Bohemian Rhapsody

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Bohemian Rhapsody single cover

"Bohemian Rhapsody" is a song written by Freddie Mercury, originally performed by Queen. The original version of the song can be found on the albums A Night at the Opera (1975), Greatest Hits (1981) and Classic Queen (1992). A live version can be heard on the album Queen: Live at Wembley (1986). The song's title is so familiar and distinctive that it is often colloquially referred to as "Bo Rhap" (or "Bo Rap").

Kenny Everett claimed that Mercury told him that the song "was just random, rhyming nonsense", and had no deeper meaning. However Brian May counter-claims that the song reflected Mercury's personality and approach to life.


A literal interpretation

The title's "Bohemian" refers to the "easy come, easy go" "poor boy" character singing the song (a follower of bohemianism - "living a wandering or vagabond life"). A musical rhapsody is a "composition irregular in form and suggestive of improvisation", which applies to the song itself and not something in the song, so a literal interpretation is that the song title means "A rhapsody about a bohemian".

The lyrics set the stage with the theme "No escape from reality", then tell the story of "a poor boy" who is "easy come, easy go" and shoots a man dead. He tells his mama "I don't want to die. I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all." His pleas for mercy in court are responded to with "We will not let you go". "Anyway the wind blows, doesn't really matter to me" said by the killer is a refrain from start to end. Believing that things don't matter do not prevent them from mattering. There is indeed, "No escape from reality".

But this is entirely literal and conjecture, there have been several working theories on the meaning of this song. Some take it at face value: the scenario of a criminal act and its consequences. Others take it as an allegory for the guilt and persecution relating to homosexuality. There is no agreed meaning, and Mercury never truly addressed one.


The song was recorded over three weeks by the band and producer Roy Thomas Baker, beginning on August 24, 1975 at Rockfield Studios near Monmouth. Other band members said that Freddie had worked out the entire song in his head and basically just directed the band through the song, first playing a backing track of piano, bass and drums.

The three-part harmonies took 84 hours to complete, involving the splicing together of "huge lengths of tape on to the reel". In the end eighth generation tapes were being used, which had been recorded onto so much that they could be seen through. Further recording was done at North London's Scorpio and SARM Studios.

When first played to record company executives, requests were made to cut the middle section of the song. It was argued that radio stations would not play the song, as it was twice the normal length of a single and other record labels would object to it getting double the airplay.

The Song

The song, almost six minutes in length, begins with an a cappella introduction, which are all Mercury doubletracked. This is followed by a ballad, which is again mostly Mercury's vocals. The guitar enters during the second verse, with May playing a series of harmonies. After the lyric "shivers down my spine", May created a 'shiver' sound by playing the strings behind the bridge of his guitar. At the end of the second verse, the first guitar solo appears. This was created by May, and it is melodically different from the verses as he didn't like a guitar solo to be just the melody repeated.

Now begins a pseudo-operatic midsection. This features interplay between Mercury and a solo piano. The choir effect was created by having Mercury, May and Taylor sing separate low, mid and high sections three times. The band used the bell effect for lyrics "Magnifico" and "Let him go". Also on "Let him go", Taylor singing the top section carries his note on further after the rest of the 'choir' have stopped singing.

This operatic section leads to an aggressive hard rock section with a guitar riff that was written by Mercury. After double tracked vocals by Mercury over the top of the guitar, there are three guitar runs, that May described as something he had to "battle with" when performing the song live, but he pulled it off.

The song then returns to the ballad style. As the lyrics "ooh yeah, ooh yeah" are sung a guitar is played in the background to give the effect of trumpets. This was done by playing the guitar through an amp designed by Deacon. The song progressively becomes quieter until finally closing with the barely audible sound of a gong.

The sections may appear separate but there are numerous lyrical and musical motifs that they share. For instance, there are melodic motifs that occur in the ballad which foreshadow parts of the operatic section.


The video was created for the sole purpose of allowing the band to be on tour and appear on BBC's Top of the Pops. It was shot in just over four hours and cost only 4500 (GBP) to produce, using a outside broadcast truck owned by one of the band's managers. Shot on the band's rehearsal stage it was designed to show the band performing live.

All the special effects were done during the recording. The effect of having the face zooming away was accomplished by simply pointing the camera at a monitor, thus giving visual feedback.

The video for the single was directed by Bruce Gowers, using ideas from the band themselves.

It was not the first time a band had made a promo, but this differed in being shot entirely on videotape as opposed to film. It is therefore widely regarded as the first real music video. In the original version of the video an apparent editing glitch led to the piano part briefly being double-tracked out of sync with itself, but this was corrected in later releases.


It is the only single to have been UK Christmas Number 1 twice (in a single recording), first in 1975/6, and then in 1991/1992 (as a double-A single with "These Are the Days of Our Lives") following the death of Mercury. "Bohemian Rhapsody" was placed third in the official list of the best-selling singles in the UK issued in 2002.

It consistently ranks highly in media reader polls of "the best singles of all-time", and in 2002, it came first in the Guinness Hit Singles poll of the greatest UK singles of all-time, as well as coming 10th in a BBC World Service poll to find the world's favourite song. In 2003 it came second to "Imagine" by John Lennon in a Channel 4 television poll of The 100 Best Number 1s. It has also topped VH1's "100 Greatest Songs Of All-time" list. It has been in the top 5 of the Dutch annual "Top 100 Aller Tijden" ("All-Time Top 100 Singles") since 1977, reaching #1 many times; in the annual "Top 2000" (maintained since 1999) it has, as of 2004, been #1 every year.

The song enjoyed renewed popularity in 1992 as part of the soundtrack to the film Wayne's World. In connection with this, a new video was released, intercutting excerpts from the film with footage from the original Queen video.

The track was not initially intended as a single release due to the length. However, Mercury's friend Kenny Everett (a BBC Radio 1 DJ at the time) played an advance copy on the radio several times; the track proved popular and was released with "I'm In Love With My Car" as the B-side.

The introduction to the song is based on the chorus of a piece by Mercury's former band, Ibex. Some claim that this first minute of "Bohemian Rhapsody" inspired the ending of the song "One Jump Ahead (reprise)" from the Disney animated film Aladdin; both are sung by a poor boy character, and both have the words "to me" sung on the same notes in roughly the same inflection over the same cadence.



  • Queen - Greatest Video Hits 1 (2002) DVD
  • Blake, Mark (Editor) (2005). MOJO Classic Queen Special Edition. EMAP Metro Limited.

External links

nl:Bohemian Rhapsody no:Bohemian Rhapsody ja:ボヘミアン・ラプソディー sv:Bohemian Rhapsody zh:波西米亚狂想曲


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