Meaning of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen
“Bohemian Rhapsody” is a song by the iconic British rock band Queen. The song, which is one of Queen’s most well known tunes, has over the years been subject to myriad interpretations. There are speculations that the song is about the childhood of Freddie Mercury (Queen’s frontman). Mercury was born in Zanzibar (which is now a part of Tanzania). He spent his young life in both Zanzibar and India , within a family that practiced Zoroastrianism. Therefore it makes sense to hear certain religious words like “Bismillah” and “Beelzebub” in the song. A far more likely meaning of the song is Mercury’s sexuality — specifically, him saying that he’s gay.
According to English author and journalist Lesley-Ann Jones, who authored the 1997 biography about Mercury titled Freddie Mercury: The Definitive Biography, she strongly believes Mercury was trying to use the song to tell the world that he was gay. Why is Jones saying so? According to her, during a 1986 interview she had with Mercury, she asked him if the song was his way of coming out as gay but he never answered straightly. On top of that she said he never gave her a clear meaning of the song. Jones said the only thing Mercury told her with regard to the meaning of the song was that its lyrics were “about relationships”. According to Jones, after the death of Mercury from complications brought on by AIDS, she interviewed his lover hairdresser Jim Hutton on multiple occasions and he told her that the lyrics of “Bohemian Rhapsody” was basically Mercury stating that he was gay.
Tim Rice believes “Bohemian Rhapsody” is Freddie Mercury saying he’s Gay, too.
Following Mercury’s death in 1991, English author and lyricist Tim Rice said he also believes some of the song’s lyrics were about Mercury confessing to his fans he was gay. According to him, the lines : “Mama, I just killed a man”, “Put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger, now he’s dead”, and “I see a little silhouette of a man” were the Mercury’s own way of saying that he’s neutralized his straight self and is being disturbed by his actions.
BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY went gold 45 years ago, showing its huge popularity with fans – but what do the lyrics actually mean?
Bohemian Rhapsody was released in October 1975, after having been recorded just a couple of months before. The song received a mixed reception from critics on its release, likely because of how unique it is. But now, the song is known as one of the greatest rock anthems of all time.
Initially, Freddie Mercury, the band’s main singer, refused to describe what the lyrics were about, and remained adamant to keep it quiet.
His band colleague Brian May agreed and admitted even he was not sure about the lyrics.
As written in Johnny Black’s The Greatest Songs Ever! Bohemian Rhapsody, Brian said: “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.” Said Brian.
Brian also said the band agreed the lyrics would remain private for the composer, though he said Freddie told him the song was about ‘relationships.’
Brian told the New York Times: “I have a perfectly clear idea of what was in Freddie’s mind.
“But it was an unwritten law among us in those days that the real core of a song lyric was a private matter for the composer, whoever that might be. So I still respect that.”
However, Roger Taylor, the band’s drummer, spoke out on the lyrics in a documentary about the song, where he said it was “fairly self-explanatory with just a bit of nonsense in the middle.”
According to Andy Davis’ Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, Freddie believed the lyrics should be interpreted by individuals in order for each to find their own meaning in the song.
He said: “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…
“Bohemian Rhapsody didn’t just come out of thin air. I did a bit of research although it was tongue-in-cheek and mock opera. Why not?”
There are many moments of mock opera in the song, or at least choral moments which have operatic sensibilities.
Nevertheless, many have tried to decipher the lyrics over the years, with some suggesting it is a version of Albert Camus’ The Stranger, and describes a suicidal murderer who is explaining his crimes before execution.
Another view put forward, however, suggests the lyrics actually tell the story of Freddie’s own personal issues, given in the year he wrote Bohemian Rhapsody, he was believed to have begun his first affair with a man while living with his girlfriend of the time, Mary Austin.
Some have suggested there are veiled references to coming out in the song, and his singing of ‘mamma mia, let me go’ suggests he wants to break free.
DJ Kenny Everett is credited with helping the song gain fame by playing it on Capital FM and was also a friend of Freddie’s.
