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| Single by Queen
from the album A Night at the Opera
|B-side||" I'm in Love with My Car"|
|Released||October 31, 1975|
|Format||1975: Vinyl record (7")
1991: CD, Vinyl record (7")
Rockfield Studio 1
|Genre|| Rock opera
|Label|| EMI (1975)
|Producer|| Roy Thomas Baker
|Certification||For references see: Queen discography|
|Queen singles chronology|
Queen for their 1975 album A Night at the Opera. The song is in the style of a stream-of-consciousness nightmare, and has unusual musical structure for popular music (it has no chorus, instead consisting of seemingly disjunct sections including operatic segments and an a cappella and heavy metal part). Despite this, it was released as a single and became a huge commercial success. In addition, the song is widely hailed as Queen's magnum opus, and it marked a decisive point in the band's career and set them on the way to become one of the world's most popular music groups. The single was accompanied by a groundbreaking music video (then termed a " promotional video") which helped establish the visual language of the modern music video. A truncated version of the song was included in all Queen's subsequent live concert performances (as the band could not recreate the middle section live, because of the many overdubbed voices) and still enjoys great popularity around the world.is a song written by Freddie Mercury and originally recorded by the band
History and recording
The song was recorded over three weeks by the band and producer Roy Thomas Baker. Recording began at Rockfield Studio 1 near Monmouth on August 24, 1975, after a 3-week rehearsal in Herefordshire. During the making of the track, a further four studios – Roundhouse, SARM (East), Scorpion, and Wessex – were used. According to some band members, Mercury worked out the song in his head and directed the band through the song. It has been suggested that "Bohemian Rhapsody" was influenced by the 10cc song " Une Nuit A Paris", which is played on similar instruments, including a Fender Precision Electric Bass, May's Red Special electric guitar, Ludwig drums, timpani and a Paiste gong. Mercury used a Bechstein "Concert" grand piano, the one he played in the promotional video and the UK tour. It was the most expensive Single ever made and remains one of the most elaborate recordings in music history.
When Mercury wanted to release the single in 1975, it had been suggested to him that, at 5 minutes and 55 seconds, it was too long and would never be a hit. But Mercury gave a copy to friend and London DJ Kenny Everett, informing him (with a wink and a nod) that it was for him personally, and that he must never play it on air. Mercury's plan (a form of reverse psychology) worked – Everett did just the opposite, teasing his listeners by playing bits of the song. Ultimately, Everett played the song 14 times in a day. From then, every major radio station played the song in full. The track proved popular and was released with "I'm in Love with My Car" as the B-side.
- Freddie Mercury: lead vocal, piano
- Brian May: electric guitar, backing vocals
- John Deacon: bass guitar, backing vocals
- Roger Taylor: drums, backing vocals
There has been speculation regarding the meaning behind the song's lyrics. Some believe the lyrics are about a suicidal murderer hunted by demons, or depict events just preceding an execution, pointing to Albert Camus's novel, The Stranger in which a young man confesses to an impulsive murder and has an epiphany before he is executed, as probable inspiration. There are also parallels with Poem VIII in A.E. Housman's A Shropshire Lad. Some believe the lyrics were only written to fit with the music, and have no meaning; Kenny Everett quoted Mercury as claiming the lyrics were simply "random rhyming nonsense." Mercury was evasive when asked about the meaning. Unlike the other members of Queen, who often talked about the inspiration behind songs they had written, Mercury disliked analyzing his own material, and preferred listeners to construct their own interpretations. What is known is that the song had a personal connection for Mercury, which was confirmed by the band's other members. Following the single's release, Mercury was quoted as saying:
|“||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 although it was tongue-in-cheek and mock opera. Why not?||”|
However when the band released a Greatest Hits cassette in Iran, a leaflet in Persian was included with translation and explanations. There Queen states that "Bohemian Rhapsody" is about a young man who has accidentally killed someone and, like Faust, sold his soul to the devil. On the night before his execution he calls for God in Arabic, "Bismillah" ( Basmala), and with the help of angels regains his soul from Shaitan.The song is of six sections: introduction, ballad, guitar solo, opera, rock and an outro. This format, with abrupt changes in style, tone, and tempo, was unusual to rock music. An embryonic version of this style was done by Queen themselves in " My Fairy King".
