I chose this next for purely sentimental reasons, Jazz by Queen was the first record I ever bought; not my first ever record, that honour falls to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped which I was given for Christmas one year, but this was the first LP I ever bought with my own money – on 8 March 1986, since you ask.
Like the rest of the world I fell in love with Queen at Live Aid, then quickly got my friends to lend and tape me their LP’s, but no-one seemed to have this one, so I bought it; probably in Woolworths in Carmarthen, although I’m not certain – and they say you always remember your first time. Getting Queen LP’s was a funny experience, that I’ve never had with any other band. I knew their Greatest Hits really well, taped off my friend Miles’ sister’s copy and so I knew 1 or 2 tracks already on each album, like comforting little footholds, so nothing was too alien to me. On Jazz I knew ‘Fat bottomed girls’, ‘Bicycle Race’ and ‘Don’t stop me now’, and bloody brilliant they all are too. I love fat bottomed girls unreservedly; I love ‘Fat bottomed girls’ unreservedly – both these statements are true. I love the sheer nonsense of ‘Bicycle race’ (and have even forgiven Mr Mercury for dissing Star Wars now), find me a single song anywhere that sounds remotely like it, that isn’t by Queen, I defy you. As for ‘Don’t stop me now’, it still sounds brilliant in a club 34 years later and not only is it a hymn to excess, it just is excess – perfect, the medium is the message.
But as I was to discover, these 3 titans are just the bait in the mousetrap. It’s not an original thought by any means but playing this LP again yesterday I was struck by what a bizarre, schizophrenic mish-mash of an LP this is. Starting with ‘Mustapha’ s pseudo Arabic nonsense and ending with the numb, menacing ‘More of that jazz’ * it really is a incredible grab bag, each track being totally separate rooms off the same corridor. I know people argue that this was a Queen thing that had been going on since A Night at the Opera, and it had to a point but never with this much clout and polish. Listen to ‘Dead on time’ far heavier than you expect from Queen and contrast it (as the very clever sequencing does) with the English park bandstand pop of ‘In only seven days’. We have disco, sort of, ‘Fun it’ and piano balladry, ‘Jealousy’, it just never rests but even the weakest track, ‘If you can’t beat them’ doesn’t spoil anything because it is followed by one of my favourite ever Queen tracks, ‘Let me entertain you’. What a monster it is too! Freddie Mercury snarling and camping it up for all he’s worth, throwing in lots of self-referencing lines which we fans delighted in, its as close as Queen ever got to a mission statement. Nobody else ever sounded much like this, quite wisely nobody else even tried to.
Jazz is not a hugely renowned LP in their back catalogue, but for my money it really is one of their very best. All the band just sound totally on top of their game and the playing and writing is top notch, you get the impression that they were so, rightly, confident at this stage that they could have and did try everything and have it work out. I like the inner gatefold picture of the band sprawled around a huge room, surrounded by excessive amounts of musical equipment, unhurriedly weaving off-kilter pop classics. To my mind the band only briefly ever touched these heights again in their career.
Looking back now 1536 LPs later, what a place to have started! No wonder I kept going really, if this is what LPs were like. I’d be willing to bet I own 15 cooler LP’s from 1978, but only 1 better one. This is truly a relic of a time when dinosaurs ruled the earth and what magnificent beasts they were.
* Take out that rubbish flip-through-all-the-tracks bit at the end and I’m convinced you’d have one of Queen’s best tracks here – anyone got the technology/inclination to do this for me?