The first side of Queen’s hugely successful and perennially popular 1975 album, which I reviewed last week, is in itself quite a stunning collection of assorted treasures.
But those tracks were also paving the way for even more incredible delights on the flip side, for which there is a great deal to talk about. So much so, in fact, that I’ve had to split my reviews for the second side into 2 parts.
In this post, therefore, I’m going to take a close look at the next 3 tracks. The first is their longest song and one of their most complex, the second is their most popular sing-along acoustic number that’s spawned a ton of live performances and covers, and the third is a delightful Dixieland tune. So I hope you enjoy!
The tracks covered in this post are as follows. Click their names to jump to the reviews:
As explained in more detail in Part 1, my reviews below will contain references to the 2005 30th Anniversary CD & DVD Set, the 2006 Making Of A Night At The Opera DVD and the 2011 iTunes Reissue, plus tracks on Queen’s live albums, and other DVD documentaries and features as appropriate.
You can see all the videos I mention in this post and more on my Queen & Covers playlists. 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 epic masterpiece, originally called People Of The Earth, is Queen’s longest song at 8:21 (not counting the untitled instrumental on the Made In Heaven album of course). And it’s so absorbing, with glorious instrumentation, powerful harmonies, and interesting lyrics that reference the Book of Genesis, without any need for the listener to be religious to enjoy it. So you don’t notice the time slip by with all of that going on.
Like its shorter cousin Bohemian Rhapsody later in the album, this too has multiple sections, including a beautiful calm intro (in which Brian plays a toy koto), a transition after the verses to an impressive section of multi-layered vocals (that lasts 2½ minutes), a fantastic guitar section (that lasts for 1 minute), and finally after all of that intensity we have a relaxing outro (that dovetails into the next track). There’s such a massive scale to the whole thing.
So clearly it wasn’t just Freddie who could write long and intricate songs that sound stunning. Brian was more than capable too, as this proves, and he spent a lot of time and effort on it. The inspiration came to him in a dream about a prophet and The Great Flood, and the desperation of people trying to make contact with one another to show that they care. This was while he was coming out of his period of illness during the band’s work on the Sheer Heart Attack album.
It all sounds magnificent, but the a cappella canon section in the middle is a key highlight, using timed delays to repeat the vocals and create multi-part harmonies. Brian was already well versed in using the technique with his guitar, so naturally he wanted to try it for the voice as well. He had loads of ideas written down, and he and Freddie experimented heavily to see what would work best. Freddie then recorded the vocals live, with a tape reel running from one machine to another, so that he could hear the delayed vocals in his headphones and harmonise with himself correctly. Nowadays such feedback could be supplied by computer of course, but back then they had to be more creative.
So if you listen to the song with headphones (advisable for all of their tracks, but essential for this one), you can hear the 3 parts very clearly. Freddie’s primary vocal starts in the centre, before echoing on the left and then the right, and they all overlap very cleverly. When it then switches from Freddie to group harmonies, there are just 2 sets of vocals, bouncing between the left and right channels. And as the music kicks back in, the canon effect is briefly added to that too, creating an effective segue into the excellent guitar section (which itself is unique, as Brian tunes his guitar slightly differently to normal, with the bottom string taken down to a D).
It all creates a very powerful effect indeed. The harmonies that result are really striking, and it gives the illusion that the voices are all around you. And if you believe in any sort of god-like higher power, that would certainly make sense.
All in all, this song is awesome, to the point that it’s strongly argued by some fans to be better than Bohemian Rhapsody, and their reasoning is perfectly understandable. I perhaps wouldn’t go quite that far myself, but they do feel pretty equal to me, as they both have strong merits and important differences, so it is hard to rank one above the other.
The Making Of A Night At The Opera documentary contains a fascinating and detailed discussion about the song, involving Brian and Roger and their producer Roy Thomas Baker, as well as footage of Freddie singing the vocal canon live on stage and the band relaxing in a Japanese garden (as the song’s intro has a Japanese influence). You can also hear Brian talking a little bit about creating the vocal canon during an interview with Redbeard.
The commentary for the track on the 30th Anniversary DVD, meanwhile, features all of the band members talking very highly about producer Roy Thomas Baker, describing how they ensured they had proper control over every aspect of their work, giving an insight into their different vocal styles and how they developed their harmonies, explaining why they added a statement to their albums that they don’t use synthesisers, and finally a very brief note from Brian about writing the actual song, which mirrors what he says in the documentary. So the track itself barely gets a mention, but the commentary on the whole is still interesting.
- The music video on the 30th Anniversary DVD has footage of a harp and toy koto being played, black and white photos, colour footage of the band on stage with effects added, and even visual snippets from the Bohemian Rhapsody video.
- The DVD Audio version is slightly longer, but only because there’s an extra 10 seconds of wind noise at the start, which isn’t significant.
- It’s possible to hear a mix with just bass, drums and lead vocals, that someone has extracted from the surround sound version of the track. The entire canon section is omitted, as you can already hear it in the original version, but it’s brilliant to hear the rest of Freddie’s vocals more clearly.
- A rare and enjoyable instrumental demo has also been leaked online. This is possibly the backing track before overdubs and vocals are added, and it’s a real treat to hear it. A keen fan has also merged this demo with the other sections to create a full instrumental, incorporating the vocal canon section in the middle as well.
Queen did perform the track in concert, but it doesn’t feature on any of their live albums. However, there are a few videos online.
From 1976 there’s a performance from Hyde Park, London on 18 September. It’s a poor quality recording, but the band still play it very well.
