Overlooked Gems With Steve Swift: Hot Space – Queen

Hang on, hear me out. I didn’t like it when I first heard Hot Space either; I was a huge Queen fan growing up and it was all set up, ‘The Game’ was a huge hit in 1980 and the commemoration was a big one, the Greatest Hits album; the Greatest Flix video, the Greatest Pix book.

There was a feeling that this was a culmination of their first decade and they were ready to sweep all before them. But…

I was surprised too. I’d seen the pic from the recording sessions, there were lots of bags under eyes and I wondered if arguing had taken place. I mean, ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ had been a mega gazillion hit, but this?

It was a…a…a…Disco album!

It Isn’t A Disco Album

It’s a Funk Album

Not disco, Funk. And Hot Space isn’t just that either. Queen has always been an eclectic mix, have they not? They teamed ‘Melancholy Blues’ with ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘The Millionaire Waltz’ with ‘Tie Your Mother Down’ on the same albums. The Quietus reminds us; ‘And safe it certainly isn’t. Hot Space takes all the things that Queen were known for and either removes them or treats them to ridiculous subversions.’

They have pulled in so many different directions, not just operatic Freddie Mercury and rocker Brian May but New Waver Roger Taylor too. So what’s the problem?

Well, I think it’s the audacity with which they hit some songs and the awkward conformity in others.

Exhibit A; ‘Staying Power’

This opens Hot Space with absolute joyousness, it brooks no dissent at all. That tight little bassline, the Arif Mardin horns, Freddie almost selling the idea to us; this has a party Earth, Wind & Fire feel and I love it. Then we have the horns exploding into the stratosphere and that fruity little sax before Fred’s last word, a certain ‘Gotcha’.

He had. Over the years this has become my favourite Queen song; I’ve come back to it as my musical experience has grown; it lifts me and lets the light in.

Yes, I understand that Queen proudly used no synthesisers until ‘The Game’ and now here they were with a brass section!

They were. I gloried in it and still do.

The May and Deacon Funky Tracks

Yep, I understand the concern here. May’s ‘Dancer’ is an attempt to have a go, but it sounds lumpen, tentative until that chorus is ushered in on a huge cymbal crash.

But we’d expect John Deacon to produce something specia for Hot Space; after all, he was the one who wrote that huge Funk hit, he’d apparently spent time with Chic.

Here, ‘Backchat’ is more brittle, a prancing, almost Al Jarreau track with the sharp guitaring in our ear until May cuts loose with a fantastically fiery solo, sort of George Benson if he was ticked off.

So I understand these tracks don’t necessarily convince. But I like them as an example of what Queen could do.

The ‘Under Pressure’ Issue

This wonderful Queen and Bowie track was tacked onto the end of the album. It doesn’t belong on Hot Space, it sounds very different to the rest of the album and it causes comparison.

That’s apples and oranges, songs from different times. Maybe some bought the album just for this track. And frowned.

Exhibit B; Body Language

As if not content with the brassy brouhaha of ‘Staying Power’, Freddie went further. The sound of the clubs he frequented at the time is perhaps here in this slinky, sexy, bass-led simplicity.

It’s very Georgio Moroder in the insistent beat and bass, there are elements of ‘I Feel Love’ here; you can’t avoid this track. Some wished they could.

Bear in mind that Freddie’s Funk songs have a dirty bass basis, that spine is so important to them. His vocal here can’t be mined for much subtext, it’s full of longing and lust, one of Mercury’s most out-there lyrics.

There are no guitars here, are there? Nope. Rising synths, but Brian might have had some time off here. I don’t miss them, after all, I like the ‘Flash Gordon’ soundtrack and that’s all over the place.

It was a step too far for some; for me, it evokes the sweat, neon and possibilities of the club.

It Isn’t Just Funk Stuff

There’s Rock on Hot Space too. OK, online track but ‘Put Out The Fire’ is a doozy. Based on a sassy, airy Glam Blues basis, May weaves a tale of gun law, (‘People get shot by people. People with guns’) and death amid big riffs and even bigger beats.

And that solo? It’s almost a form of relief. That first screaming note almost May’s frustration at not being able to do what he wanted. It’s a sudden shock on the second side and most welcome.

And Mr Meddows Taylor?

His usual 2 tracks (next album we’d have his huge ‘Radio Ga Ga’?) but here, ‘Action This Day’ is a real twist, grimy, sharp blocks of beats, a call for action and fuzzy sax solo; one of the oddest things he wrote for Queen and so similar to his debut solo ‘Fun In Space’ album.

Did Hot Space Do Well?

No. Not at all. The singles didn’t set the world alight and in the UK it didn’t score the expected No1, stalling at 4. In the US it was even worse, 22 was where it settled.

And Yet…

I’m so pleased they went here. The title was allegedly a reference to the hot space that was left when tight music got in and out; that’s certainly apparent here.

As 2loud2oldmusic.com told us; It… has a cool vibe and groove and isn’t that bad. The album has gotten a lot of bad rap over the years for its complete turn, but there are moments that are worth hearing.’ More than just moments…

They were never so funky again, but no Hot Space, no roaring back with ‘The Works’ and no ‘I Want To Break Free’. Oh…

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