Queen’s other-other Operatic Masterpiece

Q

I watched a video recently by video essayist Polyphonic; who does some great music videos, and he talked about the Queen song ‘Innuendo’. He called it Queen’s other operatic masterpiece. And that’s something I disagree with.

The video in question

I am a huge Queen fan if previous blog posts haven’t already made clear. They still are a solid rock band with theatricality and grace, even if they’ve lost Freddie. The music is, ultimately, timeless. But, Bohemian Rhapsody gets all the praise. Not that it is undeserved. And Innuendo deserves love too. It’s a great song, one of the best. But Queen is more than that. And they made a song that I argue is better than Bohemian Rhapsody.

The March of the Black Queen

Released in 1974 on Queen’s sophomore album, it is an imaginative ride through hard rock, opera, and fantasy. At a beastly 6 minutes, not including the segue into ‘Funny how love is’, it is a song you need to break down in order to really appreciate.

Composition

The first thirty seconds of this song set it up beautifully. A slow, marching piano begins to build up with a Bolero like rhythm. The piano led waltz is interrupted with a sharp, aggressive guitar chord and riff. The piano is struggling to keep control of the proceedings, until a wailing chorus screams into our first lyrics ‘Do you mean it, do you mean it, do you mean it?’. All that is in the first thirty seconds of the song.

Queen’s Magnum Opus

Section One: The Soldier’s Loyalty

The song, as a whole throughout all of its movements, is a game of submission between a soldier, and the titular black queen. Freddie singing as both characters. Verse 1’s lyrics talk about the feelings of devotion to the Black Queen, with a childlike quality. Using a mixture of imaginative creatures and imagery to talk about the feelings of submission, comparing it to lily pools of delight, and ‘going back to heaven and then coming back alive’.

Section Two: The Prisoner’s plea

Verse two discusses what dissent and rebellion will do for her subjects, with the soldier commenting on it. With the pleas from those prisoners in verse three telling this soldier to escape and be free. Though even they admit, despite their dissention, they still have some loyalty to her, suggesting resistance is fruitless.

Section 3: The Fury of the Black Queen

A brusque and steady guitar riff follows, taking the place of the piano that leads us through verse three, and onto verse 4, where we meet The Black Queen. The formidable ruler herself. Mixing both male and female authority, she is a force to be reckoned with. ‘Lord of all Darkness and Queen of the night’ are apt statements. Her men pledge submissive fielty to her, ‘My life is in your hands, I’ll foe and I’ll fie’ is Roger Taylor’s line in the song. He will kill and he will give up his life for her. Freddie, the soldier who sings, also shares his loyalty, with a bit of a sexually charged submissiveness to his pledge.

Section Four: The Soldier’s Plea

And with verse five, that loyalty seems to be tested, as the narrator realises how evil she is, and the outro has the character plead with other soldiers to leave with him, like the prisoner pleaded with him to leave. But, I would assume to no avail. And the song ends with a frantic piano, a mirror to the very start, and a segue into another song.

Queen Fan Art
Really cool Queen Fan Art

Why The March of the Black Queen works

The shared DNA with Bohemian Rhapsody is within the composition. According to Georg Purvis, it is one of two Queen songs (the other being “Bohemian Rhapsody”) containing polyrhythm/polymeter (two different time signatures simultaneously 8/8 and 12/8) and a simpler polyrhythm around the end uptempo section, which is very rare for popular music.

And thematically, this song is not just fantasy. Consider this, the song segues into ‘Funny how love is’, making this song one that covers an abusive relationship, compared to one built on love. In other words, the song is a multi-faceted masterpiece. That said, there is a questionable lyric that I need to discuss with this song.

One of the lines in the song uses the ‘N’ word. The original line sung and the featured on the record is ‘A Little Nigger Sugar then a rub-a-dub-a-baby oil’. The current album release and the official lyric video on the YouTube channel, this line is changed to omit that word, and probably for the right reason. That said, I don’t think it should be changed. It is an awful expression, but the word, in the context of the song, is referring to brown sugar, and not to people of African descent.

Whether or not the line should be changed, I don’t think so. While this is a beloved song, you can’t whitewash the past and ignore these things. The line is in the song. Despite this, the song is brilliant. And deserves to be Queen’s magnum opus. My favourite song of all time.

Related Posts & External Links

Track by Track: Queen II

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Ben

Since 2012, Benjamin Attwood has written for the If you Ask Ben blog.

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