David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 265: Brian May (Let Your Heart Rule Your Head)

July 5, 2023

I am convinced that if Brian May had never met Freddie Mercury, he still ends up a band that has some success (Roger Taylor tagging along). May had too much talent. Unfortunately, he probably would have found a lead singer who was much less interesting than Mercury and probably doesn’t save May from outright earnestness. Hell, Smile probably would have become The Light, and May might even have changed his first name to Earnest.

Luckily, Mercury did become Queen's lead singer, and often tempered May’s earnestness. On Queen’s first single, “Keep Yourself Alive,” I wonder how Mercury really felt singing May's lines, “now they say your folks are telling you/be a super star/but I tell you just be satisfied/stay right where you are.”  I have no idea how much lyrical collaboration went on early for Queen, but the later line in “Keep Yourself Alive” about “do you think you get better every day/no, I just think I’m two steps nearer to my grave” seems to have Mercury’s sardonic humor.

Later, when Queen released “A Day At The Races,” led off by May’s blistering “Tie Your Mother Down,” legend has it that Mercury encouraged May to resurrect the tune from his old pre-Queen demos. According to Wikipedia, Mercury said, “Well this one ['Tie Your Mother Down'] in fact is a track written by Brian actually, I dunno why. Maybe he was in one of his vicious moods. I think he's trying to outdo me after 'Death on Two Legs’ actually.”1

So, when May releases Back To The Light in 1992, just months after Mercury’s death, one can’t help but wonder how “dear incomparable, sorely missed, Freddie,” as May writes in the CD notes, might have lightened some of the songs. May’s sincerity is all over the CD. Please note that I am not blasting his sincerity; in everything I have ever read about other people’s comments about May, whether musicians, royals, journalists, fans, that sincerity, an overall kindness, is always stressed. That is the most commendable of personal traits. However, what made Queen was not their sincerity; it was to some degree an opposite superficiality.

God bless Brian May who provides a brief authorial note at the beginning of Back To The Light's liner notes. His message starts with his “Dear Folks,” ends with “Thanks for being with me. Enjoy the journey!!!” (yes, those are three exclamation marks), and is filled by self-reflection that one doesn’t expect from our average rock and roller (stressing that term over folk singer obviously). In one wrought line, May writes, “at its beginning I felt no real hope of finding the light; now it glimmers dimly, encouragingly, but always intermittently in the hall of mirrors around me.”

The tracks on Back To The Light, mostly dark, could have used the light that was Freddie Mercury. “There’s a pain in my brain/confusion in my heart/my blood’s fit for bursting/my body’s apart” from “Resurrection” could use a Mercury hand to downplay the heavy-handed hyperbole. Maybe Mercury, especially the well-known public one at the end of his career, could have infused a little humor into “Just One Life,” especially the line “perhaps inside you/you were messed up like me/but to them you were whole and strong/and friend in their need.”

However, it is on “Let Your Heart Rule Your Head,” the CD's most upbeat song, that we most could use Freddie. That alone is rather ironic as the song’s riff is eerily close to “’39,” the May-sung Queen tune that was highlighted at almost every Queen show, usually to give Freddie a well-earned four-minute rest. “Let Your Heart Rule Your Head” is the kind of sing-along anthem that could have riled up thousands of Queen fans at a live show, Mercury extolling the crowd to sing along to “let your heart rule your head tonight.” More importantly, May just can’t pull off the proclamations that make up the call-and-response portions of the song:

But don’t pussy-foot about it/

Shout it!/

Just can’t live without it!

Or later

Don’t let the moment slip away/

Don’t think about it/

Do it!

May's thin "do it" here, as earnest as he is, can't compete with what we can hear coming out of Mercury's mouth. Perhaps because he knows of his vocal limitations, “Let Your Heart Rule Your Head” is one of the few songs where May brings in a few background singers to help elevate the chorus. I am sorry Suzie O’List and Gill O’Donovan, but Taylor, Mercury, and May background vocals would bring this ho-hum delivery so much more to life. For that matter, Taylor’s more present drumming and John Deacon’s ever-solid bass, would also help the song. If May had any inkling of this song prior to Mercury’s death, there is a possibility that in the hands of their collective, it could have been a huge hit.

However, I know this is revisionist history of the worst kind. I hope May will forgive me. I have let my heart rule my head here, Brian, a dream that glimmered dimly but encouragingly for a few minutes. I may be guilty of always letting my heart rule my head.

May, Brian. "Let Your Heart Rule Your Head." Back To The Light. Hollywood Records, 1992. Link here.

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