A Night at the Opera (Deluxe Edition)
In October 1975, Queen met up with a DJ named Kenny Everett to get advice about a new song called “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Their label had said releasing it as a single would be a disaster, and a handful of people in their circle said the same. Too weird, too long, too absurd. But the band had slaved over it and, having racked up considerable debts over the few years prior, figured it was time to go big or go home. Everett loved it and asked for a copy, which the band furnished on the condition that he kept it to himself. Everett said sure—but then he went to work and played it 14 times, telling his boss that his finger slipped. The audacity of A Night at the Opera is obvious: the walls of multi-tracked vocals, the mix of hard rock and cabaret. But the real accomplishment is how they make music so heavy feel so featherlight. It’s composition, but it’s also touch: Whereas Led Zeppelin is organic, Queen is airbrushed; whereas Zeppelin sounds like boys scrapping, Queen sounds like models traversing an impossible runway, schoolbooks balanced perfectly on their heads. Guitarist Brian May says he thinks of the album as a whole—not, you guess, out of pretense as much as deference for its extremes: catty hard rock (“Death on Two Legs”) and show tunes (“Seaside Rendezvous”), simple ballads (“Love of My Life”) and eight-minute epics sort of about Noah’s ark (“The Prophet’s Song”). And while they covet precision, it isn’t as a show of power, but of orderliness: They don’t want to smash or pummel—they want to buff each surface clean. The result is an experience that takes the stereotypes of hard rock (masculine, “authentic”) and queers them into something playful and slant—music that doesn’t express pain or libido as much as cleverness and wit. Once asked about the origins and inspirations of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Freddie Mercury said it was just supposed to be a lark—because, as he put it, why not?