Queen has always been a complex band with four very unique musicians offering their very own unique musical gifts and influences. The sum of the parts, Brian May, Freddie Mercury, John Deacon, and Roger Taylor, have usually blended into instant classic hits and anthems. Their 7th studio album, “Jazz” offers no expceptions and stands up even today as a wonderful showcase of the many diverse directions classic rock of the late 70’s had to offer. Queen was and still is about complex rhythms, diverse sounds, having fun, expanding musicality, quality, and just putting out the cream of the crop.
1978’s “Jazz” album starts with the exotic and foreign, “Mustapha”, a Freddie Mercury exploration into Arabic, Persian, and other Middle Eastern sounds, lyrics, and influences. It’s just a fun romp on the surface but Brian May adds a level of clever artistry to produce, with a little piano wire under the frets of his guitar, the sounds of a sitar. The riffs build and become a complex climax and have an almost dizzying effect. Immediately Queen wants to take you somewhere else with this album, some place different for sure.
Just as “Mustapha” fades, Queen pulls you into the direction of what really feels like Southern Rock with “Fat Bottomed Girls”, a Brian May track that offers tribute to the ordinary fans and “Fat Bottomed Girls” that make the rockin’ world go round. It’s a hard rocker for sure and the sound and pulsing rhythm is hard driving and screams Deep South and blues and rock rolled into one. It’s a wild musical ride for sure and an unforgettable song for road trips.
Just when you settle into rock, Queen shifts gears again and offer up a smooth ballad, “Jealousy”. This track stands out in my mind as Brian May again plays with different sounds and brings in more of the sitar-sound from his guitar again. Freddie takes to the piano on this ballad and offers up a heartfelt performance yet comapred to his other ballads, this song does seem a little flat or lost in comparison to “Love of My Life” or “My Melancholy Blues” from previous albums. A true Queen fan will appreciate this song for its portrait of Freddie Mercury’s tender lyrics and vocal range.
“Bicycle Race” wakes you up and challenges conventions and institutions. The rules of rock or pop do not seem to apply to this song that features bicycle bells and chimes and dueling guitar riffs and back and forth vocal battles and changing time signatures and tempos. It’s fun, wild, and imaginative for sure.
John Deacon’s first contribution of the album, “If You Can’t Beat Them”, is a hard rock riff-heavy track that offers up probably the longest guitar solo of Brian May’s since “Brighton Rock”. It’s a great song live and there are many bootleg You Tube videos of this track that really showcase the hidden talents of John Deacon as a songwriter.
“Dead on Time” is Brian May’s heavy rock contribution with sounds here that develop and seem to hint at much later guitar work found in the track “Headlong” from Queen’s 1991 album, “Innuendo”. Multi-layered guitar overlapping and weaving in and out of complimentary rhythms. This song is surprisingly complex. The pace of the song is frantic yet orderly and tight. Tension is a constantly building energy in this song and the climax in the end is nothing less than a blast of thunder.
The album goes soft and gentle with John Deacon’s second contribution on the album, “In Only Seven Days”. Here we have a gentle, simple love story in a ballad that flows easily and softly. John Deacon seemed to develop the idea of what a ballad can be more deeply from “Spread Your Wings” from the previous album and offered up something less like an anthem but still a story in a song. There is a humble quality to this song that reminds one of the quaint qualities found in his classic, “You’re My Best Friend”.
“Dreamer’s Ball” is Brian May’s ballad for the “Jazz” album and its interesting to hear how this song evolves and changes in the live show from a ballad to a sort of lively, fun, tongue-in-cheek acoustic sing-a-long as you’d hear on their live album “Live Killers”. The album track is melancholy and sad and heavily influenced by the blues and Elvis Presley. Live, it’s a fun acoustic sing-a-long.
Roger Taylor brings, “No More of that Jazz”, a song that conjures up similar commentary and feelings as his earlier contribution, “Drowse” on the “Day at the Races” album. Roger Taylor shows a level of frustration, cynicism maybe, and perhaps invites us to peer through the fogs of the 70’s to see into some truth for a change. He’s tired of the same ol’, same ol’ status quo. He’s calling for an end to the bull, basically. A response to the establishment perhaps from a voice that doesn’t drown itself out from the punk genre or punk generation of the Sex Pistols and Sid Vicious.
The last stand out track from this album worth mentioning is the hit single, “Don’t Stop Me Now”. Freddie Mercury offers up a wild vocal romp of liberation, freedom of expression, and unrestricted youth and life. It has become an anthem for the LGBT community, sure, but this song’s appeal has broadened I think to appeal to just about anyone seeking to have a good time, enjoy life to the fullest– the song speaks to a time of rebellion and a time where one could live and love more freely and fearlessly.
When even a casual listener listens through this album, they get a pretty good taste of the variety of styles, moods, and messages that sum up Freddie Mercury, Roger Taylor, Brian May, and John Deacon. When a Queen fan listens to “Jazz”, they get an album that is just as much a classic as “Day at the Races” and as varied in styles as “A Night at the Opera” or “Sheer Heart Attack”.