I'm not mad about "Jazz", "Hot Space" and ... another.
Freddie wrote in strange keys. Most guitar bands play in A or E, and probably D and G, but beyond that there's not much. Most of our stuff, particularly Freddie's songs, was in oddball keys that his fingers naturally seemed to go to: E-flat, F, A-Flat. They're the last things you want to be playing on a guitar, so as a guitarist you're forced to find new chords. Freddie's songs were so rich in chord-structures, you always found yourself making strange shapes with your fingers. Songs like Bicycle Race have a billion chords in them.
It's Freddie's idea, actually, I mean, the Tour de France was coming by our hotel in Switzerland, and he was absolutely fascinated by it and he just said, “I've got this odd idea, dear: I'm thinking for the song, to call it Bicycle Race, in the middle there'll be bicycle bells.” It's got a great middle-eight, actually.
Freddie became quite worked up about Tour de France. We couldn't understand why, and then he came back with this delightful creation.
Did you ever read Moby Dick? I always remember the first words were “Call me Ishmael”. But of course Herman Melville wasn't Ishmael. As with a novel, just because a song is written in the first person doesn't mean it's in any way autobiographical. As I remember, Freddie liked Star Wars a lot, and he actually wasn't very keen on riding his bicycle (if he even had one!) - he preferred being driven in a Rolls Royce! But he created a character in the song, and this character can say what he wants, and he can ride his bicycle where he likes!
I think the Tour de France came cycling by one day and Fred was gazing at it with absolute amazement, I think, and it's a fairly big deal, the Tour the France, you know, and I think it just triggered something in his imagination.
[was it hard to build up the solo] I don't think so. That was something I was quite pleased with, but really nobody else was. It's something which nobody ever mentions very much. "Fat Bottomed Girls" I thought was okay, but fairly banal. I thought people would be much more interested in "Dead On Time", but it didn't really get that much airplay. The explosions at the end are a real thunderstorm which ocurred when we were in the south of France. We put a tape recorder outside.
Sort of a heavy version of Keep Yourself Alive revisited.
This stuff is really sort of fooling around in the timing and then seeing what comes out… I think, when doing this, it was just a question of getting into the groove and seeing what came out.
I don't know of a Queen song I can really do the calibre of Queen, you know. That's part of it for me and it just didn't really fit into the project that we were doing at this time. And to pick a Queen song is rough one. Dead On Time would have been a good song to put on [The Spaghetti Incident]. Dead On Time would've been great.
[Sarcastically] Brian's favourite!
It's a world-wide cast-iron 22 carat copper-bottom SMASH !! A song is not a scientific essay or dissertation; it is entertainment. It conveys emotion, dreams, excitement - it shares feelings. A songwriter can say “black is white” … or “I see three of you” … or “The World is Flat” … anything he likes - in the name of Art - if it WORKS! Art is not Science, and Science is not Art. The reason that this song has grown and grown in popularity over the years is precisely because everybody feels it expresses their OWN excitement, in the journey they are on. The words tumble out … all jumbled up, conflicting, metaphors all random, just like they do when we are excited, on a roller-coaster, on a ski slope, flying … jumping . … or .. in love. “Supersonic” … “Sex Machine” … “Rocket Ship” … all the things Freddie has put in here - beginning with “I'm a …” are completely nonsensical, viewed from a point of view of someone with no sense of humour, no understanding of spontaneity, excitement, dangerous passion … joi de vivre. Obviously he can't be a satellite, and a rocket ship, and a sex-machine all at the same time. That is why it's so brilliant!! The song is not just good .. it's a work of genius … because the words AND the music express these wonderful feelings so well … you will see in any wedding, party, hen-night, celebration, the effect this track has when it comes on. It's magic.
Freddie would be so happy now to realise how huge it's become, you know. It's so much part of people's hen nights and just a general kind of torch song for everybody, it's amazing. I remember because it's very much Freddie's pop side and I remember thinking, “I'm not quite sure if this is what we should be doing.” I think there was also a feeling that it lyrically represented something that was happening to Freddie which we kind of thought was threatening him, and probably it was in a sense. But having said that, it's full of joy and optimism and stuff and very witty as usual. A great driving piano.
Quite poppy and commercial but clever lyrics. Not Brian's favourite, this song. I think it's very joyous and, actually, I still think he had his tongue slightly in his cheek, you know - “I'm a rocket ship … I'm like an atom bomb” - they're great lines.
It wasn't one of our favourite tracks, and we never sort of held it in great regard, it was very much a Freddie thing. It was just a song that we did, and it was a hit, it wasn't a giant hit, but it became sort of more popular over the years. I think it sort of filtered into the public's consciousness somehow and actually I think it's a much better song than we'd realised at the time, it's very melodic, beginning and end.
