Queen is the band that brought true music theory, and divine theatre back to Rock & Roll. Freddie Mercury conducted the cultural revolution that took the world by storm.
Mercury (lead vocals, piano), Brian May (guitar, vocals), Roger Taylor (drums, vocals), and John Deacon (bass guitar) cooked up an album that was unmatched on the charts, loved by all, and to this day shakes the planet! The flag-dish of the album is no secret either! “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a theoretical master class hit had touched hearts up and down the fretboard and struck your ears with octaves you didn’t know existed. Rhapsody was Freddie’s baby, a baby we all fell in love with that will never age. The song stands timeless! No matter the ripple in the universe Mercury will always exist.
Click through, and get a true sense of went into the band, the song, and the masterpiece that is Bohemian Rhapsody. You may impress a few friends next time the movie comes up!
“Are You Sure It’ll Work?”
Skepticism is a creative curse. A curse Freddie was able to ignore. His gift from the gods of Rock & Roll. The band was surprised and unsure about the name of the song at first.
Freddie stayed true to himself. He knew the lyrics would roll off the tongue, and into the heart of his fans, fans who eventually started referring to the song as “Bo Rhap” (probably so they can get it played faster) “Put on Bo Rhap!”
Click next and find out the truth behind the title.
Why the Name?
Mercury was a true professional. Making sure his music took you on a ride you wouldn’t forget. His mission? An elaborate song with complex meanings that ignites your deepest feelings, desires, and truths.
Bohemian Rhapsody was a genius choice of words on Freddie’s part. He rooted the word “Bohemianism” meaning power, and determination with the striking definition of detaching from popular culture, as well as trends.
Bohemian’s stay true to their sense of self, with a spiritual yet natural sense of mindfulness.
The word Rhapsody lets you know you’re in for a musical roller-coaster. Rhapsody means “a free instrumental composition that ignites your emotions on a heightened level.” The Greeks defined the word as “Epic Poem.”
At the end of the day, the world was served an epic poem put into pristine sheet music the world can enjoy for the rest of time. Click next, and get a taste of the lyrical genius.
It Wasn’t Written Overnight!
Formerly referred to as “The Cowboy Song” by Mercury. Bohemian Rhapsody like many others in its ranks was considered for years as working progress. According to Chris Smith the keyboardist of the band Smile, and a close friend of Freddie, the song was already at its humble beginnings in 1968.
Freddie played around as much as he could with the lyrics and the melody until he felt it was the perfect, or at least close to it. Most of his songs were written in a studio, Freddie kept this gem safe at home it was his baby, and it needed to be nurtured, and safe where he could see it! Maybe not the cleanest baby, as most of the writing was done on scrap paper, and telephone books. Sounds odd, but ask any artist. “scrap paper is where the magic happens!” Freddie Mercury’s reveal of the Bohemian Rhapsody was something he held dearly. He knew exactly what he was doing!
Coming Out with The Idea
It wasn’t going to be simple as this song was much longer than anything London radio has ever seen before. There were complex and rigid changes to tone, as well as ever-changing melodies.
Freddie Mercury totally knew what it would do to the fabric of the music.
Producer Roy Thomas Baker spoke of the first time the ballad section was played to him. In that moment, Mercury had abruptly stopped playing altogether and threw the ball to Roy. “This is where the operatic section comes in!”, and he followed that by saying, “and then we went to dinner!”
It was easy to talk, but Freddie really walked the walk as well! He put his money where his mouth is.
He Knew Exactly What He Wanted
Queen’s Guitarist, Brian May was adamant about expressing that the band was there to help. But it was mainly Freddie’s baby. Freddie was in charge and he held the reigns throughout the recording of the song. May is quoted as saying “He knew exactly what he was doing… We were there to help him bring it to life.”
The harmonies were all written and ready to go. The backing track was done simply; with just a piano, bass, and drums, and a few spaces for new ideas. Everything was ripe and arranged, but it wasn’t that simple for the talented Freddie Mercury. And is turned out, he was not going to make life easy for anyone! They needed to work hard for this one.
A Perfect Melody
Trained in classical music, you could naturally expect mercury was going to put you through the wringer until the sound was just right! The band put in hours of work into the song, and exhaustion was not going to stop them. For the band’s drummer Roger Taylor, it was love at first sight.
