Bohemian Rhapsody is considered by many to be the greatest creation of Freddie Mercury and Queen. Unusual in all respects, the composition is one of the most mysterious songs in the history of rock music. For several decades, music lovers have been trying to unravel the meaning of the text, and critics admire the surprisingly harmonious combination of genres that, it would seem, have no place in one work.
There are many myths and legends about Bohemian Rhapsody. The song raises a lot of questions regarding the title, individual phrases, characters and images. In her history there were scandals and incredible achievements. She became a source of inspiration for rock bands, writers, directors and other people of art. In a word, this is a grandiose creation of a great musician, worthy of large-scale study.
This article does not pretend to be a comprehensive study, but we tried to collect in it all the most interesting things about the famous track.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” is arguably one of Queen’s most popular songs. It is known and loved all over the world, but not everyone knows its meaning. But behind the beautiful and melodic sound lies a truly deep and touching meaning. Unfortunately, not every listener understands what the meaning of the song is. That is why we decided to analyze the lines of the song and find meaning in them.
As how a song can be interpreted in different ways (which the lead singer of the group Freddie Mercury himself has repeatedly confirmed), we will analyze two of the most popular theories at once. This will show the song from different angles.
Story of Bohemian Rhapsody
The words and music of the song were written by Freddie Mercury in 1975, although friends recalled that rough sketches appeared in the late sixties. He made all the notes on scraps of paper and telephone directories. It was very difficult for someone else to understand them.
Producer Roy Thomas Baker told how he first heard an excerpt from the future masterpiece:
He played the introduction on the piano, then stopped and said, “Here comes the opera part!” Then we went to have lunch.
The song has become entirely the creation of Mercury. Brian May remembers:
It was Freddie’s baby from the start. He appeared and knew exactly what he wanted … We only helped him bring it to life.
Mercury himself was very vague about the song:
Bohemian Rhapsody didn’t just come out of nowhere. I did some research, although it is ironic and a parody of opera. Why not? I definitely never said that I am a fan of opera and I know everything about it.
What is Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen about?
First, a few words about the name Bohemian Rhapsody. Apparently, it should be translated into Russian as “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and the common version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” is erroneous. It is unlikely that Freddie had in mind the region of the Czech Republic, which is called Bohemia. Rather, he meant bohemia, the world of free artists and musicians.
Mercury did not like to explain the meaning of his compositions, suggesting that the listeners decide for themselves what the text is about:
She’s one of those songs that make you fantasize. I think people should just listen to her, think about her, and then decide for themselves what she says to them.
After Freddie’s death, the members of Queen agreed not to interpret Bohemian Rhapsody.
Brian May says:
Freddie was a very complex person: carefree and cheerful in appearance, he hid in the depths of his soul self-doubt and problems in the perception of life that had been going on since childhood. He never explained the lyrics, but I think he put a lot of personal stuff into this song.
Another excerpt from Brian May’s interview:
I guess we’ll never know what Bohemian Rhapsody is about, but even if I did, I probably wouldn’t want to tell you anyway because I never tell people what my songs are about. I think it destroys them to some extent, because the great thing about a great song is that you relate it to problems in your personal life. I think Freddie must have struggled with issues in his personal life that he himself might have mentioned in the song… I guess it’s best to leave that with a question mark.
Queen Videos Greatest Hits
A brochure with translation and interpretation of the meaning of the tracks that were included in the Greatest Hits cassette, published in Iran, can probably help to understand the main idea of the work. Bohemian Rhapsody is described as a song about a young man who accidentally killed someone and sold his soul to Satan. On the night before the execution, he calls out to God with the exclamation of “Bismillah”, and then, with the help of angels, takes away the soul and the devil.
Nevertheless, disputes about the correct interpretation of the text of “Bohemian Rhapsody” do not stop until now. Let’s single out several main versions that music lovers and music critics put forward:
- Freddie admits to being gay.
- Mercury suffers from a rocky relationship with Mary Austin.
- The author shares the psychological trauma received due to the need to leave his native Zanzibar.
- Freddie is referring to the fight against AIDS.
- The text of the song is based on the novel “The Outsider” by Albert Camus.
