A Night at the Opera

I’ve joined a music club on Facebook. It’s a bit like a book club but instead of reading a book you listen to an album. This week we’re supposed to listen to Queen’s A Night at the Opera. Here are my thoughts.

Some Historical Context

I had this album soon after it came out in November 1975. I played it constantly. I loved it. This was the album that made me a huge Queen fan. I bought (or taped friends’ copies of) every Queen album from this up to Jazz in 1978. I also went back and bought their first three albums (and pretended that I’d been a big fan all along).

But tastes change. By the end of the 70s I wasn’t buying every Queen album. In 1982 I finally saw them live and really didn’t enjoy myself. By the time Freddie Mercury died I was completely bored by them and have gone out of my way to avoid hearing them ever since.

This will be interesting. An album that I used to know inside out, but haven’t heard for twenty years.

The rest of this blog post will be written as I listen to the album.

The Songs

1. Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to…)

Starting off with a dash of rock. It’s all a bit pretentious. I’m sure my thirteen-year-old self loved it. It’s not terrible, but I could happily go the rest of my life without hearing it again.

2. Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon

Following pretentious with twee. This sounds like something you’ll hear at an end-of-the-pier show. I hate it. Not going well so far.

3. I’m in Love With My Car

As I recall, Roger Taylor used to always get given one song on an album (rather like George Harrison did). I remember that others of them like “Tenement Funster” (from Sheer Heart Attack) and “Drowse” (from A Day at the Races) were pretty good. This is just average. The subject matter doesn’t endear it to me either.

4. You’re My Best Friend

This was the second single from the album (following “Bohemian Rhapsody”). And while it’s not quite as dire as “Lazy on a Sunday Afternoon”, it’s still in a very similar vein. And pretty horrible stuff.

5. 39

There’s a folky, acoustic vibe to this that I quite like. Best thing on the album so far. I read an article about this song recently. I was surprised to read that it was about space travel and relativity. From the title I had always assumed it was about the Second World War.

6. Sweet Lady

Reading this title triggered no memories of what this song sounded like. But now I remember. Another standard rock number with some astounding lyrics (“you call me sweet like I’m some kind of cheese”). Oh yes, and the chorus has some ridiculous time signature changes. I think I had quite sensibly blocked it from my memory.

7. Seaside Rendezvous

Before listening this I was dreading it. And I was quite right to. It’s terrible. Another of those end-of-the-pier songs like “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon”. I assume that they thought it made them sound eclectic or something like that. And with that we’re at the end of side one. I’ve rarely been so grateful for the relatively short length of pre-CD albums.

(In the old days I’d be turning the vinyl over about now)

8. The Prophet’s Song

I remember this from 1975. I remember not liking it much the first time I listened to it. I expect that’s because it’s not as instantly appealing as some of the other songs on the album. But I persevered and it became my favourite. It has a complexity that repays repeated listens. Maybe it’s responsible for the many years I spent listening to progressive rock. And perhaps it’s just in comparison to the dreck on side one, but I’m actually quite enjoying it now. Even the choral “la-la” bit in the middle.

9. Love of My Life

Another one I was dreading. If not for “Bohemian Rhapsody”, this would probably be the best-known song on the album. It has always been hugely popular with Queen fans. Listen to it on any of their live albums (it’s probably on all of them) and you’ll hear that Freddie sings almost none of it – he just lets the audience sing. For me it has always been an over-sentimental song that I just can’t stand. Today, compared to the rest of the album it’s sounds pretty good. Side two is off to a much better start.

10. Good Company

Oh crap, we’re back on the pier again. Why are they doing this to me? Please make it stop.

11. Bohemian Rhapsody

It’s impossible to listen to this objectively. Back in 1975 I loved it. I bought the single (it was released before the album) and was very excited that it stayed at number one for nine weeks. But it became overplayed and I got bored of it. When Freddie Mercury died in 1991 people were playing it incessantly and I did all I could to avoid it. I’ve been relatively successful and I have hardly heard it in the last twenty years. Listening to it now I can see why I liked it so much (why everyone liked it so much). Even the opera section made me smile rather than cringe.

12. God Save the Queen

Even in 1975 I would normally take the needle off the record before it got to this track. I really couldn’t understand why a rock band was playing the national anthem. Well, I could see why but it all seemed a bit obvious and pointless. Now I just picture Brian May on top of Buckingham Palace which depresses me.

In Summary

I was interested to go back and listen to something that I used to love so much. I;m glad I did, but it really hasn’t aged well. I might give “The Prophet’s Song” and “39” a few more listens, but I certainly won’t be putting the album on my iPod.

I was surprised to find that as the songs started playing, I still remembered most of the lyrics. That shows what a huge impression it made on me, I suppose.

I remember Queen being more interesting than this. So I’ll probably listen to a couple more of their albums. I used to like Sheer Heart Attack and A Day at the Races, so I think I’ll given them another listen at some point soon.




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