In the winter of 1976, I was in the midst of my eighth-grade basketball season. Unfortunately, no matter how well I played, I was still stinging from my father moving out on us six months earlier. At one time, practicing my Maravich drills, working on my ball handling drills and developing my passing skills were acts of complete joy. But, now, my basketball workouts with my dad were very strained. I was mad at him because I felt a sense of betrayal at his leaving. While I was very protective of my mom, Dad was the one person who understood my strangeness. But, now he was gone, and my gym time dropped from every day to every other weekend. I was way too painful to go with Dad to the gym to workout. So, instead of hitting the gym, I began to obsessively ran every time something in my life was bothering me.
Between running two to three times per day, I was listening to music. Around that time, I heard Queen’s recently released song, “Somebody to Love”. For some reason, that song reached into my soul and caressed my heart, almost giving me five minutes of reprieve from that stupid pain I was feeling. Then, the more I heard the song, the more obsessed I became with it. I would purchase Cream, Circus and Hit Parader magazines that had pictures of the band Queen in their pages in order to read the articles and to cut out the best pictures to hang on my bedroom wall.
Most evenings, I would hang out down the street at a neighbor’s home that had a couple of daughters who became sisters to me during that time. Kim, Lori and I would play music in their family room while their parents and brother would watch TV in their living room. The girls would make me dance to various songs, either on record or on the radio. Occasionally, unbeknownst to me, we would “air jam” songs. Without ever seeing Freddie Mercury perform live or on TV, I used to extrapolate his movements based upon the poses I saw of him in the pages of those once great magazines. Because of the song’s popularity, I was quite song with my air jam performance of “Somebody to Love”.
With “Somebody to Love”, I could feel the pain in Freddie’s lyrics, though I was more in touch with my heterosexual side than Freddie was. But, I found his faux ballet posing hilarious. That, coupled with the facts that I had been forced as a grade school student to take dance and gymnastic lessons, I could pull off a decent Freddie performance.
Anyway, around Christmas, I went down to the neighbor’s home, and discovered their whole family had a Christmas gift for me. Being a teenaged, high energy male, I ripped into the present and discovered they had given me the album A Day at the Races by Queen, an album I have to this very day. I was so excited that I had to be bouncing off the walls of their house, that the girls grabbed my album and put it on the stereo. And, we listened to it. That album was magical to me. I sat reading the lyrics as the album played. Many of the lyrics dealt with the loss of a love, which I felt deeply. Though, the love of the band’s lyrics were directed toward romantic loves lost, I could relate those same lyrics to my situation.
So, from that day until I purchased Love Gun by KISS, that album was nearly played every day, whether I had purchased a new album or not. I played the hell out of that Queen album. The only other albums that came close to being played that much were Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ Hard Promises or London Calling by The Clash. Anyway, I KNEW the lyrics to every song on that Queen album. But, the biggest thing is that A Day at the Races helped me get through one of the more difficult times of my life.
Eventually, Dad and I worked through our problems, which were my own teenaged perceptions. But, all of that came after I got married and had my own children. As my children were growing up, I never really played A Day at the Races much. But, I still enjoy it now whenever I listen to it. The album is unique, as the music begins with some sort of Native American-influenced opening, only to kick out the jams with “Tie Your Mother Down”. And, it takes the listener through a day of songs about happy times (“Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy”), hopeful times (the Japanese-influenced “Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together)” and less happy times (the Native American lament “White Man”). But, smack dab in the middle of the album is that glorious gospel-influenced hit song “Somebody to Love”, which might contain Freddie’s greatest vocal performance ever.
Although the album continues to pale to its companion album, A Night at the Opera, with the critics, A Day at the Races continues to hold a special place in my heart.