1977 could have been the year that Queen’s reign came to an end. With punk rock very much in the ascendancy, having gained traction over the previous few years, there was a greater appetite for raw power and simplicity in rock music, rather than elaborate and fancy progressive rock. And Queen’s last album, A Day At The Races, despite being an excellent collection of songs, hadn’t sold quite as well as its behemoth predecessor A Night At The Opera, with some critics and fans feeling that it was more of the same without any notable improvement. So it was going to seem too repetitive if they did the same kind of thing yet again.
The band were perfectly happy to adapt and take on the challenge though, and indeed were already keen to try something different from the multi-layered, complex productions they felt they’d done enough of by this point anyway. So even without the emerging competition from the punk scene, it was already the evolutionary path they were heading down.
As a result, News Of The World marked a shift towards a purer hard rock sound, and took just 2 months to record (compared to 5 for A Day At The Races). The tracks still had some beautifully arranged harmonies and instrumentation thrown in, but not as lavishly and prominently as before. There was also a change in how evenly the writing credits were distributed, with 4 tracks now written by Brian, just 3 by Freddie, and an increase to 2 each for Roger and John. And the band produced the album themselves, with assistance from engineer Mike Stone, now they had the experience and confidence to do so themselves.
It all worked out very well, resulting in another great selection of songs. And so, as you’ll be accustomed to by now if you’ve followed my posts to date, this is my personal review of each of the tracks, including a look at alternate versions, music videos, live performances, covers, etc, along with other bits and pieces that I’m aware of. I hope you enjoy!
The topics and tracks covered in this post are as follows. Click their names to jump to each section:
- Album Notes – Including its release, Frank The Robot, 40th Anniversary box set, documentaries & interviews.
- We Will Rock You & We Are The Champions
- Sheer Heart Attack
- All Dead, All Dead
- Spread Your Wings
- Fight From The Inside
- Get Down, Make Love
- Sleeping On The Sidewalk
- Who Needs You?
- It’s Late
- My Melancholy Blues
- Feelings, Feelings (Sessions Outtake)
You can see all the videos I mention in this post and many more on my Queen & Covers playlists for this album. So do feel free to check them out (along with my other Queen playlists) and see which versions of each song you like best!
The album was released on the same day as the legendary LP Never Mind The Bollocks, Here’s The Sex Pistols, which the punk band had been recording in the same studios as Queen some of the time, and so inevitably they had crossed paths on numerous occasions. During one encounter, Sid Vicious taunted Freddie about an NME interview he’d given by asking “Have you succeeded in bringing ballet to the masses yet?”, to which Freddie calmly replied: “Oh, yes, Simon Ferocious. We’re trying our best, dear”. And the Sex Pistols also have Queen to thank for one of their most famous moments. If it weren’t for Queen having to pull out of Bill Grundy‘s Today show in 1976, when Freddie had his first emergency dental appointment in 15 years, the Sex Pistols would never have been invited on to make what became a very memorable appearance that went down in TV history.
In any case, while the Sex Pistols did leap to number 1 in the UK, News Of The World still reached a very healthy and respectable number 4 (staying in the chart for 20 weeks and going Platinum), as well as number 3 in the USA, 2 in Canada, and the top spot in the Dutch and French charts. It sold 7 million copies worldwide, making it their most successful album to date. So Queen clearly didn’t need to worry about punk or what the critics thought!
Frank The Robot
The album’s cover art was a stark contrast to the Queen crest used on the previous 2 LPs. Roger had found an image of a robot holding a dead man in the October 1953 issue of American comic Astounding Science Fiction, which the band really liked. So they got in touch with the renowned sci-fi artist responsible for the image, Frank Kelly Freas, and he agreed to produce a customised version especially for them.
In this version, the robot – who the band called Frank after the artist – is holding the dead bodies of Freddie and Brian, while John and Roger fall to the ground. And inside the album Frank can be seen clutching at people who are running away from him screaming.
The sight of Frank does have some potential to scare people, particularly children – evidenced by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane, who was terrified of the album cover as a youngster, and passed that fear onto Stewie for a storyline in the Killer Queen episode of the show in 2012.
54-inch plastic models of Frank were also made to promote the album in 1977, which are now very collectable. And in 2017, he was one of the counters in Queen Monopoly. That same year the comic X-Men Gold #11 celebrated the album’s 40th anniversary with a cover homage by artist Mike del Mindo, showing a Sentinel holding Old Man Logan and Kitty Pryde while Colossus falls through the air.
But most notably in 2017, Frank was reborn in 3D animated form to celebrate the album’s 40th anniversary during Queen + Adam Lambert’s 2017-18 tour. He punched through the screen at the start of each show and held Brian during his solo spots, among other impressive visual effects, as can be seen on the Live Around The World DVD & Blu-ray.
40th Anniversary Box Set
A deluxe box set was released in 2017 to mark the album’s 40th anniversary, containing:
- A vinyl copy of the album (a pure analog re-cut of the original LP)
- A CD of the album (the 2011 remaster)
- A Raw Sessions CD, with alternate takes, rough mixes, etc from the original recording sessions.
- A Bonus Tracks CD with alternate mixes, BBC sessions, live versions, etc, all of which were previously released but sometimes hard to find.
- A DVD of The American Dream, a new 1-hour documentary filmed during their 1977 US tour. More on this below.
- A 60 page book.
- Replica memorabilia including 3 posters, a tour laminate & stickers.
- An Elektra press kit with newspaper, 7 photos and 5 biography pages.
I’ll mention the relevant tracks from the Raw Sessions and Bonus Tracks CDs as I progress through my song reviews.
I didn’t buy the box set personally as it was too expensive, particularly because I have no way of playing the vinyl LP, I don’t need another CD copy of the album, and many of the bonus tracks are already in my collection from the 2011 album remaster on iTunes, the On Air box set and some live albums. So it wasn’t worth the price tag for what was left. And I can hear the remaining tracks online if need be, particularly the Raw Sessions that were of most interest. But die-hard Queen collectors may still appreciate the set.
Documentaries & Interviews
The American Dream documentary – also known as Rock The World, an alternative edit that was shown on BBC Four in 2017 – uses footage recorded by radio DJ Bob Harris in 1977 for a programme he never completed at the time. It shows the band rehearsing, sound-checking and performing their live show at The Summit in Houston on 11 December, along with backstage clips from The Omni in Atlanta on 8 December, footage of the band working on various songs in the studio (We Are The Champions, My Melancholy Blues, Get Down Make Love & It’s Late), interviews with the band from the time of filming, and new audio interviews with Brian and Roger.
The Rock The World version of the documentary has footage of Queen’s 2017 US tour with Adam Lambert at the start and end, additional narration by Bob Harris, some colour versions of footage that was black and white in The American Dream, and other small changes.
All in all it’s a fantastic behind the scenes insight into the development of the album and the band’s North American tour. You can tell they’re really enjoying the experience, which comes across to the audience when they perform, and it’s very cool to see them at work in the studio.
Both versions of the documentary can be found in full on Youtube, but naturally they keep being taken down for copyright violations and then re-uploaded, so I won’t bother linking to them. It’s well worth looking up though.
You can also hear the band members discussing the album in various other recordings:
- Queen Interview – BBC Radio 1, Christmas 1977 – This fascinating hour-long chat with presenter Tom Browne was included on a CD with the 2011 book 40 Years Of Queen. A 40-minute edit was then included on the first interview disc of Queen’s On Air box set in 2016.
- Freddie Mercury Interview – Countdown, November 2, 1977 – An interview by Molly Meldrum on the Australian TV music show shortly after the album’s release, where Freddie talks briefly about the band’s evolution, the impact of Bohemian Rhapsody, the release of the album News Of The World and the single We Are The Champions, and the competition from the emerging punk movement.
As these songs are heavily connected and often performed together, I’m combining my reviews for both of them.
- We Will Rock You
- We Are The Champions
Despite all of their exquisitely elaborate, highly-polished, over-produced, multi-layered, creatively complex and utterly delightful masterpieces to date, these songs above all others show how Queen are just as capable of having a massive impact with minimal production. Everybody will have heard them on several occasions, as they’ve been sung at sporting events and concerts, covered by many artists, used in TV, radio and films, etc, and they regularly feature in polls of the greatest songs of all time.
Scientists have even shown that Champions is the catchiest song ever – although it does have a form of Mandela Effect on many people, who are certain that it finishes with the lyric “of the world”, when it actually doesn’t. Sure, Freddie sings it during the earlier choruses, and he does indeed end with it during concert performances. But the track itself doesn’t end that way.
The single release was originally led by Champions, with Rock You as the B-side. But given the popularity of both songs it quickly became a double A-side. Rather amazingly, however, the single never got to number 1 in the UK chart, despite shifting millions of copies. It stayed in the chart for 12 weeks, 3 of them at number 2, held off the top spot by ABBA’s Name Of The Game for the first fortnight, and then by Mull Of Kintyre from Wings in the third week. In the USA, however, the single did reach number 1 in the Cashbox chart, and number 4 in the Billboard chart. And it stayed at number 1 in the French chart for 10 weeks.
