Queen: Sheer Heart Attack - Album Of The Week Club Review

Queen's third album ran the gamut of pre-existing genres and invented a new one: thrash metal

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Queen - Sheer Heart Attack

Brighton Rock
Killer Queen
Tenement Funster
Flick of the Wrist
Lily of the Valley
Now I'm Here
In the Lap of the Gods
Stone Cold Crazy
Dear Friends
Misfire
Bring Back That Leroy Brown
She Makes Me (Stormtrooper in Stilettoes)
In the Lap of the Gods... Revisited

If Killer Queen was Sheer Heart Attack's best-known song, it was hardly representative of the album, largely because the band didn’t chain themselves to one style. No band other than The Beatles had dared throw as many different styles into the mix with as much confidence. 

Brian May delivered the rockers, including Now I’m Here and opener Brighton Rock (working titles: Bognor Ballad, Southend Sea Scout and Happy Little Fuck). Bookended by a picaresque tale of two seaside lovers sung in high and low registers by Mercury, it was a showcase for an extended May guitar solo dating back to Blag, a song by his old band Smile. 

By contrast, Mercury threw in everything from waspish glam rock (Flick Of The Wrist, a reflection of their increasingly strained relationship with their management) to old-fashioned vaudeville (Bring Back Leroy Brown, complete with ukelele solo from May). Most prescient was In The Lap Of The Gods, a two-part, near-operatic epic that laid the groundwork for Bohemian Rhapsody the following year.

The rhythm section also rocked up with material. Taylor, who had written a song for each of their previous albums, contributed Tenement Funster, a lachrymose salute to the rock’n’roll lifestyle, and an overlooked Queen gem. John Deacon chipped in with the slight but perfectly formed Misfire

The furious Stone Cold Crazy – an influence on the future members of Metallica, and hence a cornerstone of the thrash metal movement – was credited to all four members, even though it dated from Mercury’s pre-Queen band Wreckage.

Other albums released in November 1974

  • Autobahn - Kraftwerk
  • Cantamos - Poco
  • Fly to the Rainbow - Scorpions
  • Man of Miracles - Styx
  • Nightlife - Thin Lizzy
  • Saturnight - Cat Stevens
  • Country Life - Roxy Music
  • Goodnight Vienna - Ringo Starr
  • The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast - Roger Glover
  • The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway - Genesis
  • John Dawson Winter III - Johnny Winter
  • Relayer - Yes
  • Fire on the Mountain - Charlie Daniels Band
  • Slade in Flame - Slade
  • 7-Tease - Donovan
  • Bluejeans & Moonbeams - Captain Beefheart
  • Desolation Boulevard - Sweet
  • Myopia - Tom Fogerty
  • Out Of The Storm - Jack Bruce
  • Propaganda - Sparks
  • Soon Over Babaluma - Can
  • Stormbringer - Deep Purple
  • Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) - Brian Eno
  • There's the Rub - Wishbone Ash
  • Where We All Belong - Marshall Tucker Band
  • Wish You Were Here - Badfinger

Background

By mid-1974, Queen's ambitions were coming into sharp focus. Like its predecessors, Sheer Heart Attack was the product of an intense work ethic that stemmed from a desire to be bigger, bolder and better than everyone else. 

It was a watershed for the band: the album that would lay the groundwork for future success. 

There were solid economic factors, too. The album needed to be a success to boost their ever-decreasing finances. Their management, Trident Productions, had put them on a wage that barely paid the bills, while seeking a return on their hefty investments in recording and studio costs. Combined with Brian May’s illness (the guitarist was felled by a virulent bout of hepatitis mid-way through their debut US tour), it’s fair to say there was a lot riding on Sheer Heart Attack.

“The whole group aimed for the top slot,” said Freddie Mercury. “We’re not going to be content with anything less. That’s what we’re striving for. It’s got to be there. I definitely know we’ve got it in the music, we’re original enough… and, now we’re proving it.”

What they said...

