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Apr 08

QUEEN – “Bohemian Rhapsody”

FT + Popular148 comments • 8,124 views

#382, 29th November 1975

There is a pub in North London called The Swimmer At The Grafton Arms. It prides itself on well-kept beer and a well-kept jukebox, the latter with an deeply tasteful selection of fine rock and soul music. I haven’t visited for a couple of years, but it used to have, on this jukebox, a Queen Greatest Hits CD. And next to Track One on this CD, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, was the handwritten instruction: “DO NOT PLAY. NOT FUNNY.”

For me, that kind of sums up “Bohemian Rhapsody”‘s very weird place in rock music. It is known by millions, loved by millions, but somehow still not quite….respectable. In everyhit.com’s aggregate of recent public polls for the greatest single of all time, “Bo Rhap” (how many other singles have a nickname!?)  tops the listing. In acclaimedmusic.com’s similar exercise looking at critic’s choices, “Rhapsody” is 68th. One gets the feeling it’s barged its way in by sheer gumption, that critics don’t really know what to do with it: perhaps, like the Swimmer’s serious-minded selectors, they simply don’t trust it or the people who like it.

To be honest, I’m not sure what to do with it either. If tastemakers think it’s a vulgar record, well, that’s because it is: it’s a preposterous sandwich of styles, all of which are (for now, at least) woefully uncool- overwrought balladry leads into an axe solo leads into light opera of all things ending up at rumbustious cock-rock. But actually it seems harder than ever to find people who don’t like “Bohemian Rhapsody”. I know I used not to like it. When it was number one for the second time I was 18 and I hated it: I thought I was superior to it, though I can’t recapture why. I thought it was garish and phoney. I thought its “path-breaking” video was boring as hell. (I still think that bit.) I resented how it won all those sodding polls: I couldn’t have articulated it, but I didn’t want pop’s pinnacle to be something so… atypical!

Nowadays I like it a lot more: time to meet it head-on and ask why.

One of the reasons it’s easy to feel goodwill to “Bohemian Rhapsody” is that it’s a record that perfectly sums up the strengths of the band who made it: someone on Poptimists described it as a six-minute Queen best-of, and that’s very apt. The theatricality, the sentiment, the eye for pastiche, the blood and thunder – all here. The sometime glory of Queen is that they managed to be at once the most self-conscious and unself-conscious band ever. (It’s called “acting”. Or maybe “panto”.)

Then there’s the structure. Multi-part songs often do very well, attract perhaps more acclaim than the sections (or whole) might actually merit, just because it seems like an ambitious thing to be doing. The second side of Abbey Road, for instance, apparently becomes art not scrapbooking simply because there are no gaps between the tracks. The spatchcocked construction of “Bohemian Rhapsody” doesn’t make much logical sense but importantly every section is excellent: nothing here feels like it’s marking time or pressed into use, its six minutes are remarkably fat-free.

You might reasonably ask what it’s all for – whether or not I believe the supposed explanations about souls and damnation and redemption, “Bohemian Rhapsody” doesn’t carry much emotional weight for me. It’s all about the rush and audacity, which is why the comic opera section, with its crazy vocal rhythms and whack-a-mole “Galileo!”s, is my favourite bit. Ultimately all I can do is invert the Swimmer’s well-meant but irritating instruction: “FUNNY. PLAY.”

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Comments

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  1. 1
    Billy Smart on 17 Apr 2008 #

    The thing that I’m never sure about with Queen is how seriously anybody ever took them, even their fans. Did anybody listen to this – as I imagine people listened to Yes, say – concentrating on it as a three part work of depth that explored the notion of mortality, through a tripych tale about a character facing the death penalty, or whatever happens in this song? Or was it always just a joke, a bit of fun for everybody?

    I was certainly a bit disappointed when I first read that the book for the Queen musical was to be written by Ben Elton. Surely, the vainglory of that I could sort of here in the songs would have been better realised by Peter Shaffer.

    I don’t mind this single, but like ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’, its another one that I never need to hear again.

