A Night At The Opera
A NIGHT AT THE OPERA
By Greg Brooks and Gary Taylor
Queen’s fourth and probably best known album, was recorded in England between August and November 1975. Such was the complexity of the compositions that no less than six different studios were employed (Roundhouse, Sarm East, Rockfield, Scorpio, Lansdowne, Olympic), with the band members often recording various parts simultaneously in order to work most efficiently and get through it all. The sessions were long and grueling and spanned four long months. Once again the band produced the album with trusted collaborators Roy Thomas Baker and Mike Stone, and what emerged was a genuine triumph on all levels, meticulously pieced together to make the best possible album. Opera would propel Queen on to the world stage on a mammoth scale and establish them as a major international force. Though it was never in any doubt within the band, it proved that Seven Seas Of Rhye and Killer Queen were not fleeting hits from another glam-type British wannabe band; Queen were here to stay and Rhapsody and The Opera would confirm it conclusively for those in any doubt.
It is a matter of public record that a very great deal hinged upon the success or failure of A Night At The Opera. Had it failed, it is entirely feasible that the band would not have survived. Queen might well have ended there and then. Despite having two top ten albums under their belt, and significant international hits with Seven Seas Of Rhye and Killer Queen, and sell-out shows all around Britain, the band was in serious financial difficulty by the start of 1975.
Recording and relentless touring for three solid years had still not yielded anything like what the band were due, and, to add insult to injury, Roger, John, Brian and Freddie were still struggling to get by on the minimal wage from Trident, to whom they were signed.
John Deacon had married his girlfriend, Veronica Tetzlaff, in January, but when he approached Queen’s infamous Managers and Trident owners, Norman and Barry Sheffield, for the £5,000 he needed as a down payment on a house, the request was refused. Freddie’s request for a piano on which to compose new songs was met with similar contempt and also denied, and all the while the two brothers in charge of the purse strings were, as Freddie would later point out, driving around London in new Rolls Royce’s, and, Freddie added, “something seemed to be wrong.”
Enter the story at this point, Jim Beach, the lawyer who would eventually negotiate Queen’s release from Trident’s nefarious grasp and from the deal that had so far offered such little reward for the band. It would be some years before the band formerly and emphatically parted company with Trident and the Sheffields, and it was to prove a costly divorce, with financial implications for the next six Queen albums. Eventually Jim Beach did succeed in extricating Queen from their Trident deal and that left the band free to undertake their next project without distraction or financial pressure. Elton John’s Manager John Reid was hired and while he took care of business affairs the band were alone to do what they did best write and record new music. The sour conflict with the Sheffield’s had left a bitter taste, of course, and with Freddie in particular, and out of this would soon emerge the vitriolic and somewhat scathing genius of Death On Two Legs - with its ominous (and transparent) Dedicated to...
So, with a clean slate and blank canvas on which to create, the much relieved Queen, along with stalwarts Roy Thomas Baker and Mike Stone, committed the next quarter of a year to the meticulous and all-consuming craft of honing the album that Brian would later refer to as “Queen’s Sgt Peppers.”
The album cover was given a simple but lavish treatment, with Freddie's original crest design updated and coloured and placed centre of the album cover. The LP gatefold complimented the style, with the lyrics printed over two sides of the inside cover, and for the first time the inner sleeve was in colour and featured live photos from their last tour.
A Night At The Opera is a wonderfully rich and diverse gathering of carefully constructed and, some might say, unlikely compositions from all four band members. Every track is strong and, let’s not overlook the obvious, every moment from beginning to end is beautifully recorded. The late lamented Mike Stone (engineer), who sadly passed away in 2002, was instrumental in the sound of this album, and others. Opera spans all kinds of musical styles and genres and veers off at tangents as unlikely the album title itself.
Aside from the well known material, also on this album is to be found Freddie Mercury’s exquisite Love Of My Life, which, it is rumoured, was inspired by his long time girlfriend of the time Mary Austin – though he himself of course never confirmed or denied it. Freddie’s lead vocal and harmonies are breathtaking here. Freddie: "Love Of My Life is a lovely little ballad. My classical influence comes into that. Brian plays real life-size harp on that. I remember thinking, “I'm going to force him to play ‘til his fingers drop off!"
Freddie's vocal he delivers on Brian’s epic The Prophet’s Song (a song inspired by a dream), is just awesome and also on his own songs Seaside Rendezvous and the delicate Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon. Freddie: "Brian has an outrageously mammoth epic track, The Prophet's Song, which is one of our heaviest numbers to date. He's got his guitar extravaganza on it. You see, Brian’s guitar is specially built, so he can almost make it speak. It will talk on this track."
