Queen – A Very Special Christmas: The Definitive Edition (Godfather Records GR 212/213)

A Very Special Christmas:  The Definitive Edition (Godfather GR 212/213)

Hammersmith Odeon, London, England – December 24th, 1975

CD:  Now I’m Here, Ogre Battle, White Queen (As It Began), Bohemian Rhapsody, Killer Queen, The March Of The Black Queen, Bring Back That Leroy Brown, Brighton Rock, Son And Daughter, Keep Yourself Alive, Liar, In The Lap Of The Gods…Revisited, Hey Big Spender, Jailhouse Rock (including Stupid Cupid, Be Bop A Lula, Shake Rattle & Roll), Seven Seas Of Rhye, See What A Fool I’ve Been, God Save The Queen.  Bonus tracks, Budokan, Tokyo, Japan – April 19th, 1975:  Procession, Now I’m Here, Doing Allright, Stone Cold Crazy

DVD:  Now I’m Here, Ogre Battle, White Queen (As It Began), Bohemian Rhapsody (including Killer Queen & The March Of The Black Queen), Bring Back That Leroy Brown, Brighton Rock, Son And Daughter, Keep Yourself Alive, Liar, In The Lap Of The Gods…revisited, Hey Big Spender, Jailhouse Rock (including Stupid Cupid, Be Bop A Lula & Shake Rattle & Roll)

For Queen recordings the excellent sounding BBC broadcasts from their Christmas Eve concert at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1975 is the most popular with the greatest number of releases and variations.  The earliest vinyl edition of this tape, and perhaps the first Queen bootleg, is Command Performance (TAKRL 1997).  This was taped off of the radio and contains the show except for part of “Now I’m Here,” “White Queen,” “Bring Back That Leroy Brown,” and the encore rock and roll medley.  Royal Rock US (TAKRL 927) is a re-release of Command Performance although it claims to be from Budokan. “Brighton Rock,” “Son And Daughter,” “Keep Yourself Alive” and “Liar” appear on Tokyo Rampage (TKRWM 1801) and Halfpence (Buckingham Quality Records EEN-98), its copy Black & White (EEN-98), Live At Budokan Hall Tokyo, and Keep Yourself Alive – Happy Christmas Freddy are other vinyl releases with  material from this show. 

The first compact disc releases utilize the vinyl such as X-Mas 1975 (Stoned Records SR 012), a 1989 copy of Command PerformanceKillers (Flashback 09.90.0130) 1990 has “White Queen” along with various BBC sessions.  In 1991 Merry Christmas (Great Dane Records GDR CD 9108) was issued with about fifty minutes of the show.  the same year London 1975 (Golden Stars FBCD 1146) was released.  You’re My Best Friend (On Stage ON CD 12030) came out in 1992 with “Ogre Battle,” “White Queen,” “See What A Fool I’ve Been,” “Liar,” and “In The Lap Of The Gods…Revisited” along with various tracks from the 1979 Killers tour.  “Brighton Rock” and “Son & Daughter” can be found on We Will Rock You (On Stage CD 1218) along with tracks from the Live Killers.

Goodbye (Never End 1122) appeared in 1992 contains a fair amount of this tape along with various 1973 BBC sessions from the Queen At The Beeb official release and an hour of the May 11, 1985 Tokyo video.  The same year saw the release of both Rhapsody In Red (Buccaneer Records Buc 033) with an incomplete version of the Hammersmith Odeon show and various BBC sessions and Eve Of Christmas (Turtle Records 256).  The following year saw two releases from Australia; We Will Rock You Vol. 1 (Banana BAN 037-A), which is not the complete show and says it’s from 1974, and Live (vol. 1) (Joker JOK 015-A).  The On Stage label from Italy visited the show again with Remember Freddie (On Stage ON 2214), a three-disc release with various tapes and several songs from this show. 

In 1994 Freddie Mercury Is Alive (World Records CD 001/2) came out containing the same fifty minute tape along with 1977 BBC broadcast and some Hot Space tour material.  The same year Dynamic Live:  Now I’m Here, We Are The Champions (Dynamic Live DP 36) surfaced with this show and several tracks from one of the 1986 Wembley shows.  Two years later The Royal Countdown (JAG 002) was released which claims this tape to be from the Golders Green Hippodrome on April 21st, 1974. 

Rogues And Scandals (Kings Road QR 10001) has “Keep Yourself Alive,” “Bring Back That Leroy Brown,” and “White Queen” and the encore medley along with tracks from Golders Green 1973.  Finally White Queen Night (Gypsy Eye 134) came out of Japan in 1999 and presented a more complete version of the show by combining a tape from the radio broadcast and the rock and roll medley from the television broadcast.

There is still a bit missing from the medley but the cut is so subtle it really isn’t noticed.  The reality is there is no absolutely complete version of the show but this is as close as possible.  Gypsy Eye was copied on the first Godfather release of this show A Very Special Christmas (GF 111) in 2005 and this new release; A Very Special Christmas – The Definitive Edition uses the same combination of sources as their first release and Gypsy Eye but includes a DVD with a recent broadcast of the show.  Queen’s landmark album A Night At The Opera was released in the UK on November 21st, 1975 and the band held a tour of the UK at that time.  They already performed four times at the Hammersmith Odeon on November 29th, 30th, December 1st and 2nd. 

