How Queen Reached a Turning Point With ‘The Game’
After rampaging through the ‘70s, consistently redefining the rules of rock and roll imagination and extravagance, Queen were bona fide British rock royalty. As such, they likely had no idea they were about to face the greatest turning point in their career with the unveiling of their eight studio album, The Game, on June 30, 1980.
And the devil, as always, was in the details — or rather the album’s credits, which contained a word never before seen on any prior Queen album: synthesizers.
At least not in the affirmative, but rather as a proud statement that their incredibly complex and often groundbreaking instrumental creations — every dense choral arrangement, guitar symphony, and assorted special effect — had been achieved without the deployment of a single synthetic instrument: just guitar, piano, bass, drums and voices.
But The Game was about to change all that, and who could blame Queen members Freddie Mercury, Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor from finally relenting and partaking of these new opportunities to expand their sonic palette?
Especially since they did so quite sparingly, to be fair, via the synths that swoop over and under, in and out of Mercury’s opening “Play the Game,” the keys stabbing away at Taylor’s “Rock It (Prime Jive),” and the futuristic sound effects decorating eventual crossover R&B hit, “Another One Bites the Dust.”
Excepting the above and for the most part, Queen’s familiarly inventive antics were still very much in play on the slow-strutting hard rock of “Dragon Attack,” the infectious power pop of “Need Your Loving Tonight” and “Coming Soon,” the lounge-rock with a message of “Don’t Try Suicide,” and the almost trademarked, bombastic balladry of “Sail Away Sweet Sister” and “Save Me.”
There was certainly nothing but analog instrumentation to be found on the album's first of two massive smash singles, the mostly acoustic, ‘50s rock rave up of “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” which left only the aforementioned modern funk of “Another One Bites the Dust” to cause some head scratching among old-school fans — just as it simultaneously introduced Queen to a previously untapped R&B market, going to No. 1 on both the Pop and R&B charts.
So, as one can plainly see, for all the perceived baggage surrounding that little word, “synthesizers,” The Game ultimately just gave Queen fans the sort of musical potpourri they were both accustomed to and expecting, so it was really what came after that wound up changing the course of the group’s career forever after.
In two words: Hot Space.
It was on that follow up LP, released two years after The Game, that Mercury, May, Deacon and Taylor recklessly pushed their newfound interest in synths and dance music beyond the point of common sense, and effectively killed their once platinum-selling career in the U.S. and, to a lesser extent, elsewhere.
By the time Queen strategically backtracked somewhat with 1984’s The Works, and renewed their success across the globe, the damage had been done in the U.S., and it can all be traced to the turning point they reached on The Game.
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