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A Night at the Opera (Queen album)

A Night at the Opera is a 1975 album by English rock band Queen. It was produced by Roy Thomas Baker and Queen, and reportedly was, at the time of its release, the most expensive album ever made. It was originally released by EMI in the UK where it topped the charts for nine weeks, a record at the time, and Elektra Records in the United States where the album peaked at #4 and has been certified Triple Platinum (three million copies sold).

The album takes its name from the Marx Brothers film of the same name, which the band watched one night at the studio complex when recording. The 1976 follow-up album, A Day at the Races, was also named after a Marx brothers film.

Track listing

Side one

Side two

Bonus tracks (1991 Hollywood Records CD reissue)

  1. "I'm in Love with My Car" (1991 Remix by Mike Shipley) – 3:28
  2. "You're My Best Friend" (1991 Remix by Matt Wallace) – 2:52

Song information

Death on Two Legs (Dedicated To...)

"Death on Two Legs (Dedicated To...)" could only be referred to as Mercury's hate letter toward Queen's ex-manager, Norman Sheffield, who is reputed to have mistreated the band and abused his role as their manager from 1972-1975. Though it never made a direct reference to him, upon listening to the song, Sheffield attempted to sue the band for defamation. This was how the public found who the song was about. Sheffield later admitted that it probably gave the band an incentive to dedicate the song to him after he decided to sue them. During live performances, Mercury would usually re-dedicate the song to "a real motherfucker of a gentleman", although this line was bleeped out on the version that appeared on their Live Killers album in 1979, possibly to avoid further legal proceedings.

In the "Classic Albums" documentary about the making of A Night At The Opera, Brian May stated that the band at first was somewhat put back by the incisiveness of Mercury's lyrics. After the song came together, it was agreed that the "author should have his way," and the song went on as penned.

As with "Bohemian Rhapsody", most of the guitar parts on this song were initially played on piano by Mercury, to demonstrate to Brian May how they needed to be played on guitar. As for the piano intro itself, it reportedly took Mercury many attempts to achieve the final result .

Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon

"Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon" was another song by Mercury. He played piano and did all of the vocals. The lead vocal was sung in studio, produced through headphones elsewhere in the studio in a tin bucket. A microphone picked up the sound from the bucket, which gives it a hollow "megaphone" sound. The guitar solo is also reported to have been recorded on the vocal track, as there were no more tracks to record on.

I'm in Love with My Car

"I'm in Love with My Car" is amongst Roger Taylor's most famous songs in the Queen catalogue. The song was initially taken as a joke by Brian May, who thought that Taylor was not serious when he heard a demo recording.

Taylor played the guitars in the original demo, but were later re-recorded by May on his Red Special. All lead vocals were sung by Roger Taylor, showcasing his spectacular countertenor range. The revving sounds at the conclusion of the song were recorded by Taylor's then current car, an Alfa Romeo. The lyrics were inspired by one of the band's roadies, Johnathan Harris, whose Triumph TR4 was evidently the "love of his life". The song is dedicated to him, the album says: "Dedicated to Johnathan Harris, boy racer to the end".

When it came down to releasing the album's first single, Taylor was so fond of his song that he urged Mercury (author of the first single, "Bohemian Rhapsody") to allow it to be the B-side and reportedly locked himself in a cupboard until Mercury agreed. This decision would later become the cause of much internal friction in the band, in that while it was only the B-side, it generated an equal amount of publishing royalties for Taylor as the main single did for Mercury.

The song was often played live during the '77-'81 period, again for the Queen + Paul Rodgers tour in 2005 and the Rock the Cosmos Tour in 2008. Taylor sang it from the drums while Freddie Mercury played piano. Roger would recover the song for his concerts with The Cross and solo tours, where instead of drums he played rhythm guitar.

You're My Best Friend

"You're My Best Friend" was John Deacon's first single, which he composed while he was learning to play piano. He played electric piano on the recording and overdubbed two bass lines. The song was written for his wife, Veronica Tetzlaff. In the music video, Deacon plays a grand piano, and it marks the first and only time on video without playing his bass. It was also Deacon's first single to hit the charts in the top 20.