But irrespective of the charts, these rousing anthems have become such an integral part of British and international culture, that it seems impossible to imagine a time when they never existed. They’re joyous, triumphant and unifying, because they’re so easy to join in with and give you a deep sense of belonging when sung as part of a crowd. And that was the whole intention. Even though they were written by different members of the band, they were kept together on the album, and on the single release, and at the end of their live shows. The songs have always been intrinsically linked.
“We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions had a very definite genesis. We played this great hall in the Midlands [Bingley Hall, Stafford] and it was packed, it was heaving. Those gigs that you love – it’s all sweaty and hot, the atmosphere’s great, everybody’s in it, everybody’s jumping up and down and making a noise. And what they were doing was singing along. They didn’t stop, they sang every note of every song.
And when we went off stage, they sang You’ll Never Walk Alone to us. And in those days, it was really new, I have to tell you. You just didn’t go to concerts where people sang to rock bands. So we went home that night thinking “What do we do here? What does this mean? What does this mean for our future?”
Obviously the audience is as big a part of the show as we are now, so let’s embrace it. What can an audience do, what could you ask them to do? They’re all crammed in there, they can’t do much, but they can stamp their feet, they can clap their hands and they can sing. And they would be leading the song rather than the singer. So I woke up with We Will Rock You in my head. I sang the song to Freddie and he went “Yeah, it’s gonna work.” He twigged that it was a kind of rallying song.
In my head it was a song of the three ages of man. The first stage is a boy who thinks he can change the world, the second stage is the man who thinks he is changing the world, and the third stage is the old man coming to terms with the fact that there’s only a certain amount he can do. It’s a bit like a serenity prayer, you know – change what you can change, but get used to it that you can’t achieve everything.”
There has also been a look back at both songs as part of the band’s 50th anniversary Youtube series Queen The Greatest:
- We Will Rock You – Part 1 & Part 2 – Brian gives an exclusive new interview here, talking about the song’s composition and impact, and giving some revealing insights into the guitar solo.
- We Are The Champions – This video celebrates the song’s enduring popularity and legacy, given the ease with which it unites huge crowds of people, despite claims that the lyrics were arrogant when it was first released.
And the songs have been mentioned in various other interviews of course. A lot of information is duplicated between them, inevitably, but they’re still worth a listen:
- Freddie Mercury Interview – Countdown, November 2, 1977 – Freddie discusses the reason for writing Champions and the general meaning of some of the lyrics.
- Queen Interview – Radio 1, Christmas 1977 – Here Brian explains that “We Will Rock You was just an experiment… it’s designed to simulate is the effect of an audience just stomping and clapping, and the singing and nothing else, so there’s not supposed to be any bass or drums or guitar or anything. The guitar comes in the end and plays along with it. It’s just an experimental thing really, and we’re waiting to see what’s gonna happen on stage. And then Freddie jokes that Champions is “the most egotistical and arrogant song I’ve ever written”, before laughing and blowing a raspberry!
- Brian & Roger provided commentaries for both tracks on the Absolute Greatest Hits compilation and the Greatest Video Hits I DVD.
- On Absolute Radio, Brian also gave very brief insights into Rock You & Champions.
- Brian has also said elsewhere that he was initially upset by the demo of Champions that the others had prepared without him, and questioned the apparent arrogance of the lyrics at first, but quickly relented when Freddie explained his intentions.
We Will Rock You
The simple video for this song was recorded in just a couple of takes, in Roger’s cold and snowy garden in Surrey in January 1978, after they’d filmed Spread Your Wings. Freddie looks very cool (while no doubt also feeling very cold!) in his star-shaped sunglasses, while Brian uses a copy of his guitar to avoid any weather damage to his original Red Special. Roger and John only have to stomp, clap and mime the chorus in the background.
The official version of this video on Queen’s Youtube channel is taken from the Greatest Video Hits I DVD. But the original promo released on the old Greatest Flix VHS had some different shots and camera angles. There was also a re-edited version produced in 1998 for the Queen Rocks VHS, and more recently included with the 2011 iTunes reissue of the album, which mixes black and white footage from the promo video with colour visuals of Queen performing in various live shows.
We Are The Champions
The promo video for this song shows the band doing a mimed stage performance, with Freddie in a very low cut black and white bodysuit, and was filmed at the New London Theatre (now called the Gillian Lynne Theatre) in Drury Lane, London on 6 October 1977. It’s the first of many promos to feature lucky members of the official fan club, who were rewarded with a 70-minute impromptu concert by the band and a free copy of the vinyl single. The video has appeared on various official releases, including the Greatest Video Hits I DVD and the old Greatest Flix VHS – although early copies of Greatest Flix had a slightly different mix with alternate angles and a bit of extra guitar.
There was also an alternative edit for Top Of The Pops, starting with a close-up of Freddie in black and white, before switching to colour in the first chorus. It has many different camera shots and a few different guitar elements, plus you can hear the audience clapping and singing along.
The Days Of Our Lives DVD & Blu-ray has an interesting video of the band recording the song in the studio, which has some of the vocals omitted, and some of the instrumentation differs to the final version. Additional footage of the studio recording is included in the American Dream documentary, which also looks at the making of the promo video and discusses the meaning behind the song.
Bohemian Rhapsody Movie
Queen’s biographical film inevitably featured these songs. There’s a scene where Brian introduces Rock You to the band, and then for the Live Aid sequence there were great performances of We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions. For Rock You there’s also a side-by-side comparison with the original Live Aid footage.
Fascinating alternate takes of We Will Rock You & We Are The Champions were released in the 40th anniversary box set. It’s really interesting to hear the different vocals and guitar parts by Freddie and Brian respectively, some of which are very subtle changes, while others are very different to the final mix (e.g. Brian’s improvised Hendrix-style solo in Rock You). There’s also a bit of chatter included at the start, indicating in Rock You that it’s Take 1, while in Champions it’s jokingly announced to be Take 37,000 after a false start! Champions is also notably longer than the album version, adding extra choruses and another guitar solo at the end, after which Freddie voices his approval of the performance (as you also hear him do in the American Dream documentary).
The following breakdowns are from the multitracks, and the instrumentals are included in the 40th anniversary box set.
We Will Rock You
This of course involves nothing more than powerful stomps and claps (using just stomps for the count-in), great vocals and a cool guitar solo. Obviously Brian and Freddie are of most interest here, it’s always nice to hear them on their own. One interesting fact about Brian’s solo, revealed recently in Episode 12 of Queen The Greatest, is that the 3 guitar phrases at the end are each from different takes stitched together, with a scratch in between that they decided to keep in.
We Are The Champions
There appear to be 2 versions of this multitrack in circulation among the fans. While I have the more readily available 8-track version, there’s also a full 24-track master out there with additional vocal and guitar parts not used in the final mix.
- Vocals – There’s fabulous power and energy from Freddie here, and great harmony with everyone together. The 24-track multitrack includes alternate lead vocal takes, separated chorus backing vocals, and additional backing vocals at the end, including a random fleeting snippet from It’s late.
- Piano – A lovely composition by Freddie that provides a wonderful foundation for the song.
- Guitar – Nicely performed by Brian as you’d expect, spread over 2 tracks to isolate the solo parts in the latter stages, and you can hear various little touches and solos that go relatively unnoticed in the final mix. The 24-track multitrack has unused guitar parts as well. In Rolling Stone Magazine’s 10 Things You Didn’t Know about the album, it’s interesting to note that Brian wasn’t happy with the original guitar solo that he came up with, believing it to be too weak, even though everyone else felt it was fine. He explained in Guitar For The Practicing Musician in 1993 that: “I redid everything, and there’s a little piece towards the end when I was trying to make the guitar sing along with Freddie’s vocals. He was really pushing himself on the vocals at the end, so I tried to push the guitar and express the way I felt. It’s hardly audible on the record. It’s not like a major feature, but you can hear the guitar and the vocal are kind of straining against each other. … It’s a nice moment which is captured.”
- Bass -A solid track by John as usual. There’s nothing overly fancy about it, but he accompanies Brian’s guitar melody very nicely.
- Instrumental – Putting together all the non-vocal parts allows you to appreciate the song’s structure much more clearly. You can also hear a fan-made extended instrumental that includes the unused guitar parts noted above.
We Will Rock You – Fast Version
The fast version of Rock You is a very different and enjoyable arrangement, featuring the full band and a faster tempo. The only studio recording known to exist was recorded during Queen’s 6th BBC session, broadcast on 14 November 1977 on John Peel’s Sounds Of The Seventies, on BBC Radio 1. It’s included in the 40th anniversary box set for this album, and as part of the On Air collection, plus it’s on The Best Of King Biscuit Live Volume 4 for some reason.
It’s preceded in the same session by an abbreviated rendition of the slow version, and the tracks are linked by a lady reading a short extract from the novel Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. Queen archivist Greg Brooks explained why to Record Collector magazine in June 2011: “At that time, only master tapes survived from BBC sessions, while the actual tapes used to compose them were recorded over later. When Queen assembled in the control room for a playback, they discovered remnants of a Radio 4 programme on their tape. The band incorporated a segment of this unusual material into their own work.”
