On Aug 24th 1975, Queen started recording “Bohemian Rhapsody” at Rockfield studios in Monmouth, Wales, (the song was recorded over three weeks). Queen singer Freddie Mercury had mentally prepared the song beforehand and directed the band throughout the sessions. May, Mercury, and Taylor sang their vocal parts continually for ten to twelve hours a day, resulting in 180 separate overdubs.
And what a song it turned out to be! Amazingly it almost didn’t make it as a single. Queen’s record company EMI were reluctant to release it as a single but events turned after the band slipped a copy to DJ Kenny Everett – who played it on London’s Capital Radio 14 times over the following weekend, persuading EMI, the BBC and other sceptics that the listening public could handle it.
You can see why the men in suits were against it. The song has no chorus, instead consisting of three main parts: a ballad segment, an operatic passage, and a hard rock section. And it’s 5 seconds shy of 6 minutes in length.
“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 in a couple of months.
Producer Roy Thomas Baker related how Mercury once played the opening ballad section on the piano for him: “He played the beginning on the piano, then stopped and said, ‘And this is where the opera section comes in!’ Then we went out to eat dinner. “Apparently Freddie had the idea for the song in the late 60’s when he came up with the line “Mama, just killed a man.” Freddie used a piano as the headboard of his bed. The double-jointed Mercury would awake with inspiration, reach up and back behind his head and play what he’d heard in his dreams. This was how “Bohemian Rhapsody” began.
But what was going on in Freddie’s head? What is the man going on about?
One theory is that it’s to do with Mercury himself coming to terms with being gay the resignation, the abandonment of a previous role, the allusions to persecution and secret love in Galileo, Figaro – but not everyone agrees.
The essential story is not pop’s greatest enigma: a man confesses a murder to his mother, vainly pleads poverty in a trial and ends up resigned to his fate. But questions remain: who did he kill and why?
There’s a touch of Italian culture: Scaramouche is a buffoonish stock character in commedia dell’arte; Galileo was a Florentine astronomer found guilty of heresy by the Inquisition and Figaro is the title character of Rossini’s opera The Barber of Seville, in which he helps true love to prevail.
“Mamma mia”, of course, means “my mother” in Italian – and was the title of the chart-topper by ABBA which knocked “Bohemian Rhapsody” of the top slot. How weird is that? Maybe with Queen being at number 1 for so long, it gave the ABBA boys enough time to write, record and release a song called “Mamma mia” just for a laugh?
Some 20,000 people bought ‘Bo Rap’ every day in its first three weeks, it’s been number 1 twice so far and it’s played on a radio somewhere in the world about once an hour – every day.
At the time it was the most expensive single ever made and remains one of the most elaborate recordings in popular music history. Long before digital recordings it was necessary for Queen to overdub themselves many times and “bounce” these down to successive sub-mixes. In the end, eighth-generation tapes were used. The various sections of tape containing the desired submixes had to be spliced (cut with razor blades and assembled in the correct sequence using adhesive tape). I Can’t imagine anyone doing that now!
For me and you, though, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is ‘about’ drama, funny voices, great guitar solo, brilliant singing, groundbreaking video…
Hands up, do you do a ‘Wayne’s World’ every time you hear it in the car?
We have a book! This Day In Music’s Guide To Queen. This book tells the full story of the band and its members from pre-Queen to post-Freddie, all the studio and live albums, the 50 Greatest Queen songs, videos, Queen locations, and more…
Important Dates In The Life Of Freddie Mercury:
7 Sep 2023
A Yamaha baby grand piano used by late Queen frontman Freddie Mercury to compose some of the group's most iconic hits sold at auction for £1.7m. Other items sold included a silver snake bangle worn in the Bohemian Rhapsody video which fetched £698,500. Handwritten lyrics for 'Somebody To Love' (£241,300), 'Killer Queen' (£279,400) and 'We Are the Champions' (£317,500). An onyx and diamond Cartier ring (£273,050), a gift from Sir Elton John (with funds going to the) Elton John Aids Foundation.
27 Apr 2023
A pair of the "shortest, tightest" leather shorts worn by Freddie Mercury on stage sold at auction for £18,000. The singer wore the garment at several shows, including at Queen's sold-out Birmingham gig on 6 December 1980. The shorts were referenced in a 1992 biography by Queen's fan club secretary Jacky Gunn, who said they "didn't leave much to the imagination". Omega Auctions said they had been bought by an overseas bidder.
5 Sep 2016
An asteroid was named after Freddie Mercury to mark what would have been the singer's 70th birthday. The Queen frontman has had his name attached to Asteroid 17473, which was discovered in 1991 - the year he died. Queen guitarist Brian May told a gathering of 1,250 fans at Montreux Casino in Switzerland that the asteroid would now be known as Asteroid 17473 Freddiemercury.
1 Sep 2016
A Blue Plaque marking the first home Freddie Mercury lived in when he arrived in England was unveiled. The Queen frontman moved to the semi-detached home in Feltham, west London, after his family left Zanzibar in 1964 when Mercury was 17.
