No. 7: Queen, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’– Top 100 Classic Rock Songs
Everything about it is miles from your average hit record. Written by lead singer Freddie Mercury, the song begins beautifully with those haunting layered harmonies, before baring it’s soul with a simple piano and Mercury vocal for the first verse. As the verse breaks free, the tension mounts then band kicks in.
The song has no chorus, by the way, and is written almost like a classical piece in sections. Oh yeah… and there’s that pesky opera segment. It was clear this was not going to be mistaken for an Eagles record.
With each album, Queen had been upping the ante and by the time they started work on 1975’s ‘A Night At The Opera,’ they had a mountain of ideas in tow. The sheer over-the-top style of Roy Thomas Baker’s production made it clear that this was not some neanderthal boogie-rock band. This was flash, style and glamour at it’s finest. It was named in the 2002 Guinness Book of Records as the top British single of all time and cost a reported (and then-staggering) 35,000 pounds to record.
The song was recorded in six different studios. As far as complicated productions go, it’s only rival would have to be the landmark 1966 Beach Boys single ‘Good Vibrations,’ another massive song that too was recorded in different studios, in various sections, then assembled to make the final piece. The only other contemporary artist even approaching this kind of sonic overload approach were Sparks, whose ‘Propaganda’ album used similar operatic vocal layering and for whom Queen had been an opening act the year before.
The song builds and builds, then of course, bursts into the opera section before busting the damn wide open to the glorious full on rock climax before ultimately resolving itself as it began with piano and vocal.”Freddie had a lot of it in his mind,” Brian May told Absolute Radio, “and we all worked to make that vision grow into reality.”
Brian May’s signature guitar work ties everything together perfectly. As Freddie elaborated in the documentary ‘The Days Of Our Lives,’ “Bohemian Rhapsody was basically like three songs I wanted to put out, and I just put the three together… I thought, I’m gonna do exactly as I please, add as many multi-layered harmonies as possible…go well over the top.” Mission accomplished Freddie!
This record truly defines the term “art rock” and though routinely hailed as a classic nowadays, it was not always that way. In the book ‘Is This The Real Life? The Untold Story Of Queen,’ the author, Mark Blake, reminds us that at the time “Bohemian Rhapsody was seen as a ludicrously annoying overlong novelty single.”
Despite that complexity, or maybe because of it, the song shot to No 1 in their UK homeland and made the Top 10 in the states. It has been used in movies (most famously in ‘Wayne’s World‘), TV shows, parodies, and played nearly to death over the years on classic rock radio.
Yet, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ somehow manages to avoid that not-so-fresh feeling every time it seeps out of the speakers. It is a work of art through and through and an obvious choice for a high spot on our list of the Top 100 Classic Rock Songs.