A Night at the Opera
by Queen

Buy A Night at the Opera

A Night at the Opera by QueenQueen really reached for the stars with the production and release of their fourth album, A Night at the Opera in 1975. At the time it was the most expensive album ever recorded as it utilized extraordinary and methodical overdubs to achieve a rich orchestral and choral effects and incorporated rich replications of a wide range of styles. Many of these styles had not previously been adopted by hard rock bands, but the tremendous inventiveness and attention to details made this album the pinnacle of Queen’s career.

The origins of queen date back to 1968, when guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor started the group, Smile, while students in London. A friend and follower of the band, Farrokh Bulsara, eventually joined the group in late 1970 and convinced the members to change the name to Queen because of its “regal” quality and his ability (as an art student) to design an adequate logo. After going through a number of bass players, John Deacon joined in 1971 as the permanent fourth member of the group which maintain this lineup for the next 20 years. Shortly after the release of their 1973 self-titled debut album, Bulsara officially adopted his stage name, Freddie Mercury. In 1974, the group released two critically acclaimed LPs, Queen II and Sheer Heart Attack, each of which spawned a Top 10 hit in the UK with Sheer Heart Attack being their first commercial success in the US.

In early 1975, the band shopped for a better record deal, at first considering Led Zeppelin’s new Swan Song label before signing with A&M who gave the group a huge recording budget. A Night at the Opera was co-produced by Roy Thomas Baker and the individual band members who invented some of the distinctive techniques required to achieve the desired sounds and effects. The album borrowed its title from a popular 1935 Marx Brothers movie of the same name.


A Night at the Opera by Queen
Released: September 14, 1975 (A&M)
Produced by: Roy Thomas Baker & Queen
Recorded: Sarm, Roadhouse, Olympic Studios, Scorpio and Lansdowne Studios, London, August–November 1975
Side One Side Two
Death on Two Legs
Lazing On a Sunday Afternoon
I’m in Love with My Car
You’re My Best Friend
’39
Sweet Lady
Seaside Rendezvous
The Prophet’s Song
Love of My Life
Good Company
Bohemian Rhapsody
God Save the Queen
Group Musicians
Freddie Mercury – Lead Vocals, Piano
Brian May – Guitars, Ukulele, Harp, Vocals
John Deacon – Bass, Keyboards
Roger Taylor – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

The album begins with Freddie Mercury’s, “Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to…)”, at first coming in with a classical sounding piano and doomy sound effects, including a slight background scream. The song then breaks in as a steady rocker with an upfront lead by May and unambiguous lyrics of pure venom, adding an acid sensation to this otherwise enjoyable rock song. Mercury penned the tune about Queen’s ex-manager, Norman Sheffield, who had reportedly mistreated the band during their early years. As if to intentionally lighten the atmosphere after the opener, “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon” follows as a light music hall piano track which, after a single minute, abruptly morphs into a hard rock bridge to Taylor’s “I’m in Love with My Car”. On this unique take on a classic analogy between a woman and an automobile, Taylor’s lead vocals work perfectly for the slow screed along with May’s raw guitar chords.

 
“You’re My Best Friend” was written by John Deacon on a Wurlitzer electric piano and is the closest the group would come to a traditional seventies pop song. The song features stark but enjoyable production and overdubs with depth, contrasting with the upfront Wurli piano, and deep backing harmonies throughout. May adds some fine harmonized guitars late in the song, topping off this immensely entertaining track, which was a Top 10 hit. “’39” is another giant leap in musical diversity as a folk acoustic track with a simple stomp in the background and May taking lead vocals. The track has an aura of fantasy brought on by the operatic backing vocals, the slight synthesizer effects and the lyrical fantasy of time and space travel. The album’s first side ends with, perhaps, the two weakest tracks on A Night at the Opera. “Sweet Lady” is a bridge too far in trying to be original, with odd timings and creative riffs which, unfortunately, do not pay entertainment dividends. “Seaside Rendezvous” is another experimental music hall type song, which features vocalized renditions of different instruments, making it more of a musical accomplishment than a legitimate track on a rock album.

The second side begins with “The Prophet’s Song”, a theatrical epic by May with a dramatic, building theme and slightly psychedelic feel. The middle section features an orchestra made wholly of layered vocals with repetitive timing effects. When the music returns, May brings the rock track back with a layered guitar lead over choppy rhythms through a long outro with an acoustic solo instrumental at the very end. Mercury’s “Love of My Life” is a sad and simple song of lost love, which mainly features Mercury solo on piano with just some slight bass, backing harmonies, and a later distant but potent electric guitar lead by May. After a very slight intro guitar lead, May plays a solo ukulele while singing lead vocals on “Good Company”. This building track eventually incorporates some rhythm and further overdubbed guitars which recreate a Dixieland jazz arrangement.

 
The masterpiece of the album is Mercury’s epic “Bohemian Rhapsody”, a song which he had developed in pieces dating back to the late 1960s. Starting with an a capella vocal harmony intro before making its way to the song proper with Mercury singing and playing piano, the song moves through several distinct phases and sonic dynamics, the most famous being the long middle, pseudo-opera section. This was accomplished through an elaborate choir effect created by Mercury, May and Taylor singing their specific vocal parts for hours on end, with over 180 separate overdubs mixed and sub-mixed onto the 24-track master tape, with the entire process taking about three weeks to complete. Still, with all of this bombast and tremendous production, it may be the quiet sections of the song, such as Mercury’s final solo vocal line with subtle guitar backing by May, that makes this song a true masterpiece. The album concludes with May’s instrumental of “God Save the Queen”, the British national anthem, which was originally recorded in 1974 as a homage to Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner”.