'39

"'39" was Brian May's attempt to do "sci-fi skiffle." He sang the lead vocals and jokingly asked Deacon to play double bass. Some days later Deacon dropped by in the studio with the instrument and said he'd already learned how to play it. There are backing vocals by Mercury as well as very high and fairly low harmonies by Taylor, and some falsettos by Taylor. The B-side of "You're My Best Friend" and one of the band's most popular songs, "'39" relates the tale of a group of space explorers who embark on what is, from their perspective, a year-long voyage. Upon their return, however, they realize that a hundred years have passed, due to the time dilation effect in Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity, and the loved ones they left behind are now all dead. Because the "year of '39" resembles 1939, some have speculated that this is actually a song about the beginning of World War II but this is not the case.

The melody of the song is very similar to an early Bob Dylan song called "When the Ship Comes in". Due to the differences of vocal performance and the added new chorus, the similarities are rarely mentioned.

Following his performance of '39 at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, George Michael cited this song as his favourite Queen song, claiming he used to busk it on the London underground.

The music video for this song shows Queen performing the song at Houston '77, along with clips of space rockets blasting off and landing.

Sweet Lady

"Sweet Lady" is a heavy metal number written by May. Lyrically and musically, it's usually thought to precede 'Tie Your Mother Down' as a loud, riff-heavy expression of disdain for the author's romantic interest. However, 'Tie Your Mother Down' had already been written at the time.

Roger Taylor remembers it as the most difficult drumming part he ever recorded. As DTS tracks reveal, there are several off-pitch notes by Freddie Mercury on the lead vocal, something covered up by harmonies and overdubbing.

Seaside Rendezvous

"Seaside Rendezvous", written by Mercury, is probably best known for the "musical" bridge section which begins at around 0:51 into the song. The section is performed entirely by Mercury and Taylor using their voices alone. Mercury imitates woodwind instruments including a clarinet and Taylor mostly brass instruments, including tubas and trumpets, and even a kazoo. The tap dance segment is also "performed" by Mercury and Taylor on the mixing desk with thimbles on their fingers. Mercury plays both grand piano and jangle honky-tonk.

The Prophet's Song

"The Prophet's Song" was composed by May. On the show In the Studio with Redbeard, which spotlighted A Night at the Opera, May explained that he wrote the song after a dream he'd had while he was recovering from being ill while recording the Sheer Heart Attack album, and is the source of some of the lyrics. He spent several days putting it together, and it includes a vocal canon sung first by Mercury, then by Mercury, Taylor and May. The vocal, and later instrumental canon was produced by early tape delay devices. It is a heavy and dark number with a strong progressive rock influence. At over eight minutes in length, is also Queen's longest song (not counting the untitled instrumental track on Made in Heaven).

As detailed by Brian May in a documentary about this album, the speed-up effect that happens in the middle of the guitar solo was achieved by starting a reel-to-reel player with the tape on it, as the original tape player was stopped.

The dream he had was about The Great Flood, and lyrics have references from the Bible and the Noah's Ark account.

Love of My Life

"Love of My Life" is one of Mercury's most covered songs (there have been versions by many acts like Extreme featuring Brian May, Scorpions and Elaine Paige). Mercury played piano (including a classical solo) and did all of the vocals with startling multi-tracking precision. Brian May played harp (doing it chord by chord and pasting the takes to form the entire part), Gibson Hummingbird acoustic guitar (which he'd bought in Japan) and his usual Red Special.

"Love of My Life" was such a concert favourite that Mercury frequently stopped singing and allowed the audience to take over. It was especially well received during concerts in South America, and the band released the song as a single there. When Queen and Paul Rodgers performed the song (specifically Brian solo) he sang almost none of the words and let the audience sing it all, continuing the tradition.

Good Company

"Good Company" was written and sung by Brian May. All vocals are by May, who also plays a banjolele (credited as a "genuine George Formby Ukulele") on the track. The instrument, a combination of a ukulele and banjo, was his father's.

The recording is remarkable for featuring an elaborate recreation of a Dixieland-style jazz band, produced by May using his Red Special guitar, along with various forms of effects processing.

The song is a narrative tale, told by a man who in young age was advised by his father to "take care of those you call your own, and keep good company." In his younger years, the singer follows his father's advice, keeping his friends and marrying a girl named Sally. However, after their marriage, he begins to lose interest in his friends, who gradually disappear. As he grows older, he becomes increasingly skilled at and dedicated to his occupation, working long nights and neglecting his family.

