The First 3 Queen Records, the foundations of a colossal body of work

By Sergio Ariza

‘Queen’ (1973)

On the 13th of July 1973, record stores presented the first Queen album, they had recorded it between December 1971 and November 1972, among their influences are hard rock, progressive rock, and glam, but they had their own thing that nobody else sounded like. It’s still a work in progress but shows the many qualities, as many good as bad, and with Queen there are no half ways.

Keep Yourself Alive is the jewel in the crown, the best debut song of the band and the the first of many to come. Two things are outstanding with the rest, the sound of the guitar, handmade by Brian May, the legendary Red Special, and Freddie Mercury's incredible voice, the two pillars ( they share the weight of the writing equally) the band was built on, dubbing as many times as needed to get their own sound.

Doing All Right is another fine song, beginning like an acoustic ballad and giving way to a brutal rock number, and after the signature vocals of the band, the calm returns with May’s light touch and calm to the point where there's another electrical storm where Red Special shines. Great King Rat, the first of the 5 Mercury compositions, has that excessive edge that would characterise the band, the multiple guitar tracks, and choral vocals that were so distinctive . My Fairy King may get a bit pompous at times, yet those harmonies can be remembered as the band’s best. It is as  over-the-top as a group itself, but important for several reasons, it gave Freddie a surname, and was the first time he played the piano, something he took charge of from that moment. 

Side B opens with Liar, the best of Mercury's batch, one of the rockiest songs behind the excellent work of May delivering riffs left and right, and a first look at Freddie as a one-of-a-kind singer. The Night Comes Down is something of a progressive psychedelia where Mercury shows off his falsetto reaches, Modern Times Rock n’ Roll is Roger Taylor’s input, a song he  sings and is direct and powerful, but not particularly special (beyond another brilliant May solo). Son and Daughter was the closest Queen ever got to Black Sabbath, both dark and hard. Jesus is the softest number on the record, but does lean on another great winding instrumental solo by May on his Red Special. As little as you hear it on Seven Seas of Rhye leaves you wanting more but you won’t have to wait too long for that...

‘Queen II’ (1974)

And just 8 months after their debut, the 8th of March, 1974, Queen II is released, a record where they are still sorting out hard rock but defining their own sound, great big vocal harmonies, layers and layers of guitar tracks, the several rhythm changes in the songs, a pulsing record and completely out of the box, a record that is the definition of Queen.  

Divided into 2 sides with different concepts, the white side, and the black, the first mastered by May with 4 compositions and the second is completely Mercury. Perhaps it doesn’t have more or better songs than the debut but it is much more representative of the group and their sound, it is noted how they made the recording studio another instrument in itself. There are 2 great songs like Father to Son, with one of those abrupt changes into hard rock on a great riff and Freddie showing his vocal vigour and an amazing solo by May, one of the grandest in his career, then it changes again with the piano and Mercury’s falsetto and back to the start. The second gem is the complete version of Seven Seas of Rhye that proves just how good of a composer Mercury was starting to be, besides being a singer like no other. Roger Taylor’s The Loser in the End is a fine rock song where he also sings and May makes his lead vocal debut on Some Day One Day. Ogre Battle is their most representative piece during this period, where Mercury speaks of fairies, kings, battles and ogres. It is the pure essence of the group, over-the-top, pompous and yet, it works.

The band found its sound on this record, if there are those who think less is more, Queen was the antithesis of that, their thing  was more is always more, taking rock into Wagneresque territory, they weren’t about subtilty but grandeur. They already had their sound down ( and their look, now that the album cover would serve as the basis to their Bohemian Rhapsody video) now they would enlarge their sound palette and find the perfect songs to fit.

‘Sheer heart attack’ (1974)

The band’s 3rd record (in less than a year and a half) is one of the finest of their career, Sheer Heart Attack is the epitome of their hard rock period and at the same time, the 1st in which they try other things, expanding the sound spectrum and becoming stars on both sides of the Atlantic. It still wasn’t a perfect record, Queen was a better band of singles than albums, but it is pretty  close.

The first track is Brighton Rock and was an outrage courtesy of May that contains some of the best passages from Red Special (and that’s saying a lot). Track 2 is Killer Queen, the song that made them stars and proves that rock was beginning not to be enough for Freddie Mercury  with those cabaret airs, so it isn’t surprising years later, at his tribute concert, the one in charge of closing the show was the actress and singer Liza Minnelli. It’s a great song, very Queen, once again with those chorus vocals, and goes to show that Brian May can shine outside the limits of hard rock. Tenement Funster is Taylor’s lone song on the record, and is a kind of medley with Flick of the Wrist, and Lily of the Valley by Mercury. Now I’m Here finishes the first side perfectly, which demonstrates that Queen could still knock down walls playing rock; one of the most amazing riffs in May’s career along with an explosive interpretation by Mercury make it a great example of how they could sound live with the studio effects. Always right to the point, with a wink to the father of rock, Chuck Berry, on May’s solo and that “go go go little queenie”.

In the Lap of the Gods is pure Queen overload, it starts with Taylor ripping a high note that even Mercury can’t reach. Which other group has a drummer with a voice range greater than one of the best singers of all time? It’s a song that justifies part of the hatred towards the band, but it ends up working, screaming apart, and shows the versatility of Mercury as a composer. Stone Cold Crazy is the third load on the record, after  Brighton Rock and Now I’m Here it’s not surprising Metallica put it in their repertory, speed and power for a song that came ahead of thrash rock. Dear Friends is a short ballad on piano with such characteristic harmonies. Misfire is a flirt with pop, done with their special touch, sounding themselves in any style, this song was the debut of John Deacon as composer. Bring Back that LeRoy Brown is pure vaudeville/music hall, with May on the banjo-ukelele, while She Makes Me (Stormtrooper in Stilettos) is an acoustic ballad with May on lead vocals. The record closes on In the Lap of the Gods...Revisited, another Queen hymn made to be sung together at full throttle in a packed stadium, a type of predecessor to  We Are The Champions

Queen had found their secret formula, and now they just had to perfect it, and to overwhelm the world with it. Stadium rock may have never found a better band, perfect songs to be sung en masse, and little wonder, Queen are the movie musical equivalent of Leni Riefenstahl (yet nothing to do with his ideas), something monumental, grandiose, bombastic and sensational but that generates a feeling of fascination for anyone facing it . Queen is the paradigm of an outlandish group and relies on some of the most ardent followers and the most radical detractors in rock history, which proves their  music leaves no one indifferent, you may love them or hate them, but don’t doubt for a second that they are one of the greatest bands to ever exist.

(Spotify) Queen
(Spotify) Queen II
(Spotify) Sheer Heart Attack

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