Why ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Is The Best Song Ever Written | The Art Of Film


Narrator: It’s a song you’ve
all heard at least once. ♪ Is this the real life? ♪ And it was probably not like
anything you’ve heard before. ♪ Is this just fantasy? ♪ I’m of course talking about
Queen’s legendary single “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a song
that, even 40 years later, is one of the most influential
and memorable songs of our generation. But have you ever wondered
why this six-minute single that no one ever thought would be a hit became one of the most
famous songs ever written? ♪ I’m just a poor boy ♪ ♪ I need no sympathy ♪ ♪ Because I’m easy come ♪ (record scratching) “Bohemian Rhapsody” was a
song long in the making, but it officially kicked into
gear in the summer of 1975, when Freddie Mercury began writing it as an operatic piece titled, “Real Life.” After the success of their last
album “Sheer Heart Attack,” Queen was given complete creative freedom and control over their next piece. And it’s obvious that they
took that creative freedom and ran with it. Fisch: “Bohemian Rhapsody” had
a very rare effect on people, which is that it was
one of those songs where the first time you heard it, you hadn’t heard anything like it. Narrator: This is Irwin Fisch. He’s an Emmy-nominated composer and professor at NYU Steinhardt. Fisch: In my image is
that it’s the kind of song that makes you pull over
to the side of the road, because you go, “What the devil is this?” Very few songs have
done that, and that did. Narrator: And he’s right. “Bohemian Rhapsody” was
different for its time and still is today. Unlike most pop hits that
lasted around three minutes, it was a six-minute pop
single that has an opera, an opera, right in the middle of the song. Fisch: It actually in some
ways hasn’t been influential, because it was so fully realized that it was a little bit of,
“Where do we go from here?” It managed to become a
ubiquitous part of the culture and something that
never gets off the radio and never stops in the karaoke
bars and is used in movies, and it’s all over the place,
because nobody has still done anything that sounds like that. Narrator: One of the reasons
why “Bohemian Rhapsody” sounds so different is in its structure. The song is neither an a cappella, a ballad, an opera or rock. It’s actually all of them in one song. Fisch: It advanced a tradition
of suites in pop music, meaning not a continuous song, not a verse, chorus, verse,
chorus, bridge structure, which was the norm. A put together group of
different songs, in essence. So if people refer to
“Bohemian Rhapsody” as a song, that’s a bit of a misnomer. It’s actually three or four songs. Narrator: “Bohemian Rhapsody”
can actually be divided into five different sections:
an a cappella introduction. ♪ Is this the real life ♪ Ballad. ♪ Mama ♪ Opera. ♪ Thunderbolts and lightning ♪ ♪ Very very frightening me ♪ Hard rock. ♪ So you think you can stone
me and spit in my eye ♪ And finally a reflective coda. ♪ Nothing really matters ♪ It was also highly unusual
for a popular single to not include a chorus, while combining different musical styles and lyrics. It is by definition a
mind-blowing genre bender. Fisch: This innovation
started around the mid-’60s. It started basically with the
Beach Boys and the Beatles. Beach Boys with “Good Vibrations.” ♪ I’m picking up good vibrations ♪ ♪ She’s giving me the excitations ♪ The Beatles with “A Day in the Life.” ♪ A crowd of people stood and stared ♪ Epic songs that pieced
together different ideas into a cohesive whole. Queen, in “Bohemian
Rhapsody,” took that idea and pushed it way over the top. Narrator: And to see just
how over the top they went, you need to look no farther than this operatic section of the song. The lyrics name characters from
classical Italian theaters, quotes from the Quran,
and the demon Beelzebub. And this section that
sounds like it’s been sung by a roomful of choir was
actually just three people: Freddie Mercury, drummer Roger Taylor, and guitarist Brian May. It’s not just the vocals;
there’s harmony everywhere, even in the instruments that
almost sound like echoes. This technique was heavily
inspired by a production method called the “Wall of
Sound,” developed in 1960 by producer Phil Spector. He put masses of musicians in one room, three keyboard players
playing the same part but in various similar instruments, like the harpsichord or an electric piano, and recording them
together to create a sound the likes of which had
never been heard before. That was exactly what
Queen wanted to accomplish. Fisch: When people talk
about what a great song “Bohemian Rhapsody” is,
