Queen: The Making of A Night at the Opera (documentary)

A Night at the Opera is the 4th studio album by British rock group Queen, released in November 1975. Co-produced by Roy Thomas Baker and Queen, it was the most expensive album ever recorded at the time of its release. A commercial success, A Night at the Opera has been voted by the public and cited by music publications as one of Queen's finest works. The album takes its name from the Marx Brothers film A Night at the Opera, which the band watched one night at the studio complex when recording. The album was originally released by EMI in the UK, where it topped the UK Albums Chart for 4 non-consecutive weeks, and Elektra Records in the US, where it peaked at No.4 on the Billboard 200 and became the band's first platinum selling album in the US.

Track listing:

1. Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to…)
2. Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon
3. I'm in Love with My Car
4. You're My Best Friend
5. '39
6. Sweet Lady
7. Seaside Rendezvous
8. The Prophet's Song
9. Love of My Life
10. Good Company
11. Bohemian Rhapsody
12. God Save the Queen (instrumental)

1. Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to...) could only be referred to as Freddie Mercury's hate letter towards Queen's ex-manager, Norman Sheffield, who for some years was reputed to have mistreated the band and abused his role as their manager from 1972 to 1975. However this was later denied in an autobiography by Sheffield published in 2013. Though the song never made a direct reference to him, upon listening to a playback of the song at Trident Studios during the time of album release, Sheffield was appalled and sued the band and the record label for defamation which resulted in an out of court settlement, and this later revealed to the public his connection to the song.

Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to…)

2. Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon is another song by Mercury. He played piano and did all of the vocals. The lead vocal was sung in the studio and reproduced through headphones in a tin bucket elsewhere in the studio. A microphone picked up the sound from the bucket, which gives it a hollow "megaphone" sound. The guitar solo is also reported to have been recorded on the vocal track, as there were no more tracks to record on, as explained by producer Roy Thomas Baker. 

3. I'm in Love with my Car is amongst Roger Taylor's most famous songs in the Queen catalogue. The song was initially taken as a joke by May, who thought that Taylor was not serious when he heard a demo recording. Taylor played the guitars in the original demo, but they were later re-recorded by May on his Red Special guitar. The lead vocals were performed by Taylor on the studio version, and all released live versions. The revving sounds at the conclusion of the song were recorded by Taylor's then current car, an Alfa Romeo. The lyrics were inspired by one of the band's roadies, Johnathan Harris, whose Triumph TR4 was evidently the "love of his life". The song is dedicated to him. When it came down to releasing the album's first single, Taylor was so fond of his song that he urged Mercury (author of the first single, "Bohemian Rhapsody") to allow it to be the B-side and reportedly locked himself in a cupboard until Mercury agreed. This decision would later become the cause of much internal friction in the band, in that while it was only the B-side, it generated an equal amount of publishing royalties for Taylor as the main single did for Mercury. The song was often played live during the 1977–81 period. Taylor sang it from the drums while Mercury played piano and provided backing vocals. 

4. You're My Best Friend was Queen's first single written by John Deacon. He composed it while he was learning to play piano. He played the Wurlitzer Electric Piano (which Mercury called a "horrible" instrument in an interview) on the recording and overdubbed the bass later on. The song was written for his wife. It was also Deacon's first single to hit the charts in the top ten.

You're My Best Friend

5. '39 was May's attempt to do "sci-fi skiffle". '39 relates the tale of a group of space explorers who embark on what is, from their perspective, a year-long voyage. Upon their return, however, they realise that a hundred years have passed, because of the time dilation effect in Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity, and the loved ones they left behind are now all dead. Because the "year of '39" resembles 1939, some have speculated that this is actually a song about the beginning of the Second World War but this is not the case. There are backing vocals by Mercury as well as very high and fairly low harmonies and some falsettos by Taylor. While May sings the song on the album, Mercury usually performed the vocals on it when '39 was performed live in concert.

6. Sweet Lady is a distortion-driven fast rocker written by May. The song is an unusual rock style in 3/4 meter (which gives way to 4/4 at the bridge). Taylor remembers it as the most difficult drumming part he ever recorded. The guitar line later evolved into the fast version of "We Will Rock You".

7. Seaside Rendezvous, written by Mercury, is notable for the "instrumental" bridge section which begins at around 0:51 into the song. The section is performed entirely by Mercury and Taylor using their voices alone. Mercury imitates woodwind instruments including a clarinet and Taylor mostly brass instruments, including tubas and trumpets, and even a kazoo. The "tap dance" segment is performed by Mercury and Taylor on the mixing desk with thimbles on their fingers. Mercury plays both grand piano and jangle honky-tonk.

