“Bohemian Rhapsody”

“Bohemian Rhapsody”

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Story Behind the Song

Roy Thomas Baker
“Bohemian Rhapsody”

Written by Freddie Mercury
Recorded by Queen

This is the song that keeps coming back onto the charts. It was a very unusual production. We never demo’d anything, so I’d go to Freddie’s (Freddie Mercury’s) place, he’d be sitting at the piano and say, “This is the beginning” and played it. Then he threw his hands in the air and said, “This is where the opera section would come in.” It wasn’t supposed to be an opera, per se; it was a tongue in cheek opera. He knew I would understand, because I had a background in classical music and opera. This is not like a regular pop song — there isn’t even a chorus.

We recorded the song in three distinct parts — the intro and the first verse, the opera section and the end rock section. Then, in post production, we would put it together. We tested as we went along to

make sure it would work. Fred was working out the words while we were recording.

This was a vision of his feelings and he brought that emotional montage into the studio. Brian (May) is a Ph.D., a true academic, scientist. He usually used his brain, however when he went in to record his solo for this song, he reached in and pulled out some emotion you wouldn’t have expected. That was a direct reflection of Freddie’s depth of imagination.

From the things Freddie said to me, he wanted this to have an emotional pull. That was more important to him than the words themselves. It was a story, much like Dickens, or Keats with his poetry. Freddie tended to use his life experiences and interpret them for the medium in which he worked. Dickens, for instance, was never in an orphanage, he just knew about them. Shakespeare didn’t live in Cleopatra’s times, but he wrote about it. This was an interpretation of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera, but we kept our sense of humor. We’d burst out laughing now and then, as people still do. We succeeded in transmitting both the emotion and the humor.

These words and phrases meant nothing or even made sense on their own, but as a whole, they had an emotional ring:

Scaramouch, Scaramouch, will you do the Fandango

Thunderbolt and lightning, very, very frightening me

(Galileo) Galileo (Galileo) Galileo, Galileo Galileo Figaro


Figaro, of course, is the opera, while Fandango is a Portuguese dance. He had some bits from the Koran as well and merged them all together as emotional outlets. That’s what makes it so valuable. The impact is clear since, three decades later, there is still controversy about the lyrics and people still listen to this song. It’s purely a feeling thing. It did not directly reflect what he was going through in life.

He was very particular, meticulous, the most passionate person

I’ve ever worked with. He knew exactly what he wanted. Even the scraps of paper he had with notes on them were meticulously written.

I’ve read various articles about what Freddie meant when he wrote “Bohemian Rhapsody,” mostly from academics who gave definitive explanations of what each phrase meant, but I don’t know that there was a direct translation from any specific experience(s). This was more a compilation of his life experiences, although he was quite young at the time. The thing about Freddie was, as flamboyant as he was on stage, that’s how shy he actually was.

One night after the studio we went to dinner with Kenny Everett, the first DJ to play the record, and he asked Freddie what the lyrics in the opera section meant. Freddie responded, something like, he wrote the words that would fit the music. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, between this and the often touted academic, philosophical interpretations.

“Bohemian Rhapsody”

Is this the real life?

Is this just fantasy?

Caught in a landslide,

No escape from reality.

Open your eyes, Look up to the skies and see,

I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy,

Because I’m easy come, easy go, Little high, little low,

Any way the wind blows, doesn’t really matter to me, to me.

Mama just killed a man,

Put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger, now he’s dead.

Mama, life had just begun,

But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away.

Mama, ooh, Didn’t mean to make you cry,

If I’m not back again this time tomorrow,

Carry on, carry on as if nothing really matters.

Too late, my time has come,

Sends shivers down my spine, body’s aching all the time.

Goodbye, ev’rybody, I’ve got to go,

Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth.

Mama, ooh, I don’t want to die,

I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all.

I see a little silhouetto of a man,

Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?

Thunderbolt and light’ning, very, very fright’ning me.

(Galileo.) Galileo. (Galileo.) Galileo, Galileo Figaro

Magnifico. I’m just a poor boy and nobody loves me.

He’s just a poor boy from a poor family,

Spare him his life from this monstrosity.

Easy come, easy go, will you let me go.

Bismillah! No, we will not let you go.

(Let him go!) Bismillah! We will not let you go.

(Let him go!) Bismillah! We will not let you go.

(Let me go.) Will not let you go.

(Let me go.) Will not let you go. (Let me go.) Ah.

No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

(Oh mama mia, mama mia.) Mama mia, let me go.

Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for me.

So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye.

So you think you can love me and leave me to die.

Oh, baby, can’t do this to me, baby,

Just gotta get out, just gotta get right outta here.

Nothing really matters, Anyone can see.

Nothing really matters,

Nothing really matters to me.

Any way the wind blows.

Words and Music by Freddie Mercury. © 1975 (Renewed 2003) QUEEN MUSIC LTD. All Rights for U.S. and Canada Controlled and Administered by GLENWOOD MUSIC CORP. All Rights for the World excluding the U.S. and Canada Controlled and Administered by EMI MUSIC PUBLISHING LTD. All Rights Reserved. International Copyright Secured. Used by Permission. Photo credit Jim Steinfeldt

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