Brian’s other contributions, Sweet Lady, ’39 and Good Company could not be more different, and show their author as a more than competent singer. Brian sings the lead for Good Company and 39, but leaves Sweet Lady and The Prophet’s Song, very wisely, to the powerhouse that is Freddie Mercury… and a Freddie clearly at the very pinnacle of his vocal prowess. Roger Taylor sings his own I’m In Love With My Car, and does so impeccably, making it a highlight of this album, while John too leaves Freddie to take on Best Friend. The albums kicks off in dramatic fashion with Freddie’s acerbic Death On Two Legs, and ends, rather more sedately with a new mix of God Save The Queen.
Freddie: "Death On Two Legs was the most vicious lyric I ever wrote. It was so vindictive that Brian felt bad singing it. No-one would ever believe how much hate and venom went into the singing of that song, let alone the lyrics themselves. Just listen to the words carefully. It’s a nasty little number which brings out my evil streak. I don’t usually like to explain what I was thinking when I wrote that song. It's about a nasty old man that I used to know. The words came very easy to me. I decided that if I wanted to stress something strongly, like that, I might as well go the whole hog and not compromise. I had a tough time trying to get the lyrics across. I wanted to make them as coarse as possible. My throat was bleeding - the whole bit. I was changing lyrics every day trying to get it as vicious as possible. When the others first heard it they were in a state of shock. When I was describing it they said, “Oh yeah!” but then they saw the words and they were frightened by it. But for me the step had been taken and I was completely engrossed in it, swimming in it. I was a demon for a few days."
I decided that if I wanted to stress something strongly, like that, I might as well go the whole hog and not compromise. I had a tthat Borrowing Borrowing its name from a classic 1935 Marx Brothers film, A Night At The Opera was finally finished in early November of 1975 and released to worldwide critical acclaim later that month on the 21st. Opera very quickly became Queen’s first No 1 album, and also their first to achieve platinum sales status. The album went top 5 in the USA, and achieved gold status there, helped in no small part by extensive and equally exhausting tours of North America, Canada and Japan earlier in the year.
On December 31 1975, three weeks prior to the release of A Night At The Opera, Freddie Mercury’s most celebrated composition of all, the gigantic, mesmerizing, spellbinding, ground breaking, epic masterpiece magnum opus - every possible description and adjective has already been used and used again –Bohemian Rhapsody (or Bo Rhap if you prefer) was released, and took the world, and fellow artists, it must be said, completely by storm. It was the first of only two singles to be taken from the album. Coupled with Roger Taylor’s I’m In Love With My Car (which, by the by, was wrongly described on certain collectible sleeves around the world as With My Car I’m In Love), the single became a colossal global hit. Spending nine consecutive weeks at No 1 in the UK, and No 1 in many other territories too, it soon established itself as a one of the most revered and beloved six minutes in the history of rock music. It won Freddie his second Ivor Novello award in January 1976, and thereafter went on to win every conceivable award the world of music has to offer a song. An internationally acclaimed work of genius, Rhapsody (as its author often referred to it) has repeatedly been voted the No 1 song of all time in British polls, it was also named as The Song of The Millennium, and the Guiness Book of Records’ Number One Song Of All Time.
The accompanying video for the single has also an intriguing story behind it. On the brink of a 25 date UK tour, Queen were unable to appear on the BBC’s Top Of The Pops to promote the single, so decided to put together a film of the song instead. This now universally familiar footage was shot at Elstree Studios in November 1975. It took just two days to complete and cost less than £4,000. Including an opening sequence echoing Mick Rock’s iconic group portrait from the Queen II album cover, and costumes designed by Zandra Rhodes, this Bruce Gowers/Queen extravaganza opened the doors to a whole new genre of record promotion; the music video.
In December 1991, one month after Freddie Mercury’s tragic passing, Bohemian Rhapsody was released again, in aid of The Terrence Higgins Trust and as a fitting tribute to its creator. It was a double A-side single with These Are The Days Of Our Lives (from the Innuendo album) It did not surprise many people when it became No 1 all over again and in so doing became the first recording in history to reach No 1 on two separate occasions. Sixteen years after the original hit, in 1991, the hit movie Wayne’s World featured the song in a memorable car scene and as a result it was issued again in America the following year. Bo Rhap reached No 2 in the Billboard chart and, not for the first time because of a film, brought Queen music to the attention of a whole new younger audience.
