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Composer: Freddie Mercury
Album: A Kind Of Magic (1986), 9th track
Single (US only): 17 march, 1986
Meter: 4/4 (with double timed sections)
Key: C Major, b minor, (c# minor), A Major,
Intro (AA') | Connector | Verse | | Connector'| Verse'| Chorus | | Bridge (I-II-...) | pre-Solo | Solo | | re-Intro (A")| Chorus |
In spite of "hot and spacey" influences many Queen songs in the post-Game era keeped many of the lasting Queen traditions (such as hard rocking edge, non-repetitive structure formal and harmonic freedom, bombastic arrangements, catchy melodies, diversity etc) alive, still the combination of these features on as high level as in this song was a pleasant surprise. Especially since Freddie have not written a hard rocking Queen song since Let Me Entertain You (1978) and we have not heard a bombastic hard rocking vocal intro since Fat Bottomed Girls/Bicycle Race. It was a long waiting time, but it was worth it.
The song finishes the album as powerfull encore, but it could have been also an ideal opening song as well (the similarly powerful One Vision got that job), as it opens the "Highlander" movie as well.
The songs has expressive dramatic design with crescedos, double time section, key changes. The net lead melody content of the song is EXTREMELY high especially in context of its medium: a three and a half minute long single. This is of course the result of the Queen-trademark non-repetitive song structure, which is not quite acyclic here: we have two of each Verses and Choruses, and the (half-)Intro is repeated as well. The Bridge is long and acyclic. Consider this: many catchy melodies in pop/rock music are powered by repetitive structures. It had always been something respectable from Queen to release non-repetitive (not to mention: clever) songs as this one as single. The vaste majority of songwriters would never take the risk to release a single with the chorus/half-chorus or title phrase repeated less than 4-6 times.
The harmony of the song is ambigous: hardly a few strong key-establishing cadences, more chord-progressions are tonally ambigous, and a couple of sections have just prolonged chords whose tonic-role suggested only by the actual melodic pitch-set. The guitar chords are often just power chords, but the melodic environement adds the Major/minor thirds. The overall harmony is on the sharp side of the circle of fifths reminding us that Mercury was somewhat less flat-side key obsessed than many of us think.
The bassline belongs to one of John's most slavishly root-oriented ones, we have hardly any inverted chords in the backing track. Note you can hardly find any diatonic/chromatic/pentatonic scale fragments, only one of those much John favored arpeggio fragments... but many slides.
The drumwork ranges widely from hold back to harsh, from fine touches to heavy beats building contrast between sections.
This intro remains one of the most bombastic song-opening of Queen and the whole Rock genre. It starts acapella (mm 1-2, 5), with three-four part harmonies in the first phrase, Freddie in solo during last three measures. Rhythm guitars enter in measures 3 and 6, drums enter on beat "4" of measeure 5, and we have some synths one of which is reminiscent of neighing. The drums are sparely played until the Chorus.
The intro is eleven measure long with a square eight measure core that has ABAB form chordwise, the melodic phrasing is ABAB', 1+3+1+6. Despite the parallel AB couplets one tends to parse the phrases as ABA - B' due to the harmony/solo vocals and the "re-Intro" section that skips the last B' phrase. The two A phrases in spite of nearly identical harmony sound remarkably different due to different mixing. The B melodic phrases are different at their first measures, moreover the second one prolonges the last chord for an extra three measures and
adds three part stepwise descending harmonies on synth. That figure is in fact four measures long, but it's overlapped by the B' phrase, and becomes a part of it.
The tonality is very weak, none of the chords sounds like a strong tonic. Possible candidates:
C Major: because C chord closes the phrases in a strong cadence, and also the pitch set of the closing synth harmonies is C Major.
D Major: the opening chord always orients ones ear to interpret it as tonic.
e minor (!): OK, I know that there is no Em chord in sight, but try out substituting E with Em. Or consider the chord progression being in E Major, but borrowing all the chords from the parallel minor key except the tonic. In the original handwritten sketch Freddie wrote D/E for the first chord, and that's the way it is arranged in the very last A phrase in the re-intro (with the help of guitar).
