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volume 3
february 2001

The Queen anomaly

 





  Melody repetition and the melody factor in Queen songs
by Denes Pinter
Previous
  In the 1970s and 1980s the British rock group Queen scored an impressive number of hits. Freddie Mercury (vocals, keyboard), Brian May (guitar), John Deacon (bass) and Roger Taylor (drums) left their mark upon popular music with songs departing from the standard rock idiom. Their sound was "excessive," but presented with a strong touch of irony and sincerity, and their songs were always very strong in their melodies. This last element has often been overlooked, but is one of the central characteristics of Queen's style and achievement. Compared with other contemporaneous songs, Queen's repertoire shows a huge overdose of melodic content, strengthened yet by a low level of melody repetition. Counting melody lines and their duration D. Pinter introduces us to the Queen anomaly.
 
1 Melody repetition. Queen wrote a number of songs that in many ways belong to the most interesting ones you can find listening to radio stations covering both the seventies and eighties. When people list the characteristics of Queen songs, they often point at the catchy melodies, the great vocal harmonies and the guitar orchestrations, and of course, the expressive qualities of Freddie Mercury's voice. Hardly anyone, however, ever mentions that Queen usually wrote less repetitive songs than other artists. This low level of melody repetition, nevertheless, is an important mark of Queen's song repertoire. This article discusses this remarkable anomaly and nothing else. So you will read nothing here about scales or key changes, only about this less frequently discussed factor — the use of melody repetition. I will leave the rest aside for the real experts, to which I do not belong.
  Since the very beginnings of music repetition has been an important element of songs and compositions. The British musicologist Richard Middleton once even described music as "the art of iteration." In modern pop music the importance of repetition still has grown because the success of a song depends on the ease with which it can be memorized. Most people memorize songs by the inner vocalizing of — parts of — the lyrics and, more often, by humming melody lines. Therefore, to be successful it is crucial for a song to have at least one catchy melody line or riff. If the melody succeeds in impressing enough people, their sales will push the single up on the charts and their requests will advocate its appearance in shows. The song then will attract more and more listeners and its melodies will be safeguarded in public memory. Lacking really catchy parts a song, of course, still has the chance to be charted if the lyrics are good (rap) or if the video and the promotion are effective enough. As a rule, however, a catchy melody line is a necessary condition for a song's success.
  The more times the main tune of a song is repeated, the easier it becomes to memorize it. This is not difficult to understand: think about the way in which people memorize a text by reading it over and over again. If played frequently for months, even "stupid" commercial tunes and radio signals can be remembered ten to twenty years afterwards. The same goes for less stupid repetitions as iterated melody lines and refrains. Take for instance Steam's song "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" (1969). The catchy refrain is repeated many times throughout the song. Though many people will have forgotten the group's name, they can sing along with the main melody after hearing a few bars. The remainder of the melodies is much less known, probably because it is less catchy. If the refrain — like in many Queen songs — would have been repeated only three or four times, this song may have not survived in public memory nor have reached a Number 1 position in the US.
  There seems to be a relation between the appreciation of a melody and the number of times it is repeated in a song. Repetition contributes to how good a melody is thought to be — at first hearing. To the ears of the listeners a many times repeated melody can turn a song into a virtually "better" song. This effect clearly also works for songs as a whole, as more air play can make a song more popular. Anyway that's not a bad thing since a virtually good melody is definitely a good melody — at least for some weeks. Still, over-repetition is considered one of the "cheapest" tricks in the book of a songwriter. Queen refrained from repetition and this may explain the relatively slow reception of some of their songs, at least in the US.
  In the 1970s and 1980s the US market was not very open to musical innovation. Three of Queen's more repetitive songs — "We Will Rock You" (1979), "Another One Bites The Dust" (1980), and "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" (1980) — were their most successful songs in the US. Their less repetitive worldwide hit "Bohemian Rhapsody" (1975), however, only reached a Number 9 position on the US charts in 1976, while more repetitive Number 1 disco hits — "That's The Way (I Like It)" (1975) by KC and the Sunshine Band and "Fly Robin Fly" (1975) by the Silver Convention — set the trend at that time. "Under Pressure", Queen's collaboration with David Bowie, reached a low Number 29 on the US charts in 1982, while the record was a Number 1 hit in the UK. Both songs prove that the US single market at that time was not an ideal place for a complex rock band like Queen and its non-repetitive songs. "Under Pressure" later on returned as a sample in Vanilla Ice's pop-rap hit "Ice Ice Baby", an US Number 1 in 1990 and also a telling and extreme example of "less (melody) is more." In 1992, by the way, "Bohemian Rhapsody" eventually did reach a Number 2 position in the US, when the song was included in the movie "Wayne's World".
  Just like "Bohemian Rhapsody" (1975) many other songs of Queen have a low level of melody repetition. We will demonstrate this by adopting two approaches. First we will examine how many times melodies are repeated in a song by listing examples. Next we will measure the "melody factor": the nett melodic content of the lead vocals. The first analysis will give us a rough indication of the amount of melody repetition in Queen songs compared with more or less contemporaneous FM-radio songs. The latter will show in a visual way how much different Queen songs were as compositions in a special and formal way. Keep in mind that these methods, without further analysis of harmony, melody and lyrics, will not tell us — in any direct way — that Queen's compositions were qualitatively better than the songs of other groups or artists. To make things easier, both approaches here will ignore the instrumental parts of the songs. Instrumental songs, classical compositions, rap songs and so on, will be kept out of the comparison as they deserve an analysis of their own.
2 Counting verses and refrains. In our first approach we will concentrate on the repetition of verses and refrains. Those are the parts, where FM-Pop songs usually have at least one melody — reaching the length of one bar or one line of lyrics — that is repeated about six to eight times. This format is so common that it can be considered a standard. Above a certain level the repetitions can make a song sound monotonous and boring. However, the experience of monotony depends on many factors: how powerful are the melodies in the remainder of the song; how often is the melody repeated, how many times in a row; how long are the repeated parts altogether, and how frequently can the song be heard? Bands often try to break the monotony with key-shifting, adding improvised parts over the refrain, using altered endings and beginnings and changing the tone of voice. Listen for instance to Free's "All Right Now" (1970), or to the verses of Queen's "Back Chat" (1982).
  Repetition, and therefore a certain degree of monotony, can be enjoyable in certain styles, for instance if it fits the mood of the song. Really monotonous songs, however, will become boring very quickly. Still, these songs can survive. Due to the exposure to repetition, years later even one appearance in the air will be enough to refresh the fading memories of the public. The less repetition a given song has, the more its survival will depend on good melodies. Sometimes even a well-composed song can not survive because it's not repetitive enough. Queen's "Love Of My Life" (1975), for instance, has got very catchy and beautiful melodies and a brilliant arrangement. Still, twenty-five years after its release it is slowly fading away in public memory — at least in Hungary, where I'm living. It shows that the actual survival value of a song sometimes does absolutely not depend on how good the song in question is, but on luck, trends, promotion ... and repetition.
  The Queen songs are not very repetitive. Some of them, however, definitely are. We will start our analysis with those songs, comparing them with other repetitive hit songs. We will illustrate our argument with long lists of examples. Don't take it as a negative appraisal of those songs. You will find many great ones among them ... but some musically pretty plain ones as well. A good example of what is meant here by repetition is Gloria Gaynor's disco hit "I Will Survive" (1979). This song is built out of ten verses, which are almost the same melodically. The monotony is broken with tempo changes and instrumental bridges. Uriah Heap's "Lady In Black" (1971), a song based upon just two chords, offers another good example with its eleven verses and thirteen refrains. Again, in Sting's recent "Desert Rose" (1999) the main theme is repeated many times, but here the changing backing chords are breaking the monotony — not thoroughly though. Last but not least, listen to the Beatles' "Hey Jude" (1968). The "body" of this song is not repetitive, but the refrain is repeated 19 times in a row. Now, let's look at some hit songs with five or more repeated verses (Table 1).
  Table 1: Some examples of songs with five or more verses
 
