There are many guitarists
with unique guitars created for them but there are far fewer who built those
guitars themselves (aided by their father) long before they came to fame. It is
also not very common to use a sixpenny coin as a plectrum and the list is
reduced to a minimum if we are talking about guitarists capable of
understanding what a black hole is or talking about ‘radial velocity in the
zodiacal dust cloud’. But Brian
May and his Red Special are two unique specimens made for each other,
with one of the most special relationships in rock history. Here are ten of his
most memorable moments (although in the end we added one of the few occasions
in which May used a different guitar)
Keep Yourself Alive (1973)
Keep Yourself Alive is the jewel in the crown and the best song from Queen’s debut, and the first of many wonders to come. Two things stand out from the rest, the sound of the guitar crafted by Brian May, the legendary Red Special, and the incredible voice of Freddie Mercury. On these two pillars (whose leaders shared the compositional credits) the group was built, doubling them as many times as it took (both in the riff and solo) until you get their special sound. You can tell that it took two years to record this album because May has a tone entirely of his own and sounds unique from the very beginning.
Killer Queen (1974)
Killer Queen was the song that made them stars and proves that Freddie Mercury was running ahead of the entire rock world. It is a great song with cabaret airs (it is not surprising that years later, in his tribute concert, the one in charge of closing it was the actress and singer, Liza Minnelli) and very representative of the group, again with those multiple voices. It is proof that Brian May can also shine in other areas outside of hard rock. His magnificent solo, in three parts, was recorded after everything else had been recorded, since the guitarist was sick with hepatitis. Mercury left room for it while it was being recorded and was not disappointed; not in vain it is one of May's own favourite solos.
Brighton Rock (1974)
The song that opened Sheer Heart Attack it's a killer song courtesy of May and contains some of his best moments on the Red Special (and that's saying something). Long before there was the Eruption by Van Halen this was the 'shred' solo par excellence, with the guitarist using his entire arsenal of tricks, full of echoe and 'delay'; resulting in what may be considered the quintessence of his style. Few people know that May besides being one of the best guitarists of all time, is an astrophysicist. The title of his thesis: A survey of radial velocities in the zodiacal dust cloud, is just what comes to my mind when I hear this incredible solo.
Now I'm Here (1974)
Now I'm Here is the perfect close for the first side of Sheer Heart Attack, proving that Queen could still tear down walls by playing pure rock. One of the best riffs of May's career and an explosive interpretation by Mercury make this one of the best examples of how they could sound live without the studio effects. Simple and to the point, with a nod to the father of rock, Chuck Berry in May's solo and in that "Go go go little queenie". It is also a tribute to their joint tour with Mott The Hoople in early '74 ("Down in the city, just Hoople and me"), one of the great moments in the history of Glam Rock.
Bohemian Rhapsody (1975)
The best known song (also the best) in the history of Queen is a personal work by Freddie Mercury who composed all its parts, including the riff of the rock segment. But Mercury had not planned a single guitar solo until May told him that he needed one to make the transition to the operatic part better. He was not wrong and his contribution was perfect for the great song of his friend, making his own very expressive melody, which frequently appears in the listings of 'the best solos in the history of rock'. Tie
Your Mother Down (1976)
May has never denied his absolute adoration for Rory Gallagher but the influence of the Irishman was not noticeable in his personal style. That is until in 1976, for the fifth album of the band, A Day At The Races, the guitarist decided to rescue this song he had written in 1968 under the enormous influence of the magician of the Stratocaster. The tone and sound are once again entirely his own (the Red Special is as distinctive as a fingerprint) but it is impossible not to think of Gallagher when May throws himself wholeheartedly with the slide into one of his most direct and powerful songs, which became one of the staples of his live repertoire. The use of the Vox AC30 and the Dallas-Arbiter Rangemaster are further proof of the great mark left by Gallagher on May.
We Will Rock You (1977)
One of the simplest and most effective songs in history. May wanted to give the audience something easy to chant and he succeeded, putting on a tray another song for the brilliance of the incredible voice of Mercury. But the final icing on the cake is his guitar. This one begins with huge force, and Brian May knows exactly how to build it with the feedback at the beginning, which, when it explodes, is like an elephant entering a china shop. It's also dangerous; I remember being a teenager and destroying the lamp in my brother's room while trying to recreate Pete Townshend's windmill while listening to this song...
It's Late (1977)
Another one of the great songs written by May, It's Late is the longest song on News Of The World, another work in three acts in which the guitarist shines with an example of 'tapping', a few months before the first Van Halen album appeared. But May did not invent this technique (that Eddie would finish perfecting) - he took it from a Texan guitarist who told him that, in turn, he had copied it from Billy Gibbons.
Don't Stop Me Now (1978)
Another Mercury song and one of the Jazz singles. The song is Mercury on the piano, accompanied only by John Deacon and Roger Taylor, in addition to the characteristic famous vocal harmonies. May does not make his appearance until two minutes and 20 seconds but leaves his mark with a short but brilliant solo. In addition, all those who have seen Shaun Of The Dead know that it is the perfect song to give a beating to a zombie.
Crazy Little Thing Called Love (1980)
Crazy Little Thing Called Love by Freddie Mercury was a mix of tribute and parody to Elvis Presley. Composed in 10 minutes, using an acoustic guitar, it was the first time that Mercury recorded a guitar on a Queen song, with the chosen one being a Martin D-18. If this was the homage of Freddie to Elvis, then it is logical that May put on the Scotty Moore costume and winked at the rockabilly greats; demonstrating his versatility again. Of course, for this occasion he puts down his Red Special and uses a 1967 Fender Telecaster that was owned by Taylor.