Monday, 28 April 2014

Queen: "A day at the Races"


Hi guys, this is my second blog, following my Billy Joel's Greatest hits.

I am aiming to give you an overall view of the album from both what I seen and/or read on videos/DVDs/books. I'll then endeavour to pull apart a three songs and maybe ponder some subject matter and see where that ends us up at. I wanted to do another blog, as I am a beginner while helping out a cool blog spot.
Ok? Let's do it, as Freddie would say!!!

This album follows on from the success of the album preceding, named A Night at the Opera
Those of you who are Marx Brothers fans, will know what both "Opera" and "Races" are also Marx Brothers comedies. That fact alone gives a nice edge to these albums. It's easy to take the recordings on board in a slightly theatrical manner. If you are willing to broaden your mind, it might even take that slightly more theatrical quality that Queen might well be regarded at producing, especially at their live shows. As hard core fans recall seeing in the videos of Freddie in leotards. 

The most interesting tidbit I have for you is bearing on the fact that this came after "Opera"
A Night at the Opera was made at or around a time when the guys, Freddie, Brian, Roger and John were in deep financial debt, with little or no money being given to them by their manager at the time.  The appearance of "Races" heralds a time when Queen were shaking free of the debt and managers leaving band members poor. The music, as the band reflects, has them going on to record music that quietly expressing that the bad times were fading fast into the past and Queen were finally finding their audience, or at least in the beginnings of really establishing themselves for the rest of their career.

A direct evidence of this breaking into the big time can be seen in "Somebody To Love".

Just listen to the vocal harmonies to open! Freddie and Roger cutting the air with top end vocals (Roger was as high in range vocally as Freddie, if not higher) With Brian and John rounding out the rest. Yes, John did sing, we just can't hear him quite as well as the others.

Piano, a drum fill and we are fully into perhaps indeed as Gospel- styled rock piece. With a swing and punch that really gives an all-round richness in sound, instrumentation and open mouthed pit-of-the-stomach depth.

The more I write, the more it becomes obvious just how great this is as a complete song, as the subject is somebody to love. You must have been made of stone if you can't connect with this!

The statement that Queen were finding their stride with this album comes with the place this song found itself in the UK and US charts.

It reached number 2 on UK charts and 13 in the US and, as well as Freddie liking (or loving) Liza Minnelli, he also idolised Aretha Franklin, who is also credited to influencing this track.

"Somebody to Love" is track 6 on CD and first track on B side on the LP.

Jumping back to some hard rock and roll we love about Queen, let's look to "Tie Your Mother Down", opening track to the album.

The full version gives a solid Japanese-styled scale intro including Brian May's studio crafted guitar trick of the eternal musical stairway...then, we get our beloved riff- so familiar to this head banging piece and the head banging starts right when we hear Brian get it going.

With crashing cymbals, bass and snare drum strikes, Roger accents the opening guitar riff with help from downward bass lines and Freddie bringing in a "Ooooh, yeah!" and we're off rocking and rolling.
This is a great party piece, perhaps a clear sign of Queen's solid foothold in the rock genre of the time.
All with touted no synthesisers, which the band loved to exclaim boldly, Freddie sings about taking someone's brother swimming with a brick, yep, and it IS alright!

It's everything we need in a rocking Queen anthem: cutting, multi-fingered guitar solos which includes the sound of a slide. This use of guitar slide, so often found in more blues music guitar solos, gives "Tie your mother down" it's own distinct ingredient. This is Queen showing how much they loved both variety in their production whilst by recording different songs, they explored many different musical styles.
We close with thumps, bumps, more cymbals and guitar high notes and an end guitar chord.

And lastly, let's look at "Teo Torriate", last listed track on both CD and LP.

England and Queen have had close relations with Japan over the years following World War two, if not before. 

We have Freddie's piano, love lyrics he does so well, but most importantly, a two-fold verse in the English language followed with what might be the closest translation in Japanese.

The dialect of Japanese used in this piece is unknown to me, with much of the Japanese used has been unfamiliar to most of the Japanese citizens I have met and sung these words to. The most commonly understood word to any Japanese person I have indeed sung this song to, I have found if  Shizukana "shizukana = silent " or quiet.

As mentioned and found in the opening to track 1("Tie Your Mother Down") we have again, a touch of Japanese or oriental styled musical scale introduced into the music.

I really want reiterate just how much we can see the band's entering into different genres and writing songs in more than one style here. 

Over the years, as we might think, a band grows and moves with the times, styles and trends of the years. It might well be an indication of the art form of music itself in fact reflecting these trends, as art either directly or indirectly attempts.

The song closes with Brian May's guitar elevator once again.

"Teo Torriate" is a really beautiful piece. Lovely, gently vocals accompanying the lyrics with piano and vocal scale giving us that Japanese influence in the choice of scales. The inclusion of those Japanese lyrics plus, when the album was released, the Japanese words,via the fold-out printed lyrics which are located inside the LP, we can learn to sing them with Freddie.

This is such a nice touch and for after we become familiar with the melody of the words, we can add our mastered Japanese lyrics. Cool, huh!

A choir of additional voices leads up to the ending Brian May guitar escalator.

So, in closing I give you the chance to go and look at these and other pieces from A Day At The Races. Take a listen to the album via the Spotify playlist below. If you keep in mind the things that happened to the band during these times, it's easy to understand what helped influenced the album in the writing itself and hopefully enjoy and appreciate this breakthrough album by Queen even the more!

Shalom, friends. Enjoy your music!

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