Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Year in Review: Queen

While most fans expect that 2011 will be an exciting year for Queen, given that it marks the band's 40th anniversary, personally 2010 was a rather marvelous year for me.

Of course, the big news is that in July, I met Dr. Brian May, Queen's guitarist. Click here to read my account of the day.

Though I didn't go into detail here, my encounter with Dr. May did not end that evening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The next morning, I emailed Dr. May and thanked him for signing my book and CD. I also provided him with a link to my blog entry about meeting him with the explanation that I thought it might provide him with a bit of amusement.

To my surprise and delight, Dr. May responded! His message was short and simple, but enough to give me a thrill. Many fans have contacted Dr. May on a variety of topics yet a very small percentage report receiving any type of reply.

And believe it or not my excitement didn't end there! Later that weekend, I received another email from the woman who designs Dr. May's website. In her email, she wrote that Dr. May had in fact looked at my blog post and rather liked some of the pictures that Husband had taken of the lecture. She asked if I could send larger versions of the pictures and if I would allow Dr. May to use the pictures on his website.

Of course, I agreed and sent the photos along. Sadly, the lecture at which I met Dr. May was right in the middle of a busy touring schedule and once he had time to make a decision about using the pictures, it was too late. In fact, he never even wrote about the New York book signings on his blog (a highly unusual occurrence as he typically documents all his comings and goings in his Soapbox).

Just knowing that he had actually laid eyes on my blog though, even if it was just long enough to admire Husband's pictures, provided me with another great thrill and made my experience of meeting him even sweeter!

In honor of my momentous meeting, I spent the year thinking "all foxes, all of the time" (as a nod to Dr. May's Save Me campaign which hopes to prevent the return of fox hunting in the U.K.) Anthropologie was more than happy to help feed my new fetish and had an entire line of fox themed clothing and housewares this fall.

Sadly, I was sized out of the Fox tights, which ran a bit short and my evil evil evil sister had the nerve of fitting into the lone size Medium of the Wily Sweater left in my store (I'd tried it on earlier in the season but needed a size Large. See her review of the sweater here.) The fox candles were a Christmas gift from my mom as was the ornament which is now proudly displayed in my office next to my photograph of Dr. May. The children's sweater was adorable but unfortunately too pricey for any little boys that we know. And the button.


RT, how did you sneak that button into my photo montage of fox items at Anthropologie?

The button was also a Christmas present, from my sister's two dogs Jack and Docker. I laughed for a good five minutes after opening the package and the button is now up in my office bulletin board.

The rest of the year was characterized by lots of frustration and lots of waiting. Waiting for the RT solo album that he originally began promising in November 2009. Waiting for news of the band's new record deal with Universal. Waiting for the release of the Hammersmith Odeon Christmas Eve concert from 1975 which has been rumored since last Christmas.

We did receive a new Rock Band track pack, which as far as I'm concerned was worth the wait. In addition to new lesser known songs like Tenement Funster, Now I'm Here, and Keep Yourself Alive, I can finally sing harmonies on previous Rock Band favorites like Somebody to Love and Killer Queen. I also convinced Husband to download the track pack early enough that I was ranked #2 on Pro Drums Expert for We Will Rock You. Not too shabby.

And though the boys weren't in the studio working on their own solo projects or Queen material, they did find time to play on a few albums released over the course of 2010. Both RT and Dr. May appeared on Taylor Hawkins' side project Taylor Hawkins and the Coattail Rider's second CD, Red Light Fever (click here for a review of that CD and the concert that Husband and I attended in May). And Dr. May produced and played on Kerry Ellis's CD Anthems which was released this fall in addition to finding time to play on Meatloaf's album Hang Cool Teddy Bear.

We'll see what 2011 has in store for Queen fans. Personally, I'd love the opportunity to see the boys play live though I recognize that any shows would likely be abroad. With that in mind, I'm also hopefully that We Will Rock You, the musical, finally makes it to Broadway and when it does, rest assured, I'll be in the front row cheering ecstatically!

Tonight is New Year's Eve and tomorrow is 2011! So exciting!

See everyone next year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 Year in Review: Shopping

If you can believe it, even my enjoyment of shopping was not a constant in 2010. There were weeks when I loved and wanted to purchase everything I came into contact with and there were other times when try as I might, I couldn't find a single thing I was interested in buying.

Oh but don't get me wrong, I did buy...a lot. And I thought it would be fun to go through a few of my favorite purchases of the year.

Swirling Villages Dress, Anthropologie (January 2010)

Once I made the decision to spend $20 to have this dress relined, it became a staple in my wardrobe. This dress also carries the important distinction of being part of my first-ever Anthropologie order. I ordered the dress on first markdown for $99 then the next day it got a second markdown to $49. I emailed Customer Service right away and to my delight, receive a price adjustment without a problem! The belt of this dress has also proven quite versatile throughout the year which means bonus points in my book!

Beribboned Buds Cardigan, Anthropologie (January 2010)
Another Anthropologie first: the first item for which I ever paid full price. And I'd be lying if I didn't tell you that I had many a sleepless night over whether to return this cardigan. I loved it in the store. Had to have it. Then I got home and it sat in the bag on my dresser for two weeks which I wished and hoped for a price adjustment. When one didn't come, I had a choice to make, return my beloved sweater and wait for it to go on sale or suck it up and wear it. I decided to wear it and could not be happier with my choice: I've probably worn this sweater 25 times this year. In fact, I wore this sweater so often that I wrote an entire post about it (click here)!

Acting Out Skirt, Anthropologie (March 2010)
My last favorite Anthropologie clothing purchase of the year was an unexpected love. I grabbed this skirt for a fitting room review, expecting the size 12 to be a bit snug on my thighs. Imagine my surprise when not only did the skirt fit perfectly but it looked amazing on me! Once I realized that the price was only $88, it came home with me right then and there and I wore it happily through the year. I was tempted to purchase another color, but in the end something about the light grey version worked on me in a way none of the other colors did.

Silk Dress with Ruffle V-Neck, Loft (July 2010)
Artist's Pallette Necklace, Anthropologie (July 2010)
Even if I never wore these two items again (and I have many many times), I'd include them in my favorite pieces of 2010 because they both had the absolute honor of meeting Dr. Brian May with me. Is it insane that even now nearly six months later, I still smile to myself whenever I fasten the clasp of the Artist's Palette Necklace because at one point in its lifetime, it was within a foot of rock royalty? I got the dress on super sale at Loft (I actually paid more for the necklace than I did for the dress!) and suspected immediately that it would be a contender to wear to this exciting event. A reader poll indicated that I was right and I managed to get an amazing picture with the man himself!

In April, I wrote about being a rather bad shoe shopper (click here). I'm pleased to report that I managed to step my shoe shopping up a notch in 2010 with quite a few adorable and yet shockingly functional pairs!

Sofft Fiorella Pumps, Nordstrom (July 2010)
Perfect Exotic Pumps, Ann Taylor (February 2010)
Franco Sarto Panko Boots, Macys (October 2010)
Rennselaer T-Straps, Anthropologie (November 2010)

I have myself utterly convinced that flats make my legs look stumpy. I'm 5'8" so every time I share that piece of information with anyone else, they typically roll their eyes at me: how can legs as long as mine ever look stumpy? Well, I'm sure they do and tend to wear heels to combat this undesirable effect. My heel collection up until this year included two or three black pairs and one or two brown pairs. This year, I ventured slowly into the world of colored shoes with my Sofft Fiorella Pumps and Perfect Exotic Pumps. Then this fall, I treated myself to the newly marked down Rennselaer T-Straps for a brown heel far more interesting than anything I'd ever previously owned. The Panko boots were a total impulse buy: I spotted them at Macy's and the leather was just so so soft. I tried them on and couldn't resist taking them home with me. I was initially uncertain if I could work flat boots into my wardrobe, but surprisingly, I've gotten a ton of wear out of them and have found them to be versatile as well for both casual and dressy occasions! Perfection!

