I was about 10 years old, so this was around 1983, and I made the first sale of my artwork. It was a painting I’d done of Jon Pertwee’s Doctor Who. I sold it for $10 to one of my father’s friends in the Labor Party. She wanted to give it to her son who was about my age. What does a kid do when they suddenly find themselves with the princely sum of $10? Buy a Queen album of course.
This was the first record I ever bought. It was a slippery slope from there to a severe case of vynil addiction. If only someone had warned that innocent 10 year old kid that if he bought that Queen record it would lead to an incurable lifetime habit of frequenting second hand record stores at strange hours, of thumbing through well worn record covers trying to find the next LP fix, a lifetime of my cash flowing freely into the waiting hands of the second hand record dealers. But no, no one warned that innocent kid.
I still love this record. I still think it is the best thing that Queen ever did. I am obviously biased but there are a lot of people out there with a similar opinion as mine. When I think about it I realize that it’s a weird album. It opens with carnival sounds, someone whistling I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside, crowd noises and then it goes into the heavy guitar beginning of Brighton Rock and the first time we hear Freddie’s vocals they are obviously recorded slower to make them sound higher pitched than natural. Freddie then sings two characters, the girl (pitch shifted) and the boy (normal pitch). And we get an extended, crazy guitar solo. All in the first song. At times this record is some of the hardest rock that the band ever did such as Stone Cold Crazy or Flick of the Wrist, but there’s also the goofy 1930s type ukulele-banjo driven Bring Back That Leroy Brown, the slow, haunting and slightly disturbing She Makes Me (Stormtrooper in Stilletos) plus a whole lot of other delights. It’s an eclectic mix.
The thing with Queen is that they were always trying to push the envelope with studio technique and with what genres they could convincingly shift into. When they started they were like some weird mix of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and the Beach Boys. No one else really sounded like them. The harmonies were strong, the drums were solid and that lead guitar playing was so distinctive. No one got a tone out of a guitar quite like Brian May’s.
Sheer Heart Attack still surprises me with how well it hangs together. It’s an incredibly well structured album. There’s a unified sound even with it skipping across genres unexpectedly. Roy Thomas Baker did a remarkable job with the production. I rarely hear production this good even now. It’s like a richly layered cake covered in the best icing you can imagine.
My favourite moment on this album is Tenement Funster, the track where Roger Meddows Taylor, drummer, gets to sing lead. He had a great rock voice with over four octaves, raspy as hell but totally on the money. He was also responsible for all the really high pitched notes on Queen records. People always think that those notes are Freddie but they’re not, they’re Roger.
The main thing that an aspiring musician could learn from Queen is to not be boxed in to just one particular genre or style. Queen’s eclecticism was one of their biggest strengths and it didn’t detract from them having an instantly recognized style nor did it detract from them becoming one of the biggest acts in music history.
So this was the beginning of my record buying. I was never to be the same again. I was almost immediately, at the tender age of 10 years old, a certified LP junkie.