Guitarist Brian May Explains the Making of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

(Source: Open Culture)

“Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen is one of the most audacious pop songs ever made. Part ballad, part opera, part heavy metal orgasm, the song has six distinct sections and took over a month to record. At just under six minutes, “Bohemian Rhapsody” was considered too long for pop radio. “The record company, in their infinite ignorance, of course immediately suggested that we cut it down,” said Queen drummer Roger Taylor, who stood by his bandmates and refused to let the song be cut. “It really was hit or miss. It was either going to be massive or it was going to be nothing.”

“Bohemian Rhapsody,” of course, went on to become one of the most popular songs in music history. It spent nine weeks at number one in the UK following its release in the fall of 1975, and went back to number one after the death of singer Freddie Mercury in 1991. In America the song peaked at number nine in 1976 and re-entered the charts in 1992, when it was featured in the movie Wayne’s World. Last year, an ITV poll in Great Britain listed “Bohemian Rhapsody” as “The National’s Favorite Number One” song in 60 years of music.

In this fascinating video, Queen guitarist Brian May goes back to the mixing board to explain the complexity of layers that went into realizing Mercury’s vision for the song. The original 24-track analogue recording system was far too limited, so the band used the ping-pong technique to “bounce” literally hundreds of overdubs into the mix. May explains how the operatic vocal layers were inspired by the “cascading strings” effect made famous by Annunzio Paolo Mantovani, a technique May first tried out in 1974 with the guitar solo on “Killer Queen.”

The video is an excerpt from Inside the Rhapsody, a documentary that was included on the 2002 DVD Queen: Greatest Video Hits 1. For more on the making of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” please see our post, “Listen to Freddie Mercury’s Wonderous Piano and Vocal Tracks for ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (1975).” And for a reminder of how it all came together, here’s the official video:

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