  2. 2
    Tom on 17 Apr 2008 #

    I have a horribly stereotypical view of Queen as the sort of band who attracted rabidly serious European fans who would fill fanzines full of analyses of Radio Ga Ga in broken english.

    This impression makes me like them more obviously.

  3. 3
    mike on 17 Apr 2008 #

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” made me instantly happy, as I felt it marked a return to the ornate, baroque, fastidious second-side-of-Queen II era that I loved, as opposed to the worryingly banal cock-rock diversions of Sheer Heart Attack. We’d been here before with “The March Of The Black Queen”, but this felt like an upgrade: the ultimate fusion of Mercury’s grandiose romantic/operatic tendencies and May’s elegantly pristine riffing-at-one-remove.

    Perhaps the similarly episodic, dramatic, lavish, prog-tinged “Space Oddity” had helped to make room for it, but there seemed to be an immediate and across-the-board acceptance of BR’s lavish boundary-stretching. There were no “O Superman” WTF dissenters to be found here. And given the length of its stay, as further expanded by the traditional slowing down of the Christmas chart, we had the time to get to know it, week after week at the end of TOTP, savouring all the details to the point of mass familiarity.

    All of which proved a great boon to me over the next two or three months, as I shivered and shook on the wind-lashed rugby fields of Cambridge, wishing myself elsewhere. “Three more Bohemian Rhapsodys and I’ll be back in the changing room”, I would mutter to myself, re-cueing the track in my mental jukebox. There’s nothing like episodic prog-pop for passing the time…

  4. 4
    Andrew Farrell on 17 Apr 2008 #

    I know that for me and my friends, a lot of its return to popularity is directly due to That Scene in Wayne’s World.

  5. 5
    jeff w on 17 Apr 2008 #

    This was number 1 for two months in 75-76 and boy did I hear it a lot on the radio at the time. (In fact, it got to the point where radio would more often than not spin an edited version of the single that considerably shortened the ‘ROXOR’ section – cutting all of the “So you can think you can stop me” verse – something that would probably be considered sacrilege these days. It certainly bugged me at the time).

    I say this because I can’t ever remember a time when I’ve been fed up of hearing this song, even at its most ubiquitous. And yes, I think it is the ‘fat free’ element that is the key here. If you don’t like this bit, there’s a completely different “good bit” coming along in a moment.

    We were discussing good parodies on the “D.I.V.O.R.C.E.” thread. There’s a great Christmas-themed appropriation of “BoRhap” by Pledge Drive, that I discovered a couple of years ago and which I always play every wobs now.

  6. 6
    Tom on 17 Apr 2008 #

    I still hated it at that point though I did think it worked well in the fillum. I think actually the turning point for me was ILX karaoke at the King Of Corsica (a performance horribly captured on MP3)

    I’ll probably talk a bit more about my own personal history with BR when it comes up again: it was #1 at an enormously significant time for me.

  7. 7
    Marcello Carlin on 17 Apr 2008 #

    I have deliberately not looked at the above comments, but the following is a continuation of another story and I’ll try working my way back…

    So, the end of 1975, and maybe the end of quite a lot of things and the concomitant beginning of a lot of others. I was nearly twelve and for me it was Patti and Freddie.

    In August of that year I started at Uddingston Grammar School and by December I still wasn’t getting used to it; the uprooting from uncomplicated childhood and all the other dread-inspiring factors which I have previously mentioned – above all, the gradually chilling feeling that in some way I now had to “knuckle down” and begin preparing myself for this chimera called the “real world.” It didn’t help that, thanks to the Hamilton Advertiser’s reminder, I arrived at the Grammar as something of a “celebrity,” the supposed child prodigy, although most of the people in my various classes were as smart or markedly smarter than me. It took a while to settle and it was painful.

    I decided that I wasn’t much taken with this notion of the “real world” and hence kept drifting mentally – the reluctant schoolboy with Saturday morning satchel westering to his spiritual home in Kelvingrove – into the realms of art and fantasy and fascination; and sexual awakening was a major part of that. Rather unbelievably, I was liked, and maybe even fancied, by quite a lot of the girls in my year, but I could never tell whether they were mocking me or being genuine; I kneejerkedly assumed the former and thus did they quickly retreat – although my dad had already warned me off having a “girlfriend” since I was supposed to study until my brain and fingers bled and woe betide me if I didn’t come top of the year, let alone the class.

