1978 was a monumental year for music. Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town had been released, along with other seminal works such as Van Halen’s eponymous debut, and the ever-American rock band Boston’s Don’t Look Back. But somewhere within those 365 days of musical precision was Queen’s latest diamond, Jazz.
Following on from Queen’s last album – the back-to-basics rock record that was News of the World in 1977 – the British boys wanted to make another album that shone from start to finish. And boy did they deliver.
Jazz, criminally, is an album sadly shunned by many casual Queen fans and rockers. Sandwiched between News of the World and 1980’s The Game (both of which spawned mythical cadences such as ‘We Will Rock You’, ‘We Are the Champions’, ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ and ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ between them), Jazz suffers from gross negligence like a child whose mother has walked out on them. I must admit even I – an avid Queen fanatic – forget it amidst the waterfall of Queen records at times. And this is a cardinal sin.
To begin with, let’s set the record straight. Jazz was never forgotten or bashed by the music charts – compare it to Queen’s later venture into disco, Hot Space, and Jazz might as well be musical scripture – in fact it did rather well. The album rocketed to number two on the UK Albums Chart of that year, and overall has sold five-million copies worldwide. Furthermore, the LP featured ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’, ‘Bicycle Race’ (released as a groundbreaking double A-side) and the energetic, zombie-battering ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, all complete with excellent vocals from Freddie. Mercury has never sounded so good on a record.
The problem is that no one seems to pay attention to the other songs on the album, as is so often the case when two or three stand-out tracks are picked for the singles treatment. The record opens with ‘Mustapha, dubbed by Circus Magazine as an ‘up-tempo, Arabic rocker’. A track created from the fusion of English, Arabic and some gibberish that sounds vaguely similar, ‘Mustapha’ is possibly the most experimental track Queen had concocted since 1975’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. Beginning with Freddie chanting Arabic down the microphone and into some long-lost abyss, we feel and hear real emotion in his voice, before the track descends into a rock ‘n roll anthem that frequented the band’s circuit many times from then on. Brian May shows us exactly what his Red Special can do, providing flawless guitar work that brings us to our next stop on the ‘Jazz’ train.
‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ is already a Queen track engulfed in glory and greatness, loved by fans and general rock followers alike. Featuring lead chorus vocals, guitar and songwriting from Mister Brian May, this song really shows us exactly why Queen were such an amazing band: They were all talented in their own ways. They could all write amazing songs, sing beautifully, and most of all show us their aggressive side when they wanted to (Except Deacy, but he gave us ‘Spread Your Wings’ so he’s excused). ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ is an ode to the larger ladies that rock bands so ubiquitously love, and for anyone that loves Queen, this track will prove to be the record’s magnum opus.
The album’s third track, ‘Jealousy’, is a slower, more heart-fueled piece and shows (once again) the painstaking pathos Freddie can put behind a song. It’s so tragic, telling the story of what jealousy can do, and for that it’s just so wrenching. Still, like the song’s progenitor itself, it suffers from where it’s placed on the track listing.
‘Bicycle Race’ is a song that, for all its perks, I cannot stand. It’s the only Queen song I’ve never seen the appeal of, and yet somehow I still find myself shouting like some mad prophet whenever it comes on. ‘Bicycle! Bicycle!’ the band roars as Freddie blasts into three minutes of two-wheeled vehicles and movie hate. It’s easy to see why Queen fans go crazy for it, and another reason why ‘Jazz’ can never really be forgotten.
The record’s next two pieces, ‘If You Can’t Beat Them’ and ‘Let Me Entertain You’ are clearly anthems for the arenas and stadiums and serve Queen’s catalogue very well for grand tracks. ‘Dead on Time’ brings together the three singing boys (And John who is, as always, precise on bass) for a chorus that infects the very soul. It’s one of the best from the album, and sadly one that is the most overlooked.
Sadly, it’s the record’s last half that lets the side down. While there is nothing wrong with ‘In Only Seven Days’, ‘Dreamers Ball’ and ‘Fun It’, there is nothing all that remarkable about them either. They feature a nice comedown of slower tracks before ramping back up to crazy, only Roger-esque rhythms, but for me the band’s next triumph lies in Brian’s track ‘Leaving Home Ain’t Easy’.
It’s always fascinating to see what the Doctor brews up for the next Queen album, and here May delivers a perfectly-packaged slice of realism. Leaving home really isn’t easy, and his flawless voice hits home with it. ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ is, naturally, a legend amongst the heroes of Queen’s discography, leaving the listener feeling wholly unstoppable. It’s impossible to listen to this track and not feel good.
And lastly Roger’s ‘More of That Jazz’. It’s ballistic. It’s brutal. It’s a barrage of guitar and kickdrums. It’s… well, it’s Roger all over. And that’s not a bad thing. Though, if you ask me, the record should have ended on ‘Don’t Stop Me…’. Either way, Queen’s 1978 venture into the rock and rhythm, ‘Jazz’, is a perfect one. It has its stumbles, its falls, but all in all it has life. It’s a record with one purpose. To entertain you. And there it succeeds.
“Tonight, I’m gonna have myself a real good time…”