The Prophet's Song

Composer: Brian May
Meter: 4/4
Key: d-minor, a-minor, D-major, (g-minor), Bb-major, F-major, (C-major)
Form:

| Intro I-II | Chorus |
| Connector 1 | Verse | Chorus | Chorus |
| Connector 2 | Verse | Chorus | Bridge 1 | Bridge2 |
| Canon |
| Connector 3 | Connector 4 |
| Solo 1 | Solo 2 (fisrt phrase of Chorus) - Connector 5 |
| Verse (last phrase) | Chorus | Chorus (firts half: Solo 3) |
| Connector 6 | Outro - Intro for Love Of My Life |

The world owes more regards to this monumental song. The Prophet's Song together with Love Of My Life (and the whole "Opera" album) belong to the finest, most artistic compositions of rock music. Some would pigeonhole it (them) into the art-rock genre due to the long duration and the orchestration-like arrangements (mainly of guitars and vocals). In the second half of 1960s many bands (Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Pink Floyd, Nice, Gentle Giant, Emerson Lake And Palmer, King Crimson) tried to mix classical music with rock: symphonic orchestration, covers of classical movements, sometimes weird chord progressions, long durations (10-20 minutes), etc... The bands all had their own way to do it right. Queen's early approach was writing all original and self-performed guitar orchestrations, powerful vocal arrangements, dramatic changes, maze-like or acyclic song forms, and non-standard but still ear-friendly harmonies. On the other hand, they tried to keep the form of the song, at least this time. We can find the standard sections like Chorus, Verse, and Bridge. Still, there are about ten sections not repeated at all. The variant-repetition of sections, phrases, and even shorter parts (plus the suspended chords) effectively unifies the song. Nevertheless, the listener meets with extended new melody-material until the end of the song, and unlike many monumental progressive rock compositions of that era, this one doesn't include an extended instrumental solo section with a simple repeated chord progression.
Novel idea is the canon being directly imported from classical music. On the other hand, one would think it was also inspired by the echoplex-machine that had been in circulation for a while. Brian May also used it for many of his guitar solos to date (e.g. Stone Cold Crazy). Brighton Rock was the first of these where the two echo-parts were in harmony with each other. There are hints that the idea of a canon preceded the use of delay machine: the intros of both My Fairy King and Liar contain close-to-canon guitar-fills produced without a delay machine. Pop-music sometimes used canon-like antiphonal vocals, moreover prog-rock also have a garden variety of real canons. Our canon is among the most creative ones of it's era in terms of harmony (drop me a line please if you disagree).
This song opens side B of the album (vinyl) and, similarly to the other side-opener Death On Two Legs, starts with fade in. The intro really needs silence to enjoy its fine touches.
We have five (and a half) Choruses and two and a half instrumental Chorus-variants. Due to the duration of over eight minutes and the varying arrangement, it's far from being repetitive.

Walkthrough

Intro
The song opens and closes with an acoustic-guitar-dominated section. In the first seconds wind-blow imitating noise fades in. The music (and Intro I) starts when solo acoustic guitar enters. The performance is rubato; this makes it harder to count the measures (five measures). Intro II starts where the Chorus theme (shortened to four measures) enters.
The special instrument that can be heard during the intro is a toy (mini) koto, a traditional Japanese srtinged intrument. The acoustic guitar part (with the Outro) is very inspired.

d:
| D1 Bbsus2/F | D1   |  Bbsus2/F| Dm   |-  Bbsus2|
| i   VI      | i    |   VI     | i    |-  VI    |

| Dm C/D | Bb Dm | Dm Dsus4 | -   |
| i  VII | VI i  | i        | -   |

Chorus
The Chorus is the most focused section of the song. It is square eight measures long, but toward its end it doesn't sound that square anymore.

d:
| Dm C/D | Dm   | -   | -   C |
| i  VII | i    | -   | -  VII|

| F/A  C | Bb Dm | - BbaddA,E | -   |
| III VII| VI i  | - VI       | -   |

All Choruses have different lyrics with some recurring lines; the arrangement and even the final chord change. In the first chorus the last chord is a superimposed Bb and A5 chord that badly needs a resolution to Am. Second chorus closes on F9; the third one - on Gsus2.
The lead vocal in the second phrase is harmonized. Note the fine and quick crescendo ("fade-in volume control") on the voices, especially at "...gathers here". This trick of performance was used in some of Brian's guitar orchestrations on Queen II, but also in more popular "applications" like the backing vocals of One Year Of Love. Second and third Choruses have very different backing riffs from the first Chorus. It's a clever riff, one of Brian's most clever ones, as it has different rhythmical breakpoints from the lead vocal. These two phrases have mostly harmonized lead vocal.

