Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to...)
|"Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to...)"|
|Song by Queen|
|from the album A Night at the Opera|
|A-side||"Bohemian Rhapsody (Poland only)"|
|Released||21 November 1975|
|Recorded||August – November 1975|
|Studio||Sarm East Studios|
"Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to...)" is a song by the British rock band Queen and is the opening track on their fourth album A Night at the Opera. The song was written by Freddie Mercury about the band's fall-out with their original manager and Trident Studios owner Norman Sheffield. Though the song makes no direct reference to him, Sheffield sued both the band and the record label for defamation. This resulted in an out-of-court settlement, thus revealing to the public his connection with the song. Roger Taylor also noted that despite the success of "Killer Queen" and Sheer Heart Attack, the album preceding A Night at the Opera, the band was broke before the album was made. Sheffield denied that he or his companies had mistreated the band in his capacity as manager and cited the original 1972 management contracts between himself and Queen in his autobiography published in 2013, Life on Two Legs: Set The Record Straight, in his defence.
The song was recorded and mixed at Sarm East Studios in late 1975. As with "Bohemian Rhapsody", most of the guitar parts on the song were initially played on piano by Mercury, to demonstrate to Brian May how they needed to be played on guitar.
The song is dominated by guitars, strong lead and backing vocals as well as piano. It's in 4/4 meter, and has a piano arpeggio intro with heavy guitars, bowed double bass, mechanical sounding noise and a loud shriek by Roger Taylor, which abruptly leads into the song in B minor. There are numerous subsections and layers, as was typical for Queen at the time. The verses have short sections with the tempo virtually halved, and the choruses are emphasised with strong harmonies and drum fills.
Drum! magazine said of Taylor's drum work: "[...] Shortly after the 2/4 measure there’s an unusual snare accent on the & of 4 and a change to a half-time groove. These back-and-forth feel changes continue throughout the song and Taylor somehow makes them flow smoothly."
Mercury later recalled that he had tried to make the lyrics as "coarse as possible", and that the other band members were initially shocked at the harsh lyrics. However, the band agreed that the song should be performed as Mercury intended, and it was recorded as such. Author Michael Chabon remarked that "A Night at the Opera is where I progressed from 45s to albums. It was gatefold, with the lyrics printed on the inside, and you could just sit there poring over them and trying to figure who Freddie might be talking about on songs like 'Death on Two Legs'."
"Death on Two Legs" was regularly performed live by Queen up to and including The Game Tour. Only one live version of the song has been officially released, on the 1979 album Live Killers. The piano introduction, however, was played during the Hot Space and The Works tours. During live performances Mercury would usually dedicate the song to "a real motherfucker of a gentleman." This line was censored (using bleeps) on their Live Killers album in 1979. On the Protomen's cover album, A Night of Queen, lead singer Raul Panther dedicates the song to "a real asshole that Freddie Mercury used to know."
- Freddie Mercury – lead and backing vocals, piano
- Brian May – electric guitars, backing vocals
- Roger Taylor – drums, backing vocals
- John Deacon – bass guitar, double bass
- Stephen Thomas Erlewine. "A Night at the Opera - Queen | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 1 July 2016.
- Prown, Pete; Newquist, HP (1997). Legends of Rock Guitar: The Essential Reference of Rock's Greatest Guitarists. Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 106. ISBN 9780793540426.
- Sheffield, Norman (2013). Life on Two Legs. UK: Trident Publishing. p. 239. ISBN 9780957513310.
- mobile4357 (23 February 2008), Queen: The Making of "Death On Two Legs", retrieved 24 June 2017
- "DRUM!Magazine". www.drummagazine.com. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
- Mercury Rising: The Queen Interview John Ingham. Sounds. Retrieved 17 November 2018
- Classic Albums, "A Night at the Opera", VH1
- Daly, Joe (May 2015). "Michael Chabon's 10 life-changing pieces of vinyl". Classic Rock #209. p. unnumbered.