I don’t remember when Bohemian Rhapsody came out as a single from the A Night at the Opera album. I am too young.
I do remember when Wayne’s World came out. At that time, I was well familiar with the song. I had a copy of Live Killers and I had listened many times over. My friends and I enjoyed the pseudo-operatic harmonies and would sometimes sing along. Through the 80s, though, I saw Queen more in terms of their pop, almost Disco, hits rather than their 1970s “progressive” sound. By that time, although the Bohemian Rhapsody was a fairly successful single in its time, it wasn’t something you’d hear on the radio.
So when I saw Wayne’s World, the scene with the song struck me as bit tongue-in-cheek. The idea that these metalheads would considered Bohemian Rhapsody as a rock classic, much less a heavy metal favorite, had to be a joke. In fact, the story floating around at the time was that Bohemian Rhapsody itself was recorded as a joke and was never meant to be included on the album (called A Night at the Opera, mind you) at all, much less released as a single. While obviously in error, the rumor had some basis in truth. The recording of the song is said to have been somewhat of a silly affair. The placement into Wayne’s World (as well as Freddie Mercury’s death a few months before), propelled the song back onto the charts and placed it amongst the great, hard rock classics.
The song has been analyzed, line-by-line and word-by-word. It is true that Mercury put a lot of thought into this song. He reportedly had been working on it well before joining the band Queen. However, I see it as a mistake to take it too much more seriously that they did at that original recording session. I’ve read an analysis on how its about coming out of the closet, and it certainly has a new meaning when sung by a man doomed by the AIDS virus, but I’d say it is the beauty, abstractness, and simplicity of the song that lends itself to all manner of after-the-fact meanings.
With the release of the movie of the same name, the song is back as a record-breaking best-seller. This time, it is topping the charts for digital downloads.
The movie had me from the first teaser trailer that I saw. However, when it actually came out, I was seeing mixed messages. The one comment that probably settled it for me, though, was a response in a discussion about how some people didn’t like it. “All my musicians friends loved it,” a friend responded. I am sucker for for a certain type of musician movie and the buzz bore out my impression from the trailers; that this would be one.
Criticisms include the historical inaccuracies, either with regard to the band or to details of the life of Freddie Mercury. The film also presents a distorted view, musically, to the works of Queen and their significance to the band’s development and success. Another criticism was that the whole movie served as lead-up to a precise recreation of the band’s 1984 Live Aid concert. That’s all true and, perhaps, all beside the point.
The way I look at this film is that it is about just what the title says it is. Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s the deeper meaning of the title for the nature of the band Queen, for Freddie, and how they perceived themselves. Its about the creation of the song, the success it brought them, the use of it to open the performance of Live Aid, and the legacy that it represents to Mercury after his death. It may even be about how those lyrics, in retrospect, are saying a lot about Freddie’s life.
As if nothing really matters.