Queen is the eponymous debut album by the British rock group, released in July 1973. It was recorded at Trident Studios and De Lane Lea Music Centre, London, with production by Roy Thomas Baker (as Roy Baker), John Anthony and Queen.
The album was influenced by the progressive rock, hard rock, and heavy metal of the day and covers subjects such as folklore ("My Fairy King") and religion ("Jesus"). Lead singer Freddie Mercury composed five of the ten tracks, guitarist Brian May composed four songs, (including "Doing All Right", which was co-written by Smile band-mate Tim Staffell), and drummer Roger Taylor composed and sang "Modern Times Rock and Roll". The final song on the album is a short instrumental version of "Seven Seas of Rhye". The band included on the album sleeve the comment "And nobody played synthesiser", a purist principle of May's, as some listeners had mistaken their elaborate multi-tracking and effects processed by guitar and vocal sounds as synthesisers. Bassist John Deacon was credited on the sleeve notes of the original vinyl release as "Deacon John".
Queen had been playing the club and college circuit in and around London for almost two years when the band had a chance opportunity to test out the new recording facilities of De Lane Lea Studios. Taking advantage of the opportunity, they put together a polished demo tape of five songs: "Keep Yourself Alive", "The Night Comes Down", "Great King Rat", "Jesus", and "Liar". Despite the demo tape's quality, the band received only one offer from a record company – a low bid from Chrysalis Records, which they used to try to entice other companies.
They were finally taken aboard in 1972 by Norman and Barry Sheffield, who were setting up Trident Studios; however, Queen were allowed to record only during the studio's downtime, after the paying artists had left, which was usually between 3 and 7 am. One day, while waiting to use the studio, Mercury was asked to record vocals by producer Robin Cable, who was working on a version of "I Can Hear Music" and "Goin' Back". Mercury enlisted May and Taylor to record the tracks. These recordings were released on a single under the name Larry Lurex.
The arrangement of recording only during downtime lasted from June to November 1972. The limitations this imposed on them led the band to focus on completing one track at a time, but problems arose almost immediately. The band had thought highly of their De Lane Lea demo tracks, but producer Roy Thomas Baker asked them to re-record the songs with better equipment. "Keep Yourself Alive" was the first song to be re-recorded, and Queen did not like the result. They recorded it once again, but during the mixing sessions, no mix met their standards until engineer Mike Stone stepped in. After seven or eight failed attempts, Stone's first try met with Queen's approval. Stone would stay on to engineer and eventually co-produce their next five albums. Another track that proved problematic was "Mad the Swine", which was recorded for the album but then derailed by Baker and Queen disagreeing on the quality of the percussion. The song was meant be the fourth track on the album between "Great King Rat and "My Fairy King". With the issue unresolved, the track was left off the album. It re-surfaced in 1991 as both the B-side to the "Headlong" CD single in the UK, and on the Hollywood Records re-release of the album. The version of "The Night Comes Down" which appears on the album is, in fact, the De Lane Lea demo recording, as the band were unsatisfied with any attempt at rerecording it.
Other recordings from this period, such as two Smile tracks ("Silver Salmon" and "Polar Bear"), "Rock and Roll Medley" (a live encore staple from the era), and the infamous track "Hangman" (whose existence was long denied officially, beyond live concert recordings), have surfaced in the form of acetate pressings.
Though the album was completed and fully mixed by November 1972, Trident spent months trying to get a record company to release it. After eight months of failing that, they simply released it themselves in 1973. During this time, Queen had begun writing material for their next album, but they were disheartened by the current album's delay, feeling they had grown past that stage, even though the record-buying public was just getting wind of them. They recorded two BBC sessions during the interim. The first single, "Keep Yourself Alive" (the Mike Stone mix, now considered the standard album version) was released a week before the album (UK dates, 6 and 13 July respectively). The track length was edited for release in the US, from 3:47 to 3:30. The US single was issued in October. All countries had the B-side "Son and Daughter". The album was released in the US on 4 September.
Elektra Records released a single of "Liar" in a heavily edited form on 14 February 1974, with the B-side "Doing All Right". Elektra later reissued the edited version of "Keep Yourself Alive" in July 1975, this time with the rare double B-side (rare for a 7" single) of "Lily of the Valley" and "God Save the Queen". Both versions are unique compared to the album versions.
Hollywood Records released a CD single featuring five versions of "Keep Yourself Alive" to promote the forthcoming "Crown Jewels" boxed set (1998). The versions on the CD are: "Long Lost Re-take", "BBC Session No. 1 Version", "Live Killers Version", "Album Version (Unremastered)", and "Album Version (1998 Remastered Version)".
