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BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY by FREDDIE MERCURY
Analysis presented by Mario Lattuada
by Freddie Mercury
INTRODUCTION Bohemian Rhapsody is a song written by Freddie Mercury and originally recorded by the band Queen (Brian May-guitar, Roger Taylor-drums, John Deacon-bass and Freddie Mercury-piano and vocals) that was featured on their 1975 album A Night at the Opera. The song is unusual for its time as it has no chorus, an a cappella and a hard rock section. It was released as a single and soon became a number one hit lasting 9 weeks on the British charts.
Released – 31/10/75 Format – vinyl record, (7”) Recorded – 1975 Genre - Rock Label – EMI Produced – Roy Thomas Baker The song is composed in three distinct sections, which are, (Please note, all bar numbers quoted herein relate to the music score from HAL LEONARD Queen Deluxe Anthology. HL 00308246) Ballad 1-42 (first four bars a cappella) Pseudo-operatic 43-83 Hard Rock 84-104 Reprise (of Ballad ) 105-200 Bohemian – the lyrics suggest, “easy come, easy go” “poor boy” Bohemianism “living a wandering or vagabond life” Rhapsody – is a one-movement work that is episodic yet integrated, free-flowing in structure, featuring a range of highly contrasted moods, colour and tonality.
MELODY ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Mainly diatonic within chord progressions Chromatic movement at 10-12, 45-46 Rhythmic figures 56-64, quavers/crochets Use of crotchet triplets 88-90, 92-94 against the rock beat Melodic variations over same two chords 110-112 Overall the song is melodic and fun to sing.
DYNAMICS ♦ ♦ ♦
Opening section is a single voice with rhythm section – soft Operatic – 84 piece choir – contrasting – loud and soft Hard rock – loud!!
ARTICULATION ♦ ♦ ♦
Ballad – smooth and lyrical Operatic - staccato, well marked Hard rock – rock style – belting it out!
TONE COLOUR ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
From a solo voice to an 84 piece choir. Blending of high, low and medium voices (all male in 1975 version) Multi-layering of guitar parts throughout the song 105-109 is a feature. Use of different distortion guitar sounds. Use of three different bass guitar sounds all mixed together; amp, direct and room sound. “Bell effect” in bar 55 and 73
Characteristics and the role of instruments and the way instruments combine. The original recording contains a backing track of piano, bass and drums. Vocal line is added and then choir parts over dubbed. Guitar parts also over dubbed in harmony or double tracked. “Party at the Palace version” – piano, bass, drums lead vocal “We will rock you choir” and two additional guitars added in short sections towards the end.
Similarities and differences between two interpretations in performance of the same excerpts. Three vocalists are used to sing in different sections of the song in the “Palace” version as opposed to the original being only F. Mercury. The “Palace” version does not include the a cappella start. Timpani(s) are used in the original version during the pseudo-operatic section and not in the “Palace” version. Choir parts are sung by a full choir, which contains a mixture of female and male voices. The original is multi-tracked using the voices of Mercury, Rogers and May. Apart from the first 14 bars of the original 1975 release, the “Palace” performance is exactly the same. With classic songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody”, fans usually like to hear the original version!
