, one of the few bootlegs that is in very good quality. Again there are lots of great elements to the guitar solo, even including little refrains of recognisable melodies like Three Blind Mice at one point. The bootleg from Hyde Park on 18 September 1976 isn’t too bad either.
  • The earliest live version to be released is from the Hammersmith Odeon on 24 December 1975, and on that live album the song and the excellent Guitar Solo are split into separate tracks. At this stage it’s shorter than the other examples above, with a briefer intro and no reprise at the end. But it’s still great, and the guitar solo is still a very cool 6 and a half minutes.
  • The song’s only other appearance on a live album is from the Rock In Rio Festival on 12 January 1985, but here we only get the latter part of the guitar solo and the reprise section from the song itself, which is a pity.

Guitar Solos

On many concert releases, Brian’s guitar solos are labelled as Brighton Rock Solos, but that’s a bit of a misnomer as they usually bear little or no resemblance to the song, other than incorporating little bits of the original solo from it occasionally, and nods to other songs can also appear too.

But it’s a good excuse to quickly mention them regardless, because every Brian solo is very much unique. There are small elements and brief sections that can repeat here and there, of course, but no two solo are ever the same. They always sound amazing, especially given the way he uses echoes and repeats to harmonise with himself, and the variety of rhythms, tempos and moods he explores every time. He really can make the guitar sing as if it has a life of its own.

Some great examples of Brian’s solos (not including those already mentioned above) include:

And following Freddie’s death he’s continued to perform countless solos of course, with just a few examples being at:

Cover Versions

  • Queen remixer PiotreQ has created an EP of remixes for this song, including a Little Magic remix, a Rock In Rio remix, an Instrumental Short Remix, and a full-length instrumental mix that he hasn’t posted a video for. They don’t add anything substantial to the song, but they’re interesting alternatives.
  • The Muff did a brilliant cover to celebrate the release of the Bohemian Rhapsody movie.
  • The Trews do a pretty good live performance of the song too.
  • Craig Farley played a great Brian-style solo at a Queen tribute show, and there’s a nice guitar cover of the original song by a 16 year old, to name just a couple of the various guitar covers that are out there.

2. Killer Queen

Written by Freddie Mercury

See also: Ultimate Queen / QueenpediaWikipedia / Song Facts / Lyric Video

This song, the first single from the album, was a much-needed hit for Queen. It reached number 2 for 2 weeks in the UK, held off the top spot by Gonna Make You A Star by David Essex, a lovely song but easily inferior to Queen’s in my opinion. Their previous best had been number 10 for Seven Seas Of Rhye, so it was a notable improvement. It spent 12 weeks in the UK chart altogether, while in the US it reached number 12. All of which is eerily similar to the stats for the album as a whole, which reached numbers 2 and 12 in the UK and US respectively. So 2 and 12 seem to be the lucky numbers for this song!

Written by Freddie in just one night, he summed it up in an NME interview by saying “It’s about a high class call girl. I’m trying to say that classy people can be whores as well.” And in another interview he clarified that “I’d never really met a woman like that. I can dream up all kinds of things. That’s the kind of world I live in. It’s very flamboyant.” The song also earned him his first Ivor Novello Award, one of countless awards the band have received over the years.

And it is a wonderful track, with interesting lyrics (although Marie Antoinette never did say “Let them eat cake” if you wanted to be pedantic), lovely harmonies, a great guitar solo (which Brian has stated as being one of his favourites), and little additions like the use of the bell effect. It’s a complete contrast to Queen’s heavier works, so some people weren’t sure what to make of it when they heard it for the first time. But it quickly became popular and has remained so ever since. In 2012 the music licensing company PPL named it as the 7th most played Queen track on TV and radio, for instance.

On the commentary track from Absolute Greatest, Roger notes that it took them many takes to get it just right, far more than for any other track as far as he recalls. And when Brian came out of hospital and heard the backing track for the first time, he got them to re-record the backing vocals as they were too abrasive the first time around. So a lot of work went into getting the song just right, and you can tell when you hear it.