 
Abba - The Winner Takes It All
Animals, The - House Of The Rising Sun
Beatles, The - Let It Be, Revolution
Brown, James - I Feel Good
Cocker, Joe - You Can Leave Your Hat On
Cool And The Gang - Fresh
Culture Club, The - Do You Really Want To Hurt Me
Dire Straits - Sultans Of Swing
Doobie Brothers, The - Long Train Runnin'
Eagles, The - Hotel California
Guns 'n' Roses - One In A Million
Hendrix, Jimi - Hey Joe
Joel, Billy - River Of Dreams
Lennon, John - Woman
Little Richard - Long Tall Sally, Tutti Frutti
Lynyrd Skynyrd - Sweet Home Alabama
Madonna - Material Girl
Metallica - Sanitorium
Pink Floyd - Money
Presley, Elvis - Hound Dog
Rolling Stones, The - Angie
Scorpions, The - Still Loving You
Simon & Garfunkel - The Sounds Of Silence
Status Quo - In The Army Now
Stewart, Dave - Heart Of Stone
Sting - An Englishman In New York
Toto - Africa
Vega, Suzanne - Tom's Diner
Wonder, Stevie - Part-time Lover, You Are The Sunshine Of My Life
Zager & Evans - In The Year Of 2525
Zappa, Frank - My Name Is Bobby Brown
 
