March Of The Black Queen

Composer: Freddie Mercury
Meter: 4/4, (4/4 (12/8) in Link 3, occassional measures in 2/4, 6/8, 9/8)
Keys: G-major, a-minor, C-major, F-major, c-minor/Eb-major, E-major
Form:

 |Intro | Part A | Link 1 | Part B (with Solo 1 and Solo 2) | Link 2 |
        | Part C | Link 3 | Part D - Link 4 |
 | Solo 3 - Part E | Link 5 - Outro | Intro for "Funny How Love Is"

This song contributed much to ensure the cultic status of Queen's second album among hardcore Queen fans, and also make it a favorite of many progressive rock fans. With its acyclic form, tempo and key changes, and extended harmony material it shows some similarity to "My Fairy King", "The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke", and "Bohemian Rhapsody". Both "Liar" and "Great King Rat" are loosely cyclic too, but the harmonic material of those songs is far less extended than in this song, probably because Freddie composed them on guitar.
This piece uses about 24-30 different chords with all the twelve chromatic notes involved as roots. The number of chords is a result of the long form and modulations: A, A7, Am, (Am7), Bb, B, (Bm), (B11), B7, C, C7, Cm, C#, C#m, D, Dm, D#dim7, Eb, E, Em, F, (F#m), G, Gm, G#m, G#dim, plus some line-cliche generated passing chords. In terms of functional harmony, you cannot find any very special chords (eg bIII, bVI, bVII), only some secondary dominants, and a couple of non-functional chords.
The form of this song can be best described as a chain of sections that are connected with instrumental bits. In progressive rock they'd call it a "suite". In spite of the acyclic form, you can find some (single) repeated subsections and melody variants, but the song lacks a proper "verse" or "bridge". In the whole song there is only one phrase that appears (in varied form) in two different sections (B and E). The way as Part B is shot through with different kind of repetitions is something remarkably clever.
This analysis omits the last 26 seconds: the Intro for "Funny How Love Is".

Intro (-0:20)
The song opens with a slow, dramatic sounding piano intro which is six measures long. Similar piano parts we can find in "My Fairy King". The piano plays appoggiatura figurations upon a B chord. The pitch-set is that of E harmonic minor, but the B "pedal" bass and the way the E note on top is always resolved to D gives the strong sensation of B to be the tonic (B phyrgian with raised fourth). Retrospectively the whole intro sounds like a dominant chord pre-tension for the sext section starting with Em chord.
The six measures can be divided in three similar phrases. The second one features two short guitar fills enhancing the dramatic feel. The second fill's figuration will reappear years later in both "Who Wants To Live Forever" and "One Vision".

Part A (0:20-0:43)
This section is seven (3+2+2) measures long. The first two measures consists of  three identical "Do you mean it?" (sub)phrases, each of them enter on the even beats. On the first downbeat enter bass and backing vocals. During most of this section (and several times later in the song) the sustained backing vocals are responsible for creating the harmonic carpet. The B>Em progression creates a feeling of e-minor key established. But very soon the D>G progression drives your sense of key to G-major.
In the third measure double track rhythm guitar enters. Note that the vocal harmony is off during this measure only. In the second phrase slowly oscillating two-part counterpart harmonies (by Freddie) accompany the pentatonic lead vocal.
The third phrase features a piano line-cliche with chromatic descending inner line upon the Am chord. Roger applies mostly percussive style here. The chromatic descending line is reinforced by the guitar. This line-cliche appears several times in the song (but also in later songs including "Bohemian Rhapsody").

  | Em    | -    D | G   (G#1)  |
G:| vi    | -    V | I "V-of-ii"|
e:|  i ...           a:  "V"
 

  | Am   | -    |
G:| ii   | -    |
a:|  i   | -    |

  | Am*  |  -   |
G:| ii   |  -   |
a:|  i   |  -   |

Link 1 (0:43-1:05)
Here we have a double-time feel which gradually fades away until the title phrase. I will transcribe this part without changing the tempo.

The length of Link 1 is nine measures. The first four measures feature three-part crazy harmonies, piano, and low toms. The third measure sports quickly oscillating vocal harmonies. This lick appears several times in this song (see also in the Intro of "Funny How Love Is").
The fourth measure features a descending chord build-up upon a G chord. Vocal chord build-ups are almost always ascending (try to find a descending one!). The ultimate exception that comes to our mind is the one in "Bohemian Rhapsody" ("Magnifico-o-o-o"). The special effect is that the entering voices are cut in both examples.

guitar chords | B        | D         | F        | G      |
harmonies     | B   F#m  | Bm    Am  | Eb    F  | G      |

| B    | -    | -    | -    |

The tonality is ambigous here. In these measures you can't find a key that could survive even the second chord change (including the harmonies). Let's see exactly what creates this tonal ambiguity! In the harmonies we can find Eb-F-G chord progression ("chord stream"). The rhythm-guitar chords also show something similar but with minor third steps: B > D > F. Similar chain of bIII chords (downwards) can be found in "Bicycle Race". This is, however, a rare chord progression.

