"Bohemian Rhapsody" is a song by the British rock band Queen. It was written by Freddie Mercury for the band's 1975 album A Night at the Opera. The song has no chorus, instead consists of several sections: a ballad segment ending with a guitar solo, an operatic passage, and a hard rock section. At the time, it was the most expensive single ever made and it remains one of the most elaborate recordings in popular music history. When it was released as a single on 31 October 1975, "Bohemian Rhapsody" became a commercial success, staying at the top of the UK Singles Chart for nine weeks and selling more than a million copies by the end of January 1976. It reached number one again in 1991 for five weeks following Mercury's death, eventually becoming the UK's third best-selling single of all time. It topped the charts in several other markets as well, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and The Netherlands, later becoming one of the best-selling singles of all time. In the United States the song originally peaked at number nine in 1976; however, it returned to the chart at number two in 1992 following its appearance in the film Wayne's World which revived its American popularity. Although critical reaction was initially mixed, "Bohemian Rhapsody" remains one of Queen's most popular songs. The single was accompanied by a promotional video, which many scholars consider ground-breaking. In 2004, "Bohemian Rhapsody" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2012, the song topped the list on an ITV nationwide poll in the UK to find "The Nation's Favourite Number One" over 60 years of music.
History & Recording
Freddie Mercury wrote most of "Bohemian Rhapsody" at his home in Holland Road, Kensington, in west London. Guitarist Brian May says the band thought that Mercury's blueprint for the song was "intriguing and original, and worthy of work". Music scholar Judith Peraino said that Mercury intended this song to be something outside the norm of rock songs, and it does follow a certain operatic logic: choruses of multi-tracked voices alternate with aria-like solos, the emotions are excessive, the plot confusing. Recording began at Rockfield Studio 1 near Monmouth on 24 August 1975, after a 3-week rehearsal in Herefordshire. During the making of the track, an additional four studios (Roundhouse, SARM (East), Scorpion, and Wessex) were used. According to some band members, Mercury mentally prepared the song beforehand and directed the band throughout. Mercury used a Bechstein concert grand piano, which he played in the promotional video and the UK tour. Due to the elaborate nature of the song, it was recorded in various sections, held together by a drum click to keep all layers synchronised. May, Mercury, and Roger Taylor reportedly sang their vocal parts continually for ten to twelve hours a day. The entire piece took three weeks to record, and in some sections featured 180 separate overdubs. Since the studios of the time only offered 24-track analogue tape, it was necessary for the three to overdub themselves many times and "bounce" these down to successive sub-mixes. In the end, eighth-generation tapes were used. The various sections of tape containing the desired submixes had to be spliced (cut with razor blades and assembled in the correct sequence using adhesive tape). Brian May recalled placing a tape in front of the light and being able to see through it, as they had been recording so intensely. Producer Roy Thomas Baker recalls that May's solo was done on only one track, rather than recording multiple tracks. May stated that he wanted to compose "a little tune that would be a counterpart to the main melody; I didn't just want to play the melody". This is a video in which Queen guitarist Brian May goes back to the mixing board to explain the complexity of layers that went into realizing Mercury’s vision for the song.
The Making of Bohemian Rhapsody
Bohemian Rhapsody promo video
Although the song has become one of the most revered in popular music history, some initial critical reaction was poor. "Bohemian Rhapsody" has won numerous awards, and has been covered and parodied by many artists. The song enjoyed renewed popularity in 1992 as part of the soundtrack to the film Wayne's World. The film's director, Penelope Spheeris, was hesitant to use the song, as it did not entirely fit with the lead characters, who were fans of less flamboyant hard rock and heavy metal bands. However, Mike Myers insisted that the song fit the scene. According to music scholar Theodore Gracyk, by 1992, when the film was released, even "classic rock" stations had stopped playing the almost-six-minute song. Gracyk suggests that beginning the tape in the middle of the song after "the lyrics which provide the song's narrative... forces the film's audience to respond to its presence in the scene without the 'commentary' of the lyrics". Helped by the song, the soundtrack album of the film was a major hit. 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".
Bohemian Rhapsody Wayne's World version
The a cappella opening was too complex to perform live, so Mercury tried various ways of introducing the song. 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. Starting with the A Day at the Races Tour in 1977, 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, while colored stage lights provided a light show based around the voices of the opera section. 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. This style was also used for the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, with Elton John singing the opening ballad and then after the taped operatic section, Axl Rose singing the hard rock section. John and Rose sang the closing ballad part together in a duet.
Bohemian Rhapsody live at Wembley 1986
Freddie Mercury-lead vocals, piano, accompaniment vocals
Brian May-lead and rhythm guitar, backing vocals
John Deacon-bass guitar
Roger Taylor-drums, timpani, gong, backing vocals
Bohemian Rhapsody by the Muppets