News of the World is another Queen album that I originally owned on vinyl. It had a magnificent gatefold sleeve featuring the science fiction artwork of Frank Kelly Freas and is one of my favourite album covers of any band. A giant robot with a rather blank expression seems to be wreaking havoc at a Queen concert. The drip of blood on the index finger of the giant robot is subliminally unnerving. Licensed to Ill by the Beastie Boys with its crashed plane is another impressive gatefold, but that’s not what this post is about.
News of the World is an album of two halves and of course in its original format that’s exactly what you got – the first side is a lot more energetic, aspirational and rocky, the second side is slower, more thoughtful maybe and a lot more self-indulgent. It’s like side one is for the fans and side two is for the band.
“We Will Rock You” is two minutes of rock chant genius written by May with the express purpose of using it in concert to get some crowd participation. It certainly gets you clapping and singing along and is a crowd pleaser ahead of the likes of “Radio Ga Ga” and on a par with the next track “We Are the Champions”. The guitar solo, introduced with an ‘alright’ from Freddie, is one of my favourites and I like the ages of man narrative of the lyrics.
“We Are the Champions” was supposedly already written before the other songs on the album. In my youth I always mis-sang the ‘and I ain’t gonna lose’ as ‘and I am gonna lose’ which made little sense to me. I always want Freddie to finish the song of with the line ‘of the world’ but he never does, at least not on this studio version, but he did sometimes when they played it live, I think. “The Show Must Go On” recorded in the twilight of the band seems to me to be closely associated with the sentiment of this song. To me it seems rather than a smug song of triumph to be a song about keeping on trying in the face of adversity and that’s why when it’s played at sport’s events I always think it is being played to try and cheer up the losing team rather than the winners, or maybe I’m just over-thinking it…
“Sheer Heart Attack” really should have been on the album of the same name, but it wasn’t finished back then which is why it appears two albums down the line. How cool would it have been if it had appeared in this form on that album? Anyway it’s a great track and supposedly reworked to snub the punk movement that the band saw as a flash in the pan. Freddie Mercury’s and Roger Taylor’s vocals work really well together. There’s a real driving impetus to the track and the noisy feedback laden portion of the track has a real ‘fuck you’ to it with Taylor’s drums and the chopped end is great. This live version is a little different:
“All Dead, All Dead” written and sung by May follows his usual themes of melancholy and regret. Now I know this was inspired by dead pet cat rather than a woman I’m even less of a fan of this track than I was before. I guess the giveaway is the line ‘and now my little friend, all dead and gone’. While I sympathise with anyone who has lost a pet, I don’t think you should really write a song about it and certainly don’t put it onto an album. It’s a real downer after the last track but leads nicely into the next track, since as we know Sammy was low…
“Spread Your Wings” is unusual in that it’s the first single not to have any backing vocals, despite Roger Taylor appearing to provide them on the video. It’s one of their best story songs about wanting to get out of a shitty life and move somewhere else. For me as an unhappy schoolkid living in a lonely town and dreaming of being old enough to leave, it spoke volumes of truth. The Emerald Bar for me was every crappy low paid job I had, my untrustworthy school friends and my divorced parents. It’s no surprise therefore that for a long time it was my favourite track on the album. Again a later track in the form of “I Want to Break Free” has similar sentiment although that is obviously more about a relationship than a situation.
“Fight from the Inside” is another Roger Taylor outing. As well as the drums, he also plays rhythm and chugging bass guitar. I think this is one of his best Queen outings and showcases his vocal talents excellently. It’s very American sounding to me and wouldn’t be out of place on The Game following “Dragon Attack” for instance. The track gets a mention from none other than Slash in terms of inspiration for his work; high praise indeed and I imagine can hear hints of G ‘n R in the track.
“Get Down, Make Love” is an overtly sexual number more thematically akin to the more dance orientated stuff on the Hot Space album. Slow sleazy sections are interspersed with more up-tempo driving rock. There’s still no synthesizers used – the sound effects are all created by May’s guitar and various bits of distortion kit. I’m a big fan of this track although I’m always a bit embarrassed by it when listening to the album in company. While I’m a big fan of Trent Reznor and I’m pleased he covered it with NIN, I am not a big fan of the cover; and you should know by now how I like my covers. For instance I think “Stone Cold Crazy” by Metallica is excellent – they change up a few lyrics, boost the drums and the guitar work, but essentially stick to what makes the track work. Reznor on the other hand seems to have missed the underlying funk rock nature of “Get Down, Make Love”.
“Sleeping on the Sidewalk” is another May number with him putting on a dodgy American accent to tell the rags to riches story of a trumpet player. The only good point about this track for me is the bluesy guitar playing – to the point where I would rather hear it as an instrumental than have to endure May’s stupid self-indulgent vocals. Swap the trumpet for a guitar and you’ve got an autobiographical ditty – yeah we get it Brian, and by the way you’ve never really been ‘fashion able’.
“Who Needs You” uses a trick with the stereo channels used much later by Del Amitri with “Roll to You” where the vocals are confined to one speaker and the music to the other. Okay so it’s not a total separation on the Del’s track, but I have to say something other than ‘I like this track’. The track is a bit too Barry Manalo for me and while it’s not an unpleasant experience listening to it (I’m not as offended by it than the previous track) it’s not high on my list of favourite Queen tracks.
“It’s Late” is somewhat of a grower. I remember not liking this much in my youth, but these days I kind of like the desperation in the vocals and it resonates more now I have notched up a back-story of failed relationships. Apart from the backing vocals and a bit of guitar overlay the track has a grungy live feel to it, like it was recorded in one take at a smoky rock club. May’s guitar work is exemplary and I like the way the track builds to a huge breaking wave of rock towards the end and the rock out ending with the obligatory cymbal work.
“My Melancholy Blues” is a piano based track with no backing vocals and no guitar. It’s a strange choice of track on which to end the album and while it has a very slow tempo it’s good to hear Freddie’s vocals crisp and clear. If the last track was in a grungy rock club then this one is at a jazz club with Freddie sipping on a Martini between verses and playing to a dark half empty room.