Queen was already gaining popularity in the U.K. and Japan with the releases Queen and Queen II and the singles Keep Yourself Alive and Seven Seas of Rhye. America was blissfully unaware of the sensation soon to take rock 'n' roll music down a path of flamboyance and artfully crafted guitar solos. That was until Sheer Heart Attack, the masterpiece from long before A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races, and News of the World would take the top 40 charts by storm with Bohemian Rhapsody, Tie Your Mother Down, and We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions. Killer Queen, the U.S. single off of Sheer Heart Attack showed an American audience still marveling over the wonder of rock legends Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin that rock 'n' roll didn't have contain lengthy drum solos and experimental guitar tricks. Killer Queen, along with the rest of Sheer Heart Attack, showed the world that pre-metal glam rock could indeed be combined with artsy operatic songs focusing on piano and falsettos rather than lead guitar (although guitarist Brian May certainly got more than his fair share in the spotlight on early Queen recordings).
Brighton Rock - 5/5
A bright carnival introduction sets the stage for this 5 minute rock epic. We hear voices coming from the carousel no doubt, a man whistling, and chimey music that tells us we're located at the Brighton pier. And what's that building up in the background? Could it be? It is! Electric guitar! Among the fun and games of a seaside fair in Britain, rock 'n' roll remains supreme. The guitar intro settles into a nice rock beat, allowing drums and bass to join. But to add to the confusion, we hear the falsetto of Freddy Mercury playing the role of both the man and the woman in the story of Brighton Rock. The lyrics then go on to talk about a vacation affair in Brighton before dropping into a rocking chorus. But Freddy's outstanding vocals will have to wait for 2 or so minutes. Brian May then gets a majority of the song to show his abilities as one of the greatest rock 'n' roll guitarists of the 70s, along with his ability to create layered symphonies of guitar, creating breath-taking music only Queen could make. The song then slams back into the chorus before ending with a few more licks from Brian May and a rocking closing.
Killer Queen - 4.5/5
Queen figured out early on the one musical trick to catch people's ears and make them laugh: Juxtaposition. Killer Queen shows Freddy's choir of clones hitting notes no other man has the bragging rights (or embarrassment) of hitting. However, rock is still the central goal even in a pretentious ode to upper-class. Brian May's symphony of guitars comes roaring in for an electric solo mimicking the classical training Queen was no doubt brought up on before fading into a mix of rock, opera, classical, and pop.
Tenement Funster - 5/5
Brian May takes over the vocals on this tribute to glam rock legend and T. Rex front man Marc Bolan. With new purple shoes amazing the people next door and rock 'n' roll 45s that are enraging the folks on the lower floor, the funster of the tenement is living a life that just about everyone knows, at least every glam guitarist from Britain. This ode to the good times of listening to T. Rex and angering landlords makes for a nice rocker. Just give find him an open car and he'll make the speed of light out of that place. You would do the same if you were young, poor and crazy.
Flick of the Wrist - 4/5
This exploding intro of upbeat show tune rock shows the intricate piano work of Freddy Mercury and the all-out rock riffs of Brian May before turning into a cheesy, overdone song about Satan (most likely a metaphor for the music business as indicated by lines like ‘reduce you to a musak fake machine’). Whether Queen’s trying to give a jab to their record label or if they’re just trying to make a goofy song, they succeed both ways, but barely. Flick of the Wrist is a decent song, but definitely gets old, like many of the show tunes being imitated, if listened to enough.
Lily of the Valley – 4.5/5
Here’s a nice little ballad about mythological quests, much like the concepty Queen II. This mini-epic even seems to tie in with Queen II, taking place in the kingdom of Rhye and involving tyrannous leaders and frail princesses. The one downside of this (although this is not an issue when the album is listened to straight through) is the flow from Flick of the Wrist to Lily of the Valley. On the original vinyl release, the fact that the last line from Flick of the Wrist carried over into the piano intro of Lily of the Valley was no problem. When being transferred over to CD, however, Lily of the Valley has to start with a line referring to absolutely nothing in the song.
