Queen - A Day at the Races
On December 10, 1976, "Queen" released their fifth studio album, "A Day at the Races".
All the signs have shown that this is a sequel to the previous masterpiece "A Night At The Opera". Starting with the name of the album, that was also named after a film by the Marx brothers and ending with the album cover that is really reminiscent of that of "A Night At The Opera", only in black. But this is where the resemblance between the two lies. Although this is an excellent album in the band's tremendous repertoire, it seems to ride quite a bit on the jet fuel vapor of the previous album and enjoy the stardom it left behind.
It was the first album in which the band received full creative freedom and the first that was also produced independently by its members. The band seemed to take full advantage of the creative freedom granted to them after the success of the previous album, writing bold, innovative and even more varied material, but "Queen" chose to stick to a fairly uniform formula that combines Hard Rock and Classical music. The vast majority of the rock songs on the album were written by guitarist Brian May, while the songs with the more classical side were mostly written by singer Freddie Mercury. The order of the songs on the album also has a meaning, when almost every Rock song is answered with a "classic" song.
The band sought to give the album a sense of full musical piece with a beginning and an end. They even used a technique called "Bookends", in which the opening section of the album is the same as the ending section, in a way that makes it a repetitive, endless work. Indeed, the opening song "Tie Your Mother Down" opens with an instrumental section that repeats itself at the end of the last section of the album - "Teo Toriatte" and its melody is mentioned in the song "White Man".
As mentioned, the album opens with "Tie Your Mother Down" written by Brian May in Tenerife, in early 1968, two years before the founding of "Queen". At the time May was working on his doctorate in astronomy and he wrote the song on classical guitar. When he brought the song to the album he thought of changing the title and the chorus but Freddie Mercury liked the original and so it turned out that the original format of the song was preserved as it was written. This song is the perfect rock opener. A combination of acoustic and electric guitars, along with May's fine solo made it one of the band's most powerful performance songs. May later said that the song's riff is a kind of homage to guitarist Rory Gallagher that he loved so much and especially to the "Morning Sun" track that he particularly loved.
Immediately after that comes the "classic" track "You Take My Breath Away" written by Freddie Mercury. All the sounds and piano parts in the song are performed by Freddie. A magical piece that Mercury performed live in "Hyde Park", even before the release of the album, the power of which is built on quite a number of layers of Mercury's vocals channels. If we have already mentioned the show at Hyde Park, then we will note that before the release of the album the band performed a short four-day-tour, that included the show in Hyde Park. The show was attended by so many spectators that the police had to impose a curfew on the area. During the show, fans got to see a preview of the song "You Take My Breath Away" as well as the single "Tie Your Mother Down". It is interesting to note, that this was Freddie Mercury's last appearance with long hair.
The third track "Long Away" was written by Brian May, and includes a fragrance that reminds us a bit of "The Byrds", probably because of May's use of a 12-string guitar. It should be noted that May initially wanted to use the "Rickenbacker" guitar, because he greatly admired John Lennon, but he did not get along with it's thin neck and therefore compromised on the "Burns" guitar. May also sings lead vocals as Roger Taylor compliment him with the high harmonies in the chorus.
The swing between May and Mercury continues with "The Millionaire Waltz" written by Freddie Mercury about John Reid, the band's and Elton John's manager at the time, who used to mix "business with pleasure". The song title was not chosen for nothing, as its basic rhythm is indeed based on waltz. It has some parts that reminded us of "Bohemian Rhapsody", starting with the piano opening and John Deacon's amazing bass work, the operatic vocals, the frequent rhythm changes, the sudden bursts of Brian May, the rich arrangement and the multiple overdubs with numerous musical and vocal layers.
The first side of the vinyl is sealed with "You and I" written by John Deacon, released as a B-side of "Tie Your Mother Down". Beyond playing his wondrous bass, Deacon also plays the acoustic guitar.
The other side of the vinyl opens up with the big hit of the album and one of the greatest songs of the band "Somebody to Love". This is without a doubt Freddie Mercury at his best and in all his greatness. Although there was absolutely no intention to recreate "Bohemian Rhapsody", this time too there is a slight resemblance, especially vocally, only this time the "opera" from which Mercury was influenced in "Bohemian Rhapsody" was replaced by Gospel music. Freddie noted that he was particularly influenced by Maria Franklin. It's amazing to think this song was written by Freddie in less than five minutes.
And here we are again riding the "Rock"/"Classic" roller coaster courtesy of Mercury/May, with the "White Man" written by Brian May. This is without a doubt one of Queen's heaviest works, both musically and lyrically. A kind of protest song about how the "White Man" treated Native Americans. It is interesting to note, that the melody of the riff during the verses, is the same melody of the instrumental section that opens and ends the album.
Compared to Brian May's heaviness in the song "White Man," Freddie Mercury's "Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy" is a light, hilarious and bouncy song, Glam Rock at its best, that the band members really enjoyed recording in the studio. May, Taylor and Freddie enjoy the reinforcement of Mike Stone, who was the recording technician of the album and adds to the vocal harmonies of the three members.
"Drowse" was written by drummer Roger Taylor who also sang it. A strange and weird piece in relation to the album, where Taylor plays classical guitar and tympani in addition to drums, while May provides an interesting slide guitar. The song has a reference to Clint Eastwood, Jimi Hendrix and William the Conqueror, but is undoubtedly one of the weakest tracks on the album.
The closing track, "Teo Toriatte," was written by Brian May as a tribute to the Japanese audience, which left the band members stunned during their recent tour in Japan. The song features two verses all sung in Japanese, making the song one of the band's three songs not to be sung in English. The other two are "Mustapha" from the album "Jazz" and "Las Palabras de Amor" from the album "Hot Space".