The song begins with a close four-part harmony a cappella introduction in B-flat, entirely multi track recordings of Mercury even though the video has all four members lip-syncing this part. The lyrics question whether life is "real" or "just fantasy" before concluding that there can be "no escape from reality." After 15 seconds, the grand piano enters, and Mercury's voice alternates with the other vocal parts. The narrator introduces himself as "just a poor boy" but declares that he "need no sympathy" because nothing matters: chromatic side-slipping on "easy come, easy go" highlight the dream-like atmosphere. The end of this section is marked by the bass entrance and the familiar cross-handed piano vamp in B-flat.
The grand piano continues the 2-bar vamp in B-flat. Deacon's bass guitar enters playing the first note, and the vocals change from harmony to an impassioned solo performance by Mercury. The narrator explains to his mother that he has "just killed a man", with "a gun against his head" and with that act thrown his life away. The chromatic bass line brings about a modulation to E-flat. Here Taylor's drums enter (1:19), and the narrator makes the second of several invocations to his "mama" in the new key, reusing the original theme. The narrator explains his regret over "mak[ing] you cry" and urging mama to "carry on because nothing really matters" to him. A truncated phrase connects to a repeat of the vamp in B-flat. As the ballad proceeds into its second verse, the narrator shows how tired and beat down he is by his actions (as May enters on guitar and mimics the upper range of the piano at 1:50). May sends "shivers down my spine" by scratching the strings on the other side of the bridge. The narrator bids the world goodbye announcing he has got to go and prepares to "face the truth" admitting "I don't want to die / I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all". Another chromatic bass descent brings a modulation to the key of A, and the "Opera" section.
Guitar solo (2:36–3:03)
As Mercury sings the rising line "I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all," the band builds in intensity, leading up to a guitar solo by May that serves as the bridge from ballad to opera. The intensity continues to build, but once the bass line completes its descent establishing the new key, the entire band cuts out abruptly at 3:03 except for quiet A Major quaver chords on the piano: the "opera" has begun. In live performances, the stage would go dark and all the members of the band would walk offstage and allow the entire opera section to play from the recording, as it was impossible for them to perform it live, due to the extensive overdubbing.
|“||Every time Freddie came up with another 'Galileo', I would add another piece of tape to the reel... That section alone took about three weeks to record, which in 1975 was the average time spent on a whole album. – Roy Thomas Baker||”|
A rapid series of rhythmic and harmonic changes introduces a pseudo-operatic midsection, which contains the bulk of the elaborate vocal multi-tracking, depicting the narrator's "descent into hell". While the underlying pulse of the song is maintained, the dynamics vary greatly from bar to bar, from only Mercury's voice accompanied by a piano, to a multi-voice choir supported by drums, bass, piano and a timpani. The choir effect was created by having May, Mercury, and Taylor sing their vocal parts continually for ten to twelve hours a day, resulting in 180 separate overdubs. These overdubs were then combined into successive submixes. According to Roger Taylor, the voices of May, Mercury and himself combined created a wide vocal range: "Brian could get down quite low, Freddie had a powerful voice through the middle, and I was good at the high stuff." The band wanted to create "a wall of sound, that starts down and goes all the way up". The band used the bell effect for lyrics "Magnifico" and "Let me go". Also, on "Let him go", Taylor singing the top section carries his note on further after the rest of the "choir" have stopped singing. Lyrical references in this passage include Scaramouche, the fandango, Galileo Galilei, Figaro and " Bismillah," as rival factions fight over the narrator's soul. The introduction is recalled with the chromatic inflection on "I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me." The section concludes with a full choral treatment of the lyric " Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me!", on a block B-flat major chord. Roger Taylor tops the final chord with a falsetto B-flat in the sixth octave, the third highest note on a standard keyboard.
