In 1978 Queen released the album Jazz. It was panned worldwide. And worse, now it was proved without a shadow of doubt: Queen was comprised of fascists. Well then, is it really that bad?
After News Of The World
After the release of News Of The World, the band toured the record and ended it with a three day run at Empire Pool, Wembley, London (nowadays known as Wembley Arena). Immediately following a much needed summer break the band returned to the studio in July of 1978. The band retreated to the recently opened studio complex Super Bear Studio, which is located near Nice and the beaches of the Côte d’Azur in France.
At the end of the month the band moved to Montreux, Switzerland where the Mountain Studios were located. The band were happy there, and Freddie Mercury in particular. In fact, they were so happy there that Mercury decided to buy the Mountain Studios. He bought an apartment overlooking the lake of Geneva as well. Mercury: “If you want peace of mind, come to Montreux”.
Jazz is the seventh studio album by Queen, which was released on November 10th, 1978. Containing 44 minutes and 44 seconds of music, it was their longest record to date. Production duties for News Of The World were delegated to someone else, but for the new record Roy Thomas Baker was assigned with production again. The decision was not unanimous and was instigated by Freddie Mercury getting back in touch with Baker, after he had produced an album for a friend of Mercury’s. Jazz would be the last album on which Baker and the band worked with each other.
Most of the songs were written by Freddie Mercury, five in total. Brian May brought four songs to the table and Roger Taylor and John Deacon both delivered two. The biggest hits were Mercury’s (Bicycle Race and Don’t Stop Me Now).
Song by song
The album opens with Mustapha, a song with an Arab motif. in which the lyrics are declared in English, Persian and Arab: “Allah, Allah, Allah we’ll pray for you”. A rather peculiar opener, which make me wonder whether or not this could be recorded nowadays. Anyway, it soon turned into an undisputed fan favorite.
Fat Bottomed Girls is next. This song was highly criticized: sexist and misogynist. According to writer Brian May, the song was inspired by Freddie Mercury: “I wrote it with Fred in mind, as you do especially if you’ve got a great singer who likes fat bottomed girls… or boys”. Also a fan favorite.
After ballad Jealousy the first single Bicyle Race is next. In the song Mercury addresses a number of subject he doesn’t like. The interlude wherein more and more bicycle bells restart the song is highly recognizable. A very big hit for the band, but no favorite in my book. I hate(d) the song.
If You Can’t Beat Them is followed by Let Me Entertain You, a personal favorite at the time. “We’ll breakfast at Tiffany’s / We’ll sing to you in Japanese / We’re only here to entertain you”.
The album’s B-side starts off furiously with Dead On Time, where Brian May showcases his brilliance on the guitar. Drummer Roger Taylor adds his fast and tight drumming. A fan favorite from day 1, yet never played live. The song ends with the sound of thunder and lightning, that was recorded using a hand-held device during heavy weather. The sounds are attributed to God.
In Only Seven Days is followed by Dreamer’s Ball, which Brian May wrote as a tribute to Elvis Presley, who had died the previous year. The band had played Presley’s Jailhouse Rock for years as an encore.
Enter 1970’s disco: Fun It. Drummer Roger Taylor uses Pollard syn-drum pads, which gives the song its distinctive sound. As a result it’s the only song that sounds a bit dated whenever it’s played now. Yet, it remains a favorite.
Leaving Home Ain’t Easy is followed by the second big hit of the album. The up-tempo, exciting Don’t Stop Me Now, with its propulsive rhythm and driving vocals. A great rock song and a so-called ‘signature-song’ for Queen. After the festive and swinging Don’t Stop Me Now, the album is closed by More Of That Jazz, which contrasts with the preceding song in regards to the feel. With its great rhythm and guitar a definite highlight.
Cover and title
As was the case with News Of The World, the cover was proposed by drummer Roger Taylor, who remembered seeing a similar picture on the Berlin Wall. The album’s title seems to be chosen randomly, because the music on the album has little to do with the genre or the album’s (cover) art. In the day and age of punk and new-wave the title could be considered unwise, especially considering the fact the band seemed to want to connect to those genres with their preceding album. But, maybe the title was inspired by the local yearly festival Montreux Jazz. Apparently, Freddie Mercury adored the festival.
To promote the album and its first single (Bicycle Race/Fat Bottomed Girls) the band staged an infamous bicycle race at Wimbledon Stadium, London on September 17th, 1978. About 65 completely naked women cycled on their rented bikes. A photograph of the start of the race was enclosed as a poster in the Jazz album. The American release didn’t contain the poster. Nonetheless, the American public was given the chance to acquire the poster by filling in the order form, which was enclosed with the album.
