When the winter holidays roll around it’s likely that you’ll be hearing “Bohemian Rhapsody” much more than usual, especially if your ears are in the U.K. The single, though released on Halloween in 1975, has become a beloved song during the Christmas season, as indicated by this 2015 BBC News graphic from Twitter.
Taken from the fourth Queen album, A Night At The Opera, the single became a massive critical and financial success, parked atop the U.K. Singles Chart for nine weeks, a record at the time, with more than a million copies sold by the end of January 1976.
Our research on the song found that “it was reportedly the most expensive single ever made at the time of its release”. We also uncovered statements that the album “reportedly was, at the time of its release, the most expensive album ever made.” One source claims the production cost was £45000, or $56,195 today. This amount does not seem like it should be “a record for a record”!
In the years since the album was released, Brian May has claimed that Queen would have ‘called it quits’ were the project a failure. The album bore the EMI label in the U.K. and was released on Elektra Records in the United States, eventually making it into a fourth-best showing on Billboard album charts. The album title is from the Marx Brothers film, which the band watched between recording sessions during the fall of 1975.
No Synthesizers Were Used On This Record
Reviews on the disc were upbeat and positive. Rolling Stone said: “What sets them apart is their selection of unlikely effects: acoustic piano, harp, acapella vocals, no synthesizers. Coupled with good songs. Queen’s obviously the strongest contender in its field.” The pages of Melody Maker called the album a “must-have,” encouraging listeners to “turn it up loud and enjoy”.
Hot on the heels of a Sheer Heart Attack just 54 weeks prior, the foursome exhibited excellent musical health with their monumental production of inventive mock-opera, spiced with a mix of progressive, heavy metal, and hard rock influences. Critics, fans, and music lovers worldwide gobbled it up. For the most part, discussion regarding this record seems to revolve around the “Bohemian Rhapsody” cut, it’s meaning and the major video that it spawned.
When the band released a Greatest Hits cassette in Iran, an accompanying leaflet in Persian referred to The March of the Black Queen, a book with a biography of the band that was translated and then marketed in Iran. In the leaflet, Queen states that “Bohemian Rhapsody” is the story of a young man who accidentally killed someone and, like Faust, sold his soul to the devil. On the eve of his execution, calling for God by saying, “Bismillah” (“In the name of God”), and with the help of angels from above, he regains his soul from Shaitan (“The devil”).
Despite this, critics of all persuasions have speculated over the meaning behind the song’s lyrics. There are plenty of assorted observations about the song. Some believe the lyrics recount a suicidal murderer terrorized by demons or perhaps they depict the events just preceding an execution. Others suggest that the lyrics were written strictly to fit with the music, and have no real meaning; British radio personality Kenny Everett quoted Mercury as claiming the lyrics were simply “random rhyming nonsense”. (Everett also played the song 14 times over the last weekend in October 1975, creating a sudden demand for the album at record stores.) And another faction point to the song and its lyrics as Mercury’s way of dealing with pressing personal issues.
Perhaps one of the most fateful things about the song is that we almost didn’t get to hear it. John Reid, the manager of EMI, thought that the tune was too long, and he wanted the band to trim the length of the song, which thankfully never happened.
After Freddie Mercury’s death, “Bohemian Rhapsody” was rereleased in the United States and the U.K. It is the only recording to top the British Christmas Chart twice, and the only one to be number one song in four different years (1975, 1976, 1991, and 1992).
The rest of the album reveals fantastic songs with hard rock foundations (“Death on Two Legs” and “Sweet Lady”), rocky pop (“You’re My Best Friend”), plus a pair of British (“Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon,” or “Seaside Rendezvous”), and their take on some mystical progressive compositions like “’39” and “The Prophet’s Song”). The songs
In a 2006 review, Q magazine felt that Queen never topped the album, which “remains glorious, monumental” as British rock music’s “greatest extravagance”. The album was ranked in the Top Ten on the charts of eleven different countries, and the official quote of “over six million copies sold” is today almost certainly underestimated. It appears on nearly every ‘Top 100’ or ‘Top 500’ list that you can come up with, and one noteworthy achievement in this area includes the Number Ten spot on Radio 2’s Top 100 Favourite Albums listener poll.
From their roots at Imperial College to the halls of Cleveland, the band was a heavy hitter in the world of rock music for over forty years. Their continued success has been nothing short of phenomenal. Over their reign, the group has given the world 18 albums and 18 singles that have topped the record charts. The band has also put out 10 top-ranked DVD’s, and estimates of their record sales hover between 150 million to 300 million records. Among the best-selling artists of all time, Queen was honored with the Outstanding Contribution to British Music Award from the British Phonographic Industry in 1990. A complete listing of the honors and accolades the group has received would be several pages in length. Brian May, John Deacon, Roger Taylor and Freddy Mercury have undoubtedly influenced and enamored countless music fans, critics, and students the world over.
The worst part of the history of Queen is the untimely demise of Freddy Mercury. His compassion and talent were unrivaled, and many people consider him to be the greatest male vocalist of all time. His passing brought international awareness of the AIDS plague, and a benefit concert following his death drew an estimated 72,000 spectators, and the show was broadcast around the world and seen by over 1.2 billion viewers. On 25 November 1996, almost five years to the day since his death, a statue of Freddie Mercury was dedicated in Montreux, Switzerland, where it overlooks Lake Geneva.
In 2001 the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The following year Queen accepted their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, becoming one of a select few non-U.S. bands to receive the award. Two years after that they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Walk of Fame, and also were elected by the public into the new U.K. Music Hall of Fame.
When you’re talking about the best rock bands of the seventies, the Royal Rockers sing “We Are The Champions” and, for that matter, maybe Queen is King of the Hill.