QUEEN II- The Concept Album


This essay was inspired by some comments about the song "March of the Black Queen" on the Internet newsgroup, alt.music.queen. For the uninitiated, Queen is a rock group from England, who were huge in the 70's and early 80's. They had several major hits in the U.S., and were well-known for their theatrical live shows, and the flamboyant onstage persona of singer Freddie Mercury.

One of their more obscure albums was the 1974 album, Queen II. The record contains a very eclectic selection of songs. It was not a best-seller, and probably has not sold enough copies to date to qualify for a gold record. Due to the elaborate production, and the multi-tracking of Brian May's guitars and Queen's voices, the band had found it difficult to perform much of the material on the album onstage. As it stands, only a handful of the songs had been performed live, ("Father to Son", "White Queen", "Ogre Battle", "The March of the Black Queen (partial- medley)" and "The Seven Seas of Rhye"). Most of them were dropped from the set list by 1977. The last of these was the only one with any staying power, and was still performed live by the band through the late 80's.

However, the album has a rabid cult following amongst Queen fans, and contains many of the musical precursors of their 1976 smash hit, "Bohemian Rhapsody". People who know Queen only for the "hits" may not realize that "Bo Rap" didn't just come out of the blue- it was the progeny of the mythological/operatic themes that were presented on Queen II.

The Concept

Let's say that it's a fantasy story about a land called, shall we say, Rhye. Rhye is mentioned several times, first on "The Seven Seas of Rhye" on Queen and Queen II, and also in "Lily of the Valley" on Sheer Heart Attack. So it makes sense that the story is about a land called Rhye.

Queen does not make it entirely clear on how the land of Rhye is divided. It could be divided as "above the ground" and "below the ground" or 2 kingdoms separated by a mountain range, or simply 2 kingdoms, one in the east and one in the west.

Anyway, Rhye is divided into two parts, the "white" side, which is prosperous, peaceful, and life is good, ruled by the benevolent White Queen. The other half, the "black" side, where life short, grim and violent, is ruled by her sister, the malevolent Black Queen.

It appears that the "white" side is suffering from the effects of the fading of the protective magic, which is beginning to erode the quality of life there. The Black Queen, noticing the weakness on the "white" side, decides to launches a full-scaled invasion of the White Queen's domain. After all, there's rich farmland, fine shipping and trading, slaves and taxes that can be taken to enrich her.

The Songs

SIDE WHITE, dominated by Brian May, basically shows us life on the "white" side.

Everyone on the "white" side is aware of what's going on. Scouts have already reported an army on the move, headed for conquest. "Procession" is a sort of "March of the White Queen". The royal family had decided that a procession through the main thoroughfare would help embolden the populace, so they would fight instead of surrender.

It is here where the residents of the "white" side see and cheer the royal family for the last time. In the meantime, there's a general "call to arms", and every able-bodied man is expected to join the army. (which is why "Procession" segues into "Father to Son")

"Father to Son" is the story of a man answers the call to arms to protect his country. So I imagine a sturdy yeoman, patting his 5-year-old son on the head, handing the kid a letter (containing something about their family heritage and the family song) and dispensing some fatherly advice before heading out the door. He says "My letter to you will stay by your side through the years 'til the loneliness is gone", because he expects to be killed in the upcoming battle. He does expect the boy to survive, grow up and raise a family and pass the song on to the next generation ("You'll write it all again before you die").

"White Queen" is of course about the fading White Queen. The Queen and the King have already had several discussions, and the Queen has volunteered to stay and lead the people, while the King abdicates and flees. This gives me the impression that the Queen is actually the ruling, hereditary monarch, and the King just married his way into the royal family. So, "White Queen" is their last meeting in the palace garden when the King bids her goodbye.

(Note: That's why a messenger has to tell him that he's lost the throne in "Lily of the Valley". The King wasn't there to witness the loss of his kingdom, since he's been in hiding.)