Years later May admitted that if A Night at the Opera had been a commercial flop (therefore losing a boatload of money), Queen would have disbanded. Fortunately, it was a critical and commercial success, reaching number 4 in the US and selling over 12 million copies worldwide. Queen would continue with a tremendously successful run for years to come, following up in 1976 with A Day at the Races, a loose sequel to A Night at the Opera, which again borrowed its title from a Marx Brothers movie.

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1975 Page

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1975 albums.

 

The Game by Queen

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The Game by QueenQueen reached their commercial peak in the U.S.A. with the 1980 release of their eighth studio album, The Game. This was the only album by the band to reach the top of the charts in America and it eventually surpassed 1977’s, News of the World, as Queen’s top seller with over four million copies distributed. The songwriting on this album is very spread out and diversified, with all songs written individually by band members and each of the four members writing at least two tracks each on this ten track album, which is solid throughout and contains no real weak tracks or filler material.

Queen rode the success of News of the World into a huge world tour in late 1977 and early 1978. They followed this up with the recording and release of the album Jazz, which reached the Top Ten in the US. After another large world tour, the group released their first live album, the double-platinum selling, Live Killers, in 1979. Later that year, the group participated in Paul McCartney’s Concert for the People of Kampuchea, with a live rendition of their 1974 track “Now I’m Here”, being featured on the subsequent album.

Co-produced by Reinhold Mack at his studio in Munich, The Game, was recorded during two distinct phases. Four of the tracks were recorded during the summer of 1979, with the remaining six being produced nearly a year later in early 1980. This album marked the first time that Queen used a synthesizer, a practice they would adopt through most of their later work. Guitarist Brian May stated that the band was “trying to get outside what was normal” and Mack’s recording approach was different than what they had done through their first seven studio albums. The group also employed some pop sub-genres to their tradition “classic rock” core, with elements of new wave and disco spread throughout this record.


The Game by Queen
Released: June 30, 1980 (EMI)
Produced by: Reinhold Mack & Queen
Recorded: Musicland Studios, Munich, Germany, June 1979 – May 1980
Side One Side Two
Play the Game
Dragon Attack
Another One Bites the Dust
Need Your Loving Tonight
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
Rock It (Prime Jive)
Don’t Try Suicide
Sail Away Sweet Sister
Coming Soon
Save Me
Group Musicians
Freddie Mercury – Piano, Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals
Brian May – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
John Deacon – Bass, Guitars, Piano
Roger Taylor – Drums, Vocals

The album begins with the quasi-theme song “Play the Game”, written by lead vocalist Freddie Mercury in the style of a classic Queen piano ballad, with great rock elements. It all starts with spacey and shrieking synth sound effect before settling into the warm and delicate verse. Everyone in the group brings their ‘A’ game to this track, as middle section blends the heavier rock elements led by May with some more wild synth effects. “Dragon Attack” was composed by May and is the first track built on pure textures, a practice which Queen would expand on later on this album and on later albums. The song features a slight drum solo by Roger Taylor before it reaches its heights with some wild, dueling guitars above the middle section with a unique arrangement that allows these guitars to creep in and totally invade the song’s core.

The hit song “Another One Bites the Dust” was composed by John Deacon and is largely built on his simple bass riff which was inspired by the contemporary group Chic. Later, the song takes on a funky element when May adds guitar in the second verse before it goes “pure disco” during a bridge which includes a simple dance beat strewn by various synth sound effects. The formula worked, as “Another One Bites the Dust” sold seven million copies as a single, reached the Top Ten in Britain, and became Queen’s second and final #1 hit in the United States.

Queen’s initial #1 hit is also on The Game, although it was released nearly a year earlier. “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” was written by Mercury as a tribute to the late Elvis Presley. This is also one of the few tracks in the Queen catalog where Mercury plays guitar, as he claimed he composed it in just ten minutes while strumming the few chords that he knew. This all worked out, as a rockabilly track with great style, rich harmonies, and a potent bass line and guitar riffing. Preceding the hit track in the album’s sequence is Deacon’s very pop-oriented “Need Your Loving Tonight”, a bright and light tune driven by melody and produced with a much different approach than the more up-front and focused tracks on the album.

The second side commences with “Rock It (Prime Jive)”, written by Taylor. This song is in two distinct parts, with Mercury crooning during the long intro and Taylor taking over during the new-wave influenced body of the song. While the song really doesn’t go anywhere from here, it is still intense and interesting enough in its upbeat approach. “Don’t Try Suicide” is a song that’s hard to peg. It does have some very cool sonic motifs throughout, but it is so extremely corny in its PSA-style message that it almost sounds like it should have reserved for a non-album project;

Don’t do it, Don’t do it, Don’t-do it, Don’t put your neck on the line, Don’t drown on me babe, Blow your brains out, don’t do that – yeah…

The album’s final three tracks were each recorded during the 1979 sessions. “Sail Away Sweet Sister” is a fine tune by May where the guitarist takes lead vocals and performs his most potent, harmonized guitar lead on the album. This song also features English folk elements and more great harmonies and production. Taylor’s, “Coming Soon” , is percussion driven with a stylistic blend somewhere between ELO and Cheap Trick, along with some heavy new wave elements to top it off. The album concludes with May’s “Save Me”, which starts as a sad song of lament but soon launches into a dynamic theatrical piece. While Mercury is back on lead vocals, May played most of the instruments on the track including acoustic and electric guitars, piano and synthesizer. While not a big hit in the US, this album closer peaked at #11 on the UK Singles chart.

