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'39 by Queen

Album: A Night At The OperaReleased: 1975
  • Queen guitarist Brian May wrote this. The song is about an astronaut who travels to a distant place at near the speed of light. Because of the time dilation that takes place at these speeds, he and his crew return home 100 years later. He has aged only a year but sadly finds that his wife has long passed on and that he is about the same age as his grandchildren, with everyone he knew before being dead for many years. May describes it as a "sci-fi folk song."
  • Brian May studied astrophysics, which gave him the impetus for this song. He considered sciene for a career, and when he dropped out of his astrophysics degree to start Queen, it caused a huge rift between him and his father, who believed Brian was throwing his life and career away - even though he had helped his son build his signature Red Special guitar as a youngster. It was only when his father saw Queen play in Madison Square Garden in 1978 that the elder May finally acknowledged that his son had made the right choice. A clearly emotional Brain May recalled this story in the Days of Our Lives documentary.
  • May based the song around a story by Herman Hesse called The River.
  • This was released as the B-side to "You're My Best Friend."
  • Queen's bassist John Deacon played an upright bass on this track.
  • Ingram Hill covered this for the 2005 Queen tribute album Killer Queen. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Rachel - South Point, OH
  • The high pitched voice heard during the chorus and other parts is Queen drummer Roger Taylor, as can be seen from many of their live performances. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    James - Vancouver, Canada
  • Brian May often performs this song, combining it with "Love Of My Life" to form a touching tribute to Freddie Mercury. He does this at most shows he plays - either with Queen (and guest vocalist) or solo/with Kerry Ellis. In a solo show in 1993 he played it as a medley with his solo acoustic song "Let Your Heart Rule Your Head."
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Comments: 47

I think the person he's talking to at the end of the song is not his daughter, but his granddaughter. He says, "Your mother's eyes, from your eyes, cry to me" but the mother could be his daughter, not his wife. After 100 years he returns to find that not only has his wife and her generation passed away, but the next generation as well, and his grandchildren are now elderly. At any rate, the song is hauntingly beautiful!Lisa - Rockford, Il
The one thing about this song that I don't understand is, how can the traveler see his daughter when he returns? She would be 100+ years old. The only way this would be possible is if she was on the spaceship. Either that or people in the time described live a long time.David - Canton, Mi
Additionally - it's nice that you can interpret in in different ways. Subtle. Being a guitarist, I often don't listen to the lyrics that closely - for many years, I just thought of it as the "can you hear me calling you song". It's the melody that makes it great, And Roger is not singing A, it's "AAAAAAAAAAAA", and in the second verse, "EEEEEEEEEE".James - Winnipeg, Mb
Just to clarify... Brian May clearly states in an interview that the song is about aliens and space/time travel. The year '39 has no real significance. He just thought 1639 sounded like a good year for his strange Celtic-style folk song. Also, his doctorate in astrophysics is not honourary, he earned his degree from Oxford College in 1973 or 74 (depending on sources). I also saw him say this in a different interview- he didn't specify the year. I have seen two videos where he sings this song live in concert.James - Winnipeg, Mb
Anybody who says the song is NOT about space travelers experiencing time dilation can't listen properly: what do they think he means by "milky seas", "you're many years away", "so many years are gone though I'm older but a year", etc. These are the same people who think the "piano man" who "takes his stand in the auditorium" is Billy Joel. Morons, in other words. These people also seem unable to do research: May has a doctorate in astrophysics and has said countless times in interviews that the song is about space travel. Enough with the stupidity already.Jim - Boston, Ma
Heinlein's "Time For The Stars" definitly had the more upbeat ending,but "'39" is more akin to Joe Haldeman's "The Forever War"in it's grimness.Beside that,like any endeavor,there is the element of risk,of challenging the unknown regardless of the consequences.I read recently that Brian May is a doctor of astrophysics.Makes perfect sence if that's the case.Michael - Santa Cruz, Ca
I wonder why Bryan May gave this such a sad ending, rather than the happy ending that Robert A. Heinlein gave the same kind of story.

In TIME FOR THE STARS, there are two twins in telepathic communication. One goes out to the stars while the other marries the girl that both of them wanted. As it turns out, the spacefaring twin is able to communicate with his brother's descendants as well as his brother. Each generation has a daughter who inherits the job of maintaining the link to the starship. At the end, he meets his great-great-great-great niece, who has fallen in love with him. She is determined to marry him, and he is willing.
