Touted as one of the greatest songs ever written in the history of music, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody broke records as it scored the top place for the most streamed song of the 20th century and the most popular classic rock track online.
Freddie Mercury’s brainchild, Bohemian Rhapsody, was streamed 1.6 billion times across different platforms, including Apple Music, Spotify, and YouTube, worldwide. It surpassed the record by Nirvana’s Smells like a Teen Spirit and Guns N’ Roses’ Sweet Child O’ Mine and November Rain, according to Universal Music Group, the band’s recording label.
Much of this success was credited after a biopic titled Bohemian Rhapsody about Mercury was released in cinemas on November 2. The movie, also regarded as the highest grossing music biopic of all time, brought the Queen’s 1975 song back to the charts for the third time—a rare occasion in the music industry because it usually just happens with holiday music. The movie, grossing around $600 million internationally, starred Rami Malek as the Queen’s legendary frontman.
The story behind the record-breaking song is not “easy come, easy go.” With its iconic lyrics and arrangement, people of all ages will recognize this song even just after the first few notes. After the success of their third studio album, Sheer Heart Attack Queen was granted all creative control over their next album, A Night at the Opera. Originally titled Real Life, Mercury solely penned Bohemian Rhapsody which was initially written as an operatic piece.
Even calling it a song is a misnomer, according to an interview with New York University-Stenhardt professor and Emmy-nominated composer Irwin Fisch, as Queen’s chart-topping hit is an amalgamation of three or four songs. With a different structure from other songs that usually have a verse-chorus-verse dynamic, the group’s critically-acclaimed single is an epic poem without a chorus.
This method of combining or producing a collection of songs with different ideas into a cohesive whole, according to Fisch, started during the mid-’60s with Beach Boys’ Good Vibration and The Beatles’ A Day in Life.
Still, Mercury’s sonic idea for this song took that technique over the top thereby producing a very well-blended masterpiece, a combination of four different genres in a song—an acapella intro, a ballad, the remarkable opera in the middle, and a hard rock with a reflective coda toward the end. This made the genre-bender Bohemian Rhapsody which offered its listeners something different every minute, a take on the ’70s progressive rock.
Even after four decades of its released, this operatic rock song still surprises listeners with its powerful story-telling lyrics and its head-banging guitar riffs.
Doubts Over its Success
The six-minute track from Queen’s fourth studio album was an unusual song for its time. Doubts over the piece’s success even dawned before its release. This shadow that cast over the rather lengthy song was made worse by the executives, who delayed its release. This caused the band and their producer Roy Thomas Baker to bypass the corporate decision and to play parts of the song for Capital Radio DJ Kenny Everett’s show.
Everett played the song 14 times in two days, increasing its audience demand. The song reached the United States when Paul Drew from RKO General heard the song on the said radio show. Baker admitted in an interview that everything went crazy when both the United States and the United Kingdom listened to the same song, which recording labels said would never be a success.
Bohemian Rhapsody broke the records for the first time in 1975, holding UK Christmas number one for nine weeks. It debuted number 9 in US Billboard Hot 100 upon its release, certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.
Aside from the only song that reached UK Christmas number one twice: first on its initial release, then second after Mercury’s untimely death in 1991 after his battle with a disease, Bohemian Rhapsody had experienced a lot of successes.
The promotional video that accompanied the song was called a first of its kind, noted as probably the first music video to ever air. Rolling Stones even said that it invented the idea for a music video seven years prior to the very first broadcast of MTV. The clip was based on the album cover of Queen II and was shot for three hours in a £3,500-production budget.
Even after decades, “Bohemian Rhapsody” gained praises and recognition. It was inducted at the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2004. In 2012, ITV conducted a nationwide poll in the UK on The Nation’s Favorite Number One for 60 years, and Queen’s six-minute single led the list. Also, Rolling Stones’ readers hailed Mercury’s performance of the song as the greatest in the history of rock.