The Game was a true worldwide hit, reaching the Top Ten on charts in eleven different nations and achieving Gold or Platinum status in all major pop music markets. Queen and producer Reinhold Mack were also nominated for a couple of Grammy Awards in 1981, another measure of peak success for Queen.

~

Classic Rock Review 1980 promo

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.

 

The Works by Queen

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The Works by QueenThe Works was sort of a comeback album by Queen in 1984. We say “sort of” because the group never really went away, they just faced a major commercial flop with their previous effort, a quasi-disco record called Hot Space, which seemed woefully outdated in 1982. In this light, The Works was a return to form, albeit with strong eighties sonic and arrangement sensibilities. On this nine track album, each member of the quartet brought in at least one complete composition and, while there are some major weak points in the mix, these are superseded by the brilliant high points as well as the fact that this album turned out to be an important pivot point for Queen in the 1980s.

The decade began strong for the group, with the 1980 release of The Game, which topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic and would become their best selling album. Later that same year, the group released the soundtrack to the movie Flash Gordon, which further expanded their audience and reach. A worldwide tour followed, which included several concerts with audiences topping 100,000 in Latin American in 1981. That same year, Queen worked with David Bowie on the single “Under Pressure”, a spontaneous occurrence, as Bowie happened to drop by the studio while Queen were recording, and another huge success, reaching number one in the UK. Late in 1981, Queen released their Greatest Hits compilation, which sold over 25 million copies worldwide and is still the best selling album in UK Chart history. However, 1982 turned out to be a disaster, not just with the flop of Hot Space, but with the inner turmoil which began to brew in the band, as guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor were both very critical of the new sound and its apparent abandonment of Queen’s core rock audience. For the first time in a decade, the group took a break from touring and recording, with some band members working on outside projects and solo albums.

After about a year apart, Queen reunited in August 1983 to begin work on this eleventh studio album. They convened in Los Angeles, making this the first time Queen recorded in America, and spent several months working on the album with co-producer and engineer Reinhold Mack. Here the group fused May and Taylor’s rock sound with some of the German-influenced electro pop advocated by vocalist and arranger Freddie Mercury, to fulfill the original mission laid out by Taylor, who stated at the beginning of recording, “Let’s give them the works!”


The Works by Queen
Released: February 27, 1984 (EMI)
Produced by: Queen & Reinhold Mack
Recorded: The Record Plant, Los Angeles and Musicland Studios, Munich, Germany, August 1983–January 1984
Side One Side Two
Radio Ga Ga
Tear It Up
It’s a Hard Life
Man On the Prowl
Machines (Or ‘Back to Humans’)
I Want to Break Free
Keep Passing the Open Windows
Hammer to Fall
Is This the World We Created…?
Group Musicians
Freddie Mercury – Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards
Brian May – Guitars, Keyboards, Vocals
John Deacon – Bass, Keyboards
Roger Taylor – Drums, Vocals

In what was probably an attempt to show the world that “Queen is back”, most of the songs on the albums first side, seem to harken back to previous famous songs by the band. May’s straight-forward anthem rocker “Tear It Up” contains a consistent beat that seems to slightly rip off the group’s own “We Will Rock You” from the 1977 album News of the World. Mercury’s piano ballad, “It’s a Hard Life” is pleasant and with good sound production, reminiscent of classic Queen of the 1970s, especially during the uplifting guitar lead by May. “Man On the Prowl” is a Jerry Lee Lewis inspired rockabilly track, complete with those famous Queen backing vocals, very similar to those used on the group’s 1979 hit “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”.

“Radio Ga Ga” was the lead single from The Works, as well as its opening track, and immediately feels like a breath of fresh musical air. This brilliant composition which combines a synthesized rhythm with pristine melody, was written by Taylor wholly on a synthesizer, but brilliantly arranged by Mercury, who really shines during the escalating pre-chorus, as the singer transforms the rather silly and trite lyrics into an uplifting and majestic piece. There is very little presence by May on this track, but when he does appear at the very end, he performs a simple slide lead which enhances the track further.

 
The album’s second side begins “Machines (Or ‘Back to Humans’)”, a really convoluted and disorganized song, which has no real direction and it appears to just throw in the “kitchen sink” of styles and techniques as a kind of extended filler. Deacon’s “I Want to Break Free” is far better than previous track, as it contains good pop craftsmanship, a cool rhythmic riff and a catchy vocal melody, resulting in a pure pop song that is impossible not to enjoy at some level. When Deacon insisted he didn’t want a guitar solo on the track, session man Fred Mandel was commissioned to perform a synth solo. Mercury’s “Keep Passing the Open Windows” starts as a dramatic piano track but, quickly morphs to a bass-driven rock track led by bassist John Deacon, which is fairly entertaining at first, But the trite lyrics grow old as the repetition increases through this five and a half minute track.