The melodic phrases start on downbeat, and we have a pre-downbeat accent on "...uniVERSE".
/-------------- 2x --------------\\ | Dadd9 E | D | G | Cadd9 || C | - | - | C:| V/V V/vi| V/V | V | I || - | - | - | D:| I V/V | I | IV | bVII | e:|VII I | VII | III | VI |
As always in a harmonic situation like this you can play the game: stop the music after two measures and try to find out the key. Under the subtle influence of the pitch set so far you'll be tad surprised that the next chord is a G. (No wonder: E has G#, G has G)
The last synth figure challenges one's sense of rhythm partly due to it puts emphasys onto the last two 1/16 beats of each quarter beats, the lack of drum beats and also disorienting is the pre-downbeat placement of the "POWer" syllable. This beat-map may help you to keep oriented from measure 7. (v: vocal, s: synth, d: drums)
1 . 2 . 3 . 4 . 1 . 2 . 3 . 4 . 1 . 2 . 3 . 4 . 1 vv v v v v v v ss ss ss ss ss ss ssddd
Back to the rhythm of "darkest power": on paper it does not look disorienting at all, quite the contrary. A homework for you: think about what really makes this part disorienting!
The "A" phrase in the re-Intro is slightly differently arranged: the double-entrance of the first syllable, and the "Ki-ings" bit for instance.
We have two connector sections different in length and arrangement preceding both Verses. Both Connectors prolonge B5 chord.
The first Connector is purely instrumental, six measures long and it is characterized by thickening arrangement: bent guitar figure during first two measures, two part guitar harmony for the rest of the section (mm 3-6), descending slow chromatic scale (from Maj7 down to Maj3 in context of B) in the last two measures plus another guitar descending roughly parallel with it for only the last few notes. The chromatic scale fragment closed with a single whole step arrives on the root of the next chord.
A close variant of the guitar work of this section also appears in "Gimme The Prize".
The second Connector is two measures shorter than the first, it has falsetto "ooooh" vocals, synth plays Bm chord spiced with chromatic double appoggiaturas creating that exotic Bm > Gm/B alternating chord progression. This particular appoggiatura is rarely used by Queen (and generally in rock music).
The tonality is still weak, the prolonged chords (C in the previous section, C#m in the following section) can't establish any homekey properly. Here the prolonged B5 (Bm) chord together with the pitch set makes one's ear interpret Bm as the actual tonic, where the vi chord (in context of a minor key) is enabled by the melodic minor scale with raised seventh.
| Bm (Gm)| - | - | Bm | | I (vi)| - | - | - |
The drums repeat a simple asymmetric pattern throughout.
We have two slightly different Verses. The first one is five measures long, but could be considered six, where the last measure is overlapped with the beginning of the second connector. The second Verse is six measures long and also 1-2 chords are added to break the droning of the slow harmonic rhythm. The prolonged C#5 (C#m) chord and the pitch set (even without the 2nd grad) suggest c# minor to be the tonic of this section. Note the frequently used melodic 6>5 appoggiatura.
The melodic phrases start varyingly past-/pre-/on downbeat.
c#: 1st Verse: | C#m | - | - | - | - || Bm... | i... 2nd Verse: | C#m | - | - | - | D | Bm | | i ...bII A: IV | ii |
Differences in the arrangement:
In the second Verse the drums play quarters on low toms then switch to the "Connector" figure. The first Verse is differently drummed (tad more complex). The rhythm guitars are also altered for the second Verse and a brief guitar harmony (C#m7) is added in measure 4, and beside some percussive guitar notes Brian also adds a helicopter-like sound on guitar (see also Death On Two Legs).
The lead vocal: occassional double tracking in the first Verse, additional shouts in the second Verse.
We have two very similar Choruses that are each 14 measure long with 4+2+2+2+4 phrasing. I even suspect the second Chorus is more or less a "copy and paste" iteration of the first one with lead guitar added. The tempo is doubled compared to the Verses, and also the drums are getting much more active. The chord progression is shot through with non-diatonic chords part of which (bII, bV) can't be considered to be borrowed from any neighbour key. The bIII > bII > I might be treated as a phrygian cadence, but the melody is sounds modally mixed. The acyclic lead melody rides on this ambigous harmony so naturally and catchily as if it would be the most common chord progression. Note the triadic figures in the tune of the first phrase, which imake the tune by the way tad difficult to sing without chordal backing (try it out!).
