The Development of the ‘Epic’ Queen Sound

Introduction and Methodology

This paper derives from a wider study of British rock band Queen, with a particular focus on their songs written and released between 1973 and 1980 on the albums Queen through to The Game. The aim of the wider study is to identify and analyse Queen’s musical idiolect. This term refers to the musical characteristics or ‘fingerprints’ that mark and define an individual artist’s recorded output (Moore: 2012, 166). Past idiolect analyses have demonstrated that a ‘fingerprint’ may comprise any number and type of musical details, ranging from the textural juxtapositions of Jethro Tull (Moore: 2003), to the idiosyncratic harmonic progressions of the Beatles (Pedler: 2010), to the instrumental techniques of the Police band members (Spicer: 2010), to the common formal structures of Radiohead’s songs (Moore and Ibrahim: 2009). In the case of Queen, one of the key components of the group’s idiolect was the so-called ‘Queen sound’ (de Boer: 1999, 84; Serpick). I have taken this to refer to musical features that are concerned with primarily the performance- and recording-based elements of Queen’s songs, such as texture and instrumentation, recording techniques, and the manipulation of the sound-box[1].

Queen’s practices in the studio have been addressed on a number of prior occasions, notably in a handful of documentaries and articles that involve interviews with producers Roy Thomas Baker, Reinhold Mack and the group members (Cunningham: 1995; Longfellow: 2005; O’Casey: 2011; Promane: 2009). Despite the rich detail one can glean from these sources, they are focused, above all, on the unusual and extraordinary feats of the group, such as Brian May’s imitation of a Dixieland orchestra on his Red Special guitar on ‘Good Company’ (1975), or Freddie Mercury’s ‘megaphone’ voice on ‘Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon’ (1975). There has been much less consideration of the normative elements of the group’s studio practices—what comprises their overall ‘sound’—and thus this paper brings some balance to the Queen-related literature. There is a broader disciplinary aim also. Zagorski-Thomas has recently expounded the need to bring the study of record production and traditional musicology into contact with one another (Zagorski-Thomas: 2014, 1ff). This paper offers a humble realisation of this idea—that is, idiolect analysis (from the musicological side of the equation) can be a useful focal point for discussions of record production; equally, this paper demonstrates that an understanding of Queen’s idiolect is enhanced significantly by documenting some of their studio processes and techniques.

Within this framework, I wish to narrow the study one step further. Rather than simply document the traits of the ‘Queen sound’, this paper will consider how the components of the group’s sonic fingerprint may be understood as ‘epic’. This adjective derives, in the first instance, from Zak’s study of 1970s songs that extended beyond the formal conventions of pop and rock music (Zak: 2008); further, it has been employed in various appraisals of the group in music magazines and critical writing (Barrow and Newby: 1994, p. 91; Gilmore: 2014; Promane: 2009, p. 79). For Zak, the term ‘epic’ has a temporal basis; discussing Led Zeppelin’s output, he argues, ‘the expanded dimensions [of each song] allow time for musical ideas to spin forth, and narrative space for contrasting sections to interact’ (Zak: 2008, p. 348). The Queen-related sources are much less helpful in prescribing the meaning of the adjective. While there are elements of Queen’s songs that could be discussed fruitfully in terms of musical narratives, as per Zak’s work, I am going to use ‘epic’ in an altogether more straightforward manner in relation to the ‘Queen sound’. Specifically, I will argue that the ‘Queen sound’ was built around a number of arrangement and production techniques that fostered an extravagant and grand sense of size in the group’s songs. The first section of the analysis below considers how Queen’s performance and studio techniques encouraged such a reading; the second section of the analysis offers some insight into how these particular traits developed and changed through the early stages of Queen’s career.