2 Dec 2013
Roger Taylor and Brian May opened the Queen Studio Experience - Montreux, an exhibition of Queen memorabilia at Mountain Studios in Switzerland, where they had recorded many classic tracks spanning seven albums and where Freddie Mercury recorded his last vocal. The exhibition would open to the public a day later.
12 Jan 2013
The 1974 Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow used by Freddie Mercury until his death in November 1991, sold at auction for £74,000 to a Russian businessman. The 62,000-mile classic Rolls-Royce which had a guide price of just £9,000-£11,000 featured grey leather, wood trim, electric windows, automatic gearbox, a car phone and radio cassette player and a 6.75-litre V8 engine. It was sold as part of the Coys auction at Autosport International.
1 Nov 2012
Metal Hammer magazine published a list of the "Top ten rock and heavy metal moustaches…Ever". The list which included moustaches worn by the likes of Frank Zappa, all the members of Black Sabbath, (except Ozzy Osbourne). James Hetfield, and Lemmy placed Freddie Mercury at the top of the list.
4 Jul 2012
Bonhams of London announced that Freddie Mercury's black and white harlequin stage costume had sold for £22,500 at their Entertainment Memorabilia sale. The harlequin costume was one of Freddie’s most recognisable stage designs, which he wore at a number of high-profile concerts in the 1970s. Also a pair of Freddie’s ballet pumps exceeded the pre-sale estimate of £1,500 - 2,000, selling for £4,000 to an overseas internet bidder. Freddie had worn the white leather ballet shoes during Queen's legendary Hyde Park performance in 1976.
5 Mar 2012
Sony admitted that a number of Michael Jackson tracks had been stolen after its website was hacked. The singer, who died in June 2009 at the age of 50, had recorded unreleased duets with artists ranging from the late Freddie Mercury and Black Eyed Peas singer will.i.am.
5 Jun 2010
Led Zeppelin were officially voted the nation’s favourite band by the BBC’s ‘I’m In A Rock ‘N` Roll Band’, coming ahead of both The Beatles and Queen in a phone-in vote. The show also featured Best Singer, Guitarist, and Drummer live phone-in votes which saw Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Bonham all nominated in their categories. John Bonham was crowned top drummer ahead of Dave Grohl and Keith Moon, whilst Jimmy and Robert were runners up to Jimi Hendrix and Freddie Mercury respectively.
25 Nov 2009
Brian May joined Freddie Mercury's 87-year-old mother Jer Bulsara in Feltham town centre, at a ceremony to unveil a plaque to the late singers memory. They were joined by over 2,000 fans from as far as Japan and Australia who descended on the Centre, in Feltham High Street in England. The plague reads: "Freddie Mercury - musician, singer and songwriter" along with the dates he lived in Feltham, between 1964 and 1968.
4 Jan 2009
Led Zeppelin singer Robert Plant was voted the Greatest Voice In Rock by listeners of radio station Planet Rock. Plant beat Queen's Freddie Mercury, Free's Paul Rodgers and Deep Purple's Ian Gillan to the top spot in the UK poll.
17 Oct 2005
Freddie Mercury's 1974 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow failed to sell in an eBay auction, having not met its reserve price. It had been listed by his sister, Kashmira Cooke, who had inherited the car from him. The auction had attracted nearly 200 bids and exceeded £60,000 (approximately $93,000). The luxury vehicle had not appeared in public since 2002, when it had been used to transport the Bulsara family to the premiere of the Queen stage musical We Will Rock You. It came with a box of Kleenex Mansize tissues left in the car by Freddie.
11 Oct 2005
Freddie Mercury's 1974 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow was offered for auction on eBay by his sister, Kashmira Cooke, who had inherited the car from him. The luxury vehicle had not appeared in public since 2002, when it had been used to transport the Bulsara family to the premiere of the Queen stage musical We Will Rock You. It came with a box of Kleenex Mansize tissues left in the car by Freddie.
10 Jul 2005
The four members of Led Zeppelin were voted the UK's ideal supergroup after 3,500 music fans were asked to create their fantasy band for Planet Rock Radio. Jimmy Page won best guitarist, followed by Guns N' Roses' Slash and Deep Purple's Ritchie Blackmore. John Paul Jones was named top bassist, with John Bonham, who died in 1980, winning best drummer and Robert Plant beat the late Freddie Mercury to best singer.
24 Oct 2004
Queen became the first rock act to receive an official seal of approval in Iran. Western music was still strictly censored in the Islamic republic, where homosexuality is considered a crime, but an album of Queen's greatest hits was released this week in Iran. Freddie Mercury, was proud of his Iranian ancestry, and illegal bootleg albums and singles had made Queen one of the most popular bands in Iran.
2 Oct 2003
A pair of trousers worn in 1984 by the late Queen star Freddie Mercury were sold to the Hard Rock Cafe for £4,230 at a Christie's auction of pop memorabilia held in London, England. A wooden sculpture of a cupboard, designed by John Lennon, claimed the highest price of the day, £28,200. Hundreds of items related to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Jimi Hendrix also went under the hammer at the sale.