Everybody gets so mixed up with all the other sides: the flash, the sexual ambiguity, the showmanship, the voice. It doesn't frustrate me, because I'm just pleased he's remembered. But it's when you delve deeper that you really get his musicality. Actually, at the bottom of it all was just a genius songwriter. We're re-releasing all the Queen albums at the moment, so we're being forced to listen hard to the remastering. And it's just staggering. His words got better quickly. There were some very overt lyrics. Don't Stop Me Now is a good example. He was having a good time, and that was very much a cri de coeur.
It wasn't a pretence, we actually did live the life of a rock band, sort of living on the edge in a sense. Don't Stop Me Now is a whole different trip, really, it's become one of the most popular Queen songs of all time. It's a song of sort of unfettered joy. I mean, I've been quoted to say I don't like the track - I kind of do like the track but I had mixed feelings because in a sense it represented a sort of separatism. It was very much Freddie's world and reflected what he was going through.
I thought it was a lot of fun but, yes, I did have an undercurrent feeling, we're talking about danger here, because we were worried about Freddie at this point, and I think that feeling lingers but it's become, I think, the most successful Queen track as regards what people play in their car or play at their weddings or whatever, you know, it's become massive, massive. It's a sort of anthem to people who want to just be hedonistic and I have to say, kind of a stroke of genius from Freddie.
Don't Stop Me Now is a phenomenon. It's not the kind of thing that I was most drawn to in the beginning - everybody knows that for various reasons - but it's become such a monster hit with everybody and it's everybody's stag party and hen party moment, so I've come to enjoy that again now.
It was a minor hit, but the life of that song is ever increasing. I think it's going to end up as the biggest song Queen ever did. It's lovely to see how people embrace it now. I guess it's the optimism of the lyrics. There was a definite feeling we were losing Freddie or afraid of losing Freddie, which affected the way I perceived it at the time. I probably thought it was a bit frivolous as well, but I've gotten over that now.
Don't Stop Me Now is the one that has surprised us all. It wasn't a big song at the time. Freddie wrote it on the piano and Brian had to find a way to insert himself in there. I don't necessarily think it's one of our best songs, but I love the sentiment – “Call me Mr Fahrenheit.” It's hilarious and it's become a sort of rallying cry.
A sad little song, this.
John actually used [his amp] himself, multi-tracked, on his song Misfire on Sheer Heart Attack, and it features heavily in much of the more intricate arrangements I did for the Queen albums. Let's see… The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke was all triple-tracked and gated by hand using the old push-push buttons in the now defunct Wessex [sic] studios; God Save the Queen, Dreamers Ball, all those trumpet, trombone and clarinet sounds from Good Company... the solo on A Winter's Tale; I love these sounds - no electronic box can make this noise!
[playing slide] The only tuning I've used apart from normal is to take the bottom string down to D, which I've used on "The Prophet's Song", "White Man", and "Fat Bottomed Girls".
[what was the inspiration] I could give you a glib answer, couldn't I? But I think the chorus just popped into my head as a tune and a set of words. Same as 'Tie Your Mother Down' did. I didn't know what the hell 'Tie Your Mother Down' was supposed to mean, off the top of my head. But it became something that meant something: a teenage rebellion song. And 'Fat Bottomed Girls' became a song about the girls who help the spirits of the performers backstage, I suppose. The groupies or whatever. In light of what we were saying before about Freddie's sexual orientation, I remember thinking, "Freddie's going to have to sing this and I'm going to write it so you can take it any way you like. You can be into anything and this would still make sense." And I remember thinking, "This is kind of interesting: Why does everybody love casual sex with people that they otherwise wouldn't want to be with? Why does that mean so much to them? Where does it come from?" So some other words are about things that people will possibly remember from their youth.I saw a smile when Freddie was singing it, but we never talked about it. We didn't with our songs. Odd, isn't it? You'd think we would talk about our lyrics with each other, but we never did. It was kind of an unwritten law that you really didn't explain your lyrics to the other guys. But I wanted Freddie to be comfortable with it. And it's a fun song. But I still wonder how Freddie felt about it. I don't know if he knew that I wrote things to make it fun for him too. Delicate ground, isn't it?
Fat Bottomed Girls I thought was okay, but fairly banal. I thought people would be much more interested in Dead On Time, but it didn't really get that much airplay.
