We Are The Champions

Composer: Freddie Mercury
Album: News Of The World (1977) 2nd track
single: october 7, 1977 double-A side with "We Will Rock You"
Meter: 6/8
Key: c minor, Eb Major, Bb major, F Major, f minor
Form:

 | Verse | Chorus | connector |
 | Verse | Chorus - Chorus |

We Are The Champions is one of Freddie's top drawer composition that reached its well-deserved "evergreen" status as rock anthem. Chartwise it was another example for the anomaly when a good song can't reach the top, as it happened to classic Queen songs so frequently. Its longevity alongside the catchy melody must be in connection with the song's anthem status that should not direct our interest away from the musical side which happens to be very interesting: nice key changes, big "choir" harmonies, dramatic changes in dinamics, sophisticated arrangements that one should listen to with headphones: the melodic bass-line (one of John's finest ever), Freddie's expressive voice, the hold back drum figures during the Verses, the guitar arrangement of the second Verse, the choir-like harmonies, things that most people don't pay attention when they listen to it as a stadium anthem.
 Talking about stadium, this song (alongside with We Will Rock You) time to time makes some less knowledgable music critics/reviewer put Queen into the pigeon hole of "stadium (glam) rock" or viciously criticize the song because they interpret as a self-praising, fascist what-not song. Sad tendency that many reviewer ignores the fact that this is a well written song that effectively combines clever and catchy songwriting.
The song was written on piano in Mercury's favourite keys (in terms of numbers of flats used). Note the circle-like progression of keys: c > Eb > Bb > F > f > c. Let's note that using so many keys (and so effortlessly) in a three minute pop/rock song is something quite anomalous. Reading this series may make you think it's usual.
 The non-binary meter is a recurrent element in Freddie's songwriting, last time it was used in "Somebody To Love". The songform is relatively straightaway tad unusual is the use of short connectors moreover the lack of instrumental solo section and intro. Since there is three choruses in two blocks separated by a verse, the song has two climaxes which is tad disturbing when they play it as stadium anthem: I mean people don't want to settle down after the first Chorus as the music does. (They usually solve this problem by starting after fisrt chorus.)



Walkthrough

Verse:
The song opens with vocal pickup without introduction (see also "...Lover Boy" or "...revisited"). The two measure melodic mini-phrases of the lead vocal and the bass are all located in the upbeat area and end on a downbeat or shortly afterwards. The phrasing is 8+7+2. The second phrase in spite it is one measure shorter parallels the first in a more or less square way. The last pharse is a two measure pre-Chorus that with crescendo lead vocal and big multitrack choir vocals builds up the climax for the Chorus.

The first phrase and the first half of the second phrase has similar appoggiatura driven static harmonic backing. The tonal center goes to the relative Major key for the second phrase. The last phrase steers the harmony toward F major (the key of the Chorus) through Bb Major. The establishment of Bb Major chord using the V/V as pivot chord could be a nice textbook example. Traditional (but never overused) feature of Queen songs is the I > V > vi progression with the descending bass which is mirrored by the step-wise ascending lead vocal figure.

c:
/------ 4x -----\\
| Cm   | C7sus4 |
| i    | "v"    |

Eb:
/----- 2x -----\\
| Eb   | Ab/Eb || Eb Bb/D | Cm  F  | Bb    |
| I    | "IV"  || I   V   | vi V/V | V
                 Bb:  I   | ii  V  | I     |

  |  Bb  |   C7 || F...
Bb:  I...
 F:  IV  |   V  || I...

The vocal harmonies ("ON and ON...") during last two measures:

  C  C   C  C
  Eb E   F  Bb
  C  Db  D  E
  Ab Ab  Ab C
( Bb Bb  Bb C ) < -- guitar chords


Note, these are not the most obvious harmonies to arrange. Alongside the chromatic lines also note that the notes of the opening vertical triads are not presented in the underlaying chord (Bb).



The first Verse starts with piano and bass accomaniment. Note the piano accents fall on the 1st and 2nd 1/6 beats in the first and sixth two-measure subphrase while they fall on the 2nd and 3rd beats in the intervening subphrases. This is rhythmically tad disorienting and may cause 7/8 measures when played not carefully enough.
For the second phrase re-enters bass, enter double tracked guitars. Note the antiphonal (or hocket-like) guitar fills in measures 11-12. The bass sustains Eb throughout measures 9-12, guitar arpeggio plays Ebsus4 where piano plays Ab. The music changes to fortissimo in measure 13 where drums enter and guitars play chords with overdriven tone. The choir harmonies of the last phrase have an unisono upbeat.
The second Verse is tad different arranged. The drums are played throughout the section, check out the Roger's fine hits on the hi hats in the first phrase. Brians two track guitar fills underscore perfectly the mood of the section. John Deacon's melodic treble figures also deserve attention. For the second phrase the bassline gets lower, Roger changes to cymbals, Brian plays the arpeggios familiar from the first verse, but this time with some hocket-like touches added. The last phrase adds lead guitar.

Chorus:
There's three non-repetitive chorus in the song which is remarkably few in context of rock anthems. The phrasing is sqare except the last phrase: 4+4+4+5. Compared to the verses the melodic phrases are shifted "right", more of them start on downbeat instead of stop there. The harmony of the first phrase is driven by diatonic chain of fifths, especially if we substitute Bb with its "stand-in" pair Gm (see also "Don't Stop..." and "... Lover Boy"). The last phrase is driven by stepwise ascending line and static F note in the bassline and various dissonances.
Note the chromatic cross-relation in measure 14: A in the melody, Bb in the chordal backing. The harmony shifts toward the parallel minor key (note the change from major third to minor third in the lead melody mm. 14-15) that establishes only for the connector part. Between the last two choruses the tonic of f minor does not appear.

| F    | Am    | Dm    | Bb  C7|
| I    | iii   | vi    | IV  V |


| F    | Am    | Bb    | Gbdim7 (D)|
| I    | iii   | IV    |   vii/ii" |

| Gm7  | C/G   | Bbdim7| -     |
| ii   | V     | "iv"  | -     |


| F    | Eb69/G | Ab6   | Bb7   | C7sus4 || Fm
| I    |   bVII
        f: "VII"| III   | IV    | "v"   || i...

The rhythm figure of the last chord (1-2) nicely resonates with the piano double-accents in the verse and the following connector.
The second and third Chorus adds lead guitar fills,  ote the one that mimicks the lead vocal. The last Chorus alters the backing rhythm in measure 4. The song ends with a fermata unresolved on the C7sus4 chord.

Connector:
This six measure section is instrumental except the legendary fade-away last syllable of the Chorus that falls on the first downbeat of the section. This connector sets the dinamic from forte back to piano, and drives the harmony back to c minor from f minor. Those characteristic double accents (that fall thistime fall onto beats 2-3 and 1-2 respectively) and the Roger's fine cymbal fills foreshadow the Verse.

f:
| Fm   | Bb6/F | Fm   | Bb6/C  | Fm   | C7sus2 || Cm  
| i    | IV    | i    |  IV    | i    |"VII/Cm"|| 
                                        "VII"  || i

Note that Bb6/F is note very different from C7sus2 or (Gm7), one of Freddie's most favourite dissonances. Note the use of major 6th (D) in the IV chord (Bb).