40 Years Ago: Queen’s Debut Album Released
As their self-titled debut album demonstrates, the Queen we all know and love today, the group with the multi-layered vocals and ringing guitar notes, didn’t start out that way.
Or at least not that big. In 1973, their British glam wasn’t so refined, and all the things that made the band so identifiable were barely concepts at this point. But there’s glimmer in the glam, and at times the roots of their sound begin to take shape.
But mostly ‘Queen’ is a product of its time, bringing together prog, metal and even a little bit of folk music for a semi-thunderous mix that did little to separate the group from others exploring similar territory in the early ’70s. Medieval landscapes rest near religious songs that absorb the Jesus-as-the-original-hippie aesthetic of the era. It’s an occasionally clumsy combination executed in an often heavy-handed style that would later gain some subtlety. But Queen and ‘Queen’ are defiant in these actions, and that’s where the album matters.
It also matters in the band’s somewhat inventive use of multi-tracking, which was bigger, grander and more piled on than what almost anyone else was doing. The results are so impressive at times that the band found it necessary to write a disclaimer in the album’s liner notes stating that no synthesizers were used in the making of the record. They were a proud rock ‘n’ roll band, grabbing much inspiration from the kings at the time, Led Zeppelin.
But there’s also signs of individuality in the album’s standout cuts — especially the respective side openers ‘Keep Yourself Alive‘ and ‘Liar,’ which are part British boogie, part sparkling glam and part mammoth hard rock. They’re loaded with stinging guitar riffs, choir-like vocals and wall-shaking production by Roy Thomas Baker, who would work with Queen throughout their career. Thank him for the instrumental passages’ additional heft.
‘Queen’ wasn’t a monster hit, peaking at only No. 83. It eventually went gold, as the band’s confidence and reputation grew in the coming years. Neither of the album’s singles charted (they wouldn’t have their first hit until the following year, when ‘Killer Queen’ preceded the release of their third album, ‘Sheer Heart Attack,’ which broke them in the U.S.). Today, the debut album sounds like a formative first step toward the signature sound they’d achieve on the classic ‘A Night at the Opera.’ But back then, it was easy to get lost elsewhere.