Brighton Rock

Composer: Brian May
Meter: 4/4 (occasional 7/8, 9/8, 10/8 measures)
Keys: B-major, E-major

 | Noise - Intro | Verse || Verse | Chorus - Connector 2 |
 | Solo I - II (with echo) || Verse (first half') || Outro

"Brighton Rock" is a rock song with THE legendary guitar solo. The solo has its own biography: it was born in the late sixties as a solo-break of the Smile track called "Blag". In the early seventies it evolved further as the guitar solo in the middle of "Son And Daughter". It didn't get a place on the album cut, but both the demo version and the BBC version (and the early concert versions) include its proto-version. The BBC take is one of the first records where you can hear the use of a single echo, but still not as a mean of creating harmonized canon as we can hear on the "Brighton Rock". Earlier Queen recordings show experiments with the use of canon:

- the intro of "My Fairy King";
- a mulititrack guitar fill right before the Verses in "Liar";
- the solo in "Modern Times RnR": second guitar imitates the first occasionally lagging;
- the solo in "Father To Son" (so-so);
- the solo of the piano (live, BBC) versions of "White Queen";
- the ending of the guitar solo in "Seven Seas Of Rhye";
- the guitar solo of "Stone Cold Crazy";
- the intro of "Now I'm Here".

The echoplex machine itself had been in circulation for a couple of years before 1974, but from that era I have not heard yet other contemporary band using it to create a harmonized canon (if anyone did, drop me a line ASAP). On the other hand some progressive bands used canon occasionally (Zappa "What Will This Evening Bring Me This Morning" (1971)). The canon in the "Brighton Rock" solo is two-parted (1+1), while the post-album concert versions are three-parted.

One has to respect the creative approach in how Brian May built in some clever ideas into his canons. The concert versions show more of these tricks. The song form itself is a mutant version of the one-bridge model. I treated the "bridge" as Chorus because it has a strong climactic flavor due to the catchy melody and the bombastic vocal harmonies. On the other hand, the title phrase is absent (from the whole song). A half Verse returns at the end, reinforcing the cyclic feel of the song. The solo is the longest Queen ever put on tape. The concert versions are extended, the longest ever version must be around 15 minutes long and also include a timpani solo by Roger Taylor. Playing very long instrumental solos was a trademark of progressive rock, while Queen tended to avoid long solos except the "Brighton Rock" performed live. Freddie could rest his voice meanwhile.
Note Roger on drums: he presents one of his most incredible drum playing ever.
Below I'm gonna analyze first the album version, then the Live Killers Version as well.


The song (and the album) opens with a fairground noise, which perfectly fits the "happy little day - public holiday" imagery. This noise is not Queen recording; it is taken from a collection of noises. It has music in it, three distinct tunes following each other: the first one is a marching-band-like tune: a harmonized melody in D-major and a four-in-the-bar 5-2-5-2 bass figure. The second tune is played on a street organ (?). The third tune is done by Queen as one of them whistles the "I'd be beside the seaside" tune that closed the previous album ( the outro of "Seven Seas Of Rhye"). Then comes the real intro: guitar chords with funky rhythm fade in, three rhythm guitars joining in one by one. The opening sus4 chords appear in the outro section and also open the Live Killers version. The first place we can find a distinct downbeat is when the first C# chord is played, and I count the measures from this point on.

| G#sus4...
(B: VI)

 |  C#   F# | C# F# | C# F# | C# F# |
B: V-of-V V |   -   |   -   |   -   |
C#:  I  IV  |   -   |   -   |   -   |

Drums enter in measure four. The key is still ambiguous (or deceptive): the way it parallels the opening chords of the verse makes it sound to be in C#-major which shifts down to B for the Verse.

The Verse is 13 measures long with a 4+4+5 AAB phrasing. The second Verse prolongs the last chord for one measure more, while the first Verse is added a short Connector section. In the first Verse Freddie starts his lead vocal part in falsetto style; he switches to normal voice in measure 10 between the two syllables of the word "magic" causing a hocket-like effect. Second Verse changes from normal to falsetto between the first two phrases and switches back again on the "magic" word. This is to represent the dialogue between a man and a woman. The final Verse changes from falsetto to normal between the two "A" phrases, never twice the same formula...