“Hammer to Fall” contains a catchy rock riff, catchy melody, and catchy harmonies, adding up to a latter-era Queen classic. Lyrically the song deals with the threat of imminent doom, but musically it feeds into the good-time, call-and-response of eighties pop/rock. This track should have concluded the album on a high note, but instead the group opted for the short acoustic folk ballad “Is This the World We Created?”, a very simple and somber piece by Mercury, which leaves the listener in a low mood as the album concludes. Not a bad piece, but should have been placed before “Hammer to Fall” for maximum effect.

Commercially, The Works did fine as an album, charting in the Top 20 in over a dozen nations worldwide. More importantly, Queen was restored as a top-level, headline act. By 1985, they were again once again playing in front of hundreds of thousands and they performed in front of millions at Live Aid in July of that year. During that festival, the visual of the entire audience at Wembley Stadium clapping in unison to “Radio Ga Ga”, has been cited as one of the greatest live performances of all time.

~

1984 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1984 albums.

 

Top 9 Rock Festivals of All Time

This week Classic Rock Review joins the celebration of the 45th Anniversary of the historic 1969 Woodstock Music Festival. In conjunction with Top 9 Lists, we present a list of the Top 9 Rock Festivals of all time, along with a bonus list of Top 9 Single Day, Single Location Concerts.

Woodstock from behind the stage

1. Woodstock

August 15-18, 1969
Bethel, New York

This remains the mother of all music festivals, held at a 600-acre dairy farm owned by Max Yasgur. A series of coincidental events unfolded which effected the location and operation of this festival, which grew to become a “free” event for over 400,000 attendees. Regarded as a pivotal moment in popular music history, 32 acts performed during the rainy weekend, starting with Richie Havens, and concluding with a memorable performance by Jimi Hendrix as the crowd dispersed mid-morning on Monday, August 18th. Woodstock was immortalized in a later documentary movie as well as a song by Joni Mitchell, who was one of many major acts that did not attend by later regretted it.

Woodstock Performers: Richie Havens, Sweetwater, Bert Sommer, Tim Hardin, Ravi Shankar, Melanie, Arlo Guthrie, Joan Baez, Quill, Country Joe McDonald, Santana, John Sebastian, Keef Hartley Band, The Incredible String Band, Canned Heat, Mountain, Grateful Dead, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Janis Joplin with The Kozmic Blues Band, Sly and the Family Stone, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker and The Grease Band, Ten Years After, The Band, Johnny Winter, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sha Na Na, Jimi Hendrix and Gypsy Sun Rainbows

Buy Woodstock soundtrack
Buy Woodstock: Three Days of Peace & Music DVD

2. Monterey Pop Festival

June 16-18, 1967
Monterey, California

Jimi Hendrix at MontereyCredited as the event which sparked the “The Summer of Love”, The three-day Monterey International Pop Music Festival had a rather modest attendance but was soon recognized for its importance to the performers and significance to the sixties pop scene. The lineup consisted of a blend of rock and pop acts with memorable performances by The Who and Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Monterey Pop Performers: Jefferson Airplane, The Who, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MG’s, Ravi Shankar, The Mamas and the Papas

Buy Monterey Pop Festival Live album

3. Live Aid

July 13, 1985
London and Philadelphia

Live Aid, PhiladelphiaStill the largest benefit concert 30 years on, Live Aid was a also the first live multi-venue event, with over 70,000 at London’s Wembley Stadium and close to 100,000 at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia. Organized by musician Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats as relief for the Ethiopian famine, the concert evolved from Band Aid, a multi-artist group who recorded “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” in 1984. Live Aid was also one of the largest worldwide television broadcasts, with an estimated audience of 1.9 billion in about 150 nations. Memorable performances and moments included those by Queen, U2, Dire Straits, a reunited Black Sabbath, and a loose reunion by members Led Zeppelin, the first since their breakup in 1980.

Live Aid Performers: Status Quo, The Style Council, The Boomtown Rats, Adam Ant, Spandau Ballet, Elvis Costello, Nik Kershaw, Sade, Sting, Phil Collins, Branford Marsalis, Howard Jones, Bryan Ferry, David Gilmour, Paul Young, U2, Dire Straits, Queen, David Bowie, Thomas Dolby, The Who, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Band Aid, Joan Baez, The Hooters, Four Tops, Billy Ocean, Black Sabbath, Run–D.M.C., Rick Springfield, REO Speedwagon, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Judas Priest, Bryan Adams, The Beach Boys, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Simple Minds, The Pretenders, Santana, Ashford & Simpson, Madonna, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Kenny Loggins, The Cars, Neil Young, The Power Station, Thompson Twins, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin (announced as “Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, Tony Thompson, Paul Martinez, Phil Collins”), Duran Duran, Patti LaBelle, Hall & Oates, Mick Jagger, Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, USA for Africa

Buy Live Aid DVD

4. Isle of Wight Festival

August 26-30, 1970
Isle of Wight, UK

Isle Of Wight Festival, 1970In sheer numbers, the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival may be the largest ever, with estimates of over 600,000, which is an increase of about 50% over Woodstock. Promoted by local brothers Ronnie, Ray and Bill Foulk, the 5-day event caused such logistical problems (all attendees had to be ferried to the small island) that Parliament passed the “Isle of Wight Act” in 1971, preventing gatherings of more than 5,000 people on the island without a special license. Memorable performances included late career appearances by Jimi Hendrix and The Doors, and The Who, who released their entire set on the 1996 album Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970.