Isolated Tracks

  • Vocals – These are split across multiple tracks to give a really thorough breakdown, so they’re absolutely fascinating. It’s particularly interesting to hear the lovely backing harmonies and the line-by-line construction of the chorus. It also includes some backing vocals to accompany the latter part of Brian’s guitar solo that were deleted from the final mix.
  • Pianos – There are 2 separate piano tracks, playing pretty much identical melodies, and they make a nice little instrumental all by themselves. In the multitrack, the second piano is labelled as a harpsichord, but in actuality it’s a jangle piano as defined in the album’s credits by Freddie’s name. It’s also known as a tack piano, due to the fact that tacks are added to the hammers of the piano where they hit the strings, resulting in a more tinny sound. It’s used to great effect here. The multitracks don’t fade out either, so Freddie plays a few random notes at the end to wrap it up when he’s satisfied he’s done enough.
  • Guitars – Spread across 4 tracks, Brian’s work here may not be as epic as on Brighton Rock, but he still produces such a lovely, catchy sound, and again it’s very cool to hear the different layers.
  • Drums – This is a relatively simple track for Roger, with a nice steady rhythm. But there’s good use of cymbals and a few nice drum rolls here and there that stand out. As with Brighton Rock, it’s actually split into a few separate tracks, and at the end of a couple of them you can hear Roger ask the producer “What’s it like Roy?” (talking to Roy Thomas Baker).
  • Bass – Again, nothing spectacular from John here, as there doesn’t need to be. But it is a very interesting counter melody to the main tune.
  • There’s also a miscellaneous track which has the opening finger clicks, a triangle and chimes, and Freddie saying “That’s it” during the fade out section. Roger is credited as playing the triangle on the record, but John played it in their live shows (yes, clearly people will do Youtube compilations of anything!).
  • Instrumental – Again, as awesome as Freddie is, removing his lead vocal to focus on the rest of the track really helps to show how everything comes together in such an artistic way.
  • There’s also an amusing video of Brian trying to play the solo during lockdown, though it doesn’t go to plan.

If you want to pull the song apart even further, there’s a very in-depth study course PDF by Pearsons School & FE Colleges that goes into amazing detail about it.

Music Videos

Queen performed a mimed version of the song on Top Of The Pops in October 1974. Freddie looks very stylish in his fur coat, shiny jewellery, painted nails and lovely hair, and Brian looks pretty cool in his white jacket as well. Although it’s just a standard TV performance, there are nice little touches from Freddie throughout, such as the way he’s holding the microphone stand, especially at the beginning, his fingers running down John’s bass guitar, his beckoning hand gestures.

They recorded it twice, on the 11th and 27th of the month respectively:

  • Version 2 from the 27th is the one in widest circulation these days, appearing on Queen’s Youtube channel, Greatest Video Hits 1 DVD & the 2011 iTunes reissue. On the DVD you can hear Brian and Roger’s commentary too, where give some nice insights and observations, and Roger doesn’t mince his words about lip syncing, plus there’s a fun extract from an interview with Freddie.
  • Version 1 from the 11th, which appeared as part of their Greatest Hits and Box Of Flix sets, is basically the same, but there are slightly different camera angles, the camera cuts are different during Brian’s solo, and Freddie does a beckoning hand gesture as he sings the final lyric.

There’s also a third performance recorded in November, which does look very different, as it features Freddie in a glittery black top, an overlaid visual effect during Brian’s guitar solo, and you get to see the audience moving along to it. The most complete recording that seems to exist is of terrible quality for the first 45 seconds – so in order to include it as a bonus video with the Days Of Our Lives documentary, they’ve used Version 2 for that initial section, before switching to Version 3 at the appropriate point. So it’s great that it’s had an official release, even if it’s not fully complete.

Their Top Of The Pops debut is recreated in a scene from the Bohemian Rhapsody movie, where they’re not best pleased about having to mime, and Brian’s real-life daughter Emily Ruth May has a fleeting cameo appearance in the audience (as does John Deacon’s son Luke in another scene).

Queen also performed the song on TopPop in the Netherlands on 4 December 1974, again mimed. It was the only time they appeared on the show, as their music videos were used to promote their later singles. If anything, I think the lighting, camerawork and editing are a bit better here, as you get to see all the band members more clearly, especially Roger and John. There aren’t any nice close-ups of Brian’s finger work during his solo though. And Roger is clearly putting minimal effort into pretending to play the drums, even appearing to hit thin air at the end of Brian’s solo! Their appearance was worth it though, as it helped the song reach number 3 in the Dutch chart.

The song was also used for the montage at the start of Greatest Flix, a VHS of their hits that I once owned, so I remember this sequence (I had the Box Of Flix set to be precise, containing Greatest Flix 1 & 2). It features lots of nice black and white photos of the band, plus interesting facts about each member accompanied by colour video clips, although you do have to read the text very quickly before it disappears!

Live Performances

This song was often included as part of a medley during their concerts, so it wasn’t played in full. It usually ended with Brian’s guitar solo, which he would sometimes extend by a few extra bars to form a segue into the next song. Examples of their live performances include:

Cover Versions

As we get into Queen’s biggest hits, clearly the number of cover versions is going to explode. So I’ll mention quite a few, in a variety of different styles that I’ve found interesting in some way, and I’ve added them to my covers playlist as well. You won’t like all of them, and I certainly prefer some to others as well, but hopefully there will be some that appeal to you.

