The Meaning Behind “Somebody to Love” by Queen and the Singer Freddie Mercury’s Paying Tribute to

“Somebody to Love,” released in 1976, played off the strengths previously displayed on other hits by the British rock legends Queen. But it also showed another side to the group, while allowing lead singer Freddie Mercury to pay tribute to one of his favorite singers.

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What was the song about? Who did Mercury have in mind when he composed the song? And how did “Somebody to Love” both solidify what Queen had already done and push the band forward? To find out about all of this, we need to go back to when the band faced the daunting task of following up their breakthrough single and album.

The Shadow of “Rhapsody”

It’s not quite accurate to say “Bohemian Rhapsody” and A Night at the Opera (the album that contained the song) put Queen on the map in 1975. They had already been lurking in the singles charts before that with songs like “Killer Queen,” and their ’74 album Sheer Heart Attack had been a top hit in both the UK (No. 2) and U.S. (No. 12).

But that wildly ambitious track did indeed send the band up a few levels in the rock hierarchy. Releasing anything after such a smash would be daunting enough. Couple that with the fact Queen would be recording for the first time without Roy Thomas Baker, the producer on their first four albums, and the next record, titled A Day at the Races, could have been problematic.

Luckily, the quartet possessed strong ideas of what they wanted their next album to be. As always, the lead single would be crucial. Queen gamely tried something a little different with that track, leaving behind the extremes of light opera and hard rock in favor of a little bit of American gospel.

Queen and the Queen of Soul

Mercury’s unabashed love of the music of Aretha Franklin came bounding to the forefront when he began writing “Somebody to Love,” as he explained in an interview found in the Queen The Greatest YouTube series. In fact, he even annoyed his bandmates with his constant praise of her:

“And there’s me going on about Aretha Franklin, sort of made them go a bit mad. … I just wanted to write something in that kind of thing. I was sort of incentivized by the gospel approach that she had on her albums, the earlier albums.”

Queen made sure not to make the stylistic change so drastic that it might alienate fans of their earlier hits. The layered vocals sounded enough like “Bohemian Rhapsody” to give fans a little bit of déjà vu. And Brian May added a typically lyrical guitar solo. Beside those elements, however, “Somebody to Love” certainly owes a lot to the testifying style of Franklin and other gospel greats. That style set Mercury up for one of his finest individual vocal performances, one where he displays staggering range and palpable feeling.

What is the Meaning of “Somebody to Love”?

“Somebody to Love” casts Freddie Mercury in the role of hapless romantic, and it’s a role he plays to the absolute hilt. He immediately sets his despairing tone after the a cappella open: Ooh each morning I get up I die a little. His only companions are the Greek chorus-like backing vocals that follow him around, seconding his emotions. Example: I get down (down) on my knees (knees) and I start to pray (praise the lord).

The narrator shows frustration at the neglect he’s been suffering from the deity he keeps addressing: I have spent all my years believin’ you / But I just can’t get no relief, Lord. Bits of quirky humor sneak through to keep matters from getting overwrought, such as when the narrator’s acquaintances worry about his mental health: They say I got a lot of water on my brain.

But this wouldn’t be a Queen song if there weren’t some kind of triumph over opposing forces, and that comes in the final lines when the narrator, against all evidence to the contrary, finds optimism: I ain’t gonna face no defeat / I just gotta get out this prison cell / Someday I’m gonna be free, Lord. That leads to the coda, as the backing vocals repeat the refrain and Mercury soars all around them with his improvs. Maybe the narrator of “Somebody to Love” comes up empty, but the song itself proved Queen could tackle genres that few other rock bands could even attempt.

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Photo by Andrew Putler/Redferns

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