Then from 1977 there are better quality videos from Earl’s Court, London on 6 June & The Summit, Houston on 11 December. These performances skip the opening verses and instead focus on Freddie’s vocal gymnastics, with Brian or the band only making an appearance towards the end. If you thought the canon section with all the echoes sounded crazy on the studio album, Freddie’s live improvisations here take it to another level entirely. They’re out of this world in every sense of the phrase. In both cases, if you were to hear the audio out of context from about 1½ minutes in, you could be forgiven for thinking the aliens had invaded, such are the phasing and reverb effects that are added. But the harmonies that Freddie creates with himself throughout are incredible. And the fact that it’s all live is extraordinary, especially for that time period.
Live Cover Versions
It takes a lot of guts, rehearsals and concentration to even attempt to cover this, especially in front of an audience. Yet it’s been done more often than you might expect.
Most notably, Marc Martel pulls it off superbly with Queen Extravaganza, as evidenced by a professionally filmed concert from Montreux, and fan-recorded concerts at Norwich on 14 November 2015 & Plymouth on 28 October 2016. I don’t think his voice is in quite the same league as Freddie’s – nobody’s is – but there’s no denying his admirable vocal talents either. And the band performed the entire Night At The Opera album during these concerts, which is all the more impressive.
Brian May attended the final show of their 2015 tour in Gloucester, and remarked on his blog that “I was happy to be in the audience – it was well worth the trip. I don’t think I’ll ever hear The Prophet’s Song played to that degree of excellence again. Great musicianship, great dedication to detail, and nice presentation all round.” Justifiably high praise indeed!
Swiss band Cellar Darling nailed it with a great cover in a heavier rock style. It was released as a single in 2018, and was also included as a bonus track on the Digibook reissue of their debut album, This Is The Sound. They stay faithful to the original while adding their own touches to it, including their female lead vocalist Anna Murphy, the use of a hurdy gurdy, more intense guitars and nice little changes to the a cappella section.
They’ve also regularly performed it in full on stage, with great examples online from:
- Arci Tom, Mantova, Italy on 5 May 2017
- The Boston Music Room, London on 5 April 2018
- Hare & Hounds, Birmingham on 24 March 2019
- De Helling, Utrecht, Netherlands on 2 April 2019
The song has also been covered very well on stage by Night Of Queen & Classic Albums Live. There’s also a fabulous version for orchestra and choir by Orquestra De Câmara Da ULBRA, and lovely choral arrangements by the Supertonic Choir & Izzy Watkins.
Then there’s a very impressive a cappella adaptation performed live at a Queen convention by Rock4, which they also recorded in the studio for their cover of the entire album. I’ve grouped their performances for the tracks in this post at the start of my Covers playlist.
Other Cover Versions
- PiotreQ has remixed the song on his album God Save The Queen, mixing the vocal canon with the guitar section, which works quite well.
- There are great versions posted by Oniric, In Siren & Queen Killers, which honour the original nicely but are still adapted for their own styles. The In Sirens version is a heavier rock version, while Queen Killers perform on just piano and vocals.
- The Bohemian Champions included a version on their Greatest Hits Of Queen tribute album. It’s nothing special, but it’s ok. And there’s a rather strange jazz instrumental of just the final part of the song by Alban Darche & Le Gros Cube on their tribute album Queen Bishop.
- Tous Les Oiseaux d’Europe produced a nice choral version for their album Ornithology.
- David Akesson & Rob Carroll have focused on just the canon section, recording multiple versions of themselves to create the nice harmonies.
- Elisa Shaw & Natalie perform a nice stripped back version on acoustic guitar and vocals, wisely skipping the a cappella section as they don’t have a way of doing the harmonies.
- There are nice guitar instrumentals by Craig Farley (on acoustic) and Eugene Belyakov (on electric). The Queen Cover Project have also produced a great instrumental of this song on acoustic guitars, along with some of the other tracks on their channel, and I’ve put grouped their covers for the songs in this post at the start of my Covers playlist to keep them together.
- Krikonn has produced a very clever Lego video to go with the song, along with some others on the album.
- Fioocca17 has made a very cool 16-bit Mega Drive style cover, and there’s an 8-bit style version by Grisznik that works surprisingly well. You can find a variety of 8 and 16-bit versions of many Queen tracks on my full 8-bit playlist, but the relevant ones for this post are towards the end of my Covers playlist too.
Written by Freddie Mercury
The closing notes of The Prophet’s song segue into his divine ballad about breaking up with a loved one. And it never fails to move me, it’s just so poetically heartfelt and beautifully sung. It’s also very simple in structure. It’s primarily just Freddie singing at the piano with occasional backing harmonies from the other band members. But Brian May also chips in on the harp (mixing multiple takes of chords for the glissando effects), a Gibson Hummingbird acoustic guitar and his Red Special, while John provides bass and Roger adds just a tiny bit of percussion, all of which are delightful extra layers that complement Freddie perfectly.
In the chapter for this song in the Making Of A Night At The Opera documentary, DJ Bob Harris makes the valid point that “When you hear any other vocalist trying to sing a Queen song, it’s not until you hear them trying that you realise what an incredible vocalist Freddie was, what a range he had, what great expression he had.” This song, and indeed this whole album, is certainly a perfect illustration of that. Brian also praises Freddie’s backing harmonies in the same chapter, which producer Roy Thomas Baker then plays an extract from, isolated from the rest of the song, which is lovely to hear. Brian also notes how Freddie was very deprecating about his piano playing despite being very good at it.
This is the only Queen song to feature an orchestral harp, so it was something that Brian had to learn specifically for it. Freddie told the New Musical Express in September 1975 that “Brian is going to attempt to use a harp, a real life-size harp. I’m going to force him to play till his fingers drop off”.
And some years later, in 1982, Brian told On The Record that “Learning would be too strong a word. I did it chord by chord. Actually, it took longer to tune the thing than to play it. It was a nightmare because every time someone opened the door, the temperature would change and the whole thing would go out. I would hate to have to play a harp on stage. I just figured out how it worked – the pedals and everything – and did it bit by bit.”
Brian also gave a nice brief insight into the melody for this song in his Star Licks tutorial, where he plays part of the tune on the electric guitar for a change. Much more recently he performed a full solo instrumental during the 2020 lockdown, which I’ll come to a bit later.
Freddie always maintained that the song had no personal meaning and was just a ballad he’d made up. In an archive interview featured in the album documentary, he notes how all of his songs are about emotions and feelings, and that he’s just a true romantic.
Their manager John Reid, however, has previously claimed that Freddie told him it was written for David Minns, an American record executive with whom Freddie had an affair in the mid-1970s. Freddie was in a long-term relationship with Mary Austin at the time, and the song is connected with her in the Making Of documentary. It’s also linked to her twice in the Bohemian Rhapsody movie, in a scene where Freddie is playing the song on the piano before kissing Paul Prenter (where he says he wrote the song for Mary), and in the moving scene where he and Mary break up after he reveals his sexuality to her (as he did in real life the year after the album’s release). However, when introducing the song at a 2008 concert in Glasgow, Brian states that he doesn’t know who Freddie wrote it for.
So it’s not entirely certain whether Freddie wrote it for anyone in particular, though the connection with Mary does make a lot of sense. The song could easily be written from her perspective as well as his. But we’ll never know for sure.
In any case, it doesn’t really matter how it came about. It’s an amazing song at the end of the day, and we can all relate closely to it in one way or another. Its appearance in the movie also led to a resurgence in its popularity, with people flocking to streaming services to hear the song in full, so I’m glad it’s been reintroduced to a new audience.
The music video on the 30th Anniversary DVD combines the album track with visuals from many different live shows. The commentary for the track doesn’t discuss the song at all, but it’s still interesting. It features the band talking about the excitement of adapting songs for the stage, especially as it became apparent that the audience were keen to sing along, and so the band wanted to tap into that to involve everybody. They also talk about the chemistry within the band that enabled them to continue recording and touring together, and which protected them from any criticism in the outside world.
- A Cappella – Freddie’s voice is divine in this song, as emphasised beautifully in this vocal track put together by a Youtuber. It’s wonderful to hear him on his own here, and the backing vocals are also included when appropriate. A little bit of guitar and harp is also retained to keep the flow of the song when Freddie isn’t singing. Another fan has also created a Bass & Vocal Mix as a nice alternative, so you can hear John’s part more clearly as well.
- Piano Take – This leaked recording contains the piano and bass parts on to which the other elements were later added, and it’s fantastic to hear the beautiful piano playing on its own like this.
Live Queen Performances
While the studio version was based around piano and guitar plus a few other instruments, the song became a much simpler acoustic duet on stage, with Freddie singing while Brian played an Ovation 12-string guitar (for which he’s lowered the key by a third when rearranging the song in this form).
It became hugely popular with their audiences, who joined in with it so well that Freddie would allow and encourage them to sing some lines themselves. Because of that, their live versions of this track still often give me goosebumps, because hearing a huge crowd of people singing it, in addition to Freddie’s amazing voice, feels really special and emotional.
Examples of their many wonderful live performances include:
- The Summit, Houston on 11 December 1977 – A beautifully sung version by Freddie, with very nice guitar playing by Brian too. This is a relatively early performance, so there’s no audience participation yet, or at least not that you can hear anyway.
- Festhalle, Frankfurt on 2 February 1979 – The audience are joining in much more this time. This version was first released on Live Killers, but also came out as a single in 1981 in recognition of the song’s popularity. This was particularly true in South America, who were so passionate about the track that it hit Number 1 in Argentina and Brazil, and remained in the Argentinian charts for a whole year (yet it only reached #63 in the UK). The single, which was later included as a bonus track on the 2011 reissue of A Night At The Opera, is over a minute shorter than the Live Killers track, because it omits some chatter at the start and end, but it still contains the whole song. This live version is also used for the music video on Greatest Video Hits 1, where it accompanies imagery of Brian and Freddie at concerts in Tokyo and Paris.
- Hammersmith Odeon, London on 26 December 1979 – A beautiful performance as part of the Concerts for the People of Kampuchea.
- Buenos Aires, Argentina on 1 March 1981 – The audience are very enthusiastic about joining in here, at one point struggling to keep in time with each other, so Freddie has to join in to help them get back on track.
- Estadio Do Morumbi, São Paulo, Brazil on 20 March 1981 – The audio recording of this was released on the deluxe edition of the On Air collection of BBC sessions and live shows, while the only video to be officially released was an edited version from an old Rare Live VHS.
- Montreal Forum, Canada 0n 24/25 November 1981 – You can hear Brian & Roger’s commentary for this performance on the Blu-ray release. The song clearly wasn’t as big here, as the audience aren’t as loud as some other concerts. As a result, Freddie remarks “Oh, you don’t know it, huh?” after the first verse, and he doesn’t leave gaps for the crowd to sing on their own. You can hear him even more clearly in the a cappella mix that a fan has extracted from the surround sound audio.