Other Usage

  • Katy Perry cites the song as a major influence on her, and named a fragrance after it. Clearly a lot of work went into the visually striking video, with its ornate set and beautiful costumes, and it uses the song from halfway through when Katy reveals herself. There are other adverts for the perfume that don’t use the song though.
  • An episode of Family Guy is named after the song, and it’s played over the closing credits. During the episode, Stewie is terrified by the cover of another Queen album, News Of The World.
  • There is, unsurprisingly, a tribute band named after the song.

3. Tenement Funster

Written by Roger Taylor

See also: Ultimate Queen / Queenpedia / Lyric Video

This is the first of a trilogy of songs that link together seamlessly as a continuous medley. And it’s a lovely little track by Roger about the pleasures of a young man enjoying a rebellious rock and roll lifestyle. He’s got a good voice that suits this well, and there are some nice harmonies and guitar parts accompanying him too. John Deacon plays the acoustic guitar parts as Brian wasn’t available to do so. The song had the working titles Young And Crazy and Teen Dreams (which appears to be misquoted on some sites as Tin Dreams, but Teen Dreams would make a lot more sense).

The stand-alone studio version, without the segue into Flick Of The Wrist, was included on a Japanese 3″ CD single re-issue of Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy.

Isolated Tracks

  • Vocals – Freddie may have the most prominent and versatile voice of the group, but Roger has a beautiful voice too, as this perfectly illustrates. He really is a proper rock singer, as befits the theme of the song. The backing vocals are nice too, including the interesting rendition of the final “young and you’re crazy” line near the end.
  • Guitar – There are 2 distinct tracks for this. The first carries the bulk of the guitar work, but the other adds a second layer as and when necessary. The departure from the main melody during the middle section, with its phasing and echo effects, is pretty cool. And all in all it makes a wonderful instrumental all of its own.
  • Piano – This has just a few simple notes and chords played individually to begin with, then really gets into its stride, giving a really nice accompaniment. It’s quite nice to hear it mixed with Roger’s vocals too.
  • Drums & Bass – These are separate in the multitracks, but they sound very cool together anyway. Indeed, I rather like the beat to this, it’s very catchy, and it would work well as a drum solo by itself. John’s bass performance is also very good here, with a nice counter-melody to the main tune. The beginning part of his track makes me think of the song Walk On The Wild Side by Lou Reed.
  • Put it all together, minus Roger’s voice, and you get another great instrumental too.

Live Performances

  • The song was recorded for a BBC Session on 16 October 1974. It uses the album backing track with fresh vocals by Roger, and little bits of new percussion or guitar, so it doesn’t sound radically different. But you do get a clean ending, with a guitar chord fade and no piano, as it’s a standalone performance without the other tracks in the album medley. This session was a bonus track on the 2011 iTunes version of the album, as well as being included in the On Air set.
  • Queen never performed this song in concert, but Roger did during his solo tours, including a great performance at Europe 1 Studios in Paris on 8 December 1994. Plus there are fan recordings from shows in Manchester on 20 March 1999 and Astoria Theatre, London on 3 April 1999, where the audience are happily joining in. Some performances end with a clean guitar chord, while others finish with the first piano phrase of Flick Of The Wrist, which gives you a bit of false hope that he might play that too!

Cover Versions

  • PiotreQ’s Reworks album includes a nice remix of this song, using the original multitracks. It’s a minute longer than the original, with the drums and guitars more prominent in the mix too, and it works very nicely.
  • Dream Theater do a great cover of the entire medley (Tenement Funster, Flick Of The Wrist & Lily Of The Valley), on the special edition of their album Black Clouds & Silver Linings. Tribute band Miracle also played the medley at a Dutch Queen Convention on 5 November 2011.
  • Marcel Ferreira and Chris Alma Jose play and sing all the different parts on their channels. Both come out very well, although Chris has some unnecessary visual effects on his.
  • Tyler Warren performed a lovely acoustic version on Instagram earlier this year, followed by It’s Late.
  • Frankenstein 3000 have a cover of Tenement Funster on the tribute album Horse Feathers & Animal Crackers. It’s faithful to the original and not too bad an effort, but the singer doesn’t come close to Roger.
  • MNB & Meli Mizrahi have posted a slow ballad version, consisting of just a piano and a female vocalist. It’s a very different and unusual way of approaching it and, while the lady sings nicely, I don’t think it suits the song personally.

4. Flick Of The Wrist

Written by Freddie Mercury

See also: Ultimate Queen / QueenpediaWikipedia / Lyric Video

This song about a nasty, overbearing, controlling character is believed to be a reflection of the issues they had with their management, and thus a precursor to Death On Two Legs on the next album. After all, it takes just a flick of the wrist to sign a contract and give everything away. However, Freddie denied that interpretation, saying it was about the con-artists they ran into in general in their line of work, rather than anyone specific.

Whatever the truth may be, there’s a lot going on in this great song, with a cheery piano intro that lulls you into a false sense of security, another fun guitar solo, powerful percussion, and great vocals. The threatening nature of the character in the lyrics is portrayed very well musically. Brian had never heard the song before he returned after his sickness, and it excited him very much, as is understandable.