"Some Day, One Day" is a minstrel's song performed in the court during the last days of the kingdom's independence. (I can just see Brian, in Medieval garb with a lute, standing in the throne room :-) ). The minstrel sings of "the cloud of dark and fear", but also sings about hope for the future, "some day, one day, we'll come home".

"The Loser in the End" DOESN'T BELONG THERE. Someone on alt.music.queen thought that it fits, in that way that a young man is leaving his mother to go off and fight the BQ. I get the impression that it's too "modern", where a young man leaves Mum because she won't let him have "fun".

SIDE BLACK, dominated by Freddie Mercury, gives us a glimpse of the quirky world of the Black Queen.

"Ogre Battle" is held on the "black" side. Apparently the residents (human and, ah, creatures) of said side watch Ogre battles, like we watch er, wrestling matches. The people there wait for a sign from the black crow to tell them that "the games have begun". So everyone dashes off to the "two-way mirror mountain" to watch 2 Ogres bash each others brains out. Luckily (for the ogres), this particular Ogre battle does not result in any fatalities. Both Ogres survive and head home with their earnings.

"The Fairy Feller's Masterstroke" is about some of the strange residents of the "black" side, (ploughman, Waggoner Will, politician, pedagogue, satyr, etc.) who were frozen in time by magic that was cast a long time ago. This may or may not be the fading "protective" magic of the "white" side. Everyone there knows that the Fairy Feller (who is not frozen) has the power to crack a magic nut, which will awaken all of them. (refer to Richard Dadd painting).

(Note: Queen Mab and Titania are "Queens", but minor ones, vassals to the all-powerful Black Queen. Probably a pre-arranged treaty where they quietly acquiesced to the BQ in exchange for their lives and nominal independence for their lands)

"Nevermore" is about the despair of the "white" side as they see the coming invasion of the BQ. I think that the darkness here is literal, because "Some Day One Day" refers to a "cloud that hangs over us" and "Nevermore" refers to "now haven't anything to grow" (no sunlight, no rain so nothing grows).

"March of the Black Queen" is the chronicle of the BQ's battle and triumph over the "white" side. It's not a terribly coherent narrative, so it may be necessary to use a little imagination to figure out what's happening. The middle section, "A voice from behind me reminds me" may be about the royals and leaders of the "white" side that were captured and will be put to death soon. They defy the BQ by singing about "a little bit of love and joy" (which she HATES).

So, the Black Queen rides in her own "Procession", with her army, through the capital city of her newly-conquered realm, gloating and singing, "I reign with my left hand, I rule with my right". Her officers march beside her, singing "My life is in your hands, I'll fo and I'll fie". I can only guess at what Freddie and Roy Thomas Baker and Robin Cable had in mind when they segued "The March of the Black Queen" and "Funny How Love Is". Perhaps the BQ outlawed "Love", and the conquered "white" side respond by going underground and keeping the spirit of hope and love alive to defy her, like their leaders did. (it DOES sound like a Christmas carol)

"The Seven Seas of Rhye" is the song of an avenger, of sorts, (a friend said he is Mercury, the Roman god) who will work to help overthrow the BQ someday, by tossing out the "shod and shady senators" (lackeys of the BQ) and giving "out the good" and leaving "out the bad evil cries".

(Note: You can see why "See What a Fool I've Been" was left off of the original album. It doesn't fit the concept at all, and musically, it's closer to (Led Zeppelin's interpretation of the) Blues than the more English baroque/medieval sound of the rest of the album)

Dark story, but a great concept! There's enough characters with singing parts to make QUEEN II a rock-opera (better than Tommy!) I'm a Tolkien fan and a fan of the Shannara books, so my construction of a full story around the songs on Queen II is rather logical for me. I had a vague idea about all of this when I was in high school, 15 years ago. I've had plenty of time to listen to Queen II, and a discussion about "March of the Black Queen" on alt.music.queen sort of motivated me to think about this more.


This article is Copyright 1995, K.F. Louie. May not be reproduced without the written permission of the author.
This article has been previously published on alt.music.queen

Questions, Comments, interesting Queen album theories, or offers of live versions of Queen II songs may be sent to me at:

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