I actually conceived it as fitting the ‘swamp; style of the Deep South of the USA, I admired those guys with a Dobro on their knee and a foot stamp, which I saw as organically congruent with ZZ Top and electric southern boogie. But, yes this kind of single chant works in many folk styles - did you hear the brilliant Hayseed Dixie version? We did the backing track live in the studio, Roger, John and myself, with Freddie throwing in comments. Roger and John instinctively rose to the occasion. Actually, I've always thought it was a bad idea to explain songs too much. I remember being so disappointed with what Paul Simon had to say about his writings - it destroyed my mental images. OK, there were a lot of bottoms involved, and not just the ones in my direct experience. You'll have to use your imagination a bit, but I can tell you there was a big glint in my eye, because there were inspirations in both camps on tour. And remember, I was writing a song for Freddie to sing! But my prime inspiration was my realisation that it wasn't just the glamorous beauties who fuelled the rock ‘n' roll romance that was “touring”; in so many cases, it was the unruly kids who devoted themselves to rock bands in a very self-effacing way: the real fans. I had most of it in my head so it was one of the easier tracks to make work. My usual bridge and middle pickup in phase, no effects. It's just gut instincts, but we felt we wanted it to motor into the main part of the song quicker on the radio. All this stuff was floating around while the Tour de France was coming through Nice [sic]. It gave us a kind of mental focus - the image of naked girls on bikes. We were boys. We wouldn't go into that area now, I would be much too conscious of respect for ladies. But, well, at the time... Usually, we record my guitars with no EQ. But in this case, the more we mixed it, the more the guitars seemed to sink into the mud, so we kept adding more middle, the middle to high frequencies giving clarity and presence. In the end it worked. A rarity on this track is that Roger double-tracked all the drums - even that insane fill that heralds the final choruses.
Around this nucleus there's a whole kind of community of people who feed energy into it. They get something from it but they also feed into it. You know, a lot of girls and boys who just devote their lives to live in the dream in their particular way. So the song was really inspired by them, and they didn't have to be beautiful girls, they didn't have to be pretty boys or whatever. They're just people whose hearts were in it and they're the people you're speaking to, they're the people you see in your line of sight when you're playing on a tour, and in a sense they're the life blood because they're your first line of connexion to an audience.
Well, I'm against explaining songs, but it was really reaction to touring and noticing that it wasn't always the pretty girls or the pretty boys that made things happen. Sometimes it was the people who had so much passion in their buns that they were able to give a lot of energy to the situation, so it applies to everybody that you come across in the rock and roll world, I suppose. So, it was a kind of tribute to people who don't necessarily have the looks to stir people's loins but nevertheless do it because they have such a great gift of personality, or whatever. So that's one way of looking at it.
The closest to disco we'll ever get [sic].
My songs were very patchy. Jazz never thrilled me. It was an ambitious album that didn't live up to its ambition.
It's in the style of some of the stuff we did on A Night at the Opera, but it's an even bigger arrangement than anything we've ever done.
I have a very old, cheap Hairfred which makes that buzzy sound that's on "Jealousy" and "White Queen". I've never seen another one like it. I made it sound like a sitar by taking off the original bridge and putting a hardwood bridge on. I chiseled away at it until it was flat and stuck little piece of fretwire material underneath. The strings just very gently lay on the fretwire, and it makes that sitar-like sound.
I liked Dave Dilloway's acoustic, because I could make it “buzz” nicely. It appeared on Jealousy and The Night Comes Down sounding a lot like a sitar.
[violin-like tone] There's a particular pickup combination which I use for the violin things: the fingerboard pickup and the middle one. Those two working in phase make a very mellow sound. And there's a point on the amplifier where it's just about to get distortioned, but not quite. Instead of using my pick, I tap the fingerboard with the right hand, and that just sets the thing moving. It sustain itself. you hardly need to even tap it any. If you even stand in exactly the right place, it feeds back in any position so I can just warble around and it's very smooth. I also used that tone for the beginning of "Leaving Home Ain't Easy" on Jazz. For thta, I actually used the studio faders to fade them in, but that was the same sort of sound.
There's a particular pickup combination which I use for the violin things: the fingerboard pickup and the middle one. Those two working in phase make a very mellow sound. And there's a point on the amplifier where it's just about to get distorted, but not quite. Instead of using my pick, I tap the fingerboard with the right hand, and that just sets the thing moving. It sustains itself. You hardly need to even tap it any. If you even stand in exactly the right place, it feeds back in any position so I can just warble around and it's very smooth. I also used that tone for the beginning of Leaving Home Ain't Easy on Jazz. For that, I actually used the studio faders to fade them in, but that was the same sort of sound.
The lady's part? It's me. We slowed down the tape to record it so it comes out speeded up. I think Wheetus [sic] just did the same thing on Dirtbag!
This is a Roger Taylor song. It has a really cool beat and a stiff, almost mathematical-type drum feel to it – very creative.
My songs were very patchy. Jazz never thrilled me. It was an ambitious album that didn't live up to its ambition.
Strange one that.
It's almost impossible to describe. It's probably the most different song on the LP. It starts off in mono with a particularly strangled sound and explodes into glorious stereo halfway through.
Though some people think that the secret to my tone is my use of a wah-wah pedal as a tone filter, this is untrue (though I do recall doing this once on Mustapha to get that strangled kind of Eastern sound). Actually what I do is experiment with different pickup combinations. You see, most switching systems don't take advantage of the range of sounds available from a three-pickup configuration.
This language was part of Freddie's heritage in his family, and he had a special affinity with it. The track was a great fun thing to do .. incorporating unusual flavours, and encouraging us to play in Eastern styles !! I'm sure the lyrics are in the original album sleeve. But I cannot tell you what they mean!
I am out of this frame ! I'm not absolutely sure Freddie wanted to be understood here!!