Missed Music

Music you didn’t know you needed…until now.

One of my all-time top 5 favorites from Queen

Today I am delighted to go back into the vault to share with you one of my top 5 all-time favorite discs. Seriously. You may not expect it. You may not believe me, but I’m telling you: this is truly brilliant work. I’m going back to 1974 for “Sheer Heart Attack” by Queen. Queen had only two #1 hits in the U.S., though they had many more in the U.K., obviously. Still, when people think of Queen, most folks think of ‘We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions,’ ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ or maybe ‘Another One Bites the Dust.’ Most of the Queen songs people know are all from when the band had matured.

Interestingly, the song 'Sheer Heart Attack' by Queen is not on this album.

Growing up, my exposure to Queen was quirky pop songs like ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ or the gospel sounds of ‘Somebody to Love.’ My older brother started buying up old Queen albums and I was surprised to learn that back in the day they were a raw progressive rock band. And I mean they really rocked out.

Queen’s eponymous debut, released in 1973, spawned the hit ‘Keep Yourself Alive,’ which is most likely the only song you’ve ever heard off that album, unless you’re a fan and collector. Their second album, “Queen II” came out in 1974 and got little radio play in the U.S., probably because it contained some of the weirdest stuff Freddy Mercury ever wrote. (Try this one, this one, or, if you’re really feeling adventurous, this one).

They put it all together on “Sheer Heart Attack.” The album absolutely rocks out at times and Freddy’s native creative weirdness began to find a more mainstream direction. There are still some oddball tracks on this album. It IS Queen, after all.  But the guys were really hitting their stride (their next album was “A Night at the Opera”) writing great parts, getting comfortable in the studio, and just generally brimming over with things to say musically.

  • Brighton Rock – The calliope opening gives way to Brian May throttling his guitar. Freddy’s falsetto kicks in and tells the story of infidelity. The whole band attacks this song, making it a great opener. Listen to Roger Taylor’s work on drums and Brian’s unforgettable echoplexed solo.
  • Killer Queen – If you’ve heard only one song from this album, this is it, particularly since this made the Guitar Hero lineup. Not my favorite from the album, but it IS a winner.
  • Tenement Funster / Flick of the Wrist / Lily of the Valley – These three songs flow seamlessly together. ‘Tenement Funster’ is one of Roger Taylor’s songs. I always loved him as a songwriter and his gravelly voice is a cool counterpoint to Freddie’s smooth liquid sheen. Apparently, Queen had a really bad experience entering the music business. Like ‘Death on Two Legs,’ I suspect ‘Flick of the Wrist’ is an indictment of Queen’s ex-manager, Norman Sheffield. ‘Lily of the Valley’ is Brian May’s favorite Freddy Mercury song and it is beautiful.
  • Now I’m Here – Straight up rock n’ roll. Taylor plays the stuffing out of this one, as does May. They also throw in a bit more of the creative echo-plex work that they liked so much in their early days.
  • In the Lap of the Gods – Love this song. This is some of Freddy’s weirdness that hits me just right. Listen to the crazy note Roger hits in the opening second of the song.
  • Stone Cold Crazy – The Metallica version is crap. They play it straight but with sloppier drum work and infinitely worse vocals. If you’ve not heard it, check out the song they were imitating. I am not a purist, however. Check out what Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) did with the original recording.
  • Dear Friends – It’s only a minute long, but what a pretty, uplifting little song.
  • Misfire – When you listen to this, you might think it is the gayest double entendre Freddy ever wrote. But no, this was actually bass player John Deacon’s first composition for Queen, though Freddy sings it.
  • Bring Back that Leroy Brown – Bring back that Freddy Mercury. What a musical chameleon. So completely comfortable in almost any style or genre you can think of, including this kind of riverboat ragtime.
  • She Makes Me (Stormtrooper in Stilettoes) – This is my wife’s favorite track on the album, though I would be hard-pressed to pick a single favorite. Brian May is a gifted songwriter, but only a passable singer. My personal feeling is if you are lucky enough to have Freddy Mercury in your band, he should be singing lead. Roger is an exception, because I think he could have sung lead in his own successful band. Brian not so much.
  • In the Lap of the Gods (Revisited) – Most of this song is just Freddy at his piano, but Brian crunches on the chorus and the legion of layered vocals takes us out on the anthemic ending.

“Sheer Heart Attack” is one of those very rare albums on which I love every single track. Part of that may be due to the fact that I got into this album in my mid-teens when I was really starting to delve into classic rock and develop my own reasons for liking things. That wasn’t all of it though. More than one music publication has named “Sheer Heart Attack” among the best rock n’ roll albums ever recorded.

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March 2, 2010 - Posted by | Classic Rock, Popular, Rock

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