Queen – The Making of A Night at the Opera

1977 words (8 pages) Essay

8th Feb 2020 Music Reference this

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A Night at the Opera is the third album by British band Queen and arguably sits as one of the best album throughout the band’s career, earning it a platinum record. The name of the album, later explained By Brian May was inspired by a 1953 movie by the Marx Brothers with the same name and agreed that it was a great title. The album was produced by Roy Thomas Baker, who made the album as a collaboration with the band. The band formed in 1971 with a lineup of members consisting of the lead vocalist Freddie Mercury, lead guitarist Brian May, drummer Roger Taylor, and bassist John Deacon. Queen continued to sign with the EMI record label two years later, followed by the release of their first album Queen in 1973. The first tour of the UK started, then a year later followed by the release of the album Queen II.  The album gave way for the band to do their first headlining tour around the UK as well as their first debut for a tour in the US. Afterwards, preceding the second album would be Sheer Heart Attack in 1974.

Finally, in 1975 A Night at the Opera was released along with the long successful single of [1]“Bohemian Rhapsody” that stood at number 1 in the UK chart for a period of nine weeks. In addition, all four of the albums stood in the UK Top Twenty by 1976. The album was written by all four members of the band, consisting of songs, “Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to…),” “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon,” “I’m in Love with My Car,”“You’re My Best Friend,” “39,” “Seaside Rendezvous,” “Good company,” “Love of My life,” “Prophet Song,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and “God Save the Queen.” The album is then followed by A Day at the Races (1976), News of the World (1977), Jazz (1978), Live Killers (1979), The Game (1980), Flash Gordon (1980), Hot Space (1982), The Works (1984), A Kind of Magic (1986), Live Magic (1986), The Miracle (1989), Innuendo (1990), and Made in Heaven (1995).

 “Death on Two Legs” was a song written by Freddie Mercury about his grievances regarding the management of the band at the time. According to Brian May, Mercury felt that he was being disenfranchised and disrespected. Roger Taylor later explained, “he was aggrieved at our management, at the time, who, he felt, didn’t respect him, hadn’t paid him. Had stolen from him, and he wanted to put it down on record.” Although, previously Taylor also explained that they were facing financial disadvantages when they had no reason to be, with a successful album and hit song. However, May would also later discuss the issue regarding the song writing within the band, being concerned with Mercury’s lyrics. May and Mercury then continued to explain that when it comes to songwriting, the author decides and can do anything that he wants, thus; the lyrics to the song. After the unfortunate experience, the band resolved their issue by appointing John Reid as their manager.

The second song, “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon” is one evidence of the technicality that goes in the production. The song as Taylor explains, was one of the songs that shows the influence of The Beatles to the band.  The production involved Gary Lyons, a music engineer for the album who helped with the special effects. Lyons explained that they used natural effects as opposed to modern. Roy Thomas Baker as producer also elaborated that the song used the megaphone effect. Lyons explained the technique used on the track as, “he was singing in the studio, it was being fed into the console. The console was then sending it out to a pair of headphones, which were in a metal can, and then a microphone was in the metal can, recording the voice coming out.” May later added, besides Baker and Lyons there was another producer and engineer that helped with the album. Mike Stone was also one of the unsung heroes, also producing the band’s previous albums.

 “I’m in Love with My Car” was written by Roger Taylor. This song shows that Queen is unlike any other band, as each member do not conform to their ‘cut’’. Taylor later explained the influence of the song, “it’s different than your average rock song, because it’s basically in 6/8 time, which is basically waltz time.” He also elaborated that the time gave the song an unstoppable rolling quality. Brian May also elaborated that the song’s influence was Taylor’s fascination with fast things and the tuneful quality of the song that makes Taylor’s vocals the song itself. John Ingham, a music journalist described the song as excessive, explaining that the song involves multi-tracking and overdubbing. He also explained that this song is the evidence of Baker’s collaboration with the band. Baker himself later said that it is important for him that he makes sure the overall sound of the band would be iconic and recognizable. Thus, proving his role that was very much in tune with the band itself.

 “You’re My Best Friend” is written by John Deacon about his wife. Despite the unusual imagery and lyrics, the song was and still is very well perceived. Anthony DeCurtis, a music journalist described the song as, “it was a kind of friendlier, more accessible song, to some of the stuff Queen was doing.” Deacon wanted his song to be a single, as his other songs, “I Want to Break Free” and “Another One Bites the Dust.” However, Deacon was known to be the ‘dark horse’ of the band and was the shiest. According to Mercury, Deacon’s writing is influenced by mow town which is heavy and different. They built layers of harmonies by singing together every part. They double tracked it, giving it a strong sound for the backing vocals. The band encouraged Deacon to also write music to avoid royalty issues between all four members of the band. As many bands suffer when royalty issues emerge and eventually became a dividing factor.

