Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” has been named the most streamed song from the 20th century but speculations remain rife concerning the secret message embedded in the rock classic.
Forty plus years on from when Queen’s epic ode to murder, damnation, and nihilism mobbed the airwaves, “Bohemian Rhapsody” has become less of a song and more of a mighty and immovable cultural artifact akin to Stonehenge or the Great Wall of China.
Since its release on October 31, 1975, no subsequent generation has received adequate protection from the bombast and genius of a tune, which Freddie Mercury was initially going to call “The Prophet’s Song.”
“Bohemian Rhapsody” is a song destined to haunt your childhood years and plague you into senility.
The Beach Boy’s Brian Wilson, who knows a thing or two about writing a catchy song, called it “the most competitive thing that’s come along in ages” and “a fulfillment and an answer to a teenage prayer—of artistic music.”
Melody Maker, on the other hand, said that in releasing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Queen “contrived to approximate the demented fury of the Balham Amateur Operatic Society performing The Pirates of Penzance.”
Forty years later and shuffling into the hell and horror of middle age, “Bohemian Rhapsody’s” tale of Beelzebub putting a devil aside for a cold-blooded murderer is as comfortable as a pair of slippers.
Queen’s masterpiece has been played and parodied to hell and back. It’s been number one in the U.K. twice, and it has the dubious distinction of being the Muppets most popular cover with just over 47 million views on YouTube.
Queen guitarist Brian May said that four decades on, he still listens to “Bohemian Rhapsody” in his car, and as the song cruises into a plump and contented middle age, we surely know everything there is to know about the song, but do we?
Casual Queen fans may know that Freddie played the same piano that Paul McCartney used for the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” when recording “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but how many would guess that the song is actually about Mercury’s coming out of the closet?
Are the five-plus minutes of high drama and tempo changes actually a smokescreen for Freddie Mercury to announce to the world he was gay?
According to Mercury’s biographer Lesley-Ann Jones, the playfully obscure lyrics of the song are a confession by Mercury of his sexuality.
“It had never occurred to me, but Bohemian Rhapsody was Freddie’s coming-out song, written in a time when he wasn’t able to be honest and open about his sexuality. It was a very covert statement about who he was as a gay man, which he couldn’t come out directly and say because of the lifestyle he was leading.”
The Daily Mail reports that Mercury’s close friend, Sir Tim Rice, agrees with Ann Jones’s revelation.
“It’s fairly obvious to me this was Freddie’s coming-out song. I’ve spoken to Roger Taylor about it. There is a very clear message in it. This is Freddie admitting that he is gay.
“In the line ‘Mama, I just killed a man’ he’s killed the old Freddie, his former image. ‘Put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger, now he’s dead’ he’s dead, the straight person he was originally. He’s destroyed the man he was trying to be, and now this is him, trying to live with the new Freddie.
‘”I see a little silhouetto of a man’ – that’s him, still being haunted by what he’s done, and what he is.
“Every time I hear the song I think of him trying to shake off one Freddie and embracing another – even all these years. Do I think he managed it? I think he was in the process of managing it rather well.”
Brian May, on the other hand, is not so sure there is a definite interpretation of the song and suggested to BBC News that “Bohemian Rhapsody’s” true power lies in its elusive nature.
“I do think Freddie enjoyed the fact there were so many interpretations of the lyrics. It’s an outlandish song. I think it’s beyond analysis. That’s not me trying to be evasive. I just think that’s why we love songs – they can do something to us that a piece of text can’t. I have my own ideas and feelings about Bohemian Rhapsody – but I hate talking about it, and I generally refuse.”