Rock music is all phony, sometimes. Except, perhaps, the greatest rock song ever written. QUEEN‘s BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY is too long, too camp, and has far too many movements to really work as a pop single. It practically chokes itself on all those clashing musical styles. As if that were not enough, Freddie Mercury’s lyrics are so obscure that even the rest of the band found them impervious to interpretation when he first pitched up with the song for them to record.

But it was the track that defined a generation, which still resonates with rock fans to this day. Consistently voted ‘The Greatest Rock Song Of All Time’ in polls around the world, the song is now approaching, incredibly, the fortieth Anniversary of its original release.

Recorded for Queen’s studio LP A NIGHT AT THE OPERA, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was first released as a single on 31st October 1975. It was an instant sensation, and the Christmas single that year. It reigned at number one for nine weeks, and had sold more than a million copies by the end of January 1976. Its  promotional video kick-started the whole MTV boom.

It was number one again in 1991 for five weeks following Mercury’s death, eventually shifting almost 2.5 million copies to become the UK’s third best-selling single of all time – after ELTON JOHN‘s ‘Candle In the Wind/Something About the Way You Look Tonight’ (reworked for the funeral of DIANA, PRINCESS OF WALES in 1997, with sales of 4.92 million), and the 1984 BAND AID fund-raiser ‘Do They Know it’s Christmas’, at 3.75 million. It conquered international charts and reached number nine in the USA in 1976, returning at number two there in 1992 following its revival in the movie WAYNE’S WORLD. In 2004, it was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 2011, BBC RADIO 4’S DESERT ISLAND DISCS listeners declared it their all-time best-loved pop song.

A year later, it topped an ITV poll to find ‘The Nation’s Favourite Number One’ over 60 years. It is still played somewhere in the world at least once every hour. Because of it, Queen have overtaken THE BEATLES to become the UK album chart leaders.

Freddie Mercury never explained his lyrics. Queen’s surviving members – guitarist DR. BRIAN MAY, drummer ROGER TAYLOR and retired bassist JOHN DEACON – have long protected their frontman’s most closely-guarded secret.

It was, Brian said, ‘an epic undertaking. We were all a bit mystified as to how he was going to link all these pieces.’

Only now is the song revealed to have been a confession about Freddie’s sexual orientation. Having been raised a Parsee in a closed community, their Zoroastrian faith dating back to 6th Century BC Persia (now Iran), Freddie had never been able to come out, for fear of offending his parents. He shared his life for seven years with girlfriend Mary Austin. Apart from a brief affair with the late German actress Barbara Valentin in Munich in 1984, Freddie had sexual relationships only with men. His lover Jim Hutton later confirmed that the track was Freddie’s ‘coming-out song.’

‘Freddie was a bit bored by the relentless interest in it,’ said Jim. He didn’t ‘reveal’ what it was about because he couldn’t be bothered! He’d said all he was going to say about it. Others have said it was better for the song’s true meaning never to come out, because it would last much longer if the mystique was maintained. I don’t think that matters. It has has stood the test of time. Freddie will be remembered forever because of it.’

However obscure, said Jim, who died of cancer in 2010, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was ‘Freddie as he truly was.’

There is, as there always is with art that breaks all the rules, a wider message. Many believe that ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is about refusing to conform. About resisting stereotypes. That it counsels against being cool, and warns of the consequences of pretending to be other than who we are. It seems to be urging us to hold on tight to our dreams.

‘Be deep,’ Freddie is saying. ‘We live in a big, beautiful pond, and we must swim in it freely. Go for it, every day, every hour, as if it were your last. Find your own place in the world. Be who you really are.’

October 26, 2015


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