- We Will Rock You – Rick Rubin ‘Ruined’ Remix – This was included on the 1991 Hollywood CD of the album in 1991, the No-One But You single, the 4th Queen Singles Collection set, and on other US promo releases. It adds percussion and sound effects over the main song, then loops the final section of Brian’s guitar solo to extend the song by a further few minutes, adding extra instrumentation (including bass and drums by Flea and Chad from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers). Variations of this mix were released on American promo discs, including a Big Beat A Cappella Mix, a Ruined Instrumental & a Zulu Scratch A Capella, among others.
- We Are The Champions – Rick Rubin ‘Ruined’ Remix – This was released on various US promo discs, but not in the UK. It changes the rhythm of the song and adds little vocals during the verses, and includes some extra percussion and guitar elements throughout. I’m not a fan of Rick’s remixes for Rock You or Champions personally, but there are some people who like them.
- We Will Rock You – DMC Remix by Paul Dakeyne – Sometimes incorrectly attributed to Fatboy Slim, this dance mix from 1991 incorporates sped up vocals and an extract from Bohemian Rhapsody, and while it’s obviously not a patch on the original, I do find it strangely catchy. It appeared on a US Hollywood Records promo CD of Queen remixes entitled The Unauthorized Club Record, and has appeared on other DJ and club compilations.
- We Will Rock You – Bohemian Rhapsody Movie Mix – This featured on the soundtrack to Queen’s 2018 biographical film. It starts as the original studio version, but then segues into a live performance during the second chorus.
- Queen or individual members have also briefly sampled or referenced We Will Rock You in various other tracks. The beat appears during the song Still Burnin’ by Queen + Paul Rodgers on the Cosmos Rocks album. Brian sings the title of the song in the lyrics of his solo track The Dark, and the beat momentarily appears in his song One Night In Hell. And the Air Guitar Edit of Tie Your Mother Down, on The Best Air Guitar Album In The World… Ever!, uses the beat and the last part of Brian’s solo as an intro.
We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions quickly became the signature audience participation finale for Queen’s live concerts, and have been regularly performed by Brian and Roger since Freddie’s death. The fast version of Rock You was also performed by Queen near the start of their concerts during the 70s and early 80s, and has sometimes resurfaced in more recent years.
All of which means there are many live examples of these songs out there. I’ve included loads of them on my album playlist, and here are a fair selection of examples:
- The Summit, Houston, Texas on 11 December 1977.
- European Tour 1979 – From the Live Killers album:
- Montreal Forum, Canada on 24/25 November 1981 – From Queen Rock Montreal:
- Stadthalle, Vienna, Austria on 12 May 1982 – Rock You & Champions are among 4 tracks from this concert included as extras on the Queen On Fire – Live At The Bowl DVD.
- Milton Keynes Bowl on 5 June 1982 – From Queen On Fire – Live At The Bowl, and the latter 2 are also in the 40th anniversary box set for News Of The World:
- Seibu Lions Stadium, Tokorozawa, Saitama, Tokyo, Japan on 3 November 1982:
- Rock In Rio Festival, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil on 12 January 1985 – From Live In Rio:
- Yoyogi National Gymnasium, Tokyo, Japan on 11 May 1985 – From Final Concert Live In Japan:
- Live Aid, Wembley Stadium, London on 13 July 1985 – Available on the DVDs for Live Aid & Queen Rock Montreal:
- Wembley Stadium, London on Friday 11 July 1986 – Available on the 2011 DVD edition of Live At Wembley.
- Wembley Stadium, London 0n Saturday 12 July 1986 – Available on all editions of Live At Wembley.
- Nepstadion, Budapest, Hungary on 27 July 1986 – From Hungarian Rhapsody: Live In Budapest.
- Knebworth Park, Stevenage on 9 August 1986 – Included on the Live Magic album.
- Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, Wembley Stadium, London on 20 April 1992 – Available on DVD & Blu-ray.
Queen + Paul Rodgers
- UK Music Hall Of Fame, Hackney Empire, London on 11 November 2004:
- 46664 Concert, Fancourt Country Club & Golfing Estate, George, South Africa on 19 March 2005:
- Hallam FM Arena, Sheffield on 9 May 2005 – From Return Of The Champions.
- Al Murray’s Happy Hour, Series 2, Episode 13 on 4 April 2008:
Queen + Adam Lambert
- American Idol, Season 8 finale, Nokia Theatre, Los Angeles on 20 May 2009:
- Champions – This pivotal TV moment was the very first time that Queen and Adam performed together. Adam was battling it out for victory, by duetting on the song with fellow contestant Kris Allen, while Brian & Roger backed them up as guest stars. Kris won the final, but Brian & Roger had become very interested in Adam, who had undoubtedly given the stronger performance, and had originally auditioned for the show using Bohemian Rhapsody. Queen had to wait a couple more years before they could work with Adam again, but after that things quickly took off, and the rest is history.
- Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Kiev, Ukraine on 30 June 2012:
- Summer Sonic, QVC Marine Field, Chiba, Tokyo on 17 August 2014:
- Rock Big Ben Live, Central Hall Westminster, London on 1 January 2015:
- Strictly Come Dancing, Series 16 Quarter-Final on 1 December 2018:
- Oscars Ceremony (91st Academy Awards), Dolby Theatre, Hollywood, Los Angeles on 24 February 2019:
- Fire Fight Australia, ANZ Stadium, Sydney, Australia on 16 February 2020 – From Live Around The World:
- Platinum Party At The Palace, Buckingham Palace, London on 4 June 2022:
- Queen + Adam Lambert opened this epic concert celebrating the Queen’s 70th anniversary on the throne. After a special pre-recorded sketch featuring Her Majesty with Paddington Bear, 34 Royal Marines drummers introduced the beat for We Will Rock You, with even The Queen & Paddington clinking spoons against their teacups in time. Adam then performs the song brilliantly, before Brian rises up behind the screen on stage, in front of the Victoria Memorial, to play his solo, in a little nod back to his performance on the roof of the Palace 20 years previously. The trio then perform Don’t Stop Me Now and We Are The Champions, the latter concluding with bursts of multicoloured smoke. It was a great set, outshining pretty much everyone else that night.
Other Queen Performances & Guest Appearances
A selection of other live performances featuring Brian & Roger together, sometimes with guest vocalists or other musicians:
- Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, New York in 2001 – Available on the US-only download Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, Volume 6: 2000-2001:
- Rock You – Sung by Brian & Roger, in a different arrangement with the traditional guitar solo in the middle.
- Queen’s Day, The Musumplein, Amsterdam, Netherlands on 30 April 2002 – This was available on the Heineken Queen’s Day CD-ROM:
- Pavarotti & Friends For SOS Iraq, Parco Novi Sad, Modena, Italy on 27 May 2003:
- 46664 Concert, Green Point Stadium, Cape Town, South Africa on 29 November 2003:
- Champions – Sung by Anastacia.
- The Foo Fighters at Hyde Park, London on 17 June 2006:
- Rock You – Brian & Roger were guests for this performance.
- Prince’s Trust Rock Gala, Royal Albert Hall, London on 17 November 2010:
- Rock You – All-star finale led by Brian and Roger.
- London 2012 Olympics Closing Ceremony, Olympic Stadium, London on 12 August 2012 – Available on the London 2012 Olympic Games DVD & Blu-ray and the ceremony soundtrack album A Symphony Of British Music.
- Rock You – With Jessie J, after some audience interaction with a recording of Freddie and a great extended guitar solo from Brian, and you can also watch a bit of Brian’s rehearsal as well. Much more recently, in 2021 Jessie J dressed up as Freddie and performed Rock You on Your Face Sounds Familiar on Chinese TV, briefly mentioning her Olympics performance in the interview afterwards.
Brian May Solo
- Guns N’ Roses at Wembley Stadium, London on 13 June 1992:
- Rock You – Just a couple of months after Axl’s performance at Freddie’s tribute concert, Brian returned the favour by appearing at one of their concerts to perform both the slow and fast versions of the song.
- Brixton Academy, London on 15 June 1993:
- Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, Series 1, Episode 2 on 15 June 2002:
- Rock You – In a brief surprise appearance, Brian joined in with a fan who was playing the guitar solo from the song. She had been chosen after writing to Jim’ll Fix It many years ago.
- Tangerine Dream at Starmus Festival, Magma Art & Congress Centre, Tenerife, Spain on 24 June 2011:
- My Chemical Romance at Reading Festival on 26 August 2011:
- Rock You & Welcome To The Black Parade – The band were joined by special guest Brian May for the finale of their set.
- Dappy’s Radio 1 Live Lounge Session, Maida Vale, London on 27 February 2012:
- Rock You – Sung and rapped with new lyrics by the former N-Dubz star, with Brian as a guest. You can hear the audience reactions plus a brief chat with Brian & Dappy afterwards on the full audio recording as well. It was released on the deluxe edition of Dappy’s album Bad Intentions, and on the compilation BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge 2012.
- Rockstar – Brian also joins in with this live performance of Dappy’s second single, having already performed on the studio version.
Brian May & Kerry Ellis
- Proms In The Park, Hyde Park, London on 11 September 2010:
- Rock You & Champions – Abbreviated renditions of both songs, backed by an orchestra, including a rare instance of Brian playing the opening to Champions on guitar instead of the usual piano intro.
- Liverpool Philharmonic Hall on 23 June 2013:
- Rock You, with The Liverpool Show Choir.