The melodies were captivating and haunting. The band was able to have input, but when it came to recording time, It was all fun no games! The guitar solo was all done by Brian May. May wanted what he called a “counterpoint” to the song. One that separates it from the whole piece. Roger Taylor sang the high note “for me!”. Taylor was required to do multiple takes until he hit the correct octave. The band did not care how long it would take!
Bohemian Rhapsody needed to happen and needed to happen right!
Brian May even lets us in on a little secret behind the harmony…
The song takes a turn at one point, creating a powerful changeup in the melody of the song. And it kind of takes you into a new dimension. What was their secret for this exciting change of pace? They used a specific 1930s method called the “bells effect.”
What happens with the bells effect is one person sings a note, and the rest follow like ghostly echoes stalking the original harmony. It was an unusual trick to be used in rock music at the time. But, when you think about it, it was precisely what the song needed! I bet you’re singing it right now, either aloud or in your head. Either way, it’s an unforgettable part of the song.
All In The Right Order
The song is very unusual as it has no chorus and many different musical styles.
Intro, Ballad, Opera, Rock, and Outro in. Taking on genres like Pop Rock, Hard Rock, Progressive Rock/Pop, Classic Rock, all pieced together in ballad like fashion. No wonder it took so long to make this epic song!
Mercury called it a “Mock Opera.” Like Mercury himself, this song was going to stay as far away as it could from being normal or sounding formal. Any person who claims to understand Freddie, and the meaning behind the song, just don’t. No one ever will! And it seems as though that’s the way he wanted things to be. He wanted it to be up for interpretation.
To This Day the Song Meaning Is Disputed
Just about every person who heard this song has their own opinion as to what the song is about and what it means. Opinions of the song’s meaning will get anyone’s head spinning in space like lost comets of the mind.
So, what was Freddie’s response? This quote from him in an interview says it all! “It’s one of those songs which has such a fantasy feel about it. I think people should just listen to it, think about it, and then make up their own minds as to what it says to them… “Bohemian Rhapsody” didn’t just come out of thin air. I did a bit of research, Why not?” Freddie’s writing went deep into the realm of his past.
The Words That Took It Further
Traditional 70s rock radio at this time was very, very different. The composition is only one thing, but nothing out there in the radio world was quite as mysterious or even as dark as this song was. The song boasted intriguing narratives that challenged the conventional love song with references galore!
The song had all kinds of terms that the average American had never even heard of before. These are words that not only were foreign to most people, they were also definitely unheard on radio hit singles, that’s for sure. The terms were “Bismillah,” “Scaramouch,” “Fandango,” and “Beelzebub” and they all hold literal meanings.
Let’s get into their meanings, and you can see if they ring a bell!
The Religious Reference
Mercury is a man of Persian descent who was raised in India, and later on London. If this was going to be his ultimate creation, he needed to include some words and meanings that gave homage to his family and origin. “Bismillah let me go!” “Bismillah” meaning “in the name of Allah” was the lyric that provided a loving shout out to the religion of Zoroastrianism.
It’s an ancient pre-Islamic religion of Iranian descent that still exists today, and is most predominant in India.
Freddie was born in Zanzibar, but raised in India, only becoming a star in London. Perhaps Freddie wanted you to travel through history with him. The next historical reference in the song is just as creative.
Playful and Whitty
Ever had a friend growing up that put his hands up to fight, and then backed away timidly! Clumsy, boastful cowardice, a little skirmisher, and a buffoon. In Italy, the term for such a friend is “Scaramouch.” This word spawned from Dell’arte! The early form of professional theatre.
Another word in the Mercury repertoire is “Fandango,” and like most crazy words it has two meanings as well. The first is a reference to the lively Spanish dance of two people typically accompanied by castanets or tambourines. The second is a foolish or useless act. It’s a wonder what definition caught Freddie Mercury’s attention when he wrote it. Maybe even both!
Next up, you’ll also find references to space and discovery!
A Love for the Stars
You can say that Brian May is a man with a mistress. Who’s the mistress, you ask? Well, astronomy, of course. Oh, and Astrophysics. Brian May loved the stars as much he did music. In making this incredible song, May wanted to pay tribute to Galileo Galilee!
In 2007, Brian earned a Ph.D. in Astrophysics, and later even went on to collaborate with NASA on an asteroid awareness campaign.
By the way, May was appointed a CBE by Queen Elizabeth II in 2005. The prestigious award was given for his “services to the music industry and for charity work”. May is also a co-founder of the awareness campaign Asteroid Day. There was even an asteroid, “52665 Brianmay,” that was named after him.