The homekey is not established by strong cadences, but the preceding chords (C#m, D, Bm) reinforce it for some extent. The key modulates to ii (b minor) for the last phrase. All in all this chorus has maybe the most interesting chord progression of all choruses in the whole Queen songbook. In the harmony map I included some melodic dissonances:
| A | D | C | A#(6)| A: I | IV | bIII | bII | | A | D C# | A: I |IV V/vi| | F# | D# | B5(7) | G#halfdim | A: V/ii | bV | ii | | b: V |bIV | i | * | | G F#(7)| Bm (Em F#m)| G(maj7)|A(7) Bm | b: VI V | i | VI |VII i |
Rhythmically all phrases start on downbeat, measure 9 has melodic triplets.
The last phrase has harmonized vocals: simple (more or less parallel and diatonic) but powerfull arrangement.
The last Chorus adds lead guitar that mimicks the lead vocal in a rubato style (delays) most of the time, but not everywhere. This last Chorus ends the song with the final word looped. (see also "The Show...").
It's the longest section of the song with 3-4 sub-sections. It's maybe , but the rest of the Bridge (and the solo) will be transcribed being still in double-time, even though the first phrases slow down the harmonic rhythm and the drums also rest much (except some cymbal rolls).
b: | G | - | A | - | | VI | - | VII | - |
The second phrase has three part harmonies with lyrics addressing the protagonist. The harmonies are performed with an expressive "special effect" that I can't describe properly with words. The key changes to C Major again without strong cadences (until the next section). The four measure phrase prolonges one single chord throughout.
| C | - | - | - | | I | - | - | - |
The next subsection is characterized with two measure phrases with dotted harmonic rhythm. The D and A chords around the third phrase can be treated as borrowed from another key (D or A Major) which makes more sense retrospectively when we reached the solo section. The lead vocal reaches higher peaks higher by each phrase creating a climax in the fourth phrase. Climactic in the arrangement: powerfull power chords from the D chord on, and also more drums, moreover the last sung phrase is doubletracked (?).
| Am | - G | | vi | - V | | C | - D | | I | - V/V| | A | - D | |V/V/V | - V/V| | C | - F | | I | - IV|
The first phrase has arpeggios on both guitar and bass guitar, (that's the only time in the songs).
The last subsection starts with upbeat, and sustains the dotted harmonic rhythm for the first couplet of phrases. The phrasing is AA"B 2+2+6. Drums play simple heavy low tom and bassdrum figures durig the A phrases.
... F || C | - F | || I | - IV| | C | - F | | I | - IV| | C(sus4) | - | - | D | A | - || | I | - | - |(V/V |V/V/V)| - || A: IV | I | - ||
The last two words are harmonized. The A Major key is not established very strongly (plagal cadence).
This six measure section is reminiscent of the Connector section due to the prolonged B5 chord slided down each time. These chords sound like ii in context of the preceding weakly established A Major key. Speedy drum figures introduce the speedy guitarsolo.
| B5 | - | - | - | - | - | (A: ii ...)
This section is ten measures long. Roger plays constant 1/16 beats on hi-hat, Freddie adds some Mercuryesque semi-spoken vocals. May's solo is played mostly in 1/16 tempo in mixed mode (dominated by minor pentatonic mode). Note figures with alternated pedal point (D) and stepwise scale upwards in measures 4 and 7-8 combined with 3+3+3+3 rhythmic emphasys in the latter. The solo closes with an over one octave ranged chromatic run downwards arriving on E which already serves as the bass of the harmony on the downbeat of the re-Intro section.
Beside that 3+3+.. figure this flashy guitar solo takes accents onto non-predictable places leaving some strong beats unemphasized. Still it does not sound like a case of syncopation.
The pedal-like used D is rather just a tone-center than a proper key establishing factor.