Zagorski-Thomas’ notion of ‘sonic cartoons’ provides a useful backdrop for the discussion of Queen’s ‘epic’ sound. He defines a sonic cartoon thus: ‘the idea that a recording provides a schematic representation of a performance, with certain aspects of the reality removed, inhibited, highlighted or distorted’ (Zagorski-Thomas: 2013). He cites Max Martin’s treatment of Britney Spears’ vocal on ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ as exemplary of this idea; the producer mixed a guiro scrape into her vocal track in order to give her voice an exaggerated creak, which in turn, would encourage a listener to hear the heightened emotional content of the song (Zagorski-Thomas: 2014, p. 49). As conveyed by Zagorski-Thomas, it is not relevant so much if Spears’ delivery was or was not emotionally rich; the importance lies in the various means through which this idea is conveyed to the listener. Waksman raises similar issues when questioning the nature of Grand Funk Railroad’s Live Album: ‘can one truly capture loudness on record? Or, can one merely simulate the effect of loudness on record?’ (Waksman: 2013). The analytical implication from these remarks is that the overriding question is, how did Queen convey and represent the notion of an ‘epic’ sound on their recordings? Or, how did Queen create the impression of size? At the heart of the answer lies the further idea that size itself is a relative concept. Accordingly, Queen conveyed the sense of an ‘epic’ sound on their recordings by creating ‘epic’ relationships between the components of their ‘sound’ relative to their surrounding musical and spatial contexts.

Before proceeding to the analysis, it is necessary to make a final qualification. The analytical and interpretative findings were developed through close listening to the Queen tracks through headphones. Given the focus on the spatial dimensions of the songs, it is highly likely that changes to the methodological approach (i.e. listening through speakers) may bring about similar findings, but with different nuances. This is particularly the case with respect to the apparent performance environment, which is shaped almost exclusively by the recording when listening through headphones, but which will be shaped by the listener’s environment too when listening through speakers. Findings pertaining to texture and stereo spread, on the other hand, may be more consistent across the different listening contexts. The overall conclusions should, therefore, be understood as resulting from a specific, but consistent methodological approach.

Instrumental and Vocal Arrangements

Queen’s ‘epic’ sound is evident in five main ways. The first concerns the group’s production and treatment of instrumental and vocal textures. Queen was renowned for the consistent presence of three- and four-part backing vocal sections in their songs, sometimes with two separate three-part arrangements layered on top of each other. As is well told in the Queen-related literature, it was the group’s recording techniques that gave the vocal arrangements their distinct sonic appearance (see, for instance, O’Casey: 2011). Three of the band members—Freddie Mercury, guitarist Brian May, and drummer Roger Taylor—were singers; the three of them would sing each note of each chord into the microphone at the same time. Thus, a three-note chord would be sung by nine voices. Each chord would then be recorded up to four times, with the total arrangement either being spread across the centre of the stereo image or split for the left and right channels[2]. Accordingly, a three-part vocal arrangement could feature up to 36 voices in the mix. Brian May’s guitar arrangements further added to this equation; he consistently layered multiple electric lines into close position harmonies, which would serve to fill out the harmonic layers of the songs.

The foundation of Queen’s ‘epic’ sound lies in these arrangement techniques. It is not simply a case of there often being a large quantity of instruments and voices in the group’s songs, but the rich spectral profile of these parts. This is particularly the case in terms of the vocal arrangements. As can be heard on different recordings, each singer had a different vocal tone: May’s was mellow, Mercury’s was powerful through the middle register, while Taylor’s was thinner and had a piercing quality. Such differences can be heard on, for instance, ‘Leaving Home Ain’t Easy’ (1978), ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (1975), and ‘Tenement Funster’ (1974b), respectively. The combination of the voices thus covered the different segments of the frequency spectrum. Accordingly, by multitracking each part of the arrangement, the group amplified not just one particular sound, but rather a spectrally rich timbre, which could only have been created through this particular recording process. The same kind of idea applies to May’s guitar layering, which resulted in rich overtone structures from three or four separate guitars, as opposed to the same notes being played on one guitar (i.e. as a chord).

