8th December 2013

From The Vault: Queen – Sheer Heart Attack

George Bailey revisits one of Queen’s most influential albums.


Released 8th November 1974

Long before Freddie Mercury donned the ill-advised ‘tache and steered Queen into cheesy-pop waters, Sheer Heart Attack shocked the music world into the cardiac arrest its title suggests. Coming slap-bang in the middle of that holy trinity of albums, sandwiched between Queen II and A Night at the Opera, this is Queen at the height of their creative powers, when the record inner sleeves were still proudly emblazoned with “no synthesizers!” and their sound was all the better for it.

The fairground music opening may suggest otherwise, but ‘Brighton Rock’ wastes no time in establishing Queen’s stadium-rock credentials with a mouth-watering guitar interlude that’s as sweet as the song’s confectionary namesake. Often extended to fifteen minutes in their live shows, it’s a solo that could only ever be envisioned and performed by May and his wild mane of hair.

The sound is slightly more commercial rock than its predecessor, the fantastical Tolkien-esque ramble with fairies and ogres imbued with black and white symbolism, and ‘Killer Queen’ sees the band at their most accessible. Clocking in at three minutes, it combines May’s rich guitar riffs with the sumptuous harmonies that so define Queen’s sound, all underpinned with Mercury on grand piano. It was the band’s first real hit single, made all the more surprising by the fact it was about how “classy people can be whores as well”.

What makes Sheer Heart Attack such a complete album is the diversity in its sound. The theatrical rock of Queen II hasn’t been discarded completely; ‘In the Lap of the Gods’ kicks off with a screeching high-note followed by warm harmonies and soaring falsettos, all overlaid with dramatic stormy sound effects. Brief ditty ‘Misfire’ couldn’t be further from such an elaborate composition, but its bright melodies contrast perfectly with the aggression of ‘Flick of the Wrist’, a song that launches scathing attacks on the band’s former manager and provides acerbic comment on the industry as a whole: “Prostitute yourself he says, castrate your human pride / Sacrifice your leisure days, let me squeeze you till you’ve dried”. ‘In The Lap Of The Gods… Revisited’ closes the album in emphatic fashion with a powerful harmonic refrain and a cacophony of noise. It’s a fitting end to Sheer Heart Attack, a record worthy of its place in the pantheon of truly classic albums, which rightly appointed Queen into rock royalty.

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