they’re talking equally, or even more, about the production. Narrator: To achieve the
sound that they wanted, Queen used a technique
known as reduction mixing, also called ping pong recording. Most of the pop songs you listen to today use a lot of audio tracks,
each track reserved for different instruments and vocals, combining to make one song. But back then, technology
limited the amount of audio tracks that could be used. For example, Beatles’
legendary “Sgt. Pepper’s” was recorded on an
analog four-track record. And to fit more than four
tracks in a four-track record, they would record all
four tracks, then bounce all their tracks into one,
record, bounce again, and repeat. The bounce tracks would combine
all of the tracks into one, meaning if you raise the sound
of that particular track, it would raise the volume of all the individual tracks within. Fisch: Part of the great
challenge of that process was that you had to make
commitments to your mix, to the blending of
everything as you went along, so you needed to have a lot of foresight and a great image of where you were going. By the time Queen made
“Bohemian Rhapsody,” we were up to 24-track tape. By today’s standards, that’s
still not many tracks. They had so many vocals and they had so many layers of guitars. I’ve heard that they had
about 180 individual tracks that got put onto a
24-track, two-inch tape. Narrator: But of course this method of bouncing tracks came
with its own challenges. Once it’s done, you can’t go back to just fix it, like we can do now. Fisch: Two-inch, 24-track tape
that they were working on, it was a physical process. It was a razor blade. It was an edit block where
the tape would sit there. You would slice through the two-inch tape. You would cut out what
you wanted to cut out. And you would splice it together with a little piece of white tape. Now it’s very easy digitally. You chop it on the screen. If you made a mistake, you can fix it. Everything now is non-destructive. Everything they did then was destructive, so it took a lot of commitment
and a lot of knowledge and a very, very intense, deep skillset to be able to piece that stuff together and have it sound smooth. Narrator: Just how much
tracking went into the song becomes more evident when
you remove the instruments to just listen to the vocals. ♪ I’m just a poor boy ♪ ♪ I need no sympathy ♪ ♪ Because I’m easy come, easy go ♪ ♪ Little high, little low ♪ Fisch: And before the Beatles
and before the Beach Boys, a song was a song. It needed to be presentable on the piano. If you sat down and
played “Bohemian Rhapsody” from start to finish on the
piano, you probably would say, “Wow, that’s really wild and interesting.” But you probably wouldn’t
say that’s going to be a hit that’s gonna endure for 40 years. What made it that had a lot to do with the sound they created. Narrator: And of course,
it’s hard to talk about “Bohemian Rhapsody” without talking about the man behind the song, Freddie Mercury, because this song was
his baby, his brainchild. Unlike most of Queen’s
songs that were written collaboratively in the
studio, this was a song that, according to the guitarist Brian May, was “all in Freddie’s head”
before it even began recording. Fisch: Freddie Mercury
talked about the song in an interview as
“experimentation in sound.” I think that could be taken
to mean that the experiment was to see if he could
get what was in his head, his sonic preconceptions, out there. I don’t think it was the
kind of experimentation where they went into
the studio to just see what would happen, because
he was famously buttoned-up and had the production and the notes and the arrangements and sound
of the thing in his head. I think the experiment
was really about seeing if something unique could
be realized in the studio. An important reason that
“Bohemian Rhapsody” resonates and has resonated for over 40 years is that it embodied
something very intense, which is Freddie Mercury’s
personality and life. That record is an oral
extension of Freddie Mercury’s self-consciousness without shame. It’s music in some ways the sensibilities are out of the closet. As a performer, there hadn’t been a Freddie Mercury before Freddie Mercury. Narrator: And perhaps
beyond all the notes, lyrics and performances, what truly makes “Bohemian Rhapsody”
great is that it embodies what every musical piece should be: the talent and the
drive to push boundaries and create something
that brings us together, even 40 years later. In a time where pop
songs just all generally sound the same, maybe that’s why we still can’t stop listening
to “Bohemian Rhapsody.” With just this one song,
Freddie Mercury and Queen became something that very few artists managed to achieve: a legend.

