“Bohemian Rhapsody” is, in my humble opinion, the greatest single to have ever hit Billboard‘s Hot 100 Singles. My apologies to all those other great artists who created some of the finest music in history. “Bohemian Rhapsody” flat-out discovered everything a recording studio could do in 1975. But more about that song later. I am here to “sing” (you really do not want me to actually sing!) the praises of the album that Queen created around that monumental single.
The album begins with some horror movie-sounding piano, which gives way to a heavy and ominous sounding guitar. Eventually, this opening kicks into a metallic-sounding music with some of the most venomous lyrics that I had ever heard to this point in my life. What ever was the inspiration of this song, it was obvious that singer and writer Freddie Mercury wanted the man dead. Later, I discovered that Freddie wrote this about the band’s first manager, who had screwed the band of millions of dollars. But, when you are a teenager, you get a kick out of someone trying to stick it to the “man”.
After the rocking kick-off to the album, I finally learned of the versatility of Queen, as they lay into a vaudevillian-sounding “Lazy on a Saturday Afternoon”, that was fun on a campy level. I think our generation was so accepting of camp after growing up on the Batman reruns. But most of were blown away when that song segue-wayed into drummer Roger Taylor’s ode to his car, “I’m in Love with My Car”. Finally, that song gives way to perhaps the greatest pop song ever recorded by Queen, bassist John Deacon’s “You’re My Best Friend”.
After that small medley of songs, I needed a break from the excitement. Instead, Queen again shifts gears into a Brian May song, the acoustic-based “’39”. May rocks this folkie song on his 12-string guitar, with a little percussion help from Taylor and Deacon and vocal backing from the rest of the band. Once again, the album leaves little time to digest just what you heard as they get right into another Brian May song, the rocker “Sweet Lady”. This song finally allows May to show a little of his guitar chops, enough to whet your appetite for more. This song is definitely a hard rocker’s dream. Unfortunately, the song, as great as it is, gets lost in the greatness of the rest of the album.
The last song on Side 1 is “Seaside Rendezvous”. This song is a great way to end this exciting Side of the album with another faux-vaudevillian sounding song. There is nothing but fun in the song, with a tap-dancing scene and big band-sounding trumpets from England’s dance hall days. FYI: those sounds were all sound effects and NOT the real thing!
Now, flip over the album for a totally different mood. The campy fun is replaced with focus and seriousness. The first song is “The Prophet’s Song”, which seems to be some Tolkien-sounding lyrics describing some Revelations-type of warning to all mankind. This song shows the band’s background in prog rock, with some fantastic vocal acrobatics that were created in the studio. But, the effect is chilling and hair-raising. This epic song was written by May.
The next song is perhaps Queen’s most loved song, Mercury’s “Love of My Life”. This acoustic duet between Freddie’s voice and Brian’s acoustic guitar is just beautiful. In concert, this song became the moment in which the fans would sing the lyrics and the band would stand there in awe of what they were hearing. This song was always the moment in which the band and their fans united into one act. I had never experienced anything like in the two times I had seen them in the early-Eighties. This song would never be cut from their setlist.
After two serious songs, Queen lightens the mood with May’s “Good Company”. That song brings some much needed levity to Side 2 and ends up being a great set-up song for the masterpiece, “Bohemian Rhapsody”. The song is nothing but a ukulele song that brings back the camp from Side 1. I never saw “Good Company” played in concert, but I am certain it would have been an exceptionally fun song.
And, now, at nearly the end of the album, Queen places their greatest song, “Bohemian Rhapsody”. The song has the sound of being an operetta, as well as a medley of different songs. Keep in mind that this song took months to record, and that the band totally pushed the limits of the recording studio in 1975.
“BoRhaps”, as many in England refer to the song, begins with Freddie at the piano, lamenting killing some man, knowing his time is now short. This section slowly gives way to a yearning guitar solo. But, what came next was the mind-blowing section: the opera. No kidding! The band recorded and recorded and recorded vocals to make the effect sound like we were listening to an actual opera on stage. All of that gives way to the next act, which is full blown heavy metal sounds, with Freddie singing that his has to get out of this situation he is in. Finally, six minutes later, the song ends with Freddie singing at his piano, lamenting and accepting his plight.
As the years have gone on, this is one of three Queen albums I go back to listen. The other two are 1976’s follow-up A Day at the Races and 1978’s Jazz. But neither are as majestic as A Night at the Opera. Put it on tonight and relive the magic we all heard back in the Spring of 1976 when this album’s popularity was at its peak.