The special Christmas Eve show was scheduled a week after the final show in Glasgow with the intention of being filmed, recorded, and broadcast on BBC radio and television.  The set list was changed somewhat from the other concerts on the tour.  The opening tape containing an orchestra tuning, Kenny Everett speaking and the operatic middle to “Bohemian Rhapsody” is dropped (or at least doesn’t appear on the extant tapes) and the opening number is not “Ogre Battle” but “Now I’m Here.”  The Sheer Heart Attack number was used as the first encore on the tour but the band may have bumped it to the first song because it was a minor hit and they perhaps wanted to begin the show with a more familiar song.  In addition to this change, three songs, “Sweet Lady,” “Flick Of The Wrist,” and “Stone Cold Crazy” were dropped altogether.

“Now I’m Here” is played straight with no embellishments as it would be later on in their live career, but since it is a mid-tempo rocker it lacks excitement.  “It looks really pretty here tonight…we’re now gonna take you to the battlefield” before an exciting version of “Ogre Battle.”  Even without the visual there is tremendous energy being supplied, but the video looks great with Freddie throwing imaginary flash bombs on stage and the primitive, yet effective light show.   After “Ogre Battle” Freddie says, “Right now Queen would like to drink a special toast to everybody here, all the viewers. So cheers!” 

That he actually says “Christmas toast” to “everybody here, all the viewers” is edited out of the radio broadcast.  The second edit is very awkward and raises questions why it was done in the first place.  “White Queen (As It Began)” is introduced as “a delicate little number” and is followed by a “tasty little medley.”  This piece represents Queen’s first compromise in bringing their biggest hit to the stage with the unplayable operatic middle section by omitting the middle and using the beginning and end as bookends of a medley. 

“Killer Queen” was their previous biggest hit and was always played as part of a medley.  “The March Of The Black Queen” is itself a multi-sectioned piece with only the final heavy section appearing live onstage, and Freddie’s mic cuts out at the very beginning of that piece.  There is an obvious cut before “Bring Back That Leroy Brown” and it is played as a short instrumental except for “my cutie pie” in the middle and “bring bad Leroy back…I want him back.”

Brian May’s solo spot follow with a nine-minute version of “Brighton Rock.”  The guitar solo seems to hint at the Girls Scout song “The More We Get Together” before the song segues into the final verse of “Son & Daughter.”  Freddie encourages everybody to sing along in the choruses during “Keep Yourself Alive” and continues by saying, “give us a helping hand, you can take your clothes off.”  Before “Liar” Freddie says, “And now a special edition of a little number called ‘Liar.'”  The fact it is really a “special Christmas edition” is edited from this tape. 

Roger has a heavy drum workout in the song’s introduction and Freddie comes in a bit too early for the final verse.  Brian acknowledges the party atmosphere and thanks the audience before the set’s closer “In The Lap Of The Gods…Revisited.”  Before the rock and roll medley Taylor says, “Thanks for a fab year. We’re gonna do some rock and roll.”  His Christmas greeting is edited out.  The video reveals him wearing a rainbow colored wig during this part of the show and Freddie wearing a kimono. 

“Seven Seas Of Rhye” is introduced as something they forgot to play in the regular set and the music ends with “See What A Fool I’ve Been,” one of their few effective blues numbers.  Footage for these two songs don’t exist because, so the story goes, the BBC cameramen didn’t know they were coming back out.  Some doubt this story however and if it would be an event if it does ever surface in the future.    The bonus tracks consist of four songs taken from a fair audience recording of the first Tokyo date earlier in the year.   Godfather probably include “Doing Allright” and “Stone Cold Crazy” because they weren’t played in the Hammersmith Odeon show.

Including a silver DVD of the broadcast makes this title stand out, providing every available document from this famous concert.  The encore rock and roll medley can be found on the 1989 VHS release Rare Live:  A Concert Through Time And Space.  The complete sixty-four minute broadcast can also be found on Christmas Eve At Hammersmith (Room 101 Entertainment ROOM101012) released on silver DVD in 2003 and on the DVDR title Christmas Concert (Footstomp FSVD-014). 

Godfather use a copy of a recent showing on the Japanese pay-per-view cable channel WOWOW.  The station’s logo is in the upper right hand corner and each song is identified with a subscript, but the quality of the footage and sound is excellent.  The chief virtue of this is having an excellent quality, professionally filmed early Queen concert without overdubs (like the Rainbow 1974 video).  Dressed in progressive rock fashion, Freddie especially makes a bold black and white statement by beginning the show in white and changing into black during the guitar solo.  Also seeing his kimono strip tease, Roger’s wig and John Deacon in a big hat are strong visual cues to not take them all too seriously. 

A Very Special Christmas – The Definitive Edition comes packaged in a tri-fold cardboard gatefold sleeve that house the discs, and is illustrated with appropriate photographs from the era.  The sound quality is not a huge improvement, but having both the audio on one CD and the video on one DVD makes having these documents very convenient.  Any Queen collector will say this is one of Queen’s greatest performances and beautifully documented concerts.  It is unrivaled as glimpse of the band right when they became superstars and because of this is a title that is definitely worth having.

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