The Prophet's Song

Album: A Night At The Opera (1975)
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Songfacts®:

  • Queen guitarist Brian May wrote this after he had a dream about the Great Flood. Many religions and cultures have stories of floods, including the Great Flood of The Bible that led to Noah's Ark. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bryan - Melbourne, FL
  • Brian May had the dream that inspired this song years before he wrote it. He wasn't trying to push any religious agenda with the lyric, but he did want to convey a message. "In the dream, people were walking on the streets trying to touch each other's hands, desperate to try and make some sign that they were caring about other people," he told Melody Maker in 1975. "I felt that the trouble must be - and this is one of my obsessions anyway - that people don't make enough contact with each other. A feeling that runs through a lot of the songs I write is that if there is a direction to mankind, it ought to be a coming together and at the moment, it doesn't seem to be happening very well."
  • A working title was "People Of The Earth," which is a phrase that came to Brian May in his dream and made it into the lyric.
  • In the video The Making Of A Night At The Opera, Brian May explained: "'Prophet's Song' was built around a different tuning - the bottom strings tune down to a 'D'. And I became fascinated with what you could do with that - it gives the guitar a lot more depth. It wasn't a very common thing to do in those days. I wouldn't go so far as to say I was the first, I probably wasn't, but it was unusual, and it gave the guitar a real sort of doomy kind of growl to it. It's different from tuning the whole guitar down at semi-turn, which a lot of people do - this is actually the bottom string going down a turn, so most of the guitar is still playable in the normal way, in tune with the piano.

    Because it has a floating tremolo, as soon as you change the tune of one string, the whole thing goes a little out of tune so you normally have to have a separate guitar with different tuning. It's a bit awkward having a tremolo, but it makes that effect.

    And the end of each riff was different, which was a little kind of obsession that I had. It was a very 'Queen' thing though: we'd never repeat ourselves, even in the context of a song. We weren't one of these groups who would say, 'That's a nice chorus, we'll pop it in here and in here again.' You would always hear something different every time the chorus came round, and it became a little trademark I suppose, and something which really keeps you on your toes internally as well.

    You're always looking for new colors, and the new colors sometimes relate to the words. You know, maybe there's a different point to be made in the next chorus because the song has moved on. Songs to me are journeys, and if you find yourself repeating a chorus then maybe there isn't much of a journey to the song."
  • According to the song's producer Roy Thomas Baker, the wind at the beginning is actually an air conditioner with a phaser on the microphone.
  • In the beginning of this song, Brian May plays a toy version of a Japanese string instrument called a koto, which someone gave him when he was in Japan. "It's only this big toy koto, but it makes a beautiful evocative sound," he said. "We were very influenced by Japan, I have to say. Even the riff is kind of Japanese-influenced."
  • Brian May put a delay effect to use on this track. "I started messing around on the guitar, discovered that if I played a note and then the repeat came back to me, I could play along with that note and then another repeat," he said in The Making Of A Night At The Opera. "You would build up 3-part harmonies that way, and you could build up counterpoint and you could do rhythmic things - fascinating. So, the thought came along: Wouldn't it be nice to apply this to vocals as well? I did some demos of [singing] 'oh, people can you hear me?' and worked it out. I then chopped up the demos so we had a continuous demo for Freddie [Mercury], and then Freddie liked it so we put Freddie in the studio and he did it live with these delays."

    Roy Thomas Baker added regarding Mercury's vocal: "He starts off singing in the center, and then the first delay starts to the left, then the second delay goes to the right, then he can sing and make 3-part harmonies just by harmonizing with himself as it comes back around into his headphones.

    The delay was done by using two stereo Studer machines - they were still running the tape from one reel to the other the way you'd normally run a tape machine, whereas you run it from one reel through and then off the machine and then straight to a different machine, and then playing back on a different machine, so the tape would actually be laying across the room. There were a few chairs and lamps and coat hooks around that we hooked it over until we ended up with the right delay. He had to perform it live, so it's being performed live with the delays in his headphones and he could hear it so he could sing along with it and then harmonize with the vocals when it came back to him."

Comments: 18

  • HankIt is the longest track (beside track 13 on Made in Heaven), then you have Innuendo, and then March of the Black Queen i think. It's late, Liar and Father to Son follow. Teo Torriatte and then Bohemian Rhapsody.
  • Karen from UsaThis is great to listen to with a good set of stereo headphones. At one point, it's like the sound is traveling right through your head. That's why it's always been a great favorite. I don't mind the la la la part. ;-)
  • Cynthia from Monroeville, PaHeadphones are a must!
  • Melissa from Spokane, WaDoes anyone else think that "The Prophet's Song" is about Noah and the Ark? Mainly because of one of the lines below:

    "Oh oh oh oh and two by two my human zoo
    They'll be running for to come
    Running for to come out of the rain"
  • None from None , WyThe part in the middle with "la las" and the "death all around" and, in particular, "and now I know" used to drive my dad down right nuts. He hated that part.
  • None from None , WyHaha, again, I love Queen to death but when the "la la, la la la la la la, la la la la la la" part came on when I first heard this song I couldn't help from laughing and just thinking "Oh, wow. That is so Freddie." I know Freddie didn't write the song, that's just the first thing that came to my mind.
  • Ryan from Eaton, InThe only studio track longer than this is "Track 13" at the end of 'Made In Heaven'.

    The effect of the guitar coming back in prior to the final "God give you grace" line was achieved by recording the line to tape, then mixing the tape into the final master- the pitch shifting up toward the final solo line is the affect of the tape reel ramping up to full speed from a dead stop.
  • Craig from Henderson, NvThis song inspires me. The vocals and the harmony, wow. Queen makes many different/percussive sounds which makes them one of the greatest bands ever. this songs makes me scream, YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!
  • Matt from Dundee, ScotlandI find it interesting how this song could be taken as a forecast of cataclysmic climate change by Brian May. Almost as if he had a Nostradamus-type vision of things to come.
    If it wasn't for the dated rhythm guitar sound this song would be one of the best examples of queen's work IMHO. An epic song.
    PS stop being obsessed with how long things are! :-)
  • Anna from Ann Arbor, MiThis song is just phenomenal.
    It seriously, just....wow.
    And yes, it's for sure their longest song,
    it's (I believe, I'm not gonna check) 8:50 min,
    and then like Innuendo and It's Late are about 7?
    Maybe?
  • Josh from TorontoHmm I think there's another one thats longer...but anyways...WOW...Queen is like the best band ever, and this song just blows my mind away, I just wish more people knew about it.
  • Chris from Mainz, GermanyBrian played a Toy Koto (Traditional Japanese Instrument) with the beginning of this Song!
  • Andrew from Honolulu, HiGreat Song! Brian tuned his guitar down to play the base chords. Very cool sound.
  • Catherine from Wooster, OhAn absolute masterpiece from Brian!
  • Jonathon from Clermont, FlYes, it is the longest Queen song, I think. I'm not going to bother checking. "It's Late" and "Innuendo" are also pretty long. I like the lyrics for this song.
  • Ash from Charleston, WvI consider this Queen's very own "Dies Irae" (meaning "Day of Anger" or "Day of Wrath," it is the movement often included in classical death requiems that describes Judgment Day).
  • Rick from Humboldt, Iais it the longest queen song?
  • Bryan from Melbourne, FlThe vocal canon was amazing!
see more comments

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