What was also crucial was the way in which Queen deployed these rich sonic forces within songs. ‘We are the Champions’ (1977), highlights the group’s typical approach[3].  Between the end of the main verse phrase and the start of the chorus, there is a five-bar pre-chorus, during which the textural density increases significantly. This increase is evident in multiple ways: Brian May switches from ‘clean’ to overdriven electric guitars; Roger Taylor uses the full range of the drum kit, John Deacon moves into the lower register of the bass guitar; and a multitracked four-part vocal choir enters the mix. Furthermore, the textural expansion is not gradual, with the overdriven guitars, crash cymbals, and the low bass guitar notes being heard immediately on the first downbeat of the pre-chorus; the multi-tracked vocals and the floor toms are heard on the downbeat three bars later. Accordingly, there is a sharp juxtaposition between the verse and pre-chorus textures of the song. This idea of juxtaposition is, in turn, important because it provides the first schematic representation of size in the ‘Queen sound’. That is, while the typical Queen texture may be sizable in force and rich in textural density, it is partly perceived as such because the instrumental and vocal parts are placed next to textures that are much less sizable and rich in density. The textures of the ‘Queen sound’, in this context, are thus ‘epic’ in relation to the surrounding textures.

‘Epic’ Lateral and Vertical Relationships

One can observe similar proportionate relationships between the ‘Queen sound’ and the spatial contexts in which it is heard; namely, how the components of the group’s tracks are arranged in the sound-box. Starting with the lateral dimensions of the sound-box, individual sounds tended to be spaced evenly across the stereo image. The final chorus of ‘It’s Late’ (1977) showcases Queen’s typical lateral setup in their songs with rhythm guitar parts[4].  The multitracked rhythm guitars provide a frame to the sound-box, with the separate parts of the vocal arrangements and the tom drums filling in the space towards the central axis of the stereo image. Figure 1 [Image] shows the sound-box arrangement from the final chorus of ‘Millionaire Waltz’ (1976), the texture of which lacks full rhythm guitar or drum parts—here, the extra vocal and harmonised guitar lines fill the space from the centre the sound-box’s outer perimeters. The schematic representation of size in these instances is straightforward: the individual sounds of Queen’s songs appear to leave little lateral space for other sounds, and are thus perceived as big relative to the horizontal dimensions of the sound-box. The examples discussed thus far also provide some insight into Queen’s treatment of vertical height in their recordings, with respect to the stratification of the pitch space (see Moore: 2012, pp. 31-2). Unlike the lateral spacing, one could not claim that there is no vertical space remaining, for this would suggest (somewhat facetiously) the presence of pitches at the limits of auditory perception. Instead, as can be seen in Figure 1, it may be more accurate to suggest that the different layers of Queen’s typical arrangements leave little empty space between the lowest and highest components of the sound-box. Accordingly, within the context of individual songs, a listener may get the impression that Queen has filled in the vertical dimension of that particular moment.

Fig1 Nick_Braae

Figure 1. ‘Millionaire Waltz’ (1976), Sound-box of the final section.

‘Epic’ Performance Environments

The fourth and fifth pieces of the puzzle concern Queen’s treatment of depth within the three-dimensional space of their songs; to a certain extent, these elements tie together the components of Queen’s sound, an idea I will pursue further below. Discussing the concept of space in recordings, Moylan has argued that the sounds of a track may be considered smaller than, compatible with, or larger than the space, or ‘perceived performance environment’, in which they are heard (Moylan: 2012, pp. 179-80). In this corpus of Queen’s tracks, one consistently finds that the songs may be considered compatible with, or larger than their respective performance environments. Accordingly, one can observe much the same schematic representation of size as per above: the sounds of Queen’s songs are of equal or greater proportions to the surrounding space.