Now I’m Here – 5/5
One of the best songs Queen ever recorded (in my humble opinion), Now I’m Here brings every classic Queen element together in a show-stopping, pre-We Will Rock You arena rock classic, complete with nonsensical lyrics about Hoople, Peaches, and America’s new bride-to-be.
In the Lap of the Gods – 4/5
This song has three purposes:
1. Show Freddy Mercury’s vocal range with glass-shattering highs and sort-of low lows (hey, they’re low for Freddy)
2. Show the effects gained without synthesizers (like the very cool circling effect the vocal intro has)
3. Scare the crap out of the listener who has just gotten into a classic rock mood from Now I’m Here. I guarantee that the first time you hear In the Lap of the Gods, your heart will skip a beat from the immediate shrill vocals or your money back.
Stone Cold Crazy – 3.5/5
I don’t typically like referring people to a cover of a song instead of the original, but in this case I think I might just have to. Please listen to the Metallica version before dismissing this song as a lame attempt at metal. Also please remember that this came out in the early 70s when people considered Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love some of the heaviest music out. Stone Cold Crazy is a decent pre-metal rocker. What hurts this song is the vocals. Freddy Mercury has a good rock voice. Brian May has a better rock voice. Why then did they choose to switch Freddy’s vocal chords onto the “operatic" setting for one of the heaviest songs they ever recorded? This is why Metallica’s cover does justice to this. If they had chosen the scratchy blues-rock voice of May, I would have given this song 5 stars. Unfortunately they didn’t.
Dear Friends – 3/5
Queen definitely has the capability to do a slow piano ballad. They’ve proven so on every 70s release they did. Lily of the Valley was a decent piano ballad. They didn’t need a second one, especially one like this, especially since it’s a minute long. A minute barely gives time to set up a ballad. The song drops out before any guitar solo comes in, which is essential to just about every Queen ballad.
Misfire – 2.5/5
Misfire is one of the lowest points on Sheer Heart Attack. The music is half-decent, but it’s the lyrics that kill it. Oh yeah Freddy, like we didn’t know what you meant when you said “Fill me up." Thank god music videos weren’t popular in the 70s; I think we would’ve had a gay porno on our hands if they had attempted to do a music video. The one high point of the song is the horn solo, but that can’t even save it.
Bring Back That Leroy Brown – 5/5
This song is simple. You either love it or hate it. Being from a family both appreciative of novelty songs and jazz, I lean towards loving it. However, just about everyone I know cringes whenever I play this song. The lyrics are goofy. The singing is goofy. But the music is hot! Queen could’ve been a jazz group if they hadn’t had the ambition to be an unclassifiable pop group aiming to do every genre possible. Musically, Bring Back That Leroy Brown is amazing, featuring solos from every musician, and good solos at that. I guess some people can’t appreciate a wild, fun spirit in music.
She Makes Me (Stormtrooper in Stilettos) – 5/5
For a complete opposite to the wild energetic feel of Leroy Brown, Queen slows down to one of the best songs on the album. Brian May gets the microphone this time, and shows his ability to sing a slower song. Although repetitive, She Makes Me is a great song that can be enjoyed again and again without getting old.
In the Lap of the Gods… Revisited – 5/5
The first Lap of the Gods was sufficient, but this reprise is a much better take on the original theme. For a slow rocker, this is one of the better ones. It’s mellow, but it still rocks out with a great guitar line and a chorus of “La La La"s that will have you singing along, at least if you have a couple beers in you.
I feel kind of bad for giving this so many 5 stars, but it really does feel like the underrated classic of the 70s that was left behind in the dust once Bohemian Rhapsody blew the world away. If you’re a fan of Queen, classic rock, show tunes, or just good music, pick this up. It’s essential.