One Track Mind: Queen, “Sheer Heart Attack” from Queen on Fire: Live at the Bowl (2013)

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Too often, Queen has become the sum of its over-stated parts — the operatic singer, the layered vocals, the anthematic balladry. What’s lost is the group’s ability to unleash round house after round house of knuckle-sandwich heavy rock.

“Sheer Heart Attack,” from today’s Eagle Rock release Queen on Fire: Live at the Bowl, underscores just how dangerous Queen always could be.

Sure, far more familiar favorites are sprinkled throughout this sprawling 170-minute concert, recorded in 1982 at the UK’s Milton Keynes Bowl — from “We Will Rock You” to “Somebody to Love,” from “Bohemian Rhapsody” to “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” even “Flash.” Deeper in, you’ll find a second disc with interviews, bonus music from performances in Tokyo and Vienna that same year, and a stirring photo gallery of images.

But I kept going back to the set’s muscular performance of “Sheer Heart Attack,” a deep cut off Queen’s 1977 album News of the World that simultaneously threw a sharp elbow at the then-nascent punk movement even as it mimicked the genre’s immolating abandon. The track was, back then, a flurry of sound, almost out of control, as pulse-quickening as its title promised — everything that the far more popular “We Are The Champions” from the same album could never be, and the song I pointed to when someone said “Queen can’t rock.”

If anything, this live version from five years later is all of those things, and more. Drummer Roger Taylor, who wrote the tune, plays with a machine gunner’s attention to destruction, while guitarist Brian May unleashes a series of perfectly tornadic screeches. For Freddie Mercury’s there’s no time for his patented theatrics; he’s got to focus every bit of his energy — as does bassist John Deacon — just to keep up with the track’s furious pace.

Eventually, the other three congregate around Taylor as “Sheer Heart Attack” dissolves into a scorching, cathartic, utterly amazing cauldron of noise. Quite honestly, you’ll never hear Queen the same way again.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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