Thursday, April 10, 2014

Queen - At The Beeb (1989)

(U.K 1970-2009)
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Few bands embodied the pure excess of the '70s like Queen. Embracing the exaggerated pomp of prog rock and heavy metal, as well as vaudevillian music hall, the British quartet delved deeply into camp and bombast, creating a huge, mock-operatic sound with layered guitars and overdubbed vocals. Queen's music was a bizarre yet highly accessible fusion of the macho and the fey. For years, their albums boasted the motto "no synthesizers were used on this record," signaling their allegiance with the legions of post-Led Zeppelin hard rock bands. But vocalist Freddie Mercury brought an extravagant sense of camp to Queen, pushing them toward kitschy humor and pseudo-classical arrangements, as epitomized on their best-known song, "Bohemian Rhapsody." Mercury, it must be said, was a flamboyant bisexual who managed to keep his sexuality in the closet until his death from AIDS in 1991. Through his legendary theatrical performances, Queen became one of the most popular bands in the world in the mid-'70s; in England, they remained second only to the Beatles in popularity and collectibility in the '90s. Despite their enormous popularity, Queen were never taken seriously by rock critics — an infamous Rolling Stone review labeled their 1979 album Jazz as "fascist." In spite of such harsh criticism, the band's popularity rarely waned; even in the late '80s, the group retained a fanatical following except in America. In the States, their popularity peaked in the early '80s, just as they finished nearly a decade's worth of extraordinarily popular records. And while those records were never praised, they sold in enormous numbers, and traces of Queen's music could be heard in several generations of hard rock and metal bands in the next two decades, from Metallica to Smashing Pumpkins.
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The origins of Queen lay in the hard rock psychedelic group Smile, which guitarist Brian May and drummer Roger Taylor joined in 1967. Following the departure of Smile's lead vocalist, Tim Staffell, in 1971, May and Taylor formed a group with Freddie Mercury, the former lead singer for Wreckage. Within a few months, bassist John Deacon joined them, and they began rehearsing. Over the next two years, as all four members completed college, they simply rehearsed, playing just a handful of gigs. By 1973, they had begun to concentrate on their career, releasing their debut album, Queen, that year and setting out on their first tour. Queen was more or less a straight metal album and failed to receive much acclaim, but Queen II became an unexpected British breakthrough early in 1974. Before its release, the band played Top of the Pops, performing "Seven Seas of Rhye." Both the song and the performance were smash successes, and the single rocketed into the Top Ten, setting the stage for Queen II to reach number five. Following its release, the group embarked on its first American tour, supporting Mott the Hoople. On the strength of their campily dramatic performances, the album climbed to number 43 in the States.
It is at this point that Queen's popularity caught the attention of the music buffs at the BBC in England and they were asked to record some of their material from their first two albums in the BBC studios, in front of a small audience. Thus, the following recordings eventuated back in 1973 and were only made available to the general public in 1989, with the release of 'Queen At The Beeb'. 
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Review 1
In fact, between 1973 and 1977, Queen recorded six sessions for the BBC, the first five during the initial flood of excitement that led up to the release of their third album 'Sheer Heart Attack', the last in 1977, when their pomp and circumstance ought to have sounded grossly misplaced amid the churning seas of punk rock — but didn't. Each and any of these is a revelation, topping the regular albums for excitement and alive with all the improvisational quirks and oddities that the band delighted in distributing through their live set. All but two, however, remain deep in the vault, leaving 'At the Beeb' to stand among the most disappointing of all the albums in this venerable series — at the same time as sounding as good as any of them. Drawing from Queen's first and third BBC sessions, in February and December 1973, the eight tracks are divided between the band's first two albums — seven from Queen, one (a passionate "Ogre Battle") from what was then the still-gestating Queen II. And they are what you'd expect, vast and bombastic, widescreen epics that make no distinction between the hard rock that was the early Queen's most visible calling card, and the fey, quirky balladry that was the trick up their sleeves. And, while none of the performances here can touch the familiar LP takes in terms of production values and musical excellence, again the emphasis is on visceral verve and spontaneous combustion, qualities that Queen possessed in abundance. For many years the best-selling of all BBC sessions albums, 'At the Beeb' is not an album for the casual listener; nor will it satisfy the completist collector. Nevertheless, anybody who knows the band only for the operatic grandiosity of their regular albums would do well to check it out. It might well change your opinion forever.
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Review 2 
This session featured on this album was recorded in 1973 and includes tracks which later appeared on the band's self-titled debut and its follow up, albeit in different and sometimes extended format. There is a noticeable difference in the sound of the band on this session when compared to the full album releases. For a start Brian May's guitar sound on here is one of the rawest and most brutal things you will hear on any album from the 70's. The fact that he made his own guitar, wound his own fat single coil pickups and tweaked his gear may have something to do with his sound. It is rumoured that he used to play using unusually heavy strings plucked with an old coin which also helped him to achieve his distinctive tone. Whatever the secret was behind May's early sound the sheer bite and aggressiveness to the overdriven guitar on here, and indeed May's explosive playing in general, are what elevates this album above the status of a mere curiosity. The art-rock tendencies that began to pervade Queen's music a few years hence are already present this early on in their career with the harmony vocals and Freddie Mercury's inventive piano melodies finding a foothold within some of the songs. But make no mistake, this is a guitar album first and foremost.

