- A Night at the Opera (Queen album)
A Night at the Opera Studio album by Queen Released 21 November 1975 Recorded August – November 1975 at various studios Genre Rock Length 43:10 Label EMI, Parlophone (Europe)
Elektra, Hollywood (US)
Producer Roy Thomas Baker, Queen Queen chronology Sheer Heart Attack
A Night at the Opera
A Day at the Races
Singles from A Night at the Opera
- "Bohemian Rhapsody"
Released: 31 October 1975
- "You're My Best Friend"
Released: 18 May 1976
A Night at the Opera is the fourth studio album by the British rock group Queen, released in November 1975. Co-produced by Roy Thomas Baker and Queen, A Night at the Opera was, at the time of its release, the most expensive album ever recorded. A commercial success, A Night at the Opera has been voted by the public and cited by music publications as one of Queen's finest works.
The album takes its name from the Marx Brothers film A Night at the Opera, which the band watched one night at the studio complex when recording. It was originally released by EMI in the United Kingdom, where it topped the charts for four non-consecutive weeks, and Elektra Records in the United States, where it peaked at #4.
- 1 Recording history
- 2 Reception and legacy
- 3 Track listing
- 4 Chart performance
- 5 Personnel
- 6 2011 re-issue
- 7 References
Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to...)
"Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to...)" could only be referred to as Freddie Mercury's hate letter towards 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, and this revealed to the public the subject of the song. 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 censored out on the version that appeared on their Live Killers album in 1979. Other than on the version of said live album, he'd said it was dedicated to a "Mother fucker I used to know".
In the Classic Albums documentary about the making of A Night at the Opera, Brian May stated that the band at first was somewhat taken aback 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 May how they needed to be played on guitar. "Death on Two Legs" remained on the setlist until, and well into, The Game Tour in 1980, then was dropped.
Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon
"Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon" is another song by Mercury. He played piano and did all of the vocals. The lead vocal was sung in the studio and reproduced through headphones in a tin bucket elsewhere in the studio. 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, as explained by producer Roy Thomas Baker during the 'Classic Albums' documentary. The key change going into the guitar solo (Eb to A) is a tritone relationship, making it a jarring, but very effective, transition into the key of E minor for the next track, "I'm in Love with My Car".
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 May, who thought that Taylor was not serious when he heard a demo recording.
Taylor played the guitars in the original demo, but they were later re-recorded by May on his Red Special. The lead vocals were performed by Taylor on the studio version, and all released live versions. 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 1977-1981 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 Mercury played piano and provided backing vocals. He 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 the Wurlitzer Electric Piano (which Mercury called a "horrible" instrument in an interview) on the recording and overdubbed the bass later on. The song was written for his wife, Veronica Tetzlaff. In the music video, Deacon mimes a grand piano, and it is one of the only times on video he is playing an instrument other than his bass, the other times being the video of Who Wants to Live Forever, where he plays a double bass, the video for A Kind Of Magic (song), where he plays a banjo, the video for Spread Your Wings, where he also mimes playing the piano and in the One Vision music video where he plays drums in a few short shots rather than Taylor. It was also Deacon's first single to hit the charts in the top 10.
"'39" was May's attempt to do "sci-fi skiffle". 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 realise that a hundred years have passed, because of 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 the Second World War but this is not the case. There are backing vocals by Mercury as well as very high and fairly low harmonies by Taylor, and some falsettos by Taylor.
Having named their albums, A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races, after Marx Brothers films, Groucho Marx, the most recognisable of the Marx Brothers, invited Queen to visit him in his Los Angeles home in March 1977, and the band thanked him in person and performed "'39" a cappella.
Counting all of the original songs in album order, starting with Keep Yourself Alive (on the first Queen album) all the way through to '39, this song falls 39th in chronological order.
"Sweet Lady" is a distortion driven fast rocker written by May. Lyrically and musically, it is 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.
The song is an unusual rock style in 3/4 meter (which gives way to 4/4 at the bridge). Taylor remembers it as the most difficult drumming part he ever recorded.
The guitar line later evolved into the fast version of We Will Rock You.