The second half of Connector 1 goes with B chord with Phrygian modal feel (B - C - D# - E - F# - G - A - B) with raised third (and seventh (A#) in the guitar part). The fifth measure adds the bass, and the sixth measure adds another group of voices moving around the B chord. Some volume and pan control is applied.

Part B (1:05-2:23)
This part is the longest and can be divided into more subsections.
Among these subsection we can find repetition and variants.

The first subsection is six measures long. Its key could be both G-major (with F#) and a-minor (with F). During these six measures we can't find any F in the score, but there's F# in the line-cliche and in the D chord in measure 4. Still the a-minor key has a stronger flavor due to the more air-time it gets, especially in the next subsection. G-major and a-minor each have a dominant-tonic progression.

  | G   Em/G | E/G#     Am | Am*    |-    D  | G       | E       Am |
a:|VII   v   | V        i  | i      | V-ofVII| VII     | V        i |
G:| I    vi  | V-of-ii  ii | ii     |     V  | I       | V-of-ii ii |

The first two and the last two measures above have similar rhythm and chords. Moreover, the last three measures show similarity with measures 2-4 from Part A. The rhythm of the tune runs on even sixteenths and works as a unifying element in the song. The last two measures feature interesting piano licks.

The next coming four measures are a kind of refrain, the only melody that appears in two different sections (i.e. in Part E). The chords are the already introduced Am line-cliché; the form is AA'. Note how the lead melody picks up those descending notes.

The following part starts with 3+3+3 pattern of eighths creating an occasional 9/8 measure, followed by a half measure (2/4). This subsection is the only part of the song that is repeated without major variation. Note that at the end of this subsection the vocal harmony is not perfectly resolved as in its repetition (after the solo). Here the harmonic texture is carried primarily by the vocals. The key is C, and we can find the familiar I > V > vi progression with step-wise descending bass (more accurately: C - B-G - A). Note the modal melodic flat-seventh (Bb).

beats:  123123123  1  2   1  2  3  4
      | F  G  C  | C  C | G          |
 bass:           | A# A | G          |
    C:| IV V  I  |      | V          |

Solo 1:
This guitar solo imitates the beginning of a melody that appears twice - in a little unusual way - later in the song ("...you can be my sugar baby..."), but also resonates with the melodies/rhythm behind the phrases "coming back alive" and "lily pool delight" two subsections before. The solo is four measures long.

C:
| C    | G   Am | Dm    | B7      |
| I    | V   vi | ii    | V-of-iii|

The next subsection is four (2+2) measures long. In the second measure we can find the second measure of the melody of the first guitar solo, but the chords are changed. While both phrases are built upon the same Am line-cliché with bass playing the descending inner line, the lead melody is different, vocal harmonies are added, and there is strong rhythmic contrast between the two phrases. There is a hard-to-detect guitar fill at 1:54.

Here comes the repetition of the short subsection with the 3+3+3 pattern. Note that both of these are preceded by a subsection with the Am line-cliché, and also continue in a harmonically similar way.

The last subsection features the guitar solo's tune in the lead vocal again, this time with the original chord progression. The lead vocal stops after two measures and guitar solo (Solo 2) starts. Compared to the "guitar solo" subsection, the chord progression is extended with further four and a half measures, after which Connector 2 begins.

m.1-4: same as "guitar solo"

m.5                                half
     |Em     (G)| A7   D  | A     | A  | D      |
bass |E    Eb D | Db   D ...
   C:|iii     D:  V    I  | V     | V  | I      |

Note the syncopated bass figure in measure 4 also taken from the first solo.
The B chord in measure 4 now gets a resolution, but right then the harmony modulates to D.
Measure 6 adds a second guitar part (wah-pedal is applied on both parts).
Similarly to the guitar solo of "Earth" (Smile, 1969) and "Mad The Swine" (1973), only the first notes are in harmony with each other, then the guitar parts each go their own ways. On later albums Brian didn't use this approach of multitrack soloing anymore.