HARMONY The song starts off in Bb Major tonality. Bar 10 uses parallel chromatic chords, B Bb A Bb in first inversions. The last Bb chord then leads to the Eb chord in bar 11 - 12 to form a perfect cadence. This gives the listener a sense of resolution following the chromaticism. Bars 29-32 have a feeling of modulation to Eb Major, but we are then taken back to Bb Major in bar 33 for the repeat of this section. Again a feeling of Eb Major at bar 35-41 but this time at bar 42, another modulation leads to A Major at bar 43 which is a semi tone down from the original Bb Major. This is an abrupt change and leads into the new pseudo-operatic section. Bar 45 employs the same chromatic melody as previously (bar 10) but this time rather than the chords moving in chromatic step motion, pedal point is used using IV I Idim I (in A Major). At bar 49 more instability is created using temporary modulations \ Db/Ab Ab \ C/G E \ A Bar 56 returns to the B Bb A Bb chromatic idea which is followed by the IV I Idim I pedal point section, only this time in Eb Major- a tritone up from A Major! This use of chromatic harmony and rapid modulations creates a feeling of unrest and tension until finally we hear a series of Bb to Eb chords (V-I perfect cadence) and a feeling of tonality moving back to the original key. This feeling of stability is once again broken with an F#7 (Gb7) chord, which is then followed by four perfect cadences, all harmonically unrelated. They are, F#7-Bmin, A-D, DbGb and Bb-Eb. These cadences move very quickly in crotchet beats. The song now leads into the Rock section and is more stable in the key of Eb Major. The reprise section at bar 105 remains in Eb Major until the end except for the last five bars (116-200), which move to F Major, being a tone above Eb Major!
VIDEO The video for the single was directed by Bruce Gowers. It was created for the sole purpose of allowing the band to be on tour and appear on BBC’s Top of the Pops. Shot in just four hours on the band’s rehearsal stage, it cost only 4500 pounds to produce. The “Bohemian Rhapsody” video is often cited as “the first ever music promo video”. “Bohemian Rhapsody” did start a major trend in the music industry: following its success, it became regular practice for record companies to produce promo videos for their artist’s single releases. Prior to this, if the artist was not available, Top of the Pops would generally show dancers performing a routine to the song.
RECORDING The song was recorded over three weeks by the band and producer Roy Thomas Baker, beginning in August 1975 at Rockfield studios near Monmouth-South Wales. According to band members Freddie had worked out the entire song in his head and directed the band through the song. The multi-part vocals took 84 hours to complete. Since the studios of the time only offered 24-track analogue tape, it was necessary for the band to overdub themselves many times, and “bounce” these down to successive submixes. When they first heard the song, record company executives requested that the middle section of the song be cut. This was due to fears that the song was twice the normal length of a single.
POPULARITY “Bohemian Rhapsody” is the only single to have been UK Christmas number 1 twice (in a single recording), first in 1975/76 (9 weeks) and then in 1991/92 following the death of Mercury. The song consistently ranks highly in media reader polls of “the best singles of all time” In 2002 it came first in the “Guinness World Records British Hit Singles” beating the Beatles, Madonna, Abba and Robbie Williams!
RESOURCES DVD’s QUEEN THE DVD COLLECTION GREATEST VIDEO HITS 1 PARLOPHONE 7243 4 92944 9 3 (This 2 DVD set contains the original version of the song as well as a section called, “Inside the Rhapsody”. This includes information on, “the Bo Rap story”, “making the video”, “creating the Rhapsody” and “the greatest song”. It is an excellent resource to show a class of students!) PARTY AT THE PALACE THE QUEEN’S CONCERTS, BUCKINGHAM PALACE BBC OA 0857 D (This version contains the band Queen with the cast of “WE WILL ROCK YOU”, live in 2002) QUEEN THE DVD COLLECTION LIVE AT WEMBLY STADIUM PARLOPHONE 7243 4 90471 9 8 (Interviews with band members and a live version of Bohemian Rhapsody with Freddie Mercury)
CD’s A NIGHT AT THE OPERA HOLLYWOOD RECORDS 61065 (US), EMI (UK) QUEEN GREATEST HITS I II & III PARLOPHONE 7243 5 29883 2 7
BOOKS Rees, D and Crampton, L. Q ROCK STARS ENCYCLOPEDIA London. Dorling Kindersley. 1999 (This book contains an excellent chronological listing of the Queen’s history detailing all songs, recordings and other important facts.)
QUEEN DELUXE ANTHOLOGY Milwaukee,Wi. HAL LEONARD HL 00308246 (Music score)
INTERNET SITES www.answers.com/topic/bohemian-rhapsody www.absoluteastronomy.com/reference/bohemian_rhapsody www.search.com/reference/Bohemian_Rhapsody http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Night_at_the_Opera_(album) www.queenonline