Honorable Mentions:

Wish You Were Here Cardigan, Anthropologie (October 2010) - My sister pounced on this cardigan first, but I decided that 600 miles was a far enough distance between us that we could both own it. It's soft and versatile and the pattern is just so darn cute!

Konnichiwa Sweater, Anthropologie (November 2010) - I splurged and bought this sweater while it was still on first markdown and I'm glad I did. It's really become my go-to casual winter sweater: so cozy, but stylish as well.

Long pearl necklace with pearl flower, Loft (November 2010) - This necklace is a more recent addition that I'm still trying to work into my wardrobe. I admired it afar for so long though, waiting patiently for it to go on sale, that I had to put it on my list!

I'm sure you all had your favorite purchases in 2010 too. Were they your favorites for emotional reasons (like my Dr. May outfit) or for practical reasons (most times worn)? Did I forget to mention something I bought that was one of your favorites?

One more Year in Review post will run on Friday and it will discuss everything from Rock Band to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to my new found obsession with foxes!

Happy Wednesday!

Monday, December 27, 2010

2010 Year in Review: Running

As predicted when I began this blog nearly a year ago, my interests have ebbed and flowed a bit. Some months I couldn't get enough of my three favorite obsessions and other months I ignored them completely.

Such is the life of someone with an obsessive personality.

Running is the interest that essentially fell by the wayside in late 2010 for a few reasons. Firstly, this summer was unbearably hot and humid. Waking up early to run is supposed to lessen that misery, but when it's 75 degrees and 80 humidity at 6am, short at running at 3 in the morning, I'm not entirely sure how I can be expected to run! True, I do have a treadmill, but the temperatures inside weren't much cooler and frankly the thought of potentially melting in my den was not appealing either.

The second reason why I got away from running was more personal. In August, I found out I was pregnant. My doctor advised me to stop running longer distances (hence my decision to not run the Diva Half Marathon in October). I didn't stop running completely though and by the end of the month, I wasn't pregnant anymore.

Mentally, I know that I didn't do anything wrong. My doctor didn't tell me to stop running altogether: he just said to cool it a bit with the long distances, especially in the heat. But Husband and I have been seeing this doctor, a specialist, since early in the summer and if there's anything I can do, or in this case not do, that might increase the odds of our being successful, I want to do it.

The last few months have been exhausting, mostly mentally, but not surprisingly that has translated to physical exhaustion as well. Since October my body has been playing tricks on me: I feel tired as if the treatments have worked and I give in to my body's request to rest, rather than be active. Husband encourages me to take care of myself, to listen to my body, and more and more I've been allowing myself that indulgence. Then I find out that we've been unsuccessful and all my resting turned out to be just laziness and, if I'm being honest, a bit of depression.

It's been hard to convince myself that I shouldn't have done something differently and my response has been to all but eliminate running completely. Obviously this isn't the healthiest of choices for me, particularly if I'm hoping to actually sustain a pregnancy in 2011. My resolution for the new year is to slowly get back into running short distances at a slow pace because I know that ultimately, that's the best thing for me.

Likewise my running shopping was virtually nonexistent this year as well. True, I did acquire a capri running skirt which proved to be suitable attire when the heat finally broke late this fall. And a good friend gave me two navy athletic skirts leftover from an event that she coordinated at her office. Other than that, I've really been making due with the gear that I already had.

My intention in sharing this information is not to be a downer, but rather to be honest about why a formerly significant aspect of my blog has virtually disappeared. I also know that I'm not the only person to have gone through the things I've experienced this year and as much as I've not really liked talking about it, I know that I've appreciated hearing others share their stories. Perhaps my writing this will help someone going through the same thing.

Stay tuned on Wednesday and Friday for 2010 Year in Review posts on Queen and Shopping, the other two subjects about which I frequently write. I promise that both of those posts will be slightly more uplifting!

Happy Monday!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I hope everyone who celebrates has a very Merry Christmas!

We opened our presents early this year because my sister and brother-in-law left on Tuesday to spend Christmas with his family, but this morning we woke up to stockings and yummy French toast prepared by my dad! Delish!

On January 6, we'll be celebrating our third Christmas when Husband's father and wife come into town so I still have a small pile of presents under the tree just taunting me for two more weeks!

Luckily, I've done quite a bit of shopping at Anthropologie's pre-Christmas sales so stay tuned next week when I start debuting all my new Christmas buys!

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Queen Songs of the Week: Now I'm Here & Dragon Attack

I'm featuring two Queen Songs of the Week this week since I've already reviewed Now I'm Here, the next song in the band's 1982 concert at the Milton Keynes Bowl.

This is one of the last concerts where the boys played Now I'm Here, one of my favorite songs and, of course, it's awesome!

Courtesy of queenofficial.

Dragon Attack was written by Dr. May and appeared on the band's 1980 album The Game. The song was the B-side to the single Another One Bites the Dust and the song is reportedly one of Deaky's favorites.

Courtesy of queenofficial.
In the commentary for the Queen: Rock Montreal blu ray, RT laments that the drums on this song were particularly difficult to play, especially on his right wrist. Fellow Queen fan and Foo Fighter Taylor Hawkins has listed this song as one of his favorites due to the great guitar riff and awesome drum solo.

The song itself is a bit repetitive and in the studio was created using a mix of looping and live instruments. I imagine that makes it terribly difficult to play live, but the boys do a great job. This song was a staple in the set list in the early 1980s and here concludes, as it often did, with a reprise of Now I'm Here.

Though I'm not the biggest fan of the studio version of this song, the live version can't help but get you tapping your toes to the beat!

Happy Listening!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Queen Song of the Week: Somebody to Love

This is a very timely Queen song of the week as we make our way through the set list of Queen's 1982 concert at the Milton Keynes Bowl: after a year of waiting, I have finally gotten to sing the harmonies to this song on Rock Band 3!

And readers? It was everything that I dreamed it would be.

Three-part harmonies are indicated on the screen: the low part sung by Dr. May, the mid-range vocals that Freddie sang, and RT's high parts. Truly amazing.

Also amazing is this version of Somebody to Love, considered by many fans to be the best performance of the song, if not the best live performance by the band.

Somebody to Love was written by Freddie Mercury and appeared on the band's 1976 album A Day at the Races. The song was released as a single where it peaked at #2 and #13 on the U.K. and U.S. charts, respectively.

The song itself has a gospel-type feel to it, which is a style of which Freddie was very much a fan: specifically, he was focused on recreating a Aretha Franklin sound. To accomplish this, the harmonies and background vocals are very prominent and perhaps the most recognizable aspect of the song. True to form, the band recorded layer upon layer of harmonies to give the impression that a full gospel choir was in singing on the track, when, in fact, it was just our three boys!

This song is a fan favorite and a favorite by many who don't even consider themselves Queen fans and is still played frequently on the radio nearly 35 years after it was first released!

Happy Listening!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Queen Song of the Week: Staying Power

We're still working our way through the set list of Queen's 1982 show at Milton Keynes.

Staying Power was written by Freddie Mercury and appeared on the band's 1982 album Hot Space. It was released as a B-side to the single Back Chat, which peaked at #40 on the U.K. charts. The song was released as an A-side in Japan where it did not chart.

Video courtesy of queenofficial.

The studio version of this track contains a fair amount of synthesizers, drum loops, and the main beat has likely been sped up in the studio. To that base, RT added some electric and accoustic drums, Deaky played some rhythm guitar rather than bass, and Dr. May harmonized his Red Special (though most of that was removed, leaving only a few harmonized riffs throughout the song). Freddie sang all the vocals in this song, including the harmonies. Source: Bechstein Debauchery.

