Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
Album: NEWS OF THE WORLD
[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]
Following two albums of operatic rock & roll grandeur that gave us “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “You’re My Best Friend” and “Somebody To Love,” Queen decided to scale things back for 1977’s News Of The World. Of course, “scaled back” in the world of Queen is misleading, as this is far from a back-to-basics effort for a band that seemed to think “subtlety” was a 4-letter word. Some artists might take this as an insult but, as I pointed out in my Thirty Year Thursday post on 1986’s under-appreciated A Kind Of Magic, Queen was always immune to criticism. The quartet of singer/pianist Freddie Mercury, guitarist Brian May, bassist John Deacon and drummer Roger Taylor simply followed their own muse, creating music that was uniquely their own, with flamboyant frontman Mercury making even their campiest material seem substantial. The bulk of this album has been overshadowed by the mammoth double-A-side single, “We Are The Champions/We Will Rock You,” which just missed topping the charts in the US and UK. These two songs opened the album (in the opposite order, which is how radio stations have sequenced them ever since) and have since become crowd-pleasers at sports arenas around the world. “We Are The Champions” is an uplifting piano ballad by Mercury with a gigantic lighter-waving chorus, while “We Will Rock You” is May’s foot-stomping/hand-clapping chant-along. Both are masterpieces in their own unique ways and feature May’s typically sublime guitar work. This is a rare instance where neither song feels complete without the other. It’s understandable that no other singles from the album made a similar impact, but there are a number of should-have-been hits among the nine remaining tracks.
Deacon & Taylor each composed two songs here. Deacon had previously written “You’re My Best Friend” and both would go on to compose hit singles for Queen, but they were still honing their songwriting skills at the time of Sheer Heart Attack. Deacon’s “Spread Your Wings” and Taylor’s “Sheer Heart Attack” are the stronger of their contributions; the former a stunning ballad that cracked the UK Top 40, with a rousing chorus and Mercury in peak vocal form, while the latter is a straight-ahead driving rock & roll song which rivaled the emerging punk scene in speed & aggression. May delivered two more all-time great Queen songs. The pretty “All Dead, All Dead,” with May on lead vocals, has hints of the showtune “Bewitched, Bothered And Bewildered” in the tender piano intro, then shifts to a sparse arrangement with subtle use of backing vocals and a simple, striking chorus. The 6-1/2 minute epic “It’s Late” is a 3-part suite about the stages of a love affair (or something to that effect) that shifts from a quiet vocal-and-guitar section to a fast-paced guitar solo and a huge, harmony-laden chorus (“It’s late, it’s late, it’s late, but not too late”). Mercury’s “Get Down, Make Love” is an unheralded classic; a gritty/funky song with snarling vocals and stop-start instrumentation. In spite of its title, guitar-free album closer “My Melancholy Blues” is actually more of a smoky jazz ballad with a Cole Porter vibe (a la “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye”). With that ominous sci-fi artwork and a more direct musical approach, News Of The World remains one of Queen’s definitive statements, and most of its songs stand the test of time. That will be confirmed the next time you’re singing “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions” at the top of your lungs, whether at a game, a pub or alone in your car.