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Queen Floyd Takes You To the Dark Side At the Opera

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Two Great Albums Are Soundtracks To Films of Imagination


Listeners may not get to follow the yellow brick road as they listen to this album, as they supposedly do with The Dark Side of the Moon. Yet Queen's breakthrough album shares the same themes as the Pink Floyd classic, and both lead the listener through a strange but fulfilling trip.

A Night at the Opera does not coincide with any of the action in The Wizard of Oz, or any other film for that matter, but it is in fact named after the classic film of the Marx Brothers. Groucho Marx himself was so impressed with the quartet, legend has it that he suggested the follow up to use another film, A Day at the Races.

Nevertheless, Queen's album is as adventurous an experience as Dark Side, mainly because of the themes addressed. Greed, madness, time, and death are the cornerstones of both records.

“Death On Two Legs” opens Opera with a soft piano piece boisterously disquieted by an electric guitar portending doom in the form of a fog horn. Its lyrics are clearly about greed, as Freddie Mercury even subtitled it as “Dedicated to . . .” the band's unnamed former manager.

“Was that fin on your back part of the deal?” Mercury snarls while guitarist Brian May answers “Shark.”

Dark Side's first single and most well-known song, “Money,” bears the same condemnation of greed. Guitarist David Guilmour says “Don't take a slice of my pie” and “Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash.”

The concept of sanity of course is essential to enjoying Dark Side, what with its numerous refences to madness. Nowhere is it more evident than in “Brain Damage”, where the lunatic is on the path before passing into the hall and then into the head.

Opera offers fewer references to insanity, even though the operatic part of the biggest single certainly hints at a troublesome mind. It is more directly referenced a few tracks before on “The Prophet's Song,” which concludes with “Still I fear and still dare not, Laugh at the madman.”

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As for the theme of time, Pink Floyd succinctly covers it in a song with that concept comprising the one word title. It begins with the bells of a clock, followed by a first lyric about ticking off moments that make up a dull day.

Queen, thanks to Brian May's folksy ballad “'39”, expands that one day to one hundred years. A crew takes a trip in search of a better world for what they believe is a span of 365 days, but upon return they discover it has in fact been an entire century.

Finally, the reality of death permeates both Dark Side and Opera, creating a fitting coda to each film-like album. Again it in the song “Time” where the Floyd best identify death.

“The sun is the same in a relative way, but you're older,” the last verse states. “Shorter of breath, one day closer to death.”

The speaker in “Bohemian Rhapsody” is facing death, having committed murder. He pleads for mercy from the ethereal jury, who steadfastly chant that they will not let go.

“Mama, I don't want to die,” Mercury cries before the operatic bridge. “Sometimes wish I'd never been born at all.”

Both soundtracks do offer hope after all the despair, thanks to their final tracks. “Eclipse” with its orchestral background seems to segue into a life beyond the lunatic, and the Opera closes with an instrumental rendition of “God Save the Queen.”

So in the end you feel safe, at least for a while. Because they are such great records, though, it is a certainty that you will put the experience on your phonograph or “phone”-o-graph hundreds of times before you reach the Dark Side or your Opera comes to its aria.

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