Key103 Manchester Review Re-issues
ALBUM OF THE WEEK: QUEEN REISSUES 1973 - 1976
40 years after Queen's formation and with their career-spanning record deal with EMI finally at an end, their new imprint Universal have duly kick-started their reign with a re-release of the band's first five albums 'Queen' (1973), 'Queen II' (1974, 'Sheer Heart Attack' (1974), 'A Night At the Opera' (1975) and 'A Day At The Races' (1976).
Of course, it would be easy for us to descend into a journalistic diatribe attacking major record labels for cashing in on album reissues. But for a band of Queen's importance and influence, this would both detract from the records' musical magnificence and belittle the fact that these remastered albums may introduce Freddie and co. to a new generation of fans. For that reason alone they're our album(s) of the week.
With commercial hits like 'Radio Ga Ga', 'We Will Rock You' and 'Another One Bites The Dust' so firmly embedded into the mainstream's psyche, it's easy to forget that Queen were once an incredibly heavy and forward-thinking rock band far removed from the chart-friendly guitar acts of their day. Their 1973 debut 'Queen' is a potent reminder of this. Opening with the blitzkrieg of noise and attitude that is 'Keep Yourself Alive', it's a fitting start to an album that's driving, raw and more closely related to rock n'roll giants like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath than the later incarnations of Queen. Fitting effortlessly from rock ballads ('Doing All Right') to visceral powerhouses ('Liar'), 'Queen' is a truly rip-roaring debut that showcases Freddie, Brian, John and Roger's embryonic, raw talents perfectly.
Savaged by sections of the music press upon its initial release back in 1974 'Queen II' has become a firm favourite amongst Queen's most ardent fans. A prog tour-de-force from start to finish, it's an onslaught of epic Brian May guitar solos, ever-shifting tempos and yearning vocals from a still evolving Freddie. Despite its lyrical and musical overindulgence at times, the album's standout moments are nothing short of thrilling. 'Ogre Battle' is a pomp-tastic rock classic while the closing 'Seven Seas Of Rhye' is a glorious coming together of archetypal Queen joint vocal harmonies and scorching rock hooks.
Released late the same year, 'Sheer Heart Attack' is very much Queen's coming-of-age album and one of their finest works. A perfectly balanced fusion of the driving rock that characterised 'Queen' and 'Queen II' and more pop orientated flavours. 'Sheer Heart Attack' is that rarest of things - a complete album that never wavers in quality. Still as popular today as back then, the irrefutable classic 'Killer Queen' is indicative of the turning point in the band's career and their first flirtation with commercial pop music. Juxtaposing this the brilliant 'Stone Cold Crazy', original written back in 1972, is a short and succinct, adrenaline-pimping [sic pumping?] rock blast. Really, there's something for everything [sic everyone?] within the record's 13 faultless tracks.
Having released a critically-lauded classic, the next stage in Queen's career was [the] release [of] a record of equal magnificence but holder in ambition. This came with their career defining album 'A Night At The Opera', a work that's as dizzyingly eclectic as it is brilliant. Okay, the omnipotent 'Bohemian Rhapsody' has been played (and re-released) to death and 'You're My Beset Friend' has been played (and re-released) to death and 'You're My Best Friend' has been used and abused on a well-known sofa company advert, but this does little to take the sheen off the record. Even if you are disaffected with these songs' over-exposure, there's enough elsewhere [on] 'A Night At The Opera' to keep your qualms at bay, most notably the sprawling eight-minute apocalyptic behemoth 'The Prophet's Song' and the scuzzy 'I'm in Love With My Car' featuring Roger Taylor on vocals.
Rather [than] implode in the wake of the all-encompassing success of 'A Night At The Opera', the band kept up the ante with 'A Day At The Races' - a musical continuant of its predecessor and reflected in its title and artwork. The theatrics, sweeping songs and bombast remain, and in 'Somebody To Love' (Mercury's favourite Queen song) they had a colossal hit single to match 'Bohemian Rhapsody' to boot. Buoyed by zeniths like the feel-good stomp of 'Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy', the melodic harmonies of 'Long Away' and the unadulterated rock n' roll abandon of 'Tie Your Mother Down', 'A Day At The Races' is and was another triumph for the four-piece and still sounds as fresh as ever today.
A fascinating four-year snapshot chronicling Queen's rise to global superstardom, these five classic albums deserve to be returned to again and again. Whether we'll be digging deep enough to buy the fiftieth anniversary edition, however, remains to be seen…
'Queen', 'Queen II', 'Sheer Heart Attack', 'A Night At The Opera' and 'A Day At The Races' are out now.