Sheer Heart Attack


This is the last album of the Trident era and the first for which they recorded some (or perhaps most) backing tracks outside England. It's also their first done on 24-track analogue tape-recorders and one which featured several band members playing instruments different to their respective main ones. More specifically, John played both acoustic and electric guitar (including a solo) as well as double-bass, Brian played piano, ukelele-banjo and possibly organ, Roger added a lot of additional percussion including timpani, windchimes, triangle and the usual tambourine.

As they were going to different studios, it's possible that the famous 'Hey Jude' piano at Trident was only used for 'Now I'm Here' (if that), whereas elsewhere they'd go for something else. Rockfield Studios in Wales presumably had a Bösendorfer at the Quadrangle and a Yamaha at the Coach, and Wessex Studios in London had another Bechstein, but a different one, in dark brown colour (it can be seen on the 'Somebody to Love' video a few years later).

Having moved to 24-track, they had room for more overdubbing, but they were subtler in their approach: rather than adding more and more to the wall of sound, they'd learnt to spread it tastefully and to make the best out of the available technology.

Available Sources

There's footage of a mimed performance video for 'Killer Queen' which was left unused. It was shot at Trident and Michael Rock went to take some photographs that day as well. A tape box from Rockfield was shown as part of the 2011 Stormtroopers exhibit in London, dated Sunday 28th of July.

Information on the available equipment at Wessex Studios comes from Billboard, Saturday 10th June 1972, under the assumption that not a lot changed within those two years. A Beat Instrumental article published in early 1975 documented the album sessions in more detail. Unfortunately, I've only been able to see bits and pieces and haven't found the full articles.

Shortly after the release of Sheer Heart Attack, the Official International Queen Fan Club began issuing newsletters, one of which informed that Frederick had been the runner-up for the Ivor Novello. Somewhere along the line, someone made up that he'd actually won (even though he hadn't) and a few decades later that became repeated and accepted as fact even though it wasn't quite like that at all.

24-track multi-tracks for 'Brighton Rock' and 'Killer Queen' leaked in January 2008 and were soon spread online in forums, torrents and such. Stems for 'Now I'm Here' and 'Tenement Funster' were cracked from Rock Band 3: Queen Extravaganza Pack 1 released on Tuesday 7th December 2010, and 'Stone Cold Crazy' was included on Pack 2 almost a year later (on Tuesday 6th December 2011). The 24-track from 'Stone Cold Crazy' had been rumoured to have leaked unofficially since around 2009 but it only became widespread in July 2019 when a link to it was put on the QueenZone forum.

Documented Timeline

  • 1974:
    • July: Sessions begin at Rockfield in Monmouthshire, Wales (not England). Confirmed recordings:
      • 'Flick of the Wrist': Backing track and backing vocals.
      • 'Happy Little Fuck' ('Brighton Rock'): Including vocals.
      • 'You're Young and You're Crazy' ('Tenement Funster'): No vocals.
      • 'Banana Blues' ('Misfire'): No vocals.
      • 'Lap of the Gods, Part 2' (presumably 'In the Lap of the Gods... Revisited').
      • 'Stone Cold Crazy'.
    • August: Sessions move from Wales to England - first they do some overdubs (and possibly backing tracks for the rest of the songs, sans 'Now I'm Here') at Wessex, including some sessions devoted exclusively to percussion; then they spend some time at the overdub room at AIR; then they're back in Wessex for some more work.
    • September: Final touches and mixing (and, presumably, 'Now I'm Here') at Trident.
    • October: Album is sent to the Mastering Lab in Los Angeles, California, America, where it's mastered (the original EMI release uses the American mastering for this particular record).
      • Monday 21st: The lead single, 'Killer Queen' / 'Flick of the Wrist', is released in Britain.
      • Sunday 27th: Brian and Roger record the 'National Anthem' at Trident, to be used as taped outro for the live shows.
      • Wednesday 30th: Even though the album hasn't been released, the tour begins in Manchester. Audiences get to hear some of the songs before they're commercially available.
    • November:
      • Friday 1st: 'Killer Queen' / 'Flick of the Wrist' is certified Silver in Britain, for having sold at least 250,000 copies.
      • Friday 8th: The album is released in Britain.
      • Friday 22nd: The album is certified Silver in Britain, after having sold at least £75,000 in copies.
    • Sunday 8th of December: The European leg of their headlining tour finishes after forty days of playing at different venues in England, Scotland, Wales, Sweden, Finland, West Germany, Spain, Belgium and The Netherlands.
  • 1975:
    • Wednesday 1st January: The album is certified Gold in Britain, as it's sold £250,000 worth of copies. It certainly seems that the tour helped.
    • Friday 17th January: 'Now I'm Here' / 'Lily of the Valley' is released in the UK as the album's sophomore single.
    • Saturday 1st February: Queen fly from Heathrow to JFK for the North American leg of their tour.
    • Thursday 22nd May: Frederick gets second place in the Ivor Novello Awards for 'Killer Queen'. Second place, not first.
    • Tuesday 18th November: The album is certified Gold in the USA, after having sold a million dollars worth in that country. The hype over 'Bohemian Rhapsody' being climbing up the charts in Britain may have helped American audiences get interested in Queen, and since A Night at the Opera wasn't out yet, Sheer Heart Attack benefited from the trend the most.
  • 1978:
    • February: The official Fan Club magazine features, in its Q&A section, an American fan inquiring about the low vocal on 'Bring Back That Leroy Brown'. She's told they were sung by Frederick (there's no mention of varispeed having been used, or not having been used).
  • 1982:
    • Monday 7th June: Just two days after the band's legendary concert at the Bowl in Milton Keynes, Sheer Heart Attack is finally certified Platinum in Britain, marking 300,000 sales in that territory. Perhaps a positive aspect of the backlash Hot Space got was that it got people interested in the band's earlier material.

