Jamie Morton is the NZ Herald's science reporter.

Waikato's own King of Queen

Research into legendary rock band's music gives NZ academic and fan privileged insight.
Nick Braae left with guitarist Brian May.
Nick Braae left with guitarist Brian May.

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

They're questions New Zealand's biggest Queen expert must have asked himself when he got to meet the legendary rock band's famed guitarist, Brian May, as part of his studies on the group.

Nick Braae's world-first research into the British group has led to a thesis, articles and essays, an upcoming book and even a just-released guide to Queen's songs in French.

Surprising as it seems, there is a science to the band's music, and Mr Braae has delved into it, listening to every recording from their eponymous 1973 debut Queen to 1980's The Game.

In his musicology studies at Waikato University, he also explored some of the musical relationships between Queen and contemporary artists such as the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd.

Mr Braae said he was drawn to the group because of their rich songwriting and production style.

"It was fascinating to discover how their backing vocal arrangements were constructed, for example, and the idiosyncratic ways in which their songs were structured," he said.

"Further, it was extremely rewarding to uncover all of the subtle influences on the musicians from such an array of styles."

A big highlight was meeting and interviewing May while the rock god was touring the country with Queen three years ago.

"He gave many insights into what occurred behind the studio doors, and these provided an invaluable complement to my own analysis," he said.

"He was also very friendly, polite, and really interested in my work. It was quite surreal."


His main research finding was that Queen were continually experimental in terms of the form, style and harmonies of their songs, but they also had highly consistent ways of arranging and recording songs.

Many tracks struck a fine balance between musical novelty and familiarity.

Mr Braae also found they slowly pieced together their style through the early albums, with their biggest hit, 1975's Bohemian Rhapsody, acting as a culmination to this process and a summation of their musical essence.

His chief supervisor, Associate Professor Ian Whalley, said that given the popularity of Queen internationally, it was surprising how little had been written on them from a musical perspective.

"The study has addressed a large gap in the popular music literature, while also developing methodologies that can be applied to other bodies of work."


A Kind of Magic

Nick Braae's top five Queen songs
• Bohemian Rhapsody (A Night at the Opera, 1975)
It's Late (News of the World, 1977)
It's a Hard Life (The Works, 1984)
Liar (Queen, 1973)
Somebody to Love (A Day at the Races, 1976).

- NZ Herald

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