I've long since disposed of most of the 7" singles that I collected over the years, but one of the singles that I used to own included the Queen song "'39." This was actually the B side of a single; the song was never a hit in its own right.
Queen is one of those bands - the Beatles and Blondie are others - that often changed directions on the course of an album, sometimes from song to song. (Queen's most famous example of this was in the album sequencing for "News of the World," in which "We Will Rock You" was immediately followed by "We Are the Champions" - a sequencing that was preserved in a hit single.)
The song "'39" is a folk song with ringing guitar, eerie vocal choruses and other eerie overtones, and lyrics that described, as only an Englishman could, the changes that occurred due to the beginning of the Second World War. Although I'll admit that I was puzzled by the references to volunteers coming home in 1939, since the evacuation of the Continent didn't take place until 1940.
Well, it turns out that my confusion was greater than I thought, because the song, written by Brian May, has nothing to do with World War II.
May has described the song as "my space science fiction love song." Robert Koehler, quoting from an unknown source, provides May's further thoughts on the song:
The song’s lyrics are a science fiction short story which concerns twenty volunteers who leave a dying Earth on a spaceship in search of new worlds to settle. They return to report success, 100 calendar years later, with only a single year passing from the volunteers’ perspective (due to time dilation). The lyrics imply that the song’s protagonist faces his child upon return to Earth....
Of course, back when I originally heard the song in the mid-1970s, I had no idea about May's interest in astrophysics - it would be decades before May would return to his studies and earn his Ph.D. in the subject.
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