The next single, the second and last from A Night At The Opera, was John Deacon’s You're My Best Friend, featuring electric piano by John and coupled with the Brian May sci-fi tale ‘39. Inspired by and written for John’s wife Veronica, whom he had married earlier that year, the single emerged the following year on June 18 1976. Best Friend revealed a softer side to the band, whose singles up to that point had been mainly rock orientated. The track has remained a favourite among fans and is still popular on American radio. It gave John his first top ten hit, reaching Number 7 in the UK charts. Again, Bruce Gowers directed the video, an atmospheric piece shot in April 1976 at Ridge Farm studios on a blistering hot summer’s day, amid several hundred burning candles.
Did You Know?
1. The album includes the now legendary Bohemian Rhapsody which constantly tops various charts and most recently the Guinness Book of Records top song of the last 50 years!
2. One of the most expensive albums ever made.
3. Freddie asked the press to stand during the playback when God Save The Queen played, the UK national anthem...and they did!
4. Queen faced legal problems with the opening track (Death On Two Legs) and EMI had to pay a substantial sum so the album could be released
5. First No.1 hit album
Bohemian RhapsodyFirst single from the album A Night At The Opera
You're My Best FriendSecond single from the album A Night At The Opera
1. Death On Two Legs (Dedicated To...)
You suck my blood like a leech You break the law and you preach Screw my brain till it hurts You've taken all my money - and you want more Misguided old mule with your pigheaded rules With your narrow minded cronies who are fools Of the first division Death on two legs, you're tearing me apart Death on two legs, you never had a heart of your own Kill joy, bad guy, big talking, small fry You're just an old barrow boy Have you found a new toy to replace me Can you face me But now you can kiss my ass goodbye Feel good, are you satisfied Do you feel like suicide (I think you should) Is your conscience all right Does it plague you at night Do you feel good feel good Aah, talk like a big business tycoon But you're just a hot air balloon So no one gives you a damn You're just an overgrown school boy Let me tan your hide A dog with disease, you're the king of the sleaze Put your money where your mouth is Mr Knowall Was the fin on your back part of the deal (a shark) Death on two legs, tearing me apart Death on two legs, you've never had a heart of your own (You never did - right from the start) Insane, you should be put inside You're a sewer rat decaying in a cesspool of pride Should be made unemployed Make yourself null and void Make me feel good - I feel good
2. Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon
I go out to work on Monday morning Tuesday I go off to honeymoon I'll be back again before it's time for sunny down I'll be lazing on a Sunday afternoon Bicycling on every Wednesday evening Thursday I go waltzing to the zoo I come from London town, I'm just an ordinary guy Fridays I go painting in the Louvre I'm bound to be proposing on a Saturday night (there he goes again) I'll be lazing on a Sunday, lazing on a Sunday Lazing on a Sunday afternoon
3. I'm In Love With My Car
Oooh - the machine of a dream, such a clean machine With the pistons a pumpin', and the hubcaps all gleam When I'm holding your wheel, all I hear is your gear With my hand on your grease gun, mm it's like a disease son I'm in love with my car, gotta feel for my automobile Get a grip on my boy racer rollbar Such a thrill when your radials squeal Told my girl I'll have to forget her Rather buy me a new carburettor So she made tracks saying this is the end now Cars don't talk back, they're just four wheeled friends now When I'm holding your wheel, all I hear is your gear When I'm cruisin' in overdrive Don't have to listen to no run of the mill talk jive I'm in love with my car (love with my car) Gotta feel for my automobile I'm in love with my car (love with my car) String back gloves in my automolove
4. You're My Best Friend
Ooh you make me live Whatever this world can give to me It's you, you're all I see Ooh you make me live now honey Ooh you make me live Oh, you're the best friend that I ever had I've been with you such a long time, you're my sunshine And I want you to know that my feelings are true I really love you (ooh) oh you're my best friend Ooh, you make me live Ooh, I've been wandering round But I still come back to you (still come back to you) In rain or shine you've stood by me girl I'm happy at home (happy at home) - you're my best friend Ooh, you make me live, whenever this world is cruel to me I got you, to help me forgive oo oo ooh Ooh, you make me live now honey, ooh, you make me live Oh, you're the first one When things turn out bad you know I'll never be lonely You're my only one, and I love the things I really love the things that you do, oh, you're my best friend Oh, ooh, you make me live I'm happy (happy at home) - you're my best friend Oh, oh, you're my best friend Ooh, you make me live, oo oo ooh, you You're my best friend