N.B.: The bikes were rented from the store chain Halfords. Upon learning where the bicycles were used for, the band was ordered to pay for the 65 saddles, because they were used inappropriately (i.e.: without clothing).
Upon completion of the album EMI and Elektra organized a release party in New Orleans. It has become legendary, it was one of the most luxurious and infamous rock parties of all time. The entertainment in particular was, in typical Queen style, completely ‘over the top’: snake charmers, strippers, transvestites, a corpulent naked lady smoking cigarettes form her crotch, naked mud wrestlers, dwarves, voodoo dancers, etc.
The album spawned four singles: double A-side Bicycle Race/Fat Bottomed Girls, Mustapha (in Bolivia, Spain, Yugoslavia and Germany), Don’t Stop Me Now and Jealousy (in the US, New Zealand, Brazil, USSR and Canada).
As was the case with the accompanying poster with the Jazz album, the video and single-cover to Bicycle Race were also subjected to censorship. The original single-cover contained the picture of a naked woman on a bicycle. Depending on the country’s censorship (or conservatism), the woman was covered with bikini shorts and/or a bra. In some countries the cover contained a (partial) print of the ‘bicycle poster’.
The censorship was also applied to the video, where other images were edited into the clip.
And what about this article’s title then? The record was panned by the press. Two American publications were negative with a vengeance. Rolling Stone Magazine‘s Dave Marsh inspired this article’s name. In his review he described Queen as the first fascist band on earth.
There’s no Jazz on Queen’s new record, in case fans of either were worried about the defilement of an icon. Queen hasn’t the imagination to play jazz—Queen hasn’t the imagination, for that matter, to play rock & roll. Jazz is just more of the same dull pastiche that’s dominated all of this British supergroup’s work: tight guitar/bass/drums heavy-metal clichés, light-classical pianistics, four-part harmonies that make the Four Freshmen sound funky and Freddie Mercury’s throat-scratching lead vocals.
Anyway, it shouldn’t be surprising that Queen calls its album “jazz.” The guiding principle of these arrogant brats seems to be that anything Freddie & Company want, Freddie & Company get. What’s most disconcerting about their arrogance is that it’s so unfounded: Led Zeppelin may be as ruthless as medieval aristocrats, but at least Jimmy Page has an original electronic approach that earns his band some of its elitist notions. The only thing Queen does better than anyone else is express contempt.
Take the LP’s opening song, “Mustapha.” It begins with a parody of a muezzin’s shriek and dissolves into an approximation of Arabic music. This is part of Queen’s grand design. Freddie Mercury is worldly and sophisticated, a man who knows what the muezzin sounds like. More to the point, you don’t. What trips the group up, as usual, is the music. “Mustapha” is merely a clumsy and pretentious rewrite of “Hernando’s Hideaway,” which has about as much to do with Middle Eastern culture as street-corner souvlaki.
But it’s easy to ascribe too much ambition to Queen. “Fat Bottomed Girls” isn’t sexist—it regards women not as sex objects but as objects, period (the way the band regards people in general). When Mercury chants, in “Let Me Entertain You,” about selling his body and his willingness to use any device to thrill an audience, he isn’t talking about a sacrifice for his art. He’s just confessing his shamelessness, mostly because he’s too much of a boor to feel stupid about it.
Whatever its claims, Queen isn’t here just to entertain. This group has come to make it clear exactly who is superior and who is inferior. Its anthem, “We Will Rock You,” is a marching order: you will not rock us, we will rock you. Indeed, Queen may be the first truly fascist rock band. The whole thing makes me wonder why anyone would indulge these creeps and their polluting ideas.
© Dave Marsh, Rolling Stone (Issue 284), 02/08/1979
One month later Creem Magazine published a review that was just as destructive, if not more.
FOR A FEW weeks in 1978, an FM radio station in New York City was trying, earnestly and imaginatively, to create rock ‘n’ roll counter-programming. A ratings turnaround didn’t happen fast enough, so it changed its format to something called “the Rock Champions” (i.e., more AOR elitism).
This was around the same time that every film clip of The Yankees on television was scored with ‘We Are The Champions’, and the movie FM attempted to pass off ‘We Will Rock You’ as the ‘We Shall Overcome’ of the rock revolution. I started to despise Queen; a two-sided platinum single of aristocratic, pompous, triumph-of-the-will arrogance in 4/4 time (if marches are to resound over the airwaves, better Ace Frehley’s ‘New York Groove’ any day) summed up for me the worst in royalist rock, and I couldn’t remember more joyless, numbing, contemptuous music reaching a mass audience. Frankly, I was wary of the implications.
