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‘39 by Queen

Queen A Night At The Opera

It’s a fair bet that Queen’s Brian May is the only person to have achieved a number one pop song and a PhD in Astrophysics, and he combined these two skill-sets in ”39′, an album track from 1975’s A Night At The Opera.

Until recently, I assumed the song was something to do with the outbreak of World War 2 in 1939. But it’s actually about the time dilation effect in Einstein’s Special Theory Of Relativity – a group of space explorers depart on a one year voyage, but 100 earth years have elapsed by the time they return to Earth.

Musically it’s a departure from Queen’s usual style. May takes the lead vocal, and his gentle voice is a contrast from Freddie Mercury’s bombast. And it’s more rooted in skiffle or folk than in early Queen’s usual hard rock or faux-opera. Queen’s early albums are treasure troves of interesting ideas, and this is one of my favourite album tracks from them.

In the year of thirty-nine assembled here the volunteers
In the days when lands were few
Here the ship sailed out into the blue and sunny morn
The sweetest sight ever seen

And the night followed day
And the story tellers say
That the score brave souls inside
For many a lonely day sailed across the milky seas
Ne’er looked back, never feared, never cried

Don’t you hear my call though you’re many years away
Don’t you hear me calling you
Write your letters in the sand
For the day I take your hand
In the land that our grandchildren knew

In the year of thirty-nine came a ship in from the blue
The volunteers came home that day
And they bring good news of a world so newly born
Though their hearts so heavily weigh
For the earth is old and grey, little darling went away
But my love this cannot be
For so many years have gone though I’m older but a year
Your mother’s eyes, from your eyes, cry to me

Don’t you hear my call though you’re many years away
Don’t you hear me calling you
Write your letters in the sand for the day I take your hand
In the land that our grandchildren knew

Don’t you hear my call though you’re many years away
Don’t you hear me calling you
All your letters in the sand cannot heal me like your hand
For my life
Still ahead
Pity Me

And why did I choose this song? I celebrated a birthday yesterday, but I probably don’t need to tell you how old I turned.

18 thoughts on “‘39 by Queen Leave a comment

  1. I really like this track, among my favourites by Queen. They say making music isn’t rocket science (aerospace engineering), but with a PhD in Astrophysics, Brian May’s pretty close!
    And hope you had a nice birthday too, without any unfavourable time dilation!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I really like to play this one to my students. I have done so three times and I always get the same reaction. I leave it up to them to analyze the song, and the interpretation they come up with is usually related to someone going into war (they think of WWII because of the year 39) and then returning home. Then I point out to them that it is a cool interpretation, but that it does not fit in with the fact he says many years have passed and that he has gone away and returned on “they year of 39”. That is when they figure out it is some sort of space-traveling and I go on to explain how the song is related to relativity. It’s always a pretty fun class, and the students have their minds blown.

    So thanks to Brian May and his PhD.

    Liked by 1 person

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