By Greg Brooks and Gary Taylor
Queen’s second studio album was released on March 8th 1974, coinciding with an extensive UK tour that began at the start of the month. After much debate and with all kinds of unlikely alternative titles such as Over The Top being considered, ultimately the band settled on Queen II.
Recorded at London’s Trident Studios in August 1973, the band were at last permitted to use the studio during normal hours and, unlike the first album, take proper time to experiment with the myriad ideas they had for new techniques, textures and sounds. Finally Queen could record an album how they wanted, when they wanted, and without the limitations imposed upon them throughout the debut work.
Numerous problems beset the album's release. Not least, its completion coincided with the 1973 oil crisis and consequently government-enforced measures for energy conservation delayed its manufacture by several months. Futhermore, when the first pressing arrived in record shops, the band noticed a spelling error on the sleeve and had to complain persistently before it was finally corrected.
Queen II was produced by Robin Geoffrey Cable, Roy Thomas Baker and Queen, and engineered by the ever resourceful Mike Stone. The album cover concept was based on a photograph of Marlene Dietrich that Freddie had seen, and Mick Rock was brought in to achieve a similar effect. The image has since become one of the most recognisable and frequently used of the band, and is as striking in 2011 as it was in the mid 1970s. Later, in 1975, the photograph was revisited for the Bohemian Rhapsody promotional video. Director Bruce Gowers’ recreation of the Dietrich image brought the Queen II album cover to life in arresting fashion, and so was born an entire genre of music promotion.
In contrast to this iconic predominantly black portrait of Queen, the inner gatefold photograph features the band in equally grand attire, but this time dressed in white, against a white backdrop. The theme was continued inside the album too, on the original LP rather than the usual Side 1 and 2, Queen II instead comprised Sides White and Black, each one representing the band members’ individual song writing talents. Freddie’s contributions to the album, including the majestic March Of The Black Queen, would occupy ‘Side Black’, while Roger’s track for the album, and all of Brian’s, including White Queen, were presented on ‘Side White’. John Deacon had not yet begun his song writing for Queen. His first composition would follow later in 1974, on the Sheer Heart Attack LP.
The Black/White theme was a major part of Queen in 1974, not just on record or in terms of artwork and design, but on stage too.
Queen II would eventually climb to No 5 in the UK chart, helped considerably by constant touring, their first hit single Seven Seas Of Rhye (released two weeks earlier) and their first appearances on the BBC’s Top Of The Pops television show. In America, the album would make less of an impact, but still achieved a credible No 49. The album gave Queen their first UK/USA Gold status LP.
The album opens with a short instrumental track from Brian called Procession, a piece that made use of a multi layered guitar effect and which had already been used as the introduction to the concerts of 1973/74. Brian’s other songs included Father To Son, which, at over six minutes long, was one of the more ambitious tracks on the album.
Brian May: “Led Zeppelin and The Who are probably in there somewhere, because they were among our favourite groups, but what we are trying to do differently from either of those groups is this sort of layered sound. The Who had the open chord guitar sound, and there’s a bit of that in Father To Son, but our sound is more based on the overdriven guitar sound, which is used for the main bulk of the song…..but I also wanted to build up textures behind the main melody lines”.
White Queen (As It Began), another Brian composition, and written long before the album was recorded, quickly became a favourite among fans and in the live shows featured Freddie on piano - an added bonus since the original did not include any keyboards.
For the first time on record, Brian sang one of his own compositions on this LP, Some Day One Day, on which he also plays acoustic guitar as well as electric. It is a little known song, as is The Loser In The End, the second song to be written and sung by Roger (the first appearing on the debut long player), and it too featured in the live performances of the day, although on stage sung by Freddie.‘Side Black’ opens with the first of six Freddie Mercury compositions. Ogre Battle, a song written a couple of years before, is enigmatic and larger than life, awash with heavy guitars and backward sound effects, and among one of the heaviest and musically complex songs in the band’s repertoire. Freddie was inspired by a painting he saw in the Tate Gallery by Richard Dadd ,for his song of the name name The Fairy Feller’s Master stroke, which also finds Freddie playing the Harpsichord. This intricately arranged and too often overlooked piece, like many on this album, features fantastical lyrics that truly showcase Freddie’s writing diversity and imagination, and contains direct references to the painting’s myriad characters and scenes. There is much to find within this song both lyrically and musically, and indeed for the entire album.