    Then again, I have to admit that I wasn’t very attracted to the girls in my year on a deep (i.e. meaningful) level – what I did have by the dozen were teacher crushes; the women who taught me (I had plenty of male teachers too, of course, but there was no danger of any crushes developing there) seemed much wiser, much more open to speaking with me of uncommon things, far more interesting, worldly, enticing. The best of them made me feel like an equal, and even though that was more likely to be flattery than anything else, I still found it extremely touching.

    Meanwhile I would creep home, my head full of Ornette Coleman and Alex Harvey and Marvel Comics (especially the Steve Gerber ones), Gollancz’s Science Fiction Argosy and The Dice Man, and wondered how best to get the world I saw from my bedroom window to fit, or accommodate, the far brighter world I was seeing inwardly.

    Then came Horses.

    I read CSM’s NME rave, sniggered at Steve Lake’s pissed off Jazz Journal oldster MM debunking and I pestered my dad to buy it for me (I did not get full-scale pocket money until I was allowed or trusted to go into town myself, towards the end of 1976); in order to shut me up we went into HMV in Union Street and I saw the Mapplethorpe monochrome, the shirt and tie and fuck you (if only) pose, and I was immediately in love. Since when was a record supposed to start with “Jesus died for somebody’s sins…but not mine” (in a village like Uddingston where being a True Son of the Parish is pretty crucial, this really was akin to shouting the F-word over and over in the middle of Sunday morning mass)? And it only got better; not quite singing, not quite talking but those WORDS, those EXPRESSIONS just spilling out like I wanted to spill out and suddenly Suzi Quatro and Lynsey de Paul seemed a very long way away indeed, and nine-minute epiphanies, dripping taps turning into the resurrection of rock and roll with the emphasis on the Rimbaud roll and Lenny Kaye – whom at the time I only knew as the American correspondent for Disc and Music Echo – making out like a toytown Sonny Sharrock (which is always the best way to make out Sonny) – and suddenly it was like Ornette and Marvel Comics and Virginia’s waves and Marc Bolan sweeping over me in a glossalia of golden honey and I FELT Patti coming up the stairs, through my door and ACHING for her to do to me what she was doing to the ecstatic Gloria.

    Yes, listening to Horses the first time was the aural equivalent of losing my virginity.

    And then, Freddie, who in his regally womanly splendour summed up to me what I had wanted to sense in the glam icons but couldn’t quite palpate. Childish crushes were one thing – I don’t think I have ever been truly bisexual, since that feeling has markedly not strayed over into my real life with real, touchable people – but I felt in him what I would have felt from ’71 Marc. He seemed like the real thing; all the better for his constantly winking unreality. My wife has rightly pointed out that his teeth might in retrospect make him less fanciable, but I wasn’t too concerned about that at the time; I saw the magnificent flowing locks, the perfect Persian peacock profile and even the satin jumpsuits and my craving to be fucked by Patti and Freddie was pretty much equal bilaterally (and the final denial of actual bisexuality: when Mercury switched to the ‘tache and crew cut, I went off him altogether).

    So my perspective of Queen as they were in 1975 is necessarily biased. Even if I hadn’t fancied Freddie, I still considered their music of the period a flamboyantly brilliant next step from glam, confidently bringing ridicule and art to a satisfactorily messy communion – the art-metal at which the 1970 Bowie groped, but now absolutely clarified and sparkling. No unclouded reader could fail to find treasures in Queen II or Sheer Heart Attack.

    But 1975 was drawing to an end, and with “Bohemian Rhapsody” I feel we can usefully draw a line here – a line which may have begun with those late 1966 vibrations of stirring adventure. The record borrows both style and methodology from Sparks and 10cc (and, slightly less obviously, from the Who and, considerably more obviously, from the Beatles) but the group fuse their resources into something that is uniquely their own.

    I’m not sure how much I actually like “Bohemian Rhapsody” now – as an impressionable eleven-year-old I unsurprisingly adored it, but now it seems more like a compressed six-minute advert for the group: “This is what we do, this is our range – what do you think?” And its parent album A Night At The Opera was noticeably patchier, and straining a little more, than its predecessors. Still, there’s no escape from Queen’s full knowledge of the record’s inbuilt absurdity, with its frankly but gloriously silly murder-trial-sentence scenario – nor from the unexpected poignancy with which it ends; Mercury’s concluding sighs of “nothing really matters…to me” seems the ultimate, if regret-filled, rebuttal of the vision which “Whiter Shade Of Pale” purported to show and I think “Bohemian Rhapsody” not just the natural climax of glam rock – and also its end, since whither to go from here? – but also the natural end of a chapter in pop, a chapter which started in 1966-7 when everything still seemed possible, when you could record abstract six-minute multisectional pop singles and still get away with it – the record is like a final, proud dying fall. The last “any way the wind blows” and mournfully authoritative, echoing gong convey their own warning; the times are going to change, a colder wind is making its way into the world, and although there will continue to be great number ones – not least “Bohemian Rhapsody”’s successor – there was the undertow that we will never be able to agree on anything again like we did with “Bohemian Rhapsody” and the rueful realisation that, in a lot of ways, from hereonin, we’re on our own now, hurtling minutely back towards the “real world.”

  8. 8
    Erithian on 17 Apr 2008 #

    I’ve really been looking forward to this thread!

    They do say the opposite of love is not hate but indifference – love it or hate it, you can’t ignore Bo Rhap. When I held a poll in our office to commemorate the 1000th UK Number 1, it placed third in the poll for “best No 1 of all time” (behind “House of the Rising Sun” and surprisingly “Town Called Malice”) and also fifth in the poll for “worst No 1 of all time” (tucked in between “Millennium Prayer” and “Long-Haired Lover From Liverpool”)! It’s safe to say it divides opinion.

    I’m firmly in the “pro” camp and yes I’m one of those people who keeps putting it top of all those polls. Quite simply, my life seemed to revolve around this record for three months or so. The first time I heard it was in a car en route to relatives’ in Yorkshire, and on a tinny radio competing with surface noise from the M62 I couldn’t make head nor tail of it. But I trusted the Queen brand by then – after “Now I’m Here”, their previous single, I’d got the “Sheer Heart Attack” album for my 13th birthday – and so the second time I heard it was after I’d bought it. And the near-worship started from there! I jumped around the room when it reached No 1 – its previous placings of 47-17-9 suggested it would slow down towards the middle of the top ten. On Christmas Eve they played the traditional seasonal Whistle Test gig on BBC2, and midway through that (you could be this exact about things at 13) I thought, move over Sweet, this is my new favourite band. (Sweet would probably never have forgiven me – they thought the rock bit was lifted from “Action” in the first place.) Within a month of Christmas I had their entire back catalogue.

    For its scale, its scope and its coherence, this is a masterpiece. I’m always puzzled at people who wonder what the hell it’s about. At school we had it sussed straight away: a man on death row writes his last letter home, falls asleep and dreams of demons fighting over his soul, is woken by the hangman, resists for a while then accepts his fate and swings in the wind. So I can’t agree about the “spatchcocked construction” – for me it all makes sense, as though it sprung fully-formed from Freddie Mercury’s imagination and just needed hours of work and dozens of overdubs to bring it to realisation. And every man jack in the band and production team peaked at the same time.

    I’ll leave others to champion the video. It works effectively to deliver the performance, and maybe its groundbreaking aspect was as a deliberate promotional tool for TOTP; but it certainly wasn’t the first video as such – the Stylistics and Rod Stewart are just the most recent acts whose promo films have been discussed on here. I’ll definitely leave others to go and see “We Will Rock You”, as I’ve no intention of doing so. (Elton peaked with Blackadder and it’s been downhill since!) I’ll stick to the records, and this tops the lot.

