Sail Away Sweet Sister

Composer: Brian May
Album: The Game, track 8
Meter: 4/4
Key: b-minor, D-Major
Form:  

Intro | Verse | Verse'| Chorus (AA') |
      | Solo 1 (Verse)| Verse'| Chorus | Bridge |
      | Solo 2 (Chorus)| Chorus - Outro (fade out)|

This song is one of Brian May's classic ballads. The form is simple: I-AAB-AAB-CBB-O including two instrumental solo sections, and one "traditional" Bridge. The Chorus modulates to the relative Major key (D) of the Verse (b) which is a Brian May ballad trademark ("All Dead All Dead" "Is This The World We Created"). The accompaniment of the Verses is dominated by piano while the rocking Chorus is guitar driven similraly to "Save Me". The harmony is rich in chromatic notes and stepwise walking basslines, creating lots of inverted chords. The piano is played by Mercury for May's request, who wanted a more percussive playing than his (especially for the more syncopated chorus - probably).


Walkthrough

Intro:
The four measure intro exposes the tonic chord with simple chord-bass alternating piano playing (plus synth chord and bass). 

| Bm   | -    | -    | -    |
| i    | -    | -    | -    |


Verse:
We have four verses two in the first cycle two in the second one of which is instrumental (Solo 1). The first Verse and the Solo 1 has closed harmonic shape as it starts and end on the tonic chord. The altered Verse' closes on A chord in order to help to establish the key change. The phrasing is four-squared (4+4, melody-wise 2+2+2+2 AA'BC). The harmonic rhythm is much faster in the second phrase.

b: 
| Bm   | -    | -    | F#m  | 
| i    | -    | -    | v    |

| G/B  |Esus4>3| G F#m | Bm   |
| VI   | IV    | VI v  | i    |

altered ending for Verse':
... | G F#sus4 | Bm  A/C# |
    | VI v     | i    VII |
                 D:   V   |

The second Verse adds drums. For the solo 1 and the third verse during the first measures the pulsing bassline uses the weak 2nd and 4th beats then plays triplets (m.3). The first guitar solo which is an instrumental Verse is done on acoustic guitar played with sweet vibratos and bendings. The tune of it closely follows the original lead melody with altered ending. The acoustic guitar returns for a short figure in the next Verse.

Chorus
The 16 measure "double" Chorus (AA') has foursqared phrasing (B B'B"C - B B'B"'D,  2+2+2+2 + 2+2+2+2). The opening motif of the lead melody (3-2-1-2-3) is a majorized re-rhythmized variant of the beginning of the Verse.

Similarly to the verse-pairs the second subsection has altered ending: the tonic followed by the dominant of the relative key. The second chorus closes on the tonic as the next coming Bridge strat also on D chord.

D:
| D     | D/F#  |
| I     | -     |

|G(maj7)| E9/G# |
| IV    | V/V   |

| D/A   | G/A   |
| *     | IV    |

| A     | (D/A) |
| V     | -     |

The D/A chord in m.5 sounds at last as much dominant-like as tonic-like.
Altered ending for the A':

m.7
| A     | D  F# |
| V     | I V/vi|

The 5.1 DVD-A mix (Center channel) reveals a lovely additional guitar track beside the usual double-tracked rhythm guitars which is combining more approaches: chords, melodic figures and "bass" notes. In m.14-16 it extends the ascending inner line: ...  > B > C# > D. This guitartrack changes much for the second chorus and it is dropped for the last one.
The lead vocal is harmonized for most of the time. In the second subsection in m.11-12 they swithed to chordal "ooh" harmonies.

The second guitar solo (this time on the Red Special) is cleverly arranged for 3-4 guitars. The ending is altered/extended:

m.7
| A     | D  F# | Bm A |
| V     | I V/vi| vi V |


Bridge:
 The Bridge creates contrast by several factors:
- Freddie singing lead, instead of Brian (in "I Want It All" it is inverted)
- the relative absence of the drums
- the characteristic sound of the  bells (see also in "...Black Queen" and "Don't Stop Me Now")
- uneven phrase lenghts
The key remains D Major, the phraing is 4+3+3. Similarly to the chorus the backbone of the harmony is an ascending semichromatic bassline:

D:
| D   | E    | F#  | G   |:bass
| D   | Em7/D| D   | G   |:harmony
| I   |  ii  | I   | IV  |

| G#  | A A#  | B   |
| E   | A F#  | Bm  |
| V/V | V V/vi| vi  |

              E   F  | F# : chromatic inner vocal
| C   | D B | G#  F  | 
| D 7 | G   | G#dim7 |
| I   | IV  | IV#dim7|

S- the ascending semichromatic bassline that drives its harmony
In the first two phrases we have chordal backing harmonies. The rich sounding lead-harmonizing harmonies in m.9 are style-wise foreshadowing the "Breakthrou" intro. The bass line in the last two measures outline a diminished 7th chord (see also in "The Prophet's Song")

Outro:
The last chorus in m.8 closes on Bm instead of D creating an overlapped section transition where m8 is also m.1 of the outro. The lead instrument is the bass guitar (a rare example), the backing track is mainly the same is that of the intro. It consists of vamping piano, romantic sheeshore-noise, hi-hat figures (open-closed) figures and single note guitar picking. The bass solo starts in m.5, its melodic phrasing is 4+4+4+4+2+2+3+... John plays triplets in m.16.
For the last measures the piano steps one octave higher in contrast with the bass solo that starts on the treble frets then switches to lower octaves. The last measures are fading out.

b:
| Bm   | ...
| i    | ...