Have Queen Peaked? That's the question.
If they had peaked, I don't think it was with this album sadly.
Tie Your Mother Down
Does this simple, hard rock, riff-based crowd pleaser really need a minute of noodling sound effects at the start? How much better this album would have been if they'd jumped straight in with that punchy guitar riff!
The lyrics are straight out of the Roger Taylor song book of Being Super Cool Man, but it's not Roger. This is Brian May showing him how it's done properly. Yet you can feel that the whole band got behind this track and gave it every inch of their love. Freddie's thinking how great it would sound live, Deacon is doing solid work in the background and Taylor is thundering away. It even gets a MASSIVE Queen-style rock-out ending. Gorgeous.
Best of all, there's clearly more money for production. From now on, Queen's rock tracks will sound ultra-clean, without losing their rock edge (most of the time!). The sound is silky and accessible, rather than the dense and scratchy feel of their earlier songs. So really, this is a watershed moment.
Anyway, there's no point in analysing this one too much. It's a hit single!
You Take My Breath Away
Why is this song a disaster? As has been mentioned, it's got a lot going for it. A grand emotional ballad with Freddie's beautiful voice and piano playing complementing each other perfectly. There's a nice bit of guitar playing and then an FX special ending.
Yet it sounds bloody dull, doesn't it? More like You Drain My Strength Away. There's a couple of possibilities: firstly, it doesn't seem even remotely quirky. There's no sci-fi angle or world-building, all we get is Freddie saying how much he loves someone. Bah.
Secondly, it comes right after Tie Your Mother Down. That's like leading with a strong right fist but following up with a floppy bag of feathers. After the excitement of the opening, all kudos that the album has gained is dissipated.
This one is nice though! A bit like the '39's of the last album, a really good guitar sound and Brian vocals.
It's lacking a decent chorus though, which is probably why it gets forgotten. At least it picks up the pace a bit, which is what this album badly needs.
The Millionaire Waltz
Ooo! Deacon gets put in the foreground for the intro! This one has an absolutely superb bass-line, frilly and complex, that suits the fancy-pants poshness of the track.
Yet again, this is a good effort that ostensibly has nothing wrong with it. Yet it doesn't really have bite, it doesn't have that focus. The rock-out section in the middle simply doesn't fit in the song, although the chorused solo that follows it is very good.
I don't know what they were trying to achieve here. Perhaps they were trying to push further in the direction of Bohemian Rhapsody, but it seems BR is about as far as you can go in that direction. Still, The Millionaire Waltz is dense and musically pleasing.
You and I
I think I've pinpointed the problem with this album - we've had four tracks in a row now without a single chorus. It's all very well playing about with form and style, but people need something to hook on to, so that they can be lead into appreciating the music. This is probably the best track of the four, sincere and upbeat with a cracking pace.
Wikipedia says "The song was never played live." A sad epitaph!
Somebody to Love
See! Stick a chorus in and suddenly you have an absolute masterpiece.
I absolutely adore the gospel harmony on this track, it's brilliant. I'm glad they only did one song like this one, because they absolutely nailed it. Here's the whole of Queen working together and producing something magical.
A big old Brian May Rock Number, possibly one of the heaviest that Queen have done. It's also their first 'issues' song, but it kind of makes sense here. After a gospel song we have a protest song, albeit with guitars 'Massive' rather than 'Acoustic'.
It's all very tight and well controlled, a pretty decent track even if it's not one I can imagine listening to a great deal.
Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy
So here's the third brilliant track on the album and the third single. The gulf between single and album tracks is pretty huge by now. Like the other two, you get the sense of Queen working together on this one, whereas the duller tracks feel more like solo efforts.
Freddie is just so cheeky in this one. Where did he get it from? The good old fashioned school of lover boys! The 'We'll meet at nine precisely' line followed by the backing vocals 'One two three four five six seven eight nine - o'clock' is a moment of camp genius.
It's a classy number too. There's a sense that this lover boy is dripping in money and can take any girl (or boy?) out and show them a fabulous time, darlings!
Drowse, eh? Sums up the album really. Roger Taylor turns up and joins in with the 'Dud' theme of the album tracks by delivering this meandering wiffle - where he literally gives up on the lyrics in the last 30 seconds and starts talking about the stars who he'd rather be.
So this song is about being bored. It's also a recreation of the feeling of being bored. Therefore, it's boring. I don't hate this song, but it's not very good.
It's a touch closer to a Roger Waters Pink Floyd song than his previous Zeppelin-inspired efforts. Is that interesting? No?
Let us cling together! I'd write this track off as well, except it's been going round in my head for weeks and it's the first song I think of when I consider 'A Day At The Races'.
The shift from the minor (sad) key feel of the verse to the upbeat (major) key feel of the is absolutely beautiful; effortless. There's a clinging tension in the opening verse that's resolved in the stadium-friendly chorus. It's good, but it lacks a little bite.
Why is Freddie singing in foreign though? How is anyone supposed to sing along?
Then we get the start of the album again, though it makes a bit more sense here. You may even want to listen to 'Tie Your Mother Down' again. But you'd probably stop after that.
Overall - a complete mess. I really wanted to like this one as much as 'A Night At the Opera', but 'A Day At the Races' has so many failures that it sinks like a crate full of bricks. It's a shame because it drags down three or four great tracks as well.
Do I have to do the bonus tracks? If I must!
Tie Your Mother Down (Backing Track Mix 2011)
Great! I still love these. Although 'Tie Your Mother Down' isn't the most musically varied of songs, which makes it's inclusion here without vocals seem a bit odd. The sleeve notes say that removing the vocals results 'in a strangely unfamiliar take on a much loved Queen classic', so they clearly don't have a clue why either.
Somebody to Love (Live at Milton Keynes, June 1982)
This is brilliant. Freddie clearly adores playing this song and the long, teasing lead-in is a real joy - he gets the crowd cheering just by singing the word 'Can...'!
You Take My Breath Away (Live in Hyde Park, September 1976)
Even having Freddie play this one with a piano all on his own isn't enough to make it interesting.
Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy (Top of the Pops, July 1977)
Why the hell is this included? It's just a mono version of the track with a bit of clapping at the end. Absolutely bizarre!
Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together) (HD Mix)
Why? WHY? Apart from ditching the FX ending, this seems exactly the same to me.
Actually, ditching the FX ending was a worthwhile exercise. Well done team.