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Jun 11

QUEEN – “Bohemian Rhapsody”/”These Are The Days Of Our Lives”

Popular70 comments • 6,257 views

#672, 21st December 1991

A double-sided tombstone – you get to choose how you want to remember Freddie Mercury. His finest – most famous, anyway – six minutes, or a new song that felt in context like a farewell note? Or perhaps neither of them really work? “Bohemian Rhapsody” is the obvious choice for a reissue, but it would have become the band’s memorial anyhow – it didn’t need to be specifically squeezed into a suit for the funeral. Though maybe Mercury would have approved – if you’re lured into taking the opening section seriously, as a dread kitsch premonition, the rest of the record becomes even more awkward, absurd, and marvellous.

“Those Were The Days Of Our Lives” is an apparently simpler proposition: this man, who the newspapers always called “intensely private”, lets us in on what he’s thinking as the end of his life approaches. Well, maybe: the song’s as artfully presented as “Bohemian Rhapsody” in its way, everything from those padding drums to the ruminatory solo pointing towards intimacy. If Bo Rhap is comic opera, this is a single-spotlight monologue. “Nothing really matters to me” versus “I still love you” – why trust one any more than the other?

As a song? It’s a sentimental cousin of the Pet Shop Boys’ “Being Boring”, with the devastating payoff moved from text to subtext. And it’s just about strong enough to wriggle free of all its emotional cues and breathe, thanks mostly to Mercury’s avuncular delivery, which makes me miss him more than most of the words.

A couple of months after this was number one, I went and saw Waynes World, which ripped the shroud from “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the most useful and emphatic way possible. I saw it with my wife, though at the time she wasn’t my wife, she was a girl I’d met at a disco, and the first conversation I remember having with her was about “Bohemian Rhapsody”. It was number one, the DJ played it, and I said I didn’t think you could dance to this, and she said no, she didn’t think you could either.

So there’s one line that gets me in “These Were The Days Of Our Lives”. It’s the bit about sitting back and enjoying life through the kids – because it’s half true. But also it’s a sentiment you’d only expect in pop if it came laced with contempt, yet Mercury sings it with fondness and regret. Queen could be thrilling, ridiculous, heavy, florid – all sorts of things. They could also be unusually generous.

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Comments

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  1. 61
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 20 Jun 2011 #

    59/60: certainly that argument is there to be made, though as far as I can find FMerc didn’t actually publicly make it at the time; and May and Taylor don’t exactly make a deft fist of exploring it on his behalf. And the request that people not play Sun City did original came via the ANC, so the “whitey don’t tell me what to do” line is not without its flaws. The very bad biog I actually just read is more or less clueless about the Parsi dimension; it’s a teenytiny bit better on gay politics (ie rubbish but at least aware of the shape of the issue).

    Possibly I actually need to read a better biog.

  2. 62
    Pete on 20 Jun 2011 #

    Or write it.

  3. 63
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 20 Jun 2011 #

    If only there were a way to crowdsource it…

  4. 64
    wichita lineman on 20 Jun 2011 #

    Haha! Get to it, man!

  5. 65
    Mark M on 20 Jun 2011 #

    Re 61: as I think I’ve suggested on one of these Queen discussion before, he always seemed to me much more closeted about his Asianness than the other business. If the fans did think about it all, they seemed to have leant towards exotic angle, describing him as Persian rather than Indian, thus not lumping him in with your neighbourhood Gujarati newsagent. At least one of the recent TV programmes has tried to correct this somewhat, putting the Mumbai years back in the mix.

    As for Sun City, I know we went into some of this stuff in the thread . But the frankly, the notion of playing to mixed crowds in a luxury resort is to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of apartheid – depriving the majority population of any economic power whatsoever was even more important than the most visible signs of separate living like segregated toilets. If there were Queen fans in Soweto, they certainly were going to be able to pop along to see their heroes play at Sun City.

    It’s worth reiterating that – as Lords S mentions – the Anti-Apartheid Movement largely took its lead from the ANC. And the ANC wasn’t some distant thing if you were in Britain: its president, Oliver Tambo, lived in Muswell Hill. If you wanted an actual ANC representative for the opening of your student union’s Nelson Mandela Lounge, you could get one (although they could turn out to be ‘disappointingly’ Jewish rather than Xhosa).
    Obviously, without elections to judge it, it wasn’t unambiguously clear that the ANC represented the will of the South African people, and therefore people playing Sun City could have had some wiggle room. But history has given us a pretty clear answer on this – we were guessing, just as Mrs Thatcher was guessing, but we were right and she was wrong.