  9. 9
    Billy Smart on 17 Apr 2008 #

    Xpost #1 : Should read “The vainglory that I could sort of hear in their songs”

    Where’s my brain gone today? It’s been fizzled away by thinking too deeply about pop music for decades…

  10. 10
    Tom on 17 Apr 2008 #

    Love yr last paragraph Marcello – yes, I can imagine it feeling like that. To use another comics analogy, the last great Pre-Crisis event?

  11. 11
    stevem on 17 Apr 2008 #

    Every now and then I like to bang on about how this song’s re-release in ’91 kept the Prodigy’s ‘Everybody In The Place’ off the top spot in the first weeks of January ’92 – and we’d get to hear it the rest of that year after it’s insertion into Wayne’s World. But despite all this I always saw what there was to like about it and I did even though it is very much in that ‘never need to hear this ever again’ set of famous chart toppers.

  12. 12
    mike on 17 Apr 2008 #

    When it comes up again? Tom, whatever do you mean? Don’t make Spoiler Bunny cry.

    For the previous two and a half years, I had been relying on the mono Bush gramophone that had been intended to cheer me up, after my mother walked out on us. But on Christmas Day 1975, my father gave me one of the Best! Presents Ever!

    That first hi-fi system was the perfect vehicle for my two newest album purchases: Kraftwerk’s Autobahn and Queen’s A Night At The Opera, where I discovered that, wow, “little high” came out of one speaker and “little low” came out of the other, man this shit was BLOWING MY MIND. And in a rare example of normal socialised beahviour, friends would come round to our house to share the magic, and we would sit reverently on my bed, gasping at Bo Rhap’s wondrousness and the whooshy stereoscopic NYOWWM-NYOWWM bits on Kraftwerk’s full-length title track.

    All this “wow, feel the sumptuousness of the production” stuff was an undeniable novelty, but also a tender trap. In which case, the seismic paradigm shifts of the second half of the new year couldn’t come a moment too soon…

  13. 13
    Tom on 17 Apr 2008 #

    Erithian – “spatchcocked” wasn’t meant to be about the storyline in Bo Rhap, more the “this is our range” thing Marcello is talking about: there doesn’t seem to be any special reason why the devils section shd be comic opera or why it should follow a guitar solo or whatever, which isn’t to say the clash of styles doesn’t work, because it does.

    I did a little poll on LJ a couple of days ago about this song and asked “what’s it about”: responders were pretty fairly split between some variation of the death-and-demons story and “dunno mate”.

  14. 14
    Marcello Carlin on 17 Apr 2008 #

    The video was mostly done out of necessity – Queen were on tour at the time and therefore couldn’t appear on TOTP but presumably were also worried about the challenge of how to reproduce the choral section visually. I remember seeing them at the Glasgow Apollo not long afterwards and they trooped off stage and just had the section played on tape to the accompaniment of some disappointed groans.

  15. 15
    Billy Smart on 17 Apr 2008 #

    Yes, its funny how in the eighties – when this wasn’t quite as all-pervasive a song as it is now – and I was about twelve or thirteen, when I listened to this on one of those Capital Radio polls of best songs ever (it was probably either this or ‘Stairway To Heaven’ that won) I immediately got the narrative. I was probably an over-serious child, prepared to take things that had an aurra of importance as being inherantly important.

    And now I’m middle-aged and have heard it (involuntarily) a thousand times, I can’t really be bothered to listen to it properly.

  16. 16
    Tom on 17 Apr 2008 #

    I think in the 80s it was best known for the video actually!

    What’s Stairway To Heaven about then?

  17. 17
    Marcello Carlin on 17 Apr 2008 #

    I wonder how many weeks that would have spent at the top if Zep had had the gumption to release it, uncut, as a single in ’71?

  18. 18
    mike on 17 Apr 2008 #

    The strangest aspect of that Whistle Test Christmas Eve gig (was it at The Rainbow?) was that, “BR” aside, nothing else from the just-released A Night At The Opera was performed – as if we weren’t yet ready for it, or something. I taped it off the telly using the external mike of my cassette (eventually upgrading it to the simultaneous FM recording, as purchased from one of the cool older bootleg merchants at school), and played it so much that even to this day, some of Freddie’s slight on-stage variations on the melody remain in my memory.