- Stravinski Hall, Montreux Jazz Festival, Switzerland, on 19 July 2013:
- Arena di Verona, Italy on 1 June 2015:
- Rock You – Backed by an orchestra during Brian’s solo.
- National Palace of Culture, Sofia, Bulgaria on 16 March 2016:
Roger Taylor Solo
Roger sometimes performed his own unique and enjoyable arrangement of Rock You during his solo shows in the 90s, of which there are a couple of examples online.
- Live At The Cyberbarn, Roger’s Garden, Surrey on 24 September 1998:
- Live Earth Concert, Wembley Stadium, London on 7 July 2007:
We Will Rock You Musical
Queen’s smash-hit musical ends with the cast performing Rock You and Champions, followed by an instrumental fast version of Rock You for the curtain call. They then perform Bohemian Rhapsody for the encore, as explored in my Night At The Opera review. The cast have also performed Rock You & Champions on TV shows and at concerts, often with Brian & Roger, as illustrated by the examples below.
- London Cast:
- Cast Recording – Rock You, Champions & Rock You (Fast) – From the soundtrack album.
- KFC Promo Video – Rock You – A recording of the cast performing the song in the theatre. I don’t know what KFC have to do with it, as named by the uploader, but it’s a nice video nonetheless.
- Party At The Palace, Buckingham Palace, London on 3 June 2002 – Available on Party At The Palace. Clips aren’t readily available, but it’s worth noting regardless. Brian & Roger, plus Phil Collins on the drums, joined the musical cast to perform Radio Ga Ga (sung by Roger), We Will Rock You (sung by Brian), We Are The Champions (sung by Will Young) & Bohemian Rhapsody (sung by Tony Vincent & the musical cast).
- Party In The Park, Hyde Park, London on 7 July 2002 – The cast of the musical (without Queen) perform We Will Rock You, Somebody To Love, We Are The Champions & Bohemian Rhapsody.
- Children In Need on 15 November 2002 – Brian & Roger joined the cast to perform Another One Bites The Dust, We Will Rock You & We Are The Champions, plus a full encore performance of Champions at the request of the hosts.
- Al Murray’s Happy Hour, Series 1, Episode 9 on 10 March 2007 – Brian & Roger make a surprise appearance during the cast’s performance of We Will Rock You, at which point the song is extended using a brief refrain from Tear It Up and then several repeats of the Rock You chorus. There’s a brief sketch after the credits too.
- Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, Series 7, Episode 6 on 13 October 2007 – For the final game of the Ant vs Dec contest, they each had to sing a Queen song dressed as Freddie. Ant did We Will Rock You, while Dec performed Another One Bites The Dust.
- London 2012 Olympics Handover Party, The Mall, London on 24 August 2008 – The cast of the musical (without Queen) perform Rock You and Champions.
- Children In Need: Pop Goes The Musical, Dominion Theatre, London on 13 September 2010 – Spice Girl Melanie C joined Brian May and the cast of the musical to perform Rock You & Champions.
In addition to the live performances above, Queen have also collaborated with other artists on new releases of these tracks.
We Will Rock You – Five + Queen
Five’s cover of this song, incorporating new rap verses, was released in 2000, and was the 4th single from Five’s Invincible album. Brian and Roger play guitar and drums without contributing vocals. The music video – which rearranges the verses, and makes a few other changes to the rapping and chorus vocals – features Five performing the song on stage, while Brian and Roger are projected onto buildings, and crowds fill the streets.
This was the first time that Rock You had been released in its own right, without Champions attached, and it went straight to number 1 for a week. It was in the top 10 for 4 weeks altogether, and spent a further 4 in the top 40. It was the second number 1 achieved by Five, but more significantly it was Queen’s 6th chart-topper, one of 4 songs to enter the chart at that position.
Brian & Roger joined the boyband on stage to perform the song at:
- The Brit Awards, Earls Court, London on 3 March 2000
- Top Of The Pops on 7 July 2000
- Party In The Park, Hyde Park, London on 9 July 2000 – Brian & Roger also performed Tie Your Mother Down with Five, and joined in the all-star finale of With A Little Help From My Friends.
- The Millennium Dome, London on 25 September 2000 – A free event for a Japanese TV special, bringing together a variety of music acts.
We Will Rock You (Pepsi Commercial) – Britney Spears, Beyoncé Knowles & Pink
This epic Gladiator-style video was filmed in Rome on 26 September 2003 and premiered on 26 January 2004. Each of the ladies takes a verse each, while Enrique Iglesias plays an emperor watching over the arena. Brian and Roger, who produced this new version of the song, also make a fleeting cameo for a couple of seconds.
This version was released on a Pepsi Music 2004 CD entitled Britney Exclusive or Dare For More Music. You can also watch behind the scenes footage and clips from the premiere online, all featuring glimpses of Brian and Roger, particularly in the interviews.
Pink also performed a short version of We Are The Champions at Rock In Rio 2019, the audio of which is available on the documentary soundtrack album All I Know So Far: Setlist, along with a performance of Bohemian Rhapsody from 2009.
We Will Rock You – Queen + John Farnham
John Farnham’s version, produced by Brian May and Justin Shirley-Smith, was released on True Colours – The Official Album Of The Rugby World Cup 2003, and as a single, and on John’s Greatest Hits album One Voice. It starts with John singing over Queen’s original backing track for a couple of verses and choruses. Then at the end of Brian’s solo, additional guitars come in and the track is extended with a heavier feel.
You can also see John performing the track live at Sydney Opera House with the Sydney Symphony in 2006 (from the DVD of the concert) and in Ballarat in 2017. Meanwhile, Brian May was among the musicians for John’s performance of You’re The Voice at Fire Fight Australia, ANZ Stadium, Sydney on 16 February 2020.
We Will Rock You – VonLichten
This version uses the vocals, stomps and claps from Queen’s original, adds a new guitar part by Brian, and features orchestral and piano music throughout by Helmut VonLichten (including a new intro and outro). It was used in the USA for NFL coverage in 2012 & 2013, including the 2013 Superbowl. It was also released as a download in the US and UK in late 2012, and was used during the Donkey Kong scene in the 2015 film Pixels.
We Are The Champions – Queen + Robbie Williams
This cover of Champions appears on the soundtrack for the 2001 film A Knight’s Tale. Queen helped to produce the track, but they don’t appear in the music video, which was an extra feature on the DVD of the movie. The soundtrack also includes Queen’s original version of We Will Rock You from the start of the film.
Robbie later discussed the cover during an interview on Sirius XM, in which he reveals that Queen asked him to be their frontman, but he declined as the prospect was too scary, and he heaps praise on Adam Lambert for taking on the role. Robbie has, however, performed Rock You and Champions live in his solo concerts on various occasions.
We Are The Champions – Hank Marvin & Brian May
Covid & You Are The Champions
During the first year of the Covid pandemic in 2020, Brian May used his mobile phone to record and post several micro concertos online, including a close-up of the Rock You solo on 3 April & a bit of Champions for Freddie’s birthday on 6 September.
Most significantly, however, Brian played the guitar part from Champions on 9 April.
That proved to be so popular that they worked on it further, adding bass by Neil Fairclough (who plays on tour with them) and remastering the audio. It was released on 1 May as an official download called You Are The Champions, with proceeds going to the Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund for The World Health Organisation.
The accompanying music video features Brian, Adam and Roger performing, but also contains photos and clips from around the world of empty streets, people in face masks and, most importantly, health professionals and key workers to whom the song is dedicated – including Roger’s daughter Rory, who’s a nurse.
Promotional interviews for the single included:
- Adam on BBC Breakfast
- Roger & Adam on BBC Radio 2’s Breakfast Show with Zoe Ball
- Brian on BBC’s Coronavirus Newscast
- Adam on Australian TV show The Project
The song spent a week at number 95 in the UK chart when it was first released as a download, which isn’t bad considering the hurried nature of the release and the global circumstances at the time. But the song did get to number 1 in the physical singles & vinyl singles charts later on, when limited edition CD and 7-inch vinyl copies were released on 5 August, with just 3,000 copies of each available. Those editions also contained an instrumental version of the track.
As an interesting comparison, Youtube user The Miracle Instinct created a version of Brian & Roger’s original jam with Freddie’s vocals, and a complete mix with Freddie’s piano and John’s bass. Other people have also played or sung along with the original jam, as noted below during the list of cover versions.
Brian’s micro concerto of Champions was also an invitation for people to jam along with him – and a great many did. I’ve added many examples of people jamming along with Brian to my covers playlist. There are far too many to list here, but some are quite good. Several of them include Roger’s drums, and a few include vocals by Adam or Freddie.
And on a related note, a fundraising advert for NHS Charities Together, during the early weeks of the pandemic in 2020, had people singing We Say Thank You to the tune of Rock You, in honour of health workers. Short social media clips were also used as part of the One Million Claps campaign.
Apart from the collaborations and live covers already discussed above, there have naturally been many versions of We Will Rock You & We Are The Champions by other artists. I’ve included a huge number of these on my covers playlist, so will only mention a brief selection below.
I haven’t included tracks that sample elements of Rock You or Champions, as they’re not direct covers and often aren’t very good, especially the rap tracks. One song that is worthy of note, however, is Yoü And I by Lady Gaga, which not only features the beat from Rock You, but Brian May also performs on it, and it shares its name with another Queen song. See my review of A Day At The Races for details of that.
