Brian May: "When Queen Heard Led Zeppelin, We Thought, ‘Oh My God, This is Where We’re Trying to Get to, and They’re Already There!’"

Brian May (left) and Jimmy Page perform onstage
(Image credit: Michael Putland, Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

2023 marks the 50-year anniversary of Queen's self-titled debut album. In celebration of that major milestone, the band's guitarist, Brian May, recently sat down for an extensive interview with Total Guitar.

In it, the electric guitar giant discussed that first LP, and the influence Led Zeppelin had on the fledgling group. Zeppelin, May explained, not only sold millions of records, they did so without making any compromises to their boundary-pushing, hard-rocking sound.

“Those guys [Led Zeppelin] were not far ahead of us in age,” May said (opens in new tab), “but the first time we heard Zeppelin, we thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is where we’re trying to get to, and they’re already there!’ 

“So in a sense, there were times when we felt like we’d missed the boat,” he continued. “Like we wouldn’t be able to get our stuff out there. But our vision was slightly different from Zeppelin, musically. 

“It’s more harmonic and melodic, I suppose. But I would never be ashamed to say that Zeppelin were a huge influence on us, not just musically, but also in the way they handled themselves in the business, without compromising. 

“The way they handled their image, the integrity, the way they built their stage show – so many things," May went on. "I suppose between Zeppelin and the Beatles and the Who, you would see where we came from. That was the kind of platform that we bounced off.”

Along those lines, May, elsewhere in the Total Guitar interview, described how – from the beginning – Queen looked to follow their own playbook when it came to making records, even if that meant ignoring conventional wisdom.

“[On The Night Comes Down, from the band's debut], we’re doing something which people told us we couldn’t do,” May revealed. 

“People in those days used to say, ‘You can’t mix electric guitar with acoustic guitar.’ Nowadays that sounds pretty funny, but it was a belief that people around studios had, you know? They would say the electric guitar is too loud for the acoustic and I went, ‘Come on!’ It’s just a question of balancing in the mix. 

"So," May went on, "with The Night Comes Down, it’s based on acoustic guitar, my beautiful old acoustic. But the guitar harmonies are all electric. And that was a beginning, sort of like a demonstration: ‘Yes we can do this, we can make our own rules!’”

To read the full interview with May, pick up a copy of the latest issue of Total Guitar via magazinesdirect.com (opens in new tab).

Jackson Maxwell
Associate Editor, GuitarWorld.com and GuitarPlayer.com

Jackson is an Associate Editor at GuitarWorld.com and GuitarPlayer.com. He’s been writing and editing stories about new gear, technique and guitar-driven music both old and new since 2014, and has also written extensively on the same topics for Guitar Player. Elsewhere, his album reviews and essays have appeared in Louder and Unrecorded. Though open to music of all kinds, his greatest love has always been indie, and everything that falls under its massive umbrella. To that end, you can find him on Twitter crowing about whatever great new guitar band you need to drop everything to hear right now.

With contributions from