Sheer Heart Attack is the third album by British rock band Queen, released in November 1974. It was produced by the band and Roy Thomas Baker and distributed by EMI in the United Kingdom, and Elektra in the United States.
The album launched Queen to mainstream popularity both in the UK and internationally: the first single, "Killer Queen" reached No. 2 in the British charts and provided them with their first top 20 hit in the US, peaking at No. 12 on the Billboard singles chart. Sheer Heart Attack was also the first Queen album to hit the US top 20, peaking at No. 12 in 1975. Digressing from the progressive themes featured on their first two albums, this album featured more conventional rock tracks and marked a step towards the classic Queen sound. In recent years, it has been listed by multiple publications as one of the band's best works.
Brian May wrote "Brighton Rock" in 1973 before the completion of Queen II (variations of the solo were often played live as part of Son And Daughter), but time restrictions meant that the song was not ready for inclusion on an album until Sheer Heart Attack. The title is something of a pun: Brighton rock is a long, cylindrical sugar candy traditional to that seaside resort. The term was also iconic in UK pop culture as the title of a dark Graham Greene thriller/noir novel later adapted into a successful film starring Richard Attenborough as a teenage sociopath.
The song, the first track on the album, tells the story of two young lovers named Jenny and Jimmy meeting in Brighton on a public holiday. Jenny cannot linger because she is afraid her mother will find out "how I spent my holiday", but afterwards "writes a letter every day"; Jimmy, eager on the day, is not so happy with her "nothing can my love erase": now he is the one afraid of discovery by "my lady".
The song is probably best known for its lengthy guitar solo interlude, which was rather similar to the solo of 1968 Smile song "Blag". This featured May's technique of using multiple echoes used to build up guitar harmony and contrapuntal melodic lines. The studio version only contains one "main" guitar and one "echoed" guitar for a short section, but live, he would usually split his guitar signal into "main" and two "echoed", with each going to a separate bank of amplifiers.
Variations of this solo often featured during live Queen concerts, either as part of a rendition of Brighton Rock, a medley of it with some other songs (as witnessed on the News of the World tour where it segued after Freddie Mercury's multiple echoed vocal solo at the end of "White Man" and May's solo would segue into "The Prophet's Song" or "Now I'm Here"), or on its own as a guitar solo.
In the late '70s, the guitar solo was adapted to include some bass and drums, including a timpani solo by Roger Taylor (from October 1978 to November 1981). In 1980 and '81, the solo was included as a medley with "Keep Yourself Alive", before becoming a performance in its own right. During the recent tour of Queen + Paul Rodgers, a modified version, incorporating bits of "Chinese Torture" (from The Miracle) and the introduction from "Now I'm Here" was featured in the concerts. The Queen + Paul Rodgers version is featured on their live album Return of the Champions, simply titled "Guitar Solo". The live piece is often between nine to thirteen minutes long. May performed part of the "Brighton Rock" solo at the closing ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
"Killer Queen" was written by Mercury and was the band's first international hit. It is one of the few songs by him for which he wrote the lyrics first. The band initially recorded tracks for the song without May, because he was recovering in hospital from a duodenal ulcer, leaving spaces for him to fill when he was able to. Mercury played a jangle piano as well as a grand piano. It was performed and filmed multiple times for the Top of the Pops in 1974.
"Tenement Funster" is Taylor's song on the album, and he also performed lead vocals. The backing track consisted of his drums, Mercury's piano, John Deacon's bass and May's Red Special guitar. It's a typical Taylor track about youth and rebellion. In addition to showcasing the out-of-phase tone capabilities of the Red Special, it also includes echo effects with May's guitar, like in "Brighton Rock". The last couple of guitar notes overlap into "Flick of the Wrist". The original working titles for the song were "Teen Dreams" and "Young and Crazy".
