“We couldn’t reinvent ourselves as a punk band, but we wanted it a little more simple…”
Sinterklaas Day evening 1977, 40 years ago
As I wrote in the story The evening of Sinterklaas Day 1976 & ABBA’s Dancing Queen, I had stopped looking for the Sinterklaas Day presents. For Sinterklaas Day 1977, I really wanted to have the latest LP by Queen and was pretty confident about getting it, but I wasn’t really sure.
We used to make ‘surprises’ (Dutch word for home made artifacts, which contain the actual presents, often accompanied by a poem) for each other. Mine were oftentimes music related. In 1977 the ‘surprise’ was a (cardboard) record-player with matching poem. Unfortunately I don’t have the poem anymore, but I still have the present. The size of the the ‘surprise’ matched the size of my dearest wish; it fit perfectly. After reading the poem aloud and opening the present, there it was: the latest LP from my very first music love, Queen: News Of The World.
New Musical Express, June 18th, 1977
Queen and the British press: it never did become a happy marriage. However, Freddie Mercury was willing to talk to New Musical Express (English music magazine) reporter Tony Parsons. The title of the resulting article was Is this man a prat?. The piece itself leaves no room for doubt in regards to the answer the NME would give: Yes! One of Mercury’s remarks was: Stuff criticism, darling. I’m bringing ballet to the masses. The article continues on the upcoming punk movement and the new wave of artists and bands, making the threat of Queen soon becoming old news, very real.
At the time News Of The World was being recorded, The Sex Pistols recorded their debut album at the same studio complex as Queen. Brian May remembers bumping into Johnny Rotten now and then and having pleasant conversations with him.
One day, however, Sex Pistols bass-player Sid Vicious entered Queen’s recording space and saw Freddie Mercury. “Ah, Freddie Mercury. Have you succeeded in bringing ballet to the masses, then?”, asked Sid, referencing the interview in the NME. “Oh, yes, Simon Ferocious”, Mercury said. “We’re trying our best, dear”. Mercury got up from his chair and started fiddling about with the safety pins on Vicious’ leather jacket. “Tell me, did you arrange these pins just so?”, Mercury asked. When Sid came towards Mercury, Mercury pushed him back and said “What are you going to do about it?”. Vicious left the room.
News Of The World
News Of The World is the sixth studio album by Queen. It was released on October 28th, 1977. Because the preceding album (A Day At The Races, the first album to be produced by Queen themselves) was criticized (supposedly it was “boring”), Queen decided to work more mainstream. By the way, they retained their production duties.
In July 1977, immediately after the A Day At The Races Tour, the band started work on the successor. Freddie Mercury and Brian May both contributed less material than before. Two months later (September) all the recordings were done.
In the year leading up to the (at the time) upcoming Queen release, the musical landscape had changed significantly. Various new musical styles had emerged and gained popularity, among audiences and musicians alike: punk, new wave and disco. Queen explored the first two genres on the new album. The songs were more direct and back-to-basic. Production-wise the studio trickery and multiple overdubs were kept at a bare minimum. Also, the time spent in the studio (6 weeks) was substantially less when compared to the previous albums.
The song Sheer Heart Attack (which dated all the way back to 1974 and was originally intended to be the title track to the album with the same name) in particular, came across as a reaction to punks. The lyric “I feel so inarticulate” seems to subscribe to Roger Taylor’s view on punk bands having little to no talent.
Pictured on the cover of News Of The World is a giant robot holding an unconscious Brian May and a bleeding Freddie Mercury in his hand. John Deacon and Roger Taylor fall to the ground.
It’s a painting by Frank Kelly Freas, who previously worked for MAD Magazine, amongst others. In a distant past he provided illustrations for various science-fiction publications. Roger Taylor was a sci-fi fan. He was particularly charmed by the cover of Astounding Science Fiction, the October 1953 edition. That contained a painting by Freas. It was the iconic robot holding a dead man.
Taylor wanted to use it, so the band contacted Freas and asked him whether he was willing to do the painting again, including the four Queen members.
He was willing.
What did I think of the album at the time?
It was not my favorite album by Queen. It never would be. Going by the number of good songs on the album (We Will Rock You, Sheer Heart Attack, Spread Your Wings, Fight From The Inside, Get Down, Make Love, It’s Late en My Melancholy Blues), the album would receive a 6.5 (out of 10). This, more or less, holds true today as well.
We Are The Champions, one of the songs Queen will be remembered by, never did it for me. It doesn’t fit, the grandiloquence is somewhat ridiculous. I have come to understand that the band’s first reaction to the song was rather contemptuous. The song that raised me up was Sheer Heart Attack. The drumbreak halfway through the song was great: I played it over and over and over again. I loved it! Spread Your Wings is a moving John Deacon song. Fight From The Inside is the first Queen song to be built around the rhythm section, bass and drums. Get Down, Make Love is, especially when compared to Queen’s standard, a highly sexually explicit song. All sound effects in the song are not made by a synthesizer (the 1980 album The Game was the first Queen album to utilize a synthesizer), but by Brian May’s Red Special (his guitar) and an Eventide Harmonizer. It’s Late is one of the first songs I learned to play on (acoustic) guitar. My Melancholy Blues is a jazzy song, featuring beautiful vocals by Mercury.
What do I think of the album now?
Truth be told, I hardly ever listen to this album (anymore).
- We Will Rock You *
- We Are The Champions **
- Sheer Heart Attack ***
- All Dead, All Dead *
- Spread Your Wings ****
- Fight From The Inside ***
- Get Down, Make Love **
- Sleeping On The Sidewalk *
- Who Needs You ****
- It’s Late *
- My Melancholy Blues **
- John Deacon: bass, acoustic guitar on Spread Your Wings and Who Needs You
- Brian May: guitar, vocals, piano on All Dead, All Dead, lead vocals on All Dead, All Dead and Sleeping On The Sidewalk, maracas and acoustic guitar on Who Needs You
- Freddie Mercury: vocals, piano, background vocals on All Dead, All Dead, cowbell on Who Needs You
- Roger Taylor: drums, percussion, vocals, guitar and bass on Sheer Heart Attack and Fight From The Inside, lead vocals on Fight From The Inside
What do you think of the album? And of Queen? Let me know!
Queen 1977 & Queen – Live News Of The World Tour 1978 images: queenphotos.wordpress.com
Queen NME 18-06-1977 image: brianmay.com
Queen – News Of The World – Painting image: stevehoffman.tv
Queen – Astounding Science Fiction – The Gulf Between (October 1953) image: queenpedia.com
Queen – News Of The World – Gatefold image: ultra-combo.com
Queen – News Of The World – Promo image: superseventies.com