Hi folks. Today is the 48th anniversary Of Queen’s third album Sheer Heart Attack released on this date in 1974. It is their breakthrough album, with Killer Queen charting in the US and almost hitting the top spot in the UK. It wasn’t easy for this album to come together, because of health issues and other things complicating the circumstances, which helped shape this particular album. I will go through this with you and go through the complete track listing and point out something which is pretty obvious, if you have listened to the album more than once. Ready?
Up to this point, Queen had released 2 albums: Queen and Queen II within months of each other. I will do a post on both albums when their anniversaries come up. Anyway, after completing Queen II, Queen would embark on their Queen II Tour as a support act for Mott the Hoople. After touring extensively throughout the UK, both bands decided to tour together in the US, marking Queen’s first tour in the country. The bands would remain on friendly terms for the rest of their careers, with Ian Hunter performing ” All the Young Dudes” at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert and before that, Brian would write “Now I’m Here” as a tribute to the band.
Queen played their first US show on 4 April 1974 in Denver, Colorado,as a support act and Freddie apparently didn’t like it. I don’t understand why, except that I believe that Fred wanted Queen to be the main attraction. However, he had to pay his dues, and I’ve heard interviews with band saying that they don’t mind playing support, because they could play a shorter set, and then, go off and do whatever they want. Or, they can watch the other bands from the side of the stage.
At the climax of the tour in Boston, Brian was discovered to have hepatitis, maybe it was from the use of a contaminated needle during vaccinations the group received before travelling to Australia. Roger gives an account of how the band had to help Brian onto the plain, as he could hardly stand, in the 2011 documentary Queen: Day’s of Our Lives. Needless to say, that the remainder of the tour was subsequently cancelled and Queen flew back home, where Brian was hospitalised .
In June 1974, the band gathered together at Trident Studios to start rehearsing material for the next album. At the beginning of July, Brian had joined the guys for rehearsals, as They were just preparing to record. On July 7th, they trekked three and a half hours to get to Rockfield Studios in Wales, where they would record ten backing tracks, finishing on 28 July. At the start of August, work shifted to Wessex Sound Studios, where they wouldn’t be for long. Brian was starting to feel uneasy and he went to a specialist clinic on August 2nd. He collapsed at the clinic, as a result of a duodenal ulcer, what ever that is. He would be operated on the following day, but discharged from the hospital soon after so he could recover at home. While Freddie, Roger and John were overdubbing at Wessex, Brian had booked studio time at AIR Studios, where he recorded “Dear Friends”, and “She Makes Me”.
By late August, Brian was working with the rest of Queen again, as everybody else would add their parts to the songs which Brian had recorded. There was still one song left that needed to be recorded as Queen worked into September. They recorded the backing track for “Now I’m Here”at Wessex, and saved the rest to be completed during the mixing sessions.
Mixing commenced in the middle of September, while Queen was still overdubbing at this point, so they hired someone to deliver tapes from the recording studio to the mixing studio via motorcycle. The heart of the mixing sessions took place at Trident Studios, and one or two days was spent mixing each of the majority of the songs. “Brighton Rock”, on the other hand, took four days to mix, with six hours’ worth of different mixes created during that time. Each song was mixed in little edited sections that were about fifteen to twenty seconds in length.
At this point, Trident had just installed a 24-track machine in their studio that had been around since 1972, but was not functioning until 1974. In fact, the album was Trident’s first 24-track project. Even though Trident had expanded their recording flexibility by eight tracks, it still wasn’t enough to mix each track individually. “Bring Back That Leroy Brown”, for example, had 70 vocal tracks and had to be mixed down to work with the 24-track mixer.
On 20 September, it was announced the band were attempting to secure a release date for the album of 1 November, though it seemed unlikely they would be done in time to meet that deadline. They mixed “Now I’m Here”, which was the last thing to be mixed, on 22 October. May did an interview the next day (which was published on 26 October) that explained what finishing the album was like. In total, the band used four different studios in the making of Sheer Heart Attack: most of the backing tracks were recorded at Rockfield, two backing tracks and some guitar overdubs were recorded at AIR Studios, most of the overdubs and one backing track were recorded at Wessex, and the mixing was done at Trident.
The album moves away from the progressive rock themes of its predecessors. It has been categorised as hard rock and glam rock. You could say that it was a transitional album, from their past to what we would be getting in the future for the next couple of albums. I’m not going to go through what each track is about, but I will point out highlights for me of each of the 13 songs below.
The album was produced by Queen and Roy Thomas Baker and for some reason, on Wikipedia there is no mention of who had mixed, mastered, or even did the album cover art. Altho, with the art we know that it was Mick Rock who had dun it. Okay, let’s go through the songs and it won’t be a deep look into them, but I will have comments on them, which I can finally put somewhere, besides my own thoughts.
