To the uninitiated, the six-minute rock operetta "Bohemian Rhapsody" may seem like a strange choice for Britain's favorite single of all time—in fact, it might seem like a strange choice for a top single at all, at any time. In 1975, this unpredictable masterpiece was unlike anything rock had ever seen before, and arguably nothing much like it has been pulled off since. What made Queen's wildly ambitious combination of piano ballad, Italian opera, and hard rock and roll into one of the most beloved songs of the century?
About the Song
Freddie Mercury (vocals, piano), Brian May (guitar, backing vocals), John Deacon (bass guitar), Roger Taylor (drums, backing vocals, timpani, gong) Mike Stone, Gary Lyons and Geoff Workman (mixing)
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British rock icons Queen started out humbly—sort of. Actually, according to many, when Queen came on the scene as a group of middle class college musicians from the London suburbs, they were already convinced they were going to be bigger than the Beatles and more original than Bob Dylan. And they had a pretty specific vision: they wanted to do serious rock and roll, but Las Vegas-style, complete with wild costumes, gender-bending, and unpredictable stage antics. Success came their way, and the group's live performances set the stage for acts like Lady Gaga today. At the same time, though, it was nothing David Bowie didn't do with equal flare in the 1970s. Plus, the in-your-face punk movement arose shortly thereafter sporting far more outrageous lyrics.
What actually stood out about Queen in the end was their oddly original (and relentlessly catchy) songwriting, coupled with both a meticulous approach to studio recording and the memorable stage presence of Freddie Mercury. "Bohemian Rhapsody," which was at the time the most expensive single ever made, was disliked by critics and many a record executive, seen as a cocky rock group's attempt to outdo themselves. But guess who really, really liked it, in all of its six-minute, Marriage of Figaro-style glory? Pretty much everybody else. Read on to get the juicy details about what made "Bohemian Rhapsody" into an unlikely rock and roll classic.
On the Charts
"Bohemian Rhapsody" was a #1 hit in the U.K., Canada, the Netherlands and New Zealand in 1975 and 1976. The song returned to #1 in the U.K. in 1991 after Freddie Mercury's untimely death.
"Bohemian Rhapsody" was Queen's first top-ten hit in the U.S., reaching #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1976. In 1992, the single shot up to #2 for a few weeks after it appeared in the movie Wayne's World.
A Night At The Opera was Queen's first real smash hit, topping the charts in the UK and three other countries. The album remained on the U.K. charts for 50 weeks in 1975-1976.
A Night At The Opera made it to #4 on the U.S. Billboard 200 Albums chart.
"Bohemian Rhapsody" has been widely honored, receiving a place in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2004 and a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as Britain's favorite single of all time.
Rolling Stone lists "Bohemian Rhapsody" at #163 on its list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
The video version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" produced for Wayne's World in 1992 gave Queen its first MTV Video Music Award for "Best Video From a Film."
Rolling Stone put Queen at #52 on its listing of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time in 2003.