To one generation, it was the hair metal anthem revived by Wayne’s World. To another, it was an instrumental time in the music world where rules didn’t exist.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” is arguably Freddie Mercury’s most creative and controversial creation. Released on Oct. 31, 1975, the nearly six-minute classic features an a cappella intro, a ballad, and an opera passage that transitions into a hard rock finale. “It was really Freddie’s baby from the beginning,” guitarist Brian May said previously of the track. “He came in and knew exactly what he wanted. The backing track was done with just piano, bass and drums, with a few spaces for other things to go in… Freddie sang a guide vocal at the time, but he had all his harmonies written out, and it was really just a question of doing it.”
Though the band’s label and manager didn’t think it would make for a good first single, Queen pushed on and proved to be the victor in the debate. The song immediately shot to the top of the charts at the end of 1975 and remained there for nine consecutive weeks, a record at the time. In November 1991, “Bohemian Rhapsody” got a second wind when it became No. 1 once again, after the band re-released the song following Mercury’s death in a bid to raise money in the fight against AIDS.
So what is the song about? Well, it tells the tale of a man who’s killed someone and sold his soul to the devil – but not before dancing the fandango. But what does that really mean? The band has always shied away from giving a direct answer, but according to Mercury, “It means whatever you want it to mean.”
Being able to sing all of “Bo Rhap,” as avid fans called it, comes with bragging points. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the song’s release, take a trip down memory lane and test your skills in EW’s video quiz below.