In the year of thirty nine assembled here the volunteers In the days when the lands were few And the ship sailed out into the blue and misty morn The sweetest sign ever seen. And the night followed day, and the story tellers say The score brave souls inside For so many a lonely day sailed across the milky seas Ne'er looked, never feared, never cried Don't you hear my call though you're many years away Don't you hear me calling you Write your letters in the sand For the day I take your hand In the land that our grandchildren knew In the year of thirty nine a simple ship came from the blue The volunteers came home that day And they bring good news from a world so newly born Though their hearts so heavily weigh Now the earth is old and grey, to a new home we'll away But my love this cannot be For so many years have gone now I'm older but a year Your mother's eyes in your eyes - cry to me Don't you hear my call though you're many years away Don't you hear me calling you Write your letters in the sand for the day I take your hand In the land when our grandchildren knew Don't you hear my call though you're many years away Don't you hear me calling you All your letters in the sand cannot heal me like your hand All my life, still ahead, pity me
6. Sweet Lady
Ooh, I like it You call me up and treat me like a dog You call me up and tear me up inside You've got me on a lead Ooh, you bring me down, you shout around You don't believe that I'm alone Ooh, you don't believe me Sweet lady, sweet lady, sweet lady Sweet lady - ooh, stay sweet You say - you call me up and feed me all the lines You call me sweet like I'm some kind of cheese Waiting on the shelf You eat me up, you hold me down I'm just a fool to make you a home Ooh, you really do me When you say - sweet lady (sweet lady) Sweet lady (sweet lady) Sweet lady, ooh, come on, stay sweet My sweet lady - though it seems like we wait forever Oo ah oo, stay sweet baby Believe and we've got everything we need (got everything we need) ow Sweet lady, sweet lady, sweet lady Ooh, ooh, stay sweet, stay sweet Oh runaway, come on, yeah yeah, yeah yeah Sweet lady - wooh
7. Seaside Rendezvous
Seaside, whenever you stroll along with me I'm merely contemplating what you feel inside ooh ooh ooh Meanwhile I ask you to be my clementine You say you will if you could but you can't I love you madly, let my imagination run away with you gladly A brand new angle, highly commendable, seaside rendezvous I feel so romantic, can we do it again, can we do it again sometime Ooh, I like that, fantastic, c'est la vie Mesdames et Messieurs And at the peak of the season The mediterranean this time of year, it's so fashionable Duh duh du du du du duh duh du duh Duh duh du du du du duh duh - ooh ooh ooh I feel like dancing, in the rain, can I have a volunteer Just keep right on dancing, what a damn jolly good idea It's such a jollification, as a matter of fact So tres charmant my dear Underneath the moonlight (wooh ooh) Together we'll sail across the sea (Shine on silvery moonlight) Reminiscing every night Meantime (and in the meantime baby) I ask you to be my valentine You say you'd have to tell your Daddy if you can I'll be your Valentino We'll ride upon an omnibus and then the casino Get a new facial, start a sensational Seaside rendezvous - so adorable Seaside rendezvous - ooh ooh Seaside rendezvous - give us a kiss
8. The Prophet's Song
Oh oh people of the earth Listen to the warning the seer he said Beware the storm that gathers here Listen to the wise man I dreamed I saw on a moonlit stair Spreading his hands on the multitude there A man who cried for a love gone stale And ice cold hearts of charity bare I watched as fear took the old men's gaze Hopes of the young in troubled graves I see no day, I heard him say So grey is the face of every mortal Oh oh people of the earth Listen to the warning the prophet he said For soon the cold of night will fall Summoned by your own hand Oh oh children of the land Quicken to the new life, take my hand Ooh, fly and find the new green bough Return like the white dove He told of death as a bone white haze Taking the lost and the unloved babe Late too late all the wretches run These kings of beasts now counting their days From mother's love is the son estranged Married his own his precious gain The earth will shake in two will break And death all around will be your dowry Oh oh people of the earth Listen to the warning the seer he said For those who hear and mark my words Listen to the good plan Oh oh oh oh and two by two my human zoo They'll be running for to come, running for to come Out of the rain Oh, flee for your life Who heed me not, let all your treasure make you Oh, fear for your life Deceive you not the fires of hell will take you Should death await you Oh, oh, people can you hear me (oh, oh, people can you hear me) (Oh, oh, people can you hear me) Now I know (now I know) (now I know) Now I know (now I know) (now I know) Now I know (now I know) (now I know) Now I know that you can hear me (Now I know that you can hear me) (Now I know that you can hear me) Now I know (now I know) (now I know) (repeat 9 times) The earth will shake - in two will break - in two will shake - in two will break - in two (The earth will shake - in two will break - in two will shake - in two will break - in two) (The earth will shake - in two will