The secret history behind Queen's News Of The World album cover

3 November 2019, 14:30

Queen - News Of The World album cover
Queen - News Of The World album cover. Picture: Amazon album cover

The giant robot from the band's 1977 album cover may have terrified Stewie Griffin but it was created by a respected sci-fi artist...

It's one of the most iconic album covers to appear in the 1970s: a giant robot looms over the landscape. In his hand are two figures, broken and bleeding, two others are falling from its grasp. On on the robot's face is a mournful, tearful expression.... on his fingers is blood. What's he done? What happened in this futuristic nightmare?

This is the image that confronted Queen fans on 28 October 1977 when their sixth studio album News Of The World appeared in record stores. The inner gatefold image continues the story - we see the robot from the point of view of a crowd of panicking people, as the enormous automaton reaches in through the hole in the ceiling of their protective dome. Who's going to be next to fall foul of the behemoth?

It was a far cry from the usual imagery Queen would employ for their records. Previous albums by the band saw portraits of the four members - Freddie Mercury, Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor - while both 1975's A Night At The Opera and 1976's A Day At The Races featured variations on the "royal crest" idea that reflected their name.

For their 1977 LP, Queen wanted something different. Drummer Roger Taylor was a science fiction fan - he later made a solo album called Fun In Space - and an image from an old magazine had caught his eye.

Astounding Science Fiction had been in print since 1930, but the 50s were its "golden age". Taylor had seen the October 1953 edition (reprinted in the UK in March 1954), which featured the very same tearful robot that would later appear on the cover of News Of The World. In its hand is the lifeless body of a man.

The image illustrated the short story The Gulf Between by Tom Godwin, which tells of a future society in which robots can be doctors or pilots, but always obeying the rule: "A machine is constructed to obey commands; it does not question those commands."

Roger Taylor receives a copy of Astounding Science Fiction during a party thrown for Queen by Elektra Records, 1977.
Roger Taylor receives a copy of Astounding Science Fiction during a party thrown for Queen by Elektra Records, 1977. Picture: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The story culminates in a man trapped in a rapidly accelerating spaceship, unable to tell the robot that's keeping him under sedation to stop the craft. The moral of the story is: "Machines are the servants of humans, not their equals. There will always be a gulf between Flesh and Steel. Read those five words on the panel before you and you will understand."

And what were those five words? "A MACHINE DOES NOT CARE."

Astounding Science Fiction magazine, September 1954: cover by Frank Kelly Freas, 1954, illustrating "Martians, Go Home!" by Frederick Brown
Astounding Science Fiction magazine, September 1954: cover by Frank Kelly Freas, 1954, illustrating "Martians, Go Home!" by Frederick Brown. Picture: Granger/Shutterstock

The artist who visualised The Gulf Between was Frank Kelly Freas, who said of the image: "The mechanical nature of the robot is reduced to the absolute visual minimum; his human, or his emotional, nature is emphasised to the limit. You KNOW this is no threatening automaton: this is a sentient, empathetic entity, his whole being concentrated into the one plea – ‘Fix it, Daddy…’”

Born in New York in 1922, Freas had a long and distinguished career as an illustrator spanning over 50 years. Aside from his science fiction work which was seen across over 300 magazines and books, he created covers for the wacky US humour magazine Mad and even designed the badge of the Skylab space station.

Queen approached Freas some 24 years after the publication of his original painting and asked him to re-create the image, this time swapping the unfortunate pilot for the four members of Queen. Mercury and May lie prone and bloody in the robot's hand, while Deacon and Taylor drop lifeless to the ground. Freas also created the apocalypric gatefold image to complement the cover.

Being a classical music fan, Freas had never heard of Queen, but he was up for the commission. The image appeared when the album was released 28 October 1977, which later made Number 4 in the UK charts.

Record stores could get their own 54-inch high plastic robot to stack copies of the vinyl album in, and the hapless mechanical man's reign of terror was used to promote Queen's 1977 tour.

Queen Monopoly set
Queen Monopoly set. Picture: QueenOnlineStore.com

The robot was later to appear as a piece in the official Queen Monopoly set in 2017, while later the same year the creature was back fronting the 40th anniversary edition of News Of The World.

In a 2012 episode of the comedy series Family Guy, Stewie Griffin comes across an old copy of News Of The World in the attic and is terrified by the image, much to his canine pal Brian's amusement.

Frank Kelly Freas died in January 2005, but his work lives on for both Queen fans and lovers of science fiction alike.

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