382. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, by Queen

I have to admit, I’ve been putting off writing this entry. I mean, A) How do you say anything about ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ that hasn’t been said before? And B) When are you ever in the mood to sit and listen to it on repeat? (Though actually, I could probably play this one from beginning to end, in my head, from memory…)

Bohemian Rhapsody, by Queen (their 1st of six #1s)

9 weeks, from 23rd November 1975 – 25th January 1976

I can remember hearing this record for the first time. That must mean something, right? That must be proof of this song’s place in our lives? I was at the kitchen table, aged seven or so, playing with some Lego, and my dad was playing this, loud. And singing. My dad does not normally play music loud, or sing. So seven-year-old me sat up and took notice. What was this record that had turned my father into a headbanger?

Is this the real life, Is this just fantasy…? If I had to rate the three parts (or is it four?) of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, the first would be my favourite. Freddie’s voice… Mama, Just killed a man… and his luxuriant piano. The singer is haunted by his past, his crimes, and is setting out alone. Mama, Ooh-ooooh-ooh… If that was it, if this were a three-minute ballad, it’d still be great. But, of course, that is not it. ‘Tis but the amuse-bouche.

In comes Brian May, with the most outrageous piece of guitaristry in a #1 single since ‘Voodoo Chile’, and then… You know what comes next. This is the bit I remember hearing as a kid. You do have to step back and applaud the fact that the band managed to sandwich this bit into a pop single. In terms of the story, it represents, I think, the singer’s inner torment at what he’s done. Beelzebub, Has a devil put aside, For ME!

Then comes the head-banging section, the Wayne’s World bit, my second favourite part. It’s proper hard rock, almost heavy metal – a sound that we have very rarely heard in any of the previous 381 chart-toppers. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ really is a deeply strange strong, and a bizarre #1. But it is also so much a part of the furniture that people no longer stop to wonder what the hell it’s about. Is it a tale of a Faustian pact? Is it Mercury coming to terms with his sexuality? Or is it, as the band maintain, all nonsense?

And, for then the coda, it’s back to Freddie and his piano. The clincher. Any way the wind blows… Done, and exhale. The stories around the song’s recording and release are well-known: the record execs’ reluctance, Kenny Everett playing it on repeat… I enjoyed the scene in the recent movie – a movie that wasn’t as bad as everyone made out – where the band wonder if Freddie’s lost his mind while recording the Galileo! Galileo! part.

People always name ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ as one of the longest songs ever, and certainly one of the longest #1s. But it’s barely six minutes long, and feels even shorter, ranking it pretty far down the ‘long number ones’ list. Even ‘I’m Not In Love’, from earlier in 1975, went on for ten seconds more. What was long was its stay at the top of the charts. No record has spent nine weeks at #1 since ‘Rose Marie’ managed eleven, twenty years back. Add to that the fact that it will be back on top shortly after Freddie Mercury’s death, and we’re looking at one of the longest-running #1s, ever.

In my post on ‘Space Oddity’ – isn’t it amazing to think that these two classic records so nearly met one another atop the charts! – I named David Bowie as an artist woefully represented by his chart-toppers. Well, to that short list add Queen, who will only have two more before they lose their frontman, and then descend into some highly questionable duets by the turn of the century. All that to come…

Anyway, after I wrap this up I will go back to never choosing to listening to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, just hearing it by osmosis (and when forced to join in with it at karaoke nights…) I don’t hate it – it is an amazing piece of music – and yet I think it works best as a memory, of me aged seven, staring open-mouthed at my dad moshing around the living-room.

19 thoughts on “382. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, by Queen

  1. Thanks for the visual of your dad. Great memory.

    Even with its popularity at the time, Wayne’s World just threw it up into orbit. Now, everyone is stuck with the vision of head bobbing in an AMC Pacer.

    It was released when I was in 4th grade. I vaguely remember hearing on the radio. It seems to have been around forever. It’s quite the masterpiece.

    There is always a new take on music. Individual opinions are like flowers in a field. They may all appear to be the same at first glance but, each one is unique.

