Death On Two Legs

Composer: Freddie Mercury
Meter: 4/4
Keys: b-minor, g-minor, D-major
Form:

 | Intro I-II-III |
 | Verse I-II | Chorus I-II | Chorus II' | Solo 2 I-II |
 | Verse'I-II | Chorus I-II |

Intro III = Chorus riff x 2 - Solo 1

This masterpiece is definitely the best introduction to a much (although not enough) celebrated cultic Queen album: A Night At The Opera. The layered and powerful arrangement, tension-and-resolution, and catchy melodies make the song both very enjoyable and valuable. Only the vicious lyrics may hurt some people's ear, but the music is simply immaculate. In spite of the numerous subsections, the form is not very complicated. The concept of the long (one minute) multi-intro is recurrent element of the Queen catalogue. The Choruses have different lyrics with common lines including the title phrase (like in "The Prophet's Song" of the same album).

Intro I
Preludium-like piano arpeggios are fading in. The chord progression is based mostly on chromatic descending note-motions. There's no established key yet. The arpeggio pattern is the same for the first six chords. Fast piano arpeggios prior to this can be heard in the intro of "In The Lap Of The Gods" (1974).

                        half
| Ebm   | Gb/Db Dbsus4 | Db | Fm/C C |

| Em/B  | G/D  |

Intro II
Ostinato guitar riff enters on the fourth beat of the last measure of Intro I. This riff presents a tritonous step, which was already established as a favorite element of heavy metal (e.g. Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song"). This riff sounds particularly head-blowing on live records (CD: Live Killers).
As the guitar enters, the tempo increases abruptly; the piano plays on for a short while. During the twelve measures of Intro II the disharmonic tension is enhanced by some noises and guitar extravaganzas:
1) Sliding up and down enter in the fifth measure of Intro I
2) Sustained (three-track) G-chord fades in from the fourth measure.
3) A "mechanical" noise enters in the fourth measure.
4) During the last five measures enter some guitar noises. The very last of these increases the tension to the edge when all the loud cacophonyc chaos suddenly turns off, and Intro III starts. Examples for similar concept: "A Day In The Life" (Beatles) and "Speak To Me" (Pink Floyd), but we can also mention "Ogre Battle", "The March Of The Black Queen", Play The Game and "One Vision" featuring a sharp change.

Intro III
The first two phrases of this section present the riff of Chorus I played twice (2x4 measures). Its lead rhythm is in contrast with the underlying beat. The riff is built upon a Bm chord and a descending chromatic motion (B>...>F#) and slightly resembles the riff of Fun It or More Of That Jazz (1978). The arrangement is completed with bass, rhythm guitars, and drums in the second repetition. The second half of Intro III (six and a half measures) features a guitar solo with simple chordal support. The key is b-minor with flat-6th degree (harmonic minor); that's why there are V chords instead of v.

/-------------- 2x ----------------\\
inner line:   B   A# A  G#    G  F#
    chords: | Bm  | -  | -   | -   |
         b: | i...

b:                             half
| F# | -  | G  | -  | F# | -  | Em |
| V  | -  | VI | -  | V  | -  | iv |

The last half measure gives place for the upbeat of the first Verse.

Verse I-II
Verse I is seven measures long, but it's actually eight if we complete it with the last four beats of Intro III. Freddie enters on the second beat. The fisrt phrase features pentatonic lead vocal. In the fourth measure the g-minor chord and the lead vocal take a strange, short excursion to the "distant" g-minor (no sixth degree included). The next F# chord and the C# note in the lead vocal try to bring the key back to b-minor, but it cannot recover "properly" and finally remains g-minor.

b:
| Bm | -  | -  |
| i  | -  | -  |

| Gm | Gm | F# | F# |
g: i | -  |
b: vi| -  |  V | -  |

The tempo is virtually halved in the second phrase. Note the 3+3+3+3+4 emphasys pattern in the piano part in the last two measures.

Verse II could be considered a Bridge due to the one measure pause preceding it, but both its rhythm and harmony resemble Verse I; its second phrase is also a variant of the second phrase of the Verse I. The sustained D chord drives the harmony to the relative major key of b-minor. Note the flat seventh degree in the lead vocal during the first phrase, and the absence of the sixth degree in the second phrase.

D:
| D  | -  | -  |
| I  | -  | -  |

g:
| Gm | -  | Cm |
| i  | -  | iv |

Second Verse II is extended with half a measure ("shark!").

Chorus
Chorus I is eight measures long. Different from Intro III, Chorus I starts with only one and a half "main" riff. The lead vocal completes it very well because the "active" periods of the two (piano and lead vocal) hardly overlap.

b:
| Bm | -  | -  | -  |
| i ...

| Bm | -  | A  | D  |
| i  | -  | VII| III|

Chorus II is ten measures long with a 4+4+2 phrasing with many measures of repeated (or variant) melody. During the first phrase the lead vocal is powerfully harmonized (four parts), and the words can be found in the first half of each measure.
In the last phrase the expletives are emphasized with "strong" chords on the first beats and a special percussion (no synth, of course).

b:
| F# | -  | Bm  | -  |
| V  | -  | i   | -  |

| A  | -  | D  | -  |
| VII| -  | III| -  |

| Bm | F# |
| i  | V  |

The repeated Chorus II and the final one, too, are shortened at the eighth measure with a F# chord ("feel good", five parts). The song also closes on this chord (F#, V)
The fourth measure features antiphonal vocals. There are more anthiphonal parts in the final Chorus.

Solo 2 I-II
The I part is rather like a spacer with lead guitar fill. The piano part is sparse but interesting. The third short piano figure (Bm) enters on the 3rd beat of the third measure

b:
| F# | F#  |  Bm| no chord |
| V  | V   |  i | ...

Part II is nine measures long. The phrasing is 4+4+1, but the last measure in fact belongs to the second Verse.
The lead guitar plus the cleverly written rhythm guitar and bass play in kind of counterpoint. (If you can, listen to this part using the karaoke trick)

D:
| D ...|...|D...|...|
| I ...

| D ...|...|... | F#1 | Em7 || Bm
| I ...         "V-of-vi"...||
               b: V   | iv  || i

Note how the backing rhythm (provided by bass and rhythm guitars) leaves many of the first and third beats empthy. Around the 6th measure curiously only these two beats are empthy (including the inter-beat eighths as well)! beat map for measures 3-8:

1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4
*    *** *** * **    *** *** *** *** ****#**

It is reminiscent of the main piano riff's rhythm as well:

1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4
*    *** **     *    **** **

At the end of the section we reach the next Verse with a relative key modulation.