Queen At 50 Reviews – News Of The World

Booklet cover spread for the News Of The World album. The front cover shows a large steel robot holding the corpses of Freddie and Brian in his hand, while John is falling to the ground below them. Roger can be seen falling on the back cover, towards the robot's foot. The album title on the front, and the track listing on the back, are in red text against the green and blue shades in the background.

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!

Contents

See also: Ultimate Queen / Queen Vault / Wikipedia / UDiscover

The topics and tracks covered in this post are as follows. Click their names to jump to each section:

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!


Album Notes

Release

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

2 page spread from the album booklet for News Of The World, showing the steel robot from the cover reaching down to try and grab the people below, who are screaming and running away from him.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:


1 & 2. We Will Rock You & We Are The Champions

As these songs are heavily connected and often performed together, I’m combining my reviews for both of them.

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.

As Brian explains in the American Dream documentary:

“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, and have also spoken about Donald Trump using Champions without their permission.
  • 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.

Music Videos

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 ChampionsFor Rock You there’s also a side-by-side comparison with the original Live Aid footage.

Raw Sessions

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).

Isolated Tracks

The following breakdowns are from the multitracks, and the instrumentals are included in the 40th anniversary box set.

You can also sing along with the instrumentals using the videos from their Greatest Karaoke Hits for Rock YouChampions.

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.

  • 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.”

Official Remixes

  • 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.

Live Performances

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:

Queen

Queen + Paul Rodgers

  • UK Music Hall Of Fame, Hackney Empire, London on 11 November 2004:

Other performances by Queen & Paul Rodgers were released on Super Live In Japan and official European tour downloads from 2005 & 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:

  • 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:
    • Rock You – Sung by Brian, this is another rendition that continues in an extended arrangement after the traditional solo.
    • Champions – Sung by Zucchero.
  • 46664 Concert, Green Point Stadium, Cape Town, South Africa on 29 November 2003:
  • 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.

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:
    • Rock You – A combination of the slow and fast versions by Brian with his band. The video release contains the full track, but the version on the album trims 43 seconds from the end, so it finishes more abruptly.
  • 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:
    • Rock You – A 10-minute performance with Brian May as a guest, released on the Starmus – Sonic Universe album. The song itself only takes up about 2½ minutes, with guitar solos and improvisation before and after.
  • My Chemical Romance at Reading Festival on 26 August 2011:
  • 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:
    • Drum Extravaganza – This special percussion piece that opened the concert incorporated the beat from Rock You towards the end. It was performed by the one-off supergroup SOS Allstars, featuring Roger Taylor from Queen, Taylor Hawkins from Foo Fighters and Chad Smith from Red Hot Chili Peppers.

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.
    • Parkinson on 18 May 2002 Brian & Roger join the cast to perform Somebody To Love, We Will Rock You & We Are The Champions, while Michael Parkinson interviews show writer Ben Elton, who is brought on with the Hammer To Fall intro.
    • 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.

Other Collaborations

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:

Five also performed the song without Queen at some of their concerts, as you can see in examples from Manchester and the Big Reunion Tour.

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.

Queen + Robbie Williams – We Are The Champions

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.

Hank Marvin & Brian May – We Are The Champions

This wonderful instrumental duet, by the legendary guitarists from The Shadows & Queen, was included on Hank’s Into The Light album, and reached number 66 when released as a single.

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.

This then grew when Roger Taylor added drums on 16 April & Adam Lambert added vocals on 20 April, changing one of the choruses to say “You Are The Champions”.

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:

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.

Cover Versions

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

PiotreQ Remixes:

  • 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:

Other Champions Mashups:

Covid Tributes

TV Commercials

  • 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.

TV Comedy

Film Comedy

Other Parodies & Comedy

Bands & Groups

Singers

Orchestras

  • 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 OrchestraRock 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.

3. Sheer Heart Attack

Written by Roger Taylor

See also: Ultimate QueenWikipedia / Song Facts / Lyric Video

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.

Music Videos

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.

Live Performances

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:

Cover Versions

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.

 


4. All Dead, All Dead

Written by Brian May

See also: Ultimate Queen / Lyric Video

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.

Alternate Versions

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.

There’s also an unreleased instrumental take that was played at a Queen convention, hence the lower quality audio and the repeated “Property of Queen Productions” throughout the fan recording. It features Brian on piano, Roger on drums and John on bass, and is similar to the final track but has a few different elements here and there.

Music Videos

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.

Cover Versions

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.


5. Spread Your Wings

Written by John Deacon

See also: Ultimate QueenWikipedia / Song Facts / Lyric Video

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.

Music Video

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.

Alternate Versions

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.

There is also a Test Pressing Mix, which was on a promo disc with Rock You & Champions, of which only 50 copies were made. It’s largely identical to the final version, apart from slight differences in the guitar parts and a few extra ad-libbed vocals at the end.

Live Performances

  • 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.

Cover Versions

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.


6. Fight From The Inside

Written by Roger Taylor

See also: Ultimate Queen / Lyric Video

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.

Alternate Versions

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.

Cover Versions

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.


7. Get Down, Make Love

Written by Freddie Mercury

See also: Ultimate Queen / Lyric Video

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.

Alternate Versions

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.

Isolated Tracks

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.

Live Performances

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:

Cover Versions

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.


8. Sleeping On The Sidewalk

Written by Brian May

See also: Ultimate Queen / Lyric Video

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.

Live Performances

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:

  • 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

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:

Cover Versions

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.


9. Who Needs You?

Written by John Deacon

See also: Ultimate Queen / Lyric Video

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.

Cover Versions

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.


10. It’s Late

Written by Brian May

See also: Ultimate QueenWikipedia / Lyric Video

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.

Brian also gave a short tutorial of the guitar solo on his Star Licks video in 1983.

Music Video

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:

Alternate Versions

The 40th anniversary box set contains a few additional versions of this song

  • 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.

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).

Live Performances

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 1978Chicago 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 JuneCenturyLink 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.

Cover Versions

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.


11. My Melancholy Blues

Written by Freddie Mercury

See also: Ultimate Queen / Lyric Video

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.

Live Performances

  • 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.

Cover Versions

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.

 


Feelings, Feelings

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!


Conclusion

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.

 

Author: Glen

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

4 thoughts on “Queen At 50 Reviews – News Of The World”

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