"Queen — on the record and on the jacket, too — makes no concessions to moderation. This quartet, bejeweled and mascaraed, projects a correspondingly shrill surliness in its dramatically technologized rock & roll. And Queen makes unusually crisp, dense recordings — the group’s three albums vibrate with multilayered electric guitars and unearthly overdubbed vocal harmonies (which have the unfortunate tendency to sound at times like Uriah Heep’s)." (Rolling Stone)

"Sometimes when a band gets it right, the results can blow their previous work clean out of the water. Sheer Heart Attack was the first album where Queen got it unarguably right, despite it being still consisting of elements of hard rock, prog and glam, this time they were blended in such a way that they all complemented each other rather than fought for supremacy. Best of all, the majority of the ogre, fairy and wise old man lyrical guff was dispensed with and between them Queen had written a varied selection of pop-rock songs, something which would become their forte throughout the rest of their career." (Backseat Mafia)

"Sheer Heart Attack was a leap forward for Queen. It had a thrilling sense of lunacy: any kind of music was permissible as long as it was executed to perfection. Always an outstanding vocal group, Queen annexed unimaginable new territories by combining the butteriness of The Beach Boys, the close-harmony expertise of barbershop, the multi-octave hyperbole of The Sweet and the razzmatazz of Broadway." (Uncut)

What you said...

Maxwell Marco Martello: Hell yeah! This one has my favourite Queen tracks ever: the ultra heavy Brighton Rock and Stone Cold Crazy!

Those riffs and that lead guitar tone... Oh Man! Light years ahead! Like that break in the opener where Brian May goes full-on speed metal picking... it didn’t get any heavier than that in 1974.

Vinnie Evanko: The first three albums were great and Sheer Heart Attack was probably their peak (or maybe Queen II) for my tastes. The success to follow actually took the band into a direction that really didn't keep me as interested, though there was some good songs to follow, these three were my favourites.

Paul May: Every song is an experimental masterpiece, and some are just plain crazy. But it's one of my favourite Queen albums with such a wide variety of styles and melodies and driving rock/metal. I can't imagine any modern group doing an album even remotely comparable to this nowadays.

Gareth Moreton John Hayes: A fantastic album. Only In The Lap Of The Gods prevents it from being an “all killer, no filler” album. The entire band are operating at a top level, and the album would form a cornerstone of Queen’s live act for the rest of their career.

Bill Griffin: The first song I can remember hearing by Queen is Killer Queen; it was in heavy rotation on the radio (CHOM-FM in Montreal). I loved it then and I love it now. It wasn't until four or five years later that I got the album though. I was not disappointed. All of Queen's albums through A Day At The Races are wildly inventive and incredibly diverse. All must haves in my book.

宇宙スク ーター: For the first time with that album, it seemed Queen was in full possession of its one-of-a-kind synthesis of its numerous influences ranging from classical/operatic tradition to some of the heaviest trends of pop music. More than on their previous efforts, they were now ready to combine commercial flair with experimental boldness, not to mention a stunning self-confidence. 

That gives a very daring LP that still stands out as a major step towards commercial success and artistic recognition. I love the perfectly skilled musicianship on most of the tracks, the awesome melodic qualities and this unique ability to create a stylistic/aesthetic crossover which seems to push any boundary as far as taste is concerned! Only a weaker track for me: Misfire by John Deacon - I've often found myself skipping it to reach its somewhat more consistent follow-up!

John Edgar: My first Queen album. At this point in the U.S. there had been no television appearances. All I'd seen of the band were pictures in the rock mags, so curiosity got the best of me. I was immediately blown away. The guitar work was amazing. The drummer and bass player were bombastic and the singer... man, the singer. This was new, this was fresh and it was both melodic and heavy at the same time. 

Then, there was the unique fact that there was no space between the individual cuts. It was like listening to one long, unbelievably awesome song. There was no stopping point. This is still my favourite Queen release. I really wish they could have remained the band that I heard on those first three albums... and yes, after hearing this album, I bought the first two as soon as I could find them.

Kev Moore: When you consider the circumstances under which this album was made, it is a wonder it came out at all, never mind topped a seemingly impossible to top Queen ll. Brian May, laid dangerously low with Hepatitis, had to go in and do his parts later when he felt well enough. Sending in your parts 'by post' might be commonplace now... but then? 

