Bohemian Rhapsody: the hit that no one (except Queen) believed in

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Nearly six minutes of pure epicness where Queen poured all their geniality and ambition and conquered the charts around the world, writing their name in the history of rock: Bohemian Rhapsody is a gem that, more than forty years after publication, leaves still dazzled by its luster.

Bohemian Rhapsody is consistently ranked one of the most beautiful, inspired, strange and innovative rock songs: its switch from ballad to opera piece, coming to the hard rock until the final gong, made this song charming like few others before and after him. Also the innovative video (one of the earliest and most famous in the history) has helped to raise awareness of Bohemian Rhapsody, written by Freddie Mercury and recorded during six weeks of intense studio work, with over 180 recorded tracks and a very demanding speech section (which needed seventy hours of work).

The leader of Queen wanted at any cost to try out a different structure for the songs of the band, with the approval of Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon, who declared themselves anyway enthusiastic about the idea (even thought they weren’t really sure about how that would end up). Roy Thomas Baker, their producer, was not so easily seduced by Freddie Mercury’s idea: “and here is where we put the opera section” seemed a little too vague to be able to get a clear idea of what the singer wanted to accomplish, but eventually the determination of the frontman convinced him.

It seems that Mercury had started thinking about Bohemian Rhapsody much earlier, back in 1968, when he was a schoolboy and Queen were very much yet to come. The story told by the lyrics has open various assumptions about its meaning (the other band members have always found it hermetic and mysterious): many have wanted to interpret the words of the singer as a confession about his homosexuality, others as a metaphorical interpretation of a relationship ended badly.

The successful layering of genres and melodies convinced Queen to make of Bohemian Rhapsody the leading single of A Night At The Opera, an album that contained other notable songs like You’re My Best Friend and Love Of My Life and that, because of the long-lasting work on Bohemian Rhapsody, became the most expensive in history.

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A Night At The Opera, the album cover of Queen

For EMI, however, the excessive length of the song was a constraint about the publication as a single: the music industry argued that it wouldn’t work in radio and were pressing at least for a shortened version, which certainly (according to them) would find more fortune and a more favorable distribution. Even Elton John, approached by the manager of Queen, said to Freddie Mercury that it was too long and strange to go on radio: for everybody that looked like a suicidal commercial strategy.

Valuable assistance came from British DJ Kenny Everett, friend of the group, who received Bohemian Rhapsody “under the table”, in order to put it into the schedule: the success of the song convinced EMI to follow the wave and publish it as a single.

The next problem was the promotion: Top Of The Pops, traditional place where artists presented their hits, was waiting for them with open arms, but the difficulty of replicating live Bohemian Rhapsody shouldn’t have been underestimated. For this reason, the Queen made a promotional video of the song, whose success in the success revealed the potential of music videos, which over the next decade would explode on MTV.

Bohemian Rhapsody has been the only song so far to become number one in the UK charts on two separate occasions: the first time in the 70s and (almost twenty years) later in 1992, a few months after Mercury’s death. The only single able to substitute Bohemian Rhapsody on the first position in 1975 was ABBA’s Mamma Mia (ironically, Queen’s song has in the lyrics “Oh mama mia, mama mia, mama mia let me go”).

Last thing to say about one of the masterpieces in rock history? At least once in your life, you should sing it like Wayne and his Gonzo friends.

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Luca Divelti writes stories about music, movies and tv on Rock ‘n’ Blog and Auralcrave. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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