Where do I even begin with this song? Topping both “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions,” Bohemian Rhapsody seems to always come in as the fan favorite. Personally this is not the song I would have chosen as #1 but I respect it as a whole. What’s interesting about this song is all of the factors that were put into it. It’s not just the mysterious lack of meaning or the technical sound mixing that went into the music, it’s how they’re both so incredibly different when compared to the other artists of the time such as AC/DC, Def Leopard, and U2.
Many speculations have been made as to the possible meanings and inspirations behind Freddie Mercury’s writing of Bohemian Rhapsody including all of the following: religious implications, coping with childhood traumas, issues with sexuality, and many more. While all of these theories are floating out there, here’s the thing: nobody outside of the band knows. Whatever the meaning is, we may never know the truth. When questioned about the songs meaning, Mercury stated, “It’s one of those songs which has a fantasy feel about it. I think people should just listen to it, think about it, and then make up their own minds as to what it says to them.” While he fails to provide a meaning to his audience, he once claimed that the lyrics were nothing more than “random, rhyming nonsense” when asked about it by one of his friends. To this day, the band continues to remain quiet. While Queen was always keen to let listeners interpret their music on their own, Brian May, the lead guitarist, stated that the band agreed to keep the personal meaning behind the song private out of respect for Mercury.
The music itself was a complicated task. When listening to the song, you’ll notice that it goes through multiple movements and each unit faced its own technical challenges. The most prominent challenge was the process of overdubbing voices on the track, a technique used to record multiple track and overlay them. Queen spent days overdubbing the vocals in the studio. By the time they had finished, about 180 tracks were layered together and “bounced” down into sub-mixes. “We ran the tape through so many times it kept wearing out,” May said. “Once we held the tape up to the light and we could see straight through it, the music had practically vanished. Every time Fred decided to add a few more ‘Galileo’s we lost something, too.” Did this stop Freddie? Of course not! Working with Queen was Roy Baker, a music producer and soundtrack master, who recalls Mercury coming into the studio proclaiming, “Oh I’ve got a few more ‘Galileo’s’ dear!” as overdub after overdub began to pile up. This overdubbing section took about 3 weeks to record, in 1975, was the average time spent on an entire album.
As the song was edited together from various reels, Mercury remained confident that his vision would be realized. Producer Roy Thomas Baker wasn’t as sure. “Nobody really knew how it was going to sound as a whole six-minute song until it was put together. I was standing at the back of the control room, and you just knew that you were listening for the first time to a big page in history. Something inside me told me that this was a red-letter day, and it really was.” When asked to recall the recording process by Q Magazine in 2008, May said, “I remember Freddie coming in with loads of bits of paper from his dad’s work, like Post-it notes, and pounding on the piano. He played the piano like most people play the drums. And this song he had was full of gaps where he explained that something operatic would happen here and so on. He’d worked out the harmonies in his head.”
With this last blog, I leave you with a link to Bohemian Rhapsody, Freddie’s ultimate mystery to the world.