Queen's Death on Two Legs .. who is it dedicated to?

Over the years there has been much speculation over the years as to who this song is dedicated to. A post on songmeanings.net states that it is about Norman Sheffield, their manager in the early days who “locked Queen into a slave like contract where they saw almost nothing in terms of royalties and artistic freedom.” Nasty!

I searched about a year ago for the answer to this question but couldn’t find anything as “concrete” as the answers above. It is still hear-say but I believe it could be true..
Last night while channel-flipping I came across “Classic Albums” on BBC1. The show was about Queen’s, “A Night At The Opera”, the album which really set the ball rolling for them and included the huge hit Bohemian Rhapsody.

I missed the start of the show but came in when they were talking about “Death on Two Legs”. Brian May spoke for up to a minute about the early days, saying they had a manager then who handled everything. He named the manager but I can’t recall what the name was. It was most likely Norman Sheffield.

They showed a grainy black and white group photo, and the camera zoomed in on the smiling young face of a man in a suit and lingered there for a few seconds. The scene changed back to May who looked into the camera for a few seconds saying nothing.

If you want to know what others think about this album, here are some critical and not so critical reviews.

26 thoughts on “Queen's Death on Two Legs .. who is it dedicated to?

  1. I’ve heard other places that the identity of “Death on Two Legs” was revealed on Classic Albums to indeed be Norman Sheffield. I wish I could see this with my own two eyes, but short of it being shown here in the States, I doubt I will get to very soon.

    I do know that Sheffield sued Queen apparently thinking the song was about him. If I recall, the lawsuit never really went anywhere.

  2. On Classic Albums, the picture they showed was of their (then-) new manager who told them that he would take care of the finacial situation, and told them to go back to the studio and make the best record they’ve ever made. Do you recall (hopefully) exactly what Brian said about “how vicious Freddie wanted it to be”? If so, feel free to email me, I have misplaced my copy of the DVD.

  3. Norman Sheffield is my father, so therefore, i have heard a lot of the old stories. It is supposedly true that Freddie had my father in mind when he wrote this song, however what is not told is that after my father built the studio and found Queen, he gave them free access to the studio whenever he could and didn’t charge them a penny. He was a very well known drummer before building the studio with his barehands. He helped make Queen and thus Freddy mould their raw talent, and then like a lot of bands when they made it they got greedy. That’s the basics, and I won’t go into any more, but for your interest he is in the process of writing a book about the years of the studio, when he dealt with a lot of huge artists such as The Beatles and Bowie, none of whom he or they had any problems with. Just thought i would let you all know!

  4. I was Norman Sheffield’s PA from 1970 to 1973 and will endorse what Sam has said above about giving Queen free access to the studio. Queen were very talented and they were also very lucky to gain access to the best studio at the time with the best facilities and the best recording engineers/producers. A lot of talent would have loved that opportunity. I would never have worked for anybody who was a bad guy. Norman was a good guy and I treasure the time I worked there. Some times people are quick to judge without knowing the full facts. I’m very proud of Trident’s achievements and also very proud of Queen’s achievements and to have been a very small part of their history together with the rest of us who worked there.

  5. Sam (and all others), there are always two sides for a story. I can’t believe Queen would just attack him for no reason.

  6. I worked for Norman Sheffield for just over a year at the end of the 70’s at the time of all the aggro. He is in my view a hard nosed but very fair businessman with a soft inside. He took a gamble with Queen at the same time they took a gamble with him. He was more than generous with studio time. Everyone earned out of it , so whats the problem ? Any criticism he should tell them to **** off.

  7. they were broke thanks to mr. sheffield, they didnt make any money till a night at the opera came out so stop talking shit.

  8. From what I’ve read around the web the Sheffield’s story is not quite as Sam puts it.
    Apparently thanks to Paul McCartney, Queen was allowed to use the studio for free when it was not in use by any other band. normally this would be between 3 and 7 am…. not a pleasant time to sing and work. They finished their first album in November 1972, but wasn’t released until July 1973!!!!
    By that time, they were working on their second album, which had to be held so it wouldn’t be released so close to the first one. That’s what really upset Freddy and the band.

  9. I think Sam’s information is more valuable than what you read on the web.

    Unless you have the facts from both sides you know nothing. So how can you
    take a view when you only hear/know one side? In my humble opinion, that is being biased.

  10. As I’ve said before, there are two sides to all stories. I can’t believe Queen would attack him for no reason, but wheather he was really a complete maniac or not we’ll never know.

  11. Hello. A message to Britt Young and Sam Sheffield-Dunstan. If you are reading this, please drop me a line at this Yahoo account: queenbook51@yahoo.co.uk

    I am an author currently researching a book and interested in speaking to anyone that worked with Queen at Trident Studios in the early 70s. Would love to hear from you.

    Apologies for the yahoo account, but always reluctant to put personal e-mail address or phone number on the Web. Look forward to hearing from you.

  12. I saw the documentary this morning, with the photo and everything and they mentioned another guy – John Reid. I searched for John Reid and apparently he was Queens manager between 1975-78 according to Wiki anyway, so my first thougt was; “Why keeping a manager who’d exposed you for gross fraud, for three more years?”

    Wiki did also claim that Norman Sheffield was the target of this song…

    I’m confused!

  13. There are two sides to every story, BUT Britt and Sam’s version of events is closer to the truth. The Sheffields spent an absolute fortune on Queen, and took a real risk on them because they believed in them. It was they, not Paul McCartney, who donated studio time to Queen at Trident. The Sheffields owned the studio.
    Queen were very bright, talented men, but they were also impatient. Once they had a hit single they figured they should be millionaires and driving around in Rolls Royces. But any pop group from those times will tell you that is NOT the case. Queen thought they were entitled to more. Good luck to them. But the idea that the Sheffields ripped them off is just not true. There is a lot more to this. I recorded at Trident for a while in the sixties and I just read the new Queen book, Is This The Real Life – The Untold Story Of Queen, which talks about a lotof this stuff. Life and the music business is never that simple.

  14. Well Sheffield’s son, former PA and employee do indeed provide valuable info, does it not strike anyone as funny that they ARE still “things we read on the web” just like previous angles on the song’s eponymous subject? Queen obviously was small fries at the time compared to the likes of Beatles, Bowie, so who’s to know they didn’t get “fair” treatment “befitting” their status as perceived by Sheffield? Was Mercury writing from a starry ego years before he was “qualified” to wield one? Possible scenarios abound to argue for both sides. The only certain thing is this: the song’s about Queen’s interests vs. the manager’s own. If Mercury perceived unfairness and enslavement, wouldn’t this be fact-checked only by an impartial arbitrator (someone not related to Sheffield or under the lucrative benefits of his employment!), or someone actually privy to the ACTUAL terms of their contract and dealings? Is it possible a successful, respectable businessman engage in different dealings with clients of different industry standing & of differing values to him? You bet.

  15. Why would anyone want to work at 3 am and record until 7am that would piss me right off, being a musician and not receiving any real money until your 5th album is disgusting, im not surprised mercury said he wouldnt write anymore music, especially after this management turned up in a brand new royals royce .Queen were all basically living in shit holes and bed sits even after Bohemian Rhapsody, if they had someone like Peter Grant ( Led Zeppelin) looking after them for sure they would not have been put through such shit.I suppose being able to use a fucking studio from 3 am – 7am for free is supposed to make everything ok and compensated for being paid nothing? Death on Two legs obviously wasnt just how Mercury was feeling but the whole of Queen.

  16. @lisa it wasnt about John Reid he was the manager that finally made Queen wealthy after already recording 5 albums and being poor and living in shit holes.

  17. A bootleg of Queen’s Jazz tour concert in Vancouver, Canada in December 1978, has Freddie Mercury introducing ‘Death On Two Legs’ to the crowd by saying and I quote: “A few years ago we had a manager. The guy was supposed to look after us, and he was a real mother f…. I’ll tell you. We soon got rid of him and just thought we’d remember him by writing this song. That’s right. That’s right. This is a song called Death On Two Legs”.

  18. Very interesting to read this. I’ve been a huge Queen Fan for a very long Time and even Queen were somehow not only Musicians to me, but something more like a musical Family over all those Years I think it is plausible what Sam is stating here.

    Besides Death on Two Legs is one of my absolute Queen Favorites – strong Emotions produce great Songs ^^

    I guess the Situation wasn’t easy for them (the Band) and I also think it is not a lucky Decision of the Management to buy a Rolls Royce in such a Situation even it has not been paid by Record Sales of Queen.

    But of Course every Story has two Sides and I believe that Freddie and the others were very impatient but that is also understandable. They already made Music for around 5 Years and were still very poor.

    In the End everywhere on this Planet : When it comes to the Breakdown of the Money, Love – Friends and even Family ends. Even faster when you are under Pressure from your Wife, Child and so on.

    So i think their Manager wasn’t necessarily a bad Guy but the Band saw him as such at the Time. Maybe also because they didn’t have the Control in that Situation and they had no Overview of what was going on.

    And even I believe the Band when they say Freddie wasn’t a Diva I believe Freddie was a Person who always wanted to have Control over what happened with the Band. I believe he could get nasty when he believed he wasn’t in Control of the Situation.

    So thanks Sam for this courageous Posting. It helped me understand the Band’s History better, I think.

  19. For all his talent (I am a fan) I think everyone would probably agree that Freddie much like Elton John was very single minded and an perhaps an impatient individual. “I want it all” probably describes best his thirst for stardom and control. Freddie was never going to be a team player and shedding his manager and eventually his band mates was always going to be the natural path for a character like him.

    What is probably hard to take for Norman and his family is when unfounded rumour is twisted, no doubt mainly by the press who needed a bad guy to portray for a story to build the legend of Queen. I was a school friend of one of Norman’s sons (Russell) and it always stuck in mind how busy Norman was and later after visiting the studios which he had built from nothing I realised why. He and the people who worked for him built a magical place. Norman was not just a very hard working businessman he was a musician and therefore had that perspective and creative understanding….the perfect manager for the band in fact.

    I have not read the book yet but a good example of the kind of man Norman is was shown at a small charity fundraiser a couple of years ago organised by his son Russell who I had just got back in contact with after a school reunion. A small stage had been built for the bands playing, the usual maze of leads and amps guitars littered the stage along with a very very nice drum kit.

    My son who is a drummer was desperate to have a go…so towards the end of the night when the bands had finished and some recorded music was playing which just happened to be Queen….I told him to go for it. Callum started playing and within 5 minutes I saw Norman walk over to Callum. I watched thinking he was going to get a roasting as they were stuck in deep conversation. Eventually I went over and introduced myself to Norman and went to explain it was all my fault….Norman who didn’t have a clue who I was, was telling Callum that the drum kit had been Paul McCartney’s and Norman had bought the kit off of him many years ago for a considerable sum. It was a treasured possession which he passed down to his son Russell also a talented drummer. Norman had not shouted at him to get off the drum kit but was basically giving him advice on how he should play the drums…at the time he was suffering from throat cancer which made it very hard for him to talk but he spent the next 30 minutes giving Callum the benefit of his experience….eventually I had to drag Callum away as our taxi was waiting.

    The measure of Norman is that despite all that pressure he had building his dream he managed to have a beautiful family supported by his equally amazing wife Chris.

    I look forward to reading the book Norman as I know it will be an honest/true and measured reflection of that period in music history.

  20. Queen being greedy?? Surely wanting to be paid the going rate and to be paid for your royalties isn’t greed. So what… He built a studio, did he also write their lyrics or perform using any instruments on their tracks… No!
    Your father was like a lot of people in the industry then and now, thinking because they gave someone their big chance the literally own them, sorry but that’s just a scum bag.

    If there is a different version than what the band elude to then let’s here it and let the story be set straight

  21. Well just alone the fact that the money started to come in right after they replaced Norman Sheffield says it all… N.S. simply took too big piece of the cake for himself, good business for N. several years, not so good for Queen. The lyrics of the song says it all.

  22. I had completely forgotten how many comments this post got over the years. Thank you all for commenting. I appreciate all the comments from people who knew Norman Sheffield.

    I looked up this post again because I was listening to an interview with Brian May and Roger Taylor where they were asked who the song, “Death on Two Legs” was dedicated to.
    Nothing new in the interview but Roger Taylor says it was about their manager, and that an injunction on the album stopped it being released for a while. Brian May said it hurt and the situation was harming them.

    1. everyone is missing the point. Freddie took inspiration from a person who he felt had mistreated him. The result is amazing! If you ever suffer unjust abuse, just play this song and sing along as loud as you can. What a great stress release. Few artists can capture such intense emotions and feelings and set them to lyrics and music. My thanks to Queen, and to the sewer rat that provided the inspiration. Bravo!

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