Mike - Fort Worth, Tx
Bryan, Nick is right, Roger's high note (in the Bridge) IS an "A"--IF we can agree the verses are in G#...Andy - Glen Burnie, Md
On the VH1classic show classic albums Brain May played this on an acoustic 12-string. It was good.Billy - Nederland , Tx
Well ive been a fan of Queen for many many years and I never knew this was a futuristic song about astronauts travelling. I always thought it was a song about olde England and sailors discovering new lands. Even the language of the song evokes ancient times..'ne'er look back never feared never cried'...but if the god that is Brian May says its about astronauts that is good enough for me!! my favourite ever guitarist and one of my favourite songs of Queen. Sounded great on the live killers album.Darren - London, United Kingdom
I liked this song so much I learned it on guitar. It was tricky but patience and a good ear can do wonders. I will say I can't touch it the way May does it but I enjoy playing it on a regular basis..Lawrence - Erie, Pa
Are you guys kidding me? Brian May is a brilliant musician and songwriter, in addition to his expertise in Astrophysics. Are you really going to assume that he didn't know how to create a song based on his knowledge of the scientific facts that would make it work, or at least be believable?! Give me a break! Oh, I guess you know more than he does, right? Anyway, it's a beautiful futuristic folk song. I love it because it speaks to my heart, as many Queen songs do. BTW, no point in arguing what note Roger Taylor is hitting- I mean- Really? He (and Pat Benetar) hit notes that only dogs can hear and they sound fantastic doing it. Extraordinary musicians - Queen is one of my absolute favorite bands and always will be.Kara - Cadillac, Mi
i love this song ...... my dad showed it to me and he started to cry and i'v never seen my dad cry before this song is the best!!!!!!!!!!!Kristen - Springfield, Portugal
Great song i,ve been to the concert of Queen and Paul Rodgers in Antwerp last tuesday,what a show,perfectHenk - Middelburg, Netherlands
wow that make s so much more sence now!
darn i never knew it was a sad song.
it used to help me fall asleep, not cause it was boring, just cause it was nice sounding
Noved - Pittsburg, Pa
I think this song is incredibly beautiful, but also very sad at the same time. It helped me write my own science fiction story (about the same thing the song is about), and I like to blame songs like this for my increasing interesting in science fiction (no, I'm kidding, I don't "blame" them, I thank them). Of all the Queen songs, this is one of my favorites. Probably Brian's best song.Pippin - Rhye, Ca
According to Brian May, the song is about a group of astronauts who travel off to find new worlds, "in the days when lands were few" (ie mankind had run out of room and wanted somewhere new to go). He thought "they write folk songs about sailors going off to find new lands, so why not astronauts?" (I'm paraphrasing there).
In response to some comments, pretty sure the original '39 is NOT 1939, as far as I know they hadn't gotten to space travel by then. It's a sci-fi folk song.
So these astronauts leave Earth to try to find a new planet for mankind to inhabit, but because they are travelling at such high speeds, time passes more slowly for them than their familys back on Earth (in accordance with Einsteins Special Theory of Relativity, Brian May is an Astrophysicist, he has an honourary PhD and is working his way towards an actual PhD in Atrophysics), so when they return after what has been a year for them with "good news of a world so newley born", 100 years have passed. And that's basically the storyline, according to Brian May as seen on Classic Albums: A Night At The Opera.
I don't know where some of these comments came from... IT'S NOTHING TO DO WITH WWII!
Oh, and when they performed it to Groucho Marx, they did NOT perform it a capella, they used a guitar that Marx had at his house.
Nikki - Perth, Australia
you guys are kidding right?!? this is their 39th song. never knew that! i'm not sure they were looking for volunteers as early as 1939 as far as WWII goes cos there was already an existing army. and if you're american u certainly weren't volunteering any time before 7 December 1941!!
i'm sure he didn't just pick the number 39 randomly. wonder if someone he knows was born on 3/9 or in 1939...?
Matt - All Over The Shop, --
I watched a "classic albums" on VH1 classic, and they were talking to May about this song, and he said it was about the astronaut and all that goes with that theory, you know.Erik - San Diego, Ca
This is a wonderful song.
I think it's beautiful,
and it's so sad! (although nobody seems to agree with me...)