Eventually, the singer's efforts are rewarded, he begins his own Limited company (which is also a pun, since throughout the rest of the song "company" is used in the sense of companions). Even more dedicated to his business, he hardly notices as his wife leaves him.

The song finishes with the speaker as an elderly man, puffing his pipe and pondering the lessons of his life, which he has no one left to share with.

This is the only song from the album that was never performed live.

Bohemian Rhapsody

"Bohemian Rhapsody" was written solely by Mercury. All guitar, bass and drum parts, as well as the vocal arrangements, were thought up by Mercury on a daily basis and written down "in blocks" (using note names instead of sheets) on a phonebook. The other members recorded their respective instruments with no concept of how their tracks would be utilised in the final mix. The now phenomenally famous operatic section was originally intended to be only a short interlude of "Galileos" that connected the ballad and hard rock portions of the song.

During the recording, the song became affectionately known as "Fred's Thing" to the band, and the title only emerged during the final sessions.

Despite being twice as long as the average single in 1975, the song became immensely popular, topping charts worldwide (where it remained for an unprecedented nine weeks in the UK) and is now widely regarded as one of the most significant rock songs in history.

God Save the Queen

"God Save the Queen" – Brian May recorded the anthem in 1974 before their Sheer Heart Attack tour. He played a guide piano which was edited out later and added several layers of guitars. After the song was completed it was played as an outro at virtually every concert Queen played. When recording the track May played a rough version on piano for Roy Thomas Baker. He called his own skills on the piano sub-par at the time. He performed the song live on the roof of Buckingham Palace for the Queen's golden jubilee in 2002.

Brian May has stated that he performed the song on the roof of Buckingham Palace as a homage to Jimi Hendrix's version of "The Star-Spangled Banner

Rejected songs

A song written by May and Mercury called "And Baby will Fall" was originally slated to end the album until it was decided that "God Save the Queen" be the conclusion. Further, songs titled "Woe" (written by May and Mercury), "All for Nothing" (written by Deacon), and "Any Given Day" (written and sung by May) were also recorded. Also, "Tie Your Mother Down" and "We Are the Champions" were also written by this time, but were not recorded until 1976 and 1977 respectively.

Personnel

Singles

  • "Bohemian Rhapsody"/"I'm in Love with My Car" (October, 1975)
  • "You're My Best Friend"/"'39" (June, 1976)

Reception

Since its release, critical reception of A Night at the Opera was immensely positive from both fans and critics. In particular, Bohemian Rhapsody, the album's centerpiece, received acclaim and is still considered among the greatest songs ever recorded.

The album was ranked number 230 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Channel 4 named it the 13th greatest album of all time. It was also ranked #41 on Q's "100 Greatest British Albums" and #16 on Q's "50 Best British Albums Ever!". In 2006 it was voted the ninth greatest Number One album of all time by the British public. The album is included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

Re-releases

The album was first time re-released in the US on Hollywood Records on September 3, 1991 with two bonus remixes, as part of a complete re-release of all Queen albums.

On 30 April 2002 the album was again re-released on DVD-Audio with a 5.1-channel mix in Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound.

On 21 November 2005 it was once more re-released to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the album and its first single, "Bohemian Rhapsody". This release is accompanied by a DVD-Video disc with the same track listing featuring the original videos, old and new concert footage (including "'39" from the Queen + Paul Rodgers tour and Brian May on the roof of Buckingham Palace playing "God Save the Queen") and audio commentary by all four bandmembers. On the aforementioned commentary (and on In the Studio with Redbeard, which devoted an episode to A Night at the Opera) May stated that had the album not been a success, Queen certainly would have disbanded.

References in music

Charts and sales

Country Charts Sales
Peak position Weeks Certification
Australia 1 300.000
Finland 1 40.000
Ireland 1 Platinum 30.000
Netherlands 1 4xPlatinum 350.000
New Zealand 1 51 50.000
United Kingdom 1 50 4xPlatinum 1.400.000
Spain 2 3 300.000
Norway 4 16
United States 4 56 3xPlatinum 3.600.000
Germany 5 Platinum 700.000
Austria 5 4 Gold 60.000
Japan 9 Gold 500.000
Sweden 11 10 120.000
Canada Platinum 500.000
Portugal 23 1
Argentina 2xPlatinum 300.000
Italy 150.000
France 250.000
Swiss 100.000

References

See also

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