The example of ‘It’s Late’ again offers a good demonstration. As already noted, the components of the song’s final chorus fill out the lateral and vertical space of the sound-box; they also fill up the three-dimensional space with ease. There is a degree of depth in the mix—the drums are positioned towards the back of the sound-box, the crash cymbals are further in the background, and the backing vocal arrangements sit behind the rhythm guitars and lead vocal at the front of the mix. But, overall, the three-dimensional scope of the sound-box is constrained. Mynett has observed that reverb is used sparingly when recording the quad-tracked, distorted guitars of contemporary metal, in order to maintain their sonic ‘intelligibility’ in the mix (Mynett: 2012). Although operating in a different musical style, it is not implausible to suggest that similar aesthetics are at play in Queen’s tracks. That is, the vocal and guitar parts are treated with minimal amounts of reverb in order to retain a sense of clarity, which, in turn, allows the richness of Queen’s layered arrangements to shine through. The upshot of this approach is that it further conveys the ‘epic’ sense of size, given that the numerous sounds of Queen’s songs tend to be positioned in reasonably close proximity to the listener: thus, one gets the impression of large amounts of musical activity unfolding in a relatively small environment.

The impression of size is not dependent, however, on dense instrumental and vocal textures. The fifth factor that contributes to the group’s ‘epic’ sound is the ‘staging’ of Freddie Mercury’s voice; Lacasse’s term refers to the ‘manipulation’ of a sound or voice, either timbrally or in terms of presenting it with a given ‘spatial and/or temporal configuration’ (Lacasse: 2000, 4). The opening verse of ‘You Take My Breath Away’ (1976) provides a common ‘staging’ of Mercury’s voice[5].  While there is much to interpret about the lead singer’s vocal techniques, in this regard, two features are notable. First, Mercury’s voice has been treated with reverb with a long tail. This effect gives the impression that Mercury is singing in a moderately large overall environment, such as a concert chamber; further, his voice is heard to occupy this space comfortably[6]. Mercury’s voice is thus perceived as big enough to be compatible with a large space. At the same, the short pre-delay on the reverb maintains the presence of his voice in the mix; indeed, we hear the subtle nuances in Mercury’s singing, as well as his breaths, and we can make out that he is singing at a reasonably low volume. On these counts, one may suggest that Mercury occupies an ‘intimate’ space in relation to the listener (see Moore, Schmidt and Dockwray: 2009). These two ‘staging’ effects foster a dual impression of size: on the one hand, the evocation of a large environment is important in augmenting the apparent scope of Mercury’s voice; on the other hand, the minimal distance between his voice and the listener acts like a magnifying glass or zoom lens insofar as we perceive this vocal force as situated directly in front of us. Mercury’s voice is thus ‘epic’ in relation to both the space around him, and concurrently in relation to the listener’s perspective.

Contextualising Queen’s ‘Epic’ Sound

One can thus note a number of techniques that foster the illusion of size in Queen’s tracks. The five primary techniques include: the juxtaposition of thin and rich textures, wide lateral spread of parts across the sound-box, dense vertical layering of sounds, the presence of multiple sounds in a relatively small performance environment, and the apparent augmentation of Freddie Mercury’s voice. These all revolve around creating ‘epic’ proportionate relationships between the sounds of tracks and their musical and spatial surroundings.

It is important to note that these techniques, in and of themselves, are not unique to the British rock group. Indeed, it is easy to find many comparable examples for each particular trait. The sharp textural juxtapositions betray the influence of Led Zeppelin (e.g. ‘What Is And Never Should Be’) and the Who (e.g. ‘Baba O’Reilly’) on Queen. The layering of identical vocals had been explored as far back as Patti Page’s 1950-single ‘With My Eyes Wide Open, I’m Dreaming’; and the matching and blending of vocal timbres to produce a richer sound is the basic tenet of barbershop singing. Further to this, the staging of Mercury’s voice is typical of balladeers, from Frank Sinatra (e.g. ‘One for my Baby’) to Karen Carpenter (e.g. ‘Goodbye to Love’). And, it is not difficult to find contemporaneous examples of dense arrangements unfolding in a moderately-sized performance environment, from ABBA (e.g. ‘Ring Ring’) to Bruce Springsteen (e.g. ‘Thunder Road’) to Fleetwood Mac (e.g. ‘Don’t Stop’). Thus, all the ingredients of Queen’s ‘epic’ sound can be found elsewhere in popular recordings of the 1970s and earlier.