- Milton Keynes Bowl on 5 June 1982 – The video for this was included on the 2011 reissue of the studio album. In the full show there is a little bit of chat and improvisation from Brian first, before he introduces the song by dedicating it “to all those people who are not like us and sitting here and having a good time, listening to music, but, no matter where they come from, people who have given up their lives for what they believe.” It’s a lovely little moment. The “song of peace” most likely refers to Las Palabras De Amor, of which he plays a fleeting snippet in his little bit of improv, while the overall dedication probably relates to the Falklands War, which was coming to an end at that point. Freddie had reportedly said that “It’s our young men killing their young men. There’s no glory in being blown to bits.”
- Seibu Lions Stadium, Tokorozawa, Japan on 3 November 1982 – This was the final show of the Hot Space tour, so Freddie’s voice was very strained by this point, but you don’t notice with this particular song.
- Rio De Janeiro, Brazil on 19 January 1985 – This version in particular, most recently released on the Bohemian Rhapsody movie soundtrack, is a shining example of how music can unite people regardless of any language barriers, and a clear demonstration of Queen’s power over their audiences. With Freddie as their conductor, the enthusiastic Rio crowd are in the palm of his hand as they sing the entire first verse and most of the second verse themselves, all perfectly word for word, and they chant for Brian as he plays the instrumental section.
- Tokyo, Japan on 11 May 1985 – Freddie correctly rates the audience “absolutely perfect” at one point here, as they sing along eagerly.
- Wembley Stadium, London on Friday 11 & Saturday 12 July 1986 – The crowd are very keen to sing along in both shows, the rain not dampening their spirits in the slightest on the first night, and Freddie tells them “I still love you” during both performances. An extract from the Saturday performance is combined with a brand new acoustic performance by Brian in an extra feature on the Making Of A Night At The Opera DVD, a rare chance to hear Brian sing the opening and closing sections without a crowd behind him.
- Nepstadion, Budapest, Hungary on 27 July 1986 – Another great performance from the Magic tour.
Live Brian May Performances
Since Freddie’s death, Brian has performed the song as a solo at countless concerts, taking on the vocals as well as playing the guitar, and again encouraging the audience to sing some of it themselves. Brian traditionally dedicates the song to Freddie, but there have been exceptions.
Brian May first performed the song during his solo tour in the early 90s. The best quality example of this is from the Brixton Academy, London on 15 June 1993. It’s trimmed out of that video clip, but on the live album Brian introduces it by saying “Sometimes I wonder whether I should sing this song or not. The reason being that I can’t sing it as well as its creator.” Cue a huge cheer and a round of applause. He doesn’t have to mention the name of the song or its composer, or play a single note, and the crowd instantly knows what he means.
It is also true that Brian’s voice isn’t as good as Freddie’s, but he still sings it wonderfully, even hitting an impressive high note after the audience sing “I still love you”. And the audience do a lot of the heavy lifting anyway, they’re incredible in this performance (and indeed pretty much everywhere that Brian performs it for that matter).
Other lower quality footage from the tour has been posted from:
- Pista Atlética Estadio Nacional, Santiago, Chile on 3 November 1992
- Estadio Vélez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires, Argentina on 6 November 1992
- Estadio Olympic, Barcelona, Spain on 5 July 1993
It’s interesting to hear Brian introducing the song in Spanish in the 1992 examples, which took place less than a year after Freddie’s death. Doing these concerts were a form of escapism for him and an ideal way to pay his tributes.
During Queen’s tours with Paul Rodgers, this continued to be a duet between Brian and the audience, sometimes with light synthesiser chords added in the background during the 2008 tour. Examples include:
- Hallam FM Arena, Sheffield on 9 May 2005 – Freddie’s mother, Jer Bulsara, was in the audience for this show, so Brian dedicated the song to her. She sadly passed away on 13 November 2016, aged 94. We have an awful lot to thank her for.
- Yokohama, Japan on 30 October 2005
- Freedom Square, Kharkov, Ukraine on 12 September 2008
- Glasgow SECC on 11 October 2008 – A poor quality video but a notable performance because, apart from saying that he doesn’t know who Freddie wrote the song for originally, Brian suggests they all sing the song for their mothers, as his own had recently died.
- Estadio San Carlos de Apoquindo, Santiago, Chile on 19 November 2008 – “Bloody hell, that’s stupendo!” exclaims Brian, quite accurately, after the audience belt out the first verse. They also gleefully chant Freddie’s name at the start and end.
When Brian toured with Kerry Ellis, he would start the song as a solo with some audience participation, and then Kerry would join him partway through. During the 2011 Anthems Tour Kerry only appeared near the end, but it became a proper duet during the 2012-13 Born Free tour when she would enter from the second verse onwards, with reduced audience involvement. In that latter tour synthesiser chords were again added as a very subtle background layer. It always sounded very nice in any case, because Kerry has a really beautiful voice, and her renditions with Brian are a lovely alternative to all the other live versions out there.
Examples of their performances include:
- Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool on 3 May 2011 – First night of Anthems tour
- Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow on 12 May 2011
- RAF Cranwell, Sleaford on 16 July 2011
- Union Chapel, London on 11 November 2012
- City Hall, Salisbury on 17 November 2012
- Stravinski Hall, Montreux on 19 July 2013
- Auditorium Parco Della Musica, Rome on 28 February 2016
During Queen’s tours with Adam Lambert, Brian again performs the song on his own with the audience’s help. However, Freddie is projected on to the big screen behind him, in footage from Wembley on 12 July 1986, to sing the final part of the song. In recent years Brian has also actively encouraged people to turn on the flashlights on their phones, resulting in a gorgeous galaxy of torches in the venue as the song is performed.
