By Greg Brooks and Gary Taylor
Queen’s first album was recorded in London between 1971 and 1972 at Trident Studios and De Lane Lea studios. Although the band had been playing the club and college circuit in and around London and surrounding counties for almost two years, and were already an accomplished live act with a significant following and loyal fan base, they still had not secured a recording deal.
Without the normal record company support behind them, the band’s Management company Trident would not finance the use of a recording studio during the day (when studio time is most expensive), therefore leaving Queen no option but to use the facilities only when no one else needed it. The entire first LP was recorded this way, in ‘downtime’, usually late at night or very early morning, and so was not remotely the relaxed and enjoyable affair it might have been. It was far from ideal and not at all what the four aspiring musicians had dreamed of when they set off, but even so they did manage to create an impressive debut work – although, by the time it did eventually reach the shops, the band regarded it as already somewhat out of date.
All but one of the tracks were produced by Queen, Roy Baker and Trident’s resident producer John Anthony, at Trident studios, while one other song, The Night Comes Down, was instead produced by the band and Louie Austin at De Lane Studios. The engineers for the sessions were Roy Baker, Mike Stone, Ted Sharpe and David Hentschel.
The album’s cover artwork was devised by Brian, Freddie and photographer Douglas Puddifoot and is based upon a photograph taken on stage during an early Queen concert. The image, by Puddifoot, is that of Freddie performing beneath a lone spot light, and the band members thought it an appropriate cover. Though the band did consider other titles for the LP, most notably Top Fax, Pix & Info, and Deary Me, ultimately they agreed upon simply Queen. The album was released on July 13th 1973 in the UK and rose to No 24 in the charts, attaining Gold sales status. In America, it was issued in September, and, rather curiously, with a revised pink version of the usual purple cover. The album peaked at a disappointing No 83 in the States and like the UK, eventually reached Gold sales.
This album saw the beginning of the famous ‘Nobody played synths’ note, which was to become such a familiar aspect of all Queen LPs right up to 1980’s The Game. The band were fed up with people mistaking their elaborate multi-tracking and innovative guitar effects, for synthesizers, when in fact the much of the sound was created by Brian on his guitar using the band’s own equipment and pioneering recording techniques – including the John Deacon designed ‘Deacy amp’ which is still used to this day.
Prior to recording the debut album, Queen had played many concerts around the country, spanning three years. By now they had honed their craft and were a well developed and tight live act. But still it seemed an impossible task to make that all-important first step into the singles and album charts. When an opportunity came to test out a new recording facility in London, called De Lane Lea Studios, the band made full use of it to put together a polished demo tape of five songs: Keep Yourself Alive, The Night Comes Down, Great King Rat, Jesus and Liar. Even so, despite its quality and originality, and some interest from Chrysalis Records, Queen could not secure the record deal they wanted. It was a hugely frustrating period, not least because other artists such as David Bowie and T-Rex had secured their deals with major labels and were making records and enjoying hits – precisely what Queen were itching to do. The band could not see how they would ever break it into that market; it truly did seem a world away. Eventually, the band signed a deal with Norman & Barry Sheffield’s Trident Audio Productions, and through the EMI label, the first album was finally released.
The debut album begins with Brian May’s Keep Yourself Alive, a track that dates back to the very earliest Queen rehearsals and actually predates the arrival of John Deacon. This is the song that would ultimately be issued as the band’s first single; released on July 6th 1973, c/w Son And Daughter, also a May composition. One review from the time, which particularly galled Brian, accused the song of taking ‘too long to happen’ - referring to its lengthy guitar intro, and it was partly due to this comment that the follow up single, Seven Seas Of Rhye, had EVERYTHING coming at the listener within the opening seconds. For the time being, however, the band would have to wait for the first hit single.
Brian would later recall in an interview for BBC radio, that when he originally penned the Keep Yourself Alive lyrics he regarded them as ironic and rather tongue-in-cheek. It was only when Freddie performed them in the studio that there meaning seemed to change completely. Freddie brought an entirely new perspective to the song, as he would do endless times thereafter.
Doing All Right is a little known acoustic guitar and piano based number co-written by Brian and former pre-Queen band-mate Tim Staffell. Smile, a three-piece group comprising May, Staffell and Roger Taylor, had disbanded in 1969, and when Staffell went on to form another band, fellow Ealing art student Freddie Bulsara (later to become Mr Mercury) stepped in and Queen was born. Doing All Right was performed on stage by Smile, and indeed recorded for their first and only album. It begins in delicate love song mode, but then changes tempo and mood dramatically, going off almost into the realms of heavy metal before returning again to a serene plane. The second half of Side One features two of Freddie’s most glorious and evocative early compositions. My Fairy King features accomplished piano playing from Freddie, and along with Great King Rat a vocal performances that clearly demonstrated an emerging talent and vocal range to be reckoned with. Perhaps most significantly of all, certainly in the minds of many fans, are the lyrics. It is evident from the very first line of King Rat that Freddie possessed a hugely original and inventive aptitude for words and melody. The extraordinary images he conjures are both vivid and beguiling.
