Queen’s “A Day At The Races” (1976) was probably my greatest discovery as I plunged into the world of this magnificent band three years ago. I think that in part it happened due to the fact that I missed this album as a teenager, when I fell in love with Queen songs for the first time. And so, besides the hits, I knew nothing, and it was a perfect way to be enchanted by this band again, 25 years later. I would like to start my new series of tiny essays with this tribute, my personal thank-you note to this album that brought music into my heart again.
I cannot express the overwhelming sense of joy that I experienced when playing this album for the first hundred of times. It had everything I loved – the theatrical finesse, the rock-n-roll hits, and what is really important, a sense of freedom, an emotion that permeates all Queen albums. I cried feeling the extreme vulnerability and openness of “You Take My Breath Away;” I grieved together with the narrator of “White Man,” imagining an old man sitting on top of a mountain, surrounded by clouds; I was spellbound by the changing and whimsical nature of “The Millionaire Waltz,” as if peeking into a door leading to a magical theater. I started seeing this song, along with “Long Away,” “You And I,” and “Somebody to Love” as a golden heart of this album, a springtime dawn, with the sunlight beaming through the tree tops; I hear it in my mind as I look at a pale moon during a day.
Of all Queen albums, I think that “A Day At The Races” is the most theatrical one, starting from the intro, when the layered guitars sound like fanfares, and you see with your mind’s eye the curtains slowly opening (of course, now I can’t help but visualize the beginning of the QAL show from the Rhapsody Tour), to the very last notes of the “never-ending staircase,” reminding of an old organ playing on a street fair. And how delicately we are led to the finale, through the realm of music halls and Gilbert-Sullivan operas, to the song that still does not let me go. The waltzing rhythm, the clear tones, and very precise words of Roger reminiscing about school years and dissolving into almost a stream of consciousness. Are we watching a dream or seeing an awakening? We would not find out – but “Drowse” perfectly prepares us for the final chord, where we are no longer separated from the band by an impenetrable wall; we become participants, and the hands are stretched towards each other. We witness a symbolic beginning of the long-lasting relationship between the band and their fans, the relationship that has no analogies, and that goes on to this day.
And so I feel blessed to have discovered this album in my 40s, that it led me to so many positive changes in my life. For this, and for many other unsaid things – thank you, thank you, thank you.
Katya Neklyudova, 2020