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Behind-The-Scenes Stories From The Recording Of 'Bohemian Rhapsody'

Updated September 14, 2018 83k views12 items

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. 

  • Not Meant To Play The Song, A Radio DJ Made The Track Popular

    Photo: Carl Lender / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    Queen wanted "Bohemian Rhapsody" released as a single, but the band's record company resisted due to the track's length. To prove the song was radio-friendly, Freddie Mercury went to his friend Kenny Everett, a DJ at London's Capital Radio. Everett was only to give Mercury his opinion on the track, but the DJ liked it so much he couldn't resist putting it on the air. Everett played excerpts of the song to tease his audience, then went on to play "Bohemian Rhapsody" 14 times in a single weekend.

    Soon, record stores were full of fans seeking their own copies. 

  • Queen Made A Music Video To Avoid A TV Appearance

    Video: YouTube

    Long before MTV existed, Queen produced a "Bohemian Rhapsody" music video - and they didn't do it solely to promote the song. Instead, they filmed the video to avoid an appearance on the British television show Top of the Pops.

    Not wanting to sing "Bohemian Rhapsody" live, the band spent four hours and 3,500 British pounds to make a video to air on the show instead. Before the broadcast, none of the band members had seen the final cut. They watched it together in a hotel room in Wales. Based on some accounts, Queen didn't think they could do the song justice live on stage, but according to Brian May, they simply didn't want to appear on the show: "Top of the Pops didn't have a good reputation amongst musicians. Nobody liked it, really."

  • The Song's Meaning Remains Unknown

    Photo: Thomas Steffan / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    Numerous theories exist about the meaning of "Bohemian Rhapsody." Many people see it as Mercury's "coming out" moment as he kills his former self and faces his demons. In conjunction with this theory, others think the song is an apology from Mercury to his former girlfriend, Mary Austin.

    Some analysts read the lyrics as more straightforward, placing a young man in front of lethal radicals. Or perhaps "Bohemian Rhapsody" doesn't mean anything at all. 

  • Queen Never Figured Out How To Perform The Entire Song Live

    Video: YouTube

    "Bohemian Rhapsody" became a regular part of Queen's set list at concerts, but performing the operatic part of the song was a challenge they could not overcome.

    During concerts, the band played the first part, left the stage while a recording played the middle, then returned to finish the song. Brian May told BBC News why the band didn't attempt to play the opera portion live: "That operatic section has very often been a light show or a video show in our concerts - and I would rather have it that way than stumble through it and do something which is nothing like the record."