"Flick of the Wrist"
"Flick of the Wrist" was the double A-side of "Killer Queen" but it was much less promoted and therefore not as popular outside the Queen fan base. The song includes Mercury singing octave vocals. When May returned to work having recovered from his hepatitis, he had not heard the song before he recorded his guitar and backing vocals. It is a heavy track with quite dark lyrics and an aggressive tone. At about 1:14 – 1:16, the line "Baby you've been had" can be heard. This line is also the opening to the next song on the album, "Lily of the Valley", making the three songs into a medley ("Tenement Funster" into "Flick of the Wrist", and 'Flick of the Wrist" into "Lily of the Valley").
"Lily of the Valley"
"Lily of the Valley" features Mercury playing the piano and providing all of the vocals. The song has a reference to "Seven Seas of Rhye" in the line "messenger from Seven Seas has flown to tell the King of Rhye he's lost his throne".
The song, together with "Tenement Funster" and "Flick of the Wrist", was covered by Dream Theater on the bonus disc of their album Black Clouds & Silver Linings.
"Now I'm Here"
"Now I'm Here" is the band's second single from the album. Written by May while at the hospital, recalling touring with Mott the Hoople, it was recorded during the last week of the sessions, with him playing piano. The song relies a lot on delay machines, foreshadowing "The Prophet's Song". The song opens with a lone guitar riff, and is followed by choir-like vocal harmonies and overdubbed guitar parts and ends with the whole band screaming "Go Little Queenie" in a fade out. A reference to Chuck Berry's song "Little Queenie".
"In the Lap of the Gods"
"In the Lap of the Gods" is, according to Mercury himself, the direct prelude to "Bohemian Rhapsody" and the A Night at the Opera album in general. It is built in three parts: the introduction, which contains fast piano arpeggios, very high-toned falsettos by Taylor plus vocals harmonies, the second part which is a slow love song, featuring slowed-down vocals by Mercury, and the third part, based on vocals harmonies singing "leave it in the lap of the gods", with more falsettos by Taylor. Those high notes were thought to be made using synthesisers, and to prove they were not, Taylor would reproduce them in live performance every night. Throughout the entire song, wind effects can be heard.
"Stone Cold Crazy"
"Stone Cold Crazy" was allegedly written by Mercury while in Wreckage, one of his pre-Queen bands. Queen played it live as early as 1972, but the song underwent many changes musically and lyrically before a studio version was recorded in 1974. As a result no band member was able to remember who had written the lyrics when the album was released, hence they shared writing credit. The lyrics themselves deal with gangsters, making a reference to Al Capone. It was the first song credited to all four members of Queen. This track is known for its fast tempos and heavy distortion, thus being a precursor to speed metal. Music magazine Q described "Stone Cold Crazy" as "thrash metal before the term was invented". The song was played live at almost every Queen concert between 1974-78.
The song was covered by Metallica in 1990, and released on their 1998 covers album Garage, Inc..
"Dear Friends" was May's song featuring him on the piano and backing vocals, and Mercury providing lead vocals.
Def Leppard covered this song (sung by bassist Rick Savage) for a Wal Mart bonus EP for their cover album, Yeah!.
"Misfire" was Deacon's first composition. He played most of the guitars including the solo, and Mercury sang all the vocals.
"Bring Back That Leroy Brown"
"Bring Back That Leroy Brown" was written by Mercury and features him on most of the vocals (with production techniques using tape speed to make it sound really low in the harmonies) as well as grand piano and jangle piano. May played ukulele-banjo and Deacon did a line with a double bass. The song's title alludes to the then-recent hit "Bad Bad Leroy Brown" by American singer-songwriter Jim Croce (little known in Queen's native UK) who had died in a plane crash the previous year. The song was played live in a different arrangement that shortened the song and was, except for the very end and one other line, purely instrumental. May's ukelele-banjo would be brought onstage especially for this song.
"She Makes Me (Stormtrooper in Stilettos)"
"She Makes Me (Stormtrooper in Stilettos)" was written and sung by May with May and Deacon playing acoustic guitars. Its finale features what May referred to as "New York nightmare sounds," which include NYC police vehicle sirens and deep-breathing sounds which accompany the closing bars. Stormtroopers in Stilettos: Queen, The Early Years was the name of the 2011 exhibition on Queen, which was held at Old Truman Brewery in Brick Lane, East London.