I needn’t have been. I still despise Queen, but their music is so absurdly dull on Jazz, so filled with dumb ideas and imitative posturing, that it’s impossible to feel threatened by a barely competent rock group singing “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” (real 70’s-think: can you imagine a Queen Army, a pack of mascara’d lounge lizards walking in lockstep?). ‘Fun It’ is their disco number for Christ’s sake, and it still sounds like a funeral march, with lyrical babble about dynastic movements. And no lead singer who evokes Joel Grey’s slimy Cabaret smarminess and who writes “the first Moroccan rock ‘n’ roll song” (it sounds more like his haftorah) can truly be scary, just genuinely awful.
Queen used to make enjoyably ludicrous records like ‘Liar’ and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, and Roy Thomas Baker gave their music an entertaining art-rock veneer that he adapted so successfully for The Cars. But now, even their best jokes – ‘Let Me Entertain You’, a parody of their own worthlessness; ‘Dreamer’s Ball’, an extravagantly condescending jazz-blues – are pummeled by the approach to the material. All four of Queen’s writers seem to know what a song is (they’ve learned and stolen from the worst of The Beatles just as Cheap Trick have absorbed and adapted the best) and when to stop, qualities lacking in many of their progressive competitors, and stripped of their pretentious overlays, the tunes on Jazz turn out to be swipes from The Cowsills, ‘Holly Holy’, Magical Mystery Tour, Disraeli Gears, Mott The Who-ple. If only Queen could lock into the simplest formula without attaching dead weights, if Freddie Mercury weren’t such a screeching bore (even his cock-rock, like ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, is flaccid), if their arrangements weren’t on the basic level of Mel Brooks’ ‘Prisoners Of Love’, then Jazz could be studied as a catalog of pop-rock sources.
Mercury, surprise of surprises, may have turned into the weakest link of the quartet (although the rhythm section does plunge to deeper depths, it does so less frequently); his compositions dominate side one and they are, without exception, earsores: ‘Mustapha’ (the weirdest lead-off track in the history of rock albums?), ‘Let Me Entertain You’ (a pure rocky horrorshow). Guitarist Brian May handles all the jazzing up around here, with his rollin’ and tumblin’ ‘Dead On Time’ and ‘Dreamer’s Ball’, the only song that even approximates the LP’s title (if Queen pulled a Kiss and released four solo albums, May’d be the best bet to be their Ace), but as he is also responsible for the sniggery ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’, it would be a misrepresentation to exempt him from blame.
Maybe Queen thinks all this is funny, that their undisguised condescension (“rock ‘n’ roll just pays the bills”) and operatic mannerisms atop a beat more Rockette than rock is entertainment, but it’s not my idea of a good time. For me, their snappiest one-liner is on the inner sleeve: “Written, arranged and performed exclusively by Queen” As if anyone else would want to step forward and take credit.
© Mitchell Cohen, Creem, maart 1979
In Europe the album was slightly better received, but not much. Too much, too diverse, too ‘over the top’, bad songs.
Nowadays the album is regarded as one of the band’s best and is even part of some of the 1001 albums you should hear before you die like lists. Even Rolling Stone Magazine has made a U-turn. Not yet in 2004, when Mark Coleman wrote in a section called Album Guide: “The decline starts with Jazz, which has the quickie operetta ‘Bicycle Race’ but it’s otherwise utter jive”. However, in 2016 Jazz was part of the article 10 Classic Albums Rolling Stone Originally Panned:
Sometimes a reviewer just seems to have a really, really low opinion of a band, which seems to be the case with Dave Marsh and Queen. Years later, their album Jazz only got a marginally better review in the Album Guide, though this time around they weren’t labeled “fascists.”
By the way, Jazz was in good company. The same list contained Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced, Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath, Neil Young – Harvest, The Rolling Stones – Exile On Main Street, Bob Dylan – Blood On The Tracks, AC/DC – High Voltage, Nirvana – Nevermind and Weezer – Pinkerton. It won’t be the first or last time that reviewers are (very) wrong in their original assessment. Also see The most hated album in jazz: Miles Davis’ On The Corner.
At the time the album was released I was 12 years old and had just started junior high school. I don’t recall when I got the album (maybe Sinterklaas evening, just like the year before when I got News Of The World).
