So Bohemian Rhapsody is a hit. Not only did the single climb the charts two different times and sixteen apart. Now a movie bearing the same name is a hit, forty three years after the record A Night In The Opera was released.
By now you are deluged with a lot of Facebook shares of what in the movie was not faithful to real life. Among them how Freddie really got to be band mates with Brian May and Roger Taylor, the real timeline of Freddie finding out he was sick and the real mood behind the solo album phase.
One thing that struck me as I watched the movie is that you never hear the full name Roy Thomas Baker. I have known his name and his work for so long and I had no idea he had a Twitter account. I only saw the movie once but to the best of my recollection he was referred to as Roy once the recording sessions began in earnest at that remote farm. For all you know I heard what I wanted to hear because the IMDB cast list doesn’t even have a character named Roy in the movie. One thing that is definitely fact is that without Roy Thomas Baker, A Night At The Opera ( and the featured track Bohemian Rhapsody) would not be the same.
Google does not yield anything that connects RTB to the film Bohemian Rhapsody in any way shape or form. There are a few YouTube videos that talk about his contribution to the record. What the movie got right was their collective desire to push the envelope and reinvent themselves. This article claims that A Night At The Opera was the most expensive album to produce at that point in time. This article also dispels the myth in the movie that the band and Littlefinger came up with the album title while talking to the guy who was in love with I Am In Love With My Car. All the articles about the movie say that the character of Ray Foster was an amalgamation of different record company executives. The title of the album came from a Marx Brothers movie they were watching during a break in recording. Their next album’s title A Day in The Races was also derived from a Marx Brothers movie. No word if Karl wanted royalties from both albums.
So the film slights Roy Thomas Baker for whatever reason. Much has been made of the fact that Sacha Baron Cohen and Brian May clashed about the direction of the film. We can assume that Brian was happy with the attention the “other” three members got in the movie. There is a scene in the movie involving a press conference. I will let you decide the point of that scene. Just like George Martin was called the “Fifth Beatle”, I think of Roy Thomas Baker as the “Fifth Queen” at least in the albums where he was the producer ( debut album, II, Sheer Heart Attack, Jazz and Night At The Opera).
Maybe the reason Roy Thomas Baker is not even an afterthought in Bohemian Rhapsody is that the producer’s contribution is rarely glamorized in music videos. Let’s take the aforementioned George Martin. Everybody loves the Beatles but just because you do not hear George Martin sing, many people have no idea how much he contributed to the Beatles sound. The reason I am in awe of George Martin is not only because of his work with the Beatles but also : a) Blow by Blow – Jeff Beck b) All Shook Up – Cheap Trick ( my favorite Cheap Trick album) c) Original Soundtrack of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
One of the early name producers even was given one of the coolest nicknames ever. Phil Spector was known for ” The Wall Of Sound” which you have heard in You Lost That Loving Feeling, Be My Little Baby, Imagine, Chapel of Love, Unchained Melody and Da Doo Ron Ron. Usually you can tell a super producer by the fact that they were in charge of the most popular hits of people that did not have too many. When was the last time you were aware of a box set dedicated to a producer? Peruse the track list of Phil’s box set where you will eventually say ” That was him??? “. Unfortunately late in his life, Phil was famous / infamous for something else.
Ask a hard core rock and roll fan you may know to name the producer who worked with Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, The Rolling Stones , Steve Miller Band and The Who. See how long it will take them to say the name Glyn Johns. If you saw the essential documentary History of the Eagles , you will learn that the Eagles would fly ( no pun intended) to England to record with Johns. So it is hard to listen to Take It Easy, Deperado and Best of My Love which have a rural American sound but in reality recorded in England.
It is no secret that the film Bohemian Rhapsody was book ended with Queen taking the stage of Live Aid. Live Aid as we know it was spearheaded by Bob Geldof who you see in the film. Geldolf made his name as the front man for the Boomtown Rats. Their most popular album was produced by Robert John “Mutt ” Lange. I bet he is more famous among casual music fans for being Mr. Shania Twain but it is impossible to be a rock and roll fan and not be blown away by his work with AC/DC, Def Leppard, Foreigner, Bryan Adams and the Cars. Like Bob Ezrin, albums that you can test your speakers/ amplifier/ headphones to even if the recordings are forty years old. Interesting to note that Roy Thomas Baker produced Foreigner and the Cars before Mutt Lange got his turn with them.
David Foster might be the most famous producer because he is behind hits of artists favored by casual music fans ( Chicago, Celine Dion, Peter Cetera, Toni Braxton and Michael Jackson) You may notice that my list favors producers that peaked and / or established themselves in the 70s. Foster actually is not an exception to my rule. My opinion is that Foster’s best work was with Boz Scaggs and Earth, Wind and Fire as the 70s were coming to a close.
One guy produced Dark Side of the Moon, Destroyer, Welcome to My Nightmare and The Wall. His name is Bob Ezrin. Those are only the most popular albums of Pink Floyd, Kiss and Alice Cooper. No truth to the rumor that there was a projector playing Wizard of Oz during the recording of Dark Side.
Bob Ezrin’s assistant during the recording of Dark Side of The Moon also was a George Martin understudy. A name you might have heard before : Alan Parsons. If you are a casual fan and you know the hits Eye in the Sky, Time, Days Are Numbers and others you will be shocked to know he never sang on the hits. The albums and songs are the rare cases where the name of the act is given to the producer and not the singer or band.
I always go back to the famous speech of Dewey Finn. In it, he states that MTV ruined the appreciation of rock and roll. My personal love affair with music is all about the magic I heard. Many people associate music with videos, costumes, visual effects and dancing. The producer is not involved in any of those aspects. The producer shapes what you hear and in many cases baby sits the band. Very few rock and rollers were known for their maturity. Producers shape the music love the same way Coppola, Wilder and Spielberg shape the movies we love. Roy Thomas Baker seemed to be omitted from Bohemian Rhapsody maybe because the movie already ran at 2: 14 and developing the character of Paul Prenter as a source of “villainy” gave more bang for the buck. Now that the popularity of Queen is cresting again, I humbly suggest that Roy Thomas Baker deserves a little bit of Crazy Little Thing Called Love for his contributions. Even if he didn’t produce that particular Queen song.
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