The Choruses close on dissonant/surprising chords:
Intro:            Dsus4 (Gsus2)
First Chorus:     BbaddA,E
Second Chorus:    F9
Third Chorus:     Gsus2
Fourth Chorus:    F#m
Canon:            F#sus2 (the Canon also closes like a Chorus)
Fifth Chorus:     Bb
Sixth Chorus:     BbaddA
Last Chorus:      D

The third Chorus' backing vocal is in higher range than the preceding second one. The final chord (F#m) is backed with a short guitar orchestration. It enters on a fourth beat. Two further Choruses can be found after the Canon. Second of these is instrumental (solo 3) for its first half. If you can use the karaoke trick, listen to the last Chorus, and you'll hear the powerful Chorus-riff more clearly.

Connector 1
It is four measures long. The pedal bass (A) and the descending guitar harmonies establish the new key: a-minor. The even four-in-a-measure beat goes on in the Verse.

Verse
It's 17 measures long, but it's square if we omit the 9th measure, which only sustains the last chord of the second phrase. The phrasing is 4+5+4+4, ABA'C. First two measures feature guitar counterpoint to the lead vocal combined with constant bass (A). The second phrase is closed with a suspended chord similarly to the Chorus.

a:
| Am  | -   | Am C | D  G  Am |
| i   | -   | - III| * VII i  |

V-of-VII

| Am  | D5  | E5   | Am Asus2,4 | -  |
| i   |(iv) | (v)  | i  "VII"   | -  |

| Am  | -   | Am C | Gm/D Dm |
| i   | -   | - III| vii  iv |

d:  iv   i  |

Last phrase has scalar backing: chromatic ascending scale from A to E. (This is a classic Brian-trademark; e.g. One Vision, Now I'm Here) It is harmonized in the second Verse this way:

d:
| A  Bb | G/B C | A/C# Dm | ** E Am |
| V  VI | *  VII|  V   i  | ?  * v  |
        V-of-VII             V-of-v



the ** chord: Eb+B+F (+ A and C in the vocals)

The Verse has a climactic design which is articulated by the thickness of the arrangement and also by the syncopation. First two phrases have no harmonies except 8th measure, and the rhythm is hardly syncopated; at many times we can hear only quarters. The third phrase adds guitar harmonies. One of the parts fades in with feedback. (Queen examples for using feedback: Get Down Make Love, Let Me Entertain You, Innuendo). The guitar harmonies, the entrance of drums, and the melody all prepare us for the climactic fourth phrase which has quickened harmonic rhythm and more syncopation. During the first measures of this phrase the descending lead vocal is nicely counterpointed with the ascending guitar figure. The lead melody reaches its peak point in the last measure.

Second Verse adds crescendo drums at the end of the second phrase and guitar harmonies in the third and fourth phrases.

Bridge 1
It has two parts and it's nine measures long (7+2). The second phrase has an unusual system of accents that simply can't be transcribed into 4/4 meter even if it would result in round measures in the end. Just try to count along the beats! The preceding Chorus also closes with shifted accent (3+5). Here is the pattern of accents:

4+4+1+4+4+2+3+3+2+9

These accents create measures in 4/4 > 5/4 > 4/4 > 4/4 > 2/4 > 3/4 > 3/4 > 2/4 > 4/4 > 5/4 meters.

In spite of this hard anomaly the tune sounds natural. The harmony goes like this:

d:
| Dm C | Fsus4 F |
| i VII| III     |

the rest of the section:

| F F/Bb  F   Dm  Gm  Dm  C  |
| III     -   i   iv  i  VII |

Bridge 2
It is 14 measures long with 2+5+2+5 ABAB' phrasing. Second B phrase has different ending, and the final chord is over the last measure of the section.

D:
| G   | -  Em| Bm  | B5/A | G  D1| D   | -   C   |
| IV  | -  ii| vi  | "V"  | IV   | I   | flat-VII|

ending of the last phrase:

... | D   | F   || Csus2
  D:| I   |
  g:| V   | VII || iv

g-minor is the first key of the canon part.

The Canon
Technically it has three subsections. The first one features Freddie in solo with two additional delay-parts. Second subsection features three-part harmonies with one additional delay. The delay time is four beats. The canon part is about 2:30 minutes long. It keeps the tempo, but some entrances are not synchronized. Note that both the first and the last subphrases of the Canon are taken from the Chorus' beginning and end.

3:24-3:32: this part recalls the chorus theme. The key-setting scale used is g-minor, differently from the Chorus (d-minor).

3:33-3:44: it uses a bb-minor scale without 6th degree. The delays create tight harmonies because of the slow descent of the notes.

3:44-4:00 Starts with three notes of G# harmonic minor (frame-chords: E, Eb). It is followed by a B-major triad.

4:00-4:17 It starts downwards with a Bb triad (closed on minor 7th); then comes a Bbm-based (pentatonic scale + 7th degree) downward scale. The created delay-triads are oscillating between Bbm and G#.

Brian May, performing Brighton Rock on stage, frequently used both aproaches (among many others): single chord triad and a hexatonic scale resulting in an oscillating progression.

4:18-4:33 B-major triad starting from F; toward the end Freddie adds a minor seventh. Special effect is that the micro-phrases are three beats long, which results in the pulsing effect due to the four beats delay-time.

