When we think of songs with no chorus, not a lot comes to mind. In fact, I had to go digging to find some “bigger” songs. Bittersweet Symphony, one of my all-time favorite songs, has no chorus. Pinball Wizard by The Who, Losing my Religion by R.E.M., and Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen, just to name a couple.
Arguably one of the biggest is Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. A very strange rambling song that doesn’t make much sense. You go from doing the fandango to shooting a man to, well, who knows. So what went into this long six-minute song, that went from a ballad, to rock, to opera? Very unusual for its time. Let’s take a look.
Bohemian Rhapsody: A Cultural Reset
Bohemian Rhapsody is the most streamed classic rock song of all time, according to several sources. It has been streamed, as of 2019, over one BILLION times. Billion. With a B. That’s almost 1/8th of the world’s population if one person streamed it. That’s a lot. A whole hell of a lot.
Released in 1975, Queen was told that this song was far too long for the radio. You could almost hear Mercury telling the label “Wanna bet?” as he released it in its entirety anyways. Mercury referred to “Bohemian Rhapsody” as a “mock opera” that resulted from the combination of three songs he had written. The song had a whopping 200 individual tracks. At the time, you could only record twenty-four tracks at once in a studio, so they had to do this eight times. This was absolutely unheard of at the time, and pretty much still today with the absolute half-ass garbage that passes for music.
Bohemian Rhapsody was, and still is, an absolute masterpiece that has stood the test of time. It topped the UK charts alone for a combined 14 weeks, five of which came after Mercury’s passing. It topped the US charts at #2 after it was in Wayne’s World, and topped many other countries. The song was a global phenomenon.
What really makes this song unusual is it’s essentially six parts. Something that again, you never hear today. It consisted of the intro, which tops at about 49 seconds, and the ballad, around 2 minutes (I’m not doing the exact time, fight me). It then goes into a crazy guitar solo for about 30 seconds, leading into the minute-long Opera section.
Wikipedia notes the passage has “lyrical references include Scaramouche, the fandango, Galileo Galilei, Figaro, and Beelzebub, with cries of “Bismillah! [Arabic: “In the name of God!”] We will not let you go!”, as rival factions fight over his soul, some wishing to “let [him] go” and “spare him his life from this monstrosity”, with others sending him “thunderbolts and lightning – very, very frightening [to him]”.”
This part took around three weeks to complete, mostly due to Mercury continuing to add to the section and wearing out the tape, causing them to have to transfer it to a new tape. Keep in mind that they were looping this twenty-four times each. So eight transfers every time. Insane…
The hard rock part caps in just under a minute but is very noteworthy for how it’s done. The song made full use of Stereo, looping the track from left to right, and right to left, at the same time. Something very unique and I believe never done before, as the left track would drift to the right, while the right would drift over to the left, both overlapping in the center. This was an absolute masterpiece of production. During this part, Mercury keeps referencing “You” and saying “Just gotta get out.” but it never said who he’s referencing. Maybe his wife who wasn’t really his wife? Who knows.
The song then slows into a ballad for the outro, and this eargasmic masterpiece draws to a close and leaves you begging for more as if it was the best meal or sex, you’ve ever had in your life. You pick. But what was this long-winding masterpiece of Rock and Roll about?
It was about the multiverse, to put it in modern terms. No, seriously, it really was. It was Freddy’s fantasy about how different his life could have been. “Is this real life, or is this just a fantasy?” were literal terms. It was Freddy’s masterpiece. A look into another life. One of turmoil still, and tragedy, “I just killed a man, put a gun against his head, pulled the trigger now he’s dead.”. It was about how his life could have been better, had he just managed to hold it together. It was a cry to the world, and the world heard him.
However, Freddy never admitted it. He never admitted what the song was about. The words came from Sir Tim Rice, who knew Freddie better than most. He said that the killing of a man was a metaphor for killing the old Freddie. The one that the world saw as a straight man. When he says he sees a silhouette of a man, it’s Freddies past, still haunting him to the very end. He never had peace.
If you’re looking into a real deep dive into this, I suggest The Wire’s article about it, written by Lesley-Ann Jones. It was written on April 9, 2017, and is an absolutely fantastic read into this amazing piece of musical history, and one of my all-time favorite songs.
Nothing really matters, anyone can see
Nothing really matters,
Nothing really matters to me
Any way the wind blows…