In these days in 1973, Side Two of the vinyl LP commences with Freddie’s uncompromising six and a half minute epic, Liar. Again Freddie delivers an unnerving vocal, and with hammering bass, percussion and heavy guitars, this track was always destined to become a favourite. Though EMI never issued Liar as a single in Europe, Elektra Records in the U.S. did release it, as the follow up to Keep Yourself Alive on Feb 14th 1974. Unbeknown to the band, however, the song was severely edited in order to bring it on line with the more traditional 3-minute single. What emerged was a dreadful mix which the band hated and which disappeared without trace. Coupled with Doing All Right, the single went the same way as its predecessor; failing to chart. Queen had to wait until October 1974, and Killer Queen, for their first American hit.
Brian’s graceful The Night Comes Down is next. It is curious to say the least that this song – taken from the 1972 De Lane Lea demo tape – and remains to this day one of Queen’s seldom mentioned album gems.
Deacon John (as John was referred to on the credits of this LP) had not yet written a song for Queen; his first composition would follow in 1974, with Misfire on the Sheer Heart Attack album. Roger Taylor, meanwhile, offered his first Queen track in the form of the frantic Modern Times Rock’n’Roll. This is a typically energetic, percussion driven song, sung by its author, which still sounds vibrant and fresh today, nearly 40 years on. It did feature extensively in the Queen live show of the time, and with Freddie singing lead vocal instead of Roger.
One of Queen’s grandest and most powerful numbers during this period came in the form of Brian May’s larger than life Son And Daughter. The defiant lyric offered Freddie something truly menacing to deliver.
Still on the heavy side of Queen’s repertoire, Freddie’s completely over the top, but greatly affecting Jesus is the penultimate track on Side Two. From its very opening guitar run, to the very last choir vocal, this song demands your attention through every note and lyric and leaves an indelible mark. Certainly the fans adored this song, but again it was conspicuously absent from the live show. It is strange that another song from this period, also penned by Freddie, Mad The Swine, was finished but never featured on this debut album. It too has Jesus as its focal character, and would surely have sat perfectly on Side Two at this point, just ahead of the final piano only end track. For reasons that are not entirely clear, Mad The Swine was dropped only to surface much later in 1991, on the Headlong CD single.
The Queen album closes in serene fashion with Seven Seas Of Rhye. But this is not the familiar version, because Freddie had not yet written lyrics for the song. Here then, we hear only an instrumental recital, but it is a tantalizing taster of what will come later on the second album. The plan was to end this album with the early version, but then open Queen II with the full finished rendition with lyrics. Ultimately, Queen chose to end the second album with it – in addition, of course, to releasing it as a single (their first UK hit).
The famous Queen Crest logo seen on the back of the first album, was designed by Freddie around this time, and became a familiar sight on most of the band’s product.
Producers – John Anthony, Roy Baker, Louie Austin, Queen Engineer – Roy Baker, Mike Stone, Ted Sharpe, David Hentschel Recording Studio – Trident and De Lane Lea Artwork Concept – Queen and Douglas Puddifoot Award Status – 1x Platinum (UK) Gold (US)
Did You Know?
1. Album recorded in ‘down-time’ – in between other acts at Trident Studios
2. Album features one track which was originally recorded as a demo (the night comes down)
3. E.M.I. record company asked the band which track they wanted releasing as their first single – record company usually decides!
4. Test pressings of the debut album were pressed with one side classical music and the other side two queen – collectors piece!
