Although “A Night At The Opera” from 1975 is unanimously considered a milestone in both Queen history and pop music, I think it’s successor “A Day At The Races” (1976) is just as good. The fact that both album titles are from films by the Marx Brothers make them perfect twins. The similarities are multiple, the differences nil although the white and black album cover suggests otherwise. If we listen to the music, both albums are actually very close to each other. Let me tell you just a little bit about the band itself.
At that time the striking foursome from London knows better and better how to conquer the world with their music. Their songs (especially at that time) all have an artistic and distinctive look. The band does not shy away from a good dose of theatricality when composing and arranging and that makes their mixture of hard rock and pop music so contagious.
Queen has a dynamic rhythm section with drummer Roger Taylor and bassist John Deacon. Add the creative, often layered guitar work of Brian May, as well as the sparkling piano playing of Freddie Mercury to that and you’re already well on your way. With Freddie Mercury as the singer, Queen has the most fantastic finisher you can think of. The inspired main figure feels like a fish in water. Mercury, with his brilliant voice, has everything to actually be that in full glory. Nothing seems to stand in his way. With his sparkling voice he also excels in the sublime choirs that he performs together with his bandmates. Noteworthy here are the ultra-high parts that Roger Taylor has added to the choruses.
Queen makes music for young and old. I was 13 years old when I bought my first Queen record, “A Day At The Races”. For a while there were 3 of them, until this recalcitrant young lover of symphonic music no longer tolerated pop in his collection. From the last song of many at “A Day At The Races”, Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together), it was difficult to say goodbye to. What a beautiful song. The atmosphere is carried with a slight bombastic glow over which a strong melody line manifests itself. The fact that the chorus is sung in Japanese is a genius find and also the fact that there is a resigned climax of a children’s choir may be called special, especially considering the image of that time. Some guitar playing by Brian May, who is also the composer of the song, concludes this gem.
Still, it would be another 45 years before I bought the album again. How could I have ever sold the LP, ten songs with enormous expressiveness, with a mouth-watering drive.
The CD I bought was a feast of recognition right from the guitar introduction. With the rolling riffs of Tie Your Mother Down, the first song sets itself in motion convincingly. This hard rock song has wide choruses, bombastic drums and vicious guitar solos with an over all sound that has a bit of a glam rock allure. The ensuing You Take My Breath Away is breathtaking, Freddie Mercury at his best. Lyrical, passionate, tender and extraordinarily expressive. His singing and his piano playing go together as one. Listen to the timing of his runs. This song is also decorated with beautiful choirs and towards the end Brain May lets his creativity assert itself again (as always). A remarkable song is The Millionaire Waltz, written by Freddie Mercury. The fact that the tempo and atmosphere changes are multiple makes my prog heart beat faster. Sometimes you imagine yourself in a decadent ballroom, sometimes you listen to a Bohemian Rhapsody-like piece of metal. The fact that this is a genuine Mercury composition drips off on all sides. You can smell his grandeur like that, so to speak. You can also hear in this song the good coöperation of everyone. There are beautiful bass loops and the guitar work is also very good.
About the mega hit Somebody To Love I only want to say that I think the complex arrangement of the background vocals is really brilliant. Also important: it fits perfectly with the 6/8th swing of the song. Despite the fact that it is an earwig of the highest order, it remains a sublime song. Sublime yes, and actually it’s not even that noticeable. There are so many excellent songs on the album. What always appeals to me is the You And I written by John Deacon that has a smooth rhythm and a strong melody. The sturdy White Man is also remarkable because it closely matches the old Queen. With the Beatles/Klaatu-like Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy, Queen clearly carves out a sound of its own. The smooth song is Mercury at its best. When the album closes with the beautiful Teo Torriatte, you can only conclude that the ten songs together produce an album that is greater than the sum of its parts.
© Dick van der Heijde 2023