Anna - Ann Arbor, Mi
This is actually my favorite Queen song (and I love Queen). It can be interepreted in all sorts of ways, and given the title and the references, it's hard not to think about WWII. But I like to think of it as a song of a dead person looking upon this life from wherever he or she may have gone. If you like this song, you may also like, as I do, Kurt Vonnegut's novel "Galapagos." "39" also reminds me in some weird way of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's "Four and Twenty."Musicmama - New York, Ny
Hmm I always thought this was about a war as well but a couple of the lines didn't make a lot of sense, now they do but the story line about them being astronauts is pretty vaugue in the song. I assumed the line "Oh so many years have gone though I'm older but a year" refered to the toll war takes on those involved but then he would have returned in "40" so that didn't make a lot of sense to me except lyrically. It might be the 39th song but I doubt thats why it was named that as it says, "In the year of 39" twice in the song.Wyatt - Anywhere, United States
Cool song. I always cry near the endContiki - Almaty, Kazakhstan
In the studio, the engineer used varispeed on the tape console to get Roger's falsetto to the correct note, as he refused to sing the actual note, according to Brian May. And the note we hear is indeed a high A, not a B flat.Brandon Hilk - Watertown, Mn
...Reading Robert A. Heinlein's novel _Time for the Stars_ will greatly enhance one's appreciation for this song. It's about telepathic twins, one of whom goes on a journey like the one in "39" while the other stays on Earth, in touch with the expedition.Lneil - Fort Collins, Co
I feel that this is definitely one of May's greatest works. It's a beautiful song about an insurmountable problem. Apparently he wrote this after the short story mentioned above, but that doesn't make it any less powerful, needless to say. And the last lines- "For my life, still ahead, pity me" are tragically beautiful. The man has to spend the rest of his life without the love of his life. He has his whole life ahead of him and no one to share it with.James - Vancouver, Canada
Time-traveling skiffle number!Jonathon - Clermont, Fl
In "Return of the Champions", Queen and Paul Rodger's tour CD, Rodgers states during the opening of the song that it is indeed about "a man who goes off in a silver spaceship to discover new lands, which he manages to do, but when he comes back he feels like he is only a year older but to the people back on Earth this planet is a hundred years older."James - Vancouver, Canada
Well well well another 1 xplaind IT IS ABOUT A GROUP of Astronauts who leave & when they cum bak they r only away 4 wot they fink iz a yr but 2 the ppl bak on earth it's been 100 yrsStephen-andrew Dunn - Rothes, Scotland
this songs is about austronauts that go out in a space ship, an when they come bacK they are a year older, but back on earth have passed a 100 years ( BRIAN MAY WORDS, NOT MINE )Ramon - Merida, Mexico
This is one of those songs that makes me wish Queen had done an "Unplugged" album. It has sort of a Peter, Paul & Mary sound and feel to it.Joshua - Twin Cities, Mn
It seems like way too much of a coincidence that the song is titled "'39," seems to imply the start of a war, and World War II started in 1939. Maybe there's a double meaning, I dunno.Evan - Fullerton, Ca
Beautiful Song, very good song.Ben - Nyc, Ms
'39 - because it is the 39.th song on Queen's albums ;-)Julius - Backnang, Germany
To Nick from Australia, the high note is actually a "Bb", But still... ROGER TAYLOR IS AWESOME!Bryan - Melbourne, Fl
Nice idea, Chris, especially on Remembrance Sunday. However, the song lyrics clearly show that the ship sailed out in '39 and came back in '39 (implying one or more centuries later), not 1945 or even Dunkirk in 1940.Stu - Fife, Scotland
Who Cares whatit's about...this song kicks um...things!!!!Bryan - Melbourne, Fl
For me this song is somethin TOTALLY different. IT's called '39 which was, of course, the year the second world war kicked off "assembled here the volunteers/sweetest sight ever seen" i always took to be the young men signing up and sailing out to war in a the midst of the national spirit thing. "the land that our grandchildren knew" the sacrifice made in the war made my life possible and is the only reason i dont speak german (well i actually do, but only as a 2nd language :op) i am the grandchild of the fighting generation, so thats what thats about for me... and when the "ship comes home" at the end thats about the survivers coming back "their hearts so heavily weigh" but with the mental scars of war... "for my life still ahead, pity me", the guy singing the song has died and is looking down at his home and the people he knew ("write your letters in the sand" suggests he left someone (a girl?) behind) and he doesnt wanna be forgottonChris - Wakefield, England
Sorry Rattus, you're wrong! This story does make sense, but the narrator would have to experience the equivalent of one year at 99.995 per cent of the speed of light for 100 years to elapse for the stationary family members back home. The acceleration and deceleration of the ship is only important in that it tells you who is stationary and who is moving. The narrator accelerates, so he's moving, so he's the one for whom time slows down. There is no paradox.Stu - Fife, Scotland
the high note is an A, but I've heard Philip Bailey hit an E... still all cred to Taylor.Nick - Brisbane, Australia
Queen sang "a capella" 39' to Groucho Marx. It happened on a US tour. Groucho knew about an english band that gave to a pair of releases the titles of two Marx films, "A night at the opera" and "A day at the races", and wanted to know them. So Queen visited him and, without instruments, performed this song. As turnback, Groucho sang something of his own creation.Luis - Madrid, Spain
Of course everyone knows this situation isn't possible as a result of the Twin Paradox - the spaceship must accelerate (to turn around) and is therefore not an inertial reference frame. Still a great song though. Anyone know what note (I'm assuming) Roger Taylor gets up to in the intro and middle section?Rattus - Adelaide, Australia
the drumming reminds me of Led Zeppelin's 'Bron- Yr-Aur-Stomp'Danny - Sydney, Australia
The stouy reminds me of those stories about Rip van Winkle.Stefanie Magura - Rock Hill, Sc
The initial fact about it is true. He left in the year 1939, but came back in that time frame 100 years later, even though in the astronaut's time frame, it was only a year. Heard it in an interview with Brian May.Brian - Medford, Or
I don't think the song was about an astronaut travelling to a distance planet...I believe it was about a man who went back in time in 1939...but I like that other theory.Kevin - Bridgeport, Ct
This was the 39th song of Queen and originally Brian May sings it but not in the concerts. In the concerts Freddie was singingCan - Ankara, Turkey
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