A quick look at the Queen' songbook learns that the group preferred three verses, even in long songs like "It's Late" (1977). Queen however wrote many un-Queen-like songs, and sometimes they wrote songs with four or more verses too. Examples of Queen songs with five or more verses are: "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" (1980: 5 verses), "Headlong" (1991: 5 verses), "White Man" (1976: 5 verses), "Invisible Man" (1989: 6 verses) and "Las Palabras De Amore" (1982: 6 verses), and "Back Chat" (1982: 10 verses). [1] Except for the tracks on the albums "The Game" (1980) and "Hot Space" (1982) songs with more than three verses, however, were rare. The "Jazz" album (1978) is remarkable in this respect. It contains thirteen songs and almost all of them have a maximum of three or four repetitions of a verse, bridge or refrain. Now let's look at the repetition of refrains. Table 2 lists some examples.
  Table 2: Some examples of songs with more than eight times repeated refrain or melody
 
 
Abba - Voulez Vous
Army Of Lovers - Crucified
Beloved, The - Sweet Harmony
Blondie - Maria
Bloodhound Gang - Bad Touch
Boney M - Boat On The River
Chili - Come To L.A.
Chumbawamba - She's Got All The Friends, I Get No Job
Cool And The Gang - Let's Go Dancing, Celebration
East 17 - House Of Love
Goombay Dance Band - Sun Of Jamaica
INXS - Baby Don't Cry
Jacks, Terry - Season In The Sun
Jackson, Michael - Earth Song
Kiss - I Was Made For Loving You
Kravitz, Lenny - It Ain't Over Till It's Over
Manfred Mann's Earth Band - Blinded By The Light
Osibisa - Sunshine Day
Ottawan - D.I.S.C.O., Crazy Music Crazy People
Rednex - Cotton Eye Joe
Scatman John - Scatman
Simon & Garfunkel - Cecilia
Smokie - Living Next Door To Alice
Tears For Fears - Shout
Tokens, The - The Lion Sleeps Tonight
Trio - Da Da Da
Wakelin, Johnny - In Zaire
Wham - Edge Of Heaven
 
  As we can see, there are many popular songs with iterated refrains. There are two Queen songs with a similar "problem": "Father To Son" (1974) and "In The Lap Of The Gods ... Revisited" (1974). The latter song repeats its catchy "sing-along" refrain no less than eight times in a row. The whole song consists of two verses and nine refrains. Exactly copied refrains, however, are an exception in the Queen' songbook. On live shows, by the way, the group played only four (or so) repetitions of the refrain of "In The Lap Of The Gods ... Revisited". Another catchy outro-refrain can be found in the song "The Miracle" (1989). Here the refrain was repeated only four times, which (to me) seems to be a better choice, than the eight repetitions in "In The Lap Of The Gods ... Revisited".
  Queen's song "Keep Yourself Alive" (1973) almost fits into this category, as the refrain is repeated seven times; four times in a row in the outro, but varied and key-shifted. Being the most repetitive song from the "Queen I" album, it is no wonder that this song was chosen for the single release. For at first hearing this song really seems to be the most catchy one on the album, more than like say the acyclic song "My Fairy King" (1973) which shows almost no repetition at all. To this song one really has to listen several times before getting impressed. Queen's inclination to refrain from repetition also shows in "Fat Bottomed Girls" (1978) whose refrain is repeated only three times — other songwriters would have repeated it about twice as much. The same goes for "Bicycle Race" (1978), where the refrain is repeated only four times.
  Melody repetition, of course, is not the same as the repetition of verses or refrains. A melody module can, and often will, return more times as a section of a verse or refrain. Often songwriters use verse structures with inner repetition, like AA, AA', AAAA, AAAB, ABAB, ABAC, and so on. Nice examples of melody-duplication (AA, ABAB) are "Summer Night City" (1979) by Abba and, in the Queen repertoire "Radio Ga-Ga", their hit for 1984. In Queen's "Tie Your Mother Down" (1976) we find three refrains, each with AABAAC form. The iteration of verses and refrain thus strengthens the repetition of melody lines. The title-melody ('A') of "Tie Your Mother Down" (1976) all in all is repeated a dozen times. However, as all those lines together take only about 12 seconds of the song, this repetition not even comes close to sounding monotonous. Now let's look at some other examples of songs with repeated sections (Table 3)
  Table 3: Some examples of songs with
AA, AAAA, AAAB, AAA'B, ...etc. section(s)
 
 
Aerosmith - Janie's Got A Gun
AC/DC - Highway To Hell
Backstreet Boys, The - I Want It That Way
Beatles, The - Love Me Do
Birds, The - Turn Turn Turn
Black Sabbath - Paranoid
Chic - Le Freak
Crowded House - Weather With You
Doors, The - Riders On The Storm
Earth Wind And Fire - September
Eiffel 65 - Blue
Enya - Orinoco Flow
Equals, The - Baby Come Back
Fine Young Cannibals, The - She Drives Me Crazy
Franky Goes To Hollywood - Relax
Iron Maiden - The Wicker Man
Jackson, Michael - Dirty Diana
Nena - 99 Luftballons
Petty, Tom - Learning To Fly
Red Hot Chili Peppers, The - Under The Bridge
Sex Pistols, The - Anarchy In The UK
Springsteen, Bruce - Born In The USA
 
  The songs in Table 3 exemplify several forms of inner melody repetition in the verses or refrains. Black Sabbath's "Paranoid" for instance shows the form of AA. In the Doors' "Riders On The Storm" we find AABA. Nena's "99 Luftballons" has ABAB and a multiverse form. A popular form of melody repetition is an iterated title-phrase. Queen uses this form in "Sheer Heart Attack" (1977), "Leaving Home Ain't Easy" (1978) and "It's A Kind Of Magic" (1986). In the last song the title-phrase with the same melody line frequently reappears in the pauses of the lead vocal. In "We Will Rock You" (1977) the title-phrase is repeated eight (2 + 2 + 4) times. "Dancer" (1982), "Don't Try Suicide" (1980), "Put Out The Fire" (1982) and "White Man (1976) all have a title-phrase with the same melody opening the lines of the refrain. Similar examples are "Headlong" (1991) and "Scandal" (1989). These inner structures of verses and refrains will multiply the occurence of melody lines. In "Crazy Little Thing ..." (1980) the form of the verses is AAB, hence there are as many as ten repetitions of "A" in this song — a great rockabilly tune however. Another relatively repetitive Queen song is "Funny How Love Is" (1974) — in a special way. The album version of "I Want It All" (1989) repeats its refrain line six times (3 x 2), the single version seven times.
  The structure of popsongs is also important, because it frames the location of repetitions in certain parts of a song. In pop music the "gravity center"of verses usually lies much closer to the start than to the end of the song. In many songs Queen varied the amount of repetitions. In "Flash's Theme" (1981) we hear six repeated "Flash, oh-oh" lines: four before the first bridge, two before the second, and different bridge. They probably thought that a repeat of the same four lines before the second bridge would have turned the song boring — to their standards. For similar reasons the last part of "Innuendo" (1991) contains only one verse instead of two as in the first part. Noteworthy in this respect are also: "All Dead, All Dead" (1977), "Brighton Rock" (1974), "Doing All Right" (1973)), "Hammer To Fall" (1984) and "She Makes Me" (1974). In "Another One Bites The Dust" (1980) the most — six times, that's not that much — repeated melody in the lead vocal can be found in the verses (AABB'). Four of the "Another One Bites The Dust" lines, by the way, partly repeat the famous bass riff, which makes this line virtually the most repeated one.
3 Non-repetitive Queen songs. Now, that I have listed almost all of the repetitive examples, let's look at some non-repetitive ones. A good starting point is "Bohemian Rhapsody" (1975), an acyclic song. This form is rarely used in FM-Pop music. There are five to six different parts in "Bohemian Rhapsody", and only the second one — the "ballad" — is cyclic with two, repeated verses. Now and then you can hear the recurrence of short melody lines — "Easy come easy go, little high, little low," "I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me." It was a risky step to chose this song as the first single of the album "A Night At The Opera". Fortunately in the year of its release the song got the critical air time to start the chain-reaction, in the US unfortunately it did not.
  Next there is "Under Pressure" (1982). At first sight the two halves of this song have no melodies in common except for the end, where the opening riff returns. The song, however, provides one more fine example of using melody repetition. The melody behind the phrase "'cause love's such an old fashioned word" we also can find in the backing vocal in the second verse. "Scandal" (1989) also has two different sections, this time showing up only in the second half of the song. Many Queen songs, by the way, consist of too many sections to simply call them bridges or refrains — "module" seems to be a better label for them. Check out "Princes Of The Universe" (1986)! Other songs with remarkable long sections are "You Take My Breath Away" (1976) and "My Melancholy Blues" (1977), both compositions by Freddie Mercury. John Deacon also wrote some songs with remarkable long cycles of repetition: "Who Needs You" (1977) and "Spread Your Wings" (1977).
  "I Want To Break Free" (1984) deserves special attention. This song's structure is built out of three verses, one bridge, and a verse for the solo (album version). The verses don't duplicate any line directly, though there is a repetition of some variants of the first line — in each of the three verses in a different way. With a maximum of three to four repetitions this is one of the least repetitive "disco"-songs. One can hardly find a less repetitive one. The song also offers an example of another variant of repetition. The first line of the verse also appears in the synth solo. Such iterations of an instrumental solo can be found in many songs. The lead melodies of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" (1971), for instance, are derived from a guitar riff. The same goes for the refrain of Queen's "The Prophet's Song" (1975). Sometimes things turn the other way around as the guitar solos are copying the lead melody. Listen for instance to the early Beatles songs "And I Love Her" (1964), "I'll Follow The Sun" (1964), and "I Should Have Known Better" (1964). Some examples of songs from other groups are listed in Table 4.
  Table 4: Some examples of songs with instrumental solos or sections copying the lead melody
 
 
Abba - I Do, I Do I Do
Armstrong, Louis - Hello Dolly
Kiss - God Gave Rock And Roll To You
Martin, Ricky - Livin' La Vida Loca
Modern Talking - Brother Louie
Ottawan - Crazy Music Crazy People
Stewart, Rod - Sailing
Twisted Sisters - We're Not Gonna Take It
 
  Queen' examples of guitar solos starting with a melody imported from lead vocal are "Dancer" (1982), "Dreamers Ball" (1978), "Heaven For Everyone" (1995), "Killer Queen" (1974), "Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon" (1975), and "Scandal" (1989).
  Finally we arrive at "Don't Stop Me Now" (1978). This great song shows one of the most clever ways of using repetition and melody variants in a popsong. The repetitions and variants within the song modules provide cohesion between the intro, the verses and the bridge. The form of the song is simple: Intro, Verse, Bridge, Verse, Bridge2, Verse (solo then ending), Bridge, Intro. The sequence of melody modules is very interesting (Figure 1). The verses and bridge can be regarded as an expansion of the intro's melody material. In the verses the 'AB' modules of the intro are repeated twice with some variation. Then we hear a return of the 'DE' module, again with some variation. Next there are some extra modules pasted in between 'E' in the verse and 'F' in the bridge, while the bridge itself ends with a new module 'K'. This special way of melody expansion inside the original sequence is very rare in pop music. The forms of the verse and the bridge, by the way, are very similar. If you omit the 'CDE' sequence from the middle of the verse, you'll get the same pattern of alternating modules.
  Figure 1: Melody expansion in "Don't Stop Me Now"
 
 
[intro]
Tonight I'm gonna have myself a real good time A
I feel alive B
And the world C
It's turning inside out, yeah D
I'm floating around in ecstasy E
So don't stop me now F
Don't stop me 'cause I'm having a good time having a good time F variant
[verse]
I'm a shooting star leaping through the skies like a tiger A
Defying the laws of gravity B
I'm a racing car passing by like Lady Godiva A variant
I'm gonna go go go B
There's no stopping me C (variant)
I'm burning through the skies, yeah D
Two hundred degrees that's why E variant
They call me Mister Fahrenheit G
I'm trav'ling at the speed of light G variant
I wanna make a supersonic man of you H
[bridge]
Don't stop me now I
I'm having such a good time I'm having a ball J
Don't stop me now I
If you wanna have a good time just give me a call J variant
Don't stop me now ('Cause I'm having a good time) F variant
Don't stop me now (Yes I'm having a good time) F variant
I don't want to stop at all K (shifted G)
 
  Our interpretation of "Don't Stop Me Now" (1978) as an 'expansion' model, of course, does not have to coincide with the actual process of composition. It is also possible that Freddie first composed the verse and the bridge, and added the intro later on as an extract of the other two. This 'extract' model actually is more simple and looks less unusual than the "expansion" model. It still is unusual enough, however, and you will not easily find other songs like it.
  Summarizing our findings thus far, we can conclude that the Queen songs seemingly deviate from the standards of rock and pop music in respect to melody repetition. A rough comparison suggests that there is less repetition of verses and refrains in the Queen songbook, which moreover includes more long songs with intricate non-repetitive sequences of melody lines. Next we will try to measure the melodic content of the Queen songs in a more quantitative way.
4 Measuring the melody factor. For our second approach to the Queen songs we timed the nett melodic content of the lead vocals with a stopwatch. To shorten things we will simply call the outcome the melody factor. This factor indicates the real amount of lead melody, composed for a given song — except for the instrumental parts. Listening to the songs, the clock was stopped at each pause in the melody of more than one second, even if the pause itself was part of the melody. The clock was blocked at every repeated or just slightly modified part, reaching the length of one bar or one line of lyrics. Spoken or just "semi-melodic" phrases were also omitted. Phrases with one or two modified less "important" notes, matching the number of syllables, were regarded as slightly modified parts. The same applies to similar sequences with key-shifting, modified backing chords, ornaments, and improvisations over a repeated refrain — e.g. a big part of the outro in "Somebody To Love" (1976) or INXS' "Baby Don't Cry" (1992). Characteristic harmonies — like those in "Somebody To Love" — were counted in, while the lead vocal was off. Many "too" long — over two seconds — sustained notes were also cut off.
  For the Queen sample I measured all their studio albums except the movie soundtrack "Flash Gordon" (1981). Instrumental songs like "Procession" (1974), "God Save The Queen" (1975), "Seven Seas Of Rhye" (pre-visited on Queen I, 1973) were also omitted. All in all this totals to 148 Queen songs (Appendix 1). This sample was compared with songs aired by a popular Hungarian radio-station with oldies up to 1990. For this FM-radio sample I measured 125 songs in a row at the year end 2000 and the start of 2001. Sometimes it was not quite clear what to measure and what not. Many recent music, especially R&B, makes a heavy use of section-variants and ornaments, which sometimes results in a relative high melody factor, and in difficult measuring. But usually this factor can be measured with a tolerance of a few percent which is enough for a first, rough comparison.
  Since their early successes in the mid-1970s Queen has become one of the most popular bands world-wide, the US excepted. Queen and Beatles have some things common: outstanding melody-writing capabilities, creative approach of recording and arrangement, top-popularity across Europe. Therefore it seemed fit to make a comparison with the Fab Four repertoire. So I measured the melody factor of all the songs from "Please Please Me" (1963), "Revolver" (1966), "Sgt. Pepper's" (1967), the "White Album" (1968), "Abbey Road" (1969) — see Table 5. I checked the results with some songs I expected to be rather "short" or "long", i.e. "Hey Jude" (1968). Among those Beatles songs this last song came out as the song with the highest melody factor: 53 seconds — with "You Never Give Me Your Money" (52 seconds) as "silver medalist".
  Table 5: Parameters of the melody factor of some Beatles albums
 
Record N Minimum Maximum Range Mean Std. Deviation

Please Please Me 8 15 27 12 20.9 5.1
Revolver 13 7 36 29 17.7 6.8
Sgt. Pepper's 14 12 40 28 26.6 9.3
White Album 29 3 45 42 22.9 9.4
Abbey Road 17 8 52 44 23.0 10.8

Total 81 3 52 49 22.5 22.5
  Queen's "best" one is "Bohemian Rhapsody" (1975) with a score of 165 seconds. This almost equals the total of the eight songs the Beatles wrote for their first album "Please Please Me". Again, it's not "fair" to make a comparison in this direct way. A long song is not in any way better than a short one. "Bohemian Rhapsody" is almost six minutes long, while the songs on "Please Please Me" have a length of about two minutes each. The slow paced four-part intro of "Bohemian Rhapsody" takes about 40 seconds, but one couldn't deconstruct it to make two songs out of it equaling "Let It Be" (1969: 20 seconds) and "And I Love Her" (1964: 18 seconds). On the other hand one can hardly find a melody in a song like "Love Of My Life" (1975: 65 seconds) which gets less than five stars in regard of catchyness.
Except for these two songs there are yet another forty Queen songs with a melody factor reaching 50 seconds and more — about every fourth according to my measurements. [2] The Queen sample also included 17 songs (11.6%) with a melody factor of 20 seconds or less like "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" (1980), "Jesus" (1973), "Rain Must Fall" (1989), and "Stone Cold Crazy" (1974). [3] The melody factor of over sixty percent (62.5%) of the songs came out between the margins of 20 and 50 seconds.
  Table 6: Parameters of the melody factor of the Queen songs per author
 
Author N Minimum Maximum Range Mean Std. Deviation

Deacon 12 23 62 39 39.3 12.6
May 36 15 155 140 38.9 25.8
Mercury 46 14 165 151 54.1 29.7
Taylor 17 14 60 46 32.5 12.3
Collaborations 37 15 80 65 40.7 16.9

  148 14 165 151 43.4 24.2
  We can see that the melody factor does not show, which song is better — take for instance "Delilah" (1991) with a high melody factor versus "We Will Rock You" (1977) with a low one. It also can be seen, that all four group members wrote "long" songs (Table 6). They definitely were influenced by each other, mainly by Freddie who wrote the very first "long" songs — "My Fairy King" (1973) and "Liar" (1973). Acyclic songs already there before Queen entered the stage. Led Zeppelin released "Stairway To Heaven" at the end of 1971. Freddie developed this song-form further using less repetition of sections. Often these songs were up to 4 to 6 minutes long. The combination of longer songs with less melody repetition resulted in the first Queen songs with a high melody-factor. After the album "A Day At The Races" (1976) acyclic songs disappeared almost thoroughly, but "long" songs remained. Only the albums "Works" (1984) and "Made In Heaven" (1991-1995) do not contain songs with over 50 seconds of nett melodic content of lead vocal.
  Table 7: Parameters of the melody factor of the Queen albums
 
Album N Minimum Maximum Range Mean Std. Deviation

Queen 9 14 76 62 40.8 21.5
Queen II 10 19 136 117 50.2 34.0
Sheer Heart Attack 13 19 60 41 37.0 12.2
A Night At The Opera 11 33 165 132 65.6 48.6
A Day At The Races 10 27 110 83 64.6 29.0
News Of The World 11 15 74 59 40.5 22.0
Jazz 13 26 72 46 43.8 14.9
The Game 10 16 54 38 32.4 11.5
Hot Space 11 14 73 59 31.4 19.1
The Works 9 32 49 17 37.4 5.9
A Kind of Magic 9 17 89 72 48.6 22.8
The Miracle 10 15 62 47 38.0 15.1
Innuendo 12 17 75 58 45.3 16.8
Made In Heaven 10 17 44 27 32.3 10.2