  /----------- 2x ------------\\
  | B  E | B  E | B  E | F#   |
B:| I IV | I IV | I IV | V    |

   | A      | E  B/D# | C#m G#/C  | C#m B | E     |
B: | bVII...( IV  I   | ii V-of-ii| ii  I | IV )
E: | IV     | I   V   | vi V-of-vi| vi  V | I     |

As it can be seen, the tune for the last phrase modulates from B to E-major. We can find the I > V > vi progression which is somewhat less exposed than in other song due the ambiguous harmony.
The second verse adds stereo imaging to the lead vocal and backing guitar harmonies in similar fashion to what we've heard in "Keep Yourself Alive".

The final Verse is shortened after the second phrase and added guitar harmonies similar to those in the second verse. The fourth phrase is instrumental: the chopped Bsus4 chord reprises the intro (even though it was G#sus4).

  /----------- 2x ------------\\
  | B  E | B  E | B  E | F#   |
B:| I IV | I IV | I IV | V    |

  | A     | B     |
B:| bVII  | I     |

| Bsus4 | -     | -     | -     | -     |

The drums are holding pause until the last measure where Brian plays an ascending two-parted guitar glissando.

Connector 1
The first two Verses are separated by a two-and-a-half measure figure. It's a shortened version of the Intro.

| no chord | C# F# | C# F# |

The chords steer away the harmony from the preceding E-major (see the intro).
The drums stop on the downbeat for a moment, then a drum-roll helps to startkick the next verse.

A four measures long variant of this section precedes the final (half-)Verse too. It gets extra lead guitar.

The Chorus is square eight measures long (4+4 AB) and at its end ("WILL") it elides to an instrumental connector section.

| C#m  B | E     | A   /G#| A/F# B E  |
| vi   V | I     | IV     |(II)  V I  |

| C#m    | F#    | B(6)    | B(7-6)   |
| vi     |V-of-V | V       | -        |

The lead melody puts off-beat accents continuously. This pattern continues in the guitar riffing of the next coming Connector 2 section. Try to hold the beat (if you fail, follow the drum hits)! The lead vocal is harmonized throughout, catchy and "bombastic": typical Queen.

Connector 2
It is full of guitar riffing with off-beat accents (again: follow the drums to keep yourself oriented rhythmically: the low tom rolls mark the 4th quarters). The last two measures feature a pause on drum and let-ring-throughout modal bIII chord. In the last measure the first solo-fill enters one 1/8 beat later. If you think it was something unintentional, see what comes next!

E:                                              (9/8    7/8)
| A    | A   E | A     | A   E  | A     | A    | G    | -   |
| IV   | -   I | IV    | -   I  | IV    | -    | bIII | -   |

Next phrase prolongs the tonic for three extra measures, then in the fourth measure comes yet another solo-fill. This one was a frequent element of the stage-version (not before the album release). Note the rhythm as the drums shift the accents. Following the drums, try to count along (slow down the record if necessary) the 1/8 beats like 9 + 8 + 7. This is another case of shifted accents that we met several times in other Queen songs, but in contrast with all other examples this time the downbeat is shifted forward.

 9/8     4/4    7/8
| E5   | -    | -    |
| I    | -    | -    |

Now come two more or less identical guitar solo fills. These are parsed as approximately 9/8 and a 10/8 long measures, but its rhythm doesn't follow the metric frame (eighths and fourth beats).

| 9/8   | 10/8  | 4/4   | 7/8   |
|   No chord    | E5    | -     |
|  guitar fill  | I     | -     |

| 9/8   | 10/8  | 4/4   | 7/8   |
|   No chord    | C5    | -     |
| guitar fill   | bVI   | -     |

Next phrase is square eight measures long and prolongs the tonic (power)chord. After a 9/8 measure (3+2+2+2) we have consecutive 4/4 measures.