The track was released as a double A-side with Killer Queen, in various different edits:

  • The Dutch single featured the complete standalone studio version, without the segues from Tenement Funster and into Lily Of The Valley, so you get a complete piano intro and a final guitar note at the end.
  • The UK single starts midway through the piano intro but again ends with the clean outro. A 1987 re-release on a 3-inch CD in 1987 had different edits at the start and end.
  • The US single cuts out the piano intro entirely and fades at the end.

Live Performances

  • As with the previous track, the band included this song in their BBC Session on 16 October 1974, again using the backing track with new vocals by Freddie over the top. There’s also new guitar work by Brian, including a completely new guitar solo. I think I prefer the solo from the original album track if I had to choose between them, but it’s great to hear a fresh one in this session too. This session was a bonus track on the 2011 reissue of the album as well as being included in the On Air set.
  • Queen also played the song live in concert, with brilliantly powerful examples from the Rainbow Theatre, London on 20 November 1974 & Hyde Park, London on 18 September 1976, both of which use the outro from Brighton Rock to finish it off.
  • Robby Valentine performed this track very nicely, combining it with Lily Of The Valley, at the Dutch Queen conventions in 2011 & 2012. That’s the only notable cover version I’ve found, apart from the medleys I mentioned for the previous song.

5. Lily Of The Valley

Written by Freddie Mercury

See also: Ultimate Queen / QueenpediaWikipedia / Song Facts / Lyric Video

Short and sweet at just under 2 minutes, this is a beautiful little ballad to close the three-song medley, about someone searching for an answer, and includes a reference to the Seven Seas of Rhye. Queen never performed the song live on stage, sadly.

In a 1999 interview with Mojo magazine, Brian explained: “Freddie’s stuff was so heavily cloaked, lyrically. But you could find out, just from little insights, that a lot of his private thoughts were in there, although a lot of the more meaningful stuff was not very accessible. Lily of the Valley was utterly heartfelt. It’s about looking at his girlfriend and realising that his body needed to be somewhere else. It’s a great piece of art, but it’s the last song that would ever be a hit.”

When you listen to the song with that in mind, it does sound very personal indeed. The first couple of lines, about “searching high and low” while “everybody tells me no” set the context very clearly in that regard. Rami Malek, who played Freddie in the Bohemian Rhapsody movie, has also noted the personal meaning of the song in interviews. It’s also claimed that the French novel Le Lys dans la vallée by Honoré de Balzac may have provided some inspiration for the song too.

The original standalone version of the track, without the segue from Flick Of The Wrist, was included as the B-side with a re-issue of Keep Yourself Alive on a US single. On the UK single, however, as the B-Side to Now I’m Here, the song was slightly trimmed at the beginning to avoid the link from the previous album track.

Cover Versions

  • Marc Martel & Queen Extravaganza have performed a faithful rendition live on stage.
  • Game Theory released a cover as a bonus track, when they reissued their 1985 album Real Nighttime album in 2015. It doesn’t sound as nice as Queen’s version to me though.
  • Pluto and Venus perform the song on tribute album The Queen Is Dead – The Royal Salute, including the intro from Dear Friends, a track we’ll get to later in this post. Again, it doesn’t sound as good as the original, as there doesn’t seem to be much emotion in the singing compared to how Freddie sings it.
  • Happy Rhodes has performed the song nicely on stage, combining it with a song of her own called Possessed. There are further recordings from the same venue here and here, with an amusing moment in the latter when she starts in too high a key yet still impressively hits the top note.
  • Daria Kokozej does a very faithful cover. She doesn’t sing as well as Freddie of course, but it’s not bad.
  • Carlos Bonell plays a lovely version on his Guitar Rhapsodies tribute album, while there’s another pleasant guitar instrumental by Trouble Clef, and nice guitar renditions with vocals by Drago Grgić and Maya Nicole.
  • Jazzy FabbryValtteri Nieminen & Ilmo The Dude have done beautiful piano instrumental covers that include the main melody, while David Saints-Gome & Lasse Tikka play just the background piano score as it would have been played on the album.
  • Lauren Coates has sung a lovely version at the piano. It’s great to see deep album cuts like this reaching and inspiring the younger generation.
  • Lucie Halamikova & Queen Killers have also performed nice piano and vocal versions, and various other songs from the album too. So I’ve grouped them all together towards the end of my Covers playlist and won’t keep mentioning them repeatedly here. But their tributes are both quite good, just as they are for songs on the band’s other albums.

6. Now I’m Here

Written by Brian May

See also: Ultimate Queen / QueenpediaWikipedia / Song Facts / Lyric Video

Strangely for such a popular song, there’s no lyric video on Queen’s official channel, so I’ve had to look elsewhere.

