Friday, May 14, 2010

Queen Songs of the Week: Rock Band Track Pack/Under Pressure

I've mentioned my love of Rock Band before. During Christmas 2007, my sister convinced me to try it. By the end of the week, I was playing Medium guitar. That spring, my family came to visit and I forced my brother-in-law to pack up his xBox 360 and bring it to New England. By the summer, during our vacation to Maine, I was playing Hard guitar. I didn't even own the game yet!

I will admit though that my love of Rock Band had never branched out to a love of the drums - until Queen released a 10 song track pack in October 2009. Husband was away for a long weekend in Alabama and I was home alone. I watched Queen: Rock Montreal then I watched it again with the audio commentary. Then I said to myself, "Gosh darn-it, I'm going to learn how to play those drums." And I did!

Drums are the easiest "instrument" to increase difficulty on so I really quickly moved up to Expert on most songs. Then in a move completely inspired by RT, I set up my microphone stand next to the drums so I could sing while drumming. Much to my dismay Husband refused to mount the microphone stand from the ceiling so the foot stand wouldn't get in my way - ARG why must he always hold back my professional Rock Band drumming career?

So this week, I'm going to recommend Rock Band Track Pack songs you should download depending on which instruments you enjoy playing. One thing I've discovered in playing Rock Band is that sometimes the most fun songs to play are not fun songs to listen to and vice versa. For example, one of my absolute favorite Rock Band songs is Reptilia by The Strokes (click here), but frankly I don't particularly care for the song otherwise.
The entire Queen track pack costs less than $20, but if you are being frugal and only want to splurge on a few songs (or if you aren't really sure that you like Queen *gasp*), here are my recommendations:

Drums (my favorite instrument):
Fat Bottomed Girls - This song has a great, unusual rhythm that took me ages to figure out. It also has a spectacular fill right before the final chorus that's basically become RT's calling card!
Somebody to Love - I swear someday I'll get Gold Stars on this song! Lift up your heel to manipulate the foot petal - there's no way you can tap your way through this song. My latest challenge is to incorporate the cymbals into this song - it's trickier than you might think!
Crazy Little Thing Called Love - The first time I saw the drum part of this song, I panicked, but it really isn't as bad as it looks. Once you get the rhythm down, you can just sit back and enjoy the song!

Tie Your Mother Down - I don't particularly like this song. There's nothing wrong with it per se - I just don't think it's a good reflection of Queen as a band. Dr. May wrote it so the song does have a catchy riff that is fun to play. It's the other components of this song that bother me (i.e. the speak-singing by Freddie Mercury and the boring drums) so I think that clouds my opinion of the rest of the song!
One Vision - This song is tough - no two ways about it. I can play it on Expert guitar until the solo at the end at which point I fail out every time! This is another one of Dr. May's famous riffs so that alone makes it fun to pretend you're jamming with him!
Somebody to Love - If there was Rock Band: Piano, this song would be freakin' amazing on it. As it is, the piano portion of this song has basically been translated to guitar. It's got lots of quick notes and the dreaded triple chord is out in full force. I can occasionally struggle through it on Expert, but typically I'm playing this baby at Hard.

Bass: Another One Bites the Dust is a given here. Everyone knows that baseline and regardless of fun I think there are to play far be it for me to criticize it!
Somebody to Love - This song has a really unexpected pretty bass line. It's not particularly difficult, but it's fun to play and listen to.
Killer Queen - The biggest problem with this song is lack of notes! I get 97% and still only 4 Stars. What?!?!! I never noticed the bass line of Killer Queen until I played Rock Band (that's true of most of Queen's songs actually), but now I have a new found appreciation for John Deacon (though he's still my least favorite member!)
Crazy Little Thing Called Love - I think the bass part in this song might be a combination of bass and Freddie's accoustic guitar, but the rhythm itself is rather fun to play. You can understand why John Deacon is known for his goofy dancing onstage - I'm sure he couldn't help himself!

Another One Bites the Dust - This is the first Queen song I ever really loved and it was because of the vocals. The rest of the instruments are a tad bland (other than the famous repetitive bass line that everyone recognizes).
Killer Queen - This song is Freddie's baby and I'm sure was only included in the track pack because its immediately recognizable to even non-Queen fans. It is fun to sing albeit much more difficult than you may initially think!
Fat Bottomed Girls - This song is pure camp and just tons of fun. When I first got downloaded the Track Pack, I sang this song three times in a row and danced around my living room. Too much fun!

