A Night at the Opera (Queen album)

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A Night at the Opera
Queen A Night At The Opera.png
Studio album by Queen
Released 21 November 1975
Recorded August – November 1975
Studio Sarm, Roundhouse Studios, Trident Studios, Olympic Studios, Scorpio Sound and Lansdowne, London and Rockfield, Monmouthshire[1][2]
Length 43:10
Queen chronology
Sheer Heart Attack
A Night at the Opera
A Day at the Races
Singles from A Night at the Opera
  1. "Bohemian Rhapsody"
    Released: 31 October 1975
  2. "You're My Best Friend"
    Released: 18 May 1976

A Night at the Opera is the fourth studio album by the British rock band Queen, released on 21 November 1975 by EMI Records in the United Kingdom and by Elektra Records in the United States. Produced by Roy Thomas Baker and Queen, it was the most expensive album ever recorded at the time of its release. The album takes its name from the Marx Brothers film of the same name, which the band watched one night at the studio complex when recording.[5][6] A Night at the Opera incorporates a wide range of styles, including ballads, songs in a music hall style, hard rock tracks and progressive rock influences.

The album was a critical and commercial success, topping the UK Albums Chart for four non-consecutive weeks. It peaked at number four on the US Billboard 200 chart and became the band's first Platinum-selling album in the US. The worldwide sales for the album are over six million copies. It also produced the band's most successful single in the UK, "Bohemian Rhapsody", which became their first UK number one and one of the best-selling singles in both the UK and the world. It is often regarded by critics as Queen's greatest album[7] and one of the greatest albums ever made.[8]


Queen performing live during their 1975 "A Night at the Opera" tour

Side one

"Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to...)"

"Death on Two Legs" can be referred to as Freddie Mercury's hate letter to Queen's first manager, Norman Sheffield, who for some years was reputed to have mistreated the band and abused his role as their manager from 1972 to 1975. Sheffield denied the allegations in his 2013 autobiography entitled "Life on Two Legs: Set The Record Straight", and referred to copies of the original 1972 management contracts between Sheffield and Queen, which were included in the book as proof of his defence.[9] Though the song never makes direct reference to him, after listening to a playback of the song at Trident Studios during the time of album release, Sheffield was appalled, and sued the band and the record label for defamation, which resulted in an out-of-court settlement, but also confirmed his connection to the song.[10]

During live performances, Mercury would usually rededicate the song to "a real motherfucker of a gentleman", although this line was censored on the version that appeared on their Live Killers album in 1979. Other than on the live album, he said it was dedicated to a "motherfucker I used to know".

In the Classic Albums documentary about the making of A Night at the Opera, Brian May stated that the band was somewhat taken aback at first by the bitterness of Mercury's lyrics, and described by Mercury as being "so vindictive that he [May] felt bad singing it".[11] After the song came together, it was agreed that the "author should have his way", and the song was recorded as written.[12]

As with "Bohemian Rhapsody", most of the guitar parts on this song were initially played on piano by Mercury, to demonstrate to May how they needed to be played on guitar. "Death on Two Legs" remained on the setlist until, and well into, The Game Tour in 1980, and was then dropped. However, the piano introduction was played during the Hot Space and Works tours.

"Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon"

"Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon" is another song by Mercury. He played piano and performed all of the vocals. The lead vocal was sung in the studio and reproduced through headphones in a tin bucket elsewhere in the studio. A microphone picked up the sound from the bucket, which gives it a hollow "megaphone" sound. The guitar solo is also reported to have been recorded on the vocal track, as there were no more tracks to record on, as explained by producer Roy Thomas Baker during the 'Classic Albums' documentary.

"I'm in Love with My Car"

"I'm in Love with My Car" is amongst Roger Taylor's most famous songs in the Queen catalogue. The song was initially taken as a joke by May, who thought that Taylor was not serious when he heard a demo recording.

Taylor played the guitars in the original demo, but they were later re-recorded by May on his Red Special. The lead vocals were performed by Taylor on the studio version, and all released live versions.[13] The revving sounds at the conclusion of the song were recorded by Taylor's then current car, an Alfa Romeo. The lyrics were inspired by one of the band's roadies, Johnathan Harris, whose Triumph TR4 was evidently the "love of his life". The song is dedicated to him, the album says: "Dedicated to Johnathan Harris, boy racer to the end".