This fabulously catchy air-guitar-inducing rock song, written by Brian during his time in hospital, is based on his memories of their US tour supporting Mott The Hoople (as referenced in the lyric “down in the city, just Hoople and me.”), and you can feel his passion for that experience here. As well as the excellent guitar work, the track is also notable for the echo effect used on Freddie’s vocals. With so much to explore and enjoy in America, it would come as no surprise that they were here, there and everywhere as they travelled around and took it all in, so having that represented by his echoes bouncing between the stereo channels is very cool.

It was the band’s second single from the album after Killer Queen. Freddie explained to Record Mirror in 1976 that “It was nice. That was a Brian May thing. We released it after Killer Queen. And it’s a total contrast, just a total contrast. It was just to show people we can still do rock ‘n’ roll – we haven’t forgotten our rock ‘n’ roll roots. It’s nice to do on stage. I enjoyed doing that on stage.”

It peaked at number 11 in the UK, which is pretty good, but it deserved to be in the top 10 really. To promote it, Queen appeared on Top Of The Pops on 16 January 1975, partial footage of which was unearthed for the 40th anniversary documentary From Rags To Riches, where you can see Freddie’s hairy chest very much on display, Brian playing a Les Paul guitar instead of his Red Special, and nice close-ups of Roger and John too.

They also performed the song in a BBC Session on 16 October 1974, using the backing track from the album with new vocals and guitar playing on top. The fade-out is marginally longer than the album version, so you get to hear a tiny bit more of it.

Isolated Tracks

  • Vocals – Freddie’s stereo echoes are much clearer here. He sings with power and passion throughout the track, and hits a few nice high notes too. The backing harmonies, also mixed into this part of the multitrack, are also very effective as well.
  • Guitar – Split into 3 distinct sections in the multitracks, this is of course awesome as it forms the heart of the song. The actual track entitled “Guitar” contains the bulk of the guitar playing as an unbroken instrumental. The “Extra” track, apart from a hi-hat count-in, just contains a couple of bursts of guitar towards the end. And the “Keys” track contains the alternating high notes played on the guitar during a couple of points in the first half of the song, along with the very cool piano part that’s played during the big guitar solo later on, which isn’t very prominent in the final mix.
  • Drums – Very catchy, powerful percussion with nice fills by Roger here, there’s a really cool rhythm to this song.
  • Bass – Under-appreciated as ever, John’s bass line is great. Sometimes it mirrors the main melody, and sometimes it offers a nice counterpoint.
  • Instrumental – It’s wonderful to hear the track in its pure instrumental form, showing how everything comes together. Really, it’s nothing complicated compared to their more elaborate tunes, it’s pure rock in essence, but there’s still lots to enjoy. And being the multitrack version, it comes to an abrupt end rather than fading out.

Live Performances

The live performances are easily the best way to experience this song, there was always such a great energy to them. Queen clearly enjoyed playing it on stage, so it was in many of their setlists over the years, changing in various ways.

The intro would often see Freddie appearing and disappearing under the lights while he sings “Now I’m here… Now I’m there…”, with an assistant dressed in an identical costume on the opposite side of the stage to give the impression of rapid movement. Echoes were also used on Freddie’s vocals to great effect, spreading his voice so he was indeed here and there all at once.

Many performances also included a call-and-response singalong section with the crowd. These were always great fun and very popular, Freddie taking great delight in everyone’s participation, and it really showed off his vocal skills too. He did many other singalongs in concert too, often as short additions at the start or end of other songs, so they’ll be mentioned in other posts as appropriate.

I’ve included lots of live performances of the song on my album playlist, but some of my favourite and most notable ones include the following, starting with the 70s:

Performances in 1981 & 1982 consisted of Now I’m Here, still with a singalong section, followed by a full version of Dragon Attack, and finally a short reprise of Now I’m Here, in which Freddie would again sometimes play around with the echoing harmonies.

In 1985 & 1986, the song was played in full without lighting effects in the intro, a big singalong section or other songs in the middle. So they were simpler performances, and perhaps not as special as those in the 70s, but they were still fantastic nonetheless.

Brian & Roger have continued to perform the track since Freddie’s death, either in their own shows or in guest appearances with other bands:

Then, when Brian and Roger teamed up with Adam Lambert, they used it as a powerful opening number on some of their tours:

Remixes

Queen remixer PiotreQ has produced many variations of this song:

  • An Instrumental Remix from his Instrumentals album. Freddie’s vocals are intentionally left in at a couple of points, and at some other times you can just hear the audio bleeding through in the background a tiny bit, but it’s still a nice mix.
  • A Remix & Confused Remix from Slightly Mad.  The first is a great extended mix, while the second focuses on the piano part that often gets overlooked, and adds Freddie’s vocals to it, with interesting results.
  • A Blissful Remix from Blurred Vision. This is rather beautiful, combining Freddie’s vocals with effects from One Vision and the unlisted final track on Made In Heaven.
  • A Party Remix (not on Youtube) & Orchestral Remix from his Party album. The first mixes Freddie’s vocals with the beat from another of their songs called Party, while the other mixes the song with the lovely version by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

David R Fuller has made an enjoyable remix too.