Examples of Brian’s performances from the Adam Lambert tours include:
- Madison Square Garden, New York, USA on 17 July 2014
- Rock In Rio Festival, Brazil on 18 September 2015
- O2 Arena, London on 2 July 2018 – This is available on the Live Around The World compilation released in October 2020. See my review of that album for more details.
- Rogers Arena, Vancouver, Canada on 10 July 2019 – At the end of the performance, Brian announces that it’s the first night of the tour, and thanks the 128 members of the crew who are on the road with them.
- LA Forum, USA on 19 July 2019
Brian May Collaborations
Extreme teamed up with Brian May to produce a wonderful version, sung really well by Gary Cherone. The guitar playing is also very nice, especially in the second half where it’s very different to the original yet still perfect for the track. It was released on their single Song For Love.
The band (without Brian) also performed the song live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert at Wembley Stadium on 20 April 1992, with the audience joining in of course, and at the end they segued neatly into their own hit More Than Words. Sadly those two songs have been excluded from all video & DVD releases of the concert to date. However, those releases do still include their very entertaining 11-song medley of other Queen hits.
Extreme’s appearance at the gig earned them many new fans, with Brian introducing them as “real friends and, possibly more than any other group on this planet, the people that understand exactly what Queen have been about all these years, and what Freddie was about all these years.”
Much more recently, on his Instagram page during the first lockdown of 2020, Brian performed a full instrumental on his Red Special from home, which Kerry Ellis then sang along with beautifully from her own abode.
But Brian was keen for anyone to sing or play along, and a huge number of people did, in a wide variety of ways, including:
- Child stars Emily Linge (who has also posted a lovely solo piano version), Daniele Filigheddu, Sofia Shkidchenko & Wendy Wong.
- Female vocals by Alex LopNie (multi-layered), Anastasia Lee, Anna Toledo, Bella, Britta Berger, Carole & Jacob (with piano), Cherry Bomb Show, Claudia Ferri, Claudia Maurtua (multi-layered), Evelinä, Federica Cardamone, Geng Pasya (featuring Freddie), Inna Knaus, J Z, Jaime Lovett, Joan Ov Arc & Samantha Walker (with acoustic guitar), Laura Lawless, Lucila Cristal (with harmonies), Marta Fabregat, Melissa Behring, Rupa Rao, Sara Cerretti, Serena Santoriello, Shuba, Silvia Barbieri & Victory Vizhanska.
- Male vocals by Aleksa & Vladan Vučković (with acoustic guitar), Alex VanTrue, Banda Magoo, Cesare Syd Salvatori, David Frontman, Enricator, Eyal Gonorovsky, Harry Kucera (with acoustic guitar), Javi Blanco, Jody Cooper, Joel Brito, John Nelson, Lautaro Rodríguez, Lucas Aguirre, Lukáš Štědrý, Master Stroke, Matthew Wilkinson (with piano), Mendel Bouman (with harmonies), Our History (with bass guitar & harmonies), Pablo García Alguibay, PACOusticover, Roberto Loche, Serge Tiagnyriadno, Stevie, Yuri Soriano & Zwierzak.
- Band performances by Isao Cato & Labinot Krasniqi.
- Choir performances by UNIPÊ University & West Oxfordshire Academy Of Performing Arts.
- A piano version by Hoang Nguyen.
- Cello versions by Cello Rick, Cello vs Guitar, Hana & Tea Rabadan, Luka Sulic, Maria Moreta, Nurmira Greenberg & Sugar Cello.
- Electric guitar versions by Božo Paradžik (with double-bass, plus a version with Martina Biznar on vocals), Claudio Perini (on electric ukulele), Dimitris Napas, Jungsoo Kim (multi-layered), Marco Ludiones, Marcos Casco, Mazterford, Nicky Rubchenko, Pa Plays, Sauro & Vladan Zivancevic.
- Acoustic guitar versions by Billy Watman (also here) & Valentín Matevé.
- Violin versions by Adrian Varela, Anna Gold, Eduardo Gomes, Katilly Joyce & Stefan Krznaric.
- Other string versions by Chiara Trallori (harp), Nanoha (koto) & Wilson Ramiro Sierra (bandola andina colombiana).
- Wind instrumentals by The Bone Bunker (trombone), Bruno Soares (saxophone), Chepe Lopez (horn), Duśka (flute), Mauro Cadei (tuba) & Yayoi Shiraishi (flute, and he’s also posted a flute & piano cover),
- Orchestral performances by Break Free (with vocals, and they’ve also performed the song live at the Gruvillage Festival) & Jade Guitar & Music (instrumental, with a bit of Freddie at the end for good measure).
Other Cover Versions
Aside from the lockdown sessions above, there are a cornucopia of other versions online, again in a variety of styles. I’m going to list a lot of them to illustrate the point, but there are others out there, with more appearing on Youtube all the time from people of all ages and nationalities, a testament to the worldwide spread and timeless appeal of this classic song. So do have a look through some of them and see which ones particularly grab your interest. They’re all on my Covers playlist too of course, along with any others I’ve discovered since this post was published.
Remixes & Dances
- Fan-produced remixes that stay close to the original tempo and feel of the song include an Autumn Remix by David Graham & Lo-fi Remix by YK.
