At the peak of their power in the late 1970s, Queen released News Of The Day (EMI/Elektra) to only solid reviews at the time. The band was riding high on a string of mid-70s chart-topping albums, with already some of the biggest hits of all time, that established them as one of the biggest bands in the world. Becoming of those bands changed Queen, a group of highly accomplished master musicians and live performers. Their concerts were already the stuff of legend since they were the first band in the world to book sold-out gigs at sports stadiums worldwide when arenas could not contain the scope of their shows. So as a response, the band began writing with the crowd in mind even more, creating entire passages meant for audience participation, not just the choruses. Critics at the time dissed them for this, but in hindsight, they presaged Metallica, AC/DC, Pearl Jam, Guns ‘N Roses, Judas Priest, Queens Of The Stone Age, Muse and just about every other arena rock band since in this regard.
The lead tracks of the album became the centerpiece, and two of the best-known Queen songs to throngs of casual rock fans at least. ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘We Are the Champions’ are commonplace today at sporting events all over the world, and perhaps have lost a shred of their specialness as a result. At the time these two songs were as great as any lead tracks to begin an album in that era. The inventiveness of ‘We Will Rock You’, with the foot stomping and the clapping was actually a sound-based physics experiment by future Ph.D. Brian May. Hearing an entire arena singing along to the empowering lead vocal definitely raised the gooseflesh on your arms. The sparse instrumentation until the guitar solo was unique for the time, and the solo is one of the May’s best. ‘We Are the Champions’ almost didn’t get included on the album, but Freddie Mercury persisted, and his tribute to soccer fans is by itself, one of the best songs ever. Their label was unsure of how ‘We Will Rock You’ would do alone as a single, so it was spliced with the latter track to make the version everyone has heard today, with the two tracks running together almost without a gap between them. The single was a multi-million seller and propelled the album to hit “status”, Queen’s fourth in a row at the time. Also, the fast version of ‘We Will Rock You’ is amazing.
The album surely wasn’t absent of other great songs. The proto-thrash metal of ‘Sheer Heart Attack’ (unrelated to their previous album of the same name), written mostly by drummer Roger Taylor, is a riff exploding, down-picking master class, and featured some terrific drumming. As only Queen can do, they merged the gruff ruggedness of guitar aggression with amazing harmony vocals.
In contrast the Beatles-esque ‘All Dead, All Dead’ features one of Brian May’s best lead vocal performances, and highlights what a great talent he is, beyond just as an axe-slinger and writer. The dramatic ‘Spread Your Wings’ was the second single and charted fairly high. Another slice of rock ballad brilliance from the band, this one was written by bassist John Deacon. Freddie’s vocals take this track to another level.
Predating the funk, disco, and r&b influences the band would begin relying on in their future albums, ‘Fight From The Inside’ is a tough street anthem by Taylor (who played almost all the instruments on this one) that could have been at home on a record from The Who or Thin Lizzy. ‘Get Down, Make Love’ is a funky sexy, heavy jam that was also one of the staples of the bands’ future live shows as an eternal fan favorite. ‘Sleeping on the Sidewalk’ by contrast is a strict blues shuffle throwback about busking for dollars, scratching to survive. ‘Who Needs You’, another Deacon composition experimented with Spanish guitar and exotic timbres, a 180 from the rest of the albums’ synthesizers and riffs.
Final single ‘It’s Late’ ramped the energy of the album back up to 11. A swelling anthem that evolved from a gentle musing to a heavy rock tour de force, not unlike ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in places. The song remains one of the most underrated “hits” in Queen’s career. The last track, ‘My Melancholy Blues’ is a jazzy torch song that features Mercury’s incredible voice, Deacon’s fretless bass, and a lovely way to cap an album that covers so much musical ground genre-wise in under 40 minutes.
Forty years on, News Of The World remains the best-selling album of Queen’s’ career. However, beyond the hits everyone knows, it is still a deeply satisfying album and one that would be one of their most complete, in the rest of their careers. A deluxe edition of the album is releasing to commemorate the anniversary. This is an album that ought to be included in any music fan’s’ collection.