Total 148 14 165 151 43.4 24.2
  The albums "A Night At The Opera" (1975) and "A Day At The Races" (1976) both have an average melody factor of about 65 seconds (Table 7). Compared with the Beatles repertoire this value seems really high, a real anomaly. On album level it's enough for two to three albums by others — the Beatles' "Revolver" (1966) album has an average of under 20 seconds per song. And if you notice how catchy those melodies on "Opera" are, that album could be easily considered to be the most melodic pop-album ever. And if one takes a further look at the layered production, self-arranged clever harmonies, guitar orchestrations, variety of styles ... Virgin Records' buyers lately surely didn't do so as they voted this album the 95th most favorite album of 2000. Sad enough ...
5 More facts and figures. Before continuing our comparison, I will again list some examples. They will give you a good impression of the melody factor and you can try to measure them yourself. First, take a look at some songs from the bottom range — up to 15 seconds. As you will see this list is dominated by rather instrumental oriented songs (Table 8):
  Table 8: Some examples of songs with a low melody factor (up to 15 seconds)
 
 
Aerosmith - Sweet Emotion
Beatles, The - Birthday
Beck - Loser
Bega, Lou - Mambo No5
Black Sabbath - Iron Man
Boney M - Daddy Cool, Painter Man
Culture Beat - Mr Vain
Double - The Captain Of Her Heart
Dylan, Bob - Knocking On Heaven's Door
Estefan, Gloria - Conga
Five - Keep On Movin'
Gibson Brothers, The - Que Sera Mi Vida
Jerry, Mungo - Summertime
Kaoma - Lambada
Kraftwerk - Das Model
Kravitz, Lenny - Are You Go My Way
Madonna - Music
Modjo - Lady (Hear Me Tonight)
Nirvana - Polly
Pink Floyd - Another Brick In The Wall
Preston, Billy - Nothing For Nothing
Prince - When Doves Cry
Prodigy, The - No Good
Silver Convention, The - Fly Robin Fly
Smith, Will - Man In Black
Stakka Bo - Here We Go Again
 
  Table 9 in turn shows some examples of songs with a high melody factor. Some of them are rather long. The total length of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven" (1971) is over seven minutes. Guns 'n' Roses "Estranged" (1991) even surpasses nine full minutes.
  Table 9: Some examples of songs with a high melody factor (over 45 seconds)
 
 
Abba - Dancing Queen
Aerosmith - What It Takes
Bee Gees, The - How Deep Is Your Love
Cotugno, Toto - L'Italiano (Lasciate Mi Cantare)
Extreme - More Than Words
Guns 'n' Roses - Estranged
Led Zeppelin - Stairway To Heaven
May, Brian - Back To The Light
Minogue, Kylie, & Jason Donovan - Especially For You
Seal - Kiss By A Rose
Simpson, Jessica - I Wanna Love You Forever
Tyler, Bonnie - Holding Out For A Hero
Wham - Careless Whisper
 
  Long songs are not the only ones with a high melody factor. Some megamixes and some less known "adult-pop" category songs will show the same outcomes. Our intention, however, is not to compare the Queen songs with these genres, but with FM-Pop radio and Beatles song repertoire. FM-Pop — because Queen hits were a part — and an interesting part — of FM-Pop-culture; the Beatles for the reasons mentioned above. Table 10 below shows the most important outcomes of our measurements.
  Table 10: Parameters of the melody factor of FM-Pop radio, Beatles and Queen song repertoire
 
Repertoire N Minimum Maximum Range Mean Std. Deviation

FM-Pop Radio 125 5 62 57 23.5 9.6
Beatles 81 3 52 49 22.5 9.2
Queen 148 14 165 151 43.4 24.2

Total 354 3 165 162 31.6 19.9
  Remarkably the melody factor of the Beatles songs is almost identical to the factor of the tested FM-Pop station. The mean of the Beatles song repertoire (22.5 seconds) lies slightly below that of FM-Pop radio music (23.5 seconds). A statistical test, however, shows they do not differ significantly. The Queen songs, however, do. Queen songs on average reach a melody factor of 43.4 seconds (F(1) = 74.8; p < 0.000). At the start of this essay, we promised a visualization of the differences between the Queen songs and FM-Pop radio music. At last, here you can see the Queen anomaly in a very visual way (Figure 2 and 3).
  Figure 2: Percentage of songs (y) and melody factor (x) for FM-radio songs and Beatles repertoire
 
  The histograms and curves in Figures 2 and 3 are corrected for differences in sample size. The pattern is clear. Figure 2 above shows the frequencies and curves for FM-Pop radio music and the Beatles repertoire. They prove to be very similar. In figure 3 below we see the different curves for FM-Pop radio music and the Queen songs. The Queen songs are more spread out. Queen clearly wrote regular as well as non-regular songs. The upper range (50 - 100) is remarkable thick for Queen songs or remarkable thin for the others. Many pop-songwriters would not break the golden rule of six to eight repetitions, Queen often did. Of course, there are more "long" songs than our figures indicate. The radio station in question hardly represents the whole of pop music, as it supports mostly the repetitive range (15 to 25 seconds). Other stations may have their top at 25-30 seconds, but that still is quite below the average Queen song.
  Figure 3: Percentage of songs (y) and melody factor (x) for FM-radio songs and Queen repertoire
 