When it came down to releasing the album's first single, Taylor was so fond of his song that he urged Mercury (author of the first single, "Bohemian Rhapsody") to allow it to be the B-side and reportedly locked himself in a cupboard until Mercury agreed. This decision would later become the cause of much internal friction in the band, in that while it was only the B-side, it generated an equal amount of publishing royalties for Taylor as the main single did for Mercury.[14]

The song was often played live during the 1977–81 period. Taylor sang it from the drums while Mercury played piano and provided backing vocals. It was played in the Queen + Paul Rodgers Tour in 2005 and the Rock the Cosmos Tour in 2008. Taylor would again play the song for his concerts with The Cross and solo tours, where instead of drums he played rhythm guitar.

"You're My Best Friend"

"You're My Best Friend" was Queen's first single written by John Deacon. He composed while he was learning to play piano. He played the Wurlitzer Electric Piano (which Mercury called a "horrible" instrument in an interview) on the recording and overdubbed the bass later on. The song was written for his wife, Veronica Tetzlaff. The song was a top 10 hit.


"'39" was May's attempt to do "sci-fi skiffle". "'39" relates the tale of a group of space explorers who embark on what is, from their perspective, a year-long voyage. Upon their return, however, they realise that a hundred years have passed, because of the time dilation effect in Einstein's special theory of relativity, and the loved ones they left behind are now all dead or aged.

May sings the song on the album, with backing vocals by Mercury and Taylor. During live performances, Mercury sang the lead vocal.[15] May had asked bassist John Deacon to play double bass as a joke but a couple of days later he found Deacon in the studio with the instrument, and he had already learned to play it.[16]

Since Queen had named their albums A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races after two of the Marx Brothers' most popular films, surviving brother Groucho Marx invited Queen to visit him at his Los Angeles home in March 1977 (five months before he died). The band thanked him, and performed "'39" a cappella.[17]

George Michael performed "'39" at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert on 20 April 1992.[18] Michael cited this song as his favourite Queen song, claiming he used to busk it on the London Underground.[19]

Recently, Queen have included the song on the setlists of their recent tours with Adam Lambert [20] and before Adam with Paul Rodgers;[21] for all these tours since 2005 it is sung as it is on the album by May.

"Sweet Lady"

"Sweet Lady" is a distortion-driven fast rocker written by May. The song is an unusual rock style in 3/4-meter (which gives way to 4/4 at the bridge). Taylor remembers it as the most difficult drumming part he ever recorded.[attribution needed]

"Seaside Rendezvous"

"Seaside Rendezvous", written by Mercury, is notable for the mock-instrumental bridge section which begins at around 0:51 into the song. The section is performed entirely by Mercury and Taylor using their voices alone. Mercury imitates woodwind instruments including a clarinet and Taylor mostly brass instruments, including tubas and trumpets, and even a kazoo; during this section Taylor hits the highest note on the album, C6. The "tap dance" segment is performed by Mercury and Taylor on the mixing desk with thimbles on their fingers. Mercury plays both grand piano and jangle honky-tonk.

Side two

"The Prophet's Song"

The Prophet's Song was composed by May (working title "People of the Earth"). On the show In the Studio with Redbeard, which spotlighted A Night at the Opera, May explained that he wrote the song after a dream he'd had about a great flood while he was recovering from being ill while recording the Sheer Heart Attack album, and is the source of some of the lyrics. He spent several days putting it together, and it includes a vocal canon sung by Mercury. The vocal, and later instrumental canon was produced by early tape delay devices. It is a heavy and dark number with a strong progressive rock influence and challenging lead vocals. At over eight minutes in length, it's also Queen's longest studio song (not counting the untitled instrumental track on "Made in Heaven").

As detailed by May in a documentary about the album, the speed-up effect that happens in the middle of the guitar solo was achieved by starting a reel-to-reel player with the tape on it, as the original tape player was stopped.

The dream May had was about The Great Flood, and lyrics have references from the Bible and the Noah's Ark account.

"Love of My Life"

"Love of My Life" was written for Mercury's girlfriend at the time, Mary Austin, and is one of his most covered songs (there have been versions by many acts like Extreme featuring May, Scorpions and Elaine Paige). Mercury played piano (including a classical solo) and did all of the vocals with startling multi-tracking precision. May played harp (doing it chord by chord and pasting the takes to form the entire part), Gibson Hummingbird acoustic guitar (which he'd bought in Japan) and his Red Special.