While further comparative research would be needed to substantiate this point, I would tentatively suggest that what is distinct to Queen is the combination of these ingredients; in a number of Queen’s songs, one can observe many of the traits coalescing in a single demonstration of Queen’s ‘epic’ sound. The end of the chorus section of ‘Play the Game’ (1980) highlights this point[7].  Although the full vocal arrangement is in the mix already, the texture thickens suddenly with entrance of May’s overdriven rhythm guitars at the end of this section. The lateral dimensions of the sound-box also widen at this point; the vocals, drums, bass guitar and piano are positioned in the centre of the stereo image, and thus May’s guitars bringing the outer points of the sound-box into focus. Here, we have a sense of Queen expanding the boundaries of the sound-box, as if the initial space was not big enough to hold the group. Furthermore, the light reverberant qualities of the mix suggest the band is playing in a medium sized space, which Mercury’s voice, the vocal arrangement, and twin rhythm guitars are heard as easily filling. Finally, it is also worth noting the way in which the melodic and harmonic elements expand in shape through this phrase. The penultimate phrase showcases a large upwards leap in the vocal melody; this is matched by the vocal harmonies expanding from a three- to a five-part chord on the word ‘game’. In terms of harmony, melody, arrangement and production techniques, then, Queen conveys a sense of ‘epic’ size, in relation to other sounds of the song, and in relation to the space the group’s music inhabits.

The Development of Queen’s ‘Epic’ Sound

The analysis thus far has demonstrated that it is important to document several of Queen’s studio and production practices in order to understand the ‘Queen sound’ as part of the group’s overall idiolect. In the final section of this paper, I wish to pursue this approach a little further, for it is clear that an even richer understanding of Queen’s studio practices results in a deeper understanding of the group’s idiolect over time. Sharp observers may have noted that all of the examples mentioned thus far were recorded from 1975 onwards; the same observers may also be aware that Queen began their recording career in 1973. By 1975, when Queen made A Night at the Opera, the group had already recorded Queen (1973), Queen II (1974a), and Sheer Heart Attack (1974b). What is interesting about these initial albums in this particular context is that they largely present a different sound, and one that is, arguably, less ‘epic’. In closing stages of this paper, I will therefore consider the ‘Queen sound’ from a diachronic perspective, and offer several ideas on how and why the group developed their particular sonic fingerprint.

‘White Queen (As It Began)’ (1974a), from Queen II, is typical of the sound that dominated the group’s second album, specifically, but is also representative of the group’s approach through much of their first two albums, and parts of their third album.  The instrumental verse and chorus sections are useful for understanding the changes in the ‘Queen sound’[8]. From these sections of the track, one can actually note a number of similar traits to what one encounters in later Queen albums. Specifically, there are sudden changes between highly contrasting textures; and, the sounds of the track are spread evenly across the vertical and lateral dimensions of the stereo image. There is a further sense of expansion and growth at key structural moments (like ‘Play the Game’) with the crescendo in the vocal arrangement (leading into the power chords), and the ascending guitar fanfare figuration (after the power chords). Even from early on, then, Queen was employing arrangement and production techniques that fostered an ‘epic’ sonic style. What, then, was the difference between Queen’s songs in 1974 and Queen’s songs in 1975?

Arguably the most obvious difference is that the later songs showcase a more precise use of reverb on the guitar and vocal tracks. The early Queen arrangements tended to showcase a comparatively lush and washed sound, that reduced both the presence and clarity of the individual components of their arrangements. John Deacon spoke in the 1970s about the group learning about studio processes and techniques—‘[we were] always…very interested in working in the studio, how to get the best out of them’ (Purvis: 2011, p. 47). Although his comments were of a general nature, it is tempting to hear these production changes as reflective of this idea. That is, the group may have developed a better understanding after several albums of how best to use the studio to realise their particular musical arrangements. This idea resonates with Brian May’s comments on ‘Killer Queen’ from 1974, which he regarded as something of a breakthrough, not just commercially, but production-wise as well, due to the clarity of the arrangement (O’Casey: 2011). A primary difference between ‘Killer Queen’ and its predecessors in Queen’s output is that reverb is used sparingly on the guitar and vocal parts of the arrangement, a feature of later Queen tracks also; accordingly, we can view this song as something of a turning-point in the development of the ‘Queen sound’.

