The folkiest moment on Queen’s Night at the Opera was still a trip

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I can’t recall the exact date, but I do know it was during Christmas vacation of 1975. I was a freshman in high school, and hanging out at my friend Geoffrey’s house. Some of his friends were there too, and as usual we were listening to music. Geoffrey was especially excited that day, telling us we just had to hear A Night at the Opera, the new Queen album released in November 1975. I, for one, was not overly enthused, as the only song I was familiar with by them up to that point was “Killer Queen,” which was OK but not really my cup of clam chowder.

So, Geoffrey slaps the album he was raving about onto the turntable — and boy, oh boy, did it hook me something fierce! Everybody in the room was floored by Queen’s musical promiscuity, which for most bands would sound forced and phony, but these guys succeeded on every level. We were all literally hypnotized by the strange, powerful sonics streaming forth from the stereo. That evening, I bought my own copy of Queen’s A Night at the Opera, and to this day, it stands as of my favorite albums – with “’39” as an enduring highlight.

Written and sung by Queen’s lead guitarist Brian May, the track is perhaps the only real “normal” song on the record. By that, I mean, it’s a standard folk-rock tune, and would have probably been a big hit single had it been released a decade earlier. Sporting an uncanny resemblance to bands like the Byrds and the Beau Brummels, “’39” blinks and twinkles with to the cackling beat of ringing guitar pickings, stirring rhythms, wistful vocals and chains of pretty melodies.

A relatively cosmic vibe also glazes the track, which accounts for the fact that it’s a mini-science fiction story, dealing with time travel. “‘39” is not the kind of song Queen is typically associated with, but then again, they never did fit into any one set category, so there you go.

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson was born the day Ben E. King hit No. 4 with "Stand By Me" -- which is actually one of her favorite songs, especially John Lennon's version. She's contributed to Lance Monthly and Amplifier, and served as Rock Beat International's associate editor. Paterson has also published Inside Out, and Twist & Shake. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Beverly Paterson
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