 9/8     4/4...
| E     | -  (D)  | -     | -     | -     |  -    |  -    | -    |
| I     | - (bVII)| -     | -     | -     |  -    |  -    | -    |

Next two measures have a nice mirror-type counterpoint between two guitars (and bass) with many chromatic steps (the mirroring is not perfect). Both descending and ascending parts start from the same note and go into octave "harmony" on the downbeats.

| E D C# C | B A# A G  | E
| E G A  A#| B C# D D# | E

The last phrase before the solo guitar section is almost identical to the first phrase of this connector section.

| A5    | -  E5 | A5    | -  E5 | A5    | -     | G5    | -     |
| IV    | -  I  | IV    | -  I  | IV    | -     |bIII   | -     |

The drums hold a pause in the first two measures, which foreshadows the fragmentary drumming that will characterize the next section.

Guitar solo
This section has mainly two big parts with the second one being the canon, but now let's see the first subsection, without the delay and also without bass.
For start Brian increases the tempo, which makes this solo even more powerful. One second is equal to the length of 11/16 measure. On early (up to around 1977) live versions you can hear Brian May playing a well-trained one measure long pentatonic lick repeated, where this tempo is held in a "continuous mode", so he really plays eleven 1/16 notes in one second.

Very strange that this incredibly powerful solo (the album version) was played by a man who'd just come out of the hospital and still felt very sick and weak. The chopped tremolo picking (|***** **|***** **|...) is something we saw already in "Keep Yourself Alive", and the "Blag" solo also included it (not exactly like here though). That kind of tremolo picking became a frequent feature of early Metallica songs. The next coming pentatonic riff also originates in "Blag". Measure 1 will be where the tremolo picking starts. Most of the time the solo is in 4/4.
The drums are active in measures: 2-6 and 8-11. In measure 11 where the drums stop we have a 3+3+3+3+3 pattern, wherefore the drums join in for two measures again (slightly off-beat) then the guitar tune breaks free from the 4/4 again and the drums go percussive. The closing tremolo picking pattern also follows non-4/4 pattern:

* ***** *********xA   ...  * *** *** *****A  ...  E
                                         (IV)    (I)

Guitar solo II (the canon)
3:20 - 3:23 the solo starts with antiphonal tremolo picking.
3:24 - 3:30 tremolo picking, three octaves long (E-E) rising pentatonic scale. The two-part harmony goes like this:

E G A B D E G A...
E G A B D E...

As you can see it is dominated by open fourths. This part was usually played in the live versions.
3:30 - 3:34 : Pentatonic figure; the two parts do go into harmony.
3:40 - 3:46 : Half-step dissonance (over a pedal point). This figure was usually omitted, but Brian included it in his 1998 tour concerts.
3:57 - 4:04 : Three and a half octaves long pentatonic descending scale (B-D). Harmony intervals see above.
4:07 - 4:19 : Incredibly finely performed pentatonic figures, but the parts don't harmonize. The 4:16- part is interestingly antiphonal-like.
4:20 - : 3+3+3+3 pattern where the canon period-time is 4 eighth beat causing interference. This is something Brian will exploit more powerful on stage and also in 'The Prophet's Song' (sung by Freddie Mercury). I don't know any precedents for the use of this clever gambit in a canon.
4:21 - edit point. A four measure closing phrase begins. Bass and drums enter in measure 3 and 4 respectively.

The outro is preceded by a spacer with Bsus4 chord vamping. The beat becomes shuffled, holding the length of eighths constant. This Spacer is played in the Live Killers version but omitted in many other performances. The outro itself has AAA' form. The rhythm is very disorienting. The guitar figure is pentatonic. The rhythm figure of the two-measure A phrase:

1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4
************* * * *

The last phrase (A') closes on a second beat with a E7add#9 chord (a.k.a "the Jimi Hendrix chord").