4:33-4:39 This is the same hexatonic scale. The dissonance towards the end shows what happens if pentatonic scale is mixed in.

4:40-4-48 Freddie brings the key one step down. (B > Bb-major)

4:50-5:39 This part goes with three-part harmonies with a single delay. Three voices combined with two delays could result in nine voices singing simultaneously, which is hard to keep under control and avoid disturbing dissonances. That's why the arrangement here is mostly antiphonal and uses only one delay. This subsection is 36 measures long. The basic chords:

Bb
| Bb  | -  | -  | -  |
| I...

| Dm  | -  | Bb | -  |
| iii...

| Gm  | -  | Bb | -  |
| vi...

| Eb  |... | Eb |... |
| IV...

| Eb  |... |Gm D|... |
| IV

|Bb F |... | *  |... |              * : Bb+E+Bb > Bb+E+A
| I V...

|Eb   | -  | -  | -  | -  | -  |...
| IV

5:39-5:51 Again: three-beat micro-phrases with four-beat delay. The last subphrase is imported from the end of the Chorus. Final chord is Gsus2.

Connector 3
The Canon is followed by a few instrumental sections. The first of these is three measures long and features echoed power-chords. No drums and bass.

Bb
| G5   | D5 Bb5  | D5 B5 Ab5 F5 |
| "vi" |"iii" "I"|....

Note the descending chain of flat thirds in the third measure whose root-movement outlines a diminished seventh chord.

Connector 4
This one consists of two variant subsections built on the same eight-measure framework:

e:
| Em  D Em|  E5 D5 E5| E5 D Em|  E5 D5 E5|
| i  VII i|          |   VII i|          |

| C   Bb C|  C5 Bb5 C5| A   G A|  A5 G5 A5|
| VI  V VI|           | * III *|          |

V-of-VII

The power chords are completed with guitar harmonies with many bent notes. The harmonies, in a somewhat higher position, are mainly used during the second eight measures. Note the 5th (13th) measure the first harmony-chord is Em instead of C. Note Roger's great drumming, too!
There's a short six-note guitar fill in the fourth measure shared between three guitars following each other. This gambit is called a hocket (applied also in the songs I Go Crazy and Spread Your Wings). The first guitar solo starts on the upbeat of the last measure.

Solo 1
The "rest" of the solo is backed by a new eight-measure subsection. The backing concept is not easy to describe: three-part guitar chords on each fourth beat and a short single note on each second beat, but there are deviations from this concept. What we've got here is in fact a shift of accents that we can explain as anomalies of meter:

3/4 > 4/4 > 4/4 > 4/4 > 4/4 > 4/4 > 4/4 > 5/4.

Similar shift of accents can be found in Killer Queen, Now I'm Here, Save Me. ( I can't find a non-Queen example yet). Common factor in these examples is that the shortened measure has an elongated pair at the end of the phrase, and between these two there are "normal" measures.

Check out how the guitar solo applies break-points fitting to this subsection. The harmony fill is based upon Em and A chords, while rhythm guitars play powerchord-based riffs rooted on Em and Am (!).

e:
| Em E1 A|   E1 Em|   E1 A1|  E7 Em|  E1 A|  B1 G|
| i    IV|...

|(G)   | -   |

Solo 2, Connector 5
Right after Solo 1 there is another solo. During its first phrase (four measures) it is backed with riffs, reminiscent to the ones of the second Chorus, and delicious guitar orchestration. The second phrase is a connetctor with guitar harmonies.

d:
| Dm  C | Dm-C | Dm-C | A   |
| i  VII| i-VII| i-VII| V   |

| F  Bb | C    | Bb  F | G      |
|III VI | VII  | VI III|V-of-VII|

a: VI | VII    |

This section is followed by the last phrase of the Verse that is in a-minor. Pivot modulation takes place during the last two measures of Connector 5.

Connector 6
Metrically, it starts one beat after the final chord (D) of the last Chorus, and 16 measures long with eight repetitions of a guitar figure. It is closed with a dramatic Bbsus#4 chord, introducing the Outro.

Outro
Similarly to the Intro, it starts with a rubato-performed part followed by a Chorus-variant phrase. The rubato part features the koto again.

the entire first phrase:

d:

|   Bbsus2 Dm -  Bsus2 |

The first phrase is still clearly in d-minor, but the second one modulates to the relative major key (F-major) with its dominant-to-tonic progression. On the other hand, next measures are dominated by the C > G7 > C progression, which means C-major. The descending figure of the last five measures is taken from the intro of the next track, Love Of My Life.

d:
| Dm C  | Bb Dm | Dm C | Bb C(sus2) Dm |
(functions at "Chorus")

| Dm C  | Bb F  | C7 F | C  G7  | C
| G7 G | C5   || C...

F:      | IV V  | V  I | V V-of-V
V ...

C:
| I  V   | I   | V    | I
||