In Black’s book, Kenny explains how Freddie told him the song was “random rhyming nonsense,” meaning people’s interpretations may be reading far more into the song.
Ultimately, despite the lyrical nonsense or deep personal meaning for Freddie, it was the Christmas Number One single in the UK and is lauded as one of the greatest songs ever to have been written.
Lyrics of “Bohemian Rhapsody” are self-explanatory with some nonsense
In an interview with BBC Three, Queen’s drummer Roger Taylor said of the song’s meaning as one that is “fairly self-explanatory” and which contains “a bit of nonsense in the middle”.
Key Words and Phrases in the lyrics of “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Below are some of the key words and phrases we find particularly relevant in terms of increasing one’s understanding of the lyrics of this masterpiece:
“Scaramouch, scaramouch will you do the fandango”: Scaramouche is a character from the commedia dell’arte. This character is a stock clown best known for cowardice and boastfulness. He often wears a black Spanish dress while he burlesques a Spanish Don. In the lyrics of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, Mercury instructs Scaramouche to dance the fandango. The fandango is a popular type of dance from Spain.
“Galileo”: Galileo Galilei was a renowned Italian scientist who lived between 1564 and 1642. Also known as the “father of modern physics”, Galileo is regarded as one of the greatest astronomers and scientists of all time. It’s not clear why Mercury mentions him multiple times in the “opera” section of the track. Some suggest that Mercury included Galileo just because of his bandmate and friend Brian May, who is known for his intense passion for astronomy and science. May actually attended the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine in London (Imperial College London) where he majored in Physics. In 1968, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics from the university. He is said to have graduated with honors. He would later go on to become an Astrophysicist. In 2007, he received his PHD in astrophysics from his alma mater.
“Bismillah! No we will not let you go – let him go”: Bismillah is an Arabic word and the first word in the Muslim holy book (the Qur’an). It means “in the name of God”. The use o Bismillah in “Bohemian Rhapsody” contributed to the popular belief that Mercury was a Muslim. But he wasn’t a Muslim. He was a follower of Zoroastrianism.
“Oh mama mia, mama mia, mama mia let me go”: Mamma mia is an Italian interjection which is used to express surprise.
“Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me”: In certain religions such as in Christianity, Beelzebub is the devil.
“Anyway the wind blows”: This is the last line from the song’s lyrics. This phrase basically means Mercury is ready to accept whatever fate may decide for him. Simply put, regardless of how things may turn out, he is ready to accept it.
Facts about “Bohemian Rhapsody”
“Bohemian Rhapsody” was written solely by Freddie Mercury (the frontman of Queen).
The piece was produced by Queen and noted English record producer and arranger Roy Thomas Baker.
The song officially came out on October 31st, 1975 as the first single from the band’s fourth studio album A
Night at the Opera. This album, which is widely considered as Queen’s best album, went on to sell over six million copies across the world.
The song’s title doesn’t appear in the lyrics.
This song has over the years been consistently voted one of the greatest songs in the history of rock and pop music.
The song had no demo. May revealed this to the BBC in 2015 during the celebration of the song’s 40th birthday.
The song was worked on in as many as 6 recording studios.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” is so famous it has its own nickname Bo Rap.
Queen played “Bohemian Rhapsody” live on television for the first time on the British TV music show The Old Grey Whistle Test on December 24, 1975.
Having “Bohemian Rhapsody” is Queen’s most successful song in the United Kingdom.
Upon its release in 1975, the song peaked at number 9 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and topped the UK Singles
Chart for a total of 9 solid weeks. In 1991, after the death of Mercury, the song went on to top the UK singles Chart again. This time around for a total of 5 weeks. Following Mercury’s death, the song also returned to the Hot 100 occupying the number 2 position in 1992.
Having sold several millions of copies around the world, this track is one of the best-selling singles of all time.
In 2012, “Bohemian Rhapsody” was honored with an induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
The 2018 biographical film about Freddie Mercury and Queen Bohemian Rhapsody is obviously named after this song. The film stars Egyptian-American actor Rami Malek as Mercury.
Mercury took the real meaning of “Bohemian Rhapsody” to his grave!