Queen: The Story of Bohemian Rhapsody (documentary)


"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 


Composition & Analysis

The song consists of six sections: introduction, ballad, guitar solo, opera, hard rock section and finale. This format, with abrupt changes in style, tone and tempo, was unusual to rock music. An embryonic version of this style had already been utilised by the band in "My Fairy King" and "The March of the Black Queen". The song begins with a close five-part harmony a cappella introduction, entirely multi track recordings of Mercury although the video has all four members lip-synching this part. After 14 seconds, the grand piano enters, and Mercury's voice alternates with the other vocal parts. The ballad begins with the piano and the entrance of John Deacon's bass guitar, marks the onset of this section. After it plays twice, Mercury's vocals enter. Over the course of the section, the vocals evolve from a softly sung harmony to an impassioned solo performance by Mercury. At this point Roger Taylor's drums enter. As the ballad proceeds into its second verse, May enters on guitar and imitates a bell tree during the line "sends shivers down my spine", by playing the strings of his guitar on the other side of the bridge. The guitar solo enters, which eventually goes through a modulation featuring a quick series of bass descents, marking the start of the "opera" section. 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 played and composed 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 a quiet, staccato on the piano. A rapid series of rhythmic and harmonic changes introduces a pseudo-operatic midsection, which contains the bulk of the elaborate vocal multi-tracking. 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 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. The band used the bell effect for lyrics "Magnifico" and "Let me go". Using the 24-track technology available at the time, the "opera" section took about three weeks to finish. Producer Roy Thomas Baker said "Every time Freddie came up with another 'Galileo', I would add another piece of tape to the reel". Baker recalls that they kept wearing out the tape, which meant having to do transfers. The operatic section leads into an aggressive hard rock musical interlude with a guitar riff written by Mercury. Three ascending guitar runs follow. Mercury then plays a similar run on the piano, as the song builds up to the finale with a ritardando. The song then returns to the tempo and form of the introduction for the final "nothing really matters" section. 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, cradled by light piano arpeggios suggesting both resignation and a new sense of freedom in the wide vocal span. After the line "nothing really matters" is repeated multiple times, the song finally concludes. The final line, "Any way the wind blows", is followed by the quiet sound of a large tam-tam that finally expels the tension built up throughout the song. The New York Times commented that "the song's most distinct feature is the fatalistic lyrics". Mercury refused to explain his composition other than saying it was about relationships; the band is still protective of the song's secret. Brian May supports suggestions that the song contained veiled references to Mercury's personal traumas. He recalls "Freddie was a very complex person: flippant and funny on the surface, but he concealed insecurities and problems in squaring up his life with his childhood. He never explained the lyrics, but I think he put a lot of himself into that song". May, though, says the band had agreed that the core of a lyric was a private issue for the composer. However, when the band released a Greatest Hits cassette in Iran, a leaflet in Persian was included with translation and explanations (refers to a book published in Iran called "The March of the Black Queen" by Sarah Sefati and Farhad Arkani, which included the whole biography of the band and complete lyrics with Persian translation (2000)). In the explanation, 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', and with the help of angels, regains his soul from Shaitan. This is a BBC Three documentary about the story behind the epic Queen single.

The Story of Bohemian Rhapsody documentary



Release

When the band wanted to release the single in 1975, various executives suggested to them that, at 5 minutes and 55 seconds, it was too long and would never be a hit. According to producer Roy Thomas Baker, he and the band bypassed this corporate decision by playing the song for Capital Radio DJ Kenny Everett. Everett had a reel-to-reel copy and teased his listeners by playing only parts of the song. Audience demand intensified when Everett played the full song on his show 14 times in two days. Hordes of fans attempted to buy the single the following Monday, only to be told by record stores that it had not yet been released. The same weekend, Paul Drew, who ran the RKO stations in the States, heard the track on Everett's show in London. Drew managed to get a copy of the tape and started to play it in the States, which forced the hand of Queen's USA label, Elektra. In an interview with Sound on Sound, Baker reflects that "it was a strange situation where radio on both sides of the Atlantic was breaking a record that the record companies said would never get airplay!" Eventually the unedited single was released, with "I'm in Love with My Car" as the B-side.


Promotional video

Though some artists had made video clips to accompany songs (including Queen themselves; for example, "Keep Yourself Alive", "Seven Seas Of Rhye", "Killer Queen" and "Liar" already had "pop promos", as they were known at the time), it was only after the success of "Bohemian Rhapsody" that it became regular practice for record companies to produce promotional videos for artists' single releases. These videos 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. The video has been hailed as launching the MTV age. The band used Trilion, a subsidiary of Trident Studios, their former management Company and recording studio. They hired one of their trucks and got it to Elstree Studios, where the band were rehearsing for their tour. The video was directed by Bruce Gowers, who had directed a video of the band's 1974 performance at the Rainbow Theatre in London, and was recorded by cameraman Barry Dodd and assistant director/floor manager Jim McCutcheon. The video was recorded in just four hours on 10 November 1975, at a cost of £4,500. The video opens with a shot of the four band members in near darkness as they sing the a cappella part. The lights fade up, and the shots cross-fade into close-ups of Freddie. The composition of the shot is the same as Mick Rock's cover photograph for the band's second album Queen II. The photo, inspired by a photograph of actress Marlene Dietrich, was the band's favourite image of themselves. The video then fades into them playing their instruments. In the opera section of the video, the scene reverts to the Queen II standing positions, after which they perform once again on stage during the hard rock segment. 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. All of the special effects were achieved during the recording, rather than editing. The visual effect of Mercury's face cascading away (during the echoed line "go") was accomplished by pointing the camera at a monitor, giving visual feedback, a glare analogous to audio feedback. The honeycomb illusion was created using a shaped lens. The video was edited within five hours because it was due to be broadcast the same week in which it was taped. The video was sent to the BBC as soon as it was completed and aired for the first time on Top of the Pops in November 1975. After a few weeks at number one, an edit of the video was created. The most obvious difference is the flames superimposed over the introduction as well as several alternate camera angles.

Bohemian Rhapsody promo video



Legacy

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



Live performances

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


Band members

















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 


Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bohemian_Rhapsody