- There’s some lovely choreography in the dance routines put together by Cassie Dzienny, GNI Dance Company, Juana Lederer, M2 & Vidanza. It’s surprising how many people I’ve seen commenting online that they want to have this song as the first dance at their wedding. Doesn’t seem appropriate to me somehow, given that it’s about a breakup!
- The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra & Royal Choral Society have produced a gorgeous instrumental version. PiotreQ has then combined it with Queen’s vocals and some of Brian’s guitar work to produce a beautiful Orchestral Remix on his God Save The Queen album, including the final bars of The Prophet’s Song as an introduction.
- There’s also another Royal Philharmonic audio recording with a very exquisite and emotional arrangement, building to a powerful key change in the second half. And there’s a video of the orchestra performing a version of the song too.
- The London Symphony Orchestra have also recorded a lovely version, which Xulio César has mixed with Queen’s studio version.
- There are other instrumental arrangements by Alligare Eventos, Jakarta Concert Orchestra & Indonesia Concert Orchestra.
- Elaine Paige recorded a cover with an orchestral backing for her Queen album. She also performed it on the Wogan TV show in 1988 to promote the album.
- Other orchestral versions with vocals have been performed by The Berklee College Of Music Singers Showcase, Brennyn Lark (from the stage show Broadway Sings Queen), The Celtic Tenors, Jarkko Ahola (plus a live performance), Marti Webb, Riki Putra & Bhinneka Orchestra, Rose Marie and tribute act Rajaton with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra.
- There are versions by strings groups including Agez Producciones, Aramis String Quartet, Belstrings Quartet & Etruria Musica.
- The Trinity Violin Trio have produced a fantastic arrangement of this song. Also for violin, Melissa Violinista plays alongside a full backing track, there are versions with guitar backing by Azalea Charismatic, Caio Ferraz, Chris Garrick & John Etheridge, Julien Ando & Piero Vittori Locatelli, plus duets with piano by Aciw Alexa, Faridde Caparó & Kokiman Romero, Hugo & Marina (who also have a solo piano version), Layers, Marin Rabadan (including a cello) & Saem, and a solo arrangement by Elena Abad.
- For the cello there are duets with piano by Jee-Youn Hong, Julio Pelloso, Luka Sulic & Evgeny Genchev and Orlan Charles, and a duet with guitar by AuSep-Duo.
- There are saxophone versions by Alexandra Ilieva, Anyela Gomez, Crimson Sax, Daniele Vitale, Dennis David Sandria, Desmond Amos, Gem G, Graziatto, JaeWon Jung, Juozas Kuraitis, LuKas Insung Lee, Sound Of Ocean & Super Maninis, plus covers on other wind instruments by Christopher Bill’s Trumpet All Stars & The Zagreb Philharmonic Trombone Quartet.
Bands & Groups
- Bands that have performed the song live include The Scorpions & A-Ha South America, and tribute groups Classical Queen, Mercury, Night Of Queen & The Queen Kings.
- There are also group and choral performances by 4Tunes, The Bulgarian National Academy of Music, The Chant Masters (Gregorian chanters), Coro del Británico, La Oficio Band, Philippine Madrigal Singers, Symphonic Orchestra of Antofagasta & Youth Choir, Trio Live & Unitarian College Péterffy Gyula Choir.
- Celine Dion performed the song live during her 2017 tour.
- Marc Martel sings the vocals really well, backed with a nice string arrangement, on his tribute album Thunderbolt & Lightning. He’s also posted a one-take version at the piano online, and has performed the song live during concerts with tribute groups Queen Extravaganza & Ultimate Queen Celebration. Plus there’s a video of him singing the song with friends with the aid of dueling pianos outside the Double Tree Hotel, Reading, Pennsylvania in 2017.
- Declan Galbraith released a piano-backed cover of the song on his Greatest Hits album. You can see music videos for it here and here, plus appearances on German TV shows Bravo on 1st May 2007 & Nur Die Liebe Zaehlt on 25 March 2007. The beat used during the song gives it a modern feel compared to Queen’s original, which doesn’t really sound right to me. But there’s also an Unplugged version with much subtler and simpler percussion, which I think is a bit better.
TV Talent Shows
- The song has been performed on various TV talent shows, with varying degrees of quality as a result. Some of them don’t really capture the emotion or have a singing style that personally appeals to me, but you be the judge. On American Idol it was performed by Laci Kaye Booth in 2019 (with coaching from Adam Lambert). On The Voice in Portugal it was sung by Carolina Santos in 2014, Pedro Gonçalves in 2015 & Gabriel de Rose in the 2019 final. On international versions of The Voice Kids there were renditions by Rafi in Indonesia 2016 & Alija in Germany 2020. And it was performed on Got Talent Uruguay by child singer Evangelina in 2020.
- Other versions on piano with male vocals, that haven’t already been mentioned above, can be heard by Aldo Blaga, Chris Kotra (using Freddie’s vocals), Harry Fletcher (a young boy doing a nice job in his school’s talent show), Julian Veliss, Matteo Bocelli (during the 2020 lockdown), Mean Mr Mustard, Natalia Posnova & Michael Antony Austin (during her Queen Rhapsody concert in Luxembourg), Padraig Cahill & Andres Mac, Ridwan & Serenity.
- And piano versions with female vocals can be found by Amber Leigh Irish, Bryce Adam, Chenoa (live on stage), Chloe (live on stage), Claudia Bennett, Connie Talbot, Hanin Dhiya, Hope, Johanna Pupos, Juana Piazza, K&A (an acoustic jazz interpretation), Lucie Halamíková, Madelyn Belle, Mariah Dela Cruz, Martina Lynn, Merijn & Joyce, MNB & Meli Mizrahi, Patricia Centeno, Rhianne Mee (as a mashup with One Year Of Love), Roaming Songs, Salem & Umimma Khusna.