  19. 19
    Rob M on 17 Apr 2008 #

    Personal memory time again. Having completely blanked out the previous two number ones from my memory of the time – I can’t have watched TOTP for a month, perhaps – this song’s stay at number one, and hence appearance at the end of TOTP every Thursday night, filled me with dread. Why? Because I hated the video. I was only six, all those superimposed faces during the operatic section seriously freaked me out, and I probably had nightmares about it at the time. As for the song, the closest thing I’d heard to it was Sparks, and that wasn’t as operatic as this was.

    But still, the most redolent memory of the song is that I was opening my Christmas presents with this song in the background on the Xmas TOTP. I had a rather brilliant Matchbox cars box that year, like a suitcase of cars, and whenever I hear Bo Rap I always think of that suitcase of cars, and vice versa.

  20. 20
    Marcello Carlin on 17 Apr 2008 #

    Statistically, “Bohemian Rhapsody”‘s nine-week stint at number one was the longest run of any number one single since Paul Anka’s “Diana” in 1957.

    The four singles it managed to hold at number two were:

    1. “You Sexy Thing” by Hot Chocolate (an American number one);

    2. The then 38-year-old “The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine” by Laurel and Hardy with the Avalon Boys featuring Chill Wills (ten points, Dignified Don);

    3. “I Believe In Father Christmas” by Greg Lake (“I thought I had written a surefire Christmas number one – but I was up against the greatest number one ever!”);

    4. “Glass Of Champagne” by Sailor (did someone say “Virginia Plain” and XTC?).

  21. 21
    Billy Smart on 17 Apr 2008 #

    Oh, its a real privilege to be able to read bits of your autobiography-in-progress, Marcello. Its really good and worthwhile

    Move over, Nick Hornby! Heh heh!

    It’ll be fun anticipating which number ones will inspire further extracts…

  22. 22
    Marcello Carlin on 17 Apr 2008 #

    Statistically “Bohemian Rhapsody”’s nine-week stint at the top was the longest run of any number one single since Paul Anka’s “Diana.”

    The four singles it kept at number two were as follows:

    1. “You Sexy Thing” by Hot Chocolate (an American number one);

    2. The then 38-year-old “The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine” by Laurel and Hardy with the Avalon Boys featuring Chill Wills (ten points, Dignified Don?);

    3. “I Believe In Father Christmas” by Greg Lake (“I thought I had written a surefire Christmas number one! But it was up against the greatest number one EVER! Just my luck”);

    4. “Glass Of Champagne” by Sailor (did somebody say “Virginia Plain” and/or XTC?).

  23. 23
    mike on 17 Apr 2008 #

    Yes, comment #7 is one of your classics, MC. Much to agree on, both in terms of “BR” closing a chapter (funny how some Xmas #1s have the ability to do that, see also Slade two years earlier) and – more personally, and fascinatingly – in terms of it representing something of a desperate clinging on to a vanishing fantasy world.

  24. 24
    CarsmileSteve on 17 Apr 2008 #

    Tom @ 13: it’s about whether the devil has got a sideboard…

    I did have quite a large queen phase in my early teenage years (sparked, i think, by *that* performance at live aid), but that was a good ten years after this. i can, i think, still sing all of Greatest Hits in order having almost worn the tape away…

  25. 25
    Dan R on 17 Apr 2008 #

    Re #1, Billy, I think there were serious Queen fans. Or at least there were at my school; in the early eighties I got threatened with violence for suggesting that Freddie Mercury might be gay. The would-be assailant was a serious metalhead and seemed to treat Queen as every bit humourlessly hard ‘n’ heavy as the the rest of his favourites. I wonder if it was the video for ‘I Want to Break Free’ that turned them decisively into cuddly campy favourites rather than hard rockers? (And Billy, #15, you’re not middle-aged. I’M middle aged…)

    I’ve never really loved this song, though, as other posters have said, the head-banging moment in Wayne’s World did make me warm to the ‘third act’ of the song. I was too young to get a sense of a wider cultural mood so I am intrigued and rather moved by Marcello’s suggestion that this was the swansong of both glam and a more chart-oriented prog. Though I wonder: just because this DID reach number one and lodged there for two solid months, does that mean it COULD? Which is to say: was there really a widespread feeling at the time that you could release six-minute records, or is this a one-off? I seem to remember reading somewhere that the band had a battle with their label to get the thing released as a single, having to face down the obvious argument that the radio won’t play it.

