A Kind of Magic: Identifying and Analysing Queen's Idiolect, 1973-1980
Braae, N. (2016). A Kind of Magic: Identifying and Analysing Queen’s Idiolect, 1973-1980 (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10289/10105
Permanent Research Commons link: http://hdl.handle.net/10289/10105
‘A Kind of Magic’ is a musicological study of the British band Queen’s output between 1973 and 1980. The research analyses 90 songs across eight studio albums, and covers the era during which Queen emerged as one of the most successful acts in popular music. The analysis identifies the ‘idiolect’ of Queen—the musical traits that characterised and distinguished the group’s songs. I also contextualise Queen’s idiolect within wider stylistic contexts of the 1970s, and examine the changes in Queen’s music through these years. The dissertation divides into seven chapters. Chapter 1 introduces the scope of the analysis, and my contribution to the analytical literature. Chapter 2 outlines trends in popular music analysis over the past two decades, accounts for Queen’s minimal presence in this discipline, and discusses prior studies of the group. The final sections of Chapter 2 address the key analytical concepts of style, idiolect, sonic patterns, and compositional strategies. Chapter 3 outlines the analytical methods employed on each of the 90 songs. The methodology covers nine elements of Queen’s songs. The individual methods are drawn from traditional musicology and contemporary popular music analysis. Chapter 4 presents the analytical findings concerning the structural components of Queen’s songs. Chapter 5 presents the analytical findings concerning the performance, arrangement, and production components of the group’s output. These chapters thus document all the individual musical ingredients of Queen’s idiolect. Chapter 6 synthesises these findings into three analytical contexts: the nature of Queen’s idiolect, the relationship between Queen’s idiolect and wider stylistic trends, and the changes in Queen’s idiolect and style between 1973-80. Chapter 7 closes the thesis with a practical application of the findings, a summary of the findings, and suggestions for future research on Queen. The research makes three important contributions to the literature on popular music analysis and Queen. Firstly, the thesis expands upon the notion of an idiolect, by drawing a distinction between ‘compositional strategies’ and ‘sonic patterns’, both of which contribute to an artist’s idiolect but in different ways. The former refers to common musical traits articulated differently across songs; the latter refers to common musical traits articulated in the same way across songs. In the context of Queen, the structural elements of the group’s songs are best understood in terms of compositional strategies, whereas the instrumental, arrangement, and production techniques are best understood in terms of sonic patterns. Secondly, the analysis highlights in rich detail the stylistic influences on Queen’s output. It is demonstrated that the group’s songs were infused with features from various contemporary styles, including hard rock, progressive rock, and glam rock, as well as pre-1970s popular styles such as cabaret, 1960s pop, and 1930s American popular music. Thirdly, this thesis develops a new model for understanding changes in Queen’s music over time. Through the 1970s, Queen traversed many musical styles. At each point, however, the group retained its idiolect. Queen’s career can thus be understood in terms of an ‘expedition’ narrative, whereby each step into new stylistic territory was marked by the group’s idiolect.
University of Waikato
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