The second main difference also concerns the relationship between the sounds of Queen’s songs and their surrounding spatial context; specifically, there is a change in the sonic environment between 1973/74 songs and post-1975 songs. This shift can be understood as a change from a ‘surreal’ setting to a schematic representation of a ‘natural’ setting, to borrow from Brøvig-Hannsen and Danielsen (Brøvig-Hanssen and Danielsen: 2013). In a similar vein to Zagorski-Thomas’ arguments regarding sonic cartoons, the authors make clear that any distinction between these settings is context-dependent and is based on how a listener hears a particular piece of music. Nonetheless, their ‘surreal’ examples tend to highlight instances in which the individual sounds of a song occupy different spatial and acoustic environments; a comparison can be drawn with a ‘natural’ setting in which the sounds appear to be located in a single space. This distinction is useful for understanding the changes in sonic qualities of Queen’s songs. In the early years (1973-1974), Queen’s tracks tend to occupy spaces that may be regarded as ‘surreal’, insofar as the spaces have unclear dimensions and designs, and insofar as the various sounds of a track do not cohere in a unified sonic environment. From the example of ‘White Queen’, one can note that the tom and snare drums have a dead sound connoting a small, dry acoustic environment. In contrast, the ride cymbals and backing vocals have a washed sound that connotes a large, reverberant space. It is seemingly impossible, therefore, that the drum kit, let alone the full band, could be perceived as playing together in a ‘natural’ setting.

It is important to note that the stagings of Queen’s songs post-1975 are no less ‘surreal’ given that the specific sonic constructions of these songs remain acoustically impossible. There is no way, for instance, that a listener could be situated in the apparently medium-sized room of ‘It’s Late’ and hear precisely, if at all, the backing vocal arrangement over the two rhythm guitars and drum kit. What is important, however, is not whether this perceived environment is or is not ‘real’, but the fact that one gets the impression of the entire group situated in a single space. This idea is key to the ‘Queen sound’, more or less, from ‘Killer Queen’ onwards—the fact that the group present a schematic representation of performing in a natural setting, with all the sounds of a song collectively located in that single space. This comes about primarily from two production techniques: the first is the minimal reverb, as noted above, which allows the rich arrangements to retain a clear presence in the mix. The second is the live sound of the drum kit, which in turn creates the ‘natural’ setting in which the other sounds are located. Again, ‘It’s Late’ offers an excellent demonstration of this process in action: other good examples include ‘Death on Two Legs’ (1975), ‘The Prophets Song’ (1975), ‘Tie Your Mother Down’ (1976), ‘Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy’ (1976), ‘It’s Late’ (1977), ‘Jealousy’ (1978), and ‘Play the Game’ (1980), to select a handful of songs from different albums and different styles.

To tie the previous paragraphs together, the changing treatment of these components of Queen’s song was important in the complete realisation of the ‘Queen sound’ and, furthermore, was crucial in bringing the ‘epic’ qualities to fruition. As outlined above, the sense of size in Queen’s song stemmed from the proportionate relationship between the group’s sounds and their spatial contexts. With the ‘natural’ sound of the drums in place, it became possible to perceive Queen’s songs as unfolding within a unified environment, as if the band were playing in the same room together. This provided the spatial context against which the size of the group’s dense and rich textures could be measured. When the spatial dimensions were unclear or ambiguous, the impression of size was thus diminished; it was the ‘natural’ setting, therefore, that allowed for the ‘epic’ qualities of the ‘Queen sound’ to be fully realised.