Cover Versions


7. In The Lap Of The Gods

Written by Freddie Mercury

See also: Ultimate Queen / Queenpedia / Lyric Video

Often confused with the completely different “Revisited” track that comes later, this song is all about the vocals, even though there aren’t many lyrics. In particular, accompanying all the luscious harmonies and the unusual effect added to Freddie’s voice, the high point (quite literally) is Roger’s stunning falsetto, that at times reminds me very much of The Great Gig In The Sky by Pink Floyd. Although it’s worth noting that some people claim it’s not actually falsetto, but just part of his normal range, as he used to sing high notes as a choirboy, which may well be true. But in any case, it’s amazing what he can reach, so it doesn’t matter!

And whatever you do, don’t set this song as your alarm call, as the album could live up to its title rather too much if the intro started blasting out while you were asleep! It can make you jump even when you’re expecting it!

Initial shipments of the album by Hollywood Records had a remastering error on this track, skipping an “Ah, Ah” line at 22 seconds in, which is very noticeable when you compare it to the correct track. It was fixed very quickly, so it’s a very rare version.

Live Performance

There’s a wonderful live recording from The Rainbow Theatre, London on 20 November 1974. It’s very different to the album track, as Freddie’s voice is normal and there are no backing harmonies. But Roger’s high notes are still there. And it works really well in this alternative stripped-back version.

Cover Versions

  • Queen Extravaganza with Marc Martel have performed this song very nicely on stage, combining it with the second “Revisited” part from later in the album.
  • There are lovely instrumental piano covers by Valtteri Nieminen & Melina Mercury.
  • Trouble Clef has made an original solo guitar arrangement that’s quite good too.

8. Stone Cold Crazy

Written by Queen

See also: Ultimate Queen / QueenpediaWikipedia / Lyric Video

I’m not hugely into heavy metal, but there’s no denying that this is a belter of a track, considered by many to be the precursor of the thrash or speed metal genre. It’s a complete contrast to tracks like Killer Queen and Dear Friends as well, further demonstrating the band’s versatility.  There are basically 2 aspects to it – Freddie’s impassioned vocals accompanied by a light but fast beat like a metronome, and then the heavy sections with the percussion and guitars giving it all they’ve got. It isn’t just a wall of noise as some really heavy thrash metal can appear to be, there’s still a clear riff and melody and structure. It’s a relatively short song too, at just 2 minutes 14 seconds, but there’s so much crammed in.

It was originally played by Wreckage (formerly called Ibex), the band that Freddie Mercury was in during the late 1960s before Queen were formed. But here the track is credited to Queen as a whole, as they all had input into the development of the song for this album. It’s the first time one of their tracks was jointly credited in this way, something that would become much more commonplace in later years.

Isolated Tracks

  • Vocals – As well as Freddie’s wonderfully fast and rhythmic vocals, this track also gives you a better focus on the echo effect added to them, the chorus harmonies, and other exclamations that Freddie makes in between the verses.
  • Guitar – Spread across 2 tracks in the multitracks, allowing you to hear a few short sections broken down even further, Brian’s blistering performance here is fabulous, with some nice solos and harmonies along the way. You also get to hear little touches that you may not have noticed in the final mix.
  • Drums – This is basically a very energetic drum solo for Roger, it takes a lot of skill to maintain such a tempo all the way through and keep it sounding interesting.
  • Bass – Again very easily overlooked, but John shows he can keep up the pace with the others no problem.
  • Instrumental – As Freddie’s vocals only come in during the quieter moments, there isn’t anything particularly enlightening when you remove them from the mix. But if you really fancy your karaoke skills, then good luck!

Live Performances

Remixes

  • There was a remix for Hollywood Records by Michael Wagener, included on the remastered album in the US, which effectively just adds a bit of extra percussion on top of the album track, so it’s nothing radical. An alternate remix was issued on some early copies of the album and on some promo CDs, which has a few subtle differences but it’s ultimately very similar. An unreleased promo video was also produced for TV, featuring footage of Queen and clips from the movie Encino Man (or California Man outside the USA).
  • The Trent Reznor Remix (aka Thrash Mix) appeared in the US on the Queen Basics Bootlegs promo CD and a single. It mixes the track with the industrial metal sound of Nine Inch Nails, and it’s pretty good to be fair. It remains very faithful to the song, but adds some catchy additional percussion, an extended instrumental section, a surprise reprise just when you think it’s over, and a little bit of studio dialogue to top and tail it. It’s by far one of the better Hollywood remixes out there (not that most of the others are much competition, but still).
  • PiotreQ has produced a good instrumental remix, and a version mixing Freddie Mercury with James Hetfield from the Tribute Concert (they sync up really well). They can both be downloaded as bonus tracks with his We Will Rock You [Scandal Remix].