Live Versions

The live versions of "Brighton Rock" form-wise were following the album version: intro, verse, verse, chorus, solo (without and later with the delay), half-verse, outro. For the Magic Tour the first sections were dropped, and Brian started with the solo itself. On stage Brian used two delays to be able to create three-part harmonies. Without this it was difficult to bring any guitar harmonies to stage.
The solo section was never played twice the same way. There were motifs that appeared and stayed in the solo for years and others were dropped. The work-out of these motifs was varying night-by-night with many impromptu parts, which occasionally suffered from the "trial and error" effect.

Live Killers
It's a 12 minutes version completed with a timpani solo by Roger.

1:57 : between the two solo fills Brian plays the "Hendrix" chord (which is, in fact, not Hendrix's invention) E7add#9
2:28 : until this point (where the delay is switched on), there is no major modification in the music compared to the studio version.
2:38 : This section appeared around 1979 and in varied form stayed in the solo until the last tour. It is characterized by a pumping 8/8 bass (guitar) figure on F#. Brian exploits the delay in order to sustain the bass notes until he is busy playing figures on higher strings.
2:40 - 2:46 : Brian plays just a few notes and the delay makes them interfere, which sounds very interesting. It's stereo on the CD (middle-left-right), the same effect on stage was achieved by putting the amplifiers left, right, and in the middle.
3:03: it's the first fill where the parts go into harmony. Note the drums and the bass participating much more throughout the solo than in the studio version.
3:09 - 3:16 An arch-shaped Dorian scale (omits 6th degree and adds flat-5th degree upwards) spanning two full octaves.
3:16 - 3:28 The next section appeared in 1979, and also can be heard in the Wembley-version (1986). It's a hocket created by the canon parts. Follow the scheme below where the numbers refer to the scale degrees of the (F#) Dorian mode used here:

 main  : 1 1 1 3 1 1 4 1 1 5 1 1 6 1 1 7 1 1 8 1 1 9 1 1 10 1 1 9 1  1 8 1 1  7 1 1 6 1 1...
delay 1:         1 1 1 3 1 1 4 1 1 5 1 1 6 1 1 7 1 1 8 1 1  9 1 1 10 1 1 9 1  1 8 1 1 7 1...
delay 2:                 1 1 1 3 1 1 4 1 1 5 1 1 6 1 1 7 1  1 8 1 1  9 1 1 10 1 1 9 1 1 8...

The sum of these consists of a pumping pedal note (note: it jumps an octave higher in the middle), and the interference of the treble notes results in a hocket:

sum    :       3     4 3   5 4 3 6 5 4 7 6 5 8 7 6 9 8 7 10 9 8 9 10 9 8 9 10 7 8 9 6 7 8 ...

Note how the second half is the mirror image of the first. (do not mix up with the grab canon concept)

The Wembley-version features something like this with major chords (instead of single notes) and without the pumping bass.

3:46 Brian uses the fader on his guitar to generate an overlapped "fade-in - fade-out" effect (chords: i and bVI). On the Wembley version he used this effect more strongly.
4:00 - 5:43 Roger performs a timpani solo on two instruments. It does not have a metric frame or a driving concept.
5:48 - 6:02 After Roger's interlude begins the second part of the echo-solo. Its first section is introduced with E5 and D5 chords (i5, VII5).
6:06 - This section in variant form also was a steady part of the live solos. It is characterized by the Aeolian scale omitting the flat-6th degree in order to avoid dissonance in the harmony.
6:36 - 6:54 Brian raises the third degree resulting in a E-major scale. For the end of the arch shaped-figure the third is flat again.
6:54 Again the pumping bass note trick that enables Brian to play pentatonic figures on the treble strings.
7:04 Again the interference-trick
7:15 Arch-shaped Aeolian figure omitting the sixth degree.
7:37 Arch shaped triadic figure outlining a E-major (I) chord. The arch arrives on G which means a modulation (note G is the enharmonic key of E-Aeolian).
7:57: It's very similar to what Brian has just played in E-major, now in G-major.
8:17 The figures outline a Bbm (III of g) chord, then comes an ascending g-Aeolian figure this time with the sixth degree, and finishing on F resulting in a F-Mixolydian (or Bb-major) flavor.
8:43 Again a section that in variant forms appears tour-by-tour in the Brighton Rock solo. It switches the key to B-Aeolian (with omission of the sixth degree), the beat becomes shuffled. Again we have the alternative play between the bass and treble figures.
9:01 - drums join in crescendo; then the bass. The delay is still on.
9:28 - Again the play with the pumping bass and the treble figures. We are still in B-Aeolian.
9:44 - Brian raises the third again and plays a three octaves long rising triadic figure again, this time in B-major. Note that the shuffle beat is over.
9:59 - 10:20 Bass and drums stop and Brian plays falling triadic figures (referred below as horizontal chords) that interfere with each other to create nice suspended 4th dissonance, resolved to minor thirds:

