Songwriting Tips to Learn from Queen’s “We Will Rock You”

Songwriting Tips to Learn from Queen’s “We Will Rock You”

“We Will Rock You” by Queen is arguably the greatest rock anthem of all time. In this blog post, we look at some of the songwriting secrets buried within its seemingly simple form.

This blog post aims to summarise our video “How to Write a Killer Rock Anthem – 7 Secrets from Queen’s We Will Rock You’’. Click here to watch the video for more details, explanations and examples.

The Power of Simplicity

“We Will Rock You” begins with a deceptively simple drum groove that packs a powerful punch. Brian May’s clever use of hand claps and foot stomps to emphasize the snare and kick drums gives the song a tribal and primal feel. This uncluttered and straightforward arrangement allows listeners to be hyper focused on Freddie Mercury’s vocals once they come in.

Whilst the groove is really simple, the power of it really comes from the layers used to create it. From this, we can see that simplicity allows us to draw our listeners attention to a few sparse elements in a song, thus helping to ensure that they land emotionally with the listener.

Using the Voice as a Percussive Instrument

Similarly to most great anthems, this song is mostly centered around the refrain line, which is “We will rock you”. The verses are meant to build tension, thus creating a satisfying release once the refrain hits. However, unlike most songs, the verses use variations in rhythm rather than pitch to achieve this.

By using his voice as a percussive instrument, Freddie Mercury creates an infectious rhythmic drive that keeps the song moving forward. Even if we remove the lyrics, just listening to the short, staccato, and rhythmic melody in the verse allows us to feel the bounce, rhythm and drive of the song.

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Moving the Story Through a Timeline

The lyrical structure of “We Will Rock You” moves the story through a character’s life journey, instead of just a particular moment or day in their life. Each verse represents a different phase in the character’s life, showcasing the progression from a boy to a young man and eventually an old man. This narrative style invokes a sense of nostalgia in listeners, and prompts them to relate and think back to phases that we all go through in our own lives.

Each of the verses also features a play on the line “You got mud on your face, you big disgrace”. This makes us feel as if nothing has changed, and that the character is always struggling, even up till the very end. When this is combined with the refrain “We will rock you”, we get an extremely relatable story of a character who’s always struggling but still chooses to continue to fight.

Turning the Chorus into an Anthem

If we observe the lyrics of “We Will Rock You”, we’ll notice that the lyrics go from being very busy in the verse, to being less busy as the song heads towards the refrain line in the chorus. This is a technique known as phrasal deceleration. When we go from having lots of notes in a bar, to having less notes in a bar, it results in us feeling deceleration even though the tempo is the same.

In addition, the refrain lands entirely on downbeats. Since downbeats are extremely stable, this further reinforces the central message of the refrain. This technique adds to the chant-like quality of the chorus, inviting the audience to participate and creating a memorable anthem that compels listeners to sing along.

Listening to Your Audience

The story goes that “We Will Rock You” was written after Queen had played a show at Bingley Hall in Stafford 29th May 1977. At the end of that show the crowd began to sing what is known as a classic football anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone. Brian May was really moved by this experience and wanted to write an anthem of their own that the crowd could sing along with, as well as stomp and clap to.

Instead of dismissing the experience as just him having an easily excitable crowd, he took it and used it to create a song that he could use to actively engage the audience with. As songwriters and musicians, we’re often very focused on details, and our own creative process. However, consider that one of the most famous rock anthems of all time was written to allow the audience to participate regardless of an instrument, and feel like they belonged to the band. 

From this, it’s clear that it’s important for us as songwriters to listen to our audience as well, rather than just serving ourselves in our songs.

Keep It Short

At just over two minutes and two seconds, “We Will Rock You” is short and to the point. A question that often comes up at this point is “How long should my song be?”. Unfortunately, the answer is rather philosophical, which is as long as the song needs to be. To do that, we need to decide what the purpose of our song is, and ponder upon why it was created.

In this instance, Queen’s goal was to create an anthem that the crowd could sing along to and clap with. To achieve that goal, the song has 3 refrains, thus providing the crowd 3 opportunities to join in. Once that’s been done, the song has served its purpose. If the song had been even 30 or 40 seconds longer, we might have felt that it was dragging rather than memorable.

There is no exact formula for how long a song should be but in the case of “We Will Rock You”, it being short and sweet helped it to serve the purpose of the song well.

Using Unconventional Song Forms

Instead of following the typical verse-chorus-verse-chorus structure or other popular song forms such as AABA, “We Will Rock You” consists of three refrain lines and three verses, followed by a soaring guitar solo at the end. What makes this even more unusual, is that the entirety of the three refrains and verses is done acapella with only drums as accompaniment.

The contrast between these sections creates a delightfully surprising and charming song. In addition, Brian May’s guitar solo focuses mostly on the A Major chord, even though up till this point, the song has mostly centered around the E Minor chord. The guitar lick he plays is essentially a country lick, played on the 14th fret with lots of distortion. 

The important thing to take away from this, is that there’s so much crossover between blues, country, folk, rock, R&B, and soul, and we can often find so much inspiration from other forms of music. Even if we don’t play them, these concepts can transfer over beautifully to the style that we’re making music in.

Conclusion: Songwriting Tips to Learn from Queen’s “We Will Rock You”

There are lots of aspects of Queen’s “We Will Rock You” that make it a memorable song. The important part is for us to adapt what we learn from this classic rock anthem into our own music. This way, we too can create songs that captivate our audiences and withstand the test of time.

If you would like more details, explanations and examples, then be sure to check out the video now.

Turn your inspiration into beautiful songs with step-by-step guidance through two professional songwriting methods. By the end of this course, not only will your tool belt be stocked; you’ll have a plan and a method for finishing your songs – all of them:


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