Happy Listening!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Queen Song of the Week: Play the Game

As I mentioned on Sunday, I totally dropped the ball and forgot to write a Queen Song of the Week Post last week. In my defense, last week was pretty rotten and by Friday, I was just thrilled to have a few days to myself.

Play the Game was written by Freddie Mercury and appeared on the band's 1980 album The Game. It was released as a single in the U.K. and the U.S. where it peaked at #14 and #42, respectively.

Video courtesy of vicken28.

Play the Game is a Queen track that bridges the gap between their sound of the 1970s and 1980s. Fans have their opinion about which era was better, but from a song like this, the evolution of their music becomes rather clear. While the song contains synthesizers making it decidedly 1980s, it also contains layered guitars and harmonies by RT, Freddie, and Dr. May echoing their trademark sound of the 1970s.

This song was also rather lovely when played live (as evidenced by the above video). And in 2005, Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters, a major Queen fan, cited Play the Game as one of his three favorite songs!

Happy Listening!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Queen Song Feature: No One But You

Today is the 19th anniversary of Freddie Mercury's death from AIDS-related complications.

Though Freddie was sick for several years prior to his death and unable to tour, he continued to write and record music and the band released two studio albums prior to his death in 1991 (The Miracle and Innuendo). While Freddie's illness had progressed tremendously at the time when Innuendo was recorded, the album is considered by many fans to contain some of his strongest vocals in years.

In 1995, Roger, John, and Brian reentered the studio to record Made in Heaven. The songs on that album were taken from Freddie's studio recordings dating back to the early 1980s and from reworking songs that had appeared on Freddie's solo album, Mr. Bad Guy. This album is considered the fifteenth and final Queen studio album.

But the boys reunited one last time in 1997 before John Deacon retired once and for all. The compilation album Queen Rocks was slated for release and they decided to add one brand new song to the album. While the song does not feature Freddie Mercury at all, it is considered by many fans to be the last "Queen" song ever recorded as without Freddie and his influence, it would not have been written. It is the last Queen song on which John played bass.

No One But You (Only the Good Die Young) was written by Dr. May. It appeared on the 1997 compilation Queen Rocks and was released as a single in 1998 where it peaked at #13 on the U.K. charts.

Video courtesy of Stifler2005652007.

Dr. May and RT share lead vocals on this song, emphasizing the strength of each of their individual voices. Then they harmonize together during the chorus. The sound is rather reminiscent of the B-stage set list during the Queen + Paul Rodgers shows of 2005 and 2008.

The song itself was inspired by the Greek myth of Icarus and Daedalus, who build wings out of wax to escape from a castle in which they are imprisoned. Icarus becomes so excited once they are free that he flies too high into the sky causing the sun to melt his wax wings and him to fall to his death in the sea. Though certainly not a literal interpretation, the lyrics contain rather blatant references to this story.

No One But You is included in Queen's musical We Will Rock You and is sung by the character Meat, a role originated by Dr. May's current protege Kerry Ellis. Click here to hear her version of the song, which is absolutely lovely in its own way.

Next year (2011) marks not only the 20th anniversary of Freddie's death, but also the 40th anniversary of Queen forming. Fans are hoping for a year long celebration which Dr. May has already assured us will include new releases, computers (Rock Band: Queen?), and live work! Sounds great and I can't wait!

Happy Listening!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Queen Song of the Week: Action This Day

We're continuing to work our way through the set list of Queen's 1982 show at Milton Keynes. The tour was in support of the band's album Hot Space and marked the last time that the band's original lineup toured in the United States.

Action This Day is both the first song in the show that appeared on the album Hot Space and the first song in the show written by RT.

Video courtesy of queenofficial.

RT and Freddie Mercury shared the lead vocals on this song and, in this concert, managed to replicate a fair amount of the album vocals. Here's the album version for comparison. I do wonder, however, if any of the vocals are overdubbed because sometimes the non-Freddie vocals (i.e. Freddie is obviously not singing) sound like RT and sometimes they don't. Interesting.

The song has RT written all over it. I feel fairly confident that if I'd seen the written lyrics without knowing the songwriter, I could pinpoint it as an RT song. Also, the drum beat, which drives the song, is very reminiscent of solo songs RT was writing in the early-1980s (specifically Man on Fire, reviewed here). RT was also the first of the band to really start to experiment with synthesizers, which led to some criticism of the band.

Hot Space in general is frequently cited by fans as too far a departure from the band's work in the 1970s. I'll be honest: I'm definitely more of a 70s Queen fan than a 80s Queen fan, but I like this song which is probably based more on my appreciation of RT as a musician and solo artist than my love of Queen. I can see how listening to this song immediately after some of their earlier stuff might be a bit jarring.

Happy Listening!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Running Shoe Review: Asics Gel Foundation 9 & Your Running Questions Answered

During my last giveaway several people asked me running related questions. Since I've not done a running post in a while, I decided to answer all the running-related questions as part of a running shoe review.

Erin from Designer Me asked: What are the top three running gear items that I need to get into a running frame of mind?

Two things popped into my mind right away: my Garmin Forerunner 305 (reviewed here) and running shoes purchased at a specialty running shop (personally I'm a fan of Fleet Feet).

The Garmin literally changed my running life: suddenly I could track exactly how far I went on each run, monitor my pace and heart rate during the run, and then upload all that data into my computer to view my progress. I don't know how I lived without my Garmin!

The running shoes don't have to be purchased at the specialty store (although doing so does support the store so it'll be there the next time you need shoes!), but I definitely recommend going in for a fitting. At my local store, they videotape you running on a treadmill and then analyze your gait. They measure your feet, both sitting and standing to determine if your arch collapses at all. And then they recommend shoes based on your individual needs. Not everyone should wear the same running shoe and sometimes a person's running shoe needs can change over time! I started off in a neutral shoe, ended up in a cushioned shoe when I started having some foot pain, and then following a nasty bout of plantar fastisis went into a motion control shoe. You should never have to break in running shoes and most specialty stores will take returns, even if the shoe has been worn, so if something doesn't feel right when you get it home, take it back!

My current running shoe purchase is the Asics Gel Foundation 9. I've been running in a pair of old Nike Air Zoom Vomeros with the inserts removed and replaced with Green Superfeet for an embarrassingly long time. My motto with running shoes is typically if it's not broke, don't fix it so I ignored all advice that I should replace shoes after 500 or so miles.

In my defense, Superfeet are designed to last for a year and I wasn't terribly past that length of time.

Then I started getting blisters and I knew it was time to get some new shoes.

Runners World does a shoe review a few times a year and the Asics Gel Foundation 9 got some great feedback: For a shoe that does such a great job correcting overpronation, the Foundation is decidedly unmotioncontrol- like. Its interior is lined with plenty of soft materials that, when combined with the sole's balanced profile and flexible forefoot, results in a smooth, steady ride, free of the stiffness that plagues many motioncontrol shoes. Except for noting the shoe's heavy heel, testers had nothing but positive things to say. Recommended for large runners or heavy overpronators who need superior support.

Now, I'm not a runner that overpronates (which in layman's terms means landing with your foot rolling inwards towards the arch), but I do have arches that collapse slightly every time I take a step. That means that I need tons of arch support (for anyone who is familiar with Green Superfeet, you know that it's basically the equivalent of having custom orthotics made for your shoes...out of concrete.)

The problem with Green Superfeet is that when you go a day or two without running, your feet have to readjust to them for the first few miles. Typically that's not an issue when I'm running 20-30 miles a week, but since cutting back to 15 miles a week, I'm really not interested in spending 75% of my runs getting accustomed to my shoes! (This should answer Maggie from The Fashion Maverick's question.)

My plan was to buy the Asic Gel Foundation 9 from Running Warehouse (my favorite online shoe retailer) and try them on my treadmill. If I hated them, I'd go to Fleet Feet and get reevaluated, but I had a feeling that the Gel Foundations would work just fine for me...and I was right.