Heavy metal (4:07–4:55)
The operatic section leads into an aggressive heavy metal musical interlude with a guitar riff that was written by Mercury. At 4:15, a double-tracked Mercury sings angry lyrics addressed to an unspecified "you", accusing him/her of betrayal and abuse and insisting "can't do this to me, baby" - which could be interpreted as a flashback to certain events that led to the earlier ballad section ("just killed a man"). Three ascending guitar runs follow, which May described as something he had to "battle with" when performing the song live. Mercury then plays a similar run on the piano. It took 3 tries for Freddie to hit the C5 in the "die" of "So you think you can love me and leave me to die", further explained by the more than one vocal track for just that one word.
After Mercury plays ascending octaves of notes from the B flat mixolydian scale, the song then returns to the tempo and form of the introduction. A guitar accompanies the chorus "ooh, ooh yeah, ooh yeah". A double-tracked twin guitar melody is played through an amplifier designed by John Deacon, affectionately nicknamed the " Deacy Amp". Mercury's line "Nothing really matters..." appears again. The final line, "Any way the wind blows", is followed by the quiet sound of a large gong that finally expels the tension built up throughout the song.
The promotional video has been voted the UK's "Best video of all time" in a survey commissioned by O2 in the United Kingdom. Though some artists, including Queen themselves (for example, " Killer Queen" and "Liar" already had music videos), had made video clips to accompany songs, it wasn't until after the success of "Bohemian Rhapsody" that it became regular practice for record companies to produce promo videos for artists' single releases. These could then be shown on television shows such as the BBC's Top of the Pops, without the need for the artist to appear in person. A promo video also allowed the artist to have their music broadcast and accompanied by their own choice of visuals, rather than dancers such as Pan's People. The video has been hailed as launching the MTV age.
The video for the single was directed by Bruce Gowers, using ideas from band members. It was created to allow the band to tour and appear "live" on Top of the Pops. The piano used by Freddie Mercury in the video was also used by Paul McCartney to record "Hey Jude". Shot in just over four hours on the band's rehearsal stage, it cost £4500, using an outside broadcast truck owned by one of the band's managers. All the special effects were done during the recording. The effect of the face zooming away was accomplished by pointing the camera at a monitor, giving visual feedback, a visual glare, analogous to audio feedback. The honeycomb effect was achieved by using a shaped lens. In the original version an apparent editing glitch led to the piano part being briefly double-tracked out of sync with itself, but this was corrected later.
In the closing seconds of the video Roger Taylor is depicted stripped to the waist, striking the tam tam in the manner of the trademark of the Rank Organisation's Gongman, familiar in the UK as the opening of all Rank film productions.
In 1977, only two years after its release, "Bohemian Rhapsody" was named 'The Best Single of the Last 25 Years' by BPI.
"Bohemian Rhapsody" is the only single to have been UK Christmas Number 1 twice (in a single recording), first in 1975/1976, and then in 1991/1992 (as a double A-side single with " These Are the Days of Our Lives") following the death of Mercury. The song stayed at number one on the British charts for nine weeks — the longest stay since 1975 — and for another five weeks during 1991-1992. Its 14 weeks at the UK #1 spot make it the fourth-longest-serving #1 on the UK singles chart. It is also the only UK single ever to sell a million copies on two separate occasions and is placed third in the official list of the best-selling singles in the United Kingdom.
The song's prominent place in the pop/rock canon seems secure, as it consistently ranks highly in media reader polls of "the best singles of all-time". In 2002, it came first in the Guinness Hit Singles poll of the greatest UK singles of all-time, as well as 10th in a BBC World Service poll to find the world's favourite song. Queen's " We Are the Champions" came top. In 2000 it came second to " Imagine" by John Lennon in a Channel 4 television poll of The 100 Best Number 1s. It has been in the top 5 of the Dutch annual "Top 100 Aller Tijden" ("All-Time Top 100 Singles") since 1977, reaching #1 eight times.; in the annual " Top 2000" (maintained since 1999) it has, until 2005, been #1 every year. In 2005, it went down one place to #2, only to reclaim #1 in 2006 again. In the 2007 edition, it once again ended at the top. For popularity comparison: the 2005 edition of the top 2000 was listened to by more than 60% of the total Dutch populace.
The song enjoyed renewed popularity in 1992 as part of the soundtrack to the film Wayne's World. In connection with this, a new video was released, intercutting excerpts from the film with footage from the original Queen video, along with some live footage of the band. The Wayne's World video version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" won Queen its only MTV Video Music Award for * Best Video from a Film. When surviving members Brian May and Roger Taylor took the stage to accept the award, Brian May was overcome with emotion and said that "Freddie would be tickled".
On the Made in Heaven video documentary "Champions of the World", Mike Myers talked about his horror at finding out that the record company had mixed clips from Wayne's World with Queen's original video, and his fear that this would upset the band. Myers himself said, "they've just whizzed on a Picasso." As a result, he asked the record company to tell Queen that the video was not his idea, and that he apologized to them. He then said that, later, Queen sent a reply simply saying, "Thank you for using our song," which shocked Myers, who said it should be more like him telling Queen, "Thank you for even letting me touch the hem of your garments!"
The final scene of the video was notable, where a pose of the band from the video from the original "Bohemian Rhapsody" clip " morphs" into an identically-posed 1985 photo, first featured in the " One Vision" video. This re-release (with "The Show Must Go On" as a double-A side) hit #2 in the US in 1992, sixteen years after the original 1976 US release peaked at #9.
In 2004 the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
As of 2004, "Bohemian Rhapsody" is the second most played song on British radio, in clubs and on jukeboxes collectively, after Procol Harum's " A Whiter Shade of Pale". On September 30, 2007 on the Radio 1 Chart Show, for BBC Radio 1's 40th birthday, it was revealed that "Bohemian Rhapsody" was the most played song since Radio 1's launch.
"Bohemian Rhapsody" is currently used as the soundtrack to Hard Rock Park's nighttime fireworks show, which is simply named "Bohemian Rhapsody".
In 2006 the American publisher Hal Leonard Corporation released an a cappella realisation of "Bohemian Rhapsody", arranged by Philip Lawson.
In 2008, on the show So You Think You Can Dance, Mark Kanemura "danced for his life" to "Bohemian Rhapsody". The song helped him make it to the top 20 contestants.
|Chart 1975 or 1992||Position|
|UK Singles Chart||1|
|Irish Singles Chart||1|
|New Zealand Singles Chart||1|
|Dutch Singles Chart||1|
|U.S. Billboard Hot 100||2|
|Swiss Singles Chart||4|
|Norwegian Singles Chart||4|
|Australian ARIA Singles Chart||5|
|Austrian Singles Chart||8|
|French Singles Chart||15|
|Swedish Singles Chart||18|
The a cappella opening was too complex to perform live so Mercury tried ways of introducing the song. When the song " Mustapha" became a live favorite, Mercury would often sub in that song's a cappella opening, which was easier to reproduce live as it was only one voice. During the Hot Space tour, and occasionally at other times, Mercury would do a piano improvisation (generally the introduction to " Death on Two Legs") that ended with the first notes of the song. Often, the preceding song would end, and Mercury would sit at the piano, say a quick word and start playing the ballad section.
Initially following the song's release, the operatic, middle section proved a problem for the band. Because of extensive multi-tracking, it could not be performed on stage. The band did not have enough of a break between the " Sheer Heart Attack" and "A Night at the Opera" tours to find a way to make it work live, so they split the song into three sections that were played throughout the night. The opening and closing ballads were played as part of a medley, with " Killer Queen" and " March of the Black Queen" taking the place of the operatic and hard rock sections. Those two sections, in virtually all gigs, were played as an introductory piece leading into "Ogre Battle".
Starting with the " A Day at the Races" tour in 1976, the band adopted their lasting way of playing the song live. The opening ballad would be played on stage, and after Brian May's guitar solo, the lights would go down, the band would leave the stage, and the operatic section would be played from tape. A blast of pyrotechnics after Roger Taylor's high note on the final "for me" would announce the band's return for the hard rock section and closing ballad. Queen played the song in this form all through the Magic Tour of 1986.
On the 2005/2006 Queen + Paul Rodgers tours, a live performance recording of Mercury (from the Wembley show of 1986) played on video screens doing the vocals and piano for the first segment, while the other musicians played along and Paul Rodgers sat out. The middle operatic section was left to the studio tape, with a video tribute to Freddie Mercury and John Deacon played on a screen behind the stage. The band went backstage, and the arena would be completely dark. When the hard rock section kicked in, the lights came back up to the full band on stage, including Rodgers, who took over lead vocals. The taped Mercury and Rodgers made the closing into a duet, with Rodgers allowing the audience to sing the final "Nothing really matters to me" while the taped Mercury took a bow for the crowd. Rodgers would then repeat the line, and the final line was delivered with one last shot of Freddie Mercury smiling at the audience before the arena went black.