    I like your write-ups. You’re funny as hell. You’d do well as a paid music critic/”influencer” (I really hate that term but, it works). 😁💕

    1. Thanks! I think Waynes World really brought Bo Rap back to the forefront in the US, and the UK too to a lesser extent, though Queen had still been huge here through the 80s, and it returned to #1 a few weeks after Freddie’s death.

      Not sure about being a paid critic, this blog is like therapy for me… if that doesn’t sound weird. An hour every few days where I lose myself in songs… some amazing, some terrible!

      1. Oh, I get the therapy part…not weird at all. In my case, right now, I’m a bit burned out. I’ve been blogging, on and off, since 2009. I have to take breaks. I was into blogging when everyone else was on MySpace and, then, Facebook. I played with MySpace for a short time and got bored. I couldn’t figure out why I needed to be on FB, either. It didn’t seem very useful. Eventually, I was talked into it by classmates for reunion planning. Now, I just have a placeholder with no friend connections (because once you Borg yourself with the FB leviathan, you can never leave).

        As an old programmer from 1983, forward, I still view computers as tools and not “entertainment.”

  2. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is a song that you don’t really need to know what it’s about. It’s all about the feeling and spectacle that comes with it in its grand bombastic sweep. The song is one big pay off after another that it doesn’t feel like six minutes listening to it. When it gets to the head banging riff, that’s the shit right there. I don’t have any specific moment of first hearing the song. It’s like a common language song that it’s weird to imagine a time when it was new. Going on from “Space Oddity,” Queen and “Bohemian Rhapsody” are easily more popular now at least in America than they were at their peak. The song wound up as their Top 10 breakthrough at #9 in early ‘76 after “Killer Queen” gave them their proper breakthrough at #12 the year before. Even with that, Queen never had much play on the Hot 100 where before “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” became their first #1 they only got into the Top 10 once more at #4 with the double-sided anthems “We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions” even as modern classics “Fat Bottomed Girls” and “Don’t Stop Me Now” underperformed. Though like most other rock acts, their albums tended to sell better and as the Bohemian Rhapsody movie shows accurately to some extent they were already an arena headlining act. Aside from Freddie’s death and Wayne’s World pushing the song to its highest peak of #2, it even re charted after the movie came out at #33. We can’t escape the song.

    1. Yes, it is definitely here to stay. And you are right about it not feeling like a six minute song… it flies past. It’s not like Queen invented experimental, epic, prog (call it what you will) rock here, but for some reason this caught on like crazy. I think maybe because, for all its self indulgence, it doesn’t feel as pretentious as other epic rock songs. It just sounds like a really fun party!

      1. That’s essentially what a lot of their songs sound like one big party for everyone to join in on. Ultimately what made Queen and Freddie Mercury special was how they combined rock with any style they wanted to without committing to it for too long. There’s even a quote from Freddie himself saying nothing is typical of his work.

        Here’s my latest post on the infamous 2013 smash “Blurred Lines”
        https://dorazihitparade.com/2021/02/19/the-ones-of-the-10s-robin-thickes-blurred-lines-feat-t-i-pharrell/

  3. I feel the same way, I don’t ever want to hear it again out of choice, it’s been 45 years of non-stop radio play, embedded in popular culture, and eternally topping Greatest Record Ever polls. First time I heard it was on the radio late in 1975, and it underwhelmed me – I adored and bought Seven Seas Of Rhye and Killer Queen and it just wasn’t in the same league on one play. It was the video that changed everything, we’d just moved house from Gloucester to an RAF camp near Lincoln, and the same day we moved in Top Of The Pops was on TV and the video featured and it all made sense, it was great, especially the opera bit and the rock-wig-out, I could always take or leave the first third slow bit. And it was the best pop record to feature the “mamma mia” phrase. Till the next one…. 🙂

  4. badfinger20 (Max)

    It’s an epic one…I know I’m in the minority…It’s a great work…that is true but it’s not my favorite epic song but…It’s a masterpiece no doubt. They did a lot of work because when they were finished the tape was translucent because it had been overdubbed so many times.

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