Metallica Cover Version

This song was most famously covered by Metallica, initially appearing on a compilation album, then as a B-side to the Grammy award winning Enter Sandman, and then on their covers album Garage Inc.

A few of the lyrics have been changed – for example “my rubber Tommy water gun” becomes “my fully loaded Tommy gun” (which James Hetfield also sang at Freddie’s Tribute Concert), and the F-word is used a couple of times in the final verse. There are no backing harmonies in the chorus either. So I still prefer Queen’s version, I think it sounds better. But this is still a very cool cover by another great band, they really made it their own.

They also performed the song live on stage, again with some strong language, including:

Metallica’s version has itself also been covered, including performances by Hellyeah (under the title Stone Cold Wasted) and Sum 41.

Other Cover Versions


9. Dear Friends

Written by Brian May

See also: Ultimate Queen / Queenpedia / Lyric Video

This is a beautifully moving and very relatable little number about overcoming loss and looking with hope to the future. It’s almost Queen’s shortest song, at 1:08 in length, and is yet another track that is a complete contrast to the one preceding it. It’s very simply constructed, sung with tenderness by Freddie, with the addition of lovely backing harmonies in the second verse, and the piano being the only accompaniment. The band never performed this track live.

Cover Versions


10. Misfire

Written by John Deacon

See also: Ultimate Queen / Queenpedia / Song Facts / Lyric Video

This was John’s first composition for the band. He was the most shy member of the group, and so initially not very confident about submitting his own material. But once he had been coaxed out of his shell and got into the groove, he quickly went on to write some of the band’s biggest hits.

This is very good for a first song too, it’s a pretty catchy number that’s arguably about looking for that special someone – i.e. you mustn’t be afraid to take a shot at love, and the right person is out there waiting for you, indeed calling to you in this song, so don’t waste the opportunity being presented to you by misguidedly aiming for someone else. That’s how I like to interpret it anyway.

Or you can go with all the dirty minds on the internet and say it’s about premature ejaculation. I can’t say I believe that, but given some of the lyrics I can sort of see where they’re coming from, so to speak. There is a bit of childish amusement to be had when interpreting it that way.

John is credited as playing “almost all” of the guitars on this track and they do sound very cool. He’s given himself a pretty nice bassline of course, but the other guitars also bring a lot of delights to the table, while Freddie and Roger also contribute very well too of course. Like the previous track, Queen never performed this song on stage.

Cover Versions

  • PiotreQ included a remix on his album God Save The Queen, slowing down the track slightly and adding an extra rhythm line. It’s nothing special, but it’s not a bad mix either.
  • Neko Case & Her Boyfriends released a very lively and enjoyable country version as the closing track on her Virginian album.

11. Bring Back That Leroy Brown

Written by Freddie Mercury

See also: Ultimate Queen / Queenpedia / Lyric Video

Another very catchy song, this is a jolly ragtime style track featuring Freddie on grand and jangle pianos, Brian on a George Formby ukulele-banjo (including a nice little solo), and John on a double bass, while Roger backs them up nicely with his fast and versatile percussion.

And the vocals are incredible, with lots of range, many fun touches and surprises, very cool backing harmonies and interesting lyrics – all of which can be heard much more clearly in isolation, courtesy of the wonderful A Cappella Mix on the 2011 reissue of the album. So there’s a lot of good stuff going on here, all giving the song a very unique and fun sound.

The track was inspired by Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, a number 1 hit in America for Jim Croce the previous year. It topped the Billboard chart for 2 weeks in July 1973, shortly before the folk rock singer’s tragic death in a plane crash on 20 September that year. He was only 30 years old. So Queen’s song is a lovely tribute to him.

Live Performances

As this is quite challenging to sing live, Queen instead performed a shortened instrumental version of the song as part of the Killer Queen medley, with only a couple of fleeting vocals here and there. While it’s a shame they couldn’t do the whole song, it was still a fun inclusion to the setlist, and Brian would bring out the ukulele especially for it. There are various examples from London shows at the Rainbow Theatre on 20 November 1974Hammersmith Odeon on 24 December 1975, Hyde Park on 18 September 1976 Earls Court on 6 June 1977.

Cover Versions


12. She Makes Me (Stormtrooper In Stilettos)

Written by Brian May

See also: Ultimate Queen / Queenpedia / Lyric Video

This is a beautiful track written and sung by Brian, about feeling vulnerable yet in love, apprehensive yet trusting, uncertain yet hopeful. That’s how I interpret it although, like all the band’s songs, it’s very open to your own analysis. And its exact origins aren’t known.