Remixes & Mashups
- We Will Break Thru You – This great remix mashes up Rock You with the 12″ version of Breakthru.
- We Will Rock The Revolution – A mash-up of Rock You with the T-Rex hit Children Of The Revolution.
- Scandal Remix – A mash-up of Rock You with Scandal, as the name suggests.
- 1984 Remix – Combines Rock You with elements of Radio Ga Ga and other songs.
- Orchestral mixes of Rock You & Champions, using the recordings by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Other Rock You Mashups:
- Bill McClintock – We Will Pop, Funk, Rock & Soul You – Includes Let’s Go All The Way (Sly Fox), Shakey Ground (The Temptations), Sad But True (Metallica) & ABC (Jackson 5).
- Daniel Kendall – Legends Will Rock You – Combines Rock You with Legend by The Score.
- DJs From Mars – We Will Kill The Breathe Of Bangarang – Includes Killing In The Name (Rage Against The Machine), Breathe (The Prodigy) & Bangarang (Skrillex).
- Shahar Varshal – We Will Rock You: Bossa Nova Mashup – Includes Bossa Nova Baby (Elvis Presley), Dani California (Red Hot Chili Peppers), Whistle (Flo Rida) & Crazy (Cee Lo Green).
- Smash Mashups – Freestyler Will Rock You – Includes Freestyler (Bomfunk MC’s), Just Like Fire (P!nk) & Animals (Maroon 5).
Other Champions Mashups:
- Cassino – We Are The Champions Vs Astronomia – Combines Champions with Astronomia by Vicetone & Tony Igy.
- Kill mR DJ – We Are Champion Believers – Combines Champions with Believer by Imagine Dragons.
- Adrian Grimes – You Are The Champions & I Am Essential, both to the tune of Champions.
- Break Free & Friends – We Are The Champions
- Chandler Films – You Are The Champions
- 8e Art Artists & Friends – We Say Thank You
- Preston Residents – We Say Thank You, with a chorus & guitar solo, and percussion on wheelie bins.
- Ravi Bakshi & Rob Harris – We Will Rock You, an instrumental performance for their neighbours in lockdown.
- Budweiser Clydesdale – Rock You, an epic 5-minute commercial from Russia.
- Evian Water – Rock You by KCPK, featuring a choir of children. It reached number 2 in France and 3 in Belgium, and the animated advert won a few awards. There’s also a live action advert where adults are lip-synced to the singing children.
- Halo (Xbox) – Rock You, matching sound effects from the game to the beat of the song.
- Persil – Rock You, performed by children.
- Pocari Sweat – Rock You, a Japanese advert sung in English.
- Purcari Winery – Champions, celebrating the people of Purcari village.
- Sun City – Rock You, using Queen’s track.
- Viagra – Champions, using Queen’s track as people celebrate.
- The Big Bang Theory:
- Season 1, Episode 13 – The Bat Jar Conjecture – Champions is played when Howard rips off his t-shirt to celebrate winning a quiz.
- Season 9, Episode 3 – The Bachelor Party Corrosion – Raj, Howard and Leonard sing “We Will Percussive Shock You” while trying to fix their van, in response to which Sheldon sings a verse from We Will Rock You in a high pitched voice, blaming it on his eidetic memory.
- Drake & Josh:
- The Late Late Show with James Corden:
- Trust Us With Your Life:
- Chicken Little:
- Happy Feet Two:
- John Powell – We Are The Champions on the soundtrack album, performed by an orchestra and chorus, with updated lyrics and a change in musical style part-way through.
- You Again:
- During a car scene in this movie, a character sings along to Champions, while her friend in the back looks unimpressed.
Other Parodies & Comedy
- Annoying Orange – He Will Mock You, a strange animated video involving fruit.
- ApologetiX – We Will Walk Through & We’re More Than Champions, from their album Recovery.
- Avenue Q – Rock You & Champions, sung by the puppets and human stars of the musical in response to Bohemian Rhapsody by The Muppets.
- Bob Rivers – We Buy The Tampons, combining Rock You & Champions, from his assortment of Twisted Tunes.
- FC Bayern München & Thomas Müller – Bundesliga Champions, produced to celebrate the team winning the Bundesliga championship a record 6 years in a row.
- Frank Sidebottom – Examples of live performances of Rock You here (in a medley with spoof cover Frank Gordon), here & here. He’s also performed a live parody called I Am The Champion, a studio version of which is also on the above album.
- Garren Lazar – We Are The Champions, nicely synced to animations from the Peanuts cartoons.
- Henry Rollins – I Have Come To Kill You from the album Drive By Shooting.
- Mr Bett’s Class – Teachers’ Summer Anthem, a short parody of Champions for the end of the school year.
- Overcharged Studios – We Are The Miners, a Minecraft spoof of Champions.
Bands & Groups
- The Busters – Champions, an upbeat ska version on Welcome To Busterland.
- Green Day – Champions at Live 8 Berlin in 2005 and other festivals.
- Kaiser Chiefs – Champions, recorded remotely during lockdown in 2020 to celebrate Leeds United being promoted to the Premier League.
- New Kids On The Block – Rock You & Champions, plus their own song Summertime, on Al Murray’s Happy Hour, Series 3, Episode 1 on 12 September 2008. You can also see a medley of Rock You & Hangin’ Tough from a live concert.
- Nickelback – Rock You, issued as the B-side of Photograph, was also released on the Japanese & 15th anniversary editions of All The Right Reasons.
- Nirvana – Rock You, a brief rendition at Hollywood Rock Fest in São Paulo in 1993.
- NYCC – Rock You, a hip-house version on their Greatest Hits.
- Red Hot Chilli Peppers – Scotland The Brave Medley, a special performance with bagpipes, on German TV show NRW Live.
- Scorpions – You Are The Champion, released as a single with updated lyrics, plus an instrumental mix, to celebrate Michael Schumacher’s 7th Formula One Championship victory. It got to number 92 in the German chart, and was included on the 2006 compilation Stand Up For The Champion in honour of Schumacher’s retirement.
- Sum 41 – Rock You (Fast) at Highfield Festival 2016 and various other concerts.
- U2 – A video of President George H W Bush edited to fit Rock You, played to open the shows on their Zoo TV tour.
- Warrant – Rock You on the Gladiator film soundtrack and The Best Of Warrant.
- Bishop Briggs – Rock You, a non-album single used in a Rouge Artist advert for Make Up For Ever.
- Brian Justin Crum – Champions, released as a single. You can also see a live performance with the cast of We Will Rock You at the Mall Of America in 2013, and a live solo rendition from a pre-show event in San Diego.
- Celine Dion – Rock You & The Show Must Go On, during her Taking Chances tour.
- Christina Aguilera, CeeLo Green, Adam Levine & Blake Shelton, the coaches on The Voice US, performed a medley of Bohemian Rhapsody, Rock You & Champions in the first week of Season 1 in 2011. A video isn’t readily available, but it’s worth noting nonetheless.
- Crazy Frog – We Are The Champions (Ding A Dang Dong) – Released in honour of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, this bizarre and irritating version somehow went straight to number 1 in France for 5 weeks. In the UK chart it entered at number 50, then peaked at number 11 in its second week. There’s also a Director’s Cut of the video where the frog’s phallus is visible.
- Glenn Hoddle – Champions on the England’s Glory compilation.
- Jeff Scott Soto – Rock You at an unknown venue & Champions at the 2004 Queen Convention.
- Katherine Jenkins – Champions on Home Sweet Home. She’s also sung it live in concert on several occasions.
- Marc Martel:
- Champions & Champions (Reprise) on Thunderbolt & Lightning.
- A piano & vocal version of Champions on A One Take Rhapsody.
- He’s also performed Champions live on acoustic guitar for Mashable & on piano for Studio 10 in Australia, and in concert with The Black Jacket Symphony & The Ultimate Queen Celebration (with Rock You).
- And with tribute band Queen Extravaganza you can see him performing Rock You & Champions in Toronto in 2013, and Rock You & Champions in Kiev in 2019.
- Linda Ronstadt – Rock You, a softly sung cover on Dedicated To The One I Love.
- Macy Gray – Rock You on the Japanese reissue of The Trouble With Being Myself.
- Manfred Mann – Rock You, a bonus track on the deluxe edition of Lone Arranger. This is a very different interpretation using a female vocalist. It also sounds nothing like the Manfred Mann band, or Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – instead, the South African keyboard player, who was a founding member of those groups, released his own solo albums, of which this was his second.
- Miley Cyrus – Rock You & Don’t Stop Me Now at Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis on 3 April 2021, as part of a performance paying tribute to frontline workers at the NCAA men’s Final Four basketball tournament.
- Robby Valentine – Rock You & Champions live at an unnamed venue,
- Russell Watson – Champions on Anthems: Music To Inspire A Nation.
- Snoop Dogg – Rock You on the compilation Fox Sports Presents Game Time!
- Sylvain Cossette – Champions on 70s.
- BBC Philharmonic Orchestra – Champions, chosen by Perry Groves on a special music show called What’s The Score on BBC 5 Live Sport.
- Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – Rock You & Champions
- Device Orchestra – Rock You, using typewriters, hair removers and other electronic devices.
