Songsplaining: What is Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody Really About?

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. 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.

Source: Pandora

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.

Source: Turntable Lab

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.

Source: Queerty

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, this song was much longer than anything London radio has ever seen. Complex, and rigid changes to tone, as well as ever-changing melodies.

Source: The Times

Freddie 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. Mercury abruptly stopped playing all together threw the ball to Roy. “This is where the operatic section comes in!”, “and then we went to dinner!”

It was easy to talk, but Freddie walked the walk as well!

He Knew Exactly What He Wanted

Queen Guitarist Brian May was adamant about expressing that the band was there to help. 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.”

Source: ArtPhotoLimited

The harmonies were all written and ready to go. The backing track was done simply, just a piano, bass, and drums, a few spaces for new ideas. Everything was ripe and arranged, but it wasn’t that simple for old Freddie Mercury, and he was not going to make life easy for anyone!

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.

Source: ew.com

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…

“Magnifico-oooo-o!”

A powerful changeup in the melody of the song that takes you to a new dimension. The secret, a 1930s method called the “bells effect.”

Source: Twipu

One person sings a note, and the rest follow like ghostly echoes stalking the original harmony. An unusual trick to be used in rock music, its precisely what the song needed!

All In The Right Order

The song is very unusual, 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 balladlike fashion. No wonder it took so long!

Source: Brtish GQ

Mercury called it “Mock Opera.” Like Mercury himself, this song was going to stay as far away as it could from being normal or sounding formal. All who claim to understand Freddie, and the meaning behind the song simply don’t, and never will! That’s precisely the way he wanted it.

To This Day the Song Meaning Is Disputed

Opinions of the song meaning will get anyone’s head spinning in space like lost comets of the mind.

Source: youtube

What’s Freddie’s answer? This quote from him 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 was very different. The composition is one thing, but nothing out there was quite as mysterious, or dark.

Source: TabloidXO

The song boasted intriguing narratives that challenged the conventional love song with references galore!

“Bismillah,” “Scaramouch,” “Fandango,” and “Beelzebub” all hold literal meanings.

Dig into their meaning, and 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 some odes to self-involved as well.

Source pikby.com

“Bismillah let me go!” “Bismillah” meaning “in the name of Allah” is his loving shout out to the religion of Zoroastrianism an ancient pre-Islamic religion of Iranian descent that still exists and is most predominant in India. Born in Zanzibar, raised in India, a star in London. Freddie wants 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.

Source: Wattpad

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!

You’ll also find references to space and discovery!

A Love for the Stars

Brian May is a man with a mistress. Who’s the mistress you ask? Astronomy, and Astrophysics! May loved the stars as much he did music, he wanted to pay tribute to Galileo Galilee! In 2007 Brian may earn a Ph.D. in Astrophysics, and went on to collaborate with NASA on an asteroid awareness campaign.

Source: Dr Brian May

But why go the extra mile? Queen could have written anything, and it would have been great.

Loyalty

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.”

Source: British GQ

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!”

Source: The Red Special

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.

Source: Picdeer

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.

Coming Out

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

Source: Pinterest

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, Mercury’s close friend, defines the lyrics plainly for us!

Source: Vinyl Never Dies

“Mama, just killed a man,” “referred to killing the old Freddie and resurrecting the new one.”

“I see a little silhouette of a man,” meant “the shadow of himself being haunted by his past and his true identity.”

All these facts can break a heart in second, but recording sessions were full of the good spirit of hard work. Freddie Mercury wasn’t going to stop for anyone or anything!

Day 1 of Recording

In August 24th, 1975 at Rockfield Studio 1 in South Wales, pure magic began and Paul McCartney’s iconic C. Bechstein concert grand piano was Freddy’s wand.

Source: QueenOnline

The operatic section was sung continually for up to 12 hours a day! Drummer Taylor held the high notes, and May was the lowest vocals.

Where was Bassist John Deacon you ask?

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.

Source: Queenrockband.com

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!

Queen was no exception with 180 separate overdubs during the recording of the one hit alone. The tape was almost clear from over usage.

Source: loquerjarecords.com

Three weeks, five different studios, blood sweat, and tears just to finish recording one hit! Mercury was stubborn and always adding or taking out lyrics and notes.

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!

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!”

Source: Ultimate Classic Rock

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 first to play it on the air?

Thank You, Kenny Everett!

A popular morning show in GB did the deed. British DJ Kenny Everett had a popular show on Capital Radio. He was told not to play the song.

Source: Ultimate Classic Rock

Well, he did anyway! The result was a quake of fans swarming to record stores only to find out that the single was not out for sale yet. Frustrating right? They thought so too!

“Well, now that everyone knows, we’ll have to see what happens.”

First Impressions

Elton John famously advised Mercury against the song also citing the length as an issue. Everyone forgot a key detail! 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!

Source: reddit.com

Who Cares What People Think!

Its almost 2020, and we are still obsessed with Bohemian Rhapsody!

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!”

Source: Hathaway creative

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 1976!

Source: teatracademia.com

In 1991 after Mercury’s tragic passing, A double A-side single with “These are the days of our lives”) being 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.

In 2007 prestigious Radio 1 confessed to Bohemian Rhapsody being their most played song since the station’s inception!

Another aspect may have been the culprit for such immediate exposure.

Mamma Mia

ABBA’s Mamma Mia was number one before Queens single hit the chart, maybe the similarities brought the fans of both together.

Source: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Not As Big In the US

You can’t beat them all! Bohemian Rhapsody never made it past number nine on the charts America!

Rolling stones Anthony DeCurtis said it himself.

Source: Freddiemercury.com

“The quintessential example of the kind of thing that doesn’t exactly go over well in America.” The band still was certified gold and sold more than one million copies in the states.

America was going through different changes at the time, the Vietnam war was raging, and the American music demographic was one of the simple, peaceful songs that encourage a bongo circle.

Just As Original As the Track

The famous Hit was accompanied by a promotional video. Many scholars considered video ground-breaking!

Source: Club.ca

With a tour coming up, Queen could not yet sell the album. The usual norm was a debut on a morning show. “That’s just the way things were.” According to everyone’s grandpa!

The best way to bridge the gap and keep the fans happy was to give them a video 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. Bruce recorded it on November 10th, 1974 and took the band only four hours.

Source: haip.host

All the special effects were done during the recording rather than during editing. The same week of taping broadcast was scheduled, so editing would only take 5 hours as well.

A Legacy

“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.

Source: queenmuseum.com

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

Mike Meyers grew up listening to Queen and loved their music dearly, he had fond memories of singing it in the car with his brother. In 1992, despite some skepticism, Penelope Spheeris incorporated the song into the movie Wayne’s World.

Source: cinemablend.com

All this not mentioning the covers that were made in the early millennium.

Covers, Covers, And More Covers

“Bohemian Rhapsody” has been covered 62 times!

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.

Source: Trendolizer

Panic of the disco recorded a version of the song for the blockbuster movie “Suicide Squad.”

Brian May says that “only” Axle rose got close to hitting the notes Freddie was able to reach.

Conclusion

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 rocks most timeless ballads.

Source: discjapan.com

Freddie Mercury beat the odds not by living forever, but by proving to us all, that when there’s a way, there’s a will!

Follow his example, and good things should come your way too!