Happy 40th Anniversary to Queen’s sixth studio album News Of The World, originally released October 28, 1977.
Rock & roll was on some other shit in 1977. For one, it was becoming louder and more unapologetic (and sometimes with make-up). The Sex Pistols came with Never Mind the Bollocks while The Clash’s working class, self-titled debut effort ushered in more organic, no-frills riffs. On the other hand, acts like The Rolling Stones (1978’s Some Girls), the Bee Gees (Saturday Night Fever soundtrack) and ABBA (“Dancing Queen” topping the pop charts), were moving away from pop/rock to dabble in disco, trying their damnedest to get people on the dance floor.
Queen, on the other hand, wasn’t set on following any particular formula or musical trend. They created their own trends. Keep in mind, this was three years before the band topped the pop charts with “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” and “Another One Bites the Dust,” but two years after their trailblazing rock opera “Bohemian Rhapsody” infiltrated radio formats and the pop Top Ten.
For the band’s sixth full-length studio release, News Of The World, the genre-flexible quartet comprised of lead singer Freddie Mercury, guitarist Brian May, bassist John Deacon and drummer Roger Taylor revved up a few amps, deboned the instrumentation and threw in some emotion from time to time. The cover art, created by sci-fi painter Frank Kelly Freas, depicts a robot crushing bloody caricatures of Queen’s members, suggesting the future of music is near with Queen being somewhat passed their prime.
News Of The World is anything but a swan song, however. Produced by Mike Stone, it’s a reaffirmation that Queen respected rock music enough to put their own costuming, music appreciation and twang to it. Interestingly enough, all four members passed along the vocal and songwriting responsibilities across the album’s 11 tracks, creating by far one of the most dynamic, important albums in their prolific catalog.
The bar is set high from the very beginning for the album that peaked at #3 on the Billboard 200. The multi-tracked, romp-romp-clap acoustics of “We Will Rock You” still resonates so much, as no one can go to any sporting event without getting amped up hearing it. The perfect complement to “We Will Rock You,” “We Are the Champions” is a #4 pop smash composed and led by Mercury, featuring his encouraging, Olympian wails (and magnificent piano chords), the musicians’ erupting background vocals and May’s sonorous guitar.
News Of The World picks up steam when, out of nowhere, Taylor’s distorted yet loud “Sheer Heart Attack” grates guitar shreds over Mercury’s trembling enunciations. Those whirring noises at the end resemble sound effects potentially left out of the year’s leading blockbuster success, Star Wars. Another May original, the tranquil “All Dead, All Dead” mellows News Of The World down a notch.
Deacon’s penmanship churns out a background vocal-less AM rock staple that peaked at #34, “Spread Your Wings.” “Fight From the Inside” is full of echoing vocals, funky bare bones drums and chunky guitar riffs. “Get Down, Make Love,” however, with its sparse bass thumps and snare whacks, allows Mercury’s erotic urges to let their hair down. The pulsating “Sleeping on the Sidewalk,” led in ink and on the microphone by May, tells the story of Queen’s rise from obscurity to superstardom over straight-ahead blues rock.
Mercury’s sonant does the tango while May plays a flamenco melody on the piña colada-flavored “Who Needs You,” another Deacon original. On the May-penned “It’s Late,” Mercury pleads with a lover over a track that resembles something that Zeppelin’s essence could’ve potentially yielded. Nonetheless, Queen’s harmonic, unison vocal blares and shines. News Of The World’s conclusion, “My Melancholy Blues,” gives Mercury’s theatrical-meets-vaudeville persona (and vibrato) a safe space to coast, emphasizing a jazz cadence Billie Holiday breathed life into.
Now fast forward 40 years. News Of The World, Queen’s best-selling album to date with over six million units sold (4x platinum in the U.S.), is being reissued via an expansive box set next month on November 17th. The package includes three compact discs: a remastered version of the LP along with alternate mixes, outtakes and extended versions. The DVD features an hour-long documentary, Queen: The American Dream, which chronicles the band on-and-offstage during their 1977 tour. Additional items include a vinyl LP, three posters and a 60-page booklet with unseen images of the band.
To have News Of The World get crowned with such royal treatment four decades later symbolizes that Queen’s sonic vision to make rock music their way may have been bold, but it was the best move they could have made. It wasn’t necessarily about playing the loudest, hardest or fastest. Rather, the key was playing with the intent to keep listeners in tune with their sound, whatever it ended up being.