Behind-The-Scenes Stories From The Recording Of 'Bohemian Rhapsody'
No, we will not let you go, "Bohemian Rhapsody." Queen's epic, nearly six-minute 1975 opus has become a classic rock anthem, despite the meaning of the lyrics being a mystery. For example, who is Scaramouche and why are they doing the fandango?
Some may find the story of how Queen recorded "Bohemian Rhapsody" surprising. The song became a No. 1 hit in the UK (twice, in 1975 and 1991); took the top spot in a Rolling Stone Readers' Poll of "The Best Vocal Performances in Rock History;" received two Grammy nominations in 1976; and landed on the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame's list of "500 Songs That Shaped Rock." And yet lead vocalist Freddie Mercury and the rest of Queen had trouble convincing their record company to champion the song.
Studio stories about Queen and the hours spent making "Bohemian Rhapsody" offer insight into the process, genius, and risk the band took to compose the song.
The Song Defied Pop Music ConventionsPhoto: Hollywood Records
"Bohemian Rhapsody" deviates from popular music in its structure. Instead of including a chorus and refrains, it comprises three separate parts. The opening a cappella and instrumental section features Freddie Mercury on piano, drums, guitar, and bass. The middle is a complex operatic arrangement, followed by a heavy metal movement.
Because "Bohemian Rhapsody" has so many moving parts, it was clear from the outset the song was longer than the typical radio tune. When completed, "Bohemian Rhapsody" was five seconds shy of being six minutes long.
Queen Spent Three Weeks Recording The SongPhoto: Eddie / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0
Mercury began writing "Bohemian Rhapsody" at his home in London - he had a piano as a headboard and, with his double-jointed arms, began composing the song while in bed. When he finally brought it to the studio, what he presented would eventually need more than 180 vocal overdubs.
The band began recording "Bohemian Rhapsody" at Rockfield Studios in Wales in 1975 and later moved to several studios in London. They spent 12 hours alone on one section of vocal overlays featuring three of the four band members (bass player John Deacon decided not to record because he wasn't confident in his voice). By the time they finished the entire song, more than three weeks had passed. Three weeks was the average time it took a band to record an album in 1975.
At The Time, 'Bohemian Rhapsody' Was The Most Expensive Song Ever RecordedPhoto: Thomas Steffan / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
Because "Bohemian Rhapsody" took so long to record due to all the studio work and highly technical elements, it was the most expensive song ever recorded when Queen released it in 1975.
"Bohemian Rhapsody" appeared on Queen's album A Night at the Opera, which cost 40,000 British pounds to make (the modern-day equivalent of about $500,000 in the US), in large part due to this one song. The album reached No. 1 on the music charts in the UK, as did "Bohemian Rhapsody," skyrocketing Queen and their sound to new levels of fame.
This 'Mock Opera' Refers To Real OperasPhoto: Hollywood Records
Freddie Mercury called "Bohemian Rhapsody" - a track from Queen's album A Night at the Opera - a "mock opera," and the song's lyrics refer to real operas, as well as countless other historical and cultural references. Figaro alludes to the title character in Rossini's The Barber of Seville and Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, both based on the works of French playwright Beaumarchais.
Mercury's mention of Galileo pays homage to the Italian astronomer and inventor. Lesser-known references include Scaramouche, a comedic character from Italian theater, and Bismillah, an Arabic word meaning "in the name of God."
Freddie Mercury Was The Song's MastermindPhoto: Carl Lender / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
Once Queen was in the studio, "Bohemian Rhapsody" evolved in line with Mercury's artistic vision. The opera expanded as members added more vocals during the 12-hour days of recording. The entire song, however, according to fellow Queen member Brian May "was all in Freddie's mind."
Even when they added parts, May said that "[Mercury] sang a guide vocal at the time, but he had all his harmonies written out, and it was really just a question of doing it." Mercury and his team of studio engineers spent hours at the console splicing the parts together.
Queen's Recording Company Didn't Think The Song Would WorkVideo: YouTube
"Bohemian Rhapsody" was a hard sell to EMI, Queen's recording company. Mercury told a radio station after the song's release about how the band members knew it would be "a huge success or a terrific flop" because it was unprecedented.
As the song came together, EMI executives felt concerned. They suggested either scrapping the song because of its length or releasing it as an EP instead of a single. None of the band members allowed the song to be cut, however, and they put up a unified front.