This shoe is heavy; like really heavy. If I were buying this shoe a year ago, I'd probably return it because I felt a bit like I was running with weights on my shoes. However, since I'm under doctor's orders to slow down, these actually worked perfectly for me! There's a fair amount of arch support in this shoe, but it also managed to be cushioned at the same time.

At first I was worried about my poor arches stretching too much, but once I got into my running groove, I could feel the arch support keeping my foot snugly in place. I always order two sizes up in a running shoe (because my foot tends to expand as I step down), but most experts recommend sizing up at least 1 size anyway. One thing that always worried me about this shoe initially was the heel which is really snug. When I first lace the shoe up, it feels very constricted, but once I got moving all was forgotten.

This shoe will definitely get me through the winter months without issue. Next year, when hopefully I'm authorized to get back to my normal training routine, I'll consider heading back to Fleet Feet for an evaluation, but in the meantime, I'm very happy with these shoes.

Now onto everyone else's questions:

Newlyweds on a Budget asked: How do you motivate yourself to run when you just don't feel like it?

I have a few strategies. One is to convince myself to go out for just two miles (one mile away from the house and one mile home). Typically once I'm in my workout clothes and outside, I end up going farther than that.

I'm also not above bribes: if I do this run, I get to buy x.

But sometimes I'm just not feeling a run and if that's the case, I don't do it. I run because I enjoy it and I never want to resent it because that's when I'll stop. A few years ago, we went on vacation to Maine. I got up four mornings that week at 6am and ran between 4-9 miles (23 miles total). Then I got home and was so mad that I really didn't get a "vacation" since I got up so early all those mornings (and consequently had to go to bed early the night before). I promised myself that I'd never force myself to run on a vacation again. If I wanted to do it, great, but if I didn't, I'd just get back in the saddle when I got home. You aren't going to lose any fitness if you take one, or even two, weeks off and I've found that sometimes a little bit of time away from running rejuvenates me and makes me remember how much I enjoy running in the first place!

Peggy from She Hath Done What She Could asked: I would love any tips you can give to a beginning runner. I have tried it so many times and just don't like it - maybe I'm doing something wrong??

Haven from Hogwash, Poppycock and Other Preposterousness asked a similar question: How do you keep from getting bored on a run?

And KatKoot asked a related question too: How does someone work up from walking to running?

My biggest tip would probably be to slow down! It's so tempting to get outside and run at a break neck pace until you want to die, but that's not doing yourself any favors! Even if it feels like you are positively crawling, you've got to build up your endurance and heart strength and you do that when you are exercising aerobically, not an-aerobically (greater than 75% of max heart rate). The longer and slower you run, the faster you'll ultimately become.

When I first started running, I'd run 3 miles in about 30 minutes and then wonder why I never got any faster. Then I started training with my mom, who was about 1-1:30 minutes slower than me. All of a sudden, my 5Ks got faster because I was training slower and strengthening my heart! Of course, you should occasionally work in some speed work to get your body accustomed to traveling at a quicker pace, but for beginners, you should just focus on the endurance factor.

I do a lot of my best thinking while running: I can't tell you how many legal arguments have occurred to me while I'm out in the middle of nowhere, five miles from my house! I take my iPhone with me to run (for safety reasons), but then I will usually put on my music. I'll listen to the first song or two and then my mind just takes off, thinking about everything and anything. By the end of the run, I have no idea what songs I just listened to and, half the time, no idea what I spent all that time thinking about, but I always feel refreshed!

Treadmills are a whole different ballgame. I hate them for anything other than speed work. I do own one and use it in the winter. To get through those runs, I'll turn on loud music, put on the television, make Husband sit next to me and chat. In NYC, the gym I went to faced the treadmills towards the street so you could people-watch which is fun (especially in NY!) I've heard of people training for marathons on treadmills and just the thought of that makes me want to die!

Jen from The Life Accounts asked: What type of fitness are you doing now that you're not doing so much intense running? Have you found any new fun fitness ideas?

Does Rock Band drumming count? Seriously, click here to watch RT on a science show from the early 1980s. In just 30 seconds of drumming, he gets his heart rate up way higher than where mine is five miles into a run!

Sadly, I've not done anything to replace running. I've slowed down and cut back, but that's about it. One of my favorite things about running is the sense of accomplishment that I get when I'm finished and I just don't get that feeling from any other types of exercise that I've tried.

I'm open to suggestions though!

Maggie G. asked: What is your favorite line of running/workout apparel? I'm intrigued b/c I just started running regularly in the spring and this winter is going to be my first winter trying to run.

For winter apparel, I couldn't live without my CW-X tights (reviewed here). They are pricey, but totally worth it. I also love L.L. Bean fleece vests (reviewed here). I prefer to be a bit cold at the start of a run so unless it's absolutely positively freezing, I'll wear one of those vests over a long sleeved wicking top and a wicking tank. Headbands and gloves are also a must: my hands tend to get really cold and take the longest to warm up. I'd rather wear the headband/gloves and have to take them off then to not have them at all. My running top collection is a bit of a hodgepodge: I typically buy off season at Marshall's or Dick's Sporting Goods so I've got lots of different brands/styles.

For indoor/summer running, I can't live without my running skirt from There are lots of other companies making running skirts now, but Cindy/Christy are my favorite. The skirts are comfortable, don't ride up, and look adorable! They have great tanks too, but they're a bit on the pricey side.

Finally, spiffy from Where the Lights Are Bright asked: I know you've run a half marathon, any desire to run a full?

Sure, I have aspirations of running a full marathon, but I'm also aware of my own weaknesses and limitations. I've decided that if I ever do run a marathon, I'd want to finish in under 5 hours (which I know sounds crazy slow, but remember this is 26.2 miles, people!) Right now, a more realistic goal for me is to break 2:30 in a half marathon (which is about 11 minute miles) and then from there, I can decide about whether to push myself to keep going. It's definitely in the back of my mind (as it is for most runners, I'm sure), but it's not in the foreseeable future.

spiffy on the other hand is a total rock star and is running in the ING NYC Marathon today! Go spiffy!

So that wraps up all the running questions from my latest giveaway. I'll be back to answer the rest of the questions at some point (I'm trying to work them into daily posts to avoid having a big long post like this one, but I might just give up and forget that idea!)

Happy Sunday!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Queen Song of the Week: We Will Rock You (Fast)

We're continuing to work our way through the set list of Queen on Fire: Live at the Bowl. Last week we killed two songs with one post since our boys opened the concert with a medley of Flash/The Hero from the Flash Gordon soundtrack.

The next song on the set list is a fast version of We Will Rock You. For years, Queen closed their concerts with a We Will Rock You/We are the Champions medley, but during that time they often incorporated a fast version of their stadium staple into the set list.

We Will Rock You was written by Dr. May. It appeared on Queen's 1977 album News of the World. The song appeared as the B-side to the single We are the Champions. However, once the single was released, We Will Rock You became so popular and so frequently played by radio stations that the band decided to film a music video for it.

Dr. May wrote the song in response to the increased audience participation and interaction at Queen concerts. He wanted a song that the audience could mimic the instruments in addition to singing along. In reality, Dr. May's guitar is the only instrument used on this song: the famous stomp-stomp-clap was recorded from the boys stomping their feet on a drum podium. In concert, RT plays the beat on his drum kit.

The original version of the song was much more produced before Dr. May ultimately decided to strip the song down to it's bare bones, thus creating the instantly recognizable beat that we all know and love. The song remains in the public consciousness nearly 35 years later: last year the song was the most played song in NHL, NFL, and MLB stadiums. And the musical based on the music of Queen borrows it's title from the song.