Brian May eventually arranged the song so it could be played on an acoustic 12 string for live performances.

"Love of My Life" was such a concert favourite that Mercury frequently stopped singing and allowed the audience to take over. It was especially well received during concerts in South America, and the band released the song as a single there. When Queen and Paul Rodgers performed the song (specifically Brian solo) he sang almost none of the words and let the audience sing it all, continuing the tradition.

"Good Company"

"Good Company" was written and sung by May, who provides all vocals and plays a genuine George Formby ukulele banjo.[22]

The recording is remarkable for featuring an elaborate recreation of a Dixieland-style jazz band, produced by way of May's Red Special guitar and Deacy Amp. Brian May composed the song on a Banjo ukelele, but recorded the song with a regular ukulele instead. Freddie Mercury was not involved with the song's recording, making it one of the few Queen songs not to feature Freddie Mercury.

Photo of Queen taken from the photo sessions of their second album, which would inspire the look of the music video for "Bohemian Rhapsody"

"Bohemian Rhapsody"

"Bohemian Rhapsody" was written by Mercury with the first guitar solo composed by May. All piano, bass and drum parts, as well as the vocal arrangements, were thought up by Mercury on a daily basis and written down "in blocks" (using note names instead of sheets) on a phonebook. The other members recorded their respective instruments with no concept of how their tracks would be utilised in the final mix. The famous operatic section was originally intended to be only a short interlude of "Galileos" that connected the ballad and hard rock portions of the song.

The interlude is full of "obscure classical characters: Scaramouche, a clown from the commedia dell'arte; astronomer Galileo; Figaro, the principal character in Beaumarchais' The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro...Beelzebub; identified in the Christian New Testament as Satan, Prince of Demons, but in Arabic as "Lord of the Flies". Also in Arabic the word Bismillah', which is a noun from a phrase in the Qur'an; "Bismi-llahi r-rahmani r-rahiim", meaning "In the name of God, most gracious, most merciful".[23]

During the recording, the song became affectionately known as "Fred's Thing" to the band, and the title only emerged during the final sessions.

Despite being twice as long as the average single in 1975 and garnering mixed critical reviews initially, the song became immensely popular, topping charts worldwide (where it remained for an unprecedented nine weeks in the UK) and is widely regarded as one of the most significant rock songs in history.[24]

After Freddie Mercury's death, the song was rereleased as a double A-side to "These Are The Days Of Our Lives" on 9 December 1991 in the UK and September 5, 1991, in US.

"God Save the Queen"

May recorded a cover version of God Save the Queen, the British national anthem, in 1974 before their Sheer Heart Attack tour. He played a guide piano which was edited out later and added several layers of guitars.[12] After the song was completed it was played as an outro at virtually every Queen concert. When recording the track May played a rough version on piano for Roy Thomas Baker, producer, and Mike Stone, engineer. He called his own skills on the piano sub-par at the time.[12] He performed the song live on the roof of Buckingham Palace for the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002.[25]

May has stated that he performed the song on the roof of Buckingham Palace as an homage to Jimi Hendrix's version of "The Star-Spangled Banner".

Guitar layering is one of May's distinctive techniques as a rock guitarist. He has said that the technique was developed whilst looking for a violin sound. For tracks like this, he stated he can use "up to 30" layers, using a small amplifier named the 'Deacy Amp' built by Deacon, and later released commercially like the "Brian May" amplifier by Vox.

Reception and legacy

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[3]
Chicago Tribune 3/4 stars[26]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music 4/5 stars[27]
Pitchfork 8.9/10[28]
PopMatters 9/10[29]
Q (1993) 3/5 stars[30]
Q (2006) 5/5 stars[31]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide 3.5/5 stars[32]
Uncut 5/5 stars[33]
The Village Voice B–[34]

A Night at the Opera was not reviewed by the majority of the UK music magazines when it came out because the band were remixing the album until the last moment, and consequently no preview discs or tapes were sent out to the media before the record was officially released. In Record Mirror & Disc Ray Fox-Cumming attempted to review the album based on a single listening at the playback party held for the press, which he admitted "isn't really enough" to form a proper critical opinion. However, he described his first impressions of "an amazing rush of music with one track running helter-skelter into the next ... The orchestral effects, all done by voices, are dazzling but come and go too quickly to appreciate on a solo listening." Fox-Cumming stated that the album had three highlights — "Death on Two Legs", "The Prophet Song" and "Bohemian Rhapsody" — and only one bad track, "Sweet Lady". He concluded that "as a whole, A Night at the Opera is faster, flashier and more complex than Sheer Heart Attack, but they haven't gone over the top".[35]

