Many significant UK rock acts from the 1960s and early 1970s were deeply rooted in the blues. Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, and Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac were among many young bands steeped in blues tradition.
Queen took some cues from the hard rock of Led Zeppelin, especially in their early work. There are many other influences present in their work, however – glam-rock and British music hall in their early years, while later on they dabbled in funk and disco.
It’s thus surprising to see Queen attempt a straightforward blues piece. Queen guitarist Brian May wrote ‘See What A Fool I’ve Been’ in 1968. He caught ‘That’s How I Feel’, a blues song by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, on TV and wrote ‘See What A Fool I’ve Been’ around what he could remember of the song. May only learned the name of ‘That’s How I Feel’ in 2004, when a fan contacted him.
‘See What A Fool I’ve Been’ dated back to Roger Taylor and Brian May’s pre-Queen band Smile, and it was an early live staple. It was recorded during the sessions for Queen II. While it’s bluesy musically, Freddie Mercury’s vocal is something else entirely, piling on androgynous allure in what’s presumably a Robert Plant imitation.
‘See What A Fool I’ve Been’ wouldn’t have fit comfortably onto Queen II – although it would have been an upgrade over Taylor’s ‘The Loser in the End’ at the end of side one. It’s also possible that May’s lack of recollection over the song’s original writers, and potential royalty issues, may have pushed it out to a b-side.
‘See What A Fool I’ve Been’ remains a fascinating piece, showing a usually hidden facet of a gifted band.