Everyone knows and loves Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s been cited as one of the greatest tracks of all time, features some of the most complex movements and songwriting in history, and set the stage for all of progressive rock. The story in the track is fantastical and mysterious, just as mysterious as the true meaning of the song. In this article, we’ll dive into the history of Bohemian Rhapsody and do our best to unravel the few hints we have about the real meaning behind it.
History of “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Bohemian Rhapsody was a track that broke all kinds of records and made a point of not adhering to traditional musical structures. I mean who throws a mock opera, hard rock, and a ballad all into one song? The complex nature of the track left many initial listeners confused, which garnered mixed reviews from critics. However, objective retrospectives have praised it as one of the best songs ever written.
Freddie Mercury began writing the track in the 60s. As you could probably assume, Bohemian Rhapsody combines three different songs he was writing at the time, making it one of the best all-time matchups in history. In total, it took over 200 tracks to get all of the overdubs together, took place in five different recording studios, and took over three weeks of recording time, never mind the months of rehearsals.
Queen themselves saw the track as a joke, though it was an incredibly successful one. Throughout the recording process, it became more expansive and complex as the band members added to it.
Bohemian Rhapsody would eventually be described as progressive rock, and one of the foremost-thinking, most progressive ones of all time. Despite critical confusion, the song would be incredibly successful commercially. It took the number one spot on the UK Singles chart and would break into the Top 10 of the US Billboard Hot 100. Digital sales would earn the track a 10-times platinum certification in the US years after its initial release.
Recommended: Greatest bands of all time
Potential Meanings and Messages Within The Song
The true meaning of Bohemian Rhapsody has remained secret for a very long time. Mercury and the other band members have all been very protective of the track and the real inspirations and meaning of it. But that doesn’t mean that fans and critics haven’t speculated about it for decades.
As far as confirmed meanings, Mercury himself said the song was about relationships, Unfortunately, