Spectator Music presents: the album that changed my life — 'A Night At The Opera'

Category:  The Arts
Wednesday, April 12th, 2017 at 9:40 PM
Spectator Music presents: the album that changed my life — 'A Night At The Opera' by Chris Lantinen

In regard to formative, youthful musical experiences, the setting was often the same. My father drove a 1995 Ford Bronco, brown and white, if memory serves, a vehicle now characterized by experiences far from my western New York upbringing. But that’s beside the point. It was this vehicle in which I first heard the perfectly paced build, the mind-bending, audaciously theatrical peak, the warp-speed fade-out of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” track 11 of Queen’s 1975 full-length record, “A Night At The Opera.”

For a kid growing up in the ‘90s, a record hailing from the heart of the ‘70s is perhaps a strange “life changing” choice, but it’s more so what the album prepared this particular listener for (it also helps that it soundtracked one of my favorite movie scenes of my youth. You know the one.)

“Bohemian” may occupy just five of the 43-minute runtime, but its greatest qualities are at the core of my favorite music: a borrowing of the narrative tradition, a linking of noise and melody over story, the execution of concept. Long drives were often a waiting game, bands like Chicago, The Rolling Stones, even The Beatles (although I did like much of their music) standing between spins of that particular, influential track. While, for example, “Hey Jude” may be recorded music’s greatest example of pure pop, “Bohemian” illustrated just what it meant to go beyond standard structure, a creation that surprised young ears with just how bizarre it intended to be. It felt like five different songs in one for years, maturity allowing a better ear to finally pick up on the brilliant transition moments, the tones carried over providing its unity.

Most importantly, it led to greater appreciation of an album like “Dog Problems,” The Format’s 2006 work. The title track builds to much the same culmination, subbing out extended riffs for a motley crew of horns and tender taps of the keys. It certainly helps, in regard to some sort of through line, that Nate Ruess (who’d later record a couple smash hits as part of Fun.) employs similar pipes, and can carry the stage-like, performative aspect of the vocal role; to aim for theatricality, you need a Broadway-ready voice. But it was more that Queen prepared me for a superior song structure, a way to get past the pop-punk of my earlier days (although you remain great gym music, early Sum 41).

It was Queen’s ambition that made me seek out the same in my modern day crop of rock bands.

Take Forgive Durden, a punk band that in 2008, didn’t just write with narrative in mind, but wrote an entire musical, releasing through a label that was more comfortable with bands like The Academy Is... and Gym Class Heroes. And while most didn’t gravitate to the experience, it was near a year obsession for me; an in-my-wheelhouse voice had finally taken those aims and blown them out to epic levels.

I was still frantically chasing the weird, frantically chasing that feeling of five songs in one, frantically chasing its connective tissue. Queen’s “Night At The Opera” started that chase.

Chris Lantinen is a professor and faculty advisor for The Spectator. He can be reached at clantinen@edinboro.edu. 

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