The version from the Live at the Bowl show is great: full of energy and crazy fast! Queen usually played this version early in the set list and it's pretty obvious why: it sets the stage for the complete awesomeness that is to come!

Happy Listening!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Queen Anniversary: Bohemian Rhapsody

The song Bohemian Rhapsody was released as a single 35 years ago today!

Video courtesy of Frozentoast.

I often get the impression that people forget that there was a time when this amazing song had yet to be written. The elements of the song are so unusual that it's hard to believe that an actual person came up with it: that the song didn't just always exist.

In fact, I feel this way sometimes too! I just can't even imagine a world without this song! But now, thanks to Rock Band 3, I can play along to it (and folks, let me tell you, even on a plastic drum kit, this song is tricky!)

Click here for my lengthy discussion of Bohemian Rhapsody.

When the band first selected the song as a single, the record company thought it was too long. At 5 minutes and 55 seconds, the executives couldn't imagine a radio station playing the full version. Those execs were wrong and not only did radio stations play the song in its entirety in 1975 (sending it to the top of the U.K. charts for 9 straight weeks), but to this day it's played in full on radio stations all over the world.

Happy Anniversary Bohemian Rhapsody! I'll celebrate with Rock Band 3 and Queen: Rock Montreal later this afternoon!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Queen Song of the Week: Flash's Theme

Last week I put a call out for suggestions on what album or concert I should feature next for my Queen Song of the Week series. I received one response: the Milton Keynes 1982 show which became the album release Queen on Fire: Live at the Bowl.

Since I know where my bread is buttered, I'm going to use that suggestion lest I lose the one Queen reader that I have!

There are a few repeats on this concert album, but since Queen is considered such an amazing live act, I think it will be interesting to post some of the live versions of previous discussed songs.

So let's start at the beginning: Flash's Theme was written by Dr. May. It appeared on the band's 1980 album Flash Gordon. It was released as a single and peaked at #10 on the U.K. charts and at #42 on the U.S. charts. Rather surprisingly, this single was one of the band's most popular, outselling both Under Pressure (reviewed here) and The Show Must Go On (reviewed here).

(Warning: There's one shot in this video that might not be appropriate for work or children.)

Video courtesy of queenofficial.

At this concert, played a recording of the opening lines of Flash's Theme before entering the stage playing The Hero (discussed here). To hear the full version of Flash's Theme, click here to see the official music video.

Dr. May played piano on this track, using a rather interesting technique (he claimed last year on his official website), but sadly the music video does not show the method used. The song contains Queen's recognizable harmonies and vocal layering and has been widely used in pop culture (even here in the States). Click here to see Flash's Theme used on The Family Guy and here to see it in Blades of Glory.

Flash Gordon, the movie, is practically unwatchable, but the one saving grace is the Queen soundtrack. It's hard not to smile when you hear the telltale signs of Dr. May's guitar or Freddie Mercury's voice regardless of what nonsense is going on in the film.

Happy Listening!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Queen Song of the Week: Good Company

We made it, readers! This is the last song from Queen's 1975 release A Night at the Opera. Next week I'm going to have to think of another Queen or solo album or concert to feature. Any suggestions?

Before I jump into the song, I want to say a quick word about the suspension of DavidRFuller's Youtube account.

Some of you may recall me mentioning Mr. Fuller and his absolutely beautiful Queen video's before. He goes above and beyond posting the original music videos and compiles his own videos of photographs and video of the band over the past 40 years. This week, Mr. Fuller's account was suspended for copyright violation due to (fans suspect) the band's new contract with Universal, a particularily litigious company.

Personally, I think Universal (or whoever is behind the suspension) is missing the point of Mr. Fuller's videos. They didn't take anything away from Queen or their songs; rather his videos allowed fans and non-fans alike to appreciate Queen's songs in a way they never had before. It was Mr. Fuller's video for '39 (another song on A Night at the Opera) that encouraged me to begin listening to the Queen songs featuring Dr. May and RT on lead vocals.

The more optimistic fans hope that Mr. Fuller's videos set to rare and unreleased songs were the problem and that those songs are due to appear on expanded rereleases or boxed sets in the new year. Less optimistic fans have their doubts that will happen.

All I can hope is that Mr. Fuller figures out a way to repost his videos in a way that is satisfactory to Universal and/or Queen Productions Ltd. because they truly are wonderful to watch.

Alright onto the song: Good Company was written by Dr. May and is the tenth track on A Night at the Opera. This song is nearly 100% Dr. May with Freddie Mercury not appearing on the track at all and Deaky and RT appearing only to play bass and drums, respectively.
Video courtesy of spaccapassa.

The most surprising thing about this song is that Dr. May used a guitar to record the "horn" parts. He explained to On the Record in 1982: Yeah, that's four different kind of guitars. I was very keen in those days on recreating that sort of atmosphere. I mainly got the sound with small amplifiers. I used John Deacon's little amplifier and a volume pedal. For the trombone and trumpet sounds. I would record every note individually: Do it and then drop in. Incredibly painstaking! It took ages and ages. I listened to a lot of traditional jazz music when I was young, so I tried to get the phrasing as it would be if it were played by that instrument.

Dr. May also played a ukelele on the song and recorded all the lead and backing vocals. In the Making of A Night at the Opera, Dr. May discusses recording the track and demonstrates playing a small ukelele similar to the one his father first taught him to play as a child (click here to watch the bit).

Happy Listening!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Queen Song of the Week: The Prophets Song

Only two original songs left on Queen's 1975 album A Night at the Opera!

I say original songs because the album ends with a guitar version of God Save the Queen, which was obviously not written by the band. At the end of concerts, the band would play a recorded version of the song as they took to the front of the stage for bows. Click here to listen to it.

Alright back to this week's song. The Prophets Song was written by Dr. May and at 8:17 in length is Queen's longest recorded song (excluding Track 13 at the end of Made in Heaven, which is 22:32 long and contains instrumental bits mixed with Freddie talking).

Supposedly before Bohemian Rhapsody was selected as the first single from A Night at the Opera, The Prophets Song was also being considered.

Video courtesy of QueenSource.

There are some Queen songs that most diehard fans are crazy about: The March of the Black Queen (reviewed here) is one, The Show Must Go On (reviewed here) is another, and The Prophets Song falls into that category too.

Dr. May based the song on a dream he once had. He has said, "I had a dream about what seemed like revenge on people, and I couldn't really work out in the dream what it was that people had done wrong. It was something like a flood. Things had gone much too far and as a kind of reparation, the whole thing had to start again."

Probably the most recognizable bit of this song is the vocal canon that begins about 3:30 into the song and lasts for nearly two and a half minutes! When I was in Girl Scouts as a child, we'd sing songs in rounds and that's basically what this is. My favorite bit is when the two groups simultaneously sing, "Come here" and "I hear you" singing "here" at the same time.

For me, this is one of those songs that I forget about for ages, then listen to again and remember how great it is. It'll probably never be one of my favorites (just because my short attention span really can't handle a song this long and intricate!), but when I do hear it, I always enjoy it.

Happy Listening!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Queen Song of the Week: Seaside Rendezvous

We're back to the tracks from A Night at the Opera after a brief detour into outer space last week!

Seaside Rendezvous is the final song on Side A of Queen's 1975 album A Night at the Opera. The song was written by Freddie Mercury and is the second of his vaudeville-influenced songs on the album (the other being Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon, discussed here.)

Video courtesy of issac8399.

One unusual aspect of this song is that it doesn't appear that Dr. May played on the original recording at all.

Seaside Rendezvous is best known for the "woodwind/brass" section about :50 seconds into the song. In fact, Freddie imitated all the woodwind instruments himself and RT imitated all the brass instruments (including his highest recorded note on a Queen album, a soprano C). The "tap dancing" sound is actually RT and Freddie tapping on a desk with thimbles.

