Read all 6 events for 17 January at diary.QueenSongs.info
Composer: Brian May
Key: e-minor (pentatonic), A-mixolydian Major
Intro | Verse | Chorus (AA)| | Verse | Chorus (AA)| | Verse | Chorus (AAAA) | Solo |
"We Will Rock You" embodies one of the most important stylistic turning point for the band, a major experiment in minimalistic songwriting. In this point of view it was the most extreme example in the Queen songbook as the music is not much more than a mere combination of a rhythmical ostinato and a lead vocal, no harmony backing except the outro solo.
The result is one of the most original and distinct single of the history of rock. On the other hand the song may have been influenced by army-chants or "Give Piece A Chance" (Plastic Ono Band).
The intro exposes the one measure ostinato rhythmical pattern by repeating it 8 times. They multitracked it many times to achive a really mass sounding effect. The rhythmic motif itself is very simple, very basic, one wonders where else before they used this pattern as ostinato. A good challange for musicologists...
The eight measure Verse doesn't have much to analyse. The start of the second lyrical phrase ("playing...") fall on the third beat of the second measure. The pitch-set is pentatonic. The closing of the section descends an octave below the starting notes.
Its very simple tune sung twice, four times in the last cycle. The vocals are unisono and octave harmonies overdubbed many times for creating a mass-chant effect. The pitch set of the lead vocal is added the 2nd degree.
After a long fading in feed back E-note the lead guitar enters in m.7 of the last Chorus:
| C | - | e: VI | - | A: bIII | - |
The solo itself is built around the A and D/A chords (the famous lick again), with lots of double and triple-stops, pedal bass on the open A-string, hardly any single note passages (eg. in m.10). The solo ends with trice played phrase reminiscent of the triple-tag endings (eg. in "Seaside Rendezvous"). The 2nd, 3rd and 6th phrases are also variants of this phrase.
| A G1 | A | | I 7th | I | | A D/A | A | | I IV | I | | A D/A | A | | I IV | I | | A | D/A | | I | IV | | A | | | I | | | A D/A A | A | | I IV I | I | /-------- 3x -------\\ | A D/A A | A D/A A | | I IV I | I IV I |
key: E-Major with aeolian inflection (or e-minor with ionian inflection).
Intro I-II-III (AA) | Verse | Chorus - - Verse | Chorus - break | Solo (BBBC) | Chorus - - Verse | Chorus (AAA) - Outro
What is the original "We Will Rock You" famous for: the boom-boom-clap motif and the killer guitar solo? What does happen if we take both these key ingredients away? Prior to the album version they already played this song in a completly different approach without the ostinato rhythm and the outro-solo. The so called fast-version also known as the BBC-version that opened many live-shows in the late seventies. The track is introduced by the "slow" version shortened to only one cycle of Intro/Verse/chorus/Solo. Then Roger reads up a quote from a book, then starts the song itself.
The form is completed with a bass break section followed by a guitar solo. The transition between verses and choruses are executed with overlap.
The tonality is ambiguous considering that the tonic is always Major (see the sus4 riffs!) while the pitch and the chord set is much closer to minor mode (melodic minor thirds and sevenths). This transcription goes with the Major mode. There is no dominant chord (B) in the song and the subdominant chord (A) shows up only in the outro.
The first phrase starts with solo rhythm guitar plaing the blusey 5-6-5-6 motif. Drums enter for the upbeat of the second phrase.
E: | E5-6 | - | - | - | | I | - | - | - | /------ 2x ------\\ | E(sus4) | E5-6 | | I | - |
This double phrase riff is reminiscent of the triple-phrase closing of the slow version. Note the A > D/A lick combines both the 3rd > 4th and the 5th-6th motion. The rhythm is also similar but this time we have pre-downbeat emphases:
4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 * * ** * ** *
The first phrase riff is repeated this time with proper backbeat.
| E5-6 | - | - | - | | I | - | - | - |
The next two phrases are the backing riffs of the Chorus.
| G5 D5 | C5 G1 F#1 F1 | E5-6 | - | |bIII bVII| bVI m3rd... | I | - | | G5 D5 | C5 G1 F#1 F1 | |bIII bVII| bVI m3rd... |
Except the chodal backing there is nothing new compared to the slow version.
| E5-6 | - | - | C5 G5 | | I | - | - | bVI bIII | | E(sus4) | E(sus4) | D5 | ... E5 | | I | - | bVII | I |
The chord-chart is shown above in the intro. Except this the most important changes on the album version is the overlapped shortened ending, end the harmony vocals. Note the last chorus is harmonized differently: with pedal point on top.
The last chorus is extended with an extra phrase that also works as outro:
| G5 D5 | C5 G5 | |bIII bVII| bVI bIII | | A5 | C5 | E5 | | IV | bVI | I |
The last three chords are fermata-prolonged and backed with with impulsive drum-rolls.
Next to the second Chorus there is a bass guitar break. The melodic content is economic: a group of C notes, then another group of C notes an octave lower. The two groups are intervened by three with drums and heavy C5 chord. These C notes resonate with the C chord that closes the last chorus of the album version. The rhythmical twist is created by the down-beat like emphasys that falls on the third drum beat in the middle as it divides the break to a 15/8 and a 17/8 part. More detailed groupings of emphases: 3+3+7+2 + 4+3+4+4+2 = 15+17 = 32/8 = 4 measures.
The live versions were often more irregular.
The guitar solo is totally different from the album version. One of the most simple to play solos May ever created with many bent doublestops. The rhythm guitar chords:
/---------- 3x --------------\\ | E5-6 | - | - | G5 D5 | | I | - | - |bIII bVII|
The last phrase prolonges the tonic with metallic palm-muted downstrokes and drum crescendo:
| E | - | - | - | | I | - | - | - |