One of the strangest, most inspired and least-understood songs in the history of rock, Bohemian Rhapsody remains the only song to get the Christmas number one twice with exactly the same recording. As Fraser Mcalpine puts it best “the song manages to sound like a serious work of art, a moving lament and a moment of extreme silliness at the same time.”- which is one of the peculiar reasons for its popularity among all age groups.
When it was released as a single, “Bohemian Rhapsody” became a commercial success, staying at the top of the UK Singles Chart for nine weeks and selling more than a million copies by the end of January 1976. It reached number one again in 1991 for another five weeks when the same version was re-released, eventually becoming the UK’s third-best-selling single of all time. It topped the charts in several other markets as well, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and The Netherlands, later becoming one of the best-selling singles of all time.
“Bohemian Rhapsody’ didn’t just come out of thin air- Freddie Mercury”
Although critical reaction was initially mixed, the song remains one of Queen’s most popular songs and is frequently placed on modern lists of the greatest songs of all time. The single was accompanied by a promotional video, which many scholars consider ground-breaking. Rolling Stone magazine states: “Its influence cannot be overstated, practically inventing the music video seven years before MTV went on the air.” In 2004, “Bohemian Rhapsody” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2012, the song topped the list on an ITV nationwide poll in the UK to find “The Nation’s Favourite Number One” over 60 years of music.
The actual meaning of the song as a whole remains opaque, though, on purpose. Freddie has claimed to have researched it quite thoroughly, saying, “‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ didn’t just come out of thin air. I did a bit of research, although it was tongue-in-cheek and it was a mock opera. Why not?” while also saying, “I think people should just listen to it, think about it, and then make up their own minds as to what it says to them.”
As for the naming of the song, music scholar Sheila Whiteley suggests that “the title draws strongly on contemporary rock ideology, the individualism of the bohemian artists’ world, with rhapsody affirming the romantic ideals of art rock.”
And as another year of having this crazy diamond passes by, which Freddie started writing in 1968 under the title The Cowboy Song, I turn on my headphones, shine on my Queen playlist and take the journey through the diversity of emotions from confusion to nonchalance to regret to plea to anger to resignation.