On its release in the US four months later Kris Nicholson of Rolling Stone said that although they share other heavy metal groups' penchant for "manipulating dynamics", Queen are an elite act in the genre and set themselves apart by incorporating "unlikely effects: acoustic piano, harp, a capella vocals, no synthesisers. Coupled with good songs."[36] Robert Christgau, writing in The Village Voice, felt that the album "doesn't actually botch any of a half-dozen arty-to-heavy 'eclectic' modes ... and achieves a parodic tone often enough to suggest more than meets the ear. Maybe if they come up with a coherent masterwork I'll figure out what that more is."[34] The Winnipeg Free Press wrote: "The group's potential is practically limitless, indicating that Queen is destined to finally take its place among the small handful of truly major acts working in rock today."[37]

In a retrospective review for AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine called the album "a self-consciously ridiculous and overblown hard rock masterpiece" and "prog rock with a sense of humour as well as dynamics". Erlewine felt that Queen "never bettered their approach anywhere else".[3] Progressive rock historian Stephen Lambe has disputed that the album itself is progressive rock in his book Citizens of Hope and Glory: The Story of Progressive Rock. He wrote: "While far from progressive rock, it was the band's most grandiose and ambitious album yet, full of great songwriting and prog influences." He said the album was "a neat symbol of the furthest reach of the progressive rock movement".[38]

In 1992 Mojo called the album "an imperial extravaganza, a cornucopia", and Queen "a band of hungrily competitive individualists on a big roll of friendship and delight".[39] In a 2006 review, Paul Rees of Q observed that although A Night at the Opera was "released the same year as both Bowie's arch soul pastiche Young Americans and the sleek art rock of Roxy's Siren, it has rarely been heralded as either. Yet it was, and is, every bit as brash, bold and full of the joys of its own possibilities." Feeling that Queen "never came close to bettering their fourth album", Rees concluded that "later albums would expose the lack of soul at the heart of Queen's music; they were all surface, no feeling. They elected themselves the great entertainers, and this heady rush of experimentation was not to be repeated. But A Night at the Opera remains glorious, monumental. It is British rock's greatest extravagance."[31] In 2007 Chris Jones of BBC Music noted the diverse range of musical styles on the album, saying, "Sheer Heart Attack had hinted at a working knowledge of 19th century parlour balladry, 20s ragtime and Jimi Hendrix. A Night at the Opera was to add opera, trad jazz, heavy metal and more to the mix." He concluded that the album "remains their finest hour".[40]

In 2011 remastered versions of the earlier Queen albums were released, prompting another batch of critical reviews. Uncut said that the record "proved there was no limit to their capabilities" and concluded, "Containing not one but two monumental epics ('Bohemian Rhapsody', 'The Prophet's Song'), and gorging on grandiose gestures galore, A Night at the Opera secured itself instant classic status".[33] Pitchfork's Dominique Leone stated, "No punches pulled, no expense spared: A Night at the Opera was Queen at the top of the mountain".[28] AJ Ramirez of PopMatters wrote, "Kicking off with the downright ominous high-drama of 'Death on Two Legs' (a retort against the group's recently deposed management where Mercury spits out venomous invectives at the targets of his ire), the album gives way to a kaleidoscope of styles, from 1920 jazz to space-folk narratives to top-of-the-line contemporary pop-rock. Amazingly, while the transitions between genres would conceivably throw listeners for a loop, none are jarring. Instead, Queen succeeds because it pulls from all the best tricks in the library of showbiz history to deliver laughs, heartache, grandeur, and spectacle to its audience at precisely the right moments." He observed that "it’s the realization of such a unique sonic vision that pushes [the album] into the realm of true excellence ... A Night at the Opera stands as a breathtaking, involving creation, and unequivocally Queen's finest album."[29]