Rolling Stone wrote, "There's no doubt that this funky, energetic English quartet has all the tools they'll need to lay claim to the Zep's abdicated heavy-metal throne, and beyond that to become a truly influential force in the rock world. Their debut album is superb." The Winnipeg Free Press opined that Queen borrowed from other artists, but also compared it favourably to Led Zeppelin, writing, "the group manages to inject such a fresh, energetic touch to most of it that I don't mind a bit... With its first album, Queen has produced a driving, high energy set which in time may be looked upon with the same reverence Led Zep 1 now receives." Illinois' Daily Herald also commended the record, writing "Good listening is guaranteed in songs like 'Keep Yourself Alive,' 'Great King Rat' and 'Doing All Right'."
In later years, AllMusic awarded the album three out of five stars, calling it a "patchy but promising debut from a classic rock group," while Q awarded the album 5/5 stars, citing it as an "essential purchase." In 1994, Guitarist magazine ranked Queen the 19th most influential guitar album of all time. The album placed at #54 in NME's "100 Greatest Albums You’ve Never Heard" in 2011. In 2008, Rolling Stone ranked "Keep Yourself Alive" #31 in the "100 Greatest Guitar Songs Of All Time", describing it as "an entire album's worth of riffs crammed into a single song".
01 – Keep yourslef alive
02 – Doing all right
03 – Great King rat
04 – My fairy King
05 – Liar
06 – The night comes down
07 – Modern times rock ‘n’ roll
08 – Son and daughter
09 – Jesus
10 – Seven seas of rhye (Instrumental)
On 8 November 2010, record company Universal Music Group announced a remastered and expanded reissue of the album set for release in May 2011. This as part of a new record deal between Queen and Universal Music, which meant Queen's association with EMI (soon to be absorbed by UMG) would come to an end after almost 40 years. According to Universal Music, all Queen albums are to be remastered and reissued in 2011.
Keep Yourself Alive
Brian May wrote "Keep Yourself Alive" after the band had been formed, but before John Deacon joined, as confirmed by former bass player Barry Mitchell (on an unofficial Q&A session held on an online forum). According to what May said in a radio special about their 1977 album, News of the World, he had penned the lyrics thinking of them as ironic and tongue-in-cheek, but their sense was completely changed when Freddie Mercury sang them. Roger Taylor and May sing the vocal bridge of the song.
Mercury might have helped on the musical arrangements based on the fact that (as it has been recalled by former bassists and the band themselves) they were in a more collaborative period in the pre-studio days and he was usually the one getting his way with structural ideas. While it is highly possible that he contributed ideas to the song (the modulation types and the expanded form are closer to his style than to May's), the bottom line is that even in that case Mercury would be more a co-arranger than a co-writer per se (like George Martin on The Beatles' songs).
Doing All Right
"Doing All Right" was written by May and Tim Staffell while in Smile. The song changes many times throughout, from light pop music to acoustic guitars and even contains a heavy metal section. This is one of the few Queen songs to feature May on the piano. He also played his old Hairfred acoustic guitar on this track and on later tracks such as "White Queen (As It Began)" and "Jealousy". The band played this song as early as 1970, and it was notable as the band's first song Mercury played live on the piano for. Staffell sang it when it was a Smile song, and Mercury tried to sing in the same manner when it became a Queen song.
Great King Rat
"Great King Rat" was written by Mercury. This song is an example of Queen's earliest sound, with lengthy, heavy compositions with long guitar solos and sudden tempo changes. Despite it not being released as a single, it remains hugely popular among the Queen Fanbase.
My Fairy King
"My Fairy King", written by Mercury, deals with Rhye, a fantasy world created by him and featured in other Queen songs, most notably "Seven Seas of Rhye". "My Fairy King" is the first song on the album to feature Mercury's piano skills – as the piano on "Doing All Right" was played by May, who was quite impressed by Mercury's piano playing on the track, and from this point on Mercury handled most of Queen's piano parts.
Before writing this song Mercury was known as Freddie Bulsara, and this song is said to have inspired him to change his surname. Its lyrics contain a verse with the words "Mother Mercury, look what they've done to me." May has said that after the line was written, Freddie claimed he was singing about his own mother. Subsequently, Freddie Bulsara took the stage name Freddie Mercury. This was another attempt to separate his stage persona ("extroverted monster", as Mercury himself once described it) from his personal persona (introverted).
