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SMILE: GHOST OF A SMILE

Queen

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3 stars Ghost of a Queen

INTRODUCTION
Well, we do have a strange compilation here. Six tracks from the prehistoric-Queen band Smile, recorded in 1969. Two tracks recorded in 1976 when Queen was at the peak of their success, helping out their friend Eddie Howell.
I was very happy back in 1997 when this CD was released. I already knew about the band Smile, but had never had the opportunity to buy or even hear one of their songs.

TRACK by TRACK
1) Earth [6/10]
2) Step On Me [5/10]
3) Doin' Alright [7/10]
4) April Lady [5/10]
5) Blag [7/10]
6) Polar Bear [6/10]
7) The Man From Manhattan (original) [bonus track] [6/10]
8) The Man From Manhattan (back again) [bonus track] [5/10]

CONCLUSION
The six Smile tracks give a good indication where it all started for Queen because some of the features Queen was famous for are already present here. For instance the backing vocals by Brian May and Roger Taylor (Doin' Alright) and the first snippets of guitar extravaganza by Brian May (Blag). A few years later Brian May played it to perfection on the Queen album Live Killers in the song "Brighton Rock".
However there is one topic in which Smile and Queen were very different and that is of course the lead vocals. Tim Staffell wasn't a bad singer at all but he could't come near Freddie Mercury. In the songs "Doin' Alright" and "Blag" his voice sounds very thin and clearly trembles in the higher reaches.
The bonus track "The Man From Manhattan (original)" is a decent song and sounds very much like Queen in their "Sheer Heart Attack" and "Opera" days. Not so strange when you know that it has been produced by Freddie Mercury in 1976 and contains piano and backing vocals by Freddie Mercury and lead guitar by Brian May. The "Back again" version form "The Man From Manhattan" is a remixed and longer version of the original track. Because it doesn't add anything special I consider it an unnecessary bonus to the CD. IMO "Ghost Of A Smile" is a good, but non-essential album. It's a must for Queen fans and people like Cream, early Wishbone Ash and Led Zeppelin should give it a listen.

Album rating: 56% = 3 stars

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Send comments to Draconean (BETA) | Report this review (#115401)
Posted Friday, March 16, 2007 | Review Permalink
SouthSideoftheSky
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Symphonic Team
3 stars Doin' alright Proto-Prog

Smile was the name of the pre-Queen band that Brian May and Roger Taylor had together with Tim Staffell. This band never released an album back in the days but they did record these songs that were released many years later. There are different versions of these songs around and some versions have Freddie Mercury on vocals. But these particular versions with Tim Staffell, Brian May and Roger Taylor on vocals are clearly the best versions (the best version I have heard anyway). I must say that these songs are surprisingly good even if the sound quality is far from perfect.

This release has eight tracks in total, two of which are "bonus" tracks. These bonus tracks are best ignored, however, as they have strangely nothing to do with Smile. These two tracks, which are versions of the same song, are by someone named Eddie Howell with only minor contributions by Brian May and Freddie Mercury. It is hard to understand the reasoning behind putting these songs on this album.

Now on to the proper features of this release. What we have here are six good songs that foreshadow the style that Queen would develop for their debut album. One of the songs here, Doin' Alright, would later be part of that debut album - in a newly recorded version with Freddie Mercury on vocals, of course. The evolution of that particular song gives us strong hints of what could have happened to the other songs here. But these other songs are good in their own right. The style involved here is rooted in the sounds of late 60's/early 70's (Hard) Rock and Psychadelia, it could perhaps be characterised as Proto-Prog, or, at least, as Proto-Queen. There is, however, not much of the extravagant sound experimentations, virtuoso guitar play and operatic harmony vocals of Queen II and A Night At The Opera. But this was, of course, several years before that. These early songs are a bit more down to earth but with strong melodies. Influences probably include The Beatles, The Who, early Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. Having this said, these early songs include some clear signs of what would become Brian May's signature guitar sound and Blag even includes a section that reminds of what would later become Brighton Rock several years later.

While the instrumental backbone of Smile would remain in Queen, we have here also some organ in addition to acoustic and electric guitars, strong bass lines, drums and piano. While Brian sings lead on Polar Bear, the lead vocals are primarily by Tim Staffell. Staffell is a very different type of vocalist compared to Freddie Mercury, but both Brian and Roger do backing vocals and this fact gives these songs a distinct Queen feeling.

No serious Queen fan should miss out on these pre-Queen songs!

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Send comments to SouthSideoftheSky (BETA) | Report this review (#251213)
Posted Tuesday, November 17, 2009 | Review Permalink

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