For years and years, I could have sworn this was one of the best albums ever made… but apparently that’s only because it was my favorite album when I was eight years old!
You see, back in 1980, cornerback Jimmy “Spiderman” Allen recorded “Another One Bites the Dust”, which became the anthem for yet another non-championship season for the Detroit Lions. And when I discovered that some group named Queen had covered it, I naturally had to get that version, too. The Game stayed on my Radio Shack cassette player for months and months, as I swooned to the luscious harmonies, dug the ferocious bass lines, and pondered why Freddie Mercury insisted, “I’m not adopted!” (My best guess was that there was a rumor being spread that he was adopted, and he was trying to quash it.) Upon turning nine and discovering Billy Squier, I left The Game behind, but I recently dug it out again for another spin.
What’s immediately apparent is that this is one hell of a listenable album, with really fine production values and pop instrumental performances. Queen, as always, deliver vocally (Freddie must have been about the most powerful rock singer ever), particularly on “Play the Game” with cascading sheets of vocals, unfortunately rendered goofy by synthesizer tricks straight out of Flash Gordon, and “Don’t Try Suicide” (a song that I took entirely seriously as a kid, but now appears to be mostly about getting it right and really killing yourself, as opposed to simply attempting the deed.)
Surprisingly, Brian May doesn’t get in as many moments of that glorious guitar orchestration that makes their ‘70’s work so interesting. Instead, he gives us one of the great filler tunes of all time (“Dragon Attack”, which even makes a drum solo interesting by virtue of the magnetic power of that guitar riff) and a couple ballads that kind of creeped me out at a tender age (both “Sail Away Sweet Sister” and “Save Me” provoked mental images of shipwrecks!)
Roger Taylor, as always, provides a couple sucky numbers for contrast, but at least this time they rock out.
But as any grade schooler knows, it’s the hits that count, and Queen really score on this album. “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” is one of those delightfully frothy concoctions that make the Top 40 so fun, with that jangly riff, stupid-yet-striking lyrics (“it shakes all over like a jellyfish”) and parodic vocal arrangement (they sound just like Sha Na Na). And you have to wonder, where did John Deacon, purveyor of fruity love songs, come up with “Another One Bites the Dust”? (Answer: he stole the bass motif from Chic, but the whole machine guns in the street idea seems to be his own). Regardless of the source, it’s a masterpiece of understatement, gliding smoothly on the bass line and sparse guitar, with a truly freaky collection of sound effects in the bridge. It’s one of a kind, the best kind of hit.
So, The Game isn’t as good as I thought it was when I was eight, but then neither are Spaghetti-O’s (or the Detroit Lions). Still, it’s good clean fun, professionally recorded and brilliantly executed. Much better than my other faves of that era, the Village People!
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