In an effort to expand their artistic range, many of the arena-rock bands of the '70s experimented with non-rock stylings (symphonic orchestration, acoustic piano, vocal choruses) with varied success. Queen, however, embraced these aesthetics from the start, and created music that not only felt natural in that environment, but possessed an unearthly beauty.
Of all their albums, none exemplify this cross-pollination better than A Night at the Opera. Though some of the Brian May tunes get a little stiff and calculated (who's letting the guitarist write songs?), all band members contribute to the songwriting with great success. John Deacon provides the charming "You're My Best Friend," while drummer Roger Taylor's "I'm in Love with My Car" is as ridiculous and grandiose as it sounds. An ode to auto-racing, the song is one of the most epic rockers ever recorded (and in waltz time, no less!).
The Freddie Mercury contributions, however, provide the heart of the record. From the opening "Death on Two Legs," a scathing diatribe against an ex-lover, to the operatic "Bohemian Rhapsody," which closes the album, Freddie's songs were unlike anything else in the realm of '70s rock. In "Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon" and "Seaside Rendezvous," for example, Freddie invites piano-based cabaret camp to jump in bed with rock 'n' roll.
The high point of the record is "Love of My Life," a heart-breaking, piano-based tale of lost love, which employs harp to dramatic affect. Freddie's vocals have never been more evocative than when he sorrowfully pleads, "Bring it back, don't take it away from me, because you don't know what it means to me." And you'll never know what you mean to me, my sweet queen.