"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, during this section Taylor hits the highest note on the album C6. 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 (working title "People of the Earth"). 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 May in a documentary about the 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.
Love of My Life
"Love of My Life" was written for Mercury's girlfriend at the time, Mary Austin, and is one of his most covered songs (there have been versions by many acts like Extreme featuring May, Scorpions and Elaine Paige). Mercury played piano (including a classical solo) and did all of the vocals with startling multi-tracking precision. 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 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" was written and sung by May, who provides all vocals and plays a "Genuine Aloha" ukelele.
The recording is remarkable for featuring an elaborate recreation of a Dixieland-style jazz band, produced by way of May's red special guitar and Deacy Amp.
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 man'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.
"Bohemian Rhapsody" was written by Mercury with the first guitar solo composed by May. All piano, 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 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
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.
Guitar layering is one of May's distinctive techniques as a rock guitarist. He has said that the technique was developed whilst looking for a violin sound. For tracks like this, he stated he can use "up to 30" layers, using a small amplifier named the 'Deacy Amp' built by Deacon, and later released commercially like the "Brian May" amplifier by Vox.
Reception and legacy
At the time the most expensive album ever recorded, Brian May has asserted in subsequent years that, had A Night at the Opera not been successful, Queen would have disbanded. Upon release, the album was a commercial success, debuting at #1 in the UK charts and remaining there for nine weeks. In the US, it debuted at #4, the band's strongest showing at that time. Rolling Stone wrote, "Like all heavy-metal groups, Queen's most easily distinguished trait is a knack for manipulating dynamics. But what sets them apart is their selection of unlikely effects: acoustic piano, harp, acapella vocals, no synthesisers. Coupled with good songs. Queen's obviously the strongest contender in its field." Melody Maker called the album a "must-have," encouraging listeners to "turn it up loud and enjoy," while the Winnipeg Free Press wrote, "The group's potential is practically limitless, indicating that Queen is destined to finally take its place among the small handful of truly major acts working in rock today." Robert Christgau was less enthusiastic, giving the album a "B-" rating. Later reviews in notable publications such as Allmusic, Mojo and Q Magazine, have seen the album receive five-star ratings. Allmusic, who chose the record as an "album pick", wrote, "It's prog rock with a sense of humor as well as dynamics, and Queen never bettered their approach anywhere else"; Allmusic chose "Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to...)", "Sweet Lady" and first single "Bohemian Rhapsody", as the best tracks on the record. Mojo called the album "An imperial extravaganza, a cornucopia; a band of hungrily competitive individualists on a big roll of friendship and delight." Q were similarly receptive, writing, "It's a record to which all four contributed fine songs, and one of extremes -- among the crashing rock and proggy wigouts were love songs, acoustic whimsy, a trad-jazz pastiche and a brace of vaudeville show tunes." The magazine opined that the eight minute "Prophet's Song" is "as good as Bohemian Rhapsody". Uncut awarded the album only 3/5 stars, but offered a mostly positive review, commending "the extent of the band's barmy diversity." Rhapsody's Mike McGuirk wrote, "Generally considered one of the greatest rock albums of all time, A Night at the Opera's overlaying of heavy metal, genius stereo gimmickry, Broadway swish and British pomp is as vital and riveting to listen to today as when it was released in 1975." The BBC said of the record, "Christmas 1975 was to be forever remembered as Queen’s. And A Night at the Opera remains their finest hour."
Publication Country Accolade Year Rank 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die UK 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die 2005 * ABC AUS Poll: Top 100 Albums 2007 28 BBC UK Poll: Top 100 Albums 2006 9 Channel 4 UK Poll: Greatest 100 Albums 2005 13 Classic Rock UK The 100 Greatest Rock Albums Ever 2001 25 The 100 Greatest British Rock Albums Ever 2006 17 The 200 Greatest Albums of the 70's (20 greatest of 1975) 2006 * Kerrang! UK Poll: The 100 Best British Rock Albums Ever 2005 19 NME UK Poll: Greatest 100 Albums of All Time 2006 19 Q UK The 50 Best British Albums Ever 2004 17 Rolling Stone MX Poll: The 100 Greatest Albums of All Time 2004 11 US Poll: Readers' Top 100 Albums 2002 82 US The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time 2003 230 Virgin UK Poll: All Time Top 1000 Albums 1998 87
(*) designates unordered lists.
The album was first re-released in the US on Hollywood Records on 3 September 1991 with two bonus remixes, as part of a complete re-release of all Queen albums.
On 21 November 2005 it was once more re-released by Hollywood Records Catalogue Number 2061-62572-2 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. It was on this commentary (and on In the Studio with Redbeard, which devoted an episode to A Night at the Opera) that May stated that had the album not been a success, Queen certainly would have disbanded.
Side one No. Title Writer(s) Length 1. "Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to...)" Freddie Mercury 3:43 2. "Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon" Mercury 1:08 3. "I'm in Love with My Car" Roger Taylor 3:05 4. "You're My Best Friend" John Deacon 2:50 5. "'39" Brian May 3:25 6. "Sweet Lady" May 4:01 7. "Seaside Rendezvous" Mercury 2:13 Side two No. Title Writer(s) Length 1. "The Prophet's Song" May 8:17 2. "Love of My Life" Mercury 3:38 3. "Good Company" May 3:26 4. "Bohemian Rhapsody" Mercury 5:55 5. "God Save the Queen" Traditional, arr. May 1:11 1991 Hollywood Records bonus tracks No. Title Length 13. "I'm In Love With My Car" (1991 Bonus remix by Mike Shipley) 3:28 14. "You're My Best Friend" (1991 Bonus remix by Matt Wallace) 2:52 2011 Universal Records reissue bonus disc No. Title Writer(s) Length 1. "Keep Yourself Alive (Long-Lost Retake, June 1975)" May 4:04 2. "Bohemian Rhapsody (Operatic Section A-cappella Mix)" Mercury 1:03 3. "You're My Best Friend (Backing Track Mix)" Deacon 2:57 4. "I'm in Love With My Car (Guitar & Vocal Mix)" Taylor 3:18 5. "'39 (Live at Earl's Court, June 1977)" May 3:46 6. "Love of My Life (South American Live Single, June 1979)" Mercury 3:43 2011 iTunes Deluxe Edition bonus videos No. Title Length 7. "Bohemian Rhapsody (No Flames Original Version)" 8. "Seaside Rendezvous (30th Anniversary 2005)" 9. "Love Of My Life (Live at Milton Keynes '82)"
Chart (1975) Peak
Australian Albums Chart 1 Austrian Albums Chart 9 Canadian Albums Chart 2 Dutch Albums Chart 1 French Albums Chart 16 German Albums Chart 5 Japanese Albums Chart 9 New Zealand Albums Chart 1 Norwegian Albums Chart 4 Portuguese Albums Chart 23 Swedish Albums Chart 10 UK Albums Chart 1 US Billboard 200 4 Preceded by
40 Greatest Hits by Perry Como
40 Greatest Hits by Perry Como
UK Albums Chart number-one album
22 December 1975 – 10 January 1976
17 January 1976 – 31 January 1976
40 Greatest Hits by Perry Como
The Best of Roy Orbison by Roy Orbison
- Freddie Mercury – lead vocals, piano, honkey tonk, Bechstein Debauchery, backing vocals, woodwind vocalizations on "Seaside Rendezvous"
- Brian May – guitars, ukelele, backing vocals, lead vocals on "'39" and "Good Company", toy koto on "The prophet's Song", harp on "Love of My Life"
- Roger Taylor – drums, percussion, lead vocals on "I'm in Love with My Car", brass vocalizations on "Seaside Rendezvous", backing vocals
- John Deacon – bass guitars, double-bass, electric piano
- Mike Stone – executive engineer
- Gary Lyons – invaluable additional engineering
- John Harris – equipment supervision
- David Costa – art direction
- Rick Curtin and Brian Palmer – special thanks
- John Reid – management
On 8 November 2010, record company Universal Music announced a remastered and expanded reissue of the album set for release in May 2011. This as part of a new record deal between Queen and Universal Music, which meant Queen's association with EMI would come to an end after almost 40 years. According to Universal Music, all Queen albums are to be remastered and reissued in 2011.
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