And yet, we have (Nutz's party piece Magic Roundabout notwithstanding) the finest use of echoplex ever committed to vinyl in Brighton Rock, a stunning, rip-roaring album opener that easily vies for Queen's greatest song, and could be a blueprint for The Darkness' entire career. Without this song, Justin Hawkins would be shovelling fish in Lowestoft. 

There really isn't a bad track on this. Killer Queen is the perfect single. More ideas in one song than most bands have in a lifetime. Tenement Funster starts to showcase the embarrassment of vocal and writing riches Queen had. The clean guitar arpeggios on this track create a wonderful atmosphere, and Taylor's vocal is immense. Flick of the Wrist, Killer Queen's B-side, so good it was promoted to 'double A', and then the expected pastoral Lily of the Valley to close a three song medley. 

That's a pretty good side one of an album by anyone's standards, but they close it with the stupendous Now I'm Here. If anyone tells you Queen 'aren't a proper rock band, play this to them until they die. 

Side two opens with In The Lap Of The Gods. The vocal skills of Mercury and Taylor on this are simply breathtaking. Taylor's glass-shattering falsetto was Queen's secret weapon. Then comes Stone Cold Crazy, famously covered by Metallica, and less famously so by Enuff Z Nuff. This is proto thrash metal. Seriously. It even predates Saxon's Machine Gun. When I first heard this on release, I'd never heard anything that fast. It was exhilarating. Dear Friends by May is perhaps the weakest track for me, but its up against serious competition. 

Misfire by John Deacon hints at the hit writer he was to become. An irresistible piece of pop. Bring Back That Leroy Brown is pure 'kitchen sink' Queen. Everything is in it: ukuleles, double bass, multiple harmonies, a glorious track that only Queen could pull off. She Makes Me is a great May track, a menacing acoustic vibe. In The Lap Of The Gods... Revisited – nothing to do at all with the song on side one – is perhaps prototype We Are The Champions, the band clearly searching for something singalong that would work live – and it did – until the aforementioned classic and We Will Rock You blew it out of the water. 

This was 1974. It was absolutely cutting edge. They were in Sgt. Pepper territory. If you were around when albums like this dropped, as I was, count yourself lucky. It was the age of miracles.

Jacob Tannehill: Heavy for its time, show-stopping and melodic for its time. As diverse as all of the songs are on here, this album flows from track to track with zero filler. Stone Cold Crazy, into Dear Friends, into Misfire, into Bring Back That Leroy Brown. Those four tunes sum up Queen the most!

Philip Qvist: A great album - in fact this just edges out A Night at the Opera as my favourite Queen Album, and is easily in my Top 10 albums of all time. 

It is a record with different varieties; rock, ballads, acoustic songs and just sheer bombastic songs - and of course Bring Back That Leroy Brown. There isn't a single dud on Sheer Heart Attack.

Brighton Rock, Now I'm Here, Killer Queen, Stone Cold Crazy and the In the Lap of the Gods duo - all killer, no filler

Joe Cogan: A Night At The Opera and News Of The World get a lot more attention, but this is an absolutely killer album by a band who set out to prove just how good they were, and succeeded brilliantly.

Iain Macaulay: At the risk of causing a riot, but in the interests of equilibrium and to just have it noted, i have to say, I am not a fan of Queen. I’m well aware this puts me in a very small minority on this page. In fact it wouldn’t surprise me if I’m the only one. But hey, ho, it’s a situation I’m very used to within my circle of friends. ‘What do you mean you don’t like Queen? Here, listen to this...’ Of course there is the odd song, like Stone Cold Crazy, which I do like, and I appreciate Freddy as a singer and all round great entertainer. But the band? Sorry. Anyway, so now I’ve raised by head above the parapet I’ll quickly disappear into my hole until next week and leave this one to those with true appreciation and understanding.

