"Bohemian Rhapsody" is a song performed by Queen.
Freddie Mercury wrote the lyrics, and there has been a lot of speculation as to their meaning. Many of the words appear in the Qu'ran. "Bismillah" is one of these and it literally means "In the name of Allah." The word "Scaramouch" means "A stock character that appears as a boastful coward." "Beelzebub" is one of the many names given to The Devil.
Mercury's parents were deeply involved in Zoroastrianism, and these Arabic words do have a meaning in that religion. His family lived in Zanzibar (a territory in East Africa which nowadays belongs to Tanzania), where Freddie was born, but moved to India in 1951 due to his father's job as a diplomat, and from there they went to Feltham, England in 1963 due to political upheaval in India. Some of the lyrics could be about leaving his homeland behind. Mercury claimed the lyrics were nothing more than "Random rhyming nonsense" when asked about it by his friend Kenny Everett, who was a London DJ. (thanks, Jonathon - Clermont, FL and Jonathan Horgan - Cork, Ireland)
Mercury may have written "Galileo" into the lyrics for the benefit of Brian May, who is an astronomy buff, and would go on to become a Ph.D. in Astrophysics in 2007. Galileo Galilei is a famous astronomer known for being the first to use a refracting telescope, and for being forced to stand on trial by the Inquisition and admit to the then-reigning geocentrism (the belief that Earth is at the center of the universe), a theory which he opposed, favoring heliocentrism instead (which places the Sun at the center of the known universe).
The backing track came together quickly, but Queen spent days overdubbing the vocals in the studio using a 24 track tape machine. By the time they were done, about 120 vocal tracks were layered together. According to Rolling Stone magazine in their list of the top 500 songs, Brian May said that everyone in the band was bewildered when Mercury brought them a draft of this four-part suite - even before he told them, "That's where the operatic bits come in!" The analog recording technology was taxed by the song's multitracked scaramouches and fandangos. (thanks, James - Vancouver, Canada)
Queen made a video for this to air on Top Of The Pops, a popular British music show, because the song was too complex to perform live. It started a trend in the UK of making videos for songs to air in place of live performances. When MTV launched in 1981, most of their videos came from British artists for this reason. In the December 12, 2004 issue of The Observer newspaper, Roger Taylor explained: "We did everything we possibly could to avoid appearing in Top Of The Pops. It was one, the most boring day known to man, and two, it's all about not actually playing - pretending to sing, pretending to play. We came up with the video concept to avoid playing on Top Of The Pops." (thanks, Edward Pearce - Ashford, Kent, England)
The video was very innovative. It was the first where the visual images took precedence over the song. It was based on their album cover, with the 4 band members looking up into the shadows, much like they did in the cover of the Queen II album. It was shot in 3 hours for $3,500. Effects were achieved by using camera feedback and prism lenses. At the time, it looked high-tech. It was also the first music video in the sense that it was shot on video instead of film.
This was Queen's first Top 10 hit in the US. In the UK, where Queen was already established, it was #1 for 9 weeks, a record at the time.
This got a whole new audience when it was used in the 1992 movie Wayne's World, starring Mike Myers and Dana Carvey. In the film, Wayne and his friends lip-synch to it in his car (the Mirth Mobile), spasmodically head-bobbing at the heavy chorus near the end of the song. As a result of the movie, it was re-released as a single in the US and charted at #2. "Jump" by Kris Kross kept it out of #1.
At 5:55, this was a very long song for radio consumption. It got a big bump when Mercury's friend Kenny Everett played it on his Captial Radio broadcast before the song was released (courtesy of a copy Mercury gave him). This helped the single jump to #1 in the UK shortly after it was released.
There was a single version released only in France on a 7", cut down to 3:18, edited by John Deacon, but beyond the initial pressing of this French single, the only version recognized is the album version, at 5:55 - allegedly, this French single started right at the piano intro, and edited out the operetta part. Brian May admitted that there may have been additional parts for the song on Freddie's notes, but they were apparently never recorded. (thanks, Ryan - Eaton, IN)
Brian May recalled recording "Bohemian Rhapsody" in Q Magazine March 2008: "That was a great moment, but the biggest thrill for us was actually creating the music in the first place. I remember Freddie coming in with loads of bits of paper from his dad's work, like Post-it notes, and pounding on the piano. He played the piano like most people play the drums. And this song he had was full of gaps where he explained that something operatic would happen here and so on. He'd worked out the harmonies in his head."
In 1991, this was re-released in the UK shortly after Freddie Mercury's death. It again went to #1, with proceeds going to the Terrence Higgins Trust, which Mercury supported.
Elton John performed this with Axl Rose at the 1992 "Concert For Life," held in London at Wembley Stadium. It was a tribute to Freddie Mercury, who died of AIDS the year before. In 2001, Elton John got together with Eminem, who like Axl Rose, was often accused of being intolerant and homophobic. They performed Eminem's "Stan" at the Grammys.
When this was re-released in the US, proceeds from the single went to the Magic Johnson AIDS Foundation. Johnson and Freddie Mercury were 2 of the first celebrities to get AIDS.
Thanks to this track, A Night At The Opera was the most expensive album ever made at the time. They used 6 different studios to record it. Queen did not use any synthesizers on the album, which is something they were very proud of.