- There are also piano covers with vocals that also feature additional instrumentation, such as strings or guitars, by Anna Saeki, Erlend Bratland, J.Fla, Jeni Muldaur, Juan Susini & Sebastián Villalba, Lucas Bun, McAlmont & Webb and Sylvain Cossette.
- French pianist Thierry Lang included a very slow and beautiful piano instrumental on the album Guide Me Home, one of 4 Queen-related bonus tracks used in the documentary Freddie Mercury – An Untold Story.
- Other nice piano instrumentals have been posted by Christian Salerno, David Saints-Gome, Evgeny Alexeev, Francesco Parrino, Jazzy Fabbry (including a live performance), José M. Armenta, Number 9, Pablo Honey, Rafi Ansi, Sangah Noona, Subitomusick, The Theorist, Valtteri Nieminen, Yuval Salomon.
- There are also piano renditions by 12-year-old Cole Lam, including public performances in Westfield Stratford City shopping centre & Kings Cross St Pancras train station. They’re not perfect, but still very impressive for someone so young.
- On guitar, there are covers with male vocals by X Factor winner Joe McElderry (with some backing strings), Absolute5, Ben Forster, Christiano Pena, Clint Slate, Emmerson Nogueira (which ends up with a slightly catchy beat), Jeff Scott Soto (at a 2014 Queen tribute concert in São Paulo), John Owen-Jones, Kyle Juliano, Lucas Garcia, Marco Von Freydorf, Martin Nievera (with additional strings), Michael Burgess, Norbert Zehetner (a cover of Extreme’s tribute concert performance including More Than Words), Oskar Mahendra & Al Fajar Ajay Ideaz, Robby Valentine (at the 2012 Dutch Queen Convention), Ruvin, Sinfornia (quartet), Valensia & Zak Robinson, plus a ukulele cover by Baptiste Defromont.
- And there are guitar versions with female vocals by Allie Sherlock, Anastasia Kochorva, Blind Vlogger Channel, Cath Santos, Giorgia (live on stage), Marta Carvalho, Martha Rossi, Paulina Mieszało, Ruatpuii, Sammy Copley, Triyan 25 & Zlata Ognevich (live on stage with backing strings).
- Carlos Bonell has a nice instrumental version on his Queen Guitar Rhapsodies album, and there’s an alternative performance with a bit of Bohemian Rhapsody at the start.
- There are also acoustic guitar instrumentals by Alip Ba Ta, Billy Watman, Bosna Trimanta, Gabriella Quevedo, Grab The Guitar, Gwendal Le Toullec, Han Eun, Harald Boxtart, Ignacio Barra, Ilya Filippov (backed by synthesised strings), Josephine Alexandra (duet with piano), Kfir Ochaion, Massimo Li Calzi, Monika Hiertz, Nick Schott, Parahumanoid, Pedro Javier González, Priaganda, Rolf Van Meurs, Sungha Jung, Trouble Clef, Ton Venhuizen, Vilakshan Kandwal & Walter Silva.
- Young lad Sean Song from Korea also plays it on guitar, and there are videos of him doing it on the ukulele at the ages of seven and eight.
- There’s also a cover on a Harpejji G16 by Mathieu Terrade, and an electric guitar version with piano backing by Nave Dey.
A Cappella Versions
- There are impressive group a cappella versions by 4Tet (including a live performance), Calmus Vocal Ensemble (live on stage), Cluster (also including a live performance), DunkelDirks (with a nice animation). Maelstrom (live on stage), Rock4 (including a live performance) & Voces8.
- Sonny Vande Putte has put together an incredible multi-tracked a cappella version, with him singing 4 different parts. He also posted a lockdown rendition in 2020, singing solo while accompanied by guitar, as he and other members of Belgian tribute band Mother Mercury held up cards spelling out a message to wish everyone well, featuring the titles of many Queen songs.
- Student Louise Caffrey from the Chicago School of Rock sang the first verse a cappella during a Queen tribute gig, as a prelude to their version of You Take My Breath Away.
- On the more unusual side, there’s a relaxed version by Virtual Music and Sergi Perez Berk from the album A Chill Out Tribute To Queen, a bossa lounge guitar version by Joyce, a catchy reggae cover by Los Cafres, a typically unusual jazz version by Alban Darche & Le Gros Cube on their Queen Bishop tribute album (of which there’s a live version too), and beautiful Spanish translations called Amor De Mi Vida by Adrian Barilari & Cuando Te Vas by Paulo Ricardo.
- There’s a relaxing lullaby style version on kalimba by Ipida Sound. I have a whole playlist of lullaby versions if you want to doze off to Queen’s music, and the relevant versions for this song are at the end of my Covers playlist.
- Part of the track has also been sung in a commercial for Carlsberg beer, and the original version was used in an advert for the Seal Rehabilitation & Research Centre (SRRC) in the Netherlands.
Written by Brian May
As well as writing this song, Brian also sings the lead vocal, plays a Genuine Aloha banjo ukulele, and cleverly recreates a Dixieland jazz band sound using guitars. The instrumentation is really impressive, catchy and fun. And the lyrics offer sage advice for keeping the right people around you, as the character in the song looks back at his life with a mixture of fondness and sadness. Unusually, Freddie has no involvement on this track at all, although it’s safe to say he more than makes up for it with the next one!