- Paweł Zadrożniak – Champions on the Floppotron, a cleverly programmed computer hardware orchestra.
Written by Roger Taylor
This is the first of 2 tracks on the album written by Roger, but it’s sung by Freddie. It was originally written for the Sheer Heart Attack album, but wasn’t finished in time. It’s a great heavy punk-style song with unrelenting energy, about a 17-year-old girl who has a “real cardiac” effect on men, and the opening line is a tribute to the Beatles song I Saw Her Standing There, which starts “Well she was just 17”. The song was released as the B-side to Spread Your Wings in Europe, and It’s Late in the US, Canada, New Zealand and Japan.
It’s also one of those rare tracks where John Deacon doesn’t appear. Freddie sings lead vocals (replacing Roger who had sung on his demos), while Brian plays a bit of lead guitar. But then Roger plays rhythm guitar and bass guitar, and adds backing vocals during the chorus, as well as his usual drumming.
The American Dream documentary includes a chapter about the song, with a bit of footage of the band performing it live at Houston. Brian and Roger discuss the fact that Roger had been trying to get the track on to an album for a while, and it finally found a suitable home given the raw nature of the band’s performances on this LP. The prominence of punk bands like The Sex Pistols, whose style Roger had been interested in, made it a timely inclusion as well. And in relation to that, they talk about how they crossed paths with The Sex Pistols while recording in the same studios (which I mentioned in the previous post).
Raw Sessions Version
The 40th anniversary box set includes the Original Rough Mix of the song, which is great to hear as it omits the lead vocals, enabling you to focus on the frantic instrumentation. It also has extended intro and outro sections, so there’s a bit of extra guitar at the beginning, and it doesn’t stop so abruptly at the end.
The Queen Rocks VHS tape included a montage video showing Queen performing live, mixed with some random Japanese clips, set to a slightly trimmed edit of the song. It’s the only official video that has ever existed for the song, and it was never released anywhere else.
Queen’s Youtube channel, however, also has a video by Luke Leslie to go with the track, which was chosen by Brian & Roger as the winner of the Talenthouse Sheer Heart Attack Competition in 2011. It’s really well edited and performed by Luke and his friends, including a number of clever references to other Queen music videos.
Just like the studio recording, this song was fast and intense on stage, which gave Roger a good workout on the drums in particular, especially towards the end of a show. I’ve included some live performances on my album playlist, but a few examples include:
- The Summit, Houston, Texas on 11 December 1977 – Included on the Rare Live VHS, mixing the Texas performance with clips from other concerts.
- Palais des Sports, Lyon, France on 17 February 1979 – Released on Live Killers.
- Pavilion de Paris, France on 28 February 1979 – Included in the 2011 reissue and 40th anniversary box set of the album. The sleeve notes on the 2011 release tell us that this was from the second of three nights at the venue, which were all recorded and filmed but have largely remained tucked away in the archives. So this is an exciting rarity. The notes also say that Freddie embraces the chaotic nature of the song by pushing over a stage monitor and throwing his microphone across the stage at the end!
- Montreal Forum, Canada, on 24/25 November 1981 – Released on Queen Rock Montreal. You can also hear Freddie and Roger’s vocals with much greater prominence in a Semi-Acappella mix extracted from the surround sound channels, which is fun to listen to. The DVD & Blu-ray also includes a commentary by Brian & Roger, where they don’t say much of particular interest, but they enjoy watching it, and Roger remarks on how tough it was to play, as well as sharing a story about being evacuated from their hotel later that night after a false alarm about a fire.
- Milton Keynes Bowl on 5 June 1982 – Released on Queen On Fire – Live At The Bowl.
There are a few cover versions that I’ve added to my covers playlist, including an Instrumental Remix by PiotreQ, a version by Helloween on the special edition of Rabbit Don’t Come Easy, a double-speed version by Hotbox on Blowin’ Our Cover (as if it wasn’t fast enough!), and an instrumental version on piano by David A Lucas, which naturally gives it a very different feel.
The Foo Fighters apparently covered the song during a concert in London in 1997, with Roger Taylor joining them. There’s no video that I can find, but I can imagine them doing a pretty good job at it.
Written by Brian May
As well as writing this lovely ballad, and playing guitar as usual, Brian also sings the lead vocals and plays piano. He explained his inspiration on In The Studio With Redbeard: “It was a song I had around for a while. It was kind of about the passing of friends, and I think the thing that started it off was losing my cat. My cat died when I was a kid, and I kind of never got over it. I think it was one of those things which surfaces now and again in different ways. I think I wrote the song for the album thinking that I was writing it about something completely different, but I think part of it was sort of getting it out of my system.”
The song has never been performed in concert.
The Raw Sessions disc in the 40th anniversary box set includes the Original Rough Mix, providing a rare opportunity to hear Freddie singing the lead vocals instead, and there are no backing vocals. There are also some changes to the lyrics, particularly a few lines at the start, which were still printed in the sleeve notes for the album, despite being omitted from the finished track (“Memories, memories, how long can you stay, to haunt my days”). So while instrumentally it sounds similar to the album version, there are significant differences that make it a very interesting listen.
A beautiful animated video was created to mark the 40th anniversary of the album, featuring a cat wandering around inside Frank The Robot from the album cover, reflecting Brian’s inspiration for the song. The lyrics are revealed in a variety of ways as the feline explores.
Two versions were created, both with the same visual content. One uses the album version of the track (as shown above), while the other is a hybrid version that mixes the album track with the aforementioned Rough Mix from the Raw Sessions disc, turning it into a duet between Brian and Freddie.
There are a few versions on my covers playlist, including renditions by Black Gold (on some editions of their Rush album) and Lucie & The Diamonds, plus a piano instrumental by Otmar Binder, as a few little examples.
Written by John Deacon
This beautiful song, about the sadness and dreams of Sammy in his dead-end job, is the first of 2 tracks by John on the album. He plays acoustic guitar as well as bass on the track. It was the second single to be released from the album, backed by Sheer Heart Attack, and was the first ever Queen single not to feature backing vocals. Rather surprisingly however, considering its rightful popularity among the fans, it only peaked at number 34 during its 4 week run in the UK Top 40. It deserved more, but then the Rock You/Champions single was rather a hard act to follow!
The American Dream documentary doesn’t offer any interesting insights into the song, other than a fleeting glimpse of Freddie doing a soundcheck, which segues into the album version that accompanies backstage footage and general chatter with the band.
The music video for this song is a standard mimed performance, filmed on the same day as We Will Rock You, in Roger’s freezing and snow-filled Surrey garden in January 1978. In the video Freddie sings while wearing star-shaped sunglasses, and some gloves borrowed from their roadie (Peter ‘Ratty’ Hince) to keep his hands warm. Meanwhile John mimes playing the piano at the start, even though it’s actually Freddie playing on the track, and Brian is playing a copy of his Red Special guitar to keep the original safe from the cold.
The video is on the Greatest Video Hits I DVD, and previously appeared on the Greatest Flix & Greatest Karaoke Hits VHS tapes. In Brian & Roger’s commentary on the DVD they reflect on how cold it was that day, how short they were for money until they signed a new contract with John Reid, and how the copy of Brian’s guitar used in the video was later lost.
The 40th anniversary box set includes an Alternative Take on the Raw Sessions disc. It’s similar in structure to the album version, but adds a lovely piano intro, and ends with a longer outro section that comes to an abrupt stop rather than fading out. Freddie’s vocals are also very different to the album version – still retaining the lyrics and melody of course, but it’s a completely fresh take with no attempt to precisely mirror the performance that we’re most familiar with. The box set also includes the Instrumental Version (previously available on Greatest Karaoke Hits), which is a nice opportunity to appreciate its composition more closely.
- BBC Session 6 on 28 October 1977 – This enjoyably extended and heavier version of the song, which turns into a frantic jam towards the end, was recorded at Maida Vale Studio in London, for broadcast on John Peel’s Sounds Of The 70s on BBC Radio 1 on 14 November. It’s available on the 2011 reissue of News Of The World, the On Air sessions album and in the 40th anniversary box set.
- European Tour 1979 – This is the only live concert performance to have been officially released, and thus the only official recording that has a proper ending without fading out or suddenly stopping. It’s a great rendition, and it’s lovely to hear the audience singing along. It was originally included on Live Killers, and more recently was part of the 40th anniversary box set. It was also released as the B-side to Crazy Little Thing Called Love in the USA, reaching the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100. The original studio version was never released as a single in the States.
The song was sadly dropped from the band’s setlist after the 1979 tour. However, it was resurrected during the early gigs of the 2017 tour by Queen + Adam Lambert, such as in Gila River Arena, Glendale on 23 June 2017, and there are several other examples on my album playlist.
I’ve included several cover versions on my playlist, including a version by German power metal band Blind Guardian on their 1992 album Somewhere Far Beyond, a live performance by Jeff Scott Soto from his DVD Live At The Queen Convention 2003, a rendition by tribute band Queen Extravaganza with lead singer Alirio Netto, and a piano instrumental by Jazzy Fabbry.
Written by Roger Taylor
Other than Brian on electric guitar, the rest of this track is entirely performed by Roger, who sings all the vocals as well as playing rhythm guitar, bass guitar and percussion. Freddie and John are both absent, John having lent Roger his bass for this track. It’s also arguably the band’s first foray into a disco/funk type of sound, given the catchy beat and the greater focus on the drum and bass elements.