Roger would note that Fairy Fellers was Queen’s “biggest stereo experiment”, and makes use of many distinctive vocals and guitar overdubs.
In total contrast to Ogre Battle, Black Queen and Master Stroke, the sublime Nevermore features just Freddie on vocals and piano, with heavenly backing vocals, and this truly is a breathtaking performance.
The March Of The Black Queen with its enormously complex guitar parts and vocal harmonies, and running at over six minutes long, is perhaps the most memorable song on the album, and certainly the most dramatic, and features practically every Queen trick and trademark of the time. EVERYTHING Queen had to offer in 1973 /1974 is on this one track, and so it is that it remains a much loved favourite among fans more than three decades on. Black Queen segues beautifully into Funny How Love Is, another little known Freddie jewel, and with its piano and acoustic guitar, this lovely song leads the listener to the final track of Queen II in stunning form. Only the mysterious Seven Seas Of Rhye is left to ponder.
The original idea was to open Queen II with Seven Seas Of Rhye, continuing on from where the unfinished instrumental version of the song had left off on the preceding album. However, towards the end of the sessions it was agreed the song would be a better album closer, than its opener. Unlike the earlier non-vocal version on the first album, this rendition was a full song in its own right; rich in guitars, percussion and vocals, and concluding with the band and studio personnel singing “I do like to be beside the seaside…”
Only one single was released worldwide from the Queen II album. Freddie Mercury’s Seven Seas Of Rhye, coupled with Brian May’s bluesy non-album See What A Fool I’ve Been was released in the UK on February 23rd 1974. The single was rush released in Britain following the band’s first of three appearances with the song on Top Of The Pops, and would eventually reach No 10, giving the band their first major singles chart success. NME observed at the time “This single showcases all their power and drive, their writing talents, and every quality that makes them unique.”
Seven Seas failed to make a huge impression elsewhere around the world, and in America wasn’t issued until June. In Japan, also in June, the B-side track was instead Roger’s The loser In The End, and this pairing featured one of the very first picture sleeves for a Queen single. It soon became one of several greatly sought-after collectibles from this period. The Japanese sleeve is among the most beautiful of all, while perhaps the rarest is that of the Portuguese version.
Did You Know?
1. The album was delayed for release due to Government restrictions on electricity
2. Queen II was the first queen album to enter UK album chart
3. The album broke with tradition as the album sides were labelled side white and side black - not conventional side A and B
4. The album featured Queen's first UK hit single (Seven Seas Of Rhye)
5. Queen II is Brian May's favourite Queen album
No Lyrics - Instrumental
2. Father To Son
A word in your ear from father to son Hear the word that I say I fought with you, fought on your side Long before you were born Joyful the sound, the word goes around From father to son to son And the voice is so clear, time after time It keeps on calling you, calling you on Don't destroy what you see, your country to be Just keep building on the ground that's been won Kings will be crowned, and the word goes around From father to son to son Won't you hear us sing (te de de de de de de de de de de de) Our family song (te de de de de de de de de de de de de de) Father, father, father, father, ooh yeah, father, father Father, father (te de de de de de de de de de de de de de de) Now we hand it on - but I've heard it all before Take this letter that I give you Take it sonny, hold it high You won't understand a word that's in it But you'll write it out again before you die (yeah yeah) A word in your ear from father to son Funny you don't hear a single word I say But my letter to you will stay by your side Through the years till the loneliness is gone Sing if you will but the air you breathe I live to give you Father to son, father to, father to, father to son Joyful the sound, the word goes around From father to son to son Kings will be crowned, the word goes around From father to son to son Joyful the sound, the word goes around From father to son to son Kings will be crowned, the word goes around From father to son to son Joyful the sound, the word goes around From father to son, to son Kings will be crowned, the word goes around from father to son, to son Joyful the sound, the word goes around
3. White Queen (As It Began)