Prior to the album's release, Freddie told New Musical Express: Seaside Rendezvous has a 1920's feel to it and Roger does a tuba and clarinet on it vocally , if you see what I mean. I'm going to make him tap dance too, I'll have to buy him some Ginger Rogers tap shoes.

We've only got two original Queen songs left on the album to cover and next week's in particular is a real doozy. Dr. May has stated that he considers it his "Bohemian Rhapsody"!

Happy Listening!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Queen Song of the Week: The Hero

We've been working our way through the songs on Queen's 1975 release A Night at the Opera, but I hope everyone will indulge me this week and allow me to make a slight detour.

You see, on Monday night, I was channel surfing and came across the 1980 film Flash Gordon. Unfortunately I missed most of the movie, but managed to catch the last twenty minutes.

Why is this relevant?

Image courtesy of Queenpedia.

Because in 1980 Queen performed all the music in the movie Flash Gordon and released the soundtrack as their 9th studio album. That decision was probably unwise as the album really only contained two full length tracks. Ultimately the album peaked at #10 on the U.K. charts and #23 in the U.S., rather low considering the band was coming off the recent high of their #1 album The Game (also released in 1980).

Nearly everyone has heard the famous theme from Flash (aaah aaah) which has been used in everything from Will Ferrell's figure skating film Blades of Glory to the Family Guy (click here to view). But the second proper song on the album, The Hero, is also quite catchy.

The Hero was written by Dr. May, who had taken a particular interest in the soundtrack for the film. He wrote much of the music himself and received an individual producing credit for the album, the first and only time that "Queen" wasn't given the production credit.

Video courtesy of DavidRFuller.

I actually first heard this song ages ago and didn't particular care for it.

Actually, the truth is that I had just watched Observe and Report, a totally horrendous Seth Rogan movie. I knew that it featured some Queen songs because I recognized the harmonies, but I didn't know which songs. On the imdb page, "It's Late" and "The Hero" were referenced so I listened to both in an attempt to track down the song I had liked so much.

Turns out that "It's Late" was the song featured at the end of the movie that caught my attention so I never really gave a second thought to "The Hero" (and "It's Late" has subsequently become one of my favorite Queen songs so "The Hero" really had the odds stacked against it.)

But something about the ending of that movie and the awesome drum intro really grabbed me and now I wonder how I could have possibly listened to this song and not loved it!

In retrospect, I'm also disappointed that I didn't walk down the aisle to Dr. May's version of the wedding march, also included on the soundtrack (click here to listen).  Clearly this is an opportunity for Husband and I to renew our vows someday (or when I marry RT. Whichever...)

Happy Listening!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Queen Song of the Week: Sweet Lady

We're still moving through the songs on Queen's 1975 release A Night at the Opera. I've skipped two songs which I already featured so click here to read my feature of '39, by Dr. May, and here to read about I'm in Love With My Car, RT's only contribution to the album.

Sweet Lady was written by Dr. May and is the 6th track on the album.

Video courtesy of spaccapassa

Around this time, Dr. May was writing many songs with a bit of a bluesy sound and Sweet Lady falls into this category. The guitar riff is very recognizable and a bit repetitive throughout.

This song contains some of Dr. May's oddest lyrics. In particular the line "You call me sweet like I'm some kind of cheese" tends to elicit a giggle out of most fans.

The drums in this song are particularly great, especially in the chorus. RT remarked in 2002 to Rhythm Magazine that in this song Dr. May would tell him, "'I want it to go like this,' and he wanted it to do three different things at once and that was a bit hard to understand." Somehow RT managed to give the Doctor what he wanted though!

Vocally, this is an interesting performance by Freddie Mercury in that it's more speaking than the powerful singing fans are used to. Rather reminiscent of Tie Your Mother Down, another one of Dr. May's guitar based songs from the 1970s.

Happy Listening!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Queen Song of the Week: You're My Best Friend

I debated for a bit whether to feature You're My Best Friend as this week's Queen Song of the Week or move on to the next song on Queen's 1975 release: A Night at the Opera.

My reservations?

Well, I kind of already featured You're My Best Friend here when I wrote about my favorite Queen memories during my last giveaway.

Finally I decided that post was really more of a featurette than a feature and since I'm really trying hard to show poor Deaky some love on my blog, I'd go ahead and do a full feature on this song.

You're My Best Friend is the fourth track on A Night at the Opera. It was released as a single in 1976 where it peaked at #7 on the U.K. charts and at #16 in the U.S. It was released in 1984 as a Double-A side with Killer Queen in 1984, but did not chart.

Video courtesy of queenofficial.

Deaky wrote this song about his wife Veronica. They've been married for more than thirty years and have six children so the sentiment was clearly true! When Deaky first told the band that he envisioned using the Wurlitzer piano, Freddie expressed his unhappiness with playing that particular instrument so Deaky went home and taught himself! When played live, Freddie played his traditional piano.

RT hits some great high notes in the backing track and as for the drums, Deaky had his own ideas about them as well.

According to RT (Absolute Greatest audio commentary, 2009): It was a nice big, fat drum sound and a sort of reverse round the drums starting on the lowest tuned drums first and ending on the snare, which is not… it’s sort of the reverse of the way things are normally done – so quite interesting from that drum aspect.

This song is particularly special to Husband and me because we hired a string trio to play it as a musical interlude during our wedding ceremony. I wasn't able to rip the performance from our wedding DVD, but here's a link to the Vitamin String Quartet playing the song. And upon further inspection, they seem to have recorded a number of Queen songs - totally awesome!

You're My Best Friend is the first of many hits that Deaky wrote for the band and demonstrates his traditional pop style. The song was particularly popular in the U.S., where Queen had slowly begun to make a never for itself.

Regarding the tremendous popularity of the song, RT, never one to mince words, remarks: I was absolutely devastated one day when I happened to catch the Donny and Marie Osmond show, or was it the Osmonds? And there they were singing it and I thought it’s all gone terribly wrong.

Yikes - I wonder what he'd have to say about my string trio!

Happy Listening!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Keep On Running: Coming Clean

You know that expression "the white elephant on the blog"?

Well maybe that's not the exact expression, but you get the idea.

There's been a white elephant hanging out on my blog for a few weeks now and after lots of consideration, I'm ready to address it.

Some of you may remember the weekly featured I started running back in July: Keep on Running. The plan was to post my weekly training for my upcoming half marathon as a type of motivation to get me to run in the miserable summer heat and humidity. I'd been slagging off for most of the summer and knew I needed to get my act together if I was going to make it through the race.

Some of you also may have noticed that I've neglected to run my Keep on Running feature for several weeks.

Those of you who are really observant (or are just boarderline stalkers) may have noticed that I've not been referring to running as frequently in my daily posts.

Well, readers, the jig is up. I'm ready to come clean.

I'm not running the Diva Half Marathon in October. I've told my fellow princesses and they understand. But as each week passes and I just blatantly ignore the running aspect of my blog, I feel like I'm lying to you all every single day.

And I hate that.

The decision to not run the race was not mine. It was my doctor's and while I'm not happy with him, I understand his reasoning. I won't go into details here, but let me just say that he nearly had a heart attack when he heard I was planning on running 13.1 miles in October and training for that run in this summer heat.

Today I ran for the first time in weeks. Husband convinced me that a slow and short run would be fine (which is true - only long distances were explicitly prohibited) and he was right: I feel much better having gotten a few miles in.

They were really really slow though, but the weather was perfect and the run itself wasn't terribly uncomfortable. I'm looking forward to slowly getting back in the saddle again.

So, readers, there you have it. There won't be anymore weekly Keep on Running posts, but at least now I won't feel like a horrible liar every Sunday when I don't write one. And I'm still hoping to attend the Diva Half Marathon so I'll have plenty of pictures and stories from the weekend.