6 Some final notes. What does all this say about the songs written and performed by Queen? As one can argue, it is not a big thing to write long melodies, avoiding repetition. For a successful "long" song, however, you have to write long catchy melodies, and that is very difficult. Writing a good melody of 10 seconds is easier than writing good melodies of 60 seconds, especially the way Queen did with its three-to-six part harmonies, variety of styles, and so on. Their melodies were so good, that could sidestep repetition as the most easy way of imprinting memory. Queen was rather good at that. Whole stadiums, filled with thousands of sport fans, know the melodies of songs like "We Are The Champions" (1977) by heart. It also explains why Queen did not exerts its musical influence on a herd of young musicians and garage bands. Many were impressed, but most of them choose to look for easier song-models to copy or cover.
  Repetitive music has always been fashionable. Who knows, should Queen have written more repetitive songs, the group may have multiplied its impressive single chart success. It is remarkable, that Queen did not really become successful in the USA until the group released one of its most repetitive — but definitely great — albums to date, "The Game" in 1980. The next repetitive album — at least to Queen standards — called "Hot Space" (1982), however, was a flop in the US. With its extraordinary talent for writing catchy melodies and arranging songs, Queen brought many non-regular songs to the masses. Without these songs, like "Love Of My Life" (1975), "Under Pressure" (1982), and so on, and so on — the popular music of the seventies and eighties would be duller and grayer. I think, we can write this down as an important element of their style and achievement.
  As I mentioned above, I'm not a musicologist. This essay is just my humble attempt to write something good about my favorite band. I hope this essay will be easy to understand for everyone. About the use of repetition you can read more in-depth essays than this one. As the songs of many other groups and artists, Queen's music is worth study in many other ways. Unfortunately this area is underdiscussed even in the newsgroup alt.music.queen. The harmonies, the guitar orchestrations, style-references are all very interesting topics. I hope the ice will break and many Queen studies will appear soon.
   
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  Notes
1. "The Prophet's Song" (1975) is a special case, as there's a canon in the middle of the song, which is a specific form of repetition. The melody factor of this 87 seconds "long" canon has been counted in our computations because every single note seems to be planned. Return to text
2. Ordered alphabetically these 42 "long" Queen songs with a melody factor reaching 50 seconds or more are: "'39" (1975), "All Gods People" (1991), "Bicycle Race" (1978), "Breakthrou" (1989), "Bring Back That Leroy Brown" (1974), "Cool Cat" (1982), "Delilah" (1991), "Don't Try So Hard" (1991), "Don't Stop Me Now" (1978), "Dreamers Ball" (1978), "Father To Son" (1974), "Friend Will Be Friends" (1986), "Funny How Love Is" (1974), "Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy" (1976), "Great King Rat" (1973), "I Can't Live With You" (1991), "Innuendo" (1991), "It's Late" (1977), "Leaving Home Ain't Easy" (1978), "Liar" (1973), "Love Of My Life" (1975), "Mustapha" (1978), "My Fairy King" (1973), "My Melancholy Blues" (1977), "One Vision" (1986), "Pain Is So Close To Pleasure" (1986), "Play The Game" (1980), "Princes Of The Universe" (1986), "Scandal" (1989), "Somebody To Love" (1976), "Spread Your Wings" (1977), "Tenement Funster" (1974), "Teo Torriatte" (1976), "The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke" (1974), "The March Of The Black Queen" (1974), "The Millionaire Waltz" (1976), "The Miracle" (1989), "The Prophet's Song" (1975), "The Show Must Go On" (1991), "Under Pressure" (1982), "You And I (1976)", and "You Take My Breath Away" (1976). Return to text
3. The 17 Queen songs with a melody factor equal to or less than 20 seconds are: "Bijou" (1991), "Calling All Girls" (1982), "Dancer" (1982); "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" (1980), "Don't Lose Your Head" (1986), "Dragon Attack" (1980), "Fight From The Inside" (1977), "Jesus" (1973), "Modern Times Rock 'n' Roll" (1973), "My Life Has To Be Saved" (1995), "Put Out The Fire" (1982), "Rain Must Fall" (1989), "Sheer Heart Attack" (1977), "Someday One Day" (1974), "Stone Cold Crazy" (1974), "We Will Rock You" (1977), and "You Don't Fool Me" (1995). Return to text
   
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  Suggestions for further reading
  Some preliminary notes on the memory value and memorizing of rock music can be found in Simon Frith's famous article "Why do songs have words?" published in: A.L. White (ed.), Lost in music. Culture, style and the musical event. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1987, 77-106. Many deep reflections about repetition in music have been written down by the British musicologist Richard Middleton. Try his online essay "Over and over. Notes towards a politics of repetition," his contribution to the Conference "Grounding Music," of May 1996. If you think it's too abstract, you better read his book Studying popular music." Buckingham: Open University Press, 1990. Queen students, moreover, will find more information at Queen — The Royal Legend, featuring song analyses and studio information.
   
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