Notable cover versions
- The spoof rock band Bad News (created for the UK Channel 4 TV series The Comic Strip Presents...) released a version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" as a single in 1987 and was featured on their 1987 debut album Bad News. It reached #44 in the UK Singles Chart. The recording was produced by Brian May. This version parodied the song in that its performance was intentionally of a low standard. The group also released the song as a music video single.
- On April 20, 1992, Elton John and Axl Rose performed the song with the surviving members of Queen for The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert.
- "Weird Al" Yankovic released a polka cover in 1993 on his album Alapalooza, renamed " Bohemian Polka."
- Les Fradkin has released, in 2008, the first ever totally instrumental version featuring the Starr Labs Ztar, a futuristic electronic synthesizer controller
- Newton Faulkner has received notable praise for covering the song using only his voice and a guitar.
- In 1995, the American progressive metal band Dream Theatre covered part of the song in "The Big Medley" on their A Change of Seasons EP.
- Celtic band De Dannan included a cover of the song called "Hibernian Rhapsody" on their album of the same name in 1996. The arrangement, without vocals, uses traditional Irish musical instruments.
- Duo The Braids recorded an R&B version for the soundtrack of the 1996 film High School High. It was produced by Third Eye Blind's lead singer Stephan Jenkins and was also released as a single.
- Phish performed "Bohemian Rhapsody" in its entirety on December 31, 1996, accompanied by a gospel choir. This is one of the only known versions of the entire song played live in the way it was recorded. Page McConnell sang Freddie Mercury's parts and the choir was used to complete the opera portion of the song, which Queen used a recording for.
- California Guitar Trio recorded "Bohemian Rhapsody" for their 2000 album Rocks the West, and have performed the song extensively on various tours both before and after the release of the album. Sometimes the audience sings along.
- There is also a duet version in which Spanish opera singer Montserrat Caballé and Iron Maiden lead singer Bruce Dickinson alternate in performing the song. It was released in the 1997 album, "Friends for Life"
- Popera group G4 released it as a single in 2005 which reached #9 in the UK music charts.
- The Flaming Lips recorded a cover for the 2005 album Killer Queen. The cover was also performed live.
- The song has been performed twice for British charities: firstly in 1993 by celebrities from all major TV networks for Comic Relief (in a parody of the original video) and again in 2005 by a selection of BBC News presenters for Children in Need.
- Hamish & Andy performed a version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" using only their mouths to create the sounds of the instruments.
- The Ten Tenors performed a version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" at their Berlin concert and also released a version on their album Tenology, also using their voices for most of the instruments (excepting the drums and piano).
- Several American Idol contestants, including Kellie Pickler, Michael Johns, and Constantine Maroulis, have covered the song at various points in the competition.
- A Mountain Dew commercial aired during Super Bowl XXXIV on January 30, 2000 remade both the song and the video.
- The UK band Oompah Brass have recorded an oompah version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" (dubbed "Bavarian Rhapsody" due to its being played in 3/4) on their album Oompocalypse Now (2008) .
- On an episode of Two and a Half Men, Jacob Harper is singing the opera part of the song up until the "let him go" off key and playing it on his piano.
- TmsT (Too much spare Time) created a cover version which ridiculed the game Zero Wing's horribly translated introduction scene, entitled " Zero Wing Rhapsody" that is available on Newgrounds.
- Collegehumor TV recently created a song named "Brohemian Rhapsody", depicting a person's story about a party, which ends up with him being arrested by the end.
- Raven Maize, aka Joey Negro reached #12 in the UK Charts with "The Real Life", which sampled the acapella opening from the song.
- In 2001, Christian band ApologetiX recorded "Bethlehemian Rhapsody", a parody based on the Bible story of David and Goliath.
- There is a three second clip of the song in the 2008 Mike Myers movie "The Love Guru".