Welcome to our “Psychedelic Lunch” series, “Cool Movie Soundtracks Edition,” where we find out how deep the rabbit hole really goes and explore psychedelic tunes from the 60’s to today. Weekdays At Noon EST. Enjoy the trip!
Bohemian Rhapsody 2019
Queen, one of the worlds most iconic rock bands is immortalized in the film “Bohemian Rhapsody,” named after their most popular songs to date. Written before its time, Bohemian Rhapsody, a rock opera song is the bands signature sonata.
Freddie Mercury — the lead singer of Queen — defies stereotypes and convention to become one of history’s most beloved entertainers. The band’s revolutionary sound and popular songs lead to Queen’s meteoric rise in the 1970s. After leaving the group to pursue a solo career, Mercury reunites with Queen for the benefit concert Live Aid — resulting in one of the greatest performances in rock ‘n’ roll history.
- Freddie Mercury wrote the lyrics, and there has been a lot of speculation as to their meaning. Many of the words appear in the Qu’ran. “Bismillah” is one of these and it literally means “In the name of Allah.” The word “Scaramouch” means “A stock character that appears as a boastful coward.” “Beelzebub” is one of the many names given to The Devil.
Mercury’s parents were deeply involved in Zoroastrianism, and these Arabic words do have a meaning in that religion. His family grew up in Zanzibar, but was forced out by government upheaval in 1964 and they moved to England. Some of the lyrics could be about leaving his homeland behind. Guitarist Brian May seemed to suggest this when he said in an interview about the song: “Freddie was a very complex person: flippant and funny on the surface, but he concealed insecurities and problems in squaring up his life with his childhood. He never explained the lyrics, but I think he put a lot of himself into that song.”
Another explanation is not to do with Mercury’s childhood, but his sexuality – it was around this time that he was starting to come to terms with his bisexuality, and his relationship with Mary Austin was falling apart.
Whatever the meaning is, we may never know – Mercury himself remained tight-lipped, and the band agreed not to reveal anything about the meaning. Mercury himself stated, “It’s one of those songs which has such a fantasy feel about it. 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.” He also claimed that the lyrics were nothing more than “Random rhyming nonsense” when asked about it by his friend Kenny Everett, who was a London DJ.
The band were always keen to let listeners interpret their music in a personal way to them, rather than impose their own meaning on songs, and May stated that the band agreed to keep the personal meaning behind the song private out of respect for Mercury.
- Mercury may have written “Galileo” into the lyrics for the benefit of Brian May, who is an astronomy buff and in 2007 earned a PhD in astrophysics. Galileo is a famous astronomer known for being the first to use a refracting telescope.
- The backing track came together quickly, but Queen spent days overdubbing the vocals in the studio using a 24-track tape machine. The analog recording technology was taxed by the song’s multitracked scaramouches and fandangos: by the time they were done, about 180 tracks were layered together and “bounced” down into sub-mixes. Brian May recalled in various interviews being able to see through the tape as it was worn so thin with overdubs. Producer Roy Thomas Baker also recalls Mercury coming into the studio proclaiming, “oh, I’ve got a few more ‘Galileos’ dear!” as overdub after overdub piled up.
- Was Freddie Mercury coming out as gay in this song? Lesley-Ann Jones, author of the biography Mercury, thinks so.
Jones says that when she posed the question to Mercury in 1986, the singer didn’t give a straight answer, and that he was always very vague about the song’s meaning, admitting only that it was “about relationships.” (Mercury’s family religion, Zoroastrianism, doesn’t accept homosexuality, and he made efforts to conceal his sexual orientation, possibly so as not to offend his family.)
After Mercury’s death, Jones says she spent time with his lover, Jim Hutton, who told her that the song was, in fact, Mercury’s confession that he was gay. Mercury’s good friend Tim Rice agreed, and offered some lyrical analysis to support the theory:
“Mama, I just killed a man” – He’s killed the old Freddie he was trying to be. The former image.
“Put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger, now he’s dead” – He’s dead, the straight person he was originally. He’s destroyed the man he was trying to be, and now this is him, trying to live with the new Freddie.
“I see a little silhouetto of a man” – That’s him, still being haunted by what he’s done and what he is.
- Queen made a video for the song to air on Top Of The Pops, a popular British music show, because the song was too complex to perform live – or more accurately, to be mimed live – on TOTP. Also, the band would be busy on tour during the single’s release and thus unable to appear.
The video turned out to be a masterstroke, providing far more promotional punch than a one-off live appearance. Top Of The Pops ran it for months, helping keep the song atop the charts. This started a trend in the UK of making videos for songs to air in place of live performances.
When the American network MTV launched in 1981, most of their videos came from British artists for this reason. In the December 12, 2004 issue of the Observernewspaper, Roger Taylor explained: “We did everything we possibly could to avoid appearing in Top Of The Pops. It was one, the most boring day known to man, and two, it’s all about not actually playing – pretending to sing, pretending to play. We came up with the video concept to avoid playing on Top Of The Pops.”
The group had previously appeared on the show twice, to promote the “Seven Seas of Rhye” and “Killer Queen” singles.