Let's summarize how exactly these subsections with variants and repetitions follow each other:

Subsection 1 (6 measures) features ABA' harmonic (and rhythmic) pattern.
Subsection 2 (6 measures) features AA' form and its variant appears towards the end of the song in Part E.
Subsection 3 (3 measures) is the short one with 3+3+3 pattern.
Subsection 4 (4 measures) is the guitar solo which rhythmically resonates with two short phrases of Subsection 1.
Subsection 5 (4 measures) features the same length and similar harmonic background as Subs.2. The lead vocal in the second measure features a variant of the second measure of the guitar solo (Subs.4) backed with different chords.
Subsection 6 (3 measures) except the lyrics, this subsection is the same as Subs.3.
Subsection 7 (8 and a half measures). The first four measures feature the same harmonic pattern as the guitar solo (Subs.4). The first two measures feature lead vocal which is a variant of the guitar solo.

We can get the outline of two cleverly hidden harmonic cycles:
subsections 2-3-4 and subsections 5-6-7. Highly inventive. Just try to find a song with a section being as cleverly structured as this one.

Connector 2 (2:24)
Suddenly the meter changes to triplet-based 4/4 (12/8) which causes a speeding up beat. The section is 21 measures long, but the changing parts articulate an even phrasing:
 1st measure introduces the F-chord that is droning throughout the whole section.
 5th measure adds two lead guitar parts (not in harmony),
 7th measure adds bells
 9th measure adds bass ostinato imitating the bells. This 1-3-2-1 motif will re-appear in the next track "Funny How Love Is".
11th measure adds different piano ostinato (in octaves)
13th measure adds vocal harmonies

Note that the vocal harmonies are ascending while the ostinatos are descending. The numerous layers make the production somewhat indistinct.
Regard the rhythm of the vocal harmonies! When it starts it seems to follow a 2+1+2+1 pattern, which at first look seems to be logical in the triplet-based environment, but this time we have something more complicated. Those harmonies in the first two measures in fact follow a 3+3+3+3+4 pattern, creating a 8/8-like meter running parallel with the 12/8 one (with quicker 1/8 tempo, that's the trick!). This is a case of what they call polyrhythm. Unlike in "BoRhap" (another song featuring polyrhythm), the "common denominator" 1/8 beat is absent here.

Part C
The climactic build-up in Connector 2 is sharply cut off, the tempo also changes (slows down). Freddie used this technique several times in the early years (see also "Death On Two Legs").
The section is a chain of five subsections with piano backing and some fine percussion sparely added. The vocals are double-tracked most of the time.

The first subsection is 3 and half measures long. Note the Bb chord is played one eighth after the "strong" third beat. The same technique is used several times in the following phrases.

F:      half
| F  Bb| F  | Gm  C7| F    |
| I  IV| I  | ii  V | I    |

Measure 3 adds a block of vocal harmonies.

The next phrase starts with an upbeat. The accents create measures in 4/4 > 6/8 > 2/4 > 4/4 > 2/4 > 4/4.

           6/8   half              half
| F   C | Dm  A |A-Dm| Bb(9) Am(7)|G(7)| C    |
| I   V | vi  * | -  | IV    iii  V-of-V V    |
            V-of-vi         C: vi | V  | I    |

Note the sustained G throughout the last three measures.

Next subsection is five (3+2.5) and a half measures long. The half-measure can arguably be located one (half-)measure later.

                      half
| Cm*  | -    | Bb   | Eb | Cm-G G | C    |
c: i   | -    | VII  |III | i-V  V | I    |
                                 F:  V    |

We find ourselves in the parallel (c) minor key. Note that the line-cliché (Cm*) omits the sustained root. There is a lovely ascending counter vocal in measure 1-2. The harmonies in the last two measures sound somewhat medieval in flavor with the Pickardy ending. The phrase with Cm-G altering and the "...love and joy" lyrics is a variant of what we heard in the previous subsection (with Dm-A vamping).

Next subsection is a repetition of the first one. The backing vocals are different and percussion is added. The closing of this section starts similarly like the second subsection, but the chords of the second (6/8) and third (2/4) measures are compressed into one normal 4/4 measure, and the lead melody is also different. The subsection is five and a half measures long.
Rhythmically (syncopation) and harmonically, measures 5-6 copy measures 3-4 one step lower. Note an additional second piano part during these measures (rare feature of Queen records).

F:
| F   C | Dm Dm-A | A  Dm | C  F | G Cm | Bb || (Eb)
| I   V | vi  V-of-vi  vi | V  I |      |    ||
                               c: V   i | VII|| (III)
                                     Eb:  V  ||  (I)

From the middle of the second measure the backing track is joined by the bass and drums and soon the guitar harmonies.

