NFB Listens To Number Ones: “Bohemian Rhapsody” – Queen

It may seem odd, given my first memories of this one are from its use in Wayne’s World, but I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t enthralled by it. There’s no words of mine that could come close to encapsulate how amazing this song is. This is Queen, and Freddie Mercury, at their absolute pinnacle, a gorgeous, flamboyant, evocative six minute rollercoaster of emotion, that is as iconic as it gets. You don’t even need to hit play on the video above, because you sure as hell know every lyric and note of this one already. How can you not? Long, long after it dominated Irish charts for the better part of two months in 75/76, it’s still at the apex of this band, this genre and arguably the entire medium of music. It’s theatrical, it’s soaring with it’s lyrical performance, it’s undeniably different and intriguing. It’s Queen in other words.

And it really could have turned out so differently. I mean, on paper this song sounds like a dreadful idea. A confusing narrative throughout shouldn’t really help things, and neither should the reality that “Bohemian Rhapsody” is actually (at least) three separate songs. A mournful story song at the start, then into a guitar solo, then an operatic quasi-comedy section of all things, before we turn to more traditional rock, then back to the mourning beat: how in God’s name was Mercury actually able to pull this all together? It has no right to sound even average, but instead this mishmash of styles, concepts and ideas comes out of the other end of the creative process a wonder: perfectly balanced, catchy, flying, I’m running out of superlatives. I mean that opera section alone…who does that? With a straight face? And then have it be the best part of the song!? Other band members speaking years later have described their initial treatment of the song during recording as that of “a joke”, with that opera section getting longer and longer every day: thank God it did, and you’re guaranteed to get the proper response of “Scaramouch, Scaramouch, will you do the Fandango!” if you ever shout “I see a little silhouetto of a man”.

And then not content with having remade the wheel in terms of what progressive rock could bring to the scene (this has to be the most successful song of that genre, right?), Queen decided to give the music video concept a massive jumpstart, but in the most simple way imaginable: just the four of them arranged in a diamond singing in a four-way spotlight. The ease of it belies the memorability: an iconic visual to go with an iconic song. Every time that I hear “Bohemian Rhapsody” I’m slackjawed at what Mercury was able to accomplish in it, just one strand of a musical career that reached height after height, but never as high as this: what an artist died in him.

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