Tom Dee: Their first album is and will always be my favourite, but this one comes close. I had it as a Christmas present when It came out and it never left the turntable. Drove my family potty. Terrific diversity in the songwriting, which typified Queen throughout their career. Played it in my car only last week. Great to look back and remember what I was up to in those days. Yes, it stands the test of time.

Shane Reho: I'd only heard this once when this was posted, so I'm not exactly an expert on it. That being said, I've given it a few listens since then, and I'm liking this. Side one is about as perfect a side as anything they cooked up, and side two doesn't disappoint either. A well-rounded album that sets the stage for what came next. Track picks: Brighton Rock, Tenement Funster, She Makes Me (Stormtrooper in Stilettos).

Mark Francis: Tully When Queen were still a rock band. Like many bands, massive commercial success changes the band. They attract a newer, broader audience that they then feel they have to cater too. I think this was the last classic Queen album.

Mike Rowell: Picking a favourite Queen album is much like trying to pick a favourite Led Zeppelin or Beatles album - you find yourself changing your mind as you go... but this is certainly very, very good (and certainly one of their 'harder' efforts). Particularly love the bookend of Brighton Rock and Lap Of The Gods.

Mike Knoop: A wildly inventive album by four insanely talented individuals. Come for well-known classics like Killer Queen, Stone Cold Crazy, and Now I’m Here, stay for deep tracks like:

1) In The Lap Of The Gods – Is the phrase “falsetto showcase” used enough in classic rock? Not for my money. A luxury of vocal overdubs with a beautiful guitar outro. I think Tenement Funster is one of Roger Taylor’s weaker songs, so I’m glad he got to show off his vocal gifts here. Ironically, the excellent Taylor composition, Sheer Heart Attack didn’t show up for another three albums.

2) Misfire- John Deacon’s songwriting debut is a breezy pop confection that shows “the quiet one” had talent to burn too.

3) Bring Back That Leroy Brown – When is a novelty tune not a novelty tune? When it’s played with this much joy and gusto. Probably what Van Halen’s Big Bad Bill (Is Sweet William Now) wanted to be but wasn’t.

4) She Makes Me – An epic ballad with an amazing Brian May vocal. I would have ended the album here since the “New York nightmare sounds” bookend the ambient noise that opens the equally epic Brighton Rock.

Fortunately, “wildly inventive” and “insanely talented” were standard operating procedure for Queen. Any of their first eight albums are a bounty for your ear holes.

Chris Perrins: Often overlooked album despite having Killer Queen on it. Sandwiched between their greatest album (in my opinion) Queen II and their biggest impact album, A Night At The Opera, Sheer Heart Attack provides the listener with a real sensory overload. Light and shade all the way through. 

The opening fairground sounds slowly giving way to the now familiar Brian May chops of Brighton Rock. I always wished the band had played the whole song in the later years rather than reduce it to just Brian's guitar solo. Roger's first real lead vocal outing on Tenement Funster is the first of a trilogy spread over this and the following  albums: I'm In Love With My Car and Drowse were both equally effective. 

There is a simplicity to parts of this album, almost as if it was decided that all the bells and whistles aren't required on every single song. Dear Friends and Misfire epitomised this approach. Outrageous vaudeville is not far away on any 70s Queen outing, and Bring Back That Leroy Brown is just about as delightfully out there as you can get, with the possible exception of Seaside Rendezvous on ANATO

Now I'm Here is Queen at their rocky best, a staple of the live set over the years. I have always been a big fan of Queen album tracks rather than the singles. Sheer Heart Attack supplies some of the best. She Makes Me (much prefer Stormtrooper In Stilettos as a title) is one of my favourites. In The Lap Of The Gods and Revisited are totally different songs but both have a charm in their simplicity and musicianship. 

Stone Cold Crazy is probably the closest Queen ever got to a heavy metal song, proving there is plenty of bite in a band that can drop a delicate ballad in Lily Of The Valley only a track earlier. There's that light and shade again. Incredible record considering it came only months after its predecessor. Stands alone as a brilliant album of great tunes but also as a bridge between two other great works of art.

Carl Black: I got into Queen during the 80's and discovered a lot of their back catalogue after they stopped touring. This album has got lost in amongst Jazz, A Day At The Races, A Night At The Opera, The Works and so on. 

