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!