"Tie Your Mother Down" was written in Tenerife, when May was working on his PhD in Astronomy in early 1968. He wrote it on Spanish guitar and thought he'd change the title and chorus later on, but Mercury liked it and they kept it that way.
The song is preceded, first, by a multi-tracked guitar part reminiscent of the song "White Man," then by a one-minute instrumental intro using a Shepard tone harmonium figure, which is actually a reprise of the ending of "Teo Torriatte": this was intended to create a "circle" in the album. The ascending scale was created by recording a descending scale on a harmonium and playing it backwards for the record.
The main bulk of the song can be described as heavy blues rock, featuring aggressive vocals by lead singer Mercury as well as a slide guitar solo by May, who also provided most of the backing vocals.
A music video was made for the song, directed by Bruce Gowers, based on a performance clip shot at Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, New York in February 1977 during the band's US arena headlining tour. After its release in 1976, the song was played by Queen on every subsequent tour.
"You Take My Breath Away" was written by Mercury and based on the harmonic minor scale. All of the vocals and piano were done by him, and he performed it by himself at Hyde Park before recording it. There is a vocal interlude between this song and the next one that begins with a wash of vocals (repeating the words "take my breath") created by echoes (of a multitracked Mercury) regenerating in reverse, which gradually evolves into the repeated phrase "you take my (breath away)" and reintegrates into the next track, "Long Away".
"Long Away" was composed and sung by May. He used a Burns Double Six 12-string electric guitar for the rhythm parts instead of his Red Special. May had wanted to use a Rickenbacker because he admired John Lennon, but did not get along well with the thin neck of the instrument. The single was released in the US, Canada and New Zealand but did not chart anywhere.
"The Millionaire Waltz" was written by Mercury about John Reid (Queen and Elton John's manager at the time). It is another multi-key and multi-metre song like "Bohemian Rhapsody", using abrupt arrangement changes and including May doing multi-tracked guitar choirs. It's a noteworthy example of John Deacon's 'lead bass' playing, which can be heard quite prominently during the first two minutes of the song in which only Deacon and Mercury play (bass guitar and piano respectively).
About two minutes into the song it changes character from the 3/4 waltz to a 4/4 hard rock segment, which lasts for about thirty seconds. The song then goes back to 3/4 metre and features a multi-layered guitar solo by May.
"You and I" is John Deacon's song on the album. The song is in the key of D major, is primarily piano-driven and features Deacon on acoustic guitar. The song was never played live. It was featured as the b-side for "Tie Your Mother Down".
"Somebody to Love" is the hit single of the album. Written by Mercury, the song was inspired by gospel music, especially that of Aretha Franklin, and Mercury, May and Taylor multi-tracked their voices to create a 100-voice gospel choir.
Like "Bohemian Rhapsody", the major hit from Queen's previous album, this song has a complex layering of vocal tracks, this time based on a gospel choir arrangement. The lyrics, especially combined with the gospel influence, create a song about faith, desperation and soul-searching; the singer questions both the lack of love experienced in his life and the role and existence of God.
Staying true to Queen's guitar-driven style, it was also filled with intricate harmony parts and a solo by May. Mercury recorded a wide range of notes, going from a G#2 (in the last choral verse) to a falsetto G#5 (at the peak of his melisma on "ooh" over the choir break). It went to #2 on the UK charts (after "Under the Moon of Love" - Showaddywaddy was at #1) and #13 on the US singles chart.
"White Man" was written by May about the suffering of Native Americans at the hands of European immigrants, taking the viewpoint of native peoples. This song would be the focal point for a Freddie Mercury vocal solo on the A Day at the Races Tour and serve as both a Mercury vocal solo spot and a Brian May guitar solo spot on the 1977–78 News of the World tour. The song is one of Queen's heaviest works, thematically and musically. On the later 2005 Return of the Champions Tour and the later 2008 Tour the riff to "White Man" was used as an introduction to "Fat Bottomed Girls".
"Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy" was written by Mercury. It starts with a piano and vocal introduction by Mercury, then continues, with the bass and drums adding on, at the start of the chorus. The second verse is sung, followed by another chorus. At this point, the drums, bass and guitar drop out, which then leads into the bridge, sung by Mercury and Mike Stone. Following the Brian May guitar solo, another verse is sung, and then the chorus ends the track.
Multi-tracked vocals enhanced the song as well as May's guitar choirs. The song was once performed live on Top of the Pops in June 1977, with Roger Taylor singing Stone's part. Most of the track was a concert staple on the band's A Day at the Races Tour and News of the World Tour.
"Drowse" was Roger Taylor's song in 6/8 having him playing rhythm guitar and timpani and doing all of the vocals. May played slide guitar during this and "Tie Your Mother Down" (the second guitar solo in the middle of the song). Taylor's song on the previous album, "I'm In Love With My Car", was also in 6/8.
