Queen were a highly versatile band. Although they’re mostly remembered for their operatic take on rock music, Freddie Mercury and his bandmates were eager to explore as many different genres as they could. There was straight-ahead pop on ‘You’re My Best Friend’, the synthpop of ‘Radio Ga Ga’, the psychedelic folk of ‘39’, and the dry disco-funk of ‘Another One Bites the Dust’, just to name a few examples.
But Queen were also one of the heaviest rock bands around. It might seem strange to think of now, but Queen were certainly one of the major propagators of heavy metal music. Their theatrical presentation and high camp sensibilities were one thing, but their sheer impact was another.
This was especially true at the beginning of their career. On the band’s debut album, tracks like ‘Great King Rat’ and ‘Son and Daughter’ feature some of the group’s heaviest and most brilliantly crunchy guitar tones that you would sooner find in a Black Sabbath song. Queen continued to diversify their sound, but there was always room for speed and pure adrenaline. That’s where ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ comes in.
By their third album, Sheer Heart Attack, tracks like ‘Killer Queen’ and ‘Now I’m Here’ were pushing Queen into their signature theatrical style, but ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ was something completely different. Featuring breakneck tempos and a stream of lyrics delivered so quickly that it’s almost quasi-rap, ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ is as frantic and ferocious as any song released by 1974. Heavy metal bands generally plodded along with detuned guitars and funeral-like dirges, but ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ birthed something much faster, much harder, and much heavier.
Although it is commonly pointed to when discussing the birth of thrash metal, likely thanks to the cover that Metallica did of the song on the B-side of ‘Enter Sandman’, ‘Stone Cold Crazy’ can just as easily be given credit for the explosion of punk rock that occurred mere months after Sheer Heart Attack was released. Groups like the Ramones and The Damned were looking to destroy bands like Queen, but the truth was that Queen were beating them to the punch and doing it better than them all.
There’s a famous story about Queen recording News of the World when they would be interrupted and gawked at by fellow EMI band the Sex Pistols. Their labelmates would make fun of the band and invade their workspace, but if the Pistols were to trace back the sound that they were pioneering, they would find that their subjects of ridicule actually had a pretty big hand in punk’s creation. That’s all thanks to ‘Stone Cold Crazy’, which can still make ears bleed almost 50 years later.