Brighton Rock is an interesting opener, because of th noises which start the song, which I guess could be a sort f flow, from the end of Seven Seas of Rhye< to the beginning of this song. The obvious highlight for me, is Brian’s guitar solo and as Queen fans, we know how he hsa perfected the solo, through Son and Daughter to BR and beyond, when doing the solo as a standalone piece live. Obviously, every time it is different and I love when he harmonizes with himself, thorugh delay and we will get into that more, during another album’s post in 13 days. There is a Canadian band with the same name of the track, with a hard rock sound. Brighton Rock are a band from Toronto, who had released 3 albums from 1986 to 1991. I had met them once and was lucky enough to go backstage to meet them, when they open for Canadian singer Lee Aaron. I met her to and the first thing she had said to me was “hello”! Well, I was about 13 and kinda short for my age and I still am. Anyway, I digress.
Killer Queen needs no further discussion and all I have to say about it, is that if you listen to it on headphones, you will hear a lot in the mix. For example: Brian playing along with the descending line from the verses leading into the pre-chorus. I didn’t really notice it until the 1991 remaster and when I had listened to my copy of the 1981 Greatest Hits album, I had heard what I am talking about. https://youtu.be/2ZBtPf7FOoM
Tenement Funster, Flick of the Wrist and Lily of the Valley are also good and both my school mate friend and I thought that Flick of the Wrist was actually all 3 songs and had learned that they were separate pieces on their own, with Tenement Funster written by Roger and Flick and Lily written by Freddie. Years later, I had learned atht both Flick and Lily had served as b-sides to Killer Queen and Now I’m Here respectively. As for the three songs, could this have been inspired by the Abbey Road medley? I believe so and as for covers, progressive metal band Dream Theater had done a cover of all three. https://youtu.be/ZFsx_VnWabQ
Speaking of Now I’m Here, the delay used on Freddie’s lead vocals is interesting, as it is much the same as with Brian’s guitar on Brighton Rock. Obviously, it was used to great visual affect live, where Freddie could be on one side of the stage singing “now I’m here”, then on another when he sings “now I’m there”. It also served as an opener and a chance for a call and response opportunity, for Freddie to get the audience to sing with him. Check out the version on Live Killers as the best example of this. Yes, there are other live versions of Now I’m Here, but they either go through the song without much stopping, or there is call and response, while wandering off to another song, like Dragon Attack.
In the Lap of the Gods is interesting, because Freddie’s lead vocals are slowed down and I could comment on Roger’s high operatic vocals, but I’m not going to do that. There simply is no need to talk about how good Roger is in the higher register.
Stone Cold Crazy is an obvious banger for those of us into metal. Yes, we have the Metallica version of it in 1990, but other bands had done cover versions of htis song. This is one of the rare Queen songs written by all 4 members, unless you count The Miracle and Innuendo albums, along with One Vision from A Kind Of Magic. (I obviously love the Queen version, but as a metal guy I dearly love this from a supergroup with members of: Pantera, Damageplan, Mudvayne and Nothingface. Of course, I’m talking about the Texas metal band HELLYEAH and they had done their own version of Stone Cold Crazy live. https://youtu.be/99xl_yhndy8
Dear Friends needs no explanation and all I have to show for it, is a cover by def Leppard, which turns into a hard rock track, which also sounds like pop punk to me. https://youtu.be/AM1Yi1BLVA0
Misfire is significant as it is John’s first song on a Queen album. I like how this song changes keys from time to time and it starts in G, then ends up somewhere else.
Bring Back That Leroy Brown is obviously a Freddie track and it shows how versatile all four musicians are. For example: could you imagine Brian playing the guitar like that? And so well? I know they are all good, but wow! Even Freddie does a great imitation of female vocals on this track and I believe that it is him, slowed down, when he sings the title before the second verse.
She Makes Me (Stormtrooper In Stilettos) is Brian’s second song with him on lead vocals and it is something to listen to on headphones, with all the sounds that we hear near the end of it. In the Lap of the Gods… Revisited was obviously written with the audience in mind, especially with the sing-along chorus and the simulated explosion at the end. I think that Extreme took inspiration from the melody, when writing Seven Sundays for their album III Sides to Every Story. It’s not exact, but you can hear that Queen are among their influences on this track. https://youtu.be/nzarqZadhAE
What an album?! One of those albums you have to listen to all the way through, as the songs just flow. No, not just the literally connected songs, but the whole album feels as one despite the different styles etc. That’s what Queen do best and this is one of the albums which show it best. It’s almost impossible to choose a favourite, unless you are fixated on a certain genre of music and with that in mind, take a look at my discussion of every track.
At first, this was probably my least favourite of the classic albums, only because this album was released on CD first, before A Night At The Opera and thankfully, I had come to my senses and realized, that all of the Queen albums are great in their own way.
I will be doing a post on A Night At The Opera and I will probably say similar things about it, which I had said here. However, both albums are different from each other, in how they flow and yet, they both have connected tracks. Stay tuned to find out what I will say about it. In the meantime, let’s enjoy this album when we have the time, to take another listen to it, or listen to it for the first time.