Bohemian Rhapsody

This Song, released by the band Queen in 1975, has enjoyed something of a renaissance in recent years. Regarded by many as one of the most progressive rock songs of all time, its popularity has continued to the present day.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” Composer: Freddie Mercury Piano Solo: John McGuinness
“Freddie” A Tribute to Freddie Mercury by John McGuinness

Bohemian Rhapsody is a six-minute suite, consisting of several sections without a chorus. It has an intro, a ballad segment, an operatic passage, a hard rock part and a reflective coda. It was written by the band’s lead singer, Freddie Mercury.

It is still one of the best-selling rock singles of all time, was voted “The Song of the Millennium” in 2000, and was recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the No. 1 song of all time.

The lyrics of the song are strange but fit the music beautifully. There has been much speculation as to the meaning of the words. Most people accept that the lyrics are largely self-referential, reflecting something of the intensity of Mercury’s life and personality. Mercury was very close emotionally to his parents. They were of the Parsi religion which sees homosexuality as an abomination. It is, therefore, possible that the lyrics reflect internal conflicts and issues relating to Mercury’s identity. Mercury was always evasive about the meaning of the lyrics. He said simply that the song was “about social relationships”.

In the seventies, I had mixed feelings about the song. I was never a great fan of Queen, but I was aware the group was different. I loved sections of the Bohemian Rhapsody, admiring the harmonies and the musicianship. However, I found the words a bit pretentious and the musical structure somewhat disjointed. I always liked the energy of the piece and I was touched by the underlying sense of melancholy, particularly in the closing passages.

More recently I have grown to appreciate this piece of music. Rick Wakeman, on BBC’s Desert Island Discs, tells a lovely story about his dad. Rick said that he and his dad happened to hear an old song on the radio and Rick, being a young arrogant music student, said “ How can people like that rubbish?”. His dad, who was a bit of a musician himself, said kindly, “try not to dismiss any music as unworthy until you have taken the time to learn and then play it. By doing this, I find that I nearly always come to understand why people like it”.

I have followed Mr Wakeman’s advice and, as a consequence, have grown to love and admire the vitality and complexity of this wonderful piece of music. I have recorded “Bohemian Rhapsody” and wish to share it with you. This version for piano solo is quite complex and I hope it conveys some of the energy of the piece. As is typical of me, I have attempted to make it somewhat “classical” in style although, unlike many versions, it is fairly close to the original. I do hope you enjoy it.

As well as growing to love Bohemian Rhapsody, I also came slowly to admire its composer, Freddie Mercury. I decided to write my own little tribute to him. I chose one or two chord progressions from the beginning of the rhapsody and developed them into this little piece to celebrate his life and works.