Isle of Wight 1970 Performers: Judas Jump, Kathy Smith, Rosalie Sorrels, David Bromberg, Redbone, Kris Kristofferson, Mighty Baby, Gary Farr, Supertramp, Howl, Black Widow, The Groundhogs, Terry Reid, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, Fairfield Parlour, Arrival, Lighthouse, Taste, Rory Gallagher, Chicago, Procol Harum, Voices of East Harlem, Cactus, John Sebastian, Shawn Phillips, Joni Mitchell, Tiny Tim, Miles Davis, Ten Years After, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, The Doors, The Who, Sly & the Family Stone, Melanie, Good News, Ralph McTell, Heaven, Free, Donovan, Pentangle, The Moody Blues, Jethro Tull, Jimi Hendrix, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, Richie Havens

Buy Message to Love, The Isle of Wight Festival DVD

5. Ozark Music Festival

July 19-21, 1974
Sedalia, Missouri

Ozark Music Festival stage“No Hassles Guaranteed” was the motto of the Ozark Music Festival, held at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in 1974. While this festival offered an impressive lineup of artists as well as a crowd upwards of 350,000 people, the Missouri Senate later described the festival as a disaster, due to the behaviors and destructive tendencies of the crowd.

Ozark Music Festival Performers: Bachman–Turner Overdrive, Aerosmith, Premiata Forneria Marconi, Blue Öyster Cult, The Eagles, America, Marshall Tucker Band, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Boz Scaggs, Ted Nugent, David Bromberg, Leo Kottke, Cactus, The Earl Scruggs Revue, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Electric Flag, Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band, Joe Walsh and Barnstorm, The Souther Hillman Furay Band, The Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Charlie Daniels Band, REO Speedwagon, Spirit

6. US Festival

May 28-30, 1983
Devore, California

Steve Wozniak’s US Festivals were staged on two occasions in September 1982 and May 1983. The second of these was packed with a lineup of top-notch eighties acts who performed in an enormous state-of-the-art temporary amphitheatre at Glen Helen Regional Park.

1983 US Festival Performers: Divinyls, INXS, Wall of Voodoo, Oingo Boingo, The English Beat, A Flock of Seagulls, Stray Cats, Men at Work, The Clash, Quiet Riot, Mötley Crüe, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest, Triumph, Scorpions, Van Halen, Los Lobos, Little Steven & the Disciples of Soul, Berlin, Quarterflash, U2, Missing Persons, The Pretenders, Joe Walsh, Stevie Nicks, David Bowie

7. The Crossroads Guitar Festival

June 4-6, 2004
Dallas, Texas

Crossroads Festival 2004 adStarting in 2004, the Crossroads Guitar Festivals have been held every three years to benefit the Crossroads Centre for drug treatment in Antigua, founded by Eric Clapton. These concerts showcase a variety of guitarists, with the first lineup at the Cotton Bowl stadium in 2004 featuring some legends along with up-and-comers hand-picked by Clapton himself.

2004 Crossroads Guitar Festival Performers: Eric Clapton, Johnny A, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, Ron Block, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Doyle Bramhall II, JJ Cale, Larry Carlton, Robert Cray, Sheryl Crow, Bo Diddley, Jerry Douglas, David Honeyboy Edwards, Vince Gill, Buddy Guy, David Hidalgo, Zakir Hussain, Eric Johnson, B.B. King, Sonny Landreth, Jonny Lang, Robert Lockwood, Jr., John Mayer, John McLaughlin, Robert Randolph, Duke Robillard, Carlos Santana, Hubert Sumlin, James Taylor, Dan Tyminski, Steve Vai, Jimmie Vaughan, Joe Walsh, ZZ Top, David Johansen

Buy Eric Clapton: Crossroads Guitar Festival 2004 DVD

8. Live 8

July 2, 2005
Locations world wide

Pink Floyd at Live 8Held 20 years after he organized Live Aid, Bob Geldof’s Live 8 was even more ambitious, being held in nine different locations around the world on the same day. Timed to coincide with the G8 conference in Scotland that year, the goal was to raise money to fight poverty in Africa. The most memorable moment from the concerts was at Hyde Park in London where the classic lineup of Pink Floyd reunited for the first time in over two decades.

Live 8 Performers: U2, Paul McCartney, Annie Lennox, Mariah Carey, R.E.M. The Killers, The Who, UB40, Pink Floyd, Elton John, Bob Geldof, Velvet Revolver, Madonna, Coldplay, Robbie Williams, Will Smith, Alicia Keys, The Black Eyed Peas, Kanye West, Linkin Park, Jay-Z, Rob Thomas, Sarah McLachlan, Stevie Wonder, Maroon 5, Deep Purple, Neil Young, Buck Cherry, Bryan Adams, Mötley Crüe, Brian Wilson, Green Day, a-Ha, Roxy Music, Dido, Peter Gabriel, Snow Patrol, The Corrs, Zola, Lucky Dube, Jungo, Pet Shop Boys, Muse, The Cure

Buy Live 8 DVD

9. Woodstock ’94

August 12-14, 1994
Saugerties, New York

Organized to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the original Woodstock festival, Woodstock ’94 was promoted as “3 More Days of Peace and Music”. in fact, this concert took place near the originally intended location of that first show and other similarities such as common performers, similar crowd size, rain, and mud.

