On March 8, 1974, "Queen" released their second album, "Queen II".
This is probably the least "glamorous" album of the band's golden era. it does not contain "hits" nor catchy songs, but despite this, it has become a cult album, especially among the devout fans of the band.
"Queen" came to the recordings of this album after learning the lessons from their first album, released in July 1973. The band was not happy with the end result of that album and felt they could have done better if they had been given more studio time to produce the album optimally. For more on the band's first album, click here.
After the band finished recording their first album in March 1973, they took a short break and returned to the studio in August 1973, to record their second album. Unlike the debut album, this time the band was allowed to use the studio at reasonable and convenient hours, and they certainly took advantage of this in order to differentiate themselves from the rest of the Glam Rock scene of the time. In order to realize their vision to stand out around bands like "Roxy Music", "Slade" and "Sweet", "Queen" worked on a grandiose production that included layer upon layer of sound, re-recording of instruments on many channels, and duplication of vocal harmonies. But that was not all, the band members brought unusual ideas, varied materials, and complex compositions. As part of their attempts to stand out, they even tried to bring David Bowie to the role of the producer, but he was busy recording the album "Pin Ups" and writing the material for the album "Diamond Dogs".
Although this album is not defined as a concept album, it has a main idea that links some of the songs in it. The album is divided into two parts. The first side of the vinyl, is called the "White Side" and is based on the "White Queen" mentioned in the song "White Queen (As It Began)", while the other side of the vinyl is called the "Black Side" and dominated by the "Black Queen" from the song "The March of the Black Queen".
The clear separation between black and white borrowed from the game of chess, was not the only difference between the two sides. "The White Side" features songs with relatively simple musical complexity that were all written by guitarist Brian May, except for "The Loser in the End", which was written by drummer Roger Taylor. In contrast, "The Black Side" includes songs with more musical complexity and deeper lyrics that deal with, among other things, fairy tales and fantasy. All of this side songs were written by Freddie Mercury.
The album opens up with the intro "Procession" - a short instrumental piece a little over a minute long, by Brian May, in which the guitar sounds recorded in a variety of layers and colors herald the arrival of the "Parade Orchestra" as the name of the piece reveals. This progressive intro connects to "Father to Son" - a classic Hard Rock track that features clear influences from "The Who" and "Led Zeppelin", combined with Freddie Mercury's pastoral piano.
The third track "White Queen (As It Began)" is the highlight of "The White Side". This is one of May's most beautiful and moving songs, which he wrote back in 1968. This song is a great example of the vocal harmonies of the band members. layers of vocals that blend into an operatic choir. It is interesting to note that the Indian sitar sound of Brian May is actually produced by a guitar. The medieval vibe of the song tells the adventure in search of the "White Queen", when the journey ends as it began as the subtitle of the song - "As It Began" implies.
"Some Day One Day" is sung by Brian May, which is his first time taking the lead on a "Queen" album. May turn out to be a good singer with a caressing voice that blends well with the aforementioned ballad. The levitation effect, the guitar effect, and especially the rolling drumming, remind us a bit of the psychedelia of "Tomorrow Never Knows" by "The Beatles".
The piece that seals the "white side" "The Loser in the End", is as mentioned a track written by Roger Taylor, who also sings it. The vibe of this song reminds us of "T-Rex" another Glam band from that decade. The song talks about the wayward son who got everything from his mother but in adulthood leaves her without any hesitation.
The black side of the album is, as mentioned, the more complex and Progressive side. It opens up with "Ogre Battle" one of the heaviest songs on the album, whose intro demonstrates the band's production genius. The beginning of the song is the end of the song in reverse, including the final gong. It is played backward at the intro of the song. Later, the track connects with the regular recording of the song. It's one of the few songs Mercury wrote and plays on guitar. It begins and ends with a huge gong sound brought into the studio. It features thunderous drums and Heavy Metal guitars that amazingly depict the battle taking place in the song, including the screams of the trolls. It is interesting to note that singer Paul Di'Anno who was a member of "Iron Maiden" defined this song as "the first thrash metal song I have ever heard in my life".
The second track on the black side - "The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke" was influenced by a painting of the same name by the crazy painter Richard Dadd. The painting was on display at the Tate Gallery in London and it fascinated Mercury who decided to take all the characters the painter mentioned in his various writings and make a song out of them. Mercury plays the harpsichord and this is without a doubt one of the most complex pieces he has written in his entire repertoire.
"Nevermore" is a short song intended to link the two epic musical pieces before and after it. It connects with the piano that ends the previous track and creates a sort of three-piece medley. Freddie Mercury wrote about the feelings after a heartbreak. All the instruments and vocals in the song are performed by Mercury.
The next track is without a doubt the highlight of the album and also one of the band's creative highlights - "The March of The Black Queen". A complex and progressive song that combines Rock and Opera in an amazing and perfect way. This is a work that is probably the introduction to what will come later with "Bohemian Rhapsody". In this track, too, the genius of the band is shown, during which they play in two different time signatures simultaneously. One of 8/8 and the other of 12/8. Also, the range of vocals of the band members covers two and a half octaves.
"Funny How Love Is" was written in the studio and includes the production technique of Phil Spector, which is steeped in layers and layers of instruments and vocals - "Wall of Sound". This song has never been played in Queen's performances, in part due to the difficulty of recreating the full sound live.
The track that seals the album - "Seven Seas of Rhye" is also the band's first hit. This is the full version of the instrumental track that seals the band's debut album, which was pre-planned to become the lead single of the album.
Recordings of the album ended in August 1973, but it was only released in March 1974, due to an error in the printing of the album cover. Upon its release, the album received mixed reviews and it also did not have much commercial success at the time of its release. At the same time, over the years the album has become an esteemed cult work that has garnered much sympathy from the audience and critics.
And a few words about the iconic album cover. Mercury was influenced by a famous photograph of actress Marilyn Dietrich, both in the position of the hands and in the look and the white spotlight coming from below. The album cover has become one of the most recognizable images of the band, and it will appear later in the clip for the song "Bohemian Rhapsody".