I see a little silhouetto of a man
Scaramouche! Scaramouche! Will you do the fandango?
Thunderbolt and lightning, very very frightening me
Galileo! Galileo! Galileo! Galileo! Galileo! Figaro! Magnifico!
From the 1975 Queen album A Night at the Opera1, named after the Marx Brothers' movie of the same name, 'Bohemian Rhapsody', sometimes referred to as 'Bo Rhap', was composed by Freddie Mercury on his upright piano, and went on to become one of the most expensive and complex recordings of a pop song, or indeed any song, in music history.
'Bohemian Rhapsody' comprises six parts involving various different music styles. The instrumentation mainly involves a grand piano, bass guitar, electric guitar and drums. The song fades out with a gong being struck once.
What's the song about? Well, that seems to be shrouded in mystery. Freddie Mercury claimed that even he didn't know. It certainly doesn't have anything to do with Bohemia - but in addition to 'Bohemian' meaning a person from that country - it also refers to a person who has an unconventional character and little regard for standards. A 'rhapsody' is a style of classical music, or an enthusiastic expression of feeling.
The song is close to six minutes in length. At the time this was quite lengthy for a pop song, and this caused some doubt about whether the song would be a success. When the band had finally recorded it, over a period of three weeks, Mercury gave a copy of the song to radio disc jockey Kenny Everett as a personal gift, telling him not to play it on air. This was reverse psychology, and, of course, Everett did air the song. At first he played small samples of it, but then went on to playing the song as many as 14 times during his slot. When it was released, the song went to Number One in the UK charts, and in 1977 it won the accolade 'best single in the last 25 years'. It topped the charts again in 1991 when it was reissued after Mercury's death.
A promotional video was made for the song which is sometimes, incorrectly, credited as the first-ever music video. The main purpose for the video was so it could be shown on Top of the Pops instead of the band having to perform the song live, which was more difficult to arrange.
Nothing Really Matters
Over the years, the song has been covered by many other artists including the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Rolf Harris and even 'Weird Al' Yankovic, who did a polka version of the song called 'Bohemian Polka'. 'Bohemian Rhapsody' has been played by the mock-heavy metal band Bad News, who did a terrible job of it. At his comedy shows, Lee Evans acts out the lyrics while the song is playing.
In the 1990s the promotional video was spoofed for the Comic Relief charity. This version featured many celebrities including Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry, Dawn French and Sir Patrick Moore singing along and/or playing air guitar to the original song. The BBC Breakfast presenters also did 'Bo Rhap' for the Children in Need charity in 2005.
In the 1992 movie Wayne's World, a Saturday Night Live spin-off starring Mike Meyers and Dana Carvey, there is a scene in which Wayne, Garth and friends are in their Mirthmobile lip-synching to the song playing on a cassette tape.
Glossary of Words From the Opera Section
- Scaramouche - A novel by Rafael Sabatini published in 1921 and set during the French Revolution. The story was also made into a play and films.
- Fandango - A Spanish flamenco dance and music.
- Galileo - Galileo Galilei, an Italian astronomer from the 1500s.
- Figaro - A character from The Marriage of Figaro, a Mozart opera.
- Bismillah - a word from the Qur'an meaning 'by the name of God.
- Beelzebub - The name of a Philistine deity. Also the name of a devil, sometimes confused with Satan.