8. The Prophet's Song was composed by May (working title "People of the Earth"). May wrote the song after a dream he'd had about a great flood while he was recovering from being ill while recording the Sheer Heart Attack album, and is the source of some of the lyrics. He spent several days putting it together, and it includes a vocal canon sung by Mercury. The vocal, and later instrumental canon was produced by early tape delay devices. It is a heavy and dark number with a strong progressive rock influence. At over eight minutes in length, is also Queen's longest song (not counting the untitled instrumental track on Made in Heaven). As detailed by May in a documentary about the album, the speed-up effect that happens in the middle of the guitar solo was achieved by starting a reel-to-reel player with the tape on it, as the original tape player was stopped. The dream May had was about The Great Flood, and lyrics have references from the Bible and the Noah's Ark account.

9. Love of My Life was written for Mercury's girlfriend at the time, Mary Austin, and is one of his most covered songs (there have been versions by many acts). Mercury played piano (including a classical solo) and did all of the vocals with startling multi-tracking precision. May played harp (doing it chord by chord and pasting the takes to form the entire part), Gibson Hummingbird acoustic guitar (which he'd bought in Japan) and his Red Special. Brian May eventually arranged the song so it could be played on an acoustic 12 string for live performances. "Love of My Life" was such a concert favourite that Mercury frequently stopped singing and allowed the audience to take over. It was especially well received during concerts in South America, and the band released the song as a single there. 

10. Good Company was written and sung by May, who provides all vocals and plays a "Genuine Aloha" ukulele. The recording is remarkable for featuring an elaborate recreation of a Dixieland-style jazz band, produced by way of May's Red Special guitar and Deacy Amp. The song is a narrative tale, told by a man who in young age was advised by his father to "take care of those you call your own, and keep good company". In his younger years, the singer follows his father's advice, keeping his friends and marrying a girl named Sally. However, after their marriage, he begins to lose interest in his friends, who gradually disappear. As he grows older, he becomes increasingly skilled at and dedicated to his occupation, working long nights and neglecting his family. Eventually, the man's efforts are rewarded, he begins his own Limited company (which is also a pun, since throughout the rest of the song "company" is used in the sense of companions). Ever more dedicated to his business, he hardly notices as his wife leaves him. The song finishes with the speaker as an elderly man pondering the lessons of his life, which he has no one left to share with.

11. Bohemian Rhapsody was written by Mercury with the first guitar solo composed by May. All piano, bass and drum parts, as well as the vocal arrangements, were thought up by Mercury on a daily basis and written down "in blocks" (using note names instead of sheets) on a phonebook. The other members recorded their respective instruments with no concept of how their tracks would be utilised in the final mix. The now famous operatic section was originally intended to be only a short interlude of "Galileos" that connected the ballad and hard rock portions of the song. During the recording, the song became affectionately known as "Fred's Thing" to the band, and the title only emerged during the final sessions. Despite being twice as long as the average single in 1975, the song became immensely popular, topping charts worldwide (where it remained for an unprecedented nine weeks in the UK) and is now widely regarded as one of the most significant rock songs in history. After Freddie Mercury's death the song was rereleased as a B-side to These Are The Days of Our Lives on 9 December 1991 in the UK and September 5, 1991 in US

Bohemian Rhapsody

12. God Save the Queen was recorded by May in 1974 before their Sheer Heart Attack tour. He played a guide piano which was edited out later and added several layers of guitars. After the song was completed it was played as an outro at virtually every concert Queen played. When recording the track May played a rough version on piano for Roy Thomas Baker. He called his own skills on the piano sub-par at the time. Guitar layering is one of May's distinctive techniques as a rock guitarist. He has said that the technique was developed whilst looking for a violin sound. For tracks like this, he stated he can use "up to 30" layers, using a small amplifier named the "Deacy Amp" built by Deacon, and later released commercially like the "Brian May" amplifier by Vox.


Freddie Mercury–lead and backing vocals, piano, jangle piano, woodwind vocalisations on "Seaside Rendezvous"
Brian May–guitars, ukelele, backing vocals, lead vocals on "'39" and "Good Company", toy koto on "The Prophet's Song", harp on "Love of My Life"
Roger Taylor–drums, percussion, lead vocals on "I'm in Love with My Car", brass vocalisations on "Seaside Rendezvous", backing vocals
John Deacon–bass guitar, double-bass, electric piano on "You're My Best Friend", acoustic guitars

Additional personnel:
Mike Stone–executive engineer
Gary Lyons–additional engineering
John Harris–equipment supervision
David Costa–art direction
Rick Curtin and Brian Palmer–special thanks
John Reid–management

This is a Classic Albums documentary about the making of A Night at the Opera album.

The Making of A Night at the Opera