Thursday, June 26, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Queen's A Night at the Opera

By 1975, Queen had already released three studio albums but had very little commercial success. The single Killer Queen from their Sheer Heart Attack had gotten them a small amount of notoriety and a noticeable position in the charts, but the band still wasn't doing as well as it wanted to. Queen was coming close to calling it quits if this next album was not a success. Fortunately with the help of producer Roy Thomas Baker and an incredibly large budget (when released in 1975 it was the most expensive album ever made) Queen was able to not only make their album A Night at the Opera a success, but one of their most popular and critically acclaimed albums of all time spawning two of their most well known singles: You're My Best Friend and Bohemian Rhapsody.

A Night at the Opera features some of Queen's most complex and highly produced song writing at the time. It features much more piano than the previous albums and also has more of a pop rock feel than the heavy rock overtones of the band's previous ventures.

The recording process of A Night at the Opera was quite memorable to Queen for multiple reasons. For instance, during the operatic section of Bohemian Rhapsody the band ended up doing several takes of them all singing the parts together and would keep doing more and more recordings until they had built up enough layers to sound like an entire choir. This drove everyone in the band but lead singer Freddie Mercury nuts, but the end result was clearly worth the effort.

A more amusing anecdote from this time includes an incident involving the song I'm in Love with My Car. It was written by drummer Roger Taylor, though when he presented a demo of it to the band they didn't think he was serious about it. Soon however, they discovered that he was. When they did not want to put the song as the B side to Bohemian Rhapsody Taylor locked himself in a closet and refused to come out until Mercury agreed to do it.

A Night at the Opera features one of the most well known songs in rock n' roll to this very day. In more recent years it has even made a major comeback. This song is Bohemian Rhapsody. The song is without a doubt Freddie Mercury's crowning achievement as a musician, having penned nearly the entire thing by himself. The song is primarily played on piano softly and sung with much pure emotion by Mercury at a slow to moderate tempo with occasional drum backing from Taylor and bass backing from John Deacon. However, during the build-ups and louder parts of the song, the whole band comes in with powerful choral vocals, heavy guitar solos, and thundering rhythms to accentuate the climax of the story being told in the song. The song then winds down with the same feel and instrumental concepts as the beginning and then softly fades out right at the very end.

This album features more than just the widely played singles heard on radio, however. One of the most memorable songs from A Night at the Opera was in fact not even sung by Mercury, but by guitarist Brian May. '39 is an acoustic ballad that tells the story of astronauts traveling faster than the speed of light to find a new home for the people of their world living on a dying planet. They are gone for what they perceive is only a year, but when they return it seems they have been gone far longer due to how fast they traveled. Though the lyrical content of the song is somewhat sad, musically it is fairly upbeat and it works really well when audiences clap their hands along with it. When Queen tours with other singers these days it is just as much a staple in the set as much as any of the radio singles.

A Night at the Opera is without a doubt one of if not the absolute best albums Queen ever released. It features Queen at its most creative (even if the creativity at times involved being downright silly). It is the album that really put Queen on the map and saved them from calling it a day too early. While still having a commercial overtone to it, it also keeps to the band's progressive nature. It is an eargasm from start to finish. Anyone who has NOT heard the album all the way through is required to immediately go out, purchase the record, and then do so.

A Night at the Opera, by Queen receives 5 out of 5 stars.

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