by Joe Jamnitzky
It’s Axl Rose’s favorite Queen album. Billy Corgan has gone on record as saying it was an album that changed his life. Steve Vai once stated that it was one of those pivotal moments in terms of influence on his guitar playing. It’s listed in the book 1,001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
Yet, for all this praise from well known musicians, Queen II, Queen’s second (obviously) album continues to be one of their lesser known works, seeming to remain on the outer fringes of their body of work, even 40 years after the initial release. To this writer, who didn’t even discover it until the 90s as a teenager, it’s one of the bigger travesties in rock music.
In a way. it’s easy to see why it “slipped through the cracks”, so to speak. The first album didn’t sell so well, with Queen not having yet developed their sound into what it would eventually become. Their third album, Sheer Heart Attack, would gain them worldwide recognition, thanks to “Killer Queen” landing in the top 10 here in the USA. With these two factors, their second album would end up lost in the shuffle (the fact that Sheer Heart Attack was released the very same year didn’t help any).
So, just what do we have here then? Well, basically you have an album that is a straight up hard rock album, almost metal on some songs, with a prog leaning thanks to being overblown and bombastic at times. “How is that different from a lot of the stuff Queen has put out?”, you may ask. The answer is not quite obvious and yet sticks out all the same time; the sound, while quite familiar, had yet to be tempered with the arena-ready, sometimes pop sensibilities that the band would bring to the fore on their next album. This is Queen at their heaviest and darkest here, folks. Yes, they would have even heavier and darker moments, but those moments would be spread out, not contained on just one album.
When first released, rather than use the normal “Side One” and “Side Two” labeling, they instead went with the titles of “White Side” and “Black Side”. The “White Side” was composed of separate songs, mostly dealing with themes of an emotional nature. These songs include “Father To Son” (hands down one of the best known tracks not familiar to casual Queen listeners), “Some Day One Day” (Brian May’s first lead vocal on a Queen album), and “The Loser In The End” (sung by Roger Taylor, and featuring some insane drumming during the fadeout that needs to be heard to be believed).
Meanwhile, the “Black Side” runs almost as an entire medley, having dark medieval themes throughout. “Ogre Battle”, with backwards opening and pummeling guitar and drum sound, is a perfect example of this, while songs such as “The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke” (itself being based on an actual painting of the same name) and “The March of the Black Queen” (a complex song featuring different time signatures) speak for themselves. The combination of heavy music, complex rhythms, and fantasy themes would go on to be an influence on many heavy metal bands in the 70s and 80s.
Then there’s the final song on the album, “Seven Seas Of Rhye”. While still containing the fantasy themes of the songs before it, this track would be a true defining moment for the band. The album’s lone single (released in the U.K. only), it would give them their first genuine hit there, as well as their first Top of the Pops appearance. It would also be the song that would foreshadow the things to come, showcasing their ability to combine complex piano playing, signature harmonies, and instantly recognizable guitar sound with their pop sensibilities, all within three minutes. The groundwork was officially laid, and would be followed through on their next album.
Before ending this article, a special mention should be made of the album cover. It would go on to be one of their most defining images, when, a couple years later, it was re-created for the opening of their video for “Bohemian Rhapsody”, as well as being updated in their video for “One Vision”.
When it comes down to it, this is an album that, despite its status as being a cult album, really deserves more notice now than it’s ever had, especially 40 years later. For anyone with even a passing interest in the band, it’s highly recommended. It may not have any familiar tracks, but give it a chance and you’ll find that it’s an amazing rock album, with “Seven Seas of Rhye”, “Ogre Battle”, “The Loser in the End”, and the truly brilliant and underrated “Father to Son” being some of the best tracks the band has ever released.
Not many albums tend to have an important place in a band’s history and growth while also being forgotten. This is one of those, though…and it’s time to change that.gdlr_rp