A Night at the Opera is famously known as the album with “Bohemian Rhapsody.” I bought it simply because of that track, but I realized that Queen’s epic rock opera is only one twelfth of this meticulously detailed masterpiece. When I say meticulous I am referring to many things on this mostly self-produced album, but one thing that gives Queen their signature sound is their barrel of vocal tracks. Freddie Mercury’s powerful vocal chords are complemented by guitarist Brian May’s soft, low harmonies and drummer Roger Taylor’s rough screeches (think Axl Rose’s higher register). Legend goes that the trio spent countless hours perfecting the vocal harmonies of “Bohemian Rhapsody” until their tape had gone clear from the number of overdubs. Other vocal performances of note are “Death On Two Legs (Dedicated to…)” and “Prophet Song” where Freddie Mercury delivers the goods, and “Love of My Life,” which gives anybody with a heart goosebumps.
Although Brian May has to struggle with being the guitarist to a legendary frontman, the album still lets him squeeze out intricately unique sounds out of his homemade Red Special guitar. Just as the band loves to go over the edge with vocal tracks, Brian May has a great technique for multitracking his guitar solos into mini guitar symphonies. The best example is in his George Formby-inspired banjolele tune “Good Company.” Towards the end of the song there is a bridge in which a Dixieland-styled band gets jamming. Except they don’t. What sounds like a big band playing improvised licks is actually several well-thought out overdubs of Brian May’s versatile guitar.
To Queen fans, these trademarks are nothing new (but still very exciting). What makes this album really great is the songwriting variety. All four members write songs and they all have distinct tastes. Roger Taylor wrote the crunching “I’m In Love With My Car” and the quiet bassist John Deacon shows his pop-writing skills with the immortally catchy electric piano track “You’re My Best Friend.” May and Mercury split the rest of the writing credits, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that any member took complete control. The band’s chemistry was conducive to creative collaboration, such as when Deacon learned to play the upright bass for May’s song-tale of a man lost in time-space “’39,” lining up nicely with the song’s folksy arrangement. Mercury also gave May a blank eight bar canvass to play the climactic guitar solo of “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
This creative mix of disparate music genres suggests that this album sounds like a mix CD. Though the tracks all have Hendrixian ingenuity and Beatle-esque arrangements that tie them all together, there is great dynamic to the song order. The album contrasts heavy rockers with playful showtunes and everything in between, almost like a classical symphony. At the very climax is the epic “Bohemian Rhapsody” which takes listeners for many left turns. At the end is the closing guitar arrangement of “God Save the Queen,” a great way of saying “Goodnight, world, we’ll see you next time.”