This raises a final question as to why one can observe a developmental process in the ‘Queen sound’. As mentioned above, the idea of the group learning may be important, but such an idea is rather general. Brian May has offered a more specific explanation (interview with author, 4 September 2014). He noted that the early albums, Queen and Queen II especially, were made to reflect the ‘Trident’ sound—‘the Trident sound was based on everything being damped down, so nothing interfered with anything else…so you had the drums in a little booth all covered in bits of tape so they don’t ring too much…and the guitars, they would put the amp in some place that was very absorbent…the engineers would say, “don’t worry, we’ll put the reverb on afterwards”’. While this particular sound was famous in the early 1970s courtesy of records by David Bowie (e.g. Hunky Dory) and Elton John (e.g. Goodbye Yellow Brick Road), amongst others, it ran contrary to Queen’s desired sound. This was something closer to what Zagorski-Thomas has tentatively identified as the 1970s ‘UK Sound’ (Zagorski-Thomas: 2012); in May’s words, ‘That was completely not what we were about. We wanted to have the natural sounds and ambience. The whole thing about playing as a group is that everything does interfere with everything else’ (interview with author). May further recalled the group having to ‘fight to get their own way’; only in fragments of Sheer Heart Attack and then from A Night at the Opera onwards did the group succeed in ‘getting the drums to be ambient and ringing and getting the live sound to the backing track’ (interview with author). These observations correspond with, initially, the artificial reverb of ‘White Queen’, followed by the precision of ‘Killer Queen’ (a ‘fragment’ of Sheer Heart Attack), followed by the apparent ‘naturalness’ and the consistency of the ‘Queen sound’ from 1975 onwards.

To conclude, it is worth noting that this analysis produces a narrative that is reasonably familiar from the record production discourse, whereby the artist’s increasing control in the studio is a necessary step in being able to realise their musical visions (see, for example, Butler: 2012; Carlin: 2012, pp. 186-203). But what is perhaps notable and important in the story of Queen, and what may be an area of exploration for future analysts, is that these changes in the production of their songs had a significant impact on the group’s idiolect, or signature musical style. And, perhaps, one might argue that this was an important factor in taking the group to the top of the rock world.


I would like to thank Jeff Wragg, who read through an earlier version of this paper, as well as audience members and fellow presenters at the Art of Record Production Conference for making insightful comments and suggestions.


[1] Following Gracyk (1996) there is an implicit distinction here between the features of the ‘Queen sound’ and the structures of Queen’s songs, which may account for harmony, melodic structure, rhythm, and form. It is important to note that such a distinction exists primarily for methodological purposes—in practice, structural elements cannot exist with sound, and sounds must convey some structural idea.

[2] ‘We are the Champions’ (1977) is a good example of the former spatial arrangement of voices; ‘Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy’ (1976) is a good example of the latter spatial arrangement.

[3] I will direct listeners to YouTube recordings of each song and the appropriate timings for each example; the pre-chorus of ‘We are the Champions’ can be heard between 0’28”-0’40” at

[4] ‘It’s Late’—, 5’20”-5’42”. Readers may watch also video representations of the sound-boxes for ‘It’s Late’, ‘Play the Game’, and ‘White Queen (As It Began)’ at

[5] ‘You Take My Breath Away’—, 1’15”-1’33”.

[6] Liu-Rosenbaum makes a similar point with respect to John Bonham’s drumming in ‘When the Levee Breaks’ (Liu-Rosenbaum: 2012).

[7] ‘Play the Game’—, 0’46”-1’03”.

[8] ‘White Queen (As It Began)’—, 2’55”-3’45”.


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Queen. Queen. [CD] EMI, 1973.

————. Queen II. [CD] EMI, 1974a.

————. Sheer Heart Attack. [CD] EMI, 1974b.

————. A Night at the Opera. [CD] EMI, 1975.

————. A Day at the Races. [CD] EMI, 1976.

————. News of the World. [CD] EMI, 1977.

————. Jazz. [CD] EMI, 1978.

————. The Game. [CD] EMI, 1980.