BBC NEWS – Entertainment & Arts
29 October 2015 by Mark Savage
Bohemian Rhapsody celebrates its 40th birthday on 31 October, 2015. Guitarist Brian May recalls the song’s creation, and why he’ll never grow tired of hearing it. How many songs become so ingrained in popular culture that they get their own nickname? Not many – but Bo Rap is one of them. A sprawling, six-minute rock opera, it has been Christmas number one twice, soundtracked a pivotal scene in Wayne’s World, and sold 2.44 million copies in the UK alone. Not bad for a song the record company said would never be played on the radio.
Written by frontman Freddie Mercury, Bohemian Rhapsody was painstakingly pieced together in six studios, pushing 1970s recording technology to its limits. The song’s multi-tracked ‘bismillahs’ and ‘scaramouches’ were overdubbed so often that the tapes became virtually transparent. But the band never lost faith in the track. “We all realised it was something wonderful and we should give it our heart and soul,” says Brian May.
To mark the 40th anniversary, the guitarist looked back at the writing process, the boundary-breaking music video, and the song’s resurrection in Wayne’s World.
Bohemian Rhapsody spent nine weeks at the top of the charts in 1975
There was no demo. It was all in Freddie’s head and on lots of little pieces of paper, which he used to make notes on. And I mean literally notes. He would put A?, C?, D? in little blocks. So Freddie had the framework in his head and he and Roger [Taylor, drums] and John [Deacon, bass] set out each part as a backing track. Then we set about embroidering it.
RECORDING ‘THAT’ RIFF
The heavy bit was a great opportunity for us to be at full pelt as a rock band. But that big, heavy riff came from Freddie, not me. That was something he played with his left hand in octaves on the piano. So I had that as a guide – and that’s very hard to do, because Freddie’s piano playing was exceptional, although he didn’t think so. In fact, he thought he was a bit of a mediocre piano player and stopped doing it later on in our career.
GETTING THE SONG PLAYED ON RADIO
We were told it was going to be a hard sell, but it ended up being easy because Kenny Everett stole the tape from a playback session we had to launch the Night At The Opera album and took it upon himself to go out and play it to death. That made everybody else sit up. All the rest of the radio outlets thought: “Oh God, we’d better get on this quick or else we’ll be left behind!”
A DVD of Queen’s 1975 show at the Hammersmith Apollo will be released on 27 November.