45 Years Ago: Queen Tap Teenage Angst on ‘Tie Your Mother Down’
On Sept. 18, 1976, Queen staged a massive thank-you to their English fans by staging a free concert at London’s Hyde Park. Between 150,000 and 200,000 people were there to watch Freddie Mercury and the band expressing gratitude for having become one of the biggest rock acts in the world. But they still had something to prove.
“Hyde Park was one of the most significant gigs in our career,” Brian May said later. “We’d kind of made it in a lot of countries by that time, but England was still – you know, we weren’t really sure if we were really acceptable here. So, it was a wonderful feeling to come back and see that crowd and get that response.” The show took place while Queen were recording their fifth album A Day at the Races, which presented the opportunity to play some new music for the crowd. One of those songs was “Tie Your Mother Down,” a track May had in his mind for eight years by that point. It proved to have been worth the wait to finally complete it.
“‘Tie Your Mother Down’ was built around a riff which I’d had kicking around for a long time,” May said in 2011. “I know pretty much where I first played it – it was on top of that volcanic ridge in Tenerife when I was doing my PhD studies. I had a little acoustic guitar which I’d bought down in Santa Cruz in Tenerife, where we’d lived. And I remember beating out that riff and enjoying it, enjoying the feeling of bending the string as part of the riff. And I sat there watching the sun go down, kinda singing along to it. But I didn’t really have a song at that point.”
Watch Queen's 'Tie Your Mother Down' Video
The title had entered his mind at some point before he presented it to his bandmates, but he was never sure of it. “I didn’t know what the song was about,” he admitted in another interview. “I remember having the conversation with Freddie … saying, ‘I’ve got this great riff,’ and Freddie went, ‘Yeah, this is amazing – we should do that!’” When the guitarist revealed his working title he added, “Obviously we can’t use that.” But Mercury countered: "Yes we can! Why not? It says a lot." "I later went back to it and thought, 'Yeah, it does make a lot of sense to me,'" May recalled. "It’s about teenage angst and rebelling against your parents – which I what I suppose most of the original rock songs were about anyway."
While there’s no evidence to back up the idea, it’s been rumored that one of Mercury’s nicknames among close friends was “Mother.” When asked about the song by DJ and pal Kenny Everett, the singer replied, “Well, this one in fact is a track written by Brian. Actually, I don’t know why. Maybe he was in one of his vicious moods. I think he’s trying to outdo me after ‘Death on Two Legs,’ actually!”
Watch Queen, Joe Elliot and Slash Perform 'Tie Your Mother Down'
Watch Foo Fighters, Brian May and Roger Taylor Perform 'Tie Your Mother Down'
“Tie Your Mother Down” was released as a single on March 4, 1977, in the U.K. and four days later in the U.S. It was promoted with a live video that required an essential edit because Roger Taylor was thrown off his drum kit when an overcharged flashpot went off beside him; just after the explosion, Mercury can be seen turning toward Taylor with concern before the edit is made.
The single was only a modest success at the time, reaching No. 49 on the Billboard chart, but the song remained in the Queen set list from its debut appearance at Hyde Park until the end of the band’s first incarnation. May continued to perform it afterward, and it returned when Queen connected with Paul Rodgers and then again with Adam Lambert.
Watch Guns N' Roses and Brian May Perform 'Tie Your Mother Down'
Listen to Lemmy Cover 'Tie Your Mother Down'
In the meantime, the song has been covered by acts as disparate as Lemmy, Stereophonics and Lynch Mob, while May has delivered a country-style version. He also performed it alongside Joe Elliott and Slash at the Mercury tribute concert in 1992, with Guns N’ Roses the same year and with many others since then.
“Sometimes you get a little riff, and you just put some words with it and then you don’t even think about what they mean,” May reflected. “I remember thinking, ‘This isn’t a good enough title for this song,’ but everyone said, ‘Well, actually, it sounds OK,’ and so we kind of lyrically built it around that. That’s the truth, folks.”
Listen to Lynch Mob Cover 'Tie Your Mother Down'
Listen to Brian May’s Country Version of 'Tie Your Mother Down'
Queen Albums Ranked
You Think You Know Queen?