Tag Archives: Queen

Growing Up Under the Mushroom Cloud, Waiting for the Hammer to Fall

It was about a year ago that I started this blog. Although I’m not a big marker of milestones, I’d say it’s definitely been an interesting time. The past year has seen me rise from the dungeons of utter obscurity to the lofty heights of absolute anonymity. Which is to say, not a lot has changed, but it’s been a fun ride.

The first thing I posted here was an examination of a song by my all-time favorites, Queen, rock royalty and my personal “Shakespeare of Music.” The song was “Machines” from the album The Works, which has always been one of my favorite Queen records. It’s music that takes me back to the summer days of my youth. So now, with summer again upon us, I want to look at another track from The Works, one of the greatest rockers in the Queen canon, “Hammer to Fall.”

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Mood Music for Your Weekend

I logged on to Facebook this morning and everyone is posting hallelujahs to it being Friday—as if they didn’t just have a four day weekend. Oh well, I guess that can make the next week feel longer. In celebration of Friday and the coming weekend, here’s a few musical selections to help get you in the mood for fun—that is, a playlist for play.

There are two artists that come instantly to mind for uplifting sweet-sounding music: classic rock band Triumph and Celtic/pop band Great Big Sea. The message of both of these bands is overwhelmingly positive—and just good fun. (And hey, they’re both from Canada—coincidence? You tell me.)

Triumph was best-known in the late 70s and early 80s for their brand of melodic hard rock. The first track for the weekend playlist should be “Hold On,” which starts with a good explanation of the power of music:

Music holds the secret,
To know it can make you whole
It’s not just a game of notes,
It’s the sounds inside your soul

However, as exciting as that song is, Triumph’s “Magic Power” has got to be one of the best songs of all time. No matter what your age, when you listen to this song, you are “young, wild, and free.”

Next it’s time to turn to Great Big Sea. These boys from Newfoundland have been out on the road this year celebrating their twentieth anniversary of singing the folk songs and traditional music of their native land, infused with infectious pop melodies. If you really want a pick-me-up, go see them live! If they’re not in your area, the music will suffice.

“Good People” from GBS’s Safe Upon the Shore CD wasn’t initially one of my favorites, but with it’s simple yet necessary message and with seeing it played live several times, it has definitely grown on me over time.

One of my favorite GBS tunes is one of their earliest. To me, “Goin Up” explains what this band is all about. You know how it is when you plan to have a gathering of people at your house, and you spend lots of time cleaning and making sure you’ve got enough seating in the living room, but a half hour in, everyone’s standing around informally in the kitchen? Yeah, it’s like that. A kitchen party.

There’s thirty people in the kitchen
And there’s always room for more

And as long as you’re going up with Great Big Sea, you can’t miss “Ordinary Day,” which is their song that reminds us to believe in ourselves:

It’s up to you now if you sink or swim,
Keep the faith and your ship will come in.

Of course, no weekend playlist would be complete without a little Queen. To get you back in a rockin’ mood, how about a little “Fat Bottomed Girls”—cause they make the rockin’ world go round.

And to finish, another Queen track that perhaps many people won’t know, but one that’s appropriate for looking forward to a great weekend:

Obviously this isn’t enough music to get you through the weekend, but you could do a lot worse than exploring additional tracks from the three artists featured here. And perhaps I’ll feature more of my weekend favorites another time. Of course, your tastes might vary, in which case I’m not sure I can help you. I hope these selections help you enjoy your weekend, whether you’re out in the garden, playing sports, having a kitchen party, or just enjoying the beautiful day.

Follow B. K. Winstead on Twitter at @bkwins

Machines in Music and the Modern World

Queen live in Frankfurt, Germany (at the Festh...

Queen live in Frankfurt, Germany (at the Festhalle, Sept.26 1984) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyone who knows me for even a short while will probably discover that music is a big part of my life. I listen to music all the time, and I listen to a fairly eclectic mix of styles and artists. But as far as I’m concerned, in the great history of rock and roll, Queen stands at the pinnacle. As I frequently say, Queen is my “Shakespeare of Music.” That is, if I could listen to no other band for all eternity, the full Queen catalog would provide ample sustenance.

One of my favorite Queen songs is “Machines” from The Works. In the diverse pantheon of great Queen songs, this probably isn’t one of the band’s best-known tracks. Even the CD isn’t one most American fans would turn to, although it was a pretty big deal in their native UK. Listening to The Works recently, I was reminded of not only how exceptional Queen was at their best, but also how prescient they could be, and nowhere on the record is that more obvious than in the song “Machines.”

(Now might be a good time to scroll below and click Play on the video link to listen to the song.)

The CD came out in 1984, which for those who recall, corresponds to the early days of personal computing. The term PC was around, if not yet synonymous for personal computer, so it’s pretty interesting that Queen, in “Machines,” used such terminology as disk drive, bytes and megachips, and random access memory—and they made such lingo fit nicely into a rock song. Perhaps more incredible, they used these terms in a way that still sounds appropriate today rather than dated.

As the song begins, the synthesized “machine” voice seems to chant for the machines. In the first verse, Freddy Mercury sings the lyric “When the machines take over / It ain’t no place for rock and roll.” It’s easy here to take the song as a comment on the growing use of technology and synthesizers in music destroying the purity and power of good old-fashioned rock and roll. Although that’s a valid interpretation, it’s also too simple.

The song actually comes with a subtitle or alternate title: “Machines (Or ‘Back to Humans’).” The song presents a picture of a society struggling to find a space for humanity in a world increasingly controlled by computers. As I look around today and see everyone with their faces glued to their smartphone or tablet screens wherever they go, I’m ready to shout “Back to humans!” along with Freddy.

Cover of "Works"

Cover of The Works

This song was co-written by Brian May and Roger Taylor. Even 10 years ago—let alone the nearly 30 years ago when they wrote “Machines”—I don’t think we could have truly predicted the vast changes in lifestyle that mobile computing would bring. But then, as now, society was on the cusp of change and no one could quite tell where it was leading. Perhaps that’s why the final message of this song still resonates:

Living in a new world
Thinking in the past
Living in a new world
How you gonna last?

If you work with technology, you’re probably one of the ones on the forefront of change—you’re not stuck thinking in the past. But even if you don’t live and breathe in the machine’s world, technology is still changing the way you live and the way you interact with the world. That doesn’t mean you need a smartphone, or an iPad, or even a computer, to live in this “new world” and be successful—but you’d better at least be educated enough to be part of the conversation.

Both musically and lyrically, “Machines” still sounds fresh to my ears almost 30 years after my first listen. I suppose today it might need to talk about virtualization or big data to stay on the cutting edge, but I think the boys knew what they were doing. Oh, and did I mention the song also uses the (invented) word parahumanoidarianised? Check it out!

Follow B. K. Winstead on Twitter at @bkwins