I hope you all understand: running has been a big part of my blog (less so than shopping and Queen, but nevertheless, something I initially set out to include a great deal). It still will be something I discuss and something I do, but just in a different way.

Happy Running!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Queen Song of the Week: Love of My Life

Unfortunately I don't own any of the Freddie Mercury solo albums so I'm rather ill-informed when it comes to his career outside of Queen. Therefore, this week in honor of Freddie's birthday on Sunday (click here) I've decided to feature another song that Freddie wrote for Queen's 1975 release A Night at the Opera.

This week's Queen Song of the Week is Love of My Life. It was written by Freddie Mercury and is the 9th track on A Night at the Opera. A live version of the song was released as a single in 1979 where it peaked at #63 on the U.K. charts.

Courtesy of bonjovi1567

Of all the songs Freddie Mercury wrote for A Night at the Opera (excluding Bohemian Rhapsody which is just in a class of it's own), this song is definitely my favorite. The studio version features Dr. May on a harp! Despite what some sources claim, however, Dr. May is not a harpist. Rather, he played one chord at a time and the tune was pieced together.

Dr. May discussed the difficulty of playing the harp in 1982: I did it chord by chord. Actually, it took longer to tune the thing than to play it. It was a nightmare because every time someone opened the door, the temperature would change and the whole thing would go out. I would hate to have to play a harp on stage. I just figured out how it worked - the pedals and everything - and did it bit by bit.

Originally written on the piano, the band reworked this song on the acoustic guitar and it soon became a live favorite, featuring Dr. May and Freddie alone on stage. The song exploded in South America while the band was touring in the late 1970s and as a result was put in the set list. Typically Freddie would sing the first few lines and then let the audience take over in a sing along style. When the band recorded their 1981 show in Montreal, they kept the song in the set list which resulted in a rather charming moment of Freddie realizing that the audience wasn't terribly familiar with the song and he'd have to actually sing it in its entirety!

Courtesy of QueenOfficial

This is another song that Husband really likes though I'm pretty sure he's more a fan of the live version. I am as well because it showcases Freddie Mercury's ability to connect with the audience.

The lyrics of the song are rather lovely and are suspected to be about Mary Austin, Freddie's girlfriend in the early 1970s. Though they broke up right around the time this album was recorded, they remained very good friends. When Freddie Mercury died in 1991, he left a vast majority of his estate to Ms. Austin. To this day she lives in his Kensington home.

Even after Freddie's death, the song continues to be a fan favorite at concerts. Dr. May performed the song at his Brixton Academy show in 1993 (click here for the first bit) and when Queen toured with Paul Rodgers in 2005 and 2008, Mr. Rodgers would sing the first few lines of the song before letting the audience take over. Just another example of Queen's music living on.

Happy Listening!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Freddie Mercury's Birthday

Today would have been Freddie Mercury's 64th Birthday.

Happy Birthday Freddie!

Check out his absolutely astonishing song Barcelona (off the album of the same name). In 1987, Freddie collaborated with opera singer Montserrat Caballe to produce an album of opera music. Here they are performing the song live.

The album Barcelona is unlike any Queen or solo project released by anyone in the band. Typically when ranking the band's solo work, Barcelona is held out in a category entirely by itself. It really is an amazing album.

The song was relatively successful in Spain and was used as the theme to the 1992 Summer Olympics one year after Freddie Mercury's death.

This Friday I'll feature a Queen Song of the Week written by Freddie and click here to see me dressed as Freddie for the Mercury Phoenix Trust's event: Freddie for a Day.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Queen Song of the Week: Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon

We're currently moving through the tracks on Queen's 1975 album A Night at the Opera. This week's Queen Song of the Week is the second track on the album.

Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon was written by Freddie Mercury. Musically the song is in line with other vaudeville-esque songs like Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy (click here) and Bring Back that Leroy Brown (click here).  Freddie was clearly a big fan of this style during the mid-70s as a second song appears on A Night at the Opera which is rather similar in sound. We'll get to that one in a few weeks.

Video courtesy of teddi2002

Relatively short in length (less than one and a half minutes), one of the most interesting things about this song is how the megaphone-style vocals were recorded. Remember this was back in 1975 before a lot of super advanced studio equipment was available so the band placed a pair of headphones inside a metal can to create the desired effect! Very clever, boys!

Freddie Mercury did all the vocals himself and for the guitars, Dr. May attempted to emulate the sound of spoons being played, keeping in line with the mood of the song.

Happy Listening!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Queen Song of the Week: Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to...)

I've found that I have a much easier time with my Queen Song of the Week posts if I have some sort of theme. It's so much easier to pick a RT solo song because it's his birthday or to just go through the set list of a concert, like I did with the 1975 Hammersmith Odeon Christmas Eve show. The alternative is just plucking a song out of thin air and when a band's catalog is as massive and prolific as Queen's that can be a rather daunting task, even for the biggest of fans!

A possible solution was to feature all of the songs on one of Queen's albums. But which one? I mean, there are 15 (excluding The Cosmos Rocks which was recorded with Paul Rodgers in 2008).

Image courtesy of
Finally I decided to go with the obvious choice: A Night at the Opera. Widely considered Queen's masterpiece, there's actually an entire special dedicated to the recording of this album (click here to purchase or alternatively for all you Netflix users, it's available in your instant queue!). Completely coincidentally, as I was writing this post, I realized that VH1 Classic was airing this special! I, of course, rewatched it!

I've already featured several songs off A Night at the Opera (click here for I'm in Love with my Car, here for '39, and here for Bohemian Rhapsody, but the album contains nine other tracks that deserve a little love themselves!

So let's start at the beginning: Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to...) was written by Freddie Mercury and is the first track on Queen's 1975 album A Night at the Opera.

Video courtesy of spaccapassa                                                         

The song itself is supposedly written about the band's former management. At the time that A Night at the Opera was recorded, Queen had already released three albums and several popular singles. However, the band was not receiving the royalties that they were expecting and wanted to know why. Prior to recording A Night at the Opera, the band signed with new management who instructed them to go into the studio and record, they'd deal with the contract issues.

Nearly the entire band has spoken about the lyrics of this song. I find it rather amusing since they describe the lyrics as vicious and mean, but honestly, they aren't that bad. I mean, they aren't nice, but they aren't so bad that Dr. May should have felt uncomfortable singing them, as the story goes. I guess Dr. May really just is a really nice guy! Personally it makes me laugh when Freddie sings, "Shark," and I always imagine him imitating a fin on his head with his hand.

Here's a link to the lyrics: what do you think? Am I just desensitized to mean lyrics?

In 1976, Freddie told Sounds magazine, "When the others first heard it they were in a state of shock. When I was describing it they went, Oh yeah, and then they saw the words and they were frightened by it. But for me the step had been taken and I was completely engrossed in it, swimming in it. Wow! I was a demon for a few days.

The album needed a strong opening and what better way than to have the first words, 'You suck my blood like a leech'? Initially it was going to have the intro and then everything stop and the words, 'YOU, SUCK, MY' - but that was going too far."

The opening of this track is amazing and considered by many fans (myself included) to be the best opening song on any Queen studio album. It perfectly sets the stage for what the listener has in store for them with the perfect combination of drama and heaviness.

Queen's influence continues to grow, even now nearly twenty years after Freddie Mercury's death. Just this week, VH1 named Queen #17 on its list of the Greatest Artists of All Time. Back in 1998, Queen was ranked #33 on the same list. Maybe by 2022, they'll be #1!

Happy Listening!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Queen Song of the Week: Spread Your Wings

I make it no secret that bassist John Deacon is my least favorite member of Queen. I mean, I don't hate him or anything, but between my appreciation of RT, my new found crush on Dr. May, and Freddie Mercury, who's awesomeness speaks for itself, there's not a lot of room in my world for John Deacon love. That said, I went back and looked at past Queen Songs of the Week and was shocked that I've only featured one John Deacon song (click here).

