21st September 2020

Masters of Transitions - Fan Feature by Fabio Mirabasso

Throughout their artistic production, Queen have shown that they appreciated and knew how to handle different musical genres. One of their strengths was in the exploration of many styles so that everyone could find a side they preferred. Even after years of listening, their songs always have that special touch that makes them interesting. I was always intrigued and surprised by their great ability to create such different and 'compact' works at the same time, especially at an album level. One of the most fascinating techniques that has helped them achieve this cohesion are the transitions between one song and another: in particular the softer ones, where you don't even notice the gap between the two songs. Technically these are called 'segue' (from the Italian word which means 'it follows'): it represents the imperceptible passage from one song to another. It's a winning mix achieved both from the composition and from the recording. It's almost 'an art into the art' and I think Queen were masters in it. This stratagem was initially exploited by bands from the psychedelic and progressive scene such as Genesis, Pink Floyd and especially The Beatles (the B side of 'Abbey Road' and the whole concept behind ' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' are famous).

Queen, however, made this concept their own and led it to even higher peaks, making certain songs just flow naturally and connecting them nicely. Will they use a sustained note or a recurring chorus to complete the shift? Every time it changes and that's the beauty of it.

On this occasion, I will focus only on the songs made in the studio, leaving aside the concert medley, fluid by nature. It must be said that this technique was mainly used in the 70s production, but, as we will see, there are exceptions...

The first, self-titled, album from 1973, is a solid debut but does not present this peculiarity yet. This probably depends a bit on the way the songs were recorded - a hasty way, we could say - a bit because several of these were already part of their live repertoire or from youth bands, therefore they were not so suitable for further processing.

The magic of transitions begins in 1974 with "Queen II". This album, characterized by the contrast between the white and black sides, features several gems and various examples of this wonderful recording technique. We don't have to wait long, since the first three pieces are linked in a very successful way, in a solemn and almost sacred atmosphere. The instrumental "Procession", Brian's incredible invention made possible by the Deacy Amp, is connected, as in a rain, to the first elegant notes of "Father to Son", that in turn flows into the medieval and dreamy atmospheres of the moving "White Queen". Lyrically we move from the tender teachings of a father to the description of a wonderful and unattainable Queen; a Lady who represents perfection in all aspects. This initial sequence brings us gently into the heart of the album and immediately specifies the majestic and regal tone of these new songs. A few minutes and tracks later, when the fury calms down and we took part in the "Ogre Battle", it is possible to hear an explosion.  A patter takes over, from which a restless harpsichord rises. It accompanies us directly from the battlefield to the magical and sensual atmospheres of wood: this is described by Freddie as inhabited by strange creatures (he was inspired by Richard Dadd's painting with the same name). A delicate arpeggio on the piano, at the end of the song, acts as a glue. This is the exciting 'segue' that takes us right from "The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke" to "Nevermore"; perhaps the most successful transition on the album. The theme passes without effort from a curious assembly full of unreliable creatures to then flow into the bitter meditation of an abandoned lover. He is stubborn in realizing that probably falling in love will never happen again to him, as the Raven imagined by Edgar Allan Poe used to say: Nevermore!

The surprises are not over, because at the end of the epic and powerful "March of the Black Queen" is tied one of the most dreamy pieces of the album: "Funny how love is". Clinging to the almost angelic harmonies of the previous song, that rise in tone and progressively go faster, we immerse ourselves in the realization that love is everywhere around us if we paid attention. Only a genius and a detail-conscious band like Queen could have thought of a way to connect not only two songs, but even two albums! This is the case of "Seven Seas of Rhye": the cheerful choir that is sung in the finale is the same whistled tune that opens "Sheer Heart Attack" and its "Brighton Rock", with clear funfair vibes. A fascinating case of foresight in Rock Music!

And "Sheer Heart Attack" itself is another work full of interesting ideas in the 'segue' field. There is another noteworthy triplet, represented by "Tenement Funster", "Flick of the Wrist" and "Lily of The Valley". In the first episode a pounding piano intro emerges from the dilated effects of the Red Special; in the second, after many reactive exchanges between the main voice and the choirs, a single word - 'honey' - is kept longer and becomes the key to enter the refined ballad. The mood gradually passes from the bravado of a young man to the cynical arrogance of an entrepreneur and then reclines in the delicate portrait of a flower, a metaphor for how ephemeral existence is, with his doubts, fears, and misunderstandings. This song also constitutes the last farewell to the kingdom of Rhye, a fantasy land invented by little Farrokh in his childhood. Both transitions are performed perfectly; I would dwell also on the elongated guitar note that opens "Lily of the Valley", after the frenzy of the previous track. The contrast is something poetic.

Less evident, but still very useful, is the transition from "In the Lap of the Gods" to "Stone Cold Crazy". A waning yet incessant beat that conserves the necessary power for what has been considered by many to be the first thrash metal song in history. Even between "Misfire" and "Bring Back That Leroy Brown" the link is subtle, but it is possible to notice it flow. Here we are at the edges of a fade, but personally I have always sensed a sound opening that gave breath to the marauding affairs of Leroy Brown, directly derived from the sparkling finale of 'Misfire' - just in time!