But “Stormtrooper” is clearly a military reference. It can’t be related to Star Wars, as the album was released 3 years before the first film came out. It’s not literally referring to someone in the army in this instance, but just to someone who is deemed to be more powerful and very much in control, and could do you great harm if you don’t follow their lead. And the effects of police sirens and heavy breathing during the final minute, described by Brian as “New York nightmare sounds”, evoke the sense of unease and fear amongst the joy and beauty, and are undoubtedly also a reference to Brian’s own nightmare in the city when he was rushed to hospital with hepatitis.

But in any case, it’s beautifully performed. Instrumentally it’s simple and uncluttered, featuring both Brian and John on acoustic guitars, and there are minimal appearances of electric guitar and drum fills here and there. The focus is very much on the vocals, which Brian sings very well indeed, and there are really nice harmonies too, all giving it a somewhat dream-like quality. Unfortunately the song was never performed live on stage.

Cover Versions

Exhibition

A exhibition called Stormtroopers In Stilettos, celebrating the band’s 40th anniversary by exploring their early years, was held in London in 2011 for 2 weeks, before touring a few other countries under different names. The items on display included artworks, photos, clothing, instruments, music, videos, etc, many of which can now be enjoyed as part of the Queen Studio Experience, which I’d love to visit one day. I never saw the London exhibition in 2011, although a few of the items from there were likely shown at the Carnaby exhibition that I did attend in 2018, when the Bohemian Rhapsody movie was released.

Videos relating to the Stormtroopers exhibition include the press night, a segment on The One Show, an interview with Brian & Roger on ITV News, and footage by Youtubers Collecting Queen (including memorabilia he picked up) & zakker78.


13. In The Lap Of The Gods… Revisited

Written by Freddie Mercury

See also: Ultimate Queen / Queenpedia / Lyric Video

Queen do have an official lyric video on their own channel, but I haven’t embedded it here because it’s riddled with errors, and therefore needs revisiting, ironically.

This is a lovely track about destiny to finish the album, sung very nicely by Freddie. It was written as a singalong for audiences to join in with, particularly the repeating section that makes up the second half. You expect it to just fade out, but it hits you with an explosion at the end to bring the album to a firm conclusion.

A recording with a rough ending instead of the explosion, and a snippet of chatter by producer Roy Thomas Baker, surfaced on a Trident 10″ reel to reel tape that was auctioned in February 2012.

Live Performances

The song was often used towards the end of their live shows in the mid-70s, before the more well-known Rock You/Champions finale and other more popular singalong numbers came into existence. Here, Freddie would start by playing a beautiful intro on the piano before launching into the song properly. He wouldn’t always aim for the higher notes, depending on how his voice felt at that point in the show and the tour, but he always sung it strongly regardless. And the audience would gladly join in with the closing section, as smoke filled the stage before the final explosion. It wasn’t the very end of the show – there was always an encore or a few other songs to follow – but it was still a powerful performance to signify that the gig was coming to a close.

From London there are great performances at:

In addition, a performance from Nippon Budokan, Tokyo on 1 May 1975 was released as a bonus on the Night At The Odeon DVD.

The song was resurrected during the Magic tour, used much earlier in the set to accompany Seven Seas Of Rhye, and without the piano intro or explosive ending. But Freddie gives a very strong performance indeed, top notes and all. You also get the added delight of hearing Roger singing along with him during the chorus if you listen carefully:

Brian and Roger have kept the song alive since Freddie’s passing though:

Cover Versions


Conclusion

This album is undoubtedly one of the many gems in Queen’s crown, even if it’s not known very well by some people beyond its big singles. There’s so much variety that everyone can find something to enjoy, it’s exciting and interesting throughout. And you can hear just how much effort went into every track. The band had really found their feet by now, and their high confidence would manifest itself even more strongly in their next album, which took them from the lap of the gods to the esteemed positions of musical deities themselves.

But before I get on to that, check out my Queen & Covers playlists for the Sheer Heart Attack album, to explore the official videos, live performances, rarities, and other versions of the songs, including videos not mentioned above. There’s over 400 videos between them, so it should keep you occupied for a while! I’ll update them in the future as I become aware of new videos. And if there are any you think I should check out and consider adding to these or any of my Queen playlists, do let me know.

So thank you for digging through this lengthy post, I hope you found plenty of enjoyment and enlightenment in there. Next time I will of course be taking you through A Night At The Opera, which will be even more epic to say the least, to such an extent that I’ve had to split it into 2 parts! See you then!

Author: Glen

Love London, love a laugh, love life. Visually impaired blogger & Youtuber with aniridia & nystagmus, posting about my experiences & adventures.

7 thoughts on “Queen At 50 Reviews – Sheer Heart Attack”

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