Album’s success saved band
At the time of its release on November 21, 1975, Queen’s A Night at the Opera album was reportedly the most expensive album ever recorded, estimated to be in excess of £40,000.
It was Queen’s fourth studio album. Their previous album, Sheer Heart Attack, released in 1974, had brought the band mainstream attention, with the single Killer Queen reaching No 2 on the UK singles charts. Despite that success, the band was broke.
Their first recording contract was with Trident Studios. The deal with Trident meant they would produce albums for a production company, who would then sell the album to a record company. It meant Queen saw virtually none of the money they earned. In fact, Brian May described the deal “as probably the worst thing we ever did”.
Their finances were in such a bad state Roger Taylor was asked not to drum too hard as they couldn’t afford new drumsticks.
The situation the band was in inspired Freddie Mercury to write Death on Two Legs, the opening track on A Night at the Opera.
When Mercury performed that song on stage over the years he often dedicated it to the band’s first manager who negotiated the Trident deal.
According to May, if A Night at the Opera hadn’t been a success the band would have just disappeared under the ocean some place.
In 1975, the band negotiated out of their contract with Trident Studios and began searching for a new manager, eventually settling on John Reid who was Elton John’s manager at the time.
Reid advised the group to “go into the studio and make the best record you can make”. So, the seed was sown for A Night at the Opera.
A Night at the Opera was recorded at a number of studios across London and takes its name from the Marx Brothers film of the same name that came out in 1935.
The biggest hit single from the album, Bohemian Rhapsody, was written by Freddie and during the recording of the song became known as Fred’s Thing to the band.
The title was eventually settled on during the final sessions.
That famous classical/operatic break in the middle of the song is full of obscure classical characters like Scaramouche, a clown from the commedia dell’arte; astronomer Galileo; Figaro, from The Barber of Seville; Beelzebub, identified in the New Testament as Satan, Prince of Demons and Bismillah, which is an Arabic noun from a phrase in the Qur’an, meaning “In the name of God, most gracious, most merciful”.
In 1977 Bohemian Rhapsody received two Grammy Award nominations for Best Vocal Performance by a Group and Best Arrangement for Voice. When the album was released it received mixed reviews. For many, including yours truly, this album rates as one of the best of all time.
It meant Queen saw virtually none of the money they earned.
Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon of Queen, on their A Night At The Opera tour in Tokyo, Japan, in March 1976.
Brian Kelly is a host on Coast Breakfast radio.