"In the Lap of the Gods... Revisited"
With its powerful chorus and stadium rock-esque sound, "In the Lap of the Gods... Revisited" could perhaps be considered the forerunner to "We Are the Champions". It bears few similarities to In The Lap Of The Gods.
Reception and legacy
NME wrote, "A feast. No duffers, and four songs that will just run and run: Killer Queen, Flick of the Wrist, Now I'm Here, and In the Lap of the Gods...revisited“. The Winnipeg Free Press commended "Brian May's multi-tracked guitar, Freddie Mercury's stunning vocalising and Roy Thomas Baker's dynamic production work", calling the album "a no-holds barred, full-scale attack on the senses". Circus referred to the album as "perhaps the heaviest, rockingest assault on these shores we've enjoyed in some time". Rolling Stone offered a mostly positive review, giving the album a 3/5 star rating, and concluding, "If it's hard to love, it's hard not to admire: This band is skilled, after all, and it dares". John Mendelsohn was unimpressed, writing, "I hunted all over both sides of this latest album for something, anything, even remotely as magnificent as "Keep Yourself Alive" or "Father to Son", only to end up empty-eared and bawling". As 1974 drew to a close, the album was ranked by Disc as the third best of the year and placed a joint No. 24 of the 60 albums to appear in NME's end-of-year list.
Allmusic awarded the album 4.5/5 stars, writing, "the theatricality is now wielded on everyday affairs, which ironically makes them sound larger than life. And this sense of scale, combined with the heavy guitars, pop hooks, and theatrical style, marks the true unveiling of Queen, making Sheer Heart Attack as the moment where they truly came into their own". Mojo awarded the album 4/5 stars, noting that it was "often overlooked in favour of A Night at the Opera," and calling it "equally stellar". Q awarded the album 5/5 stars, calling it "indispensable" and "one of the great pop/rock admixtures of the '70s". Pitchfork awarded the album a 9/10, writing, "Sheer Heart Attack not only improves on every aspect of their sound suggested by the first two records, but delivers some of the finest music of their career... This is the band at the height of its powers." The BBC wrote, "they stretched contemporary production methods to their very limit with multi-layered vocals and guitars and Freddie's vaudevillian streak finally emerged... this was the album that finally saw Queen find their true voice".
01 – Brighton rock
02 – Killer queen
03 – Tenement funster
04 – Flick of the wrist
05 – Lily of the valley
06 – Now I’m here
01 – In the lap of the gods
02 – Stone cold crazy
03 – Dear friends
04 – Misfire
05 – Bring back that leroy Brown
06 – She makes me (Stormtrooper in stilettos)
07 – In the lap of the gods...revisited
Freddie Mercury: lead and backing vocals, piano, jangle piano
Brian May: guitars, backing vocals, piano, banjolele, lead vocals on "She Makes Me"
Roger Taylor: drums, percussion, backing vocals, lead vocals on "Tenement Funster", screams on "In the Lap of the Gods"
John Deacon: bass guitars, acoustic guitar, rhythm guitar, lead guitar on "Misfire", double bass on "Bring Back That Leroy Brown"
During Queen's first North American Tour (as a support band for Mott the Hoople), May fell ill with hepatitis (he had been infected with an unclean needle during a vaccination before the Australian tour), but he continued to work from hospital. When he was fit, the work continued in studio, but then he fell ill again, this time with a duodenal ulcer. When May was recovering after an operation, the next tour had been cancelled. He felt guilty, and was a bit nervous that he was going to be replaced. Much to his relief, no one in the group had even considered it. All three members were continuing on recording without May at the time. Production planning had left a lot of spaces in the songs for May's solos. When he felt well enough, he returned and completed the tracks with guitar solos and backing vocals.
On 8 November 2010, record company Universal Music 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 would come to an end after almost 40 years. According to Universal Music, all Queen albums are to be remastered and reissued in 2011.
From 10 October 1974 to 1 May 1975 the album was promoted on tour. The tour consisted of three legs and 77 individual shows, and was the band's first world tour.
The supporting bands consisted of Styx, Kansas, Hustler and Mahogany Rush.