Image Credit: By Electra Records via Wikimedia Commons


This Saturday, November 21 marks the 40th anniversary of Queen’s breakout album, A Night at the Opera. The band’s fourth album features some of the tracks Queen is best known for, including You’re My Best Friend, Love of my Life and their most well known anthem: Bohemian Rhapsody.




Heading into 1975, it was widely known that Queen was struggling financially. Despite two of the band’s previous three albums achieving top ten status, it was a very stark reality that Queen would have most likely disbanded if this album fell flat. It later came to light that the band’s management, Trident, was holding out on money from the band – including a flat refusal to provide lead singer Freddie Mercury with a piano to compose new music. A bitter battle and ultimate separation from Trident ensued, concluding with Freddie penning Death On Two Legs about the entire experience.


Death On Two Legs was the most vicious lyric I ever wrote. It was so vindictive that Brian felt bad singing it. No-one would ever believe how much hate and venom went into the singing of that song, let alone the lyrics themselves“. – Freddie Mercury (queenonline.com)





A Night at the Opera was recorded with the help of six different studios throughout London & the UK between August & November of 1975. The final estimated cost for the album fell in around 40,000 pounds. According to thisdayinmusic.com, that would come to around $500,000 in modern day. The vocal layering for the chorus of Bohemian Rhapsody alone raked up a week’s worth of 12-hour days. It goes without saying – the investment certainly paid off.





While Feddie Mercury and lead guitarist Brian May wrote the majority of the songs on A Night at the Opera, including Death on Two Legs, Love of my Life and Bohemian Rhapsody – drummer Roger Taylor and bass guitarist John Deacon each managed to contribute at least one song – including Deacon’s lone (but notable) contribution – You’re my Best Friend, written for his wife Veronica Tetzlaff. While John Deacon played the Wurlitzer electric piano on the recording of the track, during performances Freddie would take over and perform on a grand piano, citing his disdain by referencing to the Wurlitzer as “tiny and horrible.




In an April 8, 1976 review of A Night at the Opera, Kris Nicholson of The Rolling Stone made note of Queen’s apparent “annoying weaknesses, notably a tendency toward lyrical abstraction.” He labelled The Prophet’s Song as the album’s best track, without making any mention of Bohemian Rhapsody. Since then, The Rolling Stone has given the single the accolades it deserves, naming Bohemian Rhapsody one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.




The fact that the album shares a title with the 1935 film by the Marx Brothers is no coincidence – the band was watching the film while in the studio recording the album that would come to be called A Night at the Opera. In an interview with Supersonic Saturday Scene in 1976, Roger Taylor explains “it seems to fit in so well with just some of the things we were doing on the album, for instance, some of the operatic bits in Bohemian Rhapsody and things like that.”


Sources: queenonline.com and BBC Music, unless otherwise stated.