Vocals+ (sing and play an instrument):
I Want It All - This song is rated as hard on most instruments, but that's really only due to the last 20% of the song (when there's no vocals anyway). Sing and play during the easy parts and then push away the microphone and try your hand at a blistering guitar solo and a drum beat that will have you climbing the walls! I typically drop a beat on the drum part to get myself through it.
I Want to Break Free - Likely programmed drums again and the guitar solo is really a synthesizer, but darn-it, this is a fun song to play (much more so than it is to just listen to). This is also the only Queen song that requires the singer to play the cowbell. If your singing/playing an instrument, make a "ppp" sound into the mic and you'll get the points!

My most favorite Queen song to play on Rock Band? It's not even really a contest.

Under Pressure - Fun to play every single instrument and fun to sing. Of course everyone knows the bass line (thanks in part to Vanilla Ice), but my favorite instrument on this song is guitar which is really melodic and pretty. The drums are a nice steady rhythm with some occasional variations to keep things interesting and a truly awesome mini-solo towards the end of the song. I appreciate the original song even more after playing it on Rock Band and I have to think that's part of the point of the game.

So without further ado, this week's Queen: Song of the Week is Under Pressure!

Under Pressure was a last minute addition to Queen's 1982 album Hot Space. And it's a good thing too because otherwise the album is (to put it lightly) not great. It was released as a single in both the U.K. and the U.S., peaking on the charts at #1 and #29, respectively.

The song is credited to Queen and David Bowie, mostly because no one can recall the specific details of the impromptu recording session. Each member of the band has been quoted as attributing most of the writing to a different member of the band so there's no way to tell exactly who wrote what! And perhaps most unfortunately, no one remembers who wrote the iconic bass line (Deacon says Bowie wrote it but Dr. May/RT say Deacon wrote it!)

Queen had just gone back into the studio to work on their follow-up album to 1980's The Game. The band had recently acquired Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland and David Bowie happened to be recording there at the same time. David was friends with Freddie and RT and joined the band in the studio to jam. Someone suggested they write a song and Under Pressure was born (based in part off a song RT had been working on called People on Streets. Incidentally, RT included a song called People on Streets on his 1998 solo album Electric Fire. He's never discussed whether there are any similarities between the songs, but I can't imagine there are many: I actually dislike the song People on Streets pretty intensely!) I'm not going to describe the song in detail because I know you've all heard it! But it's trademarks are the catchy bass line and Freddie/David Bowie's nonsensical lyrics.

Under Pressure has a special role in my affinity for Queen in that it's the reason why I became a huge Queen fan though likely not for the reason you think!

For Christmas 2008, I bought Husband a Sony Playstation 3 Blu Ray player. He had wanted one for a while (and I wanted Rock Band so it was win-win!) After he hooked up the player, he joined Netflix and started investigating which Blu Rays were the best to show off his new toy. One of the first that arrived in our mailbox was Queen: Rock Montreal.

Seriously, if you don't own this Blu Ray, buy it. Even if you've never seen it. Even if you don't consider yourself a Queen fan. It's honestly that completely amazing (both as a concert and as an example of a Blu Ray - I mean it was filmed in 1981 and you can read the labels on beer bottles sitting on the piano and at one point see Freddie's sweat as he quickly turns his head to face Dr. May!).

We popped the Blu Ray in and started watching the concert. The band plays Under Pressure about midway through (incidentally it's the first time they ever played it live) (I've posted the video at the bottom of this post because I'm a superstar now and figured out how to do that!) We're both enjoying the song and at one point I look at Husband and say, "They must have a David Bowie backing track playing. I can hear his voice." Husband nodded. Approximately ten seconds later, the camera zoomed in on RT. "OH MY GOSH!" I realize, "He's drumming and singing!" If the drummer of a band was that talented, I clearly needed to check out the rest of what that band had to offer!

I've not been disappointed (obviously) as I'm now not only a huge Queen fan, but also a huge fan of RT's solo work.

Happy Listening (and don't say I didn't warn you if you end up catching the Queen/Roger Taylor bug too after watching that performance!)


  1. I like your rock band breakdown! My fave is Killer Queen on bass and guitar---so catchy! But you're right about its vocals being hard. At first, I figured, "Hey, I've played that song a million times. I know the words enough to play guitar and sing, right?" FAIL! lol. Very similar to when I tried singing/playing "Psycho Killer" by the Talking Heads, and they started randomly speaking French. EEK!

  2. I know, right? One Vision is the same way - it keeps telling me that I'm off, but it sounds right to me! Darn Queen and their tricky harmonies! And the same thing happened to me with Psycho Killer - LOL!