In an interview with Brian May and Roger Taylor on the Queen Videos Greatest Hits DVD, Brian said: "What is Bohemian Rhapsody about, well I don't think we'll ever know and if I knew I probably wouldn't want to tell you anyway, because I certainly don't tell people what my songs are about. I find that it destroys them in a way because the great thing about about a great song is that you relate it to your own personal experiences in your own life. I think that Freddie was certainly battling with problems in his personal life, which he might have decided to put into the song himself. He was certainly looking at re-creating himself. But I don't think at that point in time it was the best thing to do so he actually decided to do it later. I think it's best to leave it with a question mark in the air." (thanks, Callum - Bendigo, Australia)
A Night At The Opera was re-released as an audio DVD in 2002 with the original video included on the disc. Commentary from the DVD reveals that this song had started taking shape in the song "My Fairy King" on Queen's debut album. (thanks, nathan - l-burg, KY)
In 2002, this came in #1 in a poll by Guinness World Records as Britain's favorite single of all time. John Lennon's "Imagine" was #2, followed by The Beatles' "Hey Jude."
The name "Bohemian" in the song title seems to refer not to the region in the Czech republic, but to a group of artists and musicians living roughly 100 years ago, known for defying convention and living with disregard for standards. A "Rhapsody" is a piece of Classical music with distinct sections that is played as one movement. Rhapsodies often have themes. (thanks, George - Dusseldorf, Germany)
Roger Taylor (from 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh): "Record companies both sides of the Atlantic tried to cut the song, they said it was too long and wouldn't work. We thought, 'Well we could cut it, but it wouldn't make any sense,' it doesn't make much sense now and it would make even less sense then: you would miss all the different moods of the song. So we said no. It'll either fly or it won't. Freddie had the bare bones of the song, even the composite harmonies, written on telephone books and bits of paper, so it was quite hard to keep track of what was going on." Kutner and Leigh's book also states that, the recording included 180 overdubs, the operatic parts took over 70 hours to complete and the piano Freddie played was the same one used by Paul McCartney on "Hey Jude." (thanks, Edward Pearce - Ashford, Kent, England)
Ironically, the song that knocked this off the #1 chart position in the UK was "Mama Mia" by Abba. The words "Mama mia" are repeated in this in the line "Oh mama mia, mama mia, mama mia let me go." (thanks, James - St Albans, England)
Weird Al Yankovic took the entire song and sung it to a Polka tune, called simply "Bohemian Polka," which is on his 1993 album Alapalooza. (thanks, Steph - SoCal, CA)
The story told in this song is remarkably similar to that in Albert Camus' book The Stranger. Both tell of a young man who kills, and not only can he not explain why he did it, he can't even articulate any feelings about it. (thanks, Bob - Santa Barbara, CA)
You can make the case that the song title is actually a parody, and a clever one at that. There is a rhapsody by Franz List called "Hungarian Rhapsody," and "Bohemia" is a kingdom that is near Hungary and was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Furthermore, "Bohemian" is an adjective for something unusual or against convention, and the song is just that. So "Bohemian Rhapsody" could be a clever title that not only parodies a famous work but describes the song. (thanks, Con - Melbourne, Australia)
This song was covered by Constantine M. (featuring the cast of We Will Rock You) and also by The Flaming Lips for the 2005 Queen Tribute album Killer Queen. (thanks, Rachel - South Point, OH)
Queen fans, and also Brian May, often colloquially refer to the song as "Bo Rhap" (or "Bo Rap").
The name "Bohemian Rhapsody" makes many appearances in popular culture:
Session 14 of the popular anime series Cowboy Bebop is named "Bohemian Rhapsody."
The Jones Soda Company has a drink named "Bohemian Raspberry" in honor of this song.
In one of the episodes of the TV miniseries Dinotopia, a character cheats on a poem project by using the first part of the song as his entire project. The inhabitants, having never heard the song before, are amazed at the sound of it. (thanks, Jonathon - Clermont, FL, for above 2)
Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett used some of the lyrics in their book Good Omens. The main character (Crowley) plays it in his car all the time. They also refer to other Queen songs, but mostly "Bohemian Rhapsody." (thanks, Bella - Pretoria, South Africa)
The Spanish group Molotov sampled the chorus for their Spanish-language Rap version of this song called "Rap, Soda and Bohemias." It appears on their 1998 album Molomix. (thanks, Juan - Brownsville, TX)
In 2009, The Muppets Studio released a video featuring the Muppets performing this song. It was first web video for The Muppets, and it was extremely popular: the video was viewed over 7 million times the first week it was up. The furry ones changed the song a bit, omitting the lyrics that begin, "Mama, just killed a man" with Animal screaming "Mama!"
|Songs in Rock Band 3 on Nintendo DS|
|"Been Caught Stealing" • "Bohemian Rhapsody" • "Break on Through (To the Other Side)" • "China Grove"|
"Cold as Ice" • "Combat Baby" • "Crazy Train" • "Crosstown Traffic" • "Get Free"
"The Hardest Button to Button" • "Here I Go Again" • "Humanoid" • "I Got You (I Feel Good)"
"I Love Rock 'n' Roll" • "Just Like Heaven" • "Lasso" • "The Look" • "Midlife Crisis" • "Misery Business"
"Need You Tonight" • "Oh My God" • "Portions for Foxes" • "Rock Lobster" • "Roundabout" • "Sister Christian"
"Walking on the Sun"