Queen had already experienced a number of hits with and through their first three albums, but A Night at the Opera was their first major success. In 1990 May told BBC Radio Two "For A Night at the Opera we sort of returned [to the] Queen II philosophy. We had our confidence because we had a hit. We had a kind of almost desperation about us too because we were totally bankrupt at that point. You know, we had made hit records but we hadn't had any of the money back and if the A Night at the Opera hadn't been a huge success I think we would have just disappeared under the ocean someplace. So we were making this album knowing it was live or die ... each of us individually wanted to realize our potential as writers and producers and everything."[41]


In 1977 "Bohemian Rhapsody" received two Grammy Award nominations for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus and Best Arrangement for Voices.[42]

Publication Country Accolade Year Rank
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die US 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die[43] 2005 *
ABC AUS Poll: Top 100 Albums[44] 2007 28
BBC UK Poll: Top 100 Albums[45] 2006 9
Channel 4 UK Poll: Greatest 100 Albums[46] 2005 13
Classic Rock UK The 100 Greatest Rock Albums Ever[47] 2001 25
The 100 Greatest British Rock Albums Ever[48] 2006 17
The 200 Greatest Albums of the 70's (20 greatest of 1975)[49] 2006 *
Kerrang! UK Poll: The 100 Best British Rock Albums Ever[50] 2005 19
NME UK Poll: Greatest 100 Albums of All Time[51] 2006 19
Q UK The 50 Best British Albums Ever[52] 2004 17
Rolling Stone MX Poll: The 100 Greatest Albums of All Time[53] 2004 11
US Poll: Readers' Top 100 Albums[54] 2002 82
US The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time[55] 2003 231
Virgin UK Poll: All Time Top 1000 Albums[56] 1998 87

(*) designates unordered lists.


The album was first re-released in the US on Hollywood Records on 3 September 1991 with two bonus remixes, as part of a complete re-release of all Queen albums.

On 30 April 2002 the album was again re-released on DVD-Audio with a 5.1-channel mix in Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound.[57] It also includes the original 1975 video of Bohemian Rhapsody.

On 21 November 2005 it was once more re-released by Hollywood Records Catalogue Number 2061-62572-2 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the album and its first single, "Bohemian Rhapsody". This release is accompanied by a DVD-Video disc with the same track listing featuring the original videos, old and new concert footage (including "'39" from the Queen + Paul Rodgers tour and Brian May on the roof of Buckingham Palace playing "God Save the Queen") and audio commentary by all four bandmembers.

On 8 November 2010, record company Universal Music announced a remastered and expanded reissue of the album set for release in May 2011. This as part of a new record deal between Queen and Universal Music, which meant Queen's association with EMI Records came to an end after almost 40 years. According to Universal Music, all Queen albums were to be remastered and reissued in 2011. By September 2012 the reissue program was completed.[58] Along with this came a 5.1 channel release of the album on Blu-ray Audio.


Track listing

All lead vocals by Freddie Mercury unless noted.

Side one
No. Title Writer(s) Lead vocals Length
1. "Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to...)" Freddie Mercury   3:43
2. "Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon" Mercury   1:08
3. "I'm in Love with My Car" Roger Taylor Roger Taylor 3:05
4. "You're My Best Friend" John Deacon   2:50
5. "'39" Brian May Brian May 3:30
6. "Sweet Lady" May   4:01
7. "Seaside Rendezvous" Mercury   2:13
Side two
No. Title Writer(s) Lead vocals Length
8. "The Prophet's Song" May   8:21
9. "Love of My Life" Mercury   3:38
10. "Good Company" May May 3:26
11. "Bohemian Rhapsody" Mercury   5:57
12. "God Save the Queen" (instrumental) Traditional, arr. May   1:11






Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Argentina (CAPIF)[83] Platinum 60,000^
Argentina (CAPIF)[83]
Hollywood Records release
Platinum 60,000^
Austria (IFPI Austria)[84] Gold 25,000*
Canada (Music Canada)[85] Platinum 100,000^
Finland (Musiikkituottajat)[86] Gold 20,000[86]
Germany (BVMI)[87] Platinum 500,000^
Japan (Oricon Charts) 150,000[88]
Poland (ZPAV)[89]
2008 Agora SA album reissue
2× Platinum 40,000*
United Kingdom (BPI)[90] Platinum 300,000^
United States (RIAA)[91] 3× Platinum 3,000,000^

*sales figures based on certification alone
^shipments figures based on certification alone


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External links

  • Queen official website: Discography: A Night at the Opera: includes lyrics of all non-bonus tracks.
  • A Night at the Opera at Discogs (list of releases)

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