Before we get into own John Deacon’s melodic mastery on ‘We Are The Champions’, here’s something about the song that you might not know; in 2011, a team of researchers from Goldsmith’s University, London, deemed that it is ‘the catchiest song of all time’ based on the fact that it ticks all the boxes required for a singalong hit:
• Long and detailed musical phrases
• Multiple pitch changes in the song’s ‘hook’
• A male vocal*
• ‘High-effort’ (and, often, high-pitched) vocals
*apparently a male vocal gets in touch with our inner primitive human selves and acts as a ‘subconscious war cry’; if you’ve been the only sober person at a wedding when this is the last song of the night then this theory seems far less ridiculous.
Other hits that the researchers deemed to meet the ‘singalong’ criteria included ‘Ruby’ by the Kaiser Chiefs, ‘I’m Always Here’ by Jimi Jamison, ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ by Van Morrison, ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ by Wheatus, and ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ by Bon Jovi, all of which are diehard staples of every wedding setlist I’ve ever played.
On to JD’s fantastic bass playing on ‘We Are The Champions’; the first verse features an unusual playing approach of high-register staccato fills that punctuate the gaps in Freddie Mercury’s vocal phrases – this is a good workout for ledger line reading and using the fretting hand to achieve a range of note lengths. As for the harmonic in bar 9… It could be a fretted G, but it’s so buried in the mix that’s it’s hard to be certain (I missed this note entirely on the first 2 versions of the transcription!).
This trick of starting off a bass part with high-register melodic phrases is something that John uses to great effect again in ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ (there’s a transcription here and a play-along video here).
For the prechorus and chorus sections (bar 14 onwards), things get more conventional. The key to these parts is intent; aim for a smooth, round sound with no gaps between notes and play it like you mean it – you are a champion, after all.
The end of the chorus (bars 32-34) contains a great melodic hook that Deacon repeats 3 times, resolving to different chords with each repetition – this lick gets revisited with some variations in chorus 2 (bars 72-74) and chorus 3 (bars 89-91).
Verse 2 (bar 42) sees JD revisiting the dusty end of the fingerboard and developing the melodic ideas that he played in verse 1 – these lines are so quiet that they’re almost subliminal, so the notation represents my best efforts to capture what I think I hear him playing.
If you’re really into Queen then the 40th-anniversary deluxe edition of News of The World might be appealing – it features numerous studio outtakes and alternative versions of songs such as ‘We Are The Champions’ and ‘We Will Rock You’ that have been assembled from the original master tapes.
If, however, the price tag is unappealing you can still get an insight into the studio sessions courtesy of YouTube: