Composer: Brian May
Key: G-major/e-minor, a-minor, C-major
| Intro I-II | Chorus | | Verse fig. | Verse | Verse | Bridge 1 | Chorus'| | Verse fig. | Verse | Verse | Bridge 2 | | Solo 1 (Verse fig. x 3) | half-Chorus instr. | | Solo 2 | Bridge 1' | Chorus |
White Queen is one of Brian's and Queen's most beautiful ballads, and in respect of form it's definitely May's most complex song yet: two different bridges plus an instrumental one (Solo 2), variant sections and subsections. Until Bridge 2 the form is cyclic; the second half of the song is where it gets more interesting with an instrumental block of sections. The final two sections recover the cyclic feel of the song. The Verses are in a-minor while the Choruses are in G/e tonality, the Bridge 2 section has a touch of C-Major.
The Intro consists of two parts. The first one can also be considered as a tail part of the preceding track "Father To Son" whose fade out outro overlaps the fade in intro of "White Queen". In the vinyl era many people must have thought that the track started where the acoustic guitar enters, but one thing clearly shows that these harmonies belong to "white Queen": the chord progression is the same with that of the Chorus with different harmonic rhythm though. The track starts on the fourth beat where the static multitrack guitars start to move. The acoustic guitar enters on the first beat of the fourth measure. The key is G-major which is inherited from the outro of "Father To Son".
m1 ac. gtr. ...G|D D|Em Em|D | G D | G: I|V |vi |V | I V |
The Intro ends with fermata.
The Chorus is very simple: three chords, AAAA' phrasing for both the first and the last Chorus, and BBCA' for the second.
| G D | D Em | G:| I V | V vi | e:|III VII |VII i |
One's ear prefers the G-major tonality due to the outro of the last track was in this key. The closing Em chord which also closes the song (turned to Major) also sounds tonic-like. On paper the key of D Major also makes sense due to the lack of C natural and the occurance of a leader c# note in the last measure of the very last chorus, and the way how the second Chorus is preceded by a A > D cadence.
The lead vocal enters on downbeat section starts without upbeat, and the last syllable is overlapped by the Verse guitar figure.
The second Chorus and the is instrumental half-Chorus are the most intense ones with distorted guitars and fast triplet-driven drums.
The last Chorus, similarly to the first one, features laid back arrangement with only acoustic guitar backing the lead vocal creating a "frame". The very last chord is E-major instead of e-minor. This gambit is called "Picardy third" and has been in use since 16th century. The band never used it again, but in this song we will find other minor to major altered chords.
The Verse is only four measures long and built upon a typical folk-balladic fingerpicked figure. After this album Brian rarely played such single-note fingerpicked acoustic guitar parts (like he did earlier in "Liar" and "Great King Rat"). The riff is based on an Am chord with descending bass measure by measure. The one measure subphrases have an oscillating shape with descending top-line (compare with "Total Eclipse Of The Heart") and static bottom line. This figure gets cleverly inverted for the third measure.
a: | Am | Am/G | Fmaj7 | F7 E | | i | - | VI | VI V |
The turnaround chord progressions that start from Am chord and combine it with descending bassline were popular in the late sixties:
Summer In The City, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Babe I'm Gonna Leave You, ...
The Verse sections here make groups of three: one instrumental and two with vocals. During the second and third groups of Verses the acoustic backing figure is modified by only one note.
This section is four and a half measures long, the half measure is located in the middle.
a: half | Am G | C G Am | - | D Am | D A || | i VII III VII i | - |IV i |IV I ||
The IV function in a minor key results in a special "archaic" touch. In the last measure it is developed into a "doubled" Picquardy third ending. The section features angelic backing choir: simple consonant chords arranged for three vocal parts.
The section returns once more in a modified form: it drops the half measure and features richer arrangement.
This one consists of only one phrase which is four measures long, while the lyrical phrase overlaps the next section (Solo 1).
The chord set (A, Dm ,F, Bb, Gm) would clearly suggest a (neighbour-key type) modulation to d-minor, but transitory use the Dm chord and the wider perspective suggest (?) that the key remains a-minor. In this case the A chord can be interpreted as a "Picquardy third opening". Unlike the Pickardy third ending it is hardly discussed in theory books (see "Michelle", Beatles).
a: | A | Dm F7 | Bb F/A Gm Dm | Esus4 E || Am | I | iv VI |bII VI IV i | V || i
The acoustic backing is resembles to that of the Verses: Am-based arpeggios, the descending bass. The section is three Verses long, the last of which is extended. Toward the end of the solo a second guitar enters and takes over the leading role. The two guitars go into harmony for only a moment. Near the end static vocal harmonies fade in. In its live version, Solo 1 features piano appogiaturas upon the above Solo 1 chords and an electric guitar solo with delay.
Half Chorus and Solo 2
In the second phrase of the half-Chorus fanfare-like guitar harmonies introduce the next section (Solo 2). Special effect is fine fade-in volume control (see also in Procession). The guitar orchestration behind Solo 2 is arranged for two groups (low and treble) of guitar tracks plus we have an extra group in the final measure. The rich arrangement enhances the dramatic feel of the climactic Bridge 1' section. The tonality is not very strong here. The initial feel of key is G-major is supported by the diatonic upward scale (a Brian May favourite lick over the Queen-years) that closed the half-Chorus. The F > C cadence suggests a C Major key, enabling an smooth transition to the next a-minor section.
| C G | F C/E | Bb | Esus4 E | G:| IV I |bVII IV | bIII... C:| I V | IV I | bVII | V-of-vi |