I do remember loving the album. Its diversity was what appealed to me most. I did however hate Bicycle Race with all my heart. Too sketchy and contrived. Both of the album’s opening songs were brilliant, with its calm start and the sudden blazing walls of guitars and bass. Truly exciting! Let me Entertain You was another favorite. Dead On Time was just as heavy and fast as the fantastic Stone Cold Crazy from 1974. Once again I liked both Roger Taylor songs very much: the heavily ridiculed Fun It and More Of That Jazz were among my favorites.
It did turn out to be the last studio album I really liked. After Live Killers, which represented the Jazz tour, I was done with everything Queen and didn’t listen to the music for years on end. Halfway through the 1990’s I bought my first Queen cd. For years I only owned Queen Greatest Hits. Slowly, but surely, more and more albums would be added to my collection: I now own cd copies of every album from Sheer Heart Attack to Live Killers.
As I have written in my story Queen: my very first music love, Queen was the most important band in my early years. This album closed that period. On June 26th, 1979, Live Killers was released. I remember I had a holiday job working the fields. On that day I asked for my money and requested to leave earlier. Both my wishes were granted, so I was able to buy the live double album that very day. I played it very much, especially the great version of Brighton Rock.
- Mustapha *
- Fat Bottomed Girls †
- Jealousy *
- Bicycle Race *
- If You Can’t Beat Them #
- Let Me Entertain You *
- Dead On Time †
- In Only Seven Days #
- Dreamer’s Ball †
- Fun It$
- Leaving Home Ain’t Easy †
- Don’t Stop Me Now *
- More Of That Jazz $
- Freddie Mercury – vocals (except on Leaving Home Ain’t Easy and More Of That Jazz, background vocals, piano
- Brian May – (electric) guitar (except on Jealousy), background vocals, vocals on Leaving Home Ain’t Easy
- Roger Taylor – drums, background vocals, percussion; vocals, guitar and bass on Fun It and More Of That Jazz
- John Deacon – bass (except on Fun It and More Of That Jazz), guitar on In Only Seven Days
The tour in support of the Jazz album consisted of 80 shows. Remarkably, no shows were done in the United Kingdom:
- US and Canada, from October 28th to December 20th, 1978
- Europe, from January 17th to March 1st, 1979
- Asia, from April 13th to May 6th, 1979
- One time open air festival 08/18/1979 (after the release of Live Killers)
The tour dates in 1979 were called the Live Killers tour. During the European tour shows were recorded for use on the live double album Live Killers, which was released on June 26th, 1979.
The tour is not regarded to be one of their best. The main reason being Freddie Mercury’s voice, which was far from perfect. Especially at the start of the tour it became evident that the tour dates were too close to the closing recording sessions for the album.
As described above, Jazz was followed by Live Killers, which I liked, but I wasn’t fond of the medley on side A. Songs like Now I’m Here and Brighton Rock were my favorites.
Upon release of 1980’s The Game the love had died. It didn’t fit me anymore. Queen was over. Other music became more fun, interesting, better, exciting and generally spoke to me more.
The band had a rough time in the early 1980’s and was lost, both commercially and artistically, for quite some time. The turn around came on July 13th, 1985: the day of Live Aid. Queen was back. For me, it was a temporary revival. Only after Freddie Mercury passed away I started buying some Queen product again. I never acquired the later albums (i.e.: everything after Live Killers).
Jazz is the last Queen studio album I thoroughly enjoyed. What’s your opinion? Did the band create music just as great, or greater perhaps, after that? Let me know! It is highly appreciated.
Queen – Jazz – Gatefold image: cdandlp.com
Queen – Jazz image: queenonlinestore.com
Queen – Jazz – Ad image: amazon.com
Queen – Jazz – Inner sleeve image: ultimatequeen.co.uk
Queen – Jazz – Poster image: zedposters.com
Queen – Jazz – New Orleans – The Sun 11/07/1978 image: queenlive.ca
Queen – Jazz – Singles image: 45cat.com/apoplife.nl
Queen – Bicycle Race – Censorship image: censorationalist.wordpress.com
Rolling Stone Magazine Logo image: srds.com
Creem Magazine Logo image: risamickenberg.com
Queen – Don’t Stop Me Now – Videoclip image: musictelevision.fi
Queen – Jazz – Promo image: eil.com
Queen – Jazz – Back cover image: explodedqueen.wordpress.com
Queen – Jazz Tour/Live Killers – Ahoy Rotterdam 01/29/1979 & Queen – Jazz Tour/Live Killers – Ahoy Rotterdam, January 29th and 30th, 1979 – Ad images: queenconcerts.com
Queen – Live Killers image: udiscover.com