What do you get when you combine a stubborn songwriter, a rebellious DJ and five Galileos?
The answer is a song which, 40 years after its release, remains one of the most recognisable and universally acclaimed songs ever produced.
Of course, I’m talking about Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, which this month celebrates its 40th birthday. Five minutes and 55 seconds of opera, hard rock and pop – on paper, a bizarre combination wrangled into a far too long radio-unfriendly song, certain to be a commercial flop.
40 years of Bohemian Rhapsody
Thanks in part to ’70s DJ Kenny Everett, who played the masterpiece 14 times in 2 days on his Capital Radio show, the song silenced the critics and topped the UK charts for nine weeks after its first release in 1975, breaking records for bestselling single along the way.
‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ perfectly showcases the stunning wordsmithery (totally a word..) and powerful vocal range of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, topping, amongst others, a 2012 poll commissioned by ITV to find the nation’s favourite number one.
And I can hardly talk about the song without mentioning the video…
Originally produced because the band didn’t have time to appear on Top of the Pops, the promo is now regarded as the birth of the music video, with its iconic posing of Freddie, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon’s heads seemingly hovering in mid-air in a diamond formation.[video:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJ9rUzIMcZQ]
Freddie Mercury was famously vague about the meaning of the lyrics apart from saying that it was about relationships, although there’s been recent speculation that it references Mercury’s coming out as a gay man.
The song was re-released in 1991 after the tragic death of Mercury from an AIDS related illness, and subsequently became the only song to be UK number one in four separate years (1975, 1976, 1991, 1992) as it spanned the new year at both releases.
One of my favourite songs of all time
As you can see, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ – on paper – has all the hallmarks of a great song. For me though, it goes much deeper than the awards and accolades that it’s garnered in the 40 years since its creation. It was the first song I loved when, more than a decade after its 1975 release, I heard my dad playing his much loved cassette of A Night at the Opera. It represents the first time I made a choice about what I liked, even though it went very much against the grain of my Bros and Jason Donovan loving friends (It was the 80s after all). Through the song, I discovered that I LOVED Queen and even now, the early tracks that are the predecessors of those glorious 6 minutes of mock opera mixed with headbanging guitars are my favourite songs of all time.
A lot of people know and love ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘We Will Rock You’ and ‘We Are The Champions’ but delve a little deeper into the vast back catalogue of work and you’ll find many, many multilayered, multifaceted gems that only need to be heard to be appreciated. For starters, I’d recommend ‘March of the Black Queen’ and ‘The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke’ (both from second studio album, Queen II).
Give them a listen – consider it a birthday present to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ to mark the big 4-0!
Are you a Queen fan too? Let us know in the comments below!