Regardless of how you classify it though, it’s a pretty good song about having to fight to be noticed, instead of going with the flow and being complacent, if you really want to stand out from the crowd. Roger’s voice suits it perfectly, he sounds great here. And the guitar riff is also good, with guitarist Slash from Guns N’ Roses apparently citing it as one of his favourite riffs of all time, according to Phil Sutcliffe’s Illustrated History book about the band.
The song has never been performed live by the band.
The 40th anniversary box set includes a Demo Vocal Version on the Raw Sessions disc. The musical arrangement is similar to the final track, but Roger is only putting down a rough vocal here, and many of the lyrics are different, including an entirely new verse. So that makes it very interesting. The box set also includes the Instrumental Version, which was used in the Queen video game The eYe.
There are barely any covers for this under-rated track. The only notable ones I can find are tribute album tracks by FourYearBeard (on Horse Feathers & Animal Crackers) & Jack Blades (on Stone Cold Queen), a live performance by tribute band Bohemian Dust, and a cover posted online by Patricéleste.
Written by Freddie Mercury
The title says it all here. From the lyrics and Freddie’s moans to the overall instrumentation, this is Queen getting down and dirty, building from one of their most minimal yet most recognisable bass riffs into an unashamedly sexy rock song, and it’s great.
The bridge part appears to take inspiration from a section in Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love, focusing more on sounds and unusual effects rather than being musical. And, despite how the effects sound here, we’re still very much in the era where Queen’s album notes proudly state “No synthesisers” (and that wouldn’t change until The Game). Instead, the effects in this song were produced by Brian using his Red Special and an Electroharmonix Frequency Analyzer pedal, which he also used in live performances, along with an Eventide Harmonizer on the studio recording. And all the effects and moans were played with even more during their concerts.
The 40th anniversary box set contains:
- An Early Take on the Raw Sessions disc. This is fascinatingly different to the final version, with much more prominent piano as part of the core riff, many lyric changes and a long instrumental jam. “There were some good bits”, remarks Roger at the end, after Freddie observes that “the piano fell down”!
- The Instrumental Version on the Bonus Tracks disc. This was also used in the Queen video game The eYe.
The multitrack set for this song consists of 22 separate files, although in many cases these are separated left and right stereo channels, which almost halves the number of actual tracks. And as always it’s fun to dig through them to hear the various elements on their own, as you’ll often find there are little bits you’d missed or forgotten about.
Freddie’s wonderfully passionate vocals and moans are of course the main highlight, which you can hear in multi-layered form if you combine the relevant tracks together, or you can listen to a single layer at a time, to get a really good sense of how it all fits together. The guitar elements are also well worth a listen, especially as they include the various sound effects, and you can hear an alternative guitar mix that a fan has put together. Meanwhile the bass and drums provide a solid backup too.
This song was a popular inclusion in Queen’s live shows for a good few years, and they enjoyed playing around with the sound effects and lighting during it. I’ve included several performances on my album playlist, but a few examples include:
- European Tour 1979 – This track from the Live Killers album is made up of performances from various locations, including Frankfurt, Barcelona and Paris, among others.
- Montreal Forum, Canada, on 24/25 November 1981 – From Queen Rock Montreal, and included in the 40th anniversary box set. In Brian & Roger’s commentary on the DVD & Blu-ray they talk about the extensive use of atmospheric lighting, Brian’s specially made harmonizer that he uses for the psychedelic sound effects, Roger’s use of electronic drums on the song, and the importance of eye contact for cueing one another.
- Milton Keynes Bowl on 5 June 1982 – Released on Queen On Fire – Live At The Bowl.
- Cumberland County Civic Center, Portland, Maine on 11 November 1977
- Boston Garden, Massachusetts on 12 November 1977
- Cobo Hall, Detroit, Michigan on 19 November 1977
- Martinihal, Groningen, The Netherlands on 24 September 1998 – “Well, I don’t know, it was an experiment!” He says with a chuckle at the end, adding “I want you guys bootlegging this crap!”, and the internet has duly obliged.
- Club 1650 in Hollywood on 18 October 2002 – Performed with Roger during a special party to celebrate Queen’s new star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame.
- Scala Club, Kings Cross, London on 11 May 2010 – With Roger Taylor plus Taylor Hawkins & The Coattail Riders.
- The 2006 documentary film Kurt Cobain: About A Son, and a snippet can be heard during the trailer.
- The 2009 black comedy film Observe and Report starring Seth Rogen, where it’s played over the closing credits, while The Hero is used during a fight scene. However, neither song is included on the soundtrack album.
- US Radio/Single Edit – This version chops out a couple of long sections, including the fast instrumental jam, to reduce the song from 6:25 to 3:50, but it’s a different edit to the Queen Rocks video version above. It was released as a single in America, reaching #74 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #66 on the Cash Box Top 100. It was also issued in Canada, New Zealand and Japan, but failed to make an impact, and wasn’t released anywhere else. America’s Billboard Magazine included it in its Top Single Picks on 29 April 1978, saying: “Queen follows its top five We Are The Champions with a tune that shifts gear from subdued balladry to thunderous rock ‘n’ roll. Freddie Mercury’s vocals are at the forefront with rich, multi-layered harmonies backing him. Stinging guitar work and drums pace the rhythms.”
- Raw Sessions Alternative Version – Engineer Mike Stone introduces this recording as Take 2 and Freddie has a bit of a false start, before they get into the song properly. It’s similar to the final version, but with a few differences in the lyrics, and you can hear Freddie playing the piano a little bit more clearly in the faster hard rock section. So it’s fun to listen to, it’s as powerful a performance as the final take they used. When it finishes there’s approval from Mike, and Brian agrees, remarking that the song sounds good when it’s a bit angry.
- BBC Session 6 on 28 October 1977 – Also released as part of the On Air compilation of BBC sessions, this is a brilliantly performed and unusually different version, recorded at Maida Vale Studio for broadcast on BBC Radio 1 during John Peel’s Sounds Of The 70s on 14 November. To start with it has a similar structure and feel to the album version, but it suddenly goes off on a tangent in the middle with elements from Get Down, Make Love, as Freddie plays around with echoing vocals and harmonies for a couple of minutes, backed by other effects. Then there’s a fast rocking conclusion for the last 30 seconds. As weird as that alternative central section is compared to the album version, what Freddie is able to do with his voice is as mesmerising as always, so it’s well worth a listen.
- BBC Session 6 on 28 October 1977 – This was recorded at Maida Vale Studio in London, and broadcast on John Peel’s Sounds Of the 70s on BBC Radio 1 on 14 November. It was included in the 2011 reissue and the 40th anniversary box set of the album, and as part of the On Air compilation of BBC material. As well as a fresh vocal performance by Freddie, it also includes some light guitar work by Brian, which complements it really nicely. So it’s a lovely alternate version.
- The Summit, Houston, Texas on 11 December 1977 – This fabulous performance was first released as a B-side to the single of The Miracle, then much later as a bonus track in the 40th anniversary box set of News Of The World. The video has also been released, first in streaming form with the Absolute Greatest compilation, and then as a download with the 2011 iTunes reissue of News Of The World. An extract was also included in the Rock The World documentary.
There are a fair number of covers for this song that I’ve added to my covers playlist, the most notable being a version by industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails, which is very different to Queen’s version, as they’ve completely reworked it in their unique rock style. It was released as the B-side to Sin in 1990, and later as a bonus track on the 2010 remaster of their Pretty Hate Machine album. It features a few sped up samples of Queen well, which bounce left and right rapidly if you have headphones on. They performed it live in concert sometimes as well.
There’s also a version from a trio led by Nuno Bettencourt, the lead guitarist from Extreme, at the Mad About Music show, London on 21 June 1998.
Written by Brian May
This enjoyably catchy and very underrated blues number, about a trumpeter who lives on the streets and then becomes a star for a while after being discovered by a record producer, is sung wonderfully by Brian in an American accent. If you listen very closely you might also be able to pick out a few fluffed bass notes from John, and a little chuckle from Brian at the end.
This song also has the special honour of being the only song in Queen’s entire catalogue where the full backing track was recorded in a single take, which was effectively a loose and spontaneous jam session, as they felt they couldn’t improve upon it. Consequently the 40th anniversary box set includes a rare live performance on the Raw Sessions disc (noted below), as there aren’t any significant studio outtakes.
Brian spoke about the song on BBC Radio 1 in 1983:
“That was the quickest song I ever wrote in my life. I just wrote it down. It’s funny because it’s one of the ones I’m quite pleased with as well. It’s not trying too hard, it’s not highly subtle, but I think it leaves me with quite a good feeling. It was sort of a one-take thing as well. Although I messed around with the take a lot and chopped it about and rearranged it, it was basically the first take which we used. So it has that kind of sloppy feel that I think works with the song, which we never would have dreamed with the previous albums. We always used to work on the backing tracks until they were a million percent perfect, and if they weren’t, we would splice together two which were. We’d go to great lengths, but for this album we wanted to get that spontaneity back in.”
You can also hear a clip from an American radio interview where Brian explains why they recorded the song several times but ultimately used the first take on the album.