    chords: E           D        C        Bb       F        C        Cm
            B  G# E  B  F# D  A  E  C  G  D  Bb F  C  A  F  C  G  E  C  G  Eb Bb ...
   echo 1 :    B  G# E  B  F# D  A  E  C  G  D  Bb F  C  A  F  C  G  E  C  G  Eb ...
   echo 2 :       B  G# E  B  F# D  A  E  C  G  D  Bb F  C  A  F  C  G  E  C  G  ...
   harmony:       E  E  B  Bm D  A  Am C  G  Gm Bb F  F  F  F  C  C  C  C  Cm Eb
(vertical chords)      sus4     sus4     sus4     sus4        sus4

The same sequence written in a more visual way:

         B   B   B   A   A   A   G   G
         G#  F#  F#  F#  E   E   E   D
         E   E   D   D   D   C   C   C
chords:  E Bsus4 Bm  D Asus4 Am  C Gsus4...

The first four "horizontal" chords are stepwise descending major chords. During these chords the echoes create a lovely spiral harmonic progression: the descent is circulating around the three parts. The same harmonic situation occurs periodically one step lower. We saw something similar in the intro chord progression of "Death On Two Legs" (with half steps) and also in "Now I'm Here".
This figure was included in the Wembley version twice, the second time with somewhat different approach and different horizontal chords: F > Cm > Bbm > Abm > Gb > Absus4 > F
It is interesting that in spite of the different horizontal chords (minor chords instead of major), the vertical chords follow mainly the same pattern as in the Live Killers version:

F > Csus4 > Cm > Eb > Bbsus4 > Bbm...

Sus4 horizontal chords would also create this effect

10:21 The above described figure is closed by a downward scale: C-Aeolian, omitting the sixth degree.
10:48 - 10:55 Brian raises the third again and executes a canon-harmonized rising scale through three full octaves. Simplified scheme:

       ...C D E G G B C D E G G...
              C D E G G B C D E...
                  C D E G G B C...
vertical chords:  C G C G C G C

As you can see the harmony is oscillating between two chords (V and I). This oscillation is continues after this sequence as Brian May plays these two chords alternating. Similarly oscillating canon-harmonies are found in "The Prophet's Song" and also in "My Fairy King".

11:05 Tremolo picking on F with a hint that this note is going to be the root of the next figures. The next figure is a pentatonic scale (minor mode). This scale closes with a figure around a Bb chord with 3+3+3+3... rhythm, while the bass plays pumping "pedal" F.
11:30 The song ends with an Intro'| half Verse' | Outro sections like the studio version does.

Briefly about other versions
In 1977 the Brian included in his solo the famous canon tune "Frère Jacques" also known as "Brother John".
In an 1984 solo Brian switched to triplets for some measures.

Canon tricks
Let's summarize the unusual features of the canon part:

- hocket canon (both the melody line and the pedal bass are created by hockets)
- changing key/tonal center
- using 3+3+3+3 pattern while the delay time is '4' in order to create interference.
- creating spiral chord progressions
- creating oscillating chord progressions
- shuffled beat
- triplets
+ changing "normal" canon to three-parted antiphonal canon. This is used only in "The Prophet's Song".

More on hocket-canons:
Hockets and canons were popular in the 14th century. G. de Macheaut (c.1300-77) is said to have written hocket-canons.

Extreme (Nuno Bettencourt): Flight of the Bumblebee: a really impressing snd further developed use of the technique.