The music video on the 30th Anniversary DVD is a montage of old black and white footage that fits well with the lyrics, including a few shots of George Formby, and near the end some fleeting glimpses of Queen as well.
In the interesting chapter for this song in the Making Of A Night At The Opera documentary, Brian plays a genuine George Formby banjo ukulele, explaining how it helped him to learn the guitar when he was young. He also discusses the jazz band influence for the song, particularly the arrangements by The Temperance Seven, and explains how he achieved the Dixieland sound, before playing the final solo in isolation at the mixing desk, which is fascinating to hear.
Similarly, in the song commentary on the 30th Anniversary DVD, Brian discusses the George Formby ukulele and recreating the jazz sound. He and Freddie also discus the fact that every member of the band wrote their own songs in different styles, and why it was important for them to try different things to expand their audience, while also remaining faithful to their early fans. Brian also addresses one of the misconceptions that the press and others had about the band, failing to appreciate their sense of humour and self-parody.
Talking to On The Record in 1982, Brian also explained how he achieved the horn sounds:
“That’s four different kind of guitars. I was very keen in those days on recreating that sort of atmosphere. I mainly got the sound with small amplifiers. I used John Deacon’s little amplifier and a volume pedal. For the trombone and trumpet sounds. I would record every note individually: Do it and then drop in. Incredibly painstaking! It took ages and ages. I listened to a lot of traditional jazz music when I was young, so I tried to get the phrasing as it would be if it were played by that instrument.”
And in 1983 he told BBC Radio One:
“That was a little fetish of mine. I used to listen to Traditional Jazz quite a lot, in particular, the twenties revival stuff which wasn’t actually Traditional Jazz but more arranged stuff like The Temperance Seven who were recreating something which was popular in the twenties, sort of dance tunes really. I was very impressed by the way those arrangements were done, you know, the nice smooth sound and those lovely changes between chords. Because they were much more rich in chords than most modern songs are. So many chord changes in a short time, lots of intermingling parts.
So I wanted to do one of those things and the song just happened to come out while I was plunking away a the ukulele and the song itself was no trouble to write at all. But actually doing the arrangements for the wind section, as it was supposed to be, there’s a guitar trumpet and a guitar clarinet and a guitar trombone and a sort of extra thing, I don’t really know what it was supposed to be on the top. I spent a lot of time doing those and to get the effect of the instruments I was doing one note at a time, with a pedal and building them up.
So you can imagine how long it took. We experimented with the mikes and various little tiny amplifiers to get just the right sound. So I actually made a study of the kind of thing that those instruments could play so it would sound like those and get the authentic flavour. It was a bit of fun but, it was a serious bit of work in that a lot of time went into it.”
- A fan has extracted a Bass, Drum & Vocal Mix, which is really cool as you get to hear Brian’s vocal much more clearly. It’s also worth focusing on John’s bassline too, as there are some nice little touches in there.
- Queen never performed the song live, sadly. But Brian did get out his ukulele to play it at a show in Portsmouth’s New Theatre Royal on 16 November 2012, during the Born Free tour with Kerry Ellis (although she doesn’t feature in this case). There’s also another video from an alternate angle, which has lower audio quality but includes more of Brian’s chat at the start. It’s a great performance that takes an amusing twist when he forgets how to play the instrumental section in the middle, giving it a couple of attempts before throwing in the towel and moving on to the rest of the song. And the audience take it in good spirits, it’s all just a bit of fun.
- PiotreQ has produced an extended Drum Remix, starting with the instrumental sections of the track before launching into the song properly, adding subtle extra drum beats throughout, and extending things a little at the end all. It’s not a particularly interesting remix, but it’s not bad either.
- The song was performed wonderfully at a Queen Symfonicznie concert in Łódź, Poland on 17 December 2017 by the Hollyłódzka Film Orchestra, Alla Vienna Orchestra & Vivid Singers Choir.
- Rock4 included a nice a cappella version on their cover of the whole album, and there’s a live performance from the 2010 Dutch Queen Convention.
- Marc Martel sang the song very nicely while playing the ukulele during a live stream in April this year. He also performed it live in concert with the Black Jacket Symphony in 2019. It’s also been performed on stage by tribute band Classic Albums Live & The Royal Queen Tribute Band.
- Jiji sings and plays the ukulele very well for this song (with another video here). There are also good solo versions with ukulele by Vervex, CokeCan72, Pedagogue Squinting & Stuart Herding, and with acoustic guitar by TheSJR_79. Plus there’s an instrumental acoustic guitar version by the Queen Cover Project.
- There are nice duets featuring all the instrumental parts by Elbert de Hoog & Debby Luijten and Gareth John & Andy Clayton, and a full band cover by DJ Boogie.
- Marcel Ferreira has produced a fun little video with 3 versions of himself playing the different parts, while Harold has done similar with up to 9 iterations of himself to raise money for Tábitha Child Hospice House in Hungary.
- There are entertaining original piano arrangements by Otmar Binder & Shcorporation.
As you can see, those songs are all very different, with their own special qualities that make them each wonderful and powerful pieces of music in their own right. So I hope you enjoyed those very close looks at them.
You can check out my Queen & Covers playlists to explore the official videos, live performances, rarities, and other versions of the songs, along with other videos not mentioned above. I’ll update them in the future as I become aware of new videos. If there are other videos I should check out and consider adding to these lists (or any of my Queen playlists), do let me know.
Next time I’ll be going through the final 2 tracks on the album, the first of which is particularly famous of course. I’ll see you then!