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Single by Queen
from the album A Night at the Opera
A-side"You're My Best Friend"
Released21 November 1975
RecordedAugust–November 1975
Songwriter(s)Brian May
A Night at the Opera track listing

"'39" is a song by British rock band Queen. Composed by lead guitarist Brian May, it is the fifth track on their fourth studio album A Night at the Opera. The song was also the B-side to "You're My Best Friend".

The song tells the tale of a group of space explorers who embark on what is, from their perspective, a year-long voyage. Upon their return, however, they realise that a hundred years have passed, because of the time dilation effect in Einstein's special theory of relativity, and the loved ones they left behind are now all dead or aged.[6]


May sings lead vocal on the studio recording of the song, one of his few lead vocals on Queen recordings.

May had asked bassist John Deacon to play double bass as a joke but a couple of days later he found Deacon in the studio with the instrument, and he had already learned to play it.[7]

May had been working on his thesis in astrophysics, but eventually abandoned his studies to pursue his career with Queen. In 2006, he resumed his studies and eventually completed his thesis, titled "A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud", and received his PhD in 2008.[8]

Since Queen had named their albums A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races after two of the Marx Brothers' most popular films, surviving brother Groucho Marx invited Queen to visit him at his Los Angeles home in March 1977 (five months before he died). The band thanked him and performed "'39" a cappella.[9]

Live performances[edit]

The song was a live favourite throughout the 1970s, often being used as a singalong in concert.[10] It was first performed in Edinburgh in September 1976 and remained in set lists until December 1979, although the song was briefly performed in 1984. Instead of May singing the lead vocals live, Mercury did. The Guardian later commented that live performances of the song were played as "a raucous, rollicking sea shanty."[11]

The song is featured on the live album Live Killers.

George Michael performed "'39" at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in April 1992.[12][13] Michael cited this song as his favourite Queen song, claiming he used to busk it on the London Underground.[14]

Recently, Queen have included the song on the setlists of their Queen + Adam Lambert tours in 2012 & 2014-2015[15] & both Queen + Paul Rodgers Tours which were Queen + Paul Rodgers Tour & Rock the Cosmos featuring Paul Rodgers; as on the album, it is sung by May.


I felt a little like that about my home at the time, having been away and seen this vastly different world of rock music which was totally different from the way I was brought up. People may not generally admit it but I think that when most people write songs there is more than one level to them – they'll be about one thing on the surface, but underneath they're probably trying, maybe even unconsciously, to say something about their own life, their own experience – and in nearly all my stuff, there is a personal feeling.

— Brian May, on the meaning of "'39"[11]



  1. ^ "A Night at the Opera". AllMusic.
  2. ^ "A Night At The Opera". Rolling Stone.
  3. ^ "A Day at the Races - Queen". AllMusic. The pastoral folk of "'39",
  4. ^ Jason Warburg (14 October 2004). "A Night at the Opera". Daily Vault. Retrieved 19 November 2018. ...the folk-tinged historical romance of May's "'39.
  5. ^ "Revisiting Queen's Masterpiece, 'A Night at the Opera'". Ultimate Classic Rock. a mutation of skiffle and science fiction called "'39",
  6. ^ "'39". songfacts.com. Retrieved 2016-03-30.
  7. ^ Brian May. "Queen Legends".
  8. ^ Queen’s Homage to Space Exploration: ’39’ Best Classic Bands. Retrieved 14 November 2018
  9. ^ Queen: The Ultimate Illustrated History of the Crown Kings of Rock. p.96. Voyageur Press, 2009
  10. ^ '39 - Queen AllMusic. Bruce Eder. Retrieved 14 November 2018
  11. ^ a b Old Music: Queen - '39 The Guardian. 20 March 2012. Retrieved 14 November 2018
  12. ^ The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert Ultimate Queen Retrieved 6 July 2011
  13. ^ Queen & George Michael – '39 (Freddie Mercury Tribute) Retrieved 6 July 2011
  14. ^ A Night At The Opera Archived 10 May 2015 at the Wayback Machine QueenZone.com Retrieved 6 July 2011
  15. ^ "Queen + Adam Lambert Set List: Calgary, Saddledome". Queen Online. Retrieved 22 October 2014.

External links[edit]