- The main character is a conscript who does not want to go to fight in Vietnam.
Lesley-Ann Jones, author of the biographical novel Mercury, claims that Freddie declared his homosexuality with this song. She allegedly directly asked the singer about this, but he only admitted that the text was about relationships. According to her, Jim Hutton and Tim Rice from Freddie’s inner circle support this version.
Many believe that the lyrics of the song are meaningless. So, the London radio DJ Kenny Everett claimed that in a conversation with him, Freddie called the words of the song Bohemian Rhapsody “random, rhyming gibberish.”
What do you think Bohemian Rhapsody is about?
Bohemian Rhapsody recording
Work on the composition lasted ten to twelve hours a day for three weeks. During this time, the musicians have changed several studios, including Roundhouse, Scorpion, Wessex and SARM.
It took more than seventy hours to record the opera part. It took 180 overlays to achieve the desired result.
Brian May remembers:
I remember how Freddie came in with a bunch of paper slips from his dad’s job, like Post-it stickers, and started pounding on the piano. He played the piano the way most people play drums. He had a lot of gaps in the song, and he explained that there would be some kind of opera part and so on. He developed harmonies in his mind.
Produced by Roy Thomas Baker:
In fact, no one knew what it would sound like as a finished six-minute song until it was put together. I stood back in the control room and just knew that this was the first time I was listening to a big page in history. Something inside me told me that this was a red day of the calendar – and so it was.
According to May, the famous guitar riff was born from Mercury’s improvisation on the piano:
This heavy piece was a great opportunity for us to be a full-fledged rock band. But that big, heavy riff came from Freddie, not me. He played something with his left hand in octaves on the piano. I took this as a basis, which was very difficult, because Freddie played the piano unusually, although he himself did not think so.
Bohemian Rhapsody can be roughly divided into six parts, sustained in different musical styles: a cappella intro, rock ballad, guitar solo, opera part, hardrock passage and coda.
A detailed analysis of all elements of the work can be found in Wikipedia (including the Russian version of the encyclopedia), so here we will refrain from a detailed analysis of the composition.
Do you think Bohemian Rhapsody is Queen’s greatest song?
EMI didn’t want to release Bohemian Rhapsody as a single because it was too long for radio. Then Freddie gave the song to Kenny Everett on Capital radio. The track was played several times during the weekend and caused a real stir among the listeners, who flooded music stores with pre-orders of the record. Of course, the EMI bosses had to back off.
In the international version, the song was released in its entirety, but in some countries it was still released in a shortened version.
Freddie later stated:
We were firmly convinced that it could become a hit in the whole version. We were forced to make compromises, but never one of them agreed to cut the song into pieces.
The song was number one on the UK charts for nine weeks. The second time she led it in 1991 after the new release of a single dedicated to the death of Freddie Mercury.
On Billboard, the single only peaked at number nine. After the song was featured in the 1992 film Wayne’s World and re-released, it soared to number two. The track Jump performed by Kriss Kross did not allow her to top the chart.
Bohemian Rhapsody was named one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time by Rolling Stone. The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2004. In 2012, it topped ITV’s list of favorite British songs.
Meaning of the video Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen
The music video directed by Bruce Gowers for Bohemian Rhapsody is considered a classic of the genre. According to Brian May, the band made it just to get on Top of the Pops:
The video was filmed with the express purpose of giving it to Top of the Pops. If you remember, it was not a cool transfer. Among musicians, Top of the Pops had a bad reputation. In fact, no one liked her. She always seemed a bit parodic.
If there was any sense in your music, it seemed to slip through your fingers when you stood on a box in the studio in the middle of a crowd of some people. But it was impossible to refuse it, because that was how plastics were sold.
And now let’s watch the video clip of Bohemian Rhapsody.
The meaning of song number 1. Renunciation of personal self
The main theory is the concept of abandoning personality in favor of the stage image. People who are familiar with show business understand that a person on stage and off stage are two different personalities. So, according to this concept, the performers had to give up real feelings and emotions. All that was left of them was stage images.
