The Story of... 'Bohemian Rhapsody' by Queen
25 March 2021, 16:06
Queen's six-minute masterpiece 'Bohemian Rhapsody' is one of the most famous songs of all time and sold more than one million copies in its first year of release alone. But how much do you really know about the smash hit song?
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The song's name was used as the title for the Oscar-winning 2019 film Bohemian Rhapsody, a Queen biopic charting the band's success, and in 2018 the song became the most streamed song of the 20th century after being downloaded or streamed over 1.6 billion times.
But what inspired the song and how was it made? Here's all the important facts:
Who wrote 'Bohemian Rhapsody'?
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The song reportedly took three weeks to record, with Brian, Freddie and Roger singing vocals for up to 10 hours a day and Freddie Mercury reportedly performing the piano parts on the same piano Paul McCartney played on the Beatles recording of 'Hey Jude'.
Producer Roy Thomas Baker recalled the making of the track in an interview in 1999: "'Bohemian Rhapsody' was totally insane, but we enjoyed every minute of it..We had to record it in three separate units. We did the whole beginning bit, then the whole middle bit and then the whole end.
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"It was complete madness. The middle part started off being just a couple of seconds, but Freddie kept coming in with more "Galileos" and we kept on adding to the opera section, and it just got bigger and bigger. We never stopped laughing."
What is 'Bohemian Rhapsody' about?
Parts of a song he would play on the piano called 'The Cowboy Song' contained lyrics which ended up in the final piece, but Freddie Mercury always refused to explain what the song was about, only saying 'Bohemian Rhapsody' was "about relationships".
Brian May said he felt the song was about Freddie Mercury's personal traumas: "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."
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However in a BBC Three documentary interview, Roger Taylor said the song's true meaning was "fairly self-explanatory with just a bit of nonsense in the middle".
Where was 'Bohemian Rhapsody' recorded?
Roger Taylor later confirmed that 'Bohemian Rhapsody' was one of the songs they worked on while they were there, however four additional studios – Roundhouse, Sarm East Studios, Scorpio Sound, and Wessex Sound Studios – were also used.
How was 'Bohemian Rhapsody' made?
'Bohemian Rhapsody' took three weeks to record and some parts of the song reportedly contained 180 overdubs.
The song was ahead of its time and consisted of several sections: an intro, a ballad part, an operatic passage, a hard rock segment and a coda.
Brian May explained the process of the technicalities of how the song was made in an interview with Guitar World in 2021: “This track had been evolving for a while. It was very much the product of the fevered brow of Freddie. We knew it was something very special.
"It was recorded in pieces, as I think everybody knows. We would rehearse and record. We’d do it until we got it right. The various bits were put together.
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“Freddie put a guide vocal on, and then we started doing all the multi-tracked vocal harmonies.. He said he wanted a solo in there, and I said I would like to effectively sing a verse on the guitar.
Watch the official music video for 'Bohemian Rhapsody' below:
Speaking of his famous guitar solo Brian May said: "I could hear this melody and I had no idea where it came from.
"That melody isn’t anywhere else in the song, but it’s on a familiar chord sequence...the job of the guitar solo is to bring that extra voice in, but then it’s a link into what everybody now calls ‘the operatic section’. You know you’re into something very different."
Why was 'Bohemian Rhapsody' so controversial?
When the band wanted to release 'Bohemian Rhapsody' in 1975, music executives told Queen that at 5 minutes and 55 seconds long, the song would never be played on the radio and would not be a hit.
However Queen gave the recording to Smooth Radio's sister station Capital FM, where DJ Kenny Everett teased parts of the song for listeners until they were clamouring to hear the whole thing, culminating in the song being played in full 14 times in two days.
DJ Paul Drew, who ran the RKO General stations in the States heard the track on Capital FM and started playing the record on his show, culminating in fans clamouring for its release as a single.
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Danny Baker later reflected 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!"
When was 'Bohemian Rhapsody' released and many copies did it sell?
'Bohemian Rhapsody' was released in October 1975 and became that year's Christmas number one after holding the top spot for nine weeks.
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The track also went back to number one after Freddie Mercury's death in November 1991 and stayed there for five weeks, giving it a record breaking second Christmas number one.
In 2018 after the release of the film Bohemian Rhapsody, the song once again entered the charts an incredible 26 years after it was last in the top 40.
A reported six million copies of the song have been sold worldwide and in 2018 the song became the most streamed song of the 20th century after being downloaded or streamed over 1.6 billion times.
Who has covered 'Bohemian Rhapsody?"
Numerous bands and artists have given their own creative takes on 'Bohemian Rhapsody' through the years, however some stand out above the rest.
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Elaine Paige notably covered the song on her 1988 tribute album The Queen Album to great acclaim.
In 1993 a variety of British celebrities did their own parody of the song for Comic Relief and Kanye West give his own take on the track during at his famous Glastonbury headline performance in 2015.
Elton John, Axl Rose and Queen gave a stunning performance of the hit at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992, which saw the Tiny Dancer singer take to the piano and gave a moving rendition of the track in Freddie's memory.
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But perhaps most moving – and ironic – of all, is the time an unknown Adam Lambert sang 'Bohemian Rhapsody' at his first ever American Idol audition, before going on to become the official frontman of Queen two years later.