Friday, September 2, 2022

Queen 5: A Day At The Races

Named after another Marx Brothers film and sporting a similar cover design, it’s easy to view A Day At The Races as a companion to Queen’s previous album. That would be incorrect, since it’s as different from A Night At The Opera as that was to Sheer Heart Attack, which this one more closely resembles.
Something of a pompous synthetic fanfare opens takes up the first minute, and it’s a distraction before “Tie Your Mother Down” crashes in with its terrific riff. After that solid opener, Freddie is left alone with his multitracked harmonies and his lonesome piano for “You Take My Breath Away”. At five minutes it takes a while to make its point, and the closing loop makes an unsettling transition to the more typical ‘70s rock of “Long Away”. Brian sings this one, and we’re reminded of how much his voice does match Freddie’s. “The Millionaire Waltz” begins like Freddie solo again, this time in operetta mode. When the drums finally come in, they’re welcome, but it’s become a little too much of a retread of “Bohemian Rhapsody”. “You And I” returns us to straight rock, proving once again how much of a secret weapon John Deacon was as a songwriter.
While “Somebody To Love” is as over-the-top as anything on this album, it’s still one of Freddie’s (and the band’s) greatest creations. Here it all comes together—the piano, the bass, the drums, the guitar, and especially the choir on top of that voice. We even feel let down after it dribbles to a close, since it’s followed by the angry rock outrage of “White Man” (though it should be said that English bands singing about the plight of Native Americans was a smart shift away from those who were obsessed with cowboys). It’s another U-turn to the mild vaudeville of “Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy”, more along the line of the Queen that had been emerging. Roger Taylor’s songs always stick out like a sore thumb on Queen albums, and “Drowse” fills the same requirement as “I’m In Love With My Car”, though it’s nowhere near as silly. Brian apparently provides the keyboards for “Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together)”, which is a nice lighter-waver sung partially in Japanese. The already anthemic song ends with that backwards-sounding fanfare that opens the album.
A Day At The Races is good, but it had a hard act to follow. Still, it shows they were trying, highlights their versatility, and continues the brand they were building. They were getting there, certainly. (Neither of the modern mixes on the 1991 expansion were included on the 2011 remaster. Instead, consumers got the backing track for “Tie Your Mother Down”—which still has the backing vocals on the choruses—a lengthy live “Somebody To Love” from 1982 and a preview of “You Take My Breath Away” from 1976, a slightly different “Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy” from a Top Of The Pops appearance, and an “HD mix” of “Teo Torriatte” that omits the crazy ending.)

Queen A Day At The Races (1976)—3
1991 Hollywood reissue: same as 1976, plus 2 extra tracks
2011 remaster: same as 1976, plus 5 extra tracks

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