Woodstock ’94 Performers: Blues Traveler, Candlebox, Collective Soul, Jackyl, King’s X, Live, Orleans, Sheryl Crow, Violent Femmes, Joe Cocker, Blind Melon, Cypress Hill, Rollins Band, Melissa Etheridge, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, John Sebastian, Nine Inch Nails, Metallica, Aerosmith, Country Joe McDonald, Sisters of Glory, Arrested Development, Allman Brothers Band, Traffic, Santana, Green Day, Paul Rodgers Rock and Blues Revue, Spin Doctors, Porno For Pyros, Bob Dylan, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Peter Gabriel

Read more on Woodstock ’94 from our recent Comebacks and Reunions special feature


Bonus Top 9 List: Best Single Day, Single Location Shows

The Who at Concert for New York City

1. The Concert for New York City October 20, 2001. New York, NY
2. The Band’s Last Waltz November 25, 1976. San Francisco, CA
3. Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Celebration May 14, 1988. New York, NY
4. Concert for Bangladesh August 1, 1971. New York, NY
5. Knebworh Festival June 30, 1990. Knebworth, UK
6. Texxas Jam July 1, 1978. Dallas, TX
7. Farm Aid September 22, 1985. Champaign, IL
8. Canada Jam August 26, 1990. Bowmanville, Ontario
9. Altamont Free Concert December 6, 1969. Tracy, CA

~

Ric Albano

Classic Rock Christmas Songs

Classic Christmas Rock SongsNearly from its inception, rock and roll and Christmas songs have made for a potent mixture of holiday-flavored punch. This marriage dates back to 1957 with the first Elvis Presley Christmas Album and Bobby Helms’s timeless “Jingle Bell Rock”, a rockabilly Christmas classic which was actually written by an advertising executive and a publicist, joining together the overt commercialism with these early anthems. However, it wasn’t all about dollars and cents, as demonstrated in 1963 when major Christmas initiatives by producer Phil Spector and The Beach Boys were pulled off the shelf after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Below we review our favorite songs during the classic rock era. Please be sure to let us know which ones you like best, including those that we omit.

Christmas by The Who, 1969“Christmas” by The Who, 1969

This is a truly fantastic song from the rock opera Tommy but, as such, this song is only about Christmas for a short period of the song, the rest of the song is spent pondering whether the aforementioned Tommy’s soul can be saved as he is deaf, dumb and blind – lacking the capacity to accept Jesus Christ. This aspect of the song works exceptionally well in the scheme of the album, but not so much in the scheme of it being a Christmas song. That said, no song captures the majesty of children on Christmas day as well as this one.

Happy Xmas by John Lennon, 1971“Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” by John Lennon, 1971

John Lennon’s voice is fantastic and the song itself evokes the kind of melancholy Christmas spirit I find in great Christmas songs. The backing vocals work very well and the bass guitar, sleigh bells, chimes, glockenspiel all play their part as well, a testament to the excellent production by Phil Spector. It does sound a little dated with the overt political correctness and, of course ant-war sentiment. Then there is a bit of irony, foe, although the song advocates “War is Over”, the personal war between Lennon and Paul McCartney was at a fevered pitch with Lennon poaching McCartney’s lead guitarist for this very song just to stick him in the eye a bit. So, in that sense, I guess war was not quite over.

I Believe In Father Christmas, 1975“I Believe In Father Christmas” by Greg Lake, 1975

You really do learn something new every day. In fact while doing research into this song’s origin I discovered that this is actually a Greg Lake solo song and not an Emerson, Lake, and Palmer song which I had always believed because of its inclusion on their 1977 Works compilation album. This new revelation does not diminish my love of the song one iota. The song was written by Lake with lyrics by Peter Sinfield. Lake says the song was written in protest at the commercialization of Christmas, while Sinfield says it is more about a loss of innocence and childhood belief. I tend to believe them both, as I’ve always found the melancholy song to be much too complex to be written about any single subject or incident. Musically and melodically, the song is a masterpiece, with Lake’s finger-picked acoustic ballad complemented by ever-increasing orchestration and choral arrangements. Each verse is more intense than the last and the arrangement elicits all kinds of emotions, far deeper than the typical “feel good” Christmas song.

Father Christmas by The Kinks, 1977“Father Christmas” by The Kinks, 1977

Just listen to the first fifteen seconds of this song and you will see, it’s amazing! Starting with a Christmas-y happy piano melody and sleigh bells before punk-influenced guitar and drums crash in with the impact of a meteor. Lead singer Ray Davies sings as two characters in the song; the first is a department store Santa (“Father Christmas”), the second is a gang of poor kids. Davies makes his vocals more forceful for their demands, “Father Christmas give us some money!” I have long thought Davies is probably the most underrated singer in Rock, and the Kinks may be the most underrated band in rock history. What other band appeared in the British invasion did a few concept albums and then practically invented punk rock!? Dave Davies lead guitar is fantastic, definitely the most entertaining work in any of the Christmas songs on this list. The drums are also a huge high point as they roll franticly between verses. If you needed a definition of it, this IS Christmas Rock!

Peace On Earth / Little Drummer Boy, 1977“Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy”
by David Bowie & Bing Crosby, 1977

This partial cover (Bowie’s “Peace On Earth” part was original, while Crosby sang the traditional “Little Drummer Boy”) was actually as about as original a compositions as any Christmas song with a rock theme to it. So why does this song make the cut? Well it is fantastic! It’s DAVID BOWIE and BING CROSBY! It’s a great little song that feels like Christmas. Two totally different artists from different genres and eras coming together to sing a song for a television special, only around Christmas could this happen. Well, in fact it was recorded in London in August of 1977 for an upcoming Christmas special and Crosby passed away in October, before it aired, making it even more special.