break - in two will shake - in two will break - in two) Doubts all around around around around around around around (Doubts all around around around around around around around) (Doubts all around around around around around around around) Now I know (now I know) (now I know) (repeat 9 times) Wow ooh wow ooh wow ooh wow ooh wow ooh wow ooh wow ooh wow ooh (Wow ooh wow ooh wow ooh wow ooh wow ooh wow ooh wow ooh wow ooh) (Wow ooh wow ooh wow ooh wow ooh wow ooh wow ooh wow ooh wow ooh) Listen to the wise - listen to the wise - listen to the wise Listen to the wise - listen to the wise - listen to the wise Listen to the wise - listen to the wise - listen to the wise Listen to the wise - listen to the wise - listen to the wise Wise man Laa laa la la la la laa laa (laa laa la la la la laa laa) Come here - come here - I you come here (I you come here) I you come here (I you come here) I you (aah) aah (aah) Listen to the mad - listen to the mad - listen to the man Listen to the man - listen to the mad - listen to the mad Listen to the mad man - listen to the mad man God give you the grace to purge this place And peace all around may be your fortune Oh oh children of the land Love is still the answer, take my hand The vision fades, a voice I hear - "listen to the madman" Ooh, but still I fear and still I dare - not laugh at the madman
9. Love Of My Life
Love of my life you've hurt me You've broken my heart and now you leave me Love of my life can't you see Bring it back, bring it back Don't take it away from me Because you don't know what it means to me Love of my life don't leave me You've taken my love, (all of my love) and now desert me Love of my life can't you see (Please bring it back) bring it back, bring it back (back) Don't take it away from me (take it away from me) Because you don't know (ooh ooh ooh know means to me) What it means to me Who will remember when this is blown over And everything's all by the way (ooh yeah) When I grow older I will be there at your side To remind you how I still love you (I still love you) Ooh, back, hurry back, please bring it back home to me Because you don't know what it means to me Love of my life, love of my life, ooh ooh
10. Good Company
Take good care of what you've got, my father said to me As he puffed his pipe and Baby B, he dangled on his knee Don't fool with fools who'll turn away Keep all good company - oo hoo oo hoo Take care of those you call your own, and keep good company Soon I grew and happy too, my very good friends and me We'd play all day with Sally J, the girl from number four Very soon I begged her won't you keep me company Oo hoo oo hoo, oo hoo oo hoo Come marry me for evermore, we'll be good company Now marriage is an institution sure My wife and I our needs and nothing more All my friends by a year by and by disappeared But we're safe enough behind our door I flourished in my humble trade, my reputation grew The work devoured my waking hours But when my time was through Reward of all my efforts my own limited company I hardly noticed sally as we parted company All through the years in the end it appears There was never really anyone but me Now I'm old I puff my pipe, but no one's there to see I ponder on the lesson of my life's insanity Take care of those you call your own and keep good company
11. Bohemian Rhapsody
Is this the real life, is this just fantasy Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality Open your eyes, look up to the skies and see I'm just a poor boy, I need no sympathy Because I'm easy come, easy go, a little high, little low Anyway the wind blows, doesn't really matter to me, to me Mama, just killed a man, put a gun against his head pulled my trigger, now he's dead, mama Life had just begun, but now I've gone and thrown it all away Mama, ooo, didn't mean to make you cry If I'm not back again this time tomorrow Carry on, carry on, as if nothing really matters Too late, my time has come Sends shivers down my spine, body's aching all the time Goodbye everybody, I've got to go Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth Mama ooo (anyway the wind blows) I don't want to die I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all I see a little silhouetto of a man Scaramouch, scaramouch - will you do the fandango Thunderbolt and lightning very very frightening me Gallileo, gallileo, gallileo, gallileo, Gallileo figaro magnifico But I'm just a poor boy and nobody loves me (He's just a poor boy from a poor family) (Spare him his life from this monstrosity) Easy come easy go will you let me go (Bismillah no we will not let you go) let him go (Bismillah, we will not let you go) let him go (Bismillah, we will not let you go) let me go (Will not let you go) let me go (never) (Never let you go) let me go, never let me go ooo No, no, no, no, no, no, no Oh mama mia, mama mia, mama mia let me go Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me - for me - for me So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye So you think you can love me and leave me to die Oh baby can't do this to me baby Just gotta get out just gotta get right outta here Ooh yeah, ooh yeah, nothing really matters, anyone can see Nothing really matters nothing really matters to me Anyway the wind blows...