    Queen have the reputation of pomposity, which I think is justified, but this single is often brought out as exhibit A, which I think is unfair. Somewhat like the previous inhabitant of the #1 slot, this doesn’t seem to me to pretend to be any more significant than it is. The middle section is so preposterous as to be witty, rather than grand. As Tom says, light opera, not Wagner.

  26. 26
    rosie on 17 Apr 2008 #

    Damn, I’ve missed the boat!

    That might be just as well, because I’ve been looking forward to this moment for ages now. Am I right too, Tom, in thinking that the recent flurry of entries has bee, at least in part, a headlong rush towards it?

    Anyway, I half expected it to get a 10. I also half expected it to get a 1. I could have understood either. What I couldn’t work out was whether any score in between would have any real meaning.

    For Bo Rhap – yes, no other pop song is instantly recognisable even to people who won’t be born for a long time yet by an abbreviation – is a unique artefact and while it was never ‘cool’ and never will be, the charts had seen nothing like it and never would. It is to pop what Der Ring des Nibelungen is to opera, the more so as this more than anything else in pop follows the Wagnerian precept of welding narrative, music and performance into a seamless whole. (As with Der Ring, the narrative really doesn’t stand up to scrutiny on its own either.)

    Dan – how could anybody not see that Queen were quite outrageously camp? The theatricality of everything they did, for goodness sake, they could never have been mistaken for another thrash outfit! And the whole of A Night At The Opera is reeking with gay references!

    I saw Queen at the Mountford Hall in Liverpool a year or so earlier, before they were well known, and it was blatantly obvious that this was something that was going to shake the world. I went home with my head reeling and Mercury’s quite extraordinary voice ringing in my ear. And boy, could that man sing. Not in the way that a good rock singer can sing, but a real operatic voice that set the spine tingling. The event was an orgasm and an adrenalin pyrotechnic display.

    One thing always strikes me about Bo Rhap: is it really only six minutes long? Somehow it feels much longer; not from tedium, but from the sheer volume of energy that it expresses. I can’t ever tire of it.

    Denis Forman’s Good Opera Guide, which is the sort of book I’d recommend to a new opera convert after I’ve blown away their prejudices by taking them to see Tosca, rates operas on a simple alpha-beta-gamma scale, but he cops out on Der Ring by giving it X for Xtraordinary and Xceptional, and that’s all I can think of to give Bo Rhap.

  27. 27
    mike on 17 Apr 2008 #

    As Erithian hinted on the David Essex thread, “BR” did inspire (or at least open the door to) a short run of similarly grandiose/episodic chart hits, the two which spring to mind being John Miles “Music” and David Essex “City Lights”.

    Back to MC’s #7: As with Starman on TOTP, Freddie evoked not a flicker of recognition, nor of desire. In a reversal of MC’s position, it took the crew-cut and the ‘tache to do that. Proper Gay me, evidently!

  28. 28
    Tom on 17 Apr 2008 #

    Rosie: The flurry of entries might be a subconscious headlong rush towards SOMETHING, but it’s more to do with the twin blocks of house-moving and conference-paper-writing finally being out the way, and a general wish to be a bit brisker with Popular! (Though I loved the endless digressions the comments threads threw up when I was posting one a week!)

  29. 29
    Alan on 17 Apr 2008 #

    “Dan – how could anybody not see that Queen were quite outrageously camp? ”

    well obviously. however, it just wasn’t that widely recognised back then in many parts of the world.

  30. 30
    jeff w on 17 Apr 2008 #

    The SOMETHING is more likely in fa- *gets trampled on by spoiler bunny*

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If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)

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