5. Album was released week after their first single (Keep Yourself Alive)
Keep Yourself Alive
First single from the album Queen
2nd Single from the album Queen
1. Keep Yourself Alive
Take off I was told a million times Of all the troubles in my way Tried to grow a little wiser Little better ev'ry day But if I crossed a million rivers And I rode a million miles Then I'd still be where I started Bread and butter for a smile Well I sold a million mirrors In a shopping alley way But I never saw my face In any window any day Now they say your folks are telling you Be a super star But I tell you just be satisfied Stay right where you are Keep yourself alive yeah Keep yourself alive Ooh, it'll take you all your time and money Honey you'll survive Ow Well I've loved a million women In a belladonic haze And I ate a million dinners Brought to me on silver trays Give me ev'rything I need To feed my body and my soul And I'll grow a little bigger Maybe that can be my goal I was told a million times Of all the people in my way How I had to keep on trying And get better ev'ry day But if I crossed a million rivers And I rode a million miles Then I'd still be where I started Same as when I started Keep yourself alive, come on, Keep yourself alive Ooh, it'll take you all your time and money honey You'll survive - shake Ow Keep yourself alive, wow, Keep yourself alive Oh, it'll take you all your time and money To keep me satisfied Do you think you're better ev'ry day ? No, I just think I'm two steps nearer to my grave Keep yourself alive, c'mon, Keep yourself alive Mm, you take your time and take more money Keep yourself alive Keep yourself alive C'mon keep yourself alive All you people keep yourself alive Keep yourself alive C'mon c'mon keep yourself alive It'll take you all your time and a money To keep me satisfied Keep yourself alive Keep yourself alive All you people keep yourself alive Take you all your time and money honey You will survive Keep you satisfied Keep you satisfied
2. Doing All Right
Yesterday my life was in ruin Now today I know what I'm doing Gotta feeling I should be doing all right Doing all right Where will I be this time tomorrow Jump in joy or sinking in sorrow Anyway I should be doing all right Doing all right Should be waiting for the sun Looking round to find the words to say Should be waiting for the skies to clear There a time in all the world Should be waiting for the sun And anyway I've got hide away Ah ah ah ah Yesterday my life was in ruin Now today God knows what I'm doing Anyway I should be doing all right Doing all right Doing all right
3. Great King Rat
Great King Rat died today Born on the twenty first of May Died syphilis forty four on his birthday Every second word he swore Yes he was the son of a whore Always wanted by the law Wouldn't you like to know ? Wouldn't you like to know people ? Great King Rat was a dirty old man And a dirty old man was he Now what did I tell you Would you like to see ? Now hear this Where will I be tomorrow ? Will I beg ?, Will I borrow ? I don't care, I don't care anyway Come on, come on the time is right The man is evil and that is right I told you ah yes I told you And that's no lie oh no no Wouldn't you like to know ? Wouldn't you like to know ? Wouldn't you like to know ? Great King Rat was a dirty old man And a dirty old man was he Now what did I tell you Would you like to see ? Show me Oooh oooh oooh oooh Wouldn't you like to know ? Wouldn't you like to know people people ? Great King Rat was a dirty old man And a dirty old man was he Now what did I tell you Would you like to see ? Hit it Now listen all you people Put out the good and keep the bad Don't believe all you read in the bible You sinners get in line Saints you leave far behind Very soon you're gonna be his disciple Don't listen to what mama says Not a word - not a word mama says Or else you'll find yourself being the rival Sure, the great lord before he died Knelt sinners by his side And said you're going to realise tomorrow, oh woh oh woh oh woh No I'm not going to tell you What you already know 'Cause time and time again The old man said it all a long time ago Come on come on the time is right This evil man will fight I told you once before Hear it No Wouldn't you like to know ? Wouldn't you like to know ? Just like I said before Great King Rat was a dirty old man And a dirty old man was he The last time I tell you Would you like to see ?
4. My Fairy King
Aah, aah In the land where horses born with eagle wings And honey bees have lost their stings There's singing forever, ooh yeah Lion's den with fallow deer And rivers made from wine so clear Flow on and on forever Dragons fly like sparrows thru' the air And baby lambs where Samson dares To go on on on on on on My fairy king can see things He rules the air and turns the tides That are not there for you and me Ooh yeah he guides the winds My fairy king can do right and nothing wrong Ah, then came man to savage in the night To run like thieves and to kill like knives To take away the power from the magic hand To bring about the ruin to the promised land, aah, aah They turn the milk into sour Like the blue in the blood of my veins Why can't you see it Fire burning in hell with the cry of screaming pain Son of heaven set me free and let me go Sea turn dry no salt from sand Seasons fly no helping hand Teeth don't shine like pearls for poor man's eyes, aah Someone someone has drained the colour from my wings Broken my fairy circle ring And shamed the king in all his pride Changed the winds and wronged the tides Mother Mercury Mercury Look what they've done to me I cannot run I cannot hide La la la la la la la la la la la la
