Thursday, February 27, 2014

Queen - The Works

Today (February 27th) marks the thirtieth anniversary of The Works, the eleventh studio album from Queen. This 1984 release went to number 23 on the US Billboard Album chart (with a twenty week total run on the chart), number 22 in Canada, number 14 in France, number 12 in Australia, number 9 in New Zealand, number 7 in Japan and number 4 in Italy. It went to number 3 in Sweden and West Germany, number 2 in Austria, Norway and the UK, and number 1 in the Netherlands.

Side one begins with “Radio Ga Ga”. As the first single, it reached number 28 in France, number 16 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 11 in Canada, number 4 in New Zealand, number 3 in Switzerland, number 2 in Australia, Austria, Germany, and the UK, and number 1 in Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Sweden. The title for this one came from Roger Taylor's then three year old son saying "radio ca ca". The lyrics are a love-letter to the heyday of radio and remark on the changes in how music was being heard through venues like MTV at the time. There are two classic radio references in the lyrics - one to H.G. Well's The War of the Worlds and one to Winston Churchill's June 18th of 1940 broadcast speech. This one has a solid beat, and I can remember dancing to it at parties on campus during the latter half of my freshman year of college.

“Tear It Up” was chosen for the B-side to the fourth single. The song features thundering percussion of Taylor and the scorching guitar of Brian May, the latter who was the writer of the track. For any critics who questioned if Queen still could rock, this one quickly put them in their place.

The third single “It’s a Hard Life” went to number 72 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 65 in Australia, number 31 in Belgium, number 30 in New Zealand, number 26 in Germany, number 20 in the Netherlands, number 6 in the UK and number 2 in Ireland. The introduction of this one is based on Ruggiero Leoncavallo's "Vesti la giubba" from the opera Pagliacci. The rest is in the classic Queen sweeping ballad style.

“Man on the Prowl” appeared on the B-side to a non-album Christmas single in November of 1984. This one is done in a three-chord rockabilly style that was prominent in the early days of rock. It also brings to mind their earlier hit "Crazy Little Thing Called Love". Clearly Freddie Mercury was again channeling the ghost of Elvis Presley.

Side two starts with “Machines (Or ‘Back to Humans’)”, which was also the B-side to the second single. The song features a funky bass groove, with synthesized keyboards and some vocals. The end result is a tasty music morsel.

“I Want to Break Free”, the second single, reached number 45 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number 9 in Australia and France, number 6 in New Zealand, number 4 in Germany, number 3 in the UK, number 2 in Ireland and Switzerland, and number 1 in Austria and the Netherlands. I like how this one bounces in an up-beat manner. The music video featured the band members dressed as women in a parody of the British soap opera Coronation Street (which I used to catch on reruns every Sunday morning on one of the cable channels we used to pick up out of Canada).

“Keep Passing the Open Windows” was written for the 1983 film version of The Hotel New Hampshire, based on the novel by John Irving. I like how it starts off as a piano based ballad and then shifts into an up-tempo rocker.

“Hammer to Fall”, the fourth single, went to number 69 in Australia, number 13 in the UK and number 10 in Ireland. Here again is another nod to the classic rock sound that made the band popular in the 1970's.

The album closes with the question “Is This the World We Created…?”; it was also the B-side to the third single. This acoustic ballad was a response to the growing news of poverty in Africa; appropriately Queen performed it as part of their encore during the Live Aid concert.

I never owned The Works in any format, which was clearly an oversight on my part. Listening to many of these songs again after all these decades, I was reminded how most of them were played on the album-oriented rock stations back in the day. The record is a solid release from start to finish. By the time this one posts, it will definitely be part of my digital music library.

For 1975’s A Night at the Opera, click here.

For 1977’s News of the World, click here.

For 1980’s Flash Gordon soundtrack, click here.

For 1982’s Hot Space, click here.

1 comment:

HERC said...

After the polarizing Hot Space (for the record, I loved that album but it seemed like it turned local radio stations off any new Queen music for the rest of their career), I eagerly scooped up The Works without hearing a single song.

Whereas Hot Space has declined in popularity within my collection through the years, The Works has enjoyed an upwards surge.

You mentioned the video(s) which I didn't see until much later when the band issued a video compilation but I picked up several pricey import twelve inch singles for songs from the album in 1984 - I want to say I had four maybe five of them before I sold them off a couple of years later.

Bought the original Capitol bare bones CD in late Eighties and then the 1991 20th Anniversary Edition on Hollywood with a B-side and two of those remixes from the twelve inch singles. The 40th Anniversary Edition in 2011 featured an entire bonus disc with just a handful of different bonus tracks but one of them was the "Hammer To Fall" remix so I had to pick it up.

While I loved Seventies Queen, at least from their third album on, Eighties Queen soon eclipsed them in popularity within my musical universe. With zero radio play, I bought each release somewhat blindly which was the ultimate sign of a great band back in the day. To this day, I still have most of my core Queen collection on vinyl and various configurations, editions and collections on CD, nearly 90 discs in total.

Queen is one of my top five favorite artists and not a week goes by when I don't spend at least an hour listening to an album or a playlist from them.