Written during the band's time in the studio, the song contains many voice overdubs and vocal harmonies, which Mercury was fond of. Taylor also displays his vocal skills here, hitting some of the highest notes in the composition. The vocal overdubs technique would later be used in many Queen songs, most notably "Bohemian Rhapsody". Mercury borrowed some lines from Robert Browning's poem "The Pied Piper of Hamelin".
"Liar" was written by Mercury in 1970 while he was still known as Farrokh Bulsara, and before Deacon joined the band the following year. It is one of the band's heavier songs. As mentioned on the transcription on EMI Music Publishing's Off the Record sheet music, this is one of the band's few '70s tracks to feature a Hammond organ.
The Night Comes Down
May wrote this song shortly after the band's formation in 1970, following the break-up of Smile. It was first recorded at De Lane Lea Studios in December 1971, when the band were hired to test the studio's new equipment in exchange for being allowed to record proper demos for their attempt to find a record company. The agreement was mutually beneficial and Queen took full advantage of the state-of-the-art equipment to put five of their tracks to tape.
In 1972, Trident Studios signed Queen to a recording contract which limited them to only down-time studio access (when paying artists were not recording) and they began working with Roy Thomas Baker. He and Studio owners/management Norman and Barry Sheffield insisted on re-recording the five De Lane Lea demos. A new studio version of "The Night Comes Down" was recorded, but in the end, it was decided that the De Lane Lea version was still superior, and this was the version which appears on the debut album. The unused Roy Thomas Baker-produced version remains unreleased and has not surfaced even on bootlegs.
With the release of the original De Lane Lea demos as bonus tracks in 2011, the difference in the mixing of "The Night Comes Down" is quite noticeable when compared to the original LP and digital remasters. The demo is roughly the same mix that appeared on the album except that there is a distinct difference in the drum sound.
The song follows what would become trademark Brian May themes such as coming-of-age, nostalgia over the loss of childhood to the past, and the difficulties of life as an adult. There is also what could be an ambiguous reference to "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", in the lyric: "When I was young it came to me; And I could see the sun breaking; Lucy was high and so was I; Dazzling, holding the world inside." May is admittedly a Beatles fan and has commented in numerous interviews on their impact on him.
Modern Times Rock 'n' Roll
Taylor wrote and sang the song, which was re-recorded on two occasions for the BBC. The first dates from December 1973 and was broadcast on John Peel's show. This version was eventually released on the 1989 Queen album At The Beeb, and sounds similar to the album version. The second re-recording dates from April 1974 and was first broadcast on Bob Harris's show. The later version has been released outside of bootleg recordings and differs from the original album version in its a slower tempo and additional vocals from Freddie Mercury.
Son and Daughter
"Son and Daughter" was written by May and was the B-side for the single "Keep Yourself Alive". Written in 1972 for their first album and a regular feature in Queen's live set until well into 1975, the song originally housed his famous guitar solo. The album version of the song does not feature the guitar solo. The solo would not be properly recorded until 1974, for "Brighton Rock" from Sheer Heart Attack. Until this time, and occasionally afterward, the guitar solo would take over the middle of "Son and Daughter" during concerts, allowing the rest of the band a bit of a rest and costume change.
Unlike other songs from Queen's early period which crept back into circulation in the live set of their 1984-86 tours, such as "Liar", "Keep Yourself Alive", "The Seven Seas of Rhye" and "In the Lap of the Gods...Revisited", "Son and Daughter" stayed off the setlists after Queen's hit singles began to dominate their live show. The song is indicative of their very earliest sound, influenced by blues rock and heavy metal.
The lyrics tell part of the story of Jesus of Nazareth. Mercury, credited with writing the song, was a Parsi Zoroastrian. The track features a two-chord rhythm section during the verses with a long instrumental break toward the end of the song. Because of the effects created by May's Red Special guitar, among other things, many early followers of Queen viewed the band as something of a psychedelic rock band.
Seven Seas of Rhye...
"Seven Seas of Rhye" was written by Mercury who had half-written the song when the first album was recorded and completed it for the second album.
Freddie Mercury - lead and backing vocals, piano, Hammond organ on "Liar"
Brian May - electric and acoustic guitars, backing vocals, vocal bridge on "Keep Yourself Alive", piano on "Doing All Right"
Roger Taylor - drums, backing vocals, lead vocals on "Modern Times Rock 'n' Roll", vocal bridge on "Keep Yourself Alive", percussion
John Deacon ("Deacon John") - bass guitar, acoustic guitar
John Anthony - producer, backing vocals on "Modern Times Rock 'n' Roll"
Roy Thomas Baker - producer, sound engineer
Mike Stone - sound engineer
Ted Sharpe - sound engineer