THE MAN WHO WOULD BE QUEEN
From page 38 of Classic Rock Magazine January 2006
Roy Thomas Baker was the ‘fifth member of Queen’, the producer who gave them that sound.
Who made who? Did Roy Thomas Baker, co-producer of A Night at The Opera with the band, make Queen; or did Queen make Roy Thomas Baker? A bit of both probably, because they were invaluable to each other. However, it is fair to say that, 30 years on and with the new Darkness album under his belt, RTB is still remembered as the man who produced Queen.
When 1975 was turning into ’76, Roy’s reputation was going through the roof. I caught up with him in the same studio where much of A Night at The Opera was recorded – SARM in West London. He was working with Pilot (you remember, ‘Januar-eee, sick and tired, you’ve been hangin’ on me...’ etc etc). As it happens, Pilot weren’t a bad band and with Ian Bairnson on board as guitarist, they wanted a rockier edge to their stuff.
RTB first got into the record business in 1963 when he joined Decca as assistant engineer. His early conquests included Ten Years After, Savoy Brown, John Mayall, The Rolling Stones, Dr John, Eric Clapton and Delaney & Bonnie. Not a bad start, you’d think. His first production was on Nazareth’s second album, 1972’s Exercises , which failed to set the world alight.
By then, he had taken the visionary step of forming his own production company and got a call from a new band called Queen. Brian May and Roger Taylor invited him down to the just opened De Lane Lea studios to check them out. Queen had landed the gig of testing the acoustics. Bagging free studio time had saved them a lot of money they didn’t have in the early days. When Baker arrived at the studio, Queen were playing Keep Yourself Alive , yet to be recorded... He went on to produce said song and the rest on Queen .
“On a personal level, I feel closer to them than to anyone else,” Baker said then. “Because I’d only produced one album before Queen, I’ve matured as a producer as they’ve matured as a band. We’ve grown together.” Queen and Roy Thomas Baker would constantly experiment. Baker had a reputation throughout Europe as a guinea pig for new electronic gadgets. When he would get a new-fangled gizmo, he would take it along to Queen sessions, let the band play with it, and sometimes it would end up on record.
“Working with Queen, you can’t put it in normal terms,” he explained. “We’re up against the usual thing of diminishing returns. For instance, if you spend a month on an album, it might be good; but if you spend two months on the same album, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be twice as good. To get that, you have to work on something for four months.”
Which is exactly what they did with A Night At The Opera ...
“Queen can’t work like any normal group. They utilise each other’s talents to the fullest. The middle operatic section in Bohemian Rhapsody , for example, took about six to seven days to record in total. It was multi-tracked and there were so many harmonies that it takes quite a while to sort it out It’s the same case with Brian May’s harmony guitar work.”
Baker concluded: “A lot of the band’s ideas are revolutionary in 1975; a lot of the style is revolutionary. You’ve got a band that has a relatively heavy rhythm section, is versatile musically and sings exceedingly well. The Queen situation is unique.” He wasn’t far wrong.