We arrived at Madison Square Garden on that cold winter night in 1977 via the D subway train from the Bronx. One quick change at 59th Street on to the A train and we were at Madison Square Garden. New York City looked completely different in the 1970s. It’s hard to describe unless you were there. You had to be careful what street you walked down. It was dangerous at times, but also very cool. The biggest difference is probably that there were really no tourists or at least nowhere near as many tourists as there are now.
We had bought our tickets at the Madison Square Garden box office a few weeks before the concert. That’s where you bought concert tickets; at the box office, at the venue or at a Ticketron somewhere. There were no online ticket sales, no online scalping. However, you could scalp tickets in front of the venue usually for 20 or 30 dollars. Our Queen concert tickets cost us about 8 dollars each.
We entered Madison Square Garden about a half an hour before the show was about to begin. Madison Square Garden smelled like beer and cigarettes even before the show began. The lights went down and Thin Lizzy took the stage. The band opened with the song “Jailbreak.” Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy stood center stage with that bass guitar aimed at the audience looking as badass as you can get. This concert happened over 40 years ago. I was 14 years old. Hard to remember everything but I remember that opening song. I remember how cool Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy were on stage. I’m pretty sure they saved the song “The Boys Are Back In Town,” for last. Place went crazy when they did that tune. Thin Lizzy did not play for a long time, but it was an amazing way to start out the concert.
After what seemed like hours in between bands Queen finally hit the stage. The band’s opening song was from the new album A Day At The Races. If there ever was a guitar lick that would serve as a great concert opener it was the guitar lick from the song “Tie Your Mother Down.” It’s shocking that more people don’t pass out or have heart attacks when bands first appear on the stage. Fans would go completely nuts when the headliners took the stage. Hearing Freddie Mercury sing the opening line to “Tie Your Mother Down,” was almost too much to bear. This was Queen, this was real, this was happening in front of our eyes; we were seeing Queen!
Attending concerts in the 1970s as teenagers was an unbelievable experience because it was usually the only time we saw the bands. There were no video channels, no Internet, no cable. We never saw bands. The only time you saw them was live. That is an important point to understand because we were all in that together. The entire concert venue, every single person was seeing Queen probably for the first time and so the electricity that was generated was unbelievable. When you sat in the audience waiting for the bands to arrive on the stage, you made friends with everyone around you. No one had their eyes fixated on a cell phone, fans talked to each other and had an amazing time!
On that stage, Queen hypnotized the audience. There were no special effects except for some smoke. There were no video screens of showing film. It was as pure as you could get. Just a stage and a band. A great band. Freddie Mercury was astonishing. Man could sing his a** off. The guy was a complete entertainer in such a pure rock and roll sense, he had such a dramatic flair that people fell in love with. Brian May just looked real cool standing to the side in that white cape playing killer guitar. Roger Taylor played an incredible drum solo and John Deacon stood in his one spot holding it all together. The band was tight and defined the image of rock stars in every mannerism. The power of the music was overwhelming.
Anytime the band played a song from the A Night at the Opera or A Day at the Races albums, the crowd went crazy. Those were the songs that most of that audience knew. Many of us we were still discovering the older material. Everybody knew “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “You’re My Best Friend,” “I’m in love with my Car,” and the new ones, “Somebody To Love,” and “Tie Your Mother Down.” The band did some of the older material like “Killer Queen.” From what I can remember, probably the best song of the night was “Stone Cold Crazy.” We’ve all seen videos now from past Queen concerts but I’m telling you, being there in the 70s was so different from watching youtube videos or films. You can’t capture the heat, the sweat, the smell, the screaming, the excitement and the incredibly powerful loud music that surrounds you at a live show. Especially a live concert in the 70s. And especially a live Queen Concert in the 70s!!
When the concert was over, the lights went on and huge cloud of smoke engulfed the arena. We stumbled out of the Garden and headed back to the subway to take the train back to the Bronx. We had no idea that we were living in an era that would define some of the greatest rock and roll music ever recorded. We thought it would go on and on and on. We were wrong.