“Prophet Song” originally called “People of the Earth” was written by Brian May. The song was done in many segments by tapes that was put together. The band did a press playback for the record company while part of the record was still being mixed at another studio. Although, when May was still putting together the segments, Kenny Everett had stolen one of the tapes and put it on the radio in its unfinished form. Taylor later explained that both him and May were unhappy with the DJ. May used a different tuning for his guitar by turning two bottom strings into a D that gave more depth to the sound. The tuning also gave the sound more growl along with the floating tremolo. It also causes the whole sound to go out of tune when one string changes, thus the riff would be different every time. May also added that the band found their signature or trademark by limiting repetition, putting something different after the chorus. The song is influenced by the band’s time in Japan by sound and instrument. Although, the inspiration came from May’s dream, “about a prophet who said various things and it was very vivid. I could heat the melody and snippets of words and tunes,”.

The song starts with a wind noise produced by an air conditioner with a Phaser on the mic and a toy Koto from Japan that was tuned. May also later explained that he was interested with the business of cannon, which is essentially repetition but the delays would meet. It was also called fugue, using new delaying machines that would tape the delays then continues to build up harmonies and counterpoints. In the studio, Mercury did a continuous demo with live delays by singing in different mics. First singing in the center with the first delay on the left and the second on the right mic, continued with harmonizing with himself as the sound comes back to the headphones. Using two stereo Struder tape machines, the tape goes on one wheel and through, then coming off the machine and into another. The song would be performed live with the delays and most of the time with Mercury having improvised his part. The song also involved some experimentation with the backing tracks. There are also a few elements done in post-production that couldn’t be done on faders or premix. The song describes the nature of May’s writing that leads towards a feeling of typical rock song quality and an adolescent persona.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” is one of the most successful Queen song. The song was written by Freddie Mercury with the unusual length of eight minutes. The inspiration of the song was from Mercury’s dream and was Taylor’s choice to be a single. According to Baker, it was one of the most expensive record ever made and took over three weeks to cut the single with the layers of guitars and overdubbing of the vocals. May has guitar solos that he tuned his guitar to two picks out of phase that gave a screaming quality which makes the harmonics come out. The song shares the same elements and sound with their previous song, “March of the Black Queen.” Also, using a method called strings of Mantovani which is the technique that causes the notes to cascade for the harmony of the vocals. Three members would record their voices three times, therefore nine voices on each fader. These techniques were later applied to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” with the backing vocals right across the stereo. The backing tracks also includes the bass, piano, and drum in addition to the vocals. May’s guitar solo was inspired by just listening to the record, using an E flat riff. The lyrics of the song is a mix of melancholy and grandeur in nature, however it does spark some speculations regarding Mercury’s intentions behind the song. Many have speculated it was regarding Mercury’s love life, both spiritually and sexually.

A Night at the Opera was the album that was a defining time for the band. They have essentially pulled inspiration and reasoning from their past experiences. It also gave the band opportunity to find their signature sound and coming together as a better single unit. The album eventually reached success by earning a [2]platinum record, put in the Top Twenty in the UK charts, [3] reaching number four in the US charts. Moreover, the experimentation and the production along with the success created the longevity for their career. Furthermore, the album is considered as an iconic album that will be remembered for a long time.

Works Cited

  • Longfellow, Matthew, director. Queen: The Making of A Night at the Opera. Eagle Rock Entertainment, 2006.
  • Weymouth, Nick. “About Queen”. Queen: The Official Website, www.queenonline.com/queen.
  • Albano, Ric. “A Night at the Opera by Queen.” Classic Rock Review, Album Reviews, 1 Oct. 2015, www.classicrockreview.com/2015/10/1975-queen-night-at-opera/.


 


[1] Weymouth, Nick. “About Queen”. Queen: The Official Website, www.queenonline.com/queen.

[2] Weymouth, Nick. “About Queen”. Queen: The Official Website, www.queenonline.com/queen.

[3] Albano, Ric. “A Night at the Opera by Queen.” Classic Rock Review, Album Reviews, 1 Oct. 2015, www.classicrockreview.com/2015/10/1975-queen-night-at-opera/.

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