[Review] Queen: A Day at the Races (1976)

Presented as a bookend to the masterful Opera, this is just a slight notch below in terms of quality and power.

Kronomyth 5.0: A horse of more or less the same color.

A Day at the Races was contrived as a bookend to A Night at the Opera, which has historically been its undoing. Compared to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” even Race’s best song, Somebody to Love, was found wanting. That few songs could hold a candle to “Somebody to Love” was lost in the comparison, as though an endless supply of brilliant songs from Queen was simply presumed. And, really, you’d have to be a jaded prat not to appreciate that A Day at the Races is the work of a brilliant band.

Produced by the band, Queen’s fifth album plays the card of high camp at a time when punk music was rejecting everything that Queen represented. News of the World silenced their critics soon enough, but A Day at the Races lent credence to the (misguided) criticism that Queen was a part of the old guard. Certainly, Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” and Teo Torriate are from very different worlds. But which world would you rather live in?

The one criticism that A Day at the Races hasn’t been able to escape is the fact that it feels like an inferior copy of A Night at the Opera. Choosing an identical design and title for both albums was, in retrospect, a risky move. Audiences naturally compared the two, and there was only the one conclusion that could be made. But the suggestion that Queen had run out of ideas was ridiculous. You Take My Breath Away, Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy and The Millionaire Waltz, while hardly modish, are inspired creations. Drowse, You and I and Long Away may not eclipse the achievements of “I’m in Love with My Car,” “You’re My Best Friend” and “’39,” but they’re clearly the product of the same minds.

Perhaps Roy Thomas Baker reined them in more. The band’s first self-produced album, however, sounds remarkably good, especially in the remastered Deluxe Edition. The ending of “You Take My Breath Away,” for example, is literally breathtaking. For a band that made stylistic leaps between albums, A Day at the Races may be a case of a band resting on their laurels but, if so, it was more a case of resting at the mountaintop to admire the view—and you’d have to be blind not to see this as a band at the peak of their abilities.

Original elpee version

A1. Tie Your Mother Down (Brian May) (4:46)
A2. You Take My Breath Away (Freddie Mercury) (4:40)
A3. Long Away (Brian May) (3:55)
A4. The Millionaire Waltz (Freddie Mercury) (4:52)
A5. You and I (John Deacon) (3:23)
B1. Somebody to Love (Freddie Mercury) (4:57)
B2. White Man (Brian May) (4:56)
B3. Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy (Freddie Mercury) (2:54)
B4. Drowse (Roger Taylor) (3:41)
B5. Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together) (Brian May) (5:51)

CD reissue bonus tracks
11. Tie Your Mother Down (1991 remix) (3:44)
12. Somebody to Love (1991 remix) (5:00)

The Players

John Deacon (Fender bass), Brian May (guitars, vocals, leader of the orchestra), Freddie Mercury (vocal, piano, choir meister, tantrums), Roger Taylor (drums, vocal, percussion, pandemonium). Produced by Queen; engineered by Mike Stone; track 11 remixed by Matt Wallace, track 12 remixed by Randy Badazz.

The Pictures

Art direction by David Costa. Inner sleeve co-ordination by Cream.

The Plastic

Released on elpee and cassette on December 18, 1976 in the UK (EMI, EMTC/TCEMTC-104), the US (Elektra, 6E/TC5-101), Argentina (EMI, 8366), Brazil (EMI, 31C 064 98485), Colombia (EMI, 11847), Germany (EMI, 1C 064 98485), Japan (Elektra, P-10300E), Mexico and Spain (EMI, SLEM706), the Netherlands (EMI, 5C 062 98485) and Yugoslavia (Jugoton, SLEMI78002) with gatefold cover and inner sleeve. Reached #1 on the UK charts and #5 on the US charts (RIAA-certified platinum record).

  1. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc in 1991 in the US (Hollywood, HR-61035) with 2 bonus tracks.
  2. Re-issued on remastered compact disc and cassette in 1993 in Europe (789493).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in Germany and the Netherlands (EMI, CDP 7 462008).
  4. Re-released on remastered elpee in the US (Mobile Fidelity, MFSL-1-256).
  5. Re-packaged with Single Hits I on 2-for-1 compact disc in 2000 in Russia (CD-Maximum, Q04).
  6. Re-released on 25th anniversary remastered compact disc in 2001 in Japan (EMI, TOCP-65105).
  7. Re-released on 24-bit remastered compact disc in 2004 in Japan (EMI, TOCP-67345).

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