So sad her eyes, smiling dark eyes So sad her eyes, as it began On such a breathless night as this Upon my brow the lightest kiss, I walked alone And all around the air did say My lady soon will stir this way, in sorrow known The white queen walks and the night grows pale Stars of lovingness in her hair Needing unheard Pleading one word So sad my eyes, she cannot see How did thee fare, what have thee seen The mother of the willow green, I call her name And neath her window have I stayed I loved the footsteps that she made - and when she came White queen how my heart did ache And dry my lips no word would make - so still I wait My goddess hear my darkest fear, I speak too late It's for evermore that I wait Dear friend goodbye, no tears in my eyes So sad it ends, as it began Someday One Day Written by Brian May You never heard my song before the music was too loud But now I think you hear me well for now we both know how No star can light our way in this cloud of dark and fear But some day one day Funny how the pages turn and hold us in between A misty castle waits for you and you shall be a queen (You shall be a queen) Today the cloud it hangs over us and all is grey But some day one day When I was you and you were me and we were very young Together took us nearly there, the rest may not be sung So still the cloud it hangs over us and we're alone But some day one day, we'll come home
4. Some Day One Day
You never heard my song before the music was too loud But now I think you hear me well for now we both know how No star can light our way in this cloud of dark and fear But some day one day Funny how the pages turn and hold us in between A misty castle waits for you and you shall be a queen (You shall be a queen) Today the cloud it hangs over us and all is grey But some day one day When I was you and you were me and we were very young Together took us nearly there, the rest may not be sung So still the cloud it hangs over us and we're alone But some day one day, we'll come home
5. The Loser In The End
Mama's gotta problem, she don't know what to say Her little baby boy has just left home today She's got to be the loser in the end she's got to be the loser in the end Misuse her and you'll lose her as a friend She's ma on whom you can always depend, ooh hoo She washed and fed, and clothed and cared for nearly twenty years And all she gets is "Goodbye Ma" and the night times for her tears She's got to be the loser in the end she's got to be the loser in the end Misuse her and you'll lose her as a friend (yeah) She's ma on whom you can always depend - ooh hoo ooh ooh ooh We'll hear ya talkin' now So listen mothers everywhere to just one mother's son You'll get forgotten all the way If you don't let them have their fun Forget regrets, and just remember It's not so long since you were young You're bound to be the loser in the end You're bound to be the loser in the end They'll choose their new shoes, that's not far to bend You're ma on whom they can always depend - ooh hoo ooh ooh ooh
6. Ogre Battle
Now once upon a time an old man told me a fable When the piper is gone and the soup is cold on your table And if the black crow flies to find a new destination - That is the sign Come tonight, come to the ogre sight Come to the ogre battle fight He gives a great big cry and he can swallow up the ocean With a mighty tongue he catches flies The palm of a hand incredible size One great big eye has a focus in your direction Now the battle is on, yeah yeah yeah Come tonight, come to the ogre sight Come to the ogre battle fight The ogre men are still inside the two way mirror mountain You gotta keep down right out of sight You can't see in, but they can see out - ooh keep a look out The ogre men are coming out from the two way mirror mountain They're running up behind and they're coming all about Can't go east coz you gotta go south Ogre men are going home, the great big fight is over Bugle blow, let trumpet cry, ogre battle lives for ever more Oh oh oh You can come along, you can come along Come - to - ogre - battle
7. The Fairy Feller's Masterstroke
He's a fairy feller The fairy folk have gathered round the new moon shine To see the feller crack a nut at night's noon time To swing his axe he swears, as it climbs he dares to deliver... The masterstroke Ploughman, waggoner will and types Politician with senatorial pipe he's a dilly dally o Pedagogue squinting, wears a frown And a satyr peers under lady's gown - dirty fellow What a dirty laddio Tatterdemalion and a junketer There's a thief and a dragonfly trumpeter, he's my hero, aah Fairy dandy tickling the fancy of his lady friend The nymph in yellow (can we see the masterstroke) What a quaere fellow Soldier, sailor, tinker, tailer, ploughboy Waiting to hear the sound And the arch magician presides - he is the leader Oberon and Titania watched by the harridan Mab is the queen and there's a good apothecary man Come to say hello Fairy dandy tickling the fancy of his lady friend The nymph in yellow - what a quaere fellow The ostler stands with hands on his knees Come on mister feller crack it open if you please
