“Bohemian Rhapsody” was written by Freddie Mercury for Queen’s 1975 album “A Night at the Opera”. The song is unusual for a popular single and consists of several sections combining disparate musical styles: it is a six-minute suite without a chorus, which begins with an introduction, then goes into a ballad segment, an operatic interlude, a hard rock part, and it concludes with a coda.
In 1975 Mercury had reached a turning point in his personal life: after living with Mary Austin for seven years, he had embarked on his first love affair with a man. Therefore, the song provides an insight into his emotional state at the time.
When it was released as a single, it became a commercial success, and it reached number one again in 1991 when it was re-released after Mercury’s death. It remains one of Queen’s most popular songs and may be considered one of the greatest rock songs of all time. The single was accompanied by a promotional video, which was considered really revolutionary for its originality: it was the first where the visual images were as important as the song (a music video invented some years before MTV went on the air).
The song became the 1975 UK Christmas number one, holding the top position for nine weeks, received numerous awards, and was named by the Guinness Book of Records in 2002 as the top British single of all time In December 2018, “Bohemian Rhapsody” officially became the most-streamed song of the 20th century, and the most-streamed classic rock song ever.
According to one of his friends, Mercury first started developing it in the late 1960s, when he used to play parts of it at the piano, one of which, known as “The Cowboy Song”, started with the line “Mama … just killed a man.”
Mercury explained, “It was basically three songs that I wanted to put out and I just put the three together” but refused to explain his composition, he just said it was about relationships. He stated, “It’s one of those songs which has such a fantasy feel about it. I think people should just listen to it, think about it, and then make up their own minds as to what it says to them.” But he also claimed that the lyrics were nothing more than “Random rhyming nonsense” when asked about it by his friend Kenny Everett, who was a London DJ.
In the opinion of Brian May the song contained veiled references to Mercury’s personal problems. He recalled “Freddie was a very complex person: flippant and funny on the surface, but he concealed insecurities and problems in squaring up his life with his childhood. He never explained the lyrics, but I think he put a lot of himself into that song.”
Despite this, critics have speculated over its meaning and some of them think it represents either a suicidal murderer haunted by demons or a boy pleading in front of an unsympathetic jury after murdering a man. In this case the story is similar to the plot of the novel “The Stranger” by Albert Camus, in which a young man confesses to an impulsive murder but he cannot explain why he did it.
When the band released a cassette in Iran, a leaflet in Persian was included with translation and explanations, where they say that it is about a young man who has accidentally killed someone and, like Faust, sold his soul to the devil. On the night before his execution, he calls for God saying, “Bismillah” (“In the name of God” in Arabic, the first word of every chapter of Quran), to regain his soul from the devil.