Real Chords #4: Queen, "'39"

This latest instalment in my Real Chords series is, well, a doozy. Welcome to master class, kids. The good news? This song, Brian May's self-described attempt at "sci-fi skiffle" from Queen's 1975 A Night at the Opera, isn't that hard to play once you get the hang of it. It is, however, one of the toughest to pick up by ear—which, happily, I've done for you. As you'll soon see, certain sections feature bizarre chord sequences that make no intuitive sense. But for all that, there's only one truly oddball chord in the whole song.

Perhaps due to the degree of difficulty, the online chord charts are generally good, though I didn't find any that were 100% accurate. For once, it doesn't much matter if you capo it or not; no matter what you do you'll run into a ton of weird chords. To play it in the same key as the original, use Capo 1. Fascinating fact: the song's Wikipedia entry claims that George Michael used to play this as a busker in the London Underground. If true, props to someone I'd previously dismissed as a lightweight. It's not an easy song to put across as a solo performer.

A few notes on the chords below: the aforementioned outlier, Adim7, is fingered x01212 low to high. Csus2 is x3x033. Now, this is a matter of taste, but in my music I use the Csus2 in place of a standard open C about 80% of the time. It just sounds better to me. If you listen to the song as you learn, you'll also note that some of these chords really fly by, particularly in the second half of the bridge, pre-chorus and chorus. Expect to stumble over those bits at first.

Here, then, are the real chords to Queen's "'39," written by Brian May:

Capo 1
  • Intro 1 (spaghetti western bit): C Am E Bb Eb Bb C F G
  • Intro 2 (folky bit): G D Em C G D C G G D Em Csus2 Csus2 D Dsus G
  • Verse: D Em C G D Em Em7 Csus2 Dsus D G
  • Pre-Chorus: D Adim7 Em Am G D C Em C D C G D (that last G is so quick, but necessary to set up the D)
  • Chorus: G Csus2 G D G B7 Em D C G/B Am G D G
  • Bridge: Eb Cm7* A C F#m C Am E Bb Eb Bb C F G
  • End: G B7 Em D C G/B Am Em D (G ... implied, not played)
  • Outro: G D Em Csus2 Csus2 D Dsus G
* An earlier version of this post listed C#m7 here in error.