Ahh... Bohemian Rhapsody, the 1975 musical epic by Queen, regarded by many lay music fans, such as myself, as something of a musical equivalent of All Your Base are Belong To Us. What follows is a little on the history of every head-bangers favourite.

The Record

From the 1975 album, A Night at the Opera, the song is credited with having the world's first music video, although in reality it was actually the first promotional video recorded onto video rather than film. Originally, Queen's management company had said that the song was too long to be released as a single, due to its length of nearly six minutes, considered to be monolithic given that the average record length at the time was nearer three. It was released on the 31st of October 1975, and on the 25th of November, it shot to the number one position on the UK music chart for nine straight weeks, including becoming the Christmas Number One. During its radio play, it was never edited down from the six minutes once. In fact, legend has it, BBC Radio 1's Kenny Everett played the song fourteen times in two days.

The Video

Legend has it that whilst Queen were touring in Germany, they were unable to make it back to England to complete their contractual obligation perform on Top Of The Pops, Britain and Europe's top music show. They therefore filmed the video which we all know and love. Several songs had had promotional videos before this, for example the songs that Elvis Presley and the Monkees released from their respective film and television careers. However, this was the first music video filmed on video, and hence goes down in history. The actual piece of film is one of the most impersonated pieces of film of all time. It uses various techniques of silhouette, light and shade and early computer technology to create something truly memorable.

The Second Time Around

On the 23rd of November 1991, Freddie Mercury announced to the world that he had contracted, and was in the advanced stages of, AIDS. He died the next day.

The band released These are the days of Our Lives and Bohemian Rhapsody as a double A side in order to raise money for the Terence Higgins Trust to continue the fight against AIDS - as Freddie's last wishes requested. The song entered the UK Music chart at number one and stayed there for five weeks, becoming the first single to become Christmas number one twice in the process.

In 1992, the film Wayne's World was released, containing a scene where the heroes dance to the song in their car, the Mirth Mobile. The film exposed the song to a whole new generation of fans, and is still as popular as ever. Reports that queens lawyers have had to pay out for neck injury suits due to excessive head banging remain unconfirmed.

The Lyrics

Some of the worlds most well known lyrics, but what do they actually mean? Below is my attempt at a translation of some of the songs lyrics.

  • "Bohemian Rhapsody": Bohemian refers to the youthful vagabond set, whilst rhapsody describes the technical definition of the type of song.
  • "I see a little silhouetto of a man": Since silhouetto is, in fact, a made up word, we can only assume that it means silhouette. In the context of the song, it probably refers to the moment where he spots and is spotted by a police officer.
  • "Scaramouche, scaramouche will you do the Fandango": Scaramouche (also spelt Scaramouch) derives from Tiberio "Scaramouch" Fiurelli, a seventeenth century Italian scoundrel. This indicates that this line is being said by the police officer ("Scoundrel, scoundrel will you do the fandango"). A fandango is a type of dance. It is possible that this is a reference to execution. In 17th and 18th century Britain, criminals being hanged were said to "dance the Tyburn Jig", so named because of the location of the most famous gallows at Tyburn. The sentiment comes about because of the involuntary writhing movements made as the body runs out of oxygen. However, it may simply be a colourful euphemism for prison.
  • "Galileo, Figaro, Magnifico": Perhaps these are simply three words that rhyme and sound powerful and fit the Italian theme of the verse started by Scaramouche and Fandango. Galileo was, of course, a scientist, Figaro was the Barber of Seville, and Magnifico is from magnificent. The reference could be simply that he is a Bohemian, implying that he is slightly pretentious, and therefore likes to use long and obscure words.
  • "Bismillah": Arabic word for 'In the name of Allah', perhaps said in order to emphasise the distance between the boy and the police, although the argument could be made that it's in there because it sounds quite cool.
  • "Beelzebub": The biblical voice of Satan according to Christian theology, its presence presumably to counter the police's invocation of the name of G-d.
  • "Is this the real life- Is this just fantasy- Caught in a landslide- No escape from reality- Open your eyes Look up to the skies and see- I'm just a poor boy, I need no sympathy- Because I'm easy come, easy go, A little high, little low, Anyway the wind blows, doesn't really matter to me, To me" Essentially the song appears to be about a poor boy who kills someone and subsequently gets arrested. This appears to be a manifestation of his psychosis as he waits for his punishment.
The Legacy

The song came 10th in a poll to find the World's favourite song, conducted by BBC World Service in 2002. In 2003 it came second to "Imagine" by John Lennon in a Channel 4 television poll of The 100 Best Number Ones. It consistently rates highly in the top ten karaoke songs worldwide, and, like all truly great songs, has been covered by Rolf Harris.

Sources

  • Bohemian Rhapsody - http://www.fact-index.com/b/bo/bohemian_rhapsody.html
  • Queen's 1975 Biography - http://www.queenzone.com/resources/biography/1975.htm
  • Freddie Mercury Tributes - http://www.hotshotdigital.com/WellAlwaysRemember/FreddieMercury.html
  • http://homepages.enterprise.net/cavan/ysac/queen.shtml
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