Queen Will Funk and Punk You

When it first charted in the States – on November 26, 1977, this writer’s 17th birthday, and exactly one year after the Sex Pistols released “Anarchy In The U.K.”– Queen’s sixth album News Of The World was widely touted as a back-to-basics reining in of the band’s more brazenly ornate and bohemianly rhapsodic multi-part-epic tendencies. Some people even called it a response to punk rock, a genre the band reportedly wasn’t too fond of, which is kinda weird since if Queen hated punk’s simplicity so much, wouldn’t they have made the music more ornate? Either way, the album’s pinnacle, “Sheer Heart Attack,” complete with insane proto-no-wave guitar solo and proto-Devo lyrics blaming teenage angst on D.N.A. (i.e., nature not nurture), plus a toppling-over-itself tempo that the (also royally named) Prince may have ripped outright in his own punkest song “Sister” three years later, is easily the most punk-sounding track Queen ever recorded (doubly interesting since 1974’s Sheer Heart Attack, which in the tradition of Led Zeppelin’s Houses of the Holy did not contain its own title track, easily has the most punk-rock-looking  album cover of any Queen LP.)

Thing is, when you actually listen to the record, it’s hard to deny that News Of The World sounds even more often like a response to funk. Three years later on The Game, Queen were going all minimal and hip-hoppy with “Another One Bites The Dust”, but “We Will Rock You” (which I’ll discuss more in a minute) was obviously their initial venture into rhythmic-vocals-over-phat-beat proto-rap sparseness, as its eventually being sampled and/or retooled by Grandmaster Flash, Kool Moe Dee, Eminem, 2 Live Crew, and Ice Cube probably demonstrates. But even more obvious funk-metal moves are the remarkably big-bottomed (talk about mudflaps, it’s got ‘em) “Fight From The Inside,” which contains in its tight genes the prototype D.N.A. for “Dragon Attack” (also off The Game) and therefore Billy Squier, and “Get Down Make Love,” which though perhaps a little sluggish at first, is even more blatant in its funktionality, not to mention in the proto-industrial-music perviness that eventually inspired Nine Inch Nails to cover it (“You say you’re hungry/I give you meat/I suck your mind/You blow my head”), and which eventually opens up into sex-moaning psychedelic spaces even more inadvertently dub-metal than the ones in Zep’s “Whole Lotta Love.” (By the way, this seems like a good place to interject that, growing up in the Midwest in the mid ‘70s, I’m pretty sure it never occurred to my classmates or me to question Freddie Mercury’s gender preferences. I mean, it’s not like he had a girl’s name, like Alice Cooper or somebody. Then again, I’m pretty sure lots of kids I grew up with also assumed the Village People were genuine macho men.)

News Of The World also features a dainty piano eulogy to Freddie’s pet cat (“All Dead, All Dead”), some working-class show-bizness about a kid who hates his job sweeping up an Irish bar (“Spread Your Wings”), a not back-to-basics-at-all 6:27 opus that exists primarily to support its kick-ass guitar solo (“It’s Late”), a tentative reggae homage – every ‘70s British rock band had to have one! – albeit with Spanish rather than Jamaican guitars (“Who Needs You”), some off-the-cuff blues strut aimed at ingrates who don’t give a damn about any trumpet-playing band ‘cause it ain’t what they call rock’n’roll (“Sleeping On The Sidewalk”), and a cabaret-torch finale that has less to do with blues than the previous song despite having “blues” in its title (“My Melancholy Blues.”)  Freddie, Brian May, and Roger Taylor wrote three songs each; John Deacon two. The album has gone quadruple-and-a-half platinum in the U.S., triple platinum in Canada, double platinum in the U.K.. Its Frank Kelly Freas cover painting updates his October 1953 cover of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, and it is the third consecutive Queen LP whose title can be diagrammed [Noun] [Preposition] The [Different Noun]. (Well, okay, the previous two actually had articles at the beginning, but no need to get technical.)

Mainly, though, as years have passed, News Of The World has come to be best known as The Album With “We Will Rock You” and “We Are The Champions” On It. Which is clearly a triumph to get triumphant about, even though those two classics also long ago appeared on a mere 45, which went to No. 2 in the U.K. and No. 4 in the U.S., even though they weren’t even sports-arena anthems yet! “We Will Rock You” was just a ditty that may or may not have taken its clap-stomps from John Lennon’s “Give Peace A Chance,” with lyrics about a muddy-faced can-kicking disgrace of a boy aging into a bloody-faced banner-waving shouting-in-street hard young man and finally into a muddy-faced old codger who deserves to be put back into his place: Admit it, you’ve heard it a million times, and you never even noticed all that, did you? Neither, probably, did Def Leppard, who seemingly inherited the song’s bleacher beat in “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” As one fan writes online, “This song reminds me of when i was a kid and in the school yard in brooklyn we used to sing this to kids when we thought we were all tough and crap :)” Somebody else insists the facial mud is a slap at Kiss, but who knows where that wacky idea came from?  And speaking of schoolyards, yet another fan observes that “We Are The Champions” resembles a cross between “‘Send in the Clowns’ and the ancient playground taunt “naa-naa na-NAA-naa!” By now, of course, it’s impossible to imagine a world in which these two Queen numbers didn’t exist. And they will be inextricably linked until the end of time, both by the eternally melodic Brian May guitar climax of “We Will Rock You” and by the fact that both titles employ journalism’s revered “editorial we,” forever enabling clever headline writers to construct puns such as “Wii Will Rock You” and “Oui Are The Champions.” Not to mention forever inspiring athletes to run faster and jump higher, and fans to order more beer. No time for losers, indeed!

Queen, Voyageur Press, 2009

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