Taylor sings octave lead vocals during the verses (except for the third and final verse). The song is in fact in 12/8 time
"Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together)" was May's tribute to the Japanese fans. It was performed live in Tokyo during the Jazz tour in 1979 and again when the band visited Japan during The Game and Hot Space tours in 1981 and 1982 respectively.
The song is notable for having two choruses sung in Japanese; it is one of only three Queen songs (the others being "Las Palabras de Amor" from Hot Space and "Mustapha", from Jazz) in which an entire verse or chorus is sung in a language other than English. The song features a piano, a plastic piano and a harmonium, which are all played by May.
The album’s closing harmonium melody is also its opening melody; the sequence was attached to the beginning of "Tie Your Mother Down", the first track on the album. May described it as "a never-ending staircase", otherwise commonly known, musically, as a Shepard tone.
The Washington Post described A Day at the Races as "a judicious blend of heavy metal rockers and classically influenced, almost operatic, torch songs." The Winnipeg Free Press was also appreciative, writing, "Races is a reconfirmation of Queen's position as the best of the third wave of English rock groups." Circus gave the album a mixed review, writing, "With A Day at the Races, they've deserted art-rock entirely. They're silly now. And wondrously shameless." Dave Marsh, writing in Rolling Stone, was more critical and described Freddie Mercury as possessing a merely "passable pop voice". He found Queen to be the least experimental of eclectic contemporary rock groups and accused them of having "brazen" "commercial aspirations".
In a retrospective review, AllMusic editor Stephen Thomas Erlewine cited "Tie Your Mother Down" and "Somebody to Love", along with ballad "You Take My Breath Away", as the best tracks on the record, and said that the album marked a point where Queen "entered a new phase, where they're globe-conquering titans instead of underdogs on the make". Q magazine wrote that "the breadth of its ambition remains ever impressive, as do tracks such as May's stomping 'Tie Your Mother Down' and Mercury's baroque one-two, 'Somebody To Love' and 'Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy'." Ben Sisario, writing in The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), found the album "a little too predictable" and called it "a quickie sequel to Opera." Similarly, Aj Ramirez, writing for PopMatters, described the album as "a comparative comedown" and "a good but not stupendous record", while acknowledging the band were "now firmly in command of the mechanics of pop songcraft", which had yielded them more singles than any previous album.
In 2006, a national BBC poll saw A Day at the Races voted the 67th greatest album of all time. The same year, in a worldwide Guinness and NME poll to find the "Greatest 100 Albums of All Time", A Day at the Races was voted #87. It was also featured in Classic Rock and Metal Hammer's "The 200 Greatest Albums of the 70s," being listed as one of the 20 greatest albums of 1976. Out ranked it No. 20 of 100 in a poll of "more than 100 actors, comedians, musicians, writers, critics, performance artists, label reps, and DJs, asking each to list the 10 albums that left the most indelible impressions on their lives." In the 1987 edition of the The World Critics List, the BBC's Peter Powell ranked A Day at the Races the 6th greatest album of all time, and Jim DeRogatis of the Chicago Sun-Times included the record in his "The Great albums" in 2006.
In the UK the first track to be released as a single was "Somebody to Love" on 12 November 1976 (EMI 2565), reaching #2. "Tie Your Mother Down" followed on 4 March 1977 (EMI 2593), reaching #31, and "Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy" on 20 May 1977, reaching #17. In the US, "Somebody to Love" was released on 10 December 1976 (Elektra E45362) and reached #13. It was followed by "Tie Your Mother Down" (Elektra E45385) in March 1977, which reached #49. Both of these were released in Japan: in addition, "Teo Torriatte" was also released exclusively in Japan.
The album was reissued as part of the Hollywood Records remasters in 1991. It was also reissued by Paraphone in various European countries, remastered, in 1993, some with a different track listing and timings. A new track 1 titled "Intro" appears. In 1996 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab issued a remaster in the United States on CD numbered UDCD 668 and vinyl numbered MFSL-1-256.
On 8 November 2010, record company Universal Music announced a remastered and expanded reissue of the album set for release in May 2011. This as part of a new record deal between Queen and Universal Music, which meant Queen's association with EMI would come to an end after almost 40 years. All of Queen's albums were remastered and reissued by Universal Music in 2011.
QueenFreddie Mercury - lead and backing vocals, piano
Brian May - electric, slide and acoustic guitars, backing vocals, lead vocals on "Long Away", plastic piano and harmonium on "Teo Torriatte (Let Us Cling Together)"
Roger Taylor - drums, percussion, backing vocals, timpani, lead vocals and rhythm guitar on "Drowse", gong on "Tie Your Mother Down"
John Deacon - bass guitar, acoustic guitar on "You and I"
Additional personnelMike Stone - additional vocals on "Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy"