A Day at the Races is my forgotten Queen album. I didn’t buy it on vinyl and I didn’t buy it on cassette so apart from the singles that were on Greatest Hits, which I listened to ad infinitum, a lot of the songs seem unfamiliar to me even now. Even after having owned it on CD for over a decade or so it doesn’t get much play time. Why is this?
Well I find that in its totality it is a difficult album to listen to. A lot of the songs are rather messy in their composition and the eclectic whole is less than the sum of its parts.
Songs that some Queen fans frequently laud leave me rather unimpressed and that includes their opener “Tie Your Mother Down” with its overly long intro which connects it to the end of the last song on the album and starts with a gong reminiscent of that used on the end of “Ogre Battle”. “Tie Your Mother Down” is supposedly an air guitarist’s wet dream but I find it to be a rather silly, as silly for instance as “Take Your Daughter… to the Slaughter” by guitar heroes Iron Maiden, and overly long song.
It didn’t do well in the UK charts when it was released as a single and so wasn’t on my version of the “Greatest Hits” album, but was included in countries where it charted a little more favourably and has been on countless compilations since.
“You Take My Breath Away” is a rather long and slow number. It’s too slow, lilting for me and not a patch on the previous albums “Love of my Life”. The looped echoes in the song don’t add anything to the track in my opinion and seem like a gimmicky effect from the previous album. I much prefer this stripped down version performed prior to the release of the album at Hyde Park in 1976 – it’s much simpler, cleaner and more heartfelt before being put through the studio mangle.
“Long Away” is a bit of a folky feeling flop of a May song with him singing and playing some quite nice guitar. The tune never seems to get anywhere and I find myself waiting for it to end so we can get to “The Millionaire Waltz” which seems to be partner to “Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy” which appears later on and is one of the only familiar tracks for me on the album.
“The Millionaire Waltz” is about Queen’s new(ish) manager at the time and is far nicer than “Death on Two Legs” about their previous manager. Deacon’s bass guitar gets centre stage in the first section of the song before a typical Queen trick featuring a change in tempo with a shed load of May guitar and multi-layered vocals al a “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
However unlike “Bohemian Rhapsody” the songs constituent parts never seem to really gel together and this is perhaps one of the songs that led to detractors saying that their stuff was over-produced. I would’ve preferred it if the song didn’t dance around tempos quite so much and concentrated on the waltz elements.
It comes across quite nicely live, where you get some live experimentation and visual performance from the band:
“You and I” was written by John Deacon and he plays acoustic guitar on the track. Again for me the song is a little too laid back for me although I like Freddie’s vocals on this track.
For me “Somebody to Love” is the best track on the album by some distance. It is perhaps the best example of Queen’s technique of multi-tracking the three singers vocals to form a choir of great vocal range. In this case the vibe is gospel and Freddie’s lead vocals are bloody awesome. I defy you not to want to sing along or air-guitar to may’s brilliant guitar solo. This track certainly makes up for the mundanity of some of the other tracks on this album, which I feel had a hard act to follow after the other Marx Brothers inspired title A Night at the Opera.
“White Man” is about the suffering of Native Americans, but I’ll always prefer Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills” if I want a rock song about this particular subject. In places it’s almost as heavy as Maiden’s ditty, but for me the song leaves a bitter taste given Queen’s awful decision to play Sun City in South Africa in the Eighties, and don’t get me started on May and Taylor (I refuse to call them Queen) playing for Mandella’s 90th birthday celebration.
“Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy” is the second best track on the album in my obsessed-with-the-Greatest-Hits-album addled brain. The song seems to be very quiet on my CD of the album and then increase in volume halfway through. May’s guitar is playfully wha-wha-ing while Freddie displays ragtime campness usually reserved for live performances. ‘Dining at the Ritz, we’ll meet at nine’ and the subsequent count up and triangle chime is divine dahlings! Love it.
“Drowse” is Roger Taylor’s spot on the album and he plays most of the instruments apart from a bit of slide guitar from May. He’s a bit tired after driving his car around on the last album and the track is laid-back and a little bit Bowie with its first person storytelling.
For “Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together)” Freddie sings to us in Japanese – he’s only here to entertain us after all and the end of the track connects with the instrumental intro on the first track of the album. It’s a typical plodding May composition until it finally gets rocky about two thirds of the way through. Having read Murakami’s 1Q84 it’s interesting to hear references to the moon in the lines – ‘The same moon shines… for both of us and time is but a paper moon.’ I think the fact it is partially in Japanese alienates me a little, but it is interesting to hear what sounds like the voices of a bone fida choir (rather than multi-tracked vocals from the band) towards the end of the track.
I have made a mental note to give this album a bit more play time when this marathon’s all done and dusted, but I told myself the last time I did my A to Z journey through my CDs (this is my third or fourth time around and first time blogging about it) and it never happened.