Listening, I could pick out songs like Killer Queen and Now I'm Here (amazing guitar riff, well played sir) but in my opinion there is not a 100% classic song on this album. I might get shot for that, don't don't shoot, don't shoot, there's more. On the whole, as a body of work I think it's one of their best, with each song laying a blue print which resonates throughout Queens discography. It's all here on one album. A very consistent album that hovers just below the heights and quality that they later achieved.

Michael Snook: Coming into this new, I didn't know what to expect. The opening track is surprising but fantastic. Doesn't sound like Freddie with the falsetto but then it kicks in and you know who it is. Does show how versatile they were as a bad. A good album but completely different to what I expected. A lot more experimental and interesting.

Mike Bruce: In late 1974 Queen were on the up. Their debut album peaked at 24 in the U.K. charts while the baroque majesty of Queen II rose to number five. Sales were up, but artistically, where were they going to go after Queen II? An album so over-the-top that any attempt to carry on in that vein would have seemed like self parody.

Sheer Heart Attack sounds like the work of a band keen to avoid comparisons with others, or even themselves.

That said, at first SHA dovetails neatly into Queen II. That album fades out on a sing-a-long rendition of I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside with SHA fading in on English seaside favourite, the fairground organ. That barrels along into Brighton Rock, which does... like a bastard.

Two tracks in and we get the first classic on the album: Killer Queen is that rare gem, a perfect pop song.

Their first brace of albums had plenty of light and shade. As songwriters Freddie and Brian were already adept at mixing melody with muscle. Their first single Keep Yourself Alive is as brash a slice of glammy power pop as you'll hear and Funny How Love Is hints at the Phil Spector sound. Here though, Queen sound like they were no longer content to just be a "rock" band and then spend great chunks of the album proving what a consummate one they are.

Your attention is held nicely until classic number two gets cued up: how much more 1970's could Now I'm Here be? None. None more 70s, and again it's perfection. A bootboy riff, name-checking Mott, sigh, they could have stopped there and I'd have been happy.

It doesn't stop there though. 

The rest of Sheer Heart Attack and much of the next few albums from Queen define the phrase "they don't make 'em like that anymore." They fearlessly mix styles and textures from proto thrash to end of the pier vaudeville. The whole thing is peppered with a pleasing what the f**k is that all about feel before finishing in a grand, get the whole audience swaying and singing along moment that foreshadows what was to come.

I quite like this album.

Robert Dunn: Well now, here's the thing. I admire Queen for their willingness to take chances and try things in the studio, and I do think that they probably deserve their place in rock history, but there are a lot of their songs that I just really don't like all that much. As a hotch-potch of songs of different genres this album succeeds admirably, but there were too many 'meh' moments on it for my liking. I don't mind the odd bit of whimsy on an album - Slade used to do it brilliantly - but parts of this were just too light for me. There are some crackers on here though, and it's not a bad album, it's just that Queen for me are one of those bands who can produce excellent stuff but churn out a lot of filler too. Sorry world, I know you disagree.

Brian Carr: Majestic and cinematic, there’s no one like Queen. I feel like they took Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound and blasted it with steroids, especially in their layered vocals and guitars. And Brian May’s guitar tones - absolute bliss. He even figured out a way to get an electric lead into Leroy Brown, and it worked!

So how in the world can somebody not like Queen? Well, for me personally, there are loads of songs that have been played to death and I’d be happy to never hear them again. Queen certainly has their share of such ubiquitous tunes, but none of them have hit the “never again” meter for me. I could also see some listeners being turned off by Queen’s eclectic nature - four songwriters and a massive experimental streak will do that. 

I can’t deny that there are moments on SHA that don’t do it for me, but they are so overshadowed by the brilliant moments. Flick of the Wrist, Now I’m Here, Stone Cold Crazy and In The Lap Of The Gods Revisited are tremendous and Killer Queen is superbly crafted. One of the greatest ever rock bands, without a doubt.

Final Score: 8.50 ⁄10 (339 votes cast, with a total score of 2883)

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