  6. 66
    Mark M on 20 Jun 2011 #

    Re 65: Er, that’s obviously not to say that the ANC haven’t done plenty of dodgy things in their time in power, just that they deserved to be regarded as the voice of the South African people more than the National Party, the Progressive Party/Democratic Alliance, the IFP, the PAC or indeed anyone else…

  7. 67
    hectorthebat on 1 Apr 2015 #

    Critic watch:

    1,001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die, and 10,001 You Must Download (2010) 1-1001
    Blender (USA) – Standout Tracks from the 500 CDs You Must Own (2003)
    Blender (USA) – The Greatest Songs Ever, One Song Added Every Other Month
    Bruce Pollock (USA) – The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000 (2005)
    Life (USA) – 40 Years of Rock & Roll, 5 Songs for Each Year 1952-91 (Updated 1995)
    Pause & Play (USA) – 10 Songs of the 70’s (2003)
    Popdose (USA) – 100 (+21) Favorite Singles of the Last 50 Years (2008) 9
    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (USA) – 500 Songs That Shaped Rock (1994?)
    Rolling Stone & MTV (USA) – The 100 Greatest Pop Songs Since the Beatles (2000) 29
    Rolling Stone (USA) – 40 Songs That Changed the World (2007)
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (2004) 163
    Rolling Stone (USA) – The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Updated 2010) 166
    Steve Sullivan (USA) – Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings (2013) 501-600
    TIME (USA) – The All-Time 100 Songs (2011)
    The Recording Academy Grammy Hall of Fame Albums and Songs (USA)
    Treble (USA) – The Top 200 Songs of the 1970s (2012) 34
    Ultimate Classic Rock (USA) – Top 100 Classic Rock Songs (2013) 7
    VH1 (USA) – The 100 Greatest Songs of All Time (2000) 27
    2FM (Ireland) – Top 100 Singles of All Time (2003) 8
    BBC Radio2 (UK) – Sold on Song, a Celebration of Great Songs and Songwriting
    Dave Thompson (UK) – 1000 Songs that Rock Your World (2011) 53
    HarperCollins GEM (UK) – Single of the Year 1949-99 (1999)
    Kerrang! (UK) – 100 Greatest Singles of All Time (2002) 22
    Mojo (UK) – The 100 Greatest Singles of All Time (1997) 40
    Mojo (UK) – The Ultimate Jukebox: 100 Singles You Must Own (2003) 47
    NME (UK) – The 100 Best Songs of the 1970s (2012) 52
    Q (UK) – 100 Songs That Changed the World (2003) 32
    Q (UK) – 50 Greatest British Tracks (2005) 5
    Q (UK) – 50 Years of Great British Music, 10 Tracks per Decade (2008)
    Q (UK) – The 1001 Best Songs Ever (2003) 524
    Q (UK) – The 1010 Songs You Must Own (2004)
    Q (UK) – Top 20 Singles from 1970-1979 (2004) 2
    Panorama (Norway) – The 30 Best Singles of the Year 1970-98 (1999) 3
    Musikexpress (Germany) – The 700 Best Songs of All Time (2014) 24
    Rolling Stone (Germany) – The 500 Best Songs of All Time (2004) 240
    Gilles Verlant and Thomas Caussé (France) – 3000 Rock Classics (2009)
    Hervé Bourhis (France) – Le Petit Livre Rock: The Juke Box Singles 1950-2009
    Volume (France) – 200 Records that Changed the World, 2008 (38 songs)
    Rocks Musiczine (Spain) – The 100 Best Rock Songs in History (1995) 37
    STM Entertainment (Australia) – The 50 Best Songs Ever (2007) 6
    Toby Creswell (Australia) – 1001 Songs (2005)
    Giannis Petridis (Greece) – 2004 of the Best Songs of the Century (2003)
    New Musical Express (UK) – Singles of the Year 4
    Record Mirror (UK) – Singles of the Year 9

  8. 68
    Ed on 4 Mar 2019 #

    #2 watch: The Prodigy – Everybody in the Place

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WY87o9IZXWg

  9. 69
    Lee Saunders on 10 Mar 2019 #

    Though their third highest charting hit (and my favourite among them), EITP doesn’t seem as well remembered as Charly, Out of Space, No Good, Voodoo People, Poison et al, which is a shame. When Liam mentioned to an interviewer in 96 that “I think we had a number one before Firestarter” I assume he was thinking of this, but not knowing which song he was thinking about (and that I don’t think it was a part of their sets at the time) seems a bit neglectful on their part. On their best of album it only appears towards the end among the lesser known hits.

  10. 70
    Gareth Parker on 1 May 2021 #

    TATDOOL possesses an elegiac and reflective quality to me. 8/10

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