Connector 3
This five-measures long section is characterized by one chord per measure harmonic rhythm (except last measure) and ascending (but purely triadic) vocal harmonies mixed alternately left and right. The bass does short chromatic runs.

   | Eb   | Cm   | G     | Am   | -    |
Eb:| I    | vi   |V-of-vi|
c: | III  | i    | V     |
                a: VII   | i    | -    |

The end of the section introduces the key of the next section: a-minor.

 

Part D
The section starts with tempo change. Am and G chords dominate the harmony. Note the lack of the 6th degree (F in the key of a-minor, shades of Part A and B) until the beginning of the next section (Am > D > F). Brian's vocal bit (m.14-) marks the end of the section but it also starts the next connector. The phrasing is symmetric 4+3+4+3, ABA'B where A' has different lead vocal line (sung partly by Roger) but the same harmonic and rhythmic shape as the first A phrase:

a:
 | Am  | -   | -   | -   |
 | i   | -   | -   | -   |

 | G   | -  C  G | Am   |
 | VII |  III VII| i    |

repeat this two phrases.

TThe first and third phrases feature a lead vocal line repeating a one-measure tune bit. The modified lead vocal of the A' phrase is a kind of mirror-image of the one in the A phrase. They are possible counterparts of each other. The vocal harmonies from the previous section persist into the first measures of Part D. The bass-line in measure four features a 3+3+3+3+4 rhythmic pattern with a lovely ascending short counterpart.
The bass in the second A phrase uses an arch-shaped motif with 3+3+2 staccato rhythmic pattern. Lead guitar plays throughout the second half of the section (effected with stereo floating); in fact it keeps playing until Solo 3.

Connector 4 (until Solo 3)
I'm going to discuss nine measures (3+4+2) here. Solo 2 is more closely related with Part E than with this connector.

| Am  |  D   | F    |
|  i  V-of-VII VI   |
 
| Am  | -   | -   | -   |
| i   | -   | -   | -   |

| C   | -   |
| III | -   |

The first measure is the closing of Part D and equally belongs to both sections. Lead guitar sustains an "A" note throughout the fist phrase. There's a chromatic inner line (F# F E) built in the D > F > Am progression. The V-of-VII > VI (> i) progression was quite rarely used until the Sixties. Try to find an example prior to "The House Of The Rising Sun" (Animals, 1964)!

The second phrase consists of four identical measures with dynamically performed quick chromatic ascending octave bass figures on piano that also can be heard in the third phrase. The third phrase with C chord (kind of "dominant") provides pre-tension to resolve for the start of the solo. The pumping bass line plays root notes throughout the section.

Solo 3 - Part E - Outro
The first phrase is Solo 3 which is close in style to the first one. At the end of the solo's phrase there's an up-beat-like vocal bit. The "main" tune begins in measure 7 preceded by an antiphonal upbeat. This is the refrain-like tune that we heard before in Part B, but this time the tempo is somewhat slower and the closing is different.

| Am*  | -   | Am*  | -    |
| i    | -   | -    | -    |

| Am*  | -   | Am*  | -    | Am maj7| G   7 |
| i    | -   | -    | -    |  i     | VII   |
                           C: vi    | V     |

In measure 10 drums stop and music is sustained for a measure, then a new section begins.

Connector 5 - Outro
In contrast with the other connectors, this one starts with a short lead vocal part followed by "wordless" vocal and guitar harmonies too. The section flows smoothly into the Outro through an abrupt tempo change where from (5th measure) the song is performed ad libitum.

| C   | G  Am | C  G | Am   |
| I   | V  vi | I  V | vi   |

          bass: E  D#     D    C#
| Dm   | B7   | E G#m | G#dim  C# C#m | A  B7 | E D#dim7 |
| ii   V-of-iii
    E:   V    | I iii |chromatic   vi | IV V  | I vidim7 |

| E B7sus2,4 B7 | E    |
| I      V      | I    |

In the first phrase Roger plays a "military"-like snare drum pattern (shades of Solo 1 and also of "Great King Rat" (Verse).
Bass: many dotted jumps in measure 1, 3+3+2 pattern in measure 2, walking figure in measure three.
Fine fingerpicked guitar enters in measure six, where guitar, vocal harmonies, and drums quit. Only "bass-chord" type piano accompaniment, bass, and lead guitar close the song.

In measures 7-8 chromatic descending inner (bass) line drives the chord progression. The C > G > Am > Dm > B7 progression we saw already behind the first guitar solo. Note the change to minor chord (C#m vi) in measure 8, where the functional flavor of the chords recovers. Also note the double suspension of the B7 chord where the third degree is approached from two directions. The first closing is a V-V-I cliche-cadence with dramatic slow down; the second is also traditional I > V > I. The closing guitar line converges to the root and executes a "classical" sounding trill-ornament.