Mercury had a pure passion for his fans! Blessed to be able to harness fans that were just as unique, crazy, and creative as he was! More so, he was adored by them. Queen loved their fans madly, and wanted music presented in a way that can be interpreted personally for everyone. The last thing any member of the band wanted was to personal meaning to the music. Even if there was any. If anything, they would tease you more if you bothered to ask. A quote from mercury reads, “it’s about relationships, random rhyming nonsense”. Or even better Roger Taylor’s quote saying “The song is fairly self-explanatory, just a bit of nonsense in the middle.”
All members had their guard up for the sake of the mission but the mission was clear with Freddie summing it up himself. Going on to say, “I’m going to shatter some illusions, it was just one of those pieces I wrote for the album: just writing my batch of songs. In its early stages I almost rejected it, but then it grew.” He wanted a witty way to add more monsters to his lovely cult of music lovers, he knew it did good and that good needed to reach more people. Well, mission accomplished!
Was this always the Freddie way?
Thick Skinned Complex and Private
If you’re still reading this by now, you love Freddie Mercury very much. Enough to know he was a gay, middle eastern, an aids infected man who lived through a time of hardship for minorities. Anything other than married, and working was taboo to the simple minded of the 70s.
Freddy knew his surroundings were not inclusive. Sadly, he had allotted of self-conciseness revolved around expressing his feelings to others. Even if he flat out said he was gay in his songs! He would never bring up the subject under the public eye. His band members didn’t push him on it much, his feelings were in his music, and that was enough for them. Brian May often tried to make sense of it all. “Freddie was a very complex person. He was flippant, and funny on the surface, but he concealed insecurities when squaring up with his childhood, he put a lot of himself into that song!”
The consensus was that song lyrics are private and should be respected as such.
But how did these lyrics resonate with his listeners?
Timeless Social Topics
In 2019 the LGBTQ community is protected by the US constitution, and in England, gay rights are a bi-partisan priority. The same can’t be said about the 1970s 80s or even 90s. The year Bohemian Rhapsody was written, Freddie Mercury had his first affair with a man! All while living with his then partner “Mary Austin” for seven years. He needed to express himself in his music and felt there was no other vessel.
Music scholar Sheila Whiteley regards Bohemian Rhapsody as the turning point in Mercury’s personal becoming’s. According to Whitely Bohemian Rhapsody provides a glimpse into Freddie’s emotional state. The lyrics “Mamma,” reference mother marry binding with the melody, “Mamma Mia let me go” to his breaking away from the false identity of “straight male.” Bohemian Rhapsody may have been the only way for Freddie to tell us the truth before his death.
In the recent movie Bohemian Rhapsody, Freddie was portrayed fairly accurately as opposed to the rest of the movie that has many dramatizations, and storylines that simply didn’t exist in the band’s history. Chowing down popcorn watching Freddie be Freddie, the question of “is he gay” would not even cross your mind!
It was obvious, and he didn’t try to hide it, but during that time if you didn’t say you were gay, you were straight! If you came out publicly, there would be a backlash! You could lose fans, and maybe even be discriminated against in your place of work. The proud community was on to something long before anyone else, and they may have been right the whole time. Lyrically what made the most sense, is that the most significant hit of Rock & Roll came to its finished stage when Mercury came to terms with being gay! He knew the risk of coming out but wanted his community at least to know he’s with them.
On November 24th, 1991 after putting up his fight against AIDS, Freddy Mercury died of complications from the autoimmune disease. Below is a picture of Freddie’s last video before passing to the Gods of Rock
After his death, Mercury’s, then lover Jim Hutton confessed his opinion that the song was indeed Freddie Mercury’s confession of being gay.
The rest of his friends shared similar opinions too.
Tim Rice Knew the Truth
Sir Tim Rice, who was Mercury’s close friend, defined the lyrics plainly for us and helped put some of the much-debated lyrics to rest.
“Mama, just killed a man” – Rice said that this “referred to killing the old Freddie and resurrecting the new one.”
“I see a little silhouette of a man,” – Rice also said that this meant “the shadow of himself being haunted by his past and his true identity.”
All these facts can break anyone’s heart in a second, but while the lyrics were heartbreaking, the recording sessions weren’t. They were full of the good spirit of hard work, as the band can attest to. Freddie Mercury wasn’t going to stop for anyone or anything! He was going to get this epic song made.
Day 1 of Recording
In August 24th, 1975 at Rockfield Studio 1 in South Wales, pure magic took place. And Paul McCartney’s iconic C. Bechstein concert grand piano was Freddy’s wand. The operatic section of the song was sung continually for up to 12 hours a day! Can you imagine how hard that would be for your vocal cords?
Drummer Taylor held the high notes, and Brian May was the lowest vocals. Now, you may have noticed that Bassist John Deacon wasn’t mentioned. If you’re wondering why, it’s because he wasn’t included in the vocals. Why? Well, as you’ll find out next, Deacon wasn’t a big fan of singing in any of Queen’s tracks. Apparently, it just wasn’t his thing. And I guess it didn’t make a difference!
The Simple & Beloved Member of the Band
John Deacon was not keen on singing on the track, in fact, he has no vocal part in any of Queens recordings.
Later it became known that John suffered from depression contributing his fear of the mic.
After Mercury’s passing, John Deacon only performed three times, the first time being at the 1992 tribute concert for his dear friend Fred, a year later with to raise funds for King Edward VII Hospital, and the last being in 1997 when the three surviving members of the band partnered with Sir Elton in Paris. That same year Deacon recorded “No-One but you (Only the Good Die Young),” a new track for the Queen Rocks compilations! He officially declared retirement in 2001 he was not present for the band’s induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
An Expensive and Gruelling Album
Many perfectionist bands can make any sound engineer or producer want to jump off a cliff! Change this, tune that, switch this part here, etc.
Queen was no exception! Their track included 180 separate overdubs during the recording of the one hit alone. At the end of the recording, the tape was almost clear from over-usage. It took three weeks, five different studios, blood, sweat, and tears, just to finish recording one hit! But what a hit.
Mercury was definitely stubborn and always adding or taking out lyrics and notes. Again, it was his baby. The track is considered one of the most expensive recordings of that part of history!
It would cost even more to release the song!
It’s Too Long!
The song ended up being 5 minutes and 55 seconds long. Now, at that time, it was almost unheard of to play a song that long on the radio. EMI Records execs were not keen on the 5: 55-minute song. Mike Meyers had a famous line in the movie “it’s too long, and no radio station is going to play it!” The band was not going to budge.
All or nothing as far as Queen is concerned. Can you blame them? They knew what their fan base better than anyone else in the business. Sometimes you must listen to your gut, and that’s what they did!
So, who was the brave radio DJ to first play it on the air?
Thank You, Kenny Everett!
A popular morning show in Great Britain did the deed. British DJ, Kenny Everett had a popular show on Capital Radio. His show was the one that everyone tuned into to hear the latest and greatest tunes of the country as well as the world.
As it turns out, Everett was told not to play the song. Why? Because it was simply too long! Well, who cares! De did anyway! The result was a quake of fans going nuts for this insane new song. They were swarming to record stores only to find out that the single was not out for sale yet. Frustrating right? Yeah, they thought so too!
“Well, now that everyone knows, we’ll have to see what happens.”
Elton John – you know him, right? Well, he famously advised Mercury against making the song so long. He was among the many that told Mercury and Queen that the length was going to be an issue. But it seems like everyone who put in their two cents forgot a key detail!
Queen was different. What differentiated this song from projects the likes of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, or The Who, was the gutsy, and well-conducted operatic section that kicked us in the teeth!
In this photo, we see a much younger Elton John and his good friend Freddie Mercury. They would be seen a lot together in clubs and bars around London, England. The two got along merrily, which is why Elton would advise him occasionally.
Who Cares What People Think!
It’s about to be 2020, and look – we are still obsessed with Bohemian Rhapsody! As you can see, the hit speaks for itself. In 2012, ITV Nation Wide UK poll found that even after 60 years of music, Queens “Bo Rhap” still holds a number one spot for “most beloved.” Rolling Stone later wrote that Mercury’s vocals were the “best vocals of Rock & Roll history!”
Not only was Queen a band ahead of their time – visionaries, if you will – but this song in particular turned so many heads that it made a lasting impact on the history of music as we know it. I’m telling you, turn on the song now and you’ll find something new that you appreciate even more now.
Queen Topped the Charts Worldwide!
Bohemian Rhapsody topped the charts around the world: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and The Netherlands, all saw it hit number one in the US. The song’s peak was number nine, and that was back in 1976!
In 1991, after Mercury’s tragic passing, a double A-side single with “These are the days of our lives”) was re-released and stayed as number one on the charts for five weeks.
In 2004, “Bohemian Rhapsody” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Not only that. In 2007, prestigious Radio 1 confessed to Bohemian Rhapsody being their most played song since the station’s inception! Now that’s pretty impressive if you ask me.
Another aspect may have been the culprit for such immediate exposure.
Not As Big In the US
You can’t beat them all! Bohemian Rhapsody never made it past number nine on the charts America! Can you believe that? Rolling stones’ Anthony DeCurtis said it himself. He said, “The quintessential example of the kind of thing that doesn’t exactly go over well in America.”
Regardless of that, the band was still certified gold and sold more than one million copies in the United States. Don’t forget that this was time when America was going through some major changes. For one, the Vietnam War was raging, and the American music demographic was in a different space. People were craving simple, peaceful songs that encourage a bongo circle. People wanted comfort music – tunes that make them want to hug each other.
Just As Original As the Track
Like many other hit singles of the time, Bo Rhap was accompanied by a promotional video. You for sure remember the video clip. And many scholars even considered the video truly ground-breaking! So what was the story behind the video? Well, the band was under pressure with timing.
With a tour coming up, Queen could not yet sell the album. The usual norm was to make a debut on a morning show. “That’s just the way things were,” as you can just hear everyone’s grandpa saying!
The best way to bridge the gap and also to keep the fans happy was to give them a video clip to the song that they can enjoy.
What was it like for the band?
Behind the Scenes
Bruce Gowers directed the video. At the time, the cost of production was 4,500 Pounds. That is remarkably a lot lower than today’s standards! Bruce recorded it on November 10th, 1974 and it took the band only four hours to do!
Now, try to remember the video clip. It was a little strange, right? All those special effects were done during the recording, rather than during editing. Today, almost all special effects you see in video clips (not to mention movies and TV shows) are done in post-production.
The editing of the video clip was also extremely short. During the same week of the taping, the broadcast was scheduled, so the editing only took 5 hours to get done. Wow.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” was in its own right a work of art comparable only to the greats of British rock. Here are some reviews from some of rocks greats at the time of release.
In 1976, The Beach Boys’ leader Brian Wilson praised the song as “the most competitive thing that’s come along in ages.”
Greg Lake, whose song “I Believe in Father Christmas” was kept from number one in the UK by “Bohemian Rhapsody” when it was released, acknowledged that he was “beaten by one of the greatest records ever made,” describing it as “a once-in-a-lifetime recording.”
In 1978, EMI records released a special edition blue vinyl pressing of the song. It would mark the band winning the “Queen’s Award to Industry for Export Achievement” (meaning an award from the queen) with only 200 created, they can be sold by up to six thousand five hundred dollars on some occasions.
Wayne’s World Didn’t Forget
Okay, so this one is for all the Wayne’s World fans out there, including myself. Mike Meyers (Wayne in the movie) grew up listening to Queen and in reality loved their music dearly. He would explain how he had fond memories of singing Bohemian Rhapsody in the car with his brother.
In 1992, they incorporated the song into the movie Wayne’s World. The story goes that the director didn’t want to use this song at all. They preferred heavy metal bands of the 90s instead. But Meyers was adamant in using Queen’s song in the car scene. And aren’t we thankful that he did? The movie alone gave homage to the band and the song. It also peaked higher in the charts due to it.
Covers, Covers, And More Covers
“Bohemian Rhapsody” has been covered 62 times! Now, that’s an incredible number for one song.
Artists such as Panic! at the Disco, The Braids, Weird Al, Kanye West, Elton John, Pink, The Flaming Lips, and Axl Rose were among the ranks of artist that took the shot at the epic vocals.
The Muppets cover of the video has over 69 million views. But instead of singing “Mama, just killed a man” they replaced it with Animal screaming.
Panic of the disco recorded a version of the song for the blockbuster movie “Suicide Squad.”
Brian May says that of all the bands who covered the song, “only” Axle rose got really close to hitting the notes Freddie was able to reach.
It’s clear now that a hit isn’t a hit unless you put your heart and soul into it! Hours of pain, suffering, and lifetime of lessons. Only a heart of gold leads to rock’s most timeless ballads.
Freddie Mercury beat the odds not by living on in the hearts of many forever, but by proving to us all, that when there’s a will, there’s a way!
I’m happy you stayed through to the end. I also hope that maybe you learned something new about the band, the song, and the legend they left behind. I now encourage you to pop some Queen on and have a little dance in your living room. It doesn’t have to be Bo Rhap – any Queen song will do!