Action This Day

Action This Day

Composer: Roger Taylor
Album: Hot Space (1982), 5th track
Meter: 4/4
Keys: Dorian-inflected E-major in the Verses, D-Mixolydian and F-Mixolydian major during Choruses.
Form:

  Intro | Verse | Verse | Chorus | Verse | Chorus |
        | Break | instr. Solo (Chorus) | Outro (Verse-riff) |

 Songs that start off with a section driven by an ostinato riff/hook mostly upon the E-note dominate the A-side of Hot Space. "Action This Day" is one of these. This common detail unifies the first side in a way that unfortunately creates an overall first impression of blank homogenity and invariability, especially among rock-oriented listeners.
The song itself is quite listenable with hooks, catchy parts, climactic design, non-straightahead harmonies, tricky phrase-shortening in the verses, and the monotone beat. How much this song was influenced by the New Wave genre can be a target of further analysis.
The arrangement features saxophone-mimicking synths played/programmed by the studio producer, other synths and drum-machines, and some traditional ingredients: rhythm guitars, vocal harmonies (but no guitar harmonies), and piano. The vocal harmonies are provided by Roger, while Freddie sings lead.
The form is not very unique: a mutant version of the "two chorus model" (i.e. "two brigde model") although we have a third Chorus. That last instrumental Chorus completly lacks the climactic flavor that characterizes the first two, only the bass-progression is the same. Typically for Queen songs, the verses in pair can't be found in the second half of the song.

Walkthrough

Intro
The intro is square eight (4+4) measures long. The song starts with a simple four-in-the-bar drum(-machine) figure repeated and hardly varied in the entire song. This definitely doesn't allow too much creativity, but the piece needed such a simple beat. In the fifth measure - preceded by a shouted "Action!" - enter bass and double-tracked rhythm guitars playing the two measure ostinato riff on the low E-string. An additional guitar plays E7 chords on the "weak" (i.e. even-numbered) beats. In spite of the added seventh the intro seems to expose the tonic. The riff (and later the lead vocal) uses minor thirds.

Verse
This section is 17 measures long with AA'BC phrasing (3 and a half, 2 and a half, 6 , 5). Note that in spite of the used half-measures the ostinato riff keeps playing in the first two phrases without break. The first half-measure is created by a relatively "sharp" phrase shortening compared to half measures in other Queen songs. The second phrase A' evolves from its predecessor A, and so does B from A'.

E               half
|E7  | -  | -  | - |
 I

           half
|E7  | -  | - |
 I

|F#7 | -  | B7 | -  | A7 | -  |
V-of-V    | V  |    | IV |    |
 

|E7  |G1  |F#1 F| E1  |N.C. |
 I...

During the first two phrases the lead vocal is shared between three-part harmonies and Freddie in solo (this detail articulates the two subphrases mentioned above).
One of the harmony parts oscillates between the minor and major thirds, another harmony part is sung deep mostly around E, with a momemntary step down to D which is probably the lowest sung mote on a Queen record. During the second phrase the other two harmony-parts oscillate too: C-C#, D-D# creating free dissonances with the E7 chord. Freddie's part is pentatonic throughout the Verses, with flat-third and flat-seventh degrees.
After two phrases with one prolonged chord, the repeated riff stops and the harmonic rhythm gets quicker creating a mini-climax that is reduced by the chromatic descent during last phrase. The latter seems to be the main riff slowed down. Note the diminished-fifth appogiatura (G) in the lead vocal over the B chord. Last measure features a modified (but still very simple) drum-figure. The second Verse is very similar to the first, while the third one doesn't truncate the "A" phrase (resulting in normal 4+2 phrasing) and duplicates the first measure of the last phrase.

Chorus
This climactic section is 18 measures long (4+4+4+6, ABA'B").

D:
| D  | G/D |  D7  | D  |
| I  | IV  |"bVII"| I  |

| D  | G/D | C  | -  |
| I  | IV  |bVII| -  |
         F:  V

F:
| F  | Bb/F|  F7  | F  |
| I  | IV  |"bVII"| I  |

| F  | Bb/F| A  | -  | -  | -  |
| I  | IV  | ?  | -  | -  | -  |

The harmony of the first two phrases is characterized by parallel-third motion over a pedal-point on D using the flat-7th degree. For the second half of the Chorus the key is shifted to the neighbour key (F) pivoting on the C chord. This kind of key-shift is called Sequential Modulation (shades of Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys). Second half of the Chorus ends differently. The function of the A chord is undetermined: I-of-A or V-of-D (V-of-vi) or IV-of-E. The 1st and 3rd phrases (title phrases) are harmonized by Roger, and another couple of phrases is solo-sung by Freddie.

Break:
This instrmental section is square eight measures long.

?:
| B  | -  | A  | -  | G  | -  | E  | -  |

The progression does not establish any key; neither do the preceding last measures of the Chorus. The wide arpeggios (similarity with Las Palabras De Amor, or pop-tracks like Popcorn (Hot Butter,1972)) are clearly triadic without any appogiatura. The solo is arranged for two synth tracks that sound similar but  are consciously different: sometimes a different arpeggio-pattern is used; sometimes one follows the other by a 1/16 beat. The drum-sound is softer during the Break.

Solo-Chorus
The Break is followed by a solo section for two saxophones (tenor and alto) playing antiphonally with each other. There's no proper chordal support for this section as the synth plays only the bass notes of the Chorus' chord progression resulting in a very slow "harmonic rhythm". In fact this stripped-down chord progression is hardly reminiscent of its origin. In the live version the guitar plays the full chords here, and the solo itself is totally different, performed on synth by Morgan Fisher.

Outro
This section lies upon the repeated intro/verse riff. A harmonized "Action!" phrase is sung on the two first beats of each riff-phrase completed by improvised Freddie vocals. Live performances have an extended outro. The album version fades out completly in the 13th iteration of the riff.