Documented Recording Venues

  • Associated Independent Recording Studios on 214 Oxford Street, Marylebone, City of Westminster, London W1C 1DA, England. Used primarily for overdubs, possibly guitars.
  • Rockfield Studios on Amberley Court, Rockfield Road, Monmouth, Monmouthshire NP25 5ST, Wales. The first venues outside England to be used by the band. They recorded backing tracks there. They used mostly the Quadrangle Studio, but they may have also had some sessions at the Coach.
  • Trident Studios on 17 St Anne's Court, Soho, City of Westminster, London W1F 0BQ, England. Used chiefly for mixing, but possibly also for some overdubs. Some of those sessions were filmed and professionally photographed, though it's also possible they were re-creations.
  • Wessex Sound Studios on 106 Highbury New Park, Islington, Greater London N5 2DR, England. Their main studio for this album, that's where many (though not all) of the overdubs were recorded, including most of the percussion. Possibly also used for some backing tracks.

Documented Personnel

  • Performers:
    • John Deacon: Electric bass, acoustic and electric guitars, double-bass.
    • Brian May: Lead and backing vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, acoustic piano, acoustic ukelele-banjo.
    • Frederick Mercury: Lead and backing vocals, acoustic piano, harpsichord (?).
    • Roger Taylor: Lead and backing vocals, acoustic drums, additional percussion (tambourine, triangle, windchimes).
  • Studio Crew:
    • Roy Baker: Head producer.
    • Neil Kernon: Assistant engineer at Trident.
    • Michael Stone: Chief engineer.
    • Geoffrey Workman: Assistant engineer at Wessex.
  • Technical Crew:
    • Jonathan Harris: Equipment supervision.

Documented Instruments

  • Acoustic Grand Pianos:
    • Bechstein C 7' 4": Housed at Wessex, possibly used for up to five songs including 'Killer Queen'.
    • Bechstein V 6' 7": Housed at Trident, possibly used for 'Now I'm Here'.
    • Bösendorfer 200 6' 6": Possibly housed at the Quadrangle in Wales, it may have been used for up to three songs.
    • Yamaha C-7 7' 5": Possibly housed at the Coach Studio in Wales, it may have been used for up to three songs.
  • Additional Keyboards:
    • Hammond C-3 Electric Organ: 'Now I'm Here'.
    • Unknown Jangle Piano: 'Bring Back That Leroy Brown' and 'Killer Queen'.
  • Percussion:
    • Ludwig Bespoke Drums: Roger's ever-growing kit.
    • Ludwig Ringer Timpani: 'In the Lap of the Gods'.
    • Premier New Era Tambourine: 'Flick of the Wrist'.
    • Premier New Era Triangle: 'Killer Queen'.
    • Premier New Era Windchimes: 'Killer Queen'.
  • Strings:
    • Abbott Monarch Acoustic Ukelele-Banjo: 'Bring Back That Leroy Brown'.
    • BHM Bespoke Electric Guitar: Presumably all of the tracks except for 'Dear Friends'.
    • Fender Precision Electric Bass: Presumably all of the tracks except for 'Dear Friends'.
    • Fender Stratocaster Electric Guitar: Possibly chiefly a spare, though Brian may have used it for some overdubs.
    • Martin Acoustic Guitar: Possibly the main one used by both John and Brian.
    • Unknown Double-Bass: 'Bring Back That Leroy Brown'.
    • Unknown Electric Guitar(s?): John played about four different electric guitars on 'Misfire', including the solo. No more details are known at this point.

