Expanding horizons

By Sergio Ariza

The Game is the album that divides the career of Queen, not only because it is their first of the 80's, but for several other reasons, such as going from being the group that boasted of not using synthesizers to the group that would make use (and much) of them in this decade; starting with the first note that sounds on this album. It also sees the group moving away from hard rock and closer to pop and other genres, such as disco. The album also represented a more democratic structure for the band; ending the supremacy of Freddy Mercury and Brian May as lead songwriters and opening up the responsibilities, and the credits, to the other two band members, John Deacon and Roger Taylor.   

The issue of the synthesizers says a lot about where the band was – they used to brag about not using them - that's why it's so strange that one is used at the start of Play The Game (thereby anticipating the sound of the soundtrack of Flash Gordon). Once that song moves on, it is pure Queen. Freddie Mercury wrote this great ‘piano ballad’, and also plays piano on it. The song has all the elements that made the band famous: the harmonized voices, May's guitar, and those operatic changes, to which they were so well given. Despite the fact that in the video May appears playing an imitation of a Stratocaster, in the studio he used his beloved Red Special, as did not want to take it to the shoot knowing that Mercury had to throw it in the air...


On Dragon Attack, on the other hand, some further changes can be seen. The song is funk rock, which is built on a powerful riff by May, who is the author of the song. At a time when the position of the band as ‘a singles rather than an albums group’ was accentuated, it is one of the great hidden songs by the authors of A Night At The Opera. It also features a splendid solo by May and is the band's favorite song by Deacon. In fact the bassist is one of the great protagonists of the album, composing what was its great success, and one of its biggest in history: Another One Bites The Dust. It seems clear that Deacon had his ears wide open in the disco era and had soaked up the sound of the great group of the genre, Chic, on whose Good Times the bass line is clearly founded. Anyway, it is one of their most perfect songs, with an in-form Mercury. Although the band were doubtful about releasing it as a single, because it was very different from their sound, in the end it was a very famous fan who convinced them…
Michael Jackson.

The bassist was also key to the second, and final song that bore his signature on the album, Need Your Loving Tonight, which is a good example of power pop, in the vein of groups like Cheap Trick or The Knack. The first side closes in style with another of Queen’s most famous songs, their first number one in the U.S., Crazy Little Thing Called Love. This is another exercise in style, in this case it is Freddy Mercury parodying/homaging Elvis Presley and rockabilly in general. On one of the few occasions in which he wrote a song on the guitar, Mercury also plays one in the studio, a Martin D-18; making it the first time he did it in the band. May, following the spirit of the song, ‘puts on a Scotty Moore suit’ and nods to the greats of rockabilly, once again demonstrating his versatility. However, on this occasion he leaves the Red Special to one side and instead uses a 1967 Fender Telecaster that was owned by Taylor.  


The second side falls in level quite a bit compared to the first, as Roger Taylor's two songs are not up to the level of those of his colleagues, and Don't Try Suicide is the weakest of the three Mercury contributions, as well as Sail Away Sweet Sister (of the three by the guitarist), who on this occasion also sings. However, the close of the album returns to full swing with another of the band’s great ballads, Save Me, again written by May, and another vocal exhibition by Mercury. This was the last song the singer recorded before growing his famous moustache, with which he appeared in the Play The Game video, marking another one of those ‘before and after’ moments of the band.

As we said, The Game is the album that divides Queen’s discography in two, and was the last album from which songs appeared on the first of their Greatest Hits; advancing the pop sound of the next decade and bringing the synthesizer into the equation. An equation into which now fitted more genres than ever, with Queen expanding their universe on an album that is not very cohesive, but full of great songs.