Exploring Queen’s idiolect

It doesn’t take a Galileo to figaro the music of great British rock band Queen have had people around the world crying out ‘Mama Mia!’ in joy for more than four decades.

But why has their music stood the test of time? It’s a question University of Waikato doctoral student Nick Braae has explored and forms the focus of his recently completed PhD thesis.

Nick set out to explain Queen’s idiolect, or distinct musical style, and how the band developed across their early albums Queen, Queen II, Sheer Heart Attack, A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races, News of the World, Jazz,and The Game,which were all recorded between 1973 to 1980.

“It was fascinating to discover how their backing vocal arrangements were constructed, for example, and the idiosyncratic ways in which their songs were structured,” explains Nick.

“Further, it was extremely rewarding to uncover all of the subtle influences on the musicians from such an array of styles.”

His main finding was Queen were continually experimental in terms of the form, style and harmonies of their songs, but they also had highly consistent ways of arranging and recording songs. As a result, many tracks struck a fine balance between musical novelty and familiarity.

Another finding of his research concerned the band’s development, with Nick discovering they slowly pieced together their style through the early albums, with their biggest hit in 1975 ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ the culmination of this process and a summation of their musical essence.

Drawn to the group because of their rich and intricate songwriting and production style, Nick says a highlight of his research was meeting and interviewing Queen guitarist Brian May in September 2014.

“He gave many insights into what occurred behind the studio doors, and these provided an invaluable complement to my own analysis. He was also very friendly, polite, and really interested in my work, it was quite surreal,” says Nick.

Chief supervisor Associate Professor Ian Whalley says given the popularity of Queen internationally, it was surprising how little has been written on them from a musical perspective.

“Nick’s thesis was innovative in its use of traditional musicological techniques to address Queen’s work, while also drawing on ideas from contemporary popular music studies,” says Ian.

“The study has addressed a large gap in the popular music literature, while also developing methodologies that can be applied to other bodies of work.”

Nick currently works at both the University of Waikato and the Waikato Institute of Technology and has published a number of articles and essays from his thesis, which he is currently developing into a book.

In collaboration with Marie Berginiat of Jean Monnet University in France, he has written a guide to Queen’s songs in French Queen, La Discographie which was released in June 2016.

What is your favourite Queen song? Post your favourite tune below!

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1 Comment

Ready Freddie

Posted on 07-07-2016 12:03 | By shoota69

I love songs like Prophets Song, 39, Somebody to Love but ultimately cant go past Bo Rhap

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