Queen unleashed their fourth album, ‘A Night At The Opera’ which was one of the most expensive ever assembled at the time, a true labour of love. They recorded an album that would turn them from big stars to superstars. With the luxury of considering Queen’s entire career in hindsight, there’s little doubt that A Night at the Opera is the group’s ultimate tour de force. It went on to sell over six million copies.
Their other albums can’t paint as comprehensive, awe-inspiring and definitive a picture of what Queen stood for and accomplished quite like ‘A Night at the Opera’ did.
Queen devoted an intensive period, during June and July 1975, to developing and rehearsing new material. The recording itself took place from August to November of the same year. It was only finished shortly before the opening date of their tour at Liverpool’s Empire Theatre on 14 November. The band used several different studios including: Lansdowne Recording Studios, London, England, Olympic Sound Studios, London, Rockfield Studios, Monmouth, Wale, Roundhouse Recording Studios, London, SARM Studios, London, and Scorpio Sound Studios, London, England (where legendary British radio DJ Kenny Everett was handed a tape copy of a new unreleased track called Bohemian Rhapsody).
The album was co-produced by the band along with Roy Thomas Baker, and delivered rock, opera, heavy metal, romance, ballads, pop, sci-fi folk, music hall, ‘trad jazz’ and even the National Anthem. The album contains perhaps the most famous colossal rock songs of all time, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ which became their first U.K. #1 hit and held that top Spot for nine glorious weeks. This monster hit became #1 again sixteen years after its initial release for another amazing 5 weeks. As a result, it is one of the longest-reigning Number 1 hits of all-time.
Due to management issues, Queen received almost none of the money they earned for their previous albums. Subsequently, they ended their contract with Trident Studios and did not use their studios for their album (with the sole exception being “God Save the Queen”, which was recorded the previous year).
“For A Night at the Opera we sort of returned [to the] Queen II philosophy. We had our confidence because we had a hit. We had a kind of almost desperation about us too because we were totally bankrupt at that point. You know, we had made hit records but we hadn’t had any of the money back and if A Night at the Opera hadn’t been a huge success I think we would have just disappeared under the ocean someplace. So we were making this album knowing it was live or die … each of us individually wanted to realize our potential as writers and producers and everything.”
-Brian May interview from 1990
A Night At The Opera, as we all now know, is a masterpiece. This was the album which broke Queen to a wider audience around the world and established them as true rock superstars; in its original chart run it spent forty-four weeks in the UK album charts – four of them at No.1 – and 47 weeks in the USA Billboard album chart, reaching the highest position of No.4; its sales in the USA earned it a gold disc, whilst it went quadruple platinum in the UK.
Everything from its title (one that is borrowed from The Marx Brothers 1935 movie) to the music, the album’s artwork and the whole pomp and circumstance of the entire package is absolutely majestic.