"A Night At The Opera" (1975) in addition to being the masterpiece that we all love, has opened up further scenarios for Queen to experiment with the connections between the songs. The transitions from "Death on two legs (Dedicate To..)" to "Lazing on a Sunday afternoon" and from the latter to "I'm in love with my car" are more ideal than concrete, despite being very well tied and with very short breaks, they convey a feeling of unique flow. We can think about both the endings that suddenly and literally drag us into silence, before returning with a vintage vaudeville sound or the grit of a racing car. However, the supreme example is the shift from "Prophet's song" to "Love of my life". A refined dialogue between piano, classical guitar, and even harp welcomes us from the storm experienced by our prophet to one of the best love songs ever. The first notes of "Love of my life" in fact recall various conclusive passages of the previous track (including many touches of koto, a traditional Japanese instrument played by Brian). The lyrics range from the delusional unheard warnings of a wise man (or was he mad?) to an open-hearted romantic prayer. Did you ever notice that before the drum roll that opens "God Save The Queen" there is an echo, a sort of slight rustle? Well, that is precisely the sound caused by the majestic gong at the end of "Bohemian Rhapsody", one of the most appreciated and famous songs ever. This is another less obvious but still very pleasant transition because it combines an unpredictable and innovative work of art with the most traditional melody for excellence: the National Anthem.

The following album, "A Day At The Races" (1976), was excellent but did not present particular cases of 'segue'. However, there is a very ingenious idea that allows you to listen to the album in an ideal loop, which in fact also constitutes a transition from one song to another. I'm talking about the ending of "Teo Toriatte" which recall the oriental atmosphere at the beginning of "Tie Your Mother Down". True: there is a significant gap and the two songs are interspersed with several seconds of silence and reflection, but we could see it like a ring that theoretically allows us to dive back into a new listening to the album.

"News Of The World" (1977) had overall essential and less stratified arrangements, also as a physiological reaction to the winds of the emerging punk rock; "Jazz" (1978) had no particular transitions, with the exception of the innovative medley placed towards the end of "More of that Jazz". Not really a 'segue' between tracks, but still a nice way to tie songs together and offer a quick summary! It is amazing to note that even just a word or a whistle could serve as a reference for the individual tracks and, if desired, they could have been used as ideal bridges between the songs.

With the arrival of the 80s, the approach to composition inevitably changed and therefore also the structure of the songs and related albums. It is enough to say that Queen had never used the synthesizer before, while from "The Game" (1980) onwards it will become another precious ally to craft fantastic songs. However, the stratagem of 'segue' was set aside for a while, probably to make listening to individual songs more accessible and not necessarily embedded in the structure of a larger album. Excluding the satisfying "Flash Gordon", which was a soundtrack and clearly had its own rules required by cinematographic needs (it is almost all one large and fluid transition, complete with dialogues taken from the movie), it is necessary to wait several years before noticing the return of this technique.

"Hot Space" (1982), "The Works" (1984) and "A Kind Of Magic" (1986) all included songs with a sharp or gradually faded ending before the following song began. It is therefore impossible to recognize even the intention to connect them. Personally, I have always liked the delicate way in which "Life Is Real (Song for Lennon)" starts from the energetic/shouted ending of "Put out the fire", but maybe it is more a suggestion than a tangible link.

In 1989, Queen completed a fabulous album which for the first time will see them, co-authors of all the songs, in a union symbolically represented also on the cover. And speaking of union, we finally see the return of our beloved 'segue'. The first two tracks of "The Miracle", in fact, "Party" and "Khashoggi's Ship", both unleashed and gritty, are connected perfectly with an amazing and imperceptible transition. Freddie, on behalf of the whole band, at the start of "Khashoggi's Ship", wonders annoyed who dared to think the party was over. It is precisely the phrase ' the party is o...' that is lengthened and welcomes us in the next song. The party is by no means over - Brian's powerful riff points it out too - and we keep talking about the wild and funny events of those long nights. The party isn't over until they tell you, got it?

"Innuendo" (1991) is a wonderful album, inevitably filled with melancholy and nostalgia. One of the most moving episodes is, in my opinion, precisely in the last transition between "Bijou" and "The Show Must Go On". If we want to be precise, with stricter criteria, this would not even be an actual 'segue', but I think we can make a small exception given the emotional significance of this combination. As soon as the last ethereal note of the guitar solo dissolves, we go from the delicacy of a hug, which would be wonderful to last forever, to the strength of an impending farewell full of dignity and desire to fight, despite everything. Even musically we are at the peak of emotions. The enveloping solo of Brian May, combined with the clear voice of Freddie lead to collective power when John and Roger also join in the next song. Difficult to find two final songs so emotional and well-matched in a rock album. Really touching.

In "Made in Heaven" (1995) there are further brilliant and moving choices such as the exciting sound flashbacks at the end of "Mother Love" or the classic rock interludes that Roger Taylor placed in his reinterpretation of "It's a Beautiful Day". At the end of this song, there is also room for a transition (as we learned to know them) that is short, powerful and passionate 'Yeah' sung by Freddie and which accompanies us in the mysterious and suggestive track 'Untitled'. A long and relaxing instrumental suite that would deserve a separate study and that leaves free interpretation to anyone who has the pleasure of listening to it.

As we have seen, Queen has been able to continually amaze the world with their musical ideas. Sometimes a small and delicate nuance was enough to surprise us, other times they wanted to do things in a big way. Surely they have always been original, different, with an extra touch. Also for this reason they are a legendary band. I hope you enjoyed this little study, thanks for your kind attention and good listening to everyone!

Now excuse me but I run to look for other jewels in their discography!

 - Fabio Mirabasso is 25, lives in Bastia Umbra (Italy) and is a loyal Queen fan since he first listened to them as a kid. -