24 Jul 2002
A garden centre was sued over claims it killed a collection of the late singer Freddie Mercury's prized koi fish. Mercury's former partner, Mary Austin who inherited the Japanese koi collection claimed 84 fish died when the electricity powering a temporary pond was accidentally turned off by a worker from Clifton Nurseries, of Maida Vale, West London. At the time of Mercury's death he had amassed one of the best collections of the fish in the UK. One koi can be worth £250,000.
24 May 1999
Queen singer Freddie Mercury, who died in 1991, was honoured on a new set of millennium stamps issued by the Royal Mail. Mercury, who featured on the 19p stamp, was a keen stamp collector, and his collection was bought by the Post Office in 1993. The stamp marked his contribution to the Live Aid charity concert in 1985, and caused controversy by featuring a small portion of Queen’s drummer, Roger Taylor, in the background - UK stamps by tradition only carry pictures of living persons who are members of the Royal Family.
25 Nov 1996
A statue in Montreux, Switzerland by sculptor Irena Sedlecka was erected as a tribute to Freddie Mercury. Standing almost 10 feet (3 metres) high overlooking Lake Geneva it was unveiled by Freddie's father and Montserrat Caballé, with bandmates Brian May and Roger Taylor also in attendance.
14 Aug 1993
Freddie Mercury had his first solo UK No.1 single with 'Living On My Own'. The song had been a minor hit in 1985 when released from his solo album Mr. Bad Guy, this remixed version was reissued.
1 May 1993
George Michael, Queen and Lisa Stansfield went to No.1 on the UK singles chart with 'The Five Live EP' which was recorded at the Freddie Mercury tribute concert held in April 1992, at Wembley Stadium, London.
29 May 1992
Concerned that some pupils were overly identifying with Freddie Mercury, the sacred heart School in Clifton New Jersey decided not to sing the Queen song 'We Are The Champions', at their Graduation Ceremony.
23 May 1992
A statement issued by Freddie Mercury's attorneys stated that Mercury had bequeathed the majority of his estate (£10 million - $17 million) to his long-time friend Mary Austin.
20 Apr 1992
'A Concert For Life' took place at Wembley Stadium as a tribute to Queen singer Freddie Mercury and for aids awareness. Acts appearing included; Elton John, Roger Daltrey, Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath), David Bowie, Mick Ronson, James Hetfield, George Michael, Seal, Paul Young, Annie Lennox, Lisa Stansfield, Robert Plant, Joe Elliott and Phil Collen, Axl Rose and Slash.
21 Dec 1991
'Bohemian Rhapsody - 'These Are The Days Of Our Lives' by Queen started a five week run at No.1 in the UK, the 1975 word-wide hit had been re-released following the death of Freddie Mercury.
27 Nov 1991
Freddie Mercury's funeral service was conducted by a Zoroastrian priest, for 35 of his close friends and family, with Elton John and the remaining members of Queen among those in attendance. Mercury was cremated at Kensal Green Cemetery, West London, England.
24 Nov 1991
Queen frontman Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara) died at the age of 45, following complications from the AIDS virus. His death came just one day after he announced his diagnosis to the press. Mercury co-founded Queen in 1970, and remained the band’s frontman throughout his life. Beloved for his flamboyant stage presence and his impressive vocal range, Mercury wrote many of the band’s best-loved hits, including the operatic "Bohemian Rhapsody," "Somebody to Love," and the enduring anthem, "We Are the Champions." Outside of Queen, Mercury pursued a variety of projects, including his solo album, Mr. Bad Guy – a Top Ten hit in the UK.
18 Feb 1990
Freddie Mercury made his final public appearance on stage when he joined the rest of Queen to collect the Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music, held at the Dominion Theatre, London, England.
1 Dec 1976
The Sex Pistols appeared on ITV's live early evening 'Today' show (in place of Queen who had pulled out following a trip to the dentists by Freddie Mercury). Taunted by interviewer Bill Grundy who asked the band to say something outrageous, guitarist Steve Jones says: 'You dirty bastard...you dirty fucker...what a fucking rotter!' Grundy died of a heart attack aged 69 on 9th Feb 1993.
24 Aug 1975
Queen started recording 'Bohemian Rhapsody' at Rockfield studio's in Monmouth, Wales, (the song was recorded over three weeks). Freddie Mercury had mentally prepared the song beforehand and directed the band throughout the sessions. May, Mercury, and Taylor sang their vocal parts continually for ten to twelve hours a day, resulting in 180 separate overdubs.
2 Jul 1971
Queen appeared at Surrey College, England. This was the group's first gig with the line-up of Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon.
27 Jun 1970
The newly formed Queen featuring Freddie Mercury (possibly still known as Freddie Bulsara) on vocals, guitarist Brian May, drummer Roger Taylor and Mike Grose on bass played their first gig at Truro City Hall, Cornwall, England. They were billed as Smile, Brian and Roger's previous band, for whom the booking had been made originally. Original material at this time included an early version of 'Stone Cold Crazy'.
23 Aug 1969
Ibex, featuring vocalist Freddie Bulsara (later known as Freddie Mercury) played a gig at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton, Lancashire, UK.