100 comments

Foster: people need a song that they can crank up the volume and bang their heads to Bohemian Rhapsody will never be that song
Meanwhile at Wayne’s World: “a little Bohemian Rhapsody” 😂

I bet that producer who didn't want to play the song on the radio because it's 6 minutes long had regretted it. Damn this is a MASTERPIECE! A WORK OF ART!

I miss Freddie so much it unreal and every time I hear him start Bohemian Rhapsody at Live Aid it makes me want to cry. RIP FREDDIE we all miss your over charismatic attitude x

everyone: so what is your new song going to be about freddie?
freddie: well yes but no
everyone: um okay what is the get genre going to be?
freddie: YES!

it's so popular because it makes people think they have top tier music taste and makes them think they're special because of it

I think they are way overplaying the significance of the song. There are plenty of songs that have endured forty years. Plus, with regard to the mixing who says Freddie was happy with it. Maybe it came out so-so in his mind. p.s. The movie was a total BS fake with almost every scene a concoction.

I wouldn't call it the best song ever written. But it does capture a lot of what is popular in rock and post-rock music (such as over-done singing. lyrics that are all over the place, etc). Obvious is the lyrical incoherence to it. And like the medleys that McCartney was cranking out just a little before (Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey, Band on the Run), one also wonders if it really all comes together as a coherent song musically. It seems a bit of an artifice to say it coheres as one song. So instead of getting pretentious concept albums, we got concept songs. Queen tried to do it again with some other singles.

"Kids have no idea what music is"
Me: "..Excuse me-"
My friend with a collection of 80s songs: "excuse you-"
Note: we're both 13

But can we also agree that alot of bohemian rapsody's popularity comes from the fact that you are kinda forced to like it. I mean I personally think it is an amazing song. But there is this pressure that if you don't like it, you have bad music taste.

Almost all of the Queen fans are fake and came from the movie. It makes me feel more parted from Queen because all of these fake people who only know like 5 Queen songs are taking over the community. I grew up listening to Queen and I can’t even bare with these fake fans.

Bohemian rapsody used to be good but now I really don't like it because it has to be one of the most over played songs of all time.

Freddie is quoted as being much happier with his writing and performance on Somebody To Love.

Bohemian Rhapsody is a song about coming out, letting go of the previous persona he put on for everybody. The man he killed was himself, the heterosexual he was so he could fit into the world. As he found himself (bisexual) he was also becoming successful as an artist, "life had just begun, but now I've gone and thrown it all away", and feared that as people found out his career would be over. Very difficult to come out back then, "I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all".
Treatment of gays was and can still be harsh, "so you think you can stone me and spit in my eye, so you think you can love me then leave me to die": after finding out I'm not straight like you? "Just gotta get right out of here".
Acceptance his reality and in an effort to not be affected by the situation he feigns "nothing really matters to me, any way the wind blows", indeed.
RIP Freddie, and thanks.

So, here you got the answer: They did a lot a lot of hardwork with smartness. Did everything to make it sound right. Spent years in it. Yes years, it was written very long time ago. That's why they made it best. Because, they wanted to make it best. Here you got your short answer

A Day in the Life, Blowing in The Wind, Visions of Johanna, Desolation Row, Like a Rolling Stones, this video is a shame. The song is a masterpiece but not even in the top 50 best songs ever.

Slightly off topic, but relevant to reusing a master tape, music mythology claims that Mike Oldfield wore out and broke the master tape of Tubular Bells. True? Hype?

My sister’s best friend played this at her wedding reception. Even though it’s the greatest song ever written, it’s funny to dance to because it has so many different sections.

Bohemian rhapsody covers many genre and all on the top level… so if you like rock, pop or opera,, you'll get everything here…

No, I never wandered why. It is good because it is good.
I am NOT going to like this video, but I am very curious to see what's it all about. Edited: Just as I thought – 10 minutes of someone telling me why deeping in fresh clear water is so much fun.
Be gone!

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