A Wonderful Christmas Time, 1979“A Wonderful Christmas Time” by Paul McCartney, 1979

Not to be out done by his former Beatle mate turned musical rival (see above), Paul McCartney launched the post-Wings phase of his solo career with “Wonderful Christmas Time”. A song with an uncanny ability to instantly put one into the Christmas spirit, this synth-driven, new-wave ballad showcased McCartney’s mastery at writing pleasant pop songs in just about any sub-genre. Unfortunately, his “wonderful Christmas” was interrupted soon after the new year of 1980, when he got busted In Japan for marijuana possession and spent ten days in prison before he was released.

Christmas Wrapping, 1981“Christmas Wrapping” by The Waitresses, 1981

“Christmas Wrapping” is a really fun new-wave style song that jives musically by an otherwise obscure group. The song goes through quite a few little progressions – a little guitar rift and some jolly percussion instruments introduce the listener to the song’s primary beat of guitar and drums. Lead singer Patty Donahue flirts with actually rapping through the song which comes out really cool despite my less than enthused relationship to that genre. The interlude of horns really makes this song fun as they bridge the gap between verses.

2000 Miles, 1983“2000 Miles” by The Pretenders, 1983

Not really intended to be so much a Christmas song as a lament about missing someone with the hope they return at Christmas. It was nevertheless released in 1983 in advance of the band’s 1984 album Learning To Crawl because of its holiday season potential. The vivid lyrics which paint the Christmas landscape and activity, along with the masterful delivery by lead vocalist Chrissie Hynde above the simple folk-guitar riff, makes this one for the ages.

Thank God Its Christmas, 1984“Thank God It’s Christmas” by Queen, 1984

This is a Christmas rock song that often gets overlooked but is virtually impossible to ignore due to Freddie Mercury’s singing. Co-written by drummer Roger Taylor, the drums have a smooth grooving feeling, albeit very processed. Mercury’s backing keyboards and occasional Christmas bells give the song that holiday feeling it needs. The addition of the guitar later in the song by the other co-writer, Brian May adds some earthiness, but the song would benefit from more of it. The piece never quite transcends the mellowness or the karaoke-like quality of the song, but is still a Christmas classic.

Do They Know Its Christmas, 1984Do They Know It’s Christmas?” by Band Aid, 1984

Sure, it is outrageously corny, especially when you are watching Boy George and other eighties has-beens singing next to the likes of Bono and Sting. But underneath all the silliness lies a pretty good song, written in a decent style of British pop. This song is the brainchild of Bob Geldof, lead singer of the Boomtown Rats, who co-wrote this song along with Midge Ure, and then they brought together these top-notch English musicians to perform under the name Band Aid as all proceeds went to relief for the Ethiopian famine of 1984-1985. The success of this single eventually lead to the worldwide benefit concert Live Aid, the following summer.

Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, 1985“Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”
by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, 1985

The only true cover of a “traditional” Christmas song on this list, this song was actually recorded in December 1975, but was not released for a solid decade when Bruce Springsteen began putting together his triple live album 1975-1985. It was put out as the B-Side to his single “My Hometown” in 1985 and has since become a holiday staple and rock and pop stations worldwide.

Another Christmas Song, 1989“Another Christmas Song” by Jethro Tull, 1989

We conclude with a beautiful and elegant song put out by Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull during their leaner years, this May be one that many do not know. From the 1989 album Rock Island, this is actually a sequel to “A Christmas Song” put out by Jethro Tull on their 1968 debut album two decades earlier, but is far superior in beauty elegance than the original. With some light flute, drums, and the occasional wood block sound and other percussive effects, the song features Tull’s traditional guitarist Martin Barre who nicely accents the flute line from Anderson in the interweaving musical passages. Lyrically, it describes an old man who is calling his children home to him for Christmas and subtly drawing their attention to other parts of the world and other people;

Everyone is from somewhere, even if you’ve never been there
So take a minute to remember the part of you that might be the old man calling me…”

Through the 1990s and early 2000s, the Christmas rock tradition continued with fine originals such as “Christmas All Over Again” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, a rendition of “Heat Miser” by The Badlees, “Don’t Shoot Me Santa Clause” by The Killers, and Coldplay’s “Christmas Lights”. It is likely this tradition will continue for years to come.

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J.D. Cook and Ric Albano

                

News Of the World by Queen

Buy News Of the World

News Of the World by Queen News Of the World was recorded and released in the heart of Queen’s most prolific and creative era and may be the band’s most balanced album. It bridges the harmony-rich, virtuoso studio pieces of the era such as 1975’s A Night At the Opera, with the funk-influenced, rhythm driven hits of their near future, like 1980’s The Game. The band’s sixth album in just over four years of recording, News Of the World, is extremely diverse with every one of its eleven tracks credited to a single composer within the band, each of the four band members composing multiple tracks, and a variety of genres explored within the songs themselves.

News Of the World was the second album to be produced solely by the band, with the 1976 predecessor, A Day At the Races, being the first. After that album received some criticism as being “boring”, Queen decided to scale down their complex arrangements and employ a “rootsier” sound while incorporating many diverse styles and approaches for this album. These styles ranged from heavy metal to soft jazz, from Spanish influenced to “stadium rock” and many genres in between. The album contains two tracks without the band’s dynamic front man Freddie Mercury, and two tracks absent their virtuoso lead guitarist Brian May. With the overall songwriting less dominated by May and Mercury, bassist John Deacon and drummer Roger Taylor stepped in to play a larger role.