I have sinned dear father, father I have sinned Try and help me father Won't you let me in ? Liar Oh nobody believes me - Liar Ooh, why don't you leave me alone ? Sire I have stolen, stolen many times Raised my voice in anger When I know I never should Liar - oh everybody deceives me Liar - ooh, why don't you leave me alone ? Liar - I have sailed the seas Liar - from Mars to Mercury Liar - I have drunk the wine Liar - Time after time Liar - You're lying to me Liar - You're lying to me Father please forgive me You know you'll never leave me Please will you direct me in the right way Liar liar liar liar Liar that's what they keep calling me Liar liar liar Ooh, let me go Listen, are you gonna listen ? Mama I'm gonna be your slave All day long Mama I'm gonna try behave All day long Mama I'm gonna be your slave All day long I'm gonna serve you till your dying day All day long I'm gonna keep you till your dying day All day long I'm gonna kneel down by your side and pray All day long and pray All day long and pray All day long and pray All day long, wow, all day long, wow All day long, all day long, all day long Yes, all day long, all day long, all day long, all day long, yeah All day long, we have lift off, ow All day long, all day long, all day long Liar liar they never ever let you win Liar liar everything you do is sin Liar nobody believes you Liar they bring you down before you begin Ooh, now let me tell you this So now you know you could be dead before they let you, aah
6. The Night Comes Down
When I was young it came to me And I could see the sun breakin' Lucy was high and so was I dazzling Holding the world inside Once I believed in everyone Everyone and anyone can see Oh oh the night comes down And I get afraid of losing my way Oh oh the night comes down Oooh and it's dark again Once I could laugh with everyone Once I could see the good in me The black and the white distinctively colouring Holding the world inside Now all the world is grey to me Nobody can see - you gotta believe it Oh (oh) oh (oh) the night comes down And I get afraid of losing my way Oh oh the night comes down Oooh and it's dark again And it's dark again And it's dark again
7. Modern Times Rock 'N' Roll
Had to make do with a worn out rock and roll scene The old bop is getting tired need a rest Well you know what I mean Fifty eight that was great But it's over now and that's all Something harder's coming up Gonna really knock a hole in the wall Gonna hit ya grab ya hard Make you feel ten feet tall Well I hope that this baby's gonna come along soon You don't know it could happen any old rainy afternoon With the temperature down And the jukebox blowing no fuse And my musical life's feeling Like a long sunday school cruise And you know there's one thing Every single body could use Yeah listen to me baby Let me tell you what it's all about Modern times rock and roll Modern times rock and roll Get your high heeled guitar style boots and some groovy clothes Get a hair piece on your chest And a ring through your nose Find a nice little man who says He's gonna make you a real big star Stars in your eyes ants in your pants Think you should go far Everybody in this bum sucking world's Gonna know who you are Look out Modern times rock and roll
8. Son And Daughter
I want you woman Tried to be a son and daughter rolled into one You said you'd equal any man for having your fun Ooh, now didn't you feel surprised to find The cap just didn't fit ? The world expects a man To buckle down and shovel shit What'll you do for loving When it's only just begun ? I want you to be a woman Tried to be a teacher and a fisher of men An equal people preacher Will you lead us all the same ? Ooh, well I travelled around the world And found a brand new word for day Ooh, watching the time mustn't linger behind Pardon me I have to get away What'll you think of heaven If it's back from where you came I want you to be a woman I want you to be a woman Yeah Gotta save the world Ooh, I've just begun Alright
And then I saw him in the crowd A lot of people had gathered round him The beggars shouted, the lepers called him The old man said nothing He just stared about him All going down to see the lord Jesus All going down (going down) to see the lord Jesus All going down Then came a man before his feet he fell Unclean said the leper, rang his bell Felt the palm of a hand touch his head Go now, go now you're a new man instead All going down (going down) to see the lord Jesus All going down to see the lord Jesus - alright All going down It all began with the three wise men Followed a star took them to Bethlehem And made it heard throughout the land Born was the leader of man All going down (going down) to see the lord Jesus All going down (going down to bethlehem) to see the lord Jesus All going down It all began with the three wise men Followed a star took them to Bethlehem And made it heard throughout the land Born was the leader of man Yes we're all going down to see the lord Jesus All going down to see the lord Jesus All going down
10. Seven Seas Of Rhye
Fear me you lords and lady preachers I descend upon your Earth from the skies I command your very souls you unbelievers Bring before me what is mine, the seven seas of rhye Can you hear me you peers and privy counsellors I stand before you naked to the eyes I will destroy any man who dares abuse my trust I swear that you'll be mine, the seven seas of rhye Sister, I live and lie for you Mister, do and I'll die You are mine, I possess you, I belong to you forever Storm the master-marathon, I'll fly through By flash and thunder-fire I'll survive, I'll survive, I'll survive I'll survive, I'll survive Then I'll defy the laws of nature and come out alive Then I’ll get you Be gone with you, you shod and shady senators Give out the good, leave out the bad evil cries I challenge the mighty titan and his troubadours And with a smile I'll take you to the seven seas of rhye Oh I do like to be beside the seaside Oh I do like to be beside the sea Where the brass band plays, tidily, Om, pom, pom Oh I do like to be beside the seaside Oh I do like to be beside the sea Where they crowd beside the sea And besides themselves with glee beside the seaside