There's no living in my life anymore The seas have gone dry and the rain stopped falling Please don't you cry anymore - can't you see Listen to the breeze, whisper to me please Don't send me to the path of nevermore Even the valleys below Where the rays of the sun were so warm and tender Now I haven't anything to grow Can't you see (nevermore nevermore) Why did you have to leave me (Nevermore nevermore) why did you deceive me You send me to the path of nevermore When you say you didn't love me anymore - aah aaah Nevermore, aah, nevermore
9. The March Of The Black Queen
Do you mean it, do you mean it, do you mean it Why don't you mean it Why do I follow you and where do you go Aah aah aah aah aah aah You've never seen nothing like it, no never in your life Like going up to heaven and then coming back alive Let me tell you all about it And the world will so allow it Ooh give me a little time to choose Water babies singing in a lily pool delight Blue powder monkeys praying in the dead of night Here comes the black queen poking in the pile Fie fo the black queen marching single file Take this, take that, bring them down to size March to the black queen Put them in the cellar with the naughty boys A little nigger sugar then a rub a dub a baby oil (aah aah) black on (aah aah) black on every finger nail and toe We've only begun begun Make this, make that, keep making all that noise March to the black queen Now I've got a belly full You can be my sugar baby, you can be my honey chile, yes La laa la laa la laa la laa la la la la la laa La laa la laa la laa la laa la laa la laa la laa la laa A voice from behind me reminds me (tra la laa tra la laa aaah) Spread out your wings you are an angel Remember to deliver with the speed of light A little bit of love and joy Everything you do (will bear a will) Bears a will and a why, and a wherefore A little bit of love and joy In each and every soul lies a man Very soon he'll deceive and discover But even till the end of his life, he'll bring a little love Aah ah aah, la la la la laa, ah ah ah ah aah, ah la la la laa I reign with my left hand, I rule with my right I'm lord of all darkness, I'm queen of the night I've got the power now do the march of the black queen My life is in your hands, I'll fo and I'll fie I'll be what you make me, I'll do what you like I'll be a bad boy I'll be your bad boy I'll do the march of the black queen Ah aah ah aah, ah aah ah aah Walking true to style She's vulgar, buse and vile Fie fo the black queen, tattoos all her pies She boils and she bakes, and she never dots her i's La la la la laa la la laa, la la la la la laa Forget your singalongs and your lullabies Surrender to the city of the fireflies Dance with the devil in beat with the band To hell with all of you hand in hand But now it's time to be gone (la la la laaa) forever forever La la la laaa aaah aah aah aaah
10. Funny How Love Is
Funny how love is, everywhere, just look and see Funny how love is, anywhere you're bound to be Funny how love is, every song in every key Funny how love is, coming home in time for tea Funny, funny, funny, oh (Da da daa, da da daa, da da daa, duh dooh) Funny how love is, the end of lies when the truth begins (Da da daa, da da daa, da da daa, dah dah) Tomorrow comes, tomorrow brings Tomorrow brings love in the shape of things (Aah aah aah aah aah aah) That's what love is, that's what love is Funny how love can break your heart so suddenly Funny how love came tumbling down with Adam and Eve Funny how love is, running wild and feeling free Funny how love is, coming home in time for tea Funny, funny, funny (da da daa, da da daa, da da daa, duh dooh) From the earth below to the heavens above That's how far and funny is love (Da da daa, da da daa, da da daa, dah dah) At any time (any time), anywhere (anywhere) If you gotta make love do it everywhere (Aah aah aah aah aah aah) That's what love is, that's what love is Funny how love is, everywhere just look and see (duh duh) Funny how love is, anywhere you're bound to be (dah dah) Funny how love is, every song in every key Funny how love is, when you gotta hurry home Coz you're late for tea (Aah aah aah aah aah aah) Funny, funny, funny, oh Tomorrow comes, tomorrow brings Tomorrow brings love in the shape of things At any time (any time), anywhere (anywhere) If you gotta make love do it everywhere (Aah aah aah aah aah aah) That's what love is, that's what love is