Monday, August 9, 2021

Nick Braae's "Rock and Rhapsodies"

Nick Braae is a Principal Academic Staff Member in Music and Performing Arts at Waikato Institute of Technology in Hamilton, New Zealand. He has published widely on the music of Queen, New Zealand popular music, and conceptual understandings of style in popular music. He has taught music history, composition, performance, and musical theatre performance studies at Wintec since 2016. Outside of teaching, he works regularly as a session keyboardist, musical director, composer, and arranger.

Braae applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Trade and Nation: How Companies and Politics Reshaped Economic Thought, and reported the following:
This is mildly embarrassing: I open to page 99 and there are a couple of paragraphs and a diagram about Roger Taylor’s vocal techniques. You write a book about Queen – one of the greatest rock bands of all time and led by the indomitable and irreplaceable Freddie Mercury – and the snapshot is of the drummer and the handful of songs on which he sung lead. To my guitarist, pianist and singing friends, apologies. I can just hear the drummer in my band chortling and smirking away…they’re always the loudest in the room and, it seems, one just can’t keep them out of the spotlight.

I jest (a little). Page 99 of Rock and Rhapsodies: The Music of Queen is rich in detail about the distinctive tonal qualities of Roger Taylor’s voice – the airy yet piercing sound; the frequent distortion or ‘gravel’ add to the pitches – and also points to some highly noticeable features of his singing style, namely his wide vibrato. It means that we can aurally distinguish a song such as “More of That Jazz” from “I’m in Love With My Car” by virtue of Taylor singing lead and backing vocals on the former, with the remaining singers of the group (Mercury and guitarist Brian May) contributing to the BVs on the latter.

I like this page also because it is part of a wider discussion of how Taylor’s singing techniques neatly align him with various strands of authenticity in rock music discourse. With his wide vibrato and raw sound, he sits alongside the formative hard rock singers of the 1970s, such as Ian Gillian, Robert Plant, or even Jimi Hendrix; moreover, this sets up a fascinating point of comparison with May and his trappings of folk-rock authenticity, and with Mercury and his predilection for toying with any mode of authenticity, which dominates this and the subsequent chapters.

But what it reveals most of all is my willingness to take any and all parts of Queen’s music seriously. Previous writing and documentaries on Queen (my own work included) tend to hit the big targets – “Bohemian Rhapsody”, News of the World, Live Aid – yet in Rock and Rhapsodies, I have analysed their songs, style, and musical growth in a far more balanced and comprehensive manner. Roger Taylor may have only sung lead on a small percentage of Queen’s songs, but his was no less an important voice, metaphorically and literally, within the band. This deserves and receives scrutiny and investigation; as I note in my introduction, my aim to cover the entirety of Queen’s output does result in a few hits receiving lesser attention, but allows much needed light to shine on many other tracks that contribute to the famed Queen sound.

Anyway, it could have been worse. What if page 99 was about John Deacon, the bass player? Just kidding, he gets his moment on page 180.
Visit Nick Braae's website.

--Marshal Zeringue