Well yesterday was John Deacon's birthday and since RT and Dr. May got Queen Songs of the Week in their honor on their birthdays (click here and here), Deaky gets one on his birthday too! It's only fair that way!

Spread Your Wings was written by John Deacon and appeared on Queen's 1977 album News of the World. It was released as a single in the U.K. and peaked at #34 on the charts. One rather unusual feature of Spread Your Wings is that it contains absolutely no harmonies. This was virtually unheard of in the early days of Queen.

This is a rather catchy song, but the thing that I always associate with Spread Your Wings is the music video. Shot on a blisteringly cold day at RT's newly purchased home, the band also decided to shoot a video for We Will Rock You at the same time. Unfortunately the previous owners of the home had yet to move out, forcing the boys to stay outdoors the entire time. Poor Deaky and Dr. May couldn't wear gloves because they needed to be able to "play" their instruments and Freddie Mercury attempted to warm himself by consuming just a bit too much alcohol. It's also rumored that he nicked a pair of ratty gloves from a gardener working in the yard. You can also see RT shivering throughout which I find equal parts absolutely adorable and completely pathetic.

This is one of those Queen songs that I like, but always forget about. So it's rather fitting that Deaky wrote it since a lot of people probably feel the same way about him. In the future I'll try to feature a Deaky song as a Queen Song of the Week more often. I promise!

Happy Listening!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Happy Birthday John Deacon!

Today is John Deacon's 59th Birthday! John has been in retirement for the last several years and no longer makes public appearances (Queen-related or otherwise). Spotting John Deacon out in public has become a bit of an urban legend - not unlike catching a glimpse of bigfoot in the wild!

Happy Birthday, John (wherever you are!)!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Book Review: Her Fearful Symmetry

*Disclaimer* I hate book reviews that give away too much of the plot so I don't do that. You should feel free to read this review even if you haven't read the book already: mostly it is just details found on the back of the book or in the front cover and my ramblings about the process of me reading the book!

I was a reading fool while on vacation in July! I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (reviewed here) and just finished The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (which I hope review soon). Between those two books, I read Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger.

Four years ago I read The Time Traveler's Wife. I was stranded in the Atlanta airport. I was by myself and my flight had been delayed for something like twelve hours. I needed something to keep my mind busy so I wouldn't freak out so I wandered into the bookstore. I don't remember why I picked up The Time Traveler's Wife. If I'm being completely honest, it probably had something to do with the cover. In my mind I equate a glossy cover with only words on it with more of a chick-lit/mass produced author (i.e. John Grisham). However, a nice matte cover with a cryptic photograph? Oh la la - now you're talking.

I devoured The Time Traveler's Wife. I read it the entire time while I was in the airport. I read it the next three evenings after the work conference I was attended ended. And finally I finished it in my own apartment upon returning home a few days later. I loved every minute of reading The Time Traveler's Wife.

Then, for some reason, I flipped to the back of the book and read the Reading Group Guide. I have no idea why I did this. I had finished the book already. I think it had actually been weeks since I had finished the book. And I most certainly was not in a Reading Group. But despite this, I read the Reading Group Guide.

And suddenly I thought the book's protagonist Henry was a manipulative jerk. Suddenly Claire, his wife, was stupid and naive. Suddenly the whole book was just a shadow in the greatness of which I had praised it just days earlier. And suddenly the title of the book made sense because all Claire ended up being was the time traveler's wife. She had absolutely no other identity and I hated her for it.

So with this history with Audrey Niffenegger, why on earth would I decide to read another one of her books, you ask?

Simple - I figured I'd read the book and then not read the Reading Group Guide.

Genius, right?

Unfortunately, I fear Ms. Niffenegger caught wind of my sneaky plan.

There is no Reading Group Guide in Her Fearful Symmetry.

Damn you, Ms. Niffenegger. Damn you.

This book starts off interestingly enough and Ms. Niffenegger lures you into her little trap. On the first page, Elspeth dies. It is her will that sets the events of the book in motion. She leaves her estate to her two nieces, Julia and Valentina, whom she's never met. Julia and Valentina move to London to live in Elspeth's apartment for one year. Julia makes friends with their neighbor Martin, who suffers from OCD and hopes to someday travel to Denmark to reunite with his estranged wife. Valentina, on the other hand, befriends Robert, another neighbor and Elspeth's former lover who is struggling to get over her death.

Her Fearful Symmetry includes a lot of descriptions as opposed to dialogue. A central location of the book is a historic cemetery where Robert works and Elspeth is buried and Ms. Niffenegger seems to believe that the layout and appearance of the cemetery is of utmost importance to the reader. In the back of the book, it is revealed that Ms. Niffenegger herself is considered a historian of the cemetery, which actually does exist, so her extensive descriptions were possibly a bit unintentionally self-serving.

In contrast to The Time Traveler's Wife, Her Fearful Symmetry operates in a world of blatant fantasy. At one point, I complained to Husband that the book was getting a little too unrealistic for me and that it surprised me. Then I realized that the other book I'd read by this author is titled The Time Traveler's Wife and is by definition complete fantasy. But my recollection of The Time Traveler's Wife is that Ms. Niffenegger attempts to set forth a scientific explanation for Henry's time traveling. And frankly, time traveling is something that I'm much more willing to accept as a possible occurrence than ghosts. Ms. Niffenegger offers no explanation for Elspeth's presence as a ghost: in this world, ghosts apparently exist and people just go along with that.

Because there is no Reading Group Guide in Her Fearful Symmetry, Ms. Niffenegger takes it upon herself to make each and every character completely and totally dislikable during the course of the novel. Maybe I'm wrong on this and maybe some of you will tolerate, or perhaps even like, some of these characters, but by the end of the book, I thought they were all rather contemptible.

Part of my dislike of Valentina and Julia, who I suppose are designed to be the most sympathetic characters in the book, stems from their complete and utter inability to separate from their twinness. Now granted, I know next to nothing about being a twin. One of my good friends from law school is a twin. And for a while, I cornered the market in babysitting twin two year olds. But an expert, this does not make me. I just have a very difficult time grasping Valentina and Julia's inability to function other than as a pair because has not at all been my very limited experience with twins. Julia didn't want to go to school so Valentina doesn't either. Julia wanted to go to London, but Valentina really didn't. Julia becomes upset when Valentina stays out late on a date with Robert. They slept together in the same room, in the same bed, despite being adults. God forbid these girls live separate lives! At a certain point, these young ladies needed to learn to function on their own and yet no one in their lives ever seemed to encourage or demand that.

Here's the problem though: I enjoyed reading the book, despite being thoroughly annoyed and unsatisfied with it. Ms. Niffenegger writes short chapters and dangles small cliff hangers at the end of every section, tempting you to move on to the next page. Will I read Ms. Niffenegger's next release? Probably. And I'm rather confident that I'll hate that book when it's all said and done too.

I think Audrey Niffenegger is the perfect example of an author whom I love to hate!

Now I know millions of others have read and enjoyed The Time Traveler's Wife and by no means am I trying to dissuade you from reading Her Fearful Symmetry. Go ahead, read it. I'm glad I did. I just was rather disappointed with all the characters by the end of it. Perhaps I'm just used to a world where someone is likeable (I remember when Husband and I watched Arrested Development and I was convinced that Michael Bluth was a good guy when he's actually really not!). It's really hard to like any of Ms. Niffenegger's characters though.

Does that make her a bad author? Of course not.

Does it make this a bad book. I don't think so.

So if anyone else has read Her Fearful Symmetry I'd be interested to hear your response to it. Am I just being overly sensitive and expecting too much from her characters? Or am I right in thinking they're all a bit horrible?

I just finished The Thirteenth Tale a few nights ago so a review of that is forthcoming!

Happy Reading!