The album cover was a painting by American sci-fi artist Frank Kelly Freas and was presented to the band by Taylor, who had a copy of the October 1953 issue of Astounding Science Fiction with this cover art. The band contacted Freas, who agreed to alter the painting for the News Of the World album cover, incorporating the four band members. Of course, the title itself came from the British tabloid of the same name, which was once the most popular newspaper on Earth but has in the past year (2011) folded up due in part to scandal.
 


News Of the World by Queen
Released: October 28, 1977 (EMI)
Produced by: Queen & Mike Stone
Recorded: Basing Street & Wessex Studios, London, July-September 1977
Side One Side Two
We Will Rock You
We Are the Champions
Sheer Heart Attack
All Dead, All Dead
Spread Your Wings
Fight From the Inside
Get Down, Make Love
Sleeping On the Sidewalk
Who Needs You
It’s Late
My Melancholy Blues
Group Musicians
Freddie Mercury – Lead & Harmony Vocals, Piano, Percussion
Brian May – Guitars, Percussion, Lead & Harmony Vocals
John Deacon – Bass, Guitars, Percussion
Roger Taylor– Drums, Percussion, Lead & Harmony Vocals

 
News Of the World has eleven tracks, each written solely by one of the four band members. May lead the way, composing four songs, Mercury wrote three, while Deacon and Taylor wrote two apiece.

May made a conscious decision to make “We Will Rock You” a simple anthem in order to get the live audience more directly involved. The album’s opener would go on to become one of Queen’s biggest songs worldwide and a staple of arena and stadiums everywhere. It was inspired by a gig at Stafford’s Bingley Hall, when the audience sang “You’ll Never Walk Alone” to the band to lull them out for an encore (this was a commonplace at “football” matches and one such occurrence was captured at the end of “Fearless” on Pink Floyd’s Meddle.

“It’s Late” was the May’s idea of treating a song as a three-act theatrical play (the verses are even called “acts” in the lyrics sheet). As the guitarist put it at the time;

“It’s another one of those story-of-your life songs. I think it’s about all sorts of experiences that I had, and experiences that I thought other people had, but I guess it was very personal, and it’s written in three parts, it’s like the first part of the story is at home, the guy is with his woman. The second part is in a room somewhere, the guy is with some other woman, that he loves, and can’t help loving, and the last part is he’s back with his woman…”

Brian May also takes over lead vocals on his two other compositions. “Sleeping On The Sidewalk”, was recorded in one take instrumentally with the vocals later overdubbed. It has a strong rockabilly backing with a heavier guitar up front which all works well with the subdued vocals, making it one of the album’s gems. Lyrically, it tells a rags-to-riches story about an aspiring trumpet player. “All Dead, All Dead” is an excellent composition with melodic piano and vocal harmonies, more subdued vocals by May, a section with swelling guitar coming in like a majestic Medieval organ, and a crisp and thumping, yet measured and sparse rhythm by Deacon and Taylor. In later interviews, May revealed that the song is about the passing of his cat.

John Deacon wrote a couple of interesting songs. “Who Needs You” features the bassist along with May playing dueling Spanish guitars with Mercury adding some percussion. “Spread Your Wings” is one of the forgotten gems in the Queen catalog. With moody piano, acoustic guitar, melodic lead vocals, and just a touch of dynamism from May’s lead the song brings out just about all of the best aspects of the band at their peak. Beyond composing the song, Deacon really shines on bass, playing in a style reminiscent of early John Paul Jones, and giving the song a legitimate edge that makes it a classic.
 

 
Drummer Roger Taylor contributed a couple of the harder-edged songs on the album. “Sheer Heart Attack” gave the band’s third album its title in 1974, but the song itself was only partially finished and didn’t make it on to that album. With the punk rock movement in full effect in 1977, Queen brought the song back to life as precursor to “death metal”, setting a template that would be adapted by acts such as Judas Priest in subsequent years. On “Fight From the Inside”, Taylor plays just about every instrument and sings lead as well, making the song very unique in the Queen catalog.

“Get Down, Make Love” was written by Mercury and makes heavy use of sexual innuendo, with suggestive lyrics that stop just short of being explicit. This funk and punk inspired club piece includes a short mid-section with effects that sound like the ambiance of an early 1980s arcade. However, these “psychedelic” effects were not produced on a synthesiser, but on but May’s guitar and an Electroharmonix Frequency Analyzer pedal. The album’s closer, “My Melancholy Blues” is a nightclub inspired, soft jazz number which includes Mercury’s vocal and piano backed only by a fret less bass and percussive hi-hat and kick drum.

Mercury’s masterpiece on the album is “We Are the Champions”, which acts as a melodic counter piece to May’s “We Will Rock You”, also built on audience response. The song had been written by 1975 but was held off albums until 1977. It reached the top five on both sides of the Atlantic. It features beautifully layered and harmonized guitars and and four to five part vocal harmonies, all built above the simple piano tune at its core. Like its counterpart, “We Are the Champions” would be used over and over again in the sports world.

News Of the World went multi-platinum worldwide even though it initially received mixed reviews because of the band’s abandonment of their predominantly progressive rock sound. However, critical reception soon shifted positively as it became evident that the band was displaying yet another layer of their musical ability.

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1977 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1977 albums
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