Documented Studio Equipment

  • Analogue Tape Recorders:
    • 3M M-56 16-Track: Trident.
    • 3M M-79 24-Track: AIR.
    • Ampex MM1000 16-Track: Wessex, at the time, had two of them which were used as Master/Slave, which meant Queen could've even upgraded to 32-track if they wanted, but they felt 24-track technology was enough (more to bounce, but easier to mix, and more compatible with different consoles).
  • Mixing Consoles:
    • Neve 1204: AIR Dubbing Theatre.
    • Neve 2824: Wessex.
    • Rosser Bespoke: Rockfield.
    • Sound Techniques 2408: Trident Studio 2.
    • Trident A 3224: Trident Studio 1.
  • Monitors:
    • JBL 4350 Speakers in Lockwood Cabinets driven by HH Amplifiers: Trident Studio 1.
    • Tannoy Gold Spakers in Harries Cabinets driven by Quad Amplifiers: AIR.
    • Tannoy Red Speakers in Lockwood Cabinets driven by Radford Amplifiers: Trident Studio 2 and Wessex.
  • Microphones:
    • AKG:
      • C-12 and C-12A: Possibly used on bass at Trident, especially if/when they were after a Beatles-esque sound.
      • C-28: Used at Trident for tom-toms and electric guitars.
      • C-451: Possibly used at Trident for drum overheads.
      • D-12: Main bass-drum mic at Trident and AIR.
      • D-202: Used at Trident for percussion and bass (the signal coming directly from the amp).
      • D-212: Used at AIR on tom-toms and for bass (the amp signal).
      • D-224: Used at Trident for hi-hats and AIR for drums.
    • Electrovoice RE-20: Possibly used occasionally at Trident on the bass-drum and for electric guitar.
    • Neumann:
      • KM-54 and KM-56: Used at Trident for snare and tom-toms.
      • KM-84: Possibly used at AIR for hi-hats and drum overheads (if they recorded drums there at all).
      • KM-86: Possibly used at AIR for snares (if applicable).
      • U-67: Main mic at Trident for vocals and piano, and also occasionally for drum overheads.
      • U-87: Main mic at AIR.
    • Sennheiser MD-441: Used at Trident for hi-hats and perhaps also occasionally for vocals, and at AIR for percussion (including drums).
    • Shure SM-57: Used at AIR for guitars and snare. (if applicable).
    • Sony C-38B: Used at Trident for snare drums.
  • Outboard Signal Processors:
    • Astronics A-1671 Graphic Equaliser: Used at Trident.
    • Dolby Noise Reduction: Trident.
    • EMT 140 Plate Reverb: Used at Trident, AIR and Wessex.
    • EMT 240 Gold Foil: Used at AIR to give a slightly different reverb, especially to the vocals.
    • Neve 2254 Compressors: Used at AIR, part of their characteristic guitar sound.
    • Pultec EQP-1A Tube Equaliser: Used at Trident.
    • Teletronix LA-2A Compressors: Used at Trident.
    • UREI 1176 Limiters: Used at Trident and AIR.
    • UREI LA-3A Limiters: Used at Trident.

Myths, Legends & Ongoing Debates

  • Ivor Novello: Loads of Queen websites, magazines and perhaps even the odd book, all claim Frederick won an Ivor Novello Award for 'Killer Queen'. He didn't: he came second!
  • What was done where?