What is about the fandango and classic rock songs? It’s defined as “a lively Spanish or Spanish-American dance in triple time, performed by a man and woman playing castanets.” Not very rock and roll at all.
So do you skip it – as in Procol Harum’s 1977 bewildering A Whiter Shade of Pale? Or do you simply grab hold of the nearest Scaramouch (or Scaramouche) – a stock character from the Italian commedia dell arte) and hope he knows the steps as you sing-a-long to Queen’s permanently puzzling 1975 (and still going strong) Bohemian Rhapsody?
Basically any chart topper requiring a glossary to guide you through the lyrics deserves some sort of accolade. Or at the very least a sneaky snigger. Rossini, Bismillah, Galileo? Name dropping or game changing?
Frontman and writer Freddie Mercury probably gives the game away with the opening and closing lines. Start with “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?” and end with “Nothing really matters. Anyone can see nothing really matters, nothing really matters to me.” There, that will leave them thinking there’s more to this than meets the eye.
Plus the song is from the album A Night at the Opera (perhaps just a cheeky glance towards the Marx Brothers’ film?) – and we all know anything goes in opera so it’s hardly surprising the protagonist confesses: “Mama, just killed a man, put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger, now he’s dead. Mama, life had just begun but now I’ve gone and thrown it all away.”
End of Act 1, so much drama and the fat lady has barely started singing. And remember Freddie also wrote Fat Bottomed Girls and the sportingly anthemic We Are the Champions so perhaps tread lightly when reading too much into things.
Given that Bohemian Rhapsody was recorded piecemeal (a la Brian Wilson’s equally epic Good Vibrations) over three weeks of intensive work and around 160 overdubs it’s hardly surprising that the meaning is all a little, shall we say, opaque.
Anyway, if we are going to be perfectly honest about it – what are the two clearest memories of the mock operatic opus? First the video which accompanied its initial release. A deliberately artistic statement to support an ambiguous song? No. According to band member Brian May: “It was filmed with the express purpose of giving it to Top of the Pops.”He somewhat pompously added: “Nobody liked Top of the Pops really. It always seemed like a bit of a travesty. If your music had any meaning it seemed to trickle away when you were standing on a box in a studio with lots of kids around. But you could hardly knock it because it was the way that records were sold.”
MOST STREAMED CLASSIC ROCK SONG
Very artsy. And in December 2018, Bohemian Rhapsody officially became the most-streamed song from the 20th century, and the most-streamed classic rock song of all time.The number of downloads of the song and original video has exceeded 1.6 billion across global on-demand streaming services.
Which perhaps doesn’t explain the second biggest memory/impression? Skip forward to the early 1990s and the film Wayne’s World, with its fashionless hairy comedy heroes singing their hearts out to the car radio. And who has been able to resist doing the same ever since? Skip forward again to the cinema box office smash of the film Bohemian Rhapsody following Mercury’s journey with Queen – and putting the song back in the charts on both sides of the Atlantic once more. Next up, a full length sing-a-long version of the film so not just a car full of head bangers but whole cinemas full of them.
As Freddie would probably have commented: “Thunderbolt and lightning very, very frightening me.”
|Roy Thomas Baker
|EMI (UK) Electra (USA)
|31 October 1975