Freddie Mercury is brought back to life by Rami Malek’s astonishing performance in the new rock biopic.
The film takes its name, of course, from the band’s most iconic song. These days everyone takes it for granted as one of the greatest popular songs of all time, but back in 1975 the reviews were scathing and no radio station would play it.
Understandable, really, for a rock/pop/opeara folly that featured a fandangoing scaramouche and bismillah.
Many of us sing along to this day without a clear (or foggy) idea of what it all means, although the band believe that is part of its enduring appeal. But just in case you do want to know, here are some facts and figures about Bohemian Rhapsody.
1) The song is nearly six minutes long, 5:55 to be exact. The received wisdom was that three minutes was the perfect length for airplay and no radio station would touch it.
2) The band’s label EMI and manager John Reid agreed and pushed for an edit or a completely different song.
3) The record label wanted to used John Deacon’s You’re My Best Friend as the lead single for the album, A Night At the Opera, but the band stood firm.
4) The song only reached the public consciousness after Kenny Everett interviewed his friend Freddie live on air during his Capital Radio show and played the track in its entirety. He didn’t stop there and actually played the song 14 times over the last weekend of October 1975. On the Monday morning, record stores and radio stations nationwide were bombarded with requests.
Bohemian Rhapsody facts
Bohemian Rhapsody facts: Who is scaramouche and why would he fandango?
5) Freddie Mercury may have written Galileo into the lyrics for the benefit of Brian May, who now has a PHD in astrophysics. Galileo is a famous astronomer known for being the first to use a refracting telescope.
6) Scaramouche is a stock character from commedia dell’arte (improvised Drama from the Italian 16th century), a buffoon who always manages to wriggle out of the sticky situations he invariably finds himself in, usually at the expense of someone else. Original name ‘Scaramuccia’ means ‘skirmish’. “Scaramouch” means a boastful, yet cowardly person.
7) Bismillah is the Islamic phrase which stands for “In the name of God, the most gracious, the most merciful.”
8) By contrast, Beelzebub is another name for the Devil.
9) Ironically, the song that knocked this iconic song off the UK top spot after a record-breaking nine weeks was Mamma Mia by Abba. Of course, Bohemian Rhapsody famously features the line, “Oh mamma mia, mamma mia, mamma mia let me go.”
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10) Freddie played the same piano for Bohemian Rhapsody that Paul McCartney used for the Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude’. It was Trident Studio’s stock piano, also used by Elton John, David Bowie and Carly Simon, among many others.
11) Despite Freddie’s famously versatile voice, it was Roger Taylor who provided those trademark high operatic notes.
12) Bohemian Rhapsody was one of five songs Freddie wrote for A Night at the Opera.
13) The accompanying video has also become almost as iconic as the song itself. It is generally recognised as the first promotional music video ever and it was based on the band’s Queen II album cover. Directed by Bruce Gowers, it was shot in 3 hours for £3,500 at the band’s rehearsal space.
14) A Night at the Opera was the most expensive album ever made at the time. Queen used 6 different studios to record it, to the despair of their label at the time.
15) Bohemian Rhapsody has been covered by many artists over the years, including some rather unlikely ones, such as Pink, Kanye West, Robbie Williams, Elaine Page, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Montserrat Caballe, The Muppets, and Elton John & Axl Rose (at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert in April 1992).
15) Bohemian Rhapsody was voted The Song of the Millennium in 2000, and the Guinness Book of Records’ No 1 song of all time.
16) Bohemian Rhapsody was pressed on blue vinyl in 1978. Only 200 were pressed, and thus it is one of the most collectable records of all time.
17) Bohemian Rhapsody first featured in Queen’s live show in the 1975 UK tour, which commenced in Liverpool on November 14th. It would feature in every concert thereafter, including Live Aid in 1985 and Queen’s final show with Freddie, on August 9th 1986.
Bohemian Rhapsody film: Brian May and Roger Taylor with the cast
18) Bohemian Rhapsody gave Queen their first US Top Ten single and their only MTV Music Video Award.
19) In November 1991, Bohemian Rhapsody became No.1 for a second time, when it was re-released by Queen immediately after Freddie Mercury’s death to raise money in the fight against AIDS. This was the first time a song had ever topped the charts twice.
20) In 1992 the song had yet another revival from the popularity of Wayne’s World and reached No2 in the US charts. Wayne World star Mike Myers, in turn, appears in the new movie as a disgruntled EMI record executive.
21) Bohemian Rhapsody is the third best-selling single in UK chart history and the all-time top-selling one not for charity, since the top two posts are held by Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? and Elton’s John’s Candle In The Wind.
Not bad for a song nobody wanted to play.
Bohemian RHapsody is out now in UK cinemas