The real highlight comes in the form of an extended version of "Son and Daughter". Brian May literally bludgeons his way through the opening verses with a buzzing chainsaw of a rhythm tone. An extended middle section jam, which was later featured on 'Brighton Rock', finds May creating clever harmonies over looped tape delays and Roger Taylor going bat crazy on the sticks. "Ogre Battle", with its memorable opening riff and pounding drum beat is totally unlike its polished counterpart on 'Queen II'. This is raw and endearingly naive yet still the quality of performance and musicianship shine through. May is also in top form on the infectiously vital performance of "Great King Rat" driving the song along with a chugging riff and bursts of harmonied wah-wah soloing. It would be stretching things to proclaim this session performance as some sort of essential lost gem and indeed there are some rather weak tracks in the form of "Liar", "Doin Alright" and "Modern Times Rock and Roll". These lesser cuts can't be saved from mediocrity but for anyone who doubts Queen's hard rock roots the sheer raw energy displayed on much of the music should dispel this assumption.
A lot of people's abiding impression of Queen is that of a tired old commercial rock band who dabbled in some eccentric theatrics, experimented with a bit of funk here and there and slowly but surely became a parody of themselves. This would be a fair assessment if you follow their career from around 1977 onwards. But delve deeper into their past and you will find a totally different beast which certainly had it's roots firmly planted in a hard bedrock. So, next time someone tries to lecture you on what is real music while bopping away to 'Crazy Little Thing Called Love' tell them you like Queen too, remove their greatest hits LP from the 20 year old record player, stick this on and blow his speaker cones with a dose of 'Son and Daughter' at full volume.
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LP - Side 1
Liner Notes (from CD release)
This is an event. Not merely the release of more "product", but a major milestone in the annals of Rock. What you hold here are eight songs recorded in 1973 by Queen, one of the great names of post-war international music. Moreover, these are versions of well-known numbers that you will never have heard before!
FACT. February 1973. Queen have been on the live circuit for barely two years. But they've yet to sign a major recording deal. However, the enterprising folk at Radio One book vocalist / pianist Freddie Mercury, guitarist Brian May, bassist John Deacon, and drummer Roger Taylor for a session with producer Bernie Andrews. It is to be broadcast on Sounds Of The '70s, and four tracks are laid down on February 5th, viz My Fairy King, Keep Yourself Alive, Doin' Alright, and Liar. All of these songs were eventually to turn up on the band's self-titled debut album for EMI (released in July of that year), but these versions have never been heard before... not even in bootleg form!
COMMENT. It's amazing to hear the stunning renditions the band explore herein. Liar's dramatic, thundering Metal extravagance. My Fairy King's lushness and orchestral bravura. Keep Yourself Alive's responsive, momentous Metal-Pop ebullience. Doin' Alright's combination attack of blazing riffs and delicate tinctures of melody.
FACT. On December 3rd 1973, Queen recorded a second session for Sounds Of The '70s, performing the songs Ogre Battle, Great King Rat, Modern Times Rock'n'Roll, and Son And Daughter. With the exception of Ogre..., all the songs here were featured on the Queen LP. Ogre Battle is to emerge on the Queen II LP, released in March 1974.
LP - Side 2
COMMENT. Once again the quality of performance and recording are breathtaking. Ogre Battle is a panorama of virulent grandeur and broadsword clashing mania. Great King Rat has a seismic bite and flaring, cascading incandescence. Modern Times Rock'n'Roll boasts rousing, glinting rhythms. Son And Daughter is suffused with individual Blues and dramatic cloisters. Magnificent.
As I said earlier, this isn't a release, but an event. Captured here is the essence of early Queen. The style that would help shape two generations of Rock 'N' Roll. The sound that would conquer the world. This is vital, valuable, inexorable. An historical affair that still maintains a contemporary resonance. Rare indeed.
[ by Malcolm Dome, RAW magazine].
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This post consists of a MP3 rip (320kps) taken directly from my CD copy  of this official release, which is no longer available through normal resellers. Included is full album artwork for both LP and CD and alternative CD releases (namely Queen At The BBC)  have also been included. This album shows a heavy side to Queen and highlights the raw musical talent of each band member, before they got caught up with commercialism.
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Track Listing
01 My Fairy King
02 Keep Yourself Alive
03 Doin' Alright
04 Liar
05 Ogre Battle
06 Great King Rat
07 Modern Times Rock 'n' Roll
08 Son And Daughter
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Band members:
Freddie Mercury (lead vocals, piano, electric guitar),
Brian May (electric guitar, backing vocals, acoustic guitar, keyboards),
Roger Taylor (drums, backing vocals, tambourine),
John Deacon (bass guitar)

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Queen Link (89Mb)  New Link 22/04/2017
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2 comments:

  1. Thank you AussieRock for this Queen! Great recordings, especially drums have superb sound!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Fantastic review. You really understand the band and their roots. For a hardcore 30 year Queen fan like myself you really nailed it. Well done.

    ReplyDelete