By 1977 Queen’s music had mostly been represented by moments of excess: the largesse of Queen II; the multi-layered, echoed rawness of Sheer Heart Attack; the pure weirdness of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and A Night at the Opera with A Day at the Races continuing in much the same vein; and then the Jazz album, whose single “Fat Bottomed Girls” was promoted by a nude bicycle race.
But on News of the World, things changed.
The album kicks (stomps?) off with “We Will Rock You” – that fascist anthem that still serves to unite sporting masses all over the globe – and “We Are the Champions,” “Rock You’s” more bombastic and tasteful little sister. We all know those are two great songs; what isn’t well-known is how many other great songs are on News of the World.
“Sheer Heart Attack” – a song that had been kicking around since the 1973 Queen album of the same name – is in a lot of ways Queen’s answer to the 1977 punk movement in the UK. It’s got chugging eight-note guitars, and a guitar solo that is basically just feedback.
But, as was typical of Queen in the 1970s, they don’t stick with the same style for long. “All Dead, All Dead,” is a somber, piano-based Brian May-penned tune about his dead cat (although it can really be about anything that has died). Here May’s guitar choirs also return from the backseat they had taken in “Sheer Heart Attack.”
“Spread Your Wings” – another piano-based tune, this time written by bassist John Deacon – is a great track about getting away to achieve one’s dreams. Although the song is pretty good in this recorded version, the song really shone when the band played it live, as was heard on Live Killers. When Queen played it live it was at a whole other level, with the crowd singing along with every one of Freddie Mercury’s words.
“Fight From the Inside” is a typical Roger Taylor song, as it’s about rebellious youth (see: just about every Roger Taylor song released before 1977). The song was also sung by the drummer Taylor.
“Get Down, Make Love” is another exercise in noise for Brian May, with the guitar accentuating Mercury’s slightly raunchy lyrics before every instrument explodes in the chorus, with the noise returning again in the song’s odd “middle” section (and remember: no synthesizers!). This song was also eventually covered by Nine Inch Nails.
“Sleeping On the Sidewalk” is a bluesy number written and sang by May, and recorded in one take by May, Deacon, and Taylor. “Who Needs You” is a slightly bossa-nova-tinged track, and arguably the weakest track on the album; the power of May’s guitar here is completely subdued.
“It’s Late” is perhaps the best personification of the band’s 1970s “classic rock” sound, and one of the best songs in the Queen catalog. The song has everything that’s great about the band; a great crunchy guitar riff, Mercury wailing at his lungs’ full capacity, and the great choir-style vocals. How this song never became a hit is beyond me; it was released as a single but was edited due to its running time of 6:26. The solo also features one of the first recorded examples of the “tapping” guitar technique, which May apparently saw done by a guitarist in Texas.
The album’s final track “My Melancholy Blues” – written and sung by Mercury – is another piano number. At first it seems like a throwaway, but is carried through by Mercury’s tremendous vocal talent; Freddie had the great ability to take material that – if sung by another singer – could be considered “lesser,” and make it magical. He didn’t always have to do this, but one of the things that made Queen consistently great was that he could if needed.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5