Martin Cooper checks out some rock royalty this month and takes a closer look at the regal style and majestic talents of Queen’s Brian May.
twice (Bohemian Rhapsody); all four members of the band have individually written number 1 singles; they have sold in excess of 200 million albums; they have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and delivered what many believe to be the single greatest live rock band performance ever at Live aid in 1985.
Of course, guitarist Brian May has also played the British national anthem while standing on the roof of Buckingham Palace – he’s certainly the only person ever to have done that!
Queen formed in the early 70s when Freddie Mercury joined the remnants of a band called Smile. The group had included May and drummer Roger Taylor and they recruited bassist John Deacon and gave themselves the name Queen. One of the most amazing traits of the band is that they can move from heavy rock songs, such as Hammer To Fall, to pop classics like Radio Ga Ga or the disco-funk tinged another One Bites The Dust (each of those penned by a different writer), while still sounding like the same band. although many would cite Brian May and his hard rock sound as being characteristic of the Queen style, stop and consider how little guitar there is in many of their songs to realise what May does with the notes he plays, rather than how many of them there are. He is in a select group of players who is a household name for both musicians and non-musicians. He is recognisable, just from a single note or string bend.
These days, Brian favours a softer, more acoustic style but it’s not long ago that he and Taylor were touring under the name Queen + Paul Rodgers, with the former Free and Bad Company singer taking on the sadlydeparted Mercury’s vocals. Those who saw the tribute concert witnessed how Rodgers occasionally struggled to cope with singing Freddie’s songs, proving what a fantastic singer Mercury really was.
The track this month takes on the harder-edged side Queen sound and we’re in the key of e minor (e-F#-G-a-B-C-D), but there are non-diatonic chords and notes such as the a major, B major and e major chords. The solo largely uses e minor Pentatonic (e-G-a-B-D) but check out the playing tips for the harmony parts that are classic traits of May’s playing and composing. There are lots of syncopated phrases and lines that begin after the first beat of the bar, as well as typical May-style note manipulation. It’s deceptively tricky to play well, so follow the instructions carefully – and good luck!
Brian May and Freddie at Live Aid in 1985