I never ever really sit down at the piano and say, “right I've got to write a song now.” I feel a few things out and I get some ideas about them. It's hard to explain but there are always various ideas going through my head all the time. I scribbled down the words for Killer Queen in the dark on Saturday night and the next morning I got them all together and I worked all day Sunday and that was it, I'd got it. Certain things just come together, but others you have to work for. Now, March of the Black Queen, for instance, that was a song that took ages to complete, I wanted to give it everything, to be self-indulgent or whatever. But the whole band in particular, we don't go in for half measures and I'm pretty hard with myself. There are no compromises. If I think a song isn't quite right then I'll discard it.
A long, six minute track and we spent ages and ages rehearsing this one, not very easy at all, I can assure you!
I missed the fairies, too, but it seemed to be getting a bit out of hand, although I enjoyed writing those songs tremendously. I feel I've got to become more disciplined. I really loved getting carried away with all those images in songs like March of the Black Queen and Ogre Battle, but it's time to move on to other things now. So, as I said, I'm disciplining myself, but I do miss the fairies.
We try to cover a lot of different styles, I suppose, a lot of different moods. I think, personally, one of my favourites is March of the Black Queen on the second album, which is going back quite a long way.
Those were the days of the 16-track studios and we have now 24- and 32-track. Before when we did so many overdubs on 16 track. It was like, we just kept piling it on and on. The tape went transparent because it just couldn't take anymore. I think it snapped in two places as well.
That's when we sort of first really got into production and went completely over the top. There's track on there called March of the Black Queen. I mean, the tape is literally transparent - the oxide is almost completely worn away, so many overdubs. It literally was transparent.
There are so many clues about A Night at the Opera in the first three albums if you care to listen, you know. You know, people pretended to be so surprised about Bohemian Rhapsody but really if you listen to The March of the Black Queen so much of that equipment is in there. It harks back to Mantovani, cascading strings of Mantovani, I don't know if this is something which is known these days. But I remember Mantovani, he's an orchestra leader, and most of his stuff was violins, and there was a song called Charmaine. He had one violin play each note, and it's like a cascade. And it certainly intrigued me - I think I brought this into the fold. Other people had done similar things, I think they call it bells in traditional jazz. So we inducted it into our vocabulary. You can hear it in certainly The March of the Black Queen where we did it in a very different way: this is Mike Stone again, I remember him sitting there with a whole desk full of harmony vocals. Each note is the three of us singing probably three times, so you got nine voices on each fader. We're singing all the notes of the chord all the time, the way that you get the bell effect is by Mike switching them in. So that's the cascade effect. In Bohemian Rhapsody they're actually sung by that, they're sung, they're not switched. But the principle is the same.
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. Some lyrics we wrote together like I'm Going Slightly Mad, which was funny. We had fun coming up with daft things, all those ridiculous phrases. I'd say it was Freddie's actual musicality which was the cleverest thing of all, the notes, and his harmonic structure was quite brilliant. When he wrote The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke, on the second album, he was crossing sections of six-part harmonies, and I thought: “Bloody hell, that is tricky stuff.” Then there's The March of the Black Queen, which is almost like prog-rock, and so outrageously complicated that I can't even remember the arrangement myself. When you write songs that complex, you have to work hard at it, and it did invoke a lot of head-scratching. But then he'd come up with Killer Queen or, later on, lots of simple things like Crazy Little Thing. He had it on all sides. Freddie evolved. I always called him “the man who invented himself.” I think the talent was innate, but he dug deep inside himself and forced it out. His determination was quite something.
Very long - it's in about eleven different sections. And the complexity of it is staggering.
There's a place somewhere in the middle of Father to Son - I think it's the beginning of the second verse - when suddenly the whole of the army of guitars kicks in. And that, to me… I remember hearing that back - and I'm not even sure how many guitars are on there, probably double figures - and for the first time, I heard that guitar orchestra coming back at me, and it was what I'd dreamed of since I'd heard Jeff Beck doing his Hi Ho Silver Lining. That's what I wanted, in my head. There's a moment in Black Queen when something similar happens with the voices. They're all being punched in, and it's just these cascading guitars. It's like Mantovani - I don't know if anybody knows who Mantovani is anymore, but that kind of bell cascade effect was in the minds of both Freddie and I. I did it with guitars, and Freddie and Mike Stone did it with voices, actually punching them in from the desk. Suddenly you realise there are what it seems like thousands of voices coming at you from all sides.
I've always liked big vocals. It was one of the striking points that I liked about them, plus the fact that they were very ballsy, they were over the top, they were very aggressive. They also had patent frustrations, the same as I did, ‘cause obviously I had a lot of production ideas, they had loads of musical ideas; they wanted to put all their musical ideas on to record, I wanted to put all the production ideas on to record. Obviously, we did the first album in downtime so we still never quite got it out of our systems, but when it came to Queen II, things like Dance [sic] of the Black Queen, it's got every conceivable musical and production technique on that song alone.