The first two parts of the song are the artist’s revelation. He does not believe that everything around is real. His life on stage is not like reality. He tries to escape from the fact that he has to change himself for the fans, but everything comes to one. He kills himself real for the sake of popularity and fame. Yes, the lyrical hero is trying to ask for forgiveness from his mother, who raised his real one, but this does not help.
That’s it, it’s time for him to go on stage. But every time he sees himself real – in the mirror. In appearance, so an ordinary man, a little clumsy, not the most beautiful. But there, on stage, he is a superstar.
This is where the conflict comes in. Fans don’t let go of the star’s image, but the man inside wants to be his real self again. He resists and … agrees to become a star. He drives away the real himself. And so his struggle ends – in defeat. Is it good that he stayed on stage? Is not a fact. Now the performers will have to live not a real life, far from real.
The meaning of song number 2. Victory over conventions and stereotypes
Another option for interpreting meaning is the struggle against familiar conventions. The main conflict is about who the performers want to be and the society that dictates its terms. Freddie Mercury has repeatedly shown himself as a non-standard personality. Apparently, the whole group wanted somehow uniqueness and self-expression, but each time they ran into another barrier set by society. Therefore, a conflict arises, the purpose of which is the emergence of opportunities for self-expression.
The result is victory. Performers defend the right to self-expression. They refuse to condemn society in order to show their position. And, in the end, they open up the possibility of being non-standard within themselves. They are bright and unusual, and no one can make them think otherwise.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” is a mastery hidden in six minutes, a masterpiece recorded on audio! To argue with this is at least stupid, because millions of people are ready to prove the opposite. The Queen group has created a unique work of art, which, perhaps, will never be forgotten. Enjoy listening to this wonderful song!
- During the recording of the song, Freddie played the same piano used by Paul McCartney in Hey Jude.
- The mention of Galileo in the lyrics may be a joke about Brian May, who is into astronomy.
- It’s funny that in the UK, the song Bohemian Rhapsody was displaced from the first line of the charts by ABBA’s Mamma Mia. Recall that in the text of “Bohemian Rhapsody” there is a line “Oh mama mia, mama mia, mama mia let me go”.
- In 2018, the Bohemian Rhapsody biopic about Freddie Mercury and Queen was released. In the Russian box office, the biopic was called “Bohemian Rhapsody”.
- In the same 2018, the composition Bohemian Rhapsody was recognized as the most listened to song in the twentieth century. According to Universal Music Group, it has been listened to over one and a half billion times.
Lyrics of the song Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen
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
Little high, little low
Anyway the wind blows
Doesn’t really matter to me, to me
Mama, just killed a man
Put a gun against his head
Pulled my trigger, now he’s dead
Mama, life had just begun
But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away
Mama, didn’t mean to make you cry
But if I’m not back again this time tomorrow
Carry on, carry on, as if nothing really matters
Too late, my time has come
Sends shivers down my spine
Body’s aching all the time
Goodbye everybody, I’ve got to go
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth
Mama, I don’t want to die
I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all…
I see a little silhouetto of a man
Scaramouch, Scaramouch will you do the fandango
Thunderbolt and lightning
Very very frightening me
I’m just a poor boy and nobody loves me
He’s just a poor boy from a poor family
Spare him his life from this monstrosity
Easy come easy go – will you let me go
Bismillah! No! We will not let you go
Let him go
Bismillah! We will not let you go
Let him go
Bismillah! We will not let you go
Let him go
Will not let you go
Will not let you go
No, no, no, no, no, no, no no no-no
Oh mama mia, mama mia,
Mama mia, let me go
Beelzebub has a devil put aside
So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye
So you think you can love me and leave me to die
Oh baby – can’t do this to me baby
I just gotta get out – just gotta get right
Nothing really matters
Anyone can see
Nothing really matters
Nothing really matters…
Anyway the wind blows
The wind blows all the same
- Scaramouche is an Italian comedy character parodying nobles.
- Galileo Galilei – Italian astronomer, mathematician and physicist of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
- Figaro is a character in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville.
- Bismillah is the phrase that begins the suras of the Qur’an. Means “in the name of Allah”
I like this song. It’s so good that they’ll have to create a new chart spot. Instead of being number 1, she will become number ½.
Kenny Everett, dj with Radio Capital