Queen only played the song 3 times on stage, with Freddie on lead vocals, during the early shows of their News Of The World tour in the USA:
One of those performances, believed to be from the Boston show, was released on the Raw Sessions disc of the album’s 40th anniversary box set. And it sounds great, with Freddie and Brian both on fine form, so it’s a real shame that they dropped it from the setlist so quickly.
However, Brian has performed the song live on a few occasions since then, with different backing bands, and there are examples available from:
Among the small number of alternative versions I’ve added to my covers playlist, there’s a version by Nobody’s Business on their short album 5, a rendition by Lucie & The Diamonds that was shared on Brian’s blog, and a version by The Show Must Go On at a Freddie Mercury tribute gig featuring renowned composer Bear McCreary on piano and his brother Brendan on lead vocals.
Written by John Deacon
Once again John demonstrates that his talents extend well beyond just the bass guitar, by writing this lovely song and playing a duet with Brian on Spanish acoustic guitars. Brian also plays maracas, while Freddie sings and plays cowbell, and Roger provides basic percussion as a foundation.
The whole thing has a catchy Latin-style feel to it, as Freddie sings about being let down by a once-trusted lover. His vocals are contained entirely in the right channel, with the lead guitar on the left. So if you only listen to the left channel you can hear the song as an instrumental, with just a faint echo of Freddie’s voice in the background.
An early Acoustic Take is included on the Raw Sessions disc of the 40th anniversary box set. There’s a fun bit of studio chatter between Freddie and John at the start, with Freddie singing a little bit of the opening riff, before engineer Mike Stone announces that it’s Take 2. Roger isn’t involved, so Freddie is only accompanied by John on acoustic guitar and Brian playing maracas. The lyrics are also incomplete, with Freddie ad-libbing or singing different words to the final version at various points, and overall the song is shorter. At the end John asks “How was that?”, to which Freddie responds “Oh, it’s lovely!”, quite rightly. Even in this work-in-progress form it’s really nice.
Sadly, Queen never performed the song in concert, so that acoustic take is the only raw, live rendition we have.
There are very few covers of this song, but I’ve added what I can find to my covers playlist, including a live concert version by Aculiro, an outdoor acoustic performance by Mind The Band, and an instrumental on acoustic guitar by Carlos Bonell with the Lara Symphony Orchestra.
Written by Brian May
At 6 minutes 25 seconds, this song about a troubled love affair is the longest track on the album, and one of only a few that is longer than their big hit Bohemian Rhapsody. Brian achieved this by dividing the song’s heartfelt lyrics into 3 ‘acts’ rather than verses, like a theatrical play. It’s passionately and powerfully sung by Freddie as you’d expect, and the rest of the band are on fire too, including a cool heavy rock jam in the middle of the song that helps to keep it fresh and exciting. It’s definitely one of the band’s most underrated tracks that deserves a wider audience, and there are many online who understandably cite it as their favourite Queen song. I don’t personally go quite that far, but it’s still excellent.
Brian explained in a 1989 In The Studio radio interview that: “It’s another one of those story-of-your life songs. I think it’s about all sorts of experiences that I had, and experiences that I thought other people had, but I guess it was very personal. And it’s written in three parts. It’s like the first part of the story is at home, the guy is with his woman. The second part is in a room somewhere, the guy is with some other woman, that he loves, and can’t help loving. And the last part is he’s back with his woman.”
Brian employs a two-handed guitar technique called tapping on this track, where fingers on both hands are used to hammer the strings on the fretboard to create a counterpoint to the melody. He was inspired to incorporate it after seeing guitarist Rocky Athas at the Mother Blues club in Dallas, Texas the previous year. He didn’t go on to use it widely, however, telling On The Record in 1982 that “It was a sort of a double hammer. I was fretting with my left hand, hammering with another finger of the left hand, and then hammering with the right hand as well. It was a problem to do onstage; I found it was a bit too stiff. It’s okay if you’re sitting down with the guitar. If I persevered with it, it would probably become second nature, but it wasn’t an alleyway which led very far, to my way of thinking. It’s a bit gimmicky.”
Tapping has been around for centuries in some form or another, having long been used on violins, guitars and other stringed instruments, and in the 1960s it was used by some rock and blues guitarists. However, it wasn’t until the year after Queen’s News Of The World that it really grabbed the attention of the masses and saw a major surge in popularity, when it was used on Van Halen’s debut album, including the awesome instrumental Eruption played by lead guitarist and songwriter Eddie Van Halen.
A music video for the track was included on the Queen Rocks VHS compilation, and was never released anywhere else until it appeared on Queen’s official Youtube channel. Although weirdly they haven’t put the song name in the title of the video on Youtube, instead just naming it as “Taken from the Queen Rocks compilation of 1997”! But anyway, Queen didn’t perform the track for the video – it’s basically just a montage of clips from their live shows interspersed with artistic imagery of beautiful scantily-clad women. And a big section is cut out from the middle of the song, including the rocking instrumental jam, taking it from 6:25 down to 3:47.
The song also appears in:
The 40th anniversary box set contains a few additional versions of this song
Some fleeting vocal & guitar snippets from the album version have also been discovered on the 24-track multitrack for We Are The Champions, which some people seem to have a copy of (I don’t, so I can’t verify it).
Although never included on any official albums, and Freddie apparently felt that it was hard to sing live because it didn’t suit his vocal range, Queen did perform the song during their News Of The World & Jazz tours, and excellent examples can be heard on bootleg recordings from Wiener Stadthalle, Vienna, Austria on 2 May 1978 & Chicago Stadium on 7 December 1978.
Then in 2017, to mark the 40th anniversary of the News Of The World album, the song was performed very well by Queen + Adam Lambert during the first 10 shows of their North American tour, such as at T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas on 24 June & CenturyLink Center, Omaha on 8 July. But they dropped it after that 8 July gig and haven’t played it since, which is a great shame.
There are a few different covers that I’ve added to my covers playlist, including a heavy rock version by Anthrax members Scott Ian & John Bush for the tribute album We Will Rock You – A Salute To Queen, a lockdown version by Cello vs Guitar with Christian Bruni & LiUK, a solo version on acoustic guitar by Tyler Warren also during lockdown, and a rendition by Lucy Gowen, Emma Marie & Kalonica Nicx.
Written by Freddie Mercury
This is a gorgeous, laid-back, jazz-style ballad, with sublime vocals, piano playing and lyrics by Freddie, and thus a wonderful way to wind things down and conclude the album. There are no backing vocals or guitars, and only very minimal bass and percussion, so Freddie’s performance is sharply in focus, as it deserves to be. There is some footage of Freddie recording the song in the studio and performing it live on stage in Houston in the Rock The World documentary.
Raw Sessions Version
The Original Rough Mix of the song was included on the Raw Sessions disc of the 40th anniversary box set, and features an alternate vocal take from Freddie. It’s very similar to the final version, with just a couple of minor lyrical differences and a slightly longer piano outro.
There are several interpretations of this that I’ve included on my covers playlist. For example, PiotreQ’s Instrumental Remix allows you to focus on Freddie’s exceptional piano work, and there’s a version by Elaine Paige backed by The New Philharmonic Orchestra on her Queen covers album.
There’s also a recording of someone doing a very good impression of Louis Armstrong singing the song, which seems to have fooled some people despite the fact that the jazz legend died 6 years before Queen’s track was released. Their confusion may be because he did actually record a completely different instrumental with his Hot Seven group entitled Melancholy Blues, which was included on the Golden Records sent into space on both of the Voyager spacecraft in 1977, coincidentally the same year that the News Of The World album came out.
Written by Brian May
See also: Ultimate Queen
This previously unreleased track finally surfaced on the 40th anniversary box set and the 2011 double disc reissue of the album. As stated in the sleeve notes for the latter, Brian and Roger have confirmed that its roots can be traced back to the early 70s, yet Tim Staffell didn’t know the song when he was in Smile (the predecessor group to Queen), and Freddie remarks in the session outtakes that John Deacon isn’t familiar with it either. So by deduction it’s most likely to have been written shortly before John became part of the band in July 1971, and it’s believed the song was just called Feelings in its early form at that time.
There were several attempts to record it during the News Of The World sessions, and the demo that’s been officially released is Take 10, recorded at Basing Street Studios, London, in July 1977. It was never included on the News Of The World album as they felt they had enough material already. It does have a somewhat similar rhythm to Sleeping On The Sidewalk, which may be one factor if they wanted each track to feel distinctive.
So it’s been a real hidden gem all these years, as it’s a delightfully catchy rocker with strong contributions from all the band members.
As it’s a rarity there aren’t any cover versions out there. But there is a fun video of a 4-year-old Queen fan drumming along to it!
And that’s it! Even though Rock You and Champions undoubtedly, and deservedly, get by far the most love and attention, and will be part of everyone’s lives for a very long time to come, the rest of this album contains a fantastic variety of songs too, as Queen are so adept at doing. So I hope you’ve enjoyed exploring it all with me.
Check out my Queen & Covers playlists to explore the official videos, live performances, rarities, and other versions of the songs. I’ll update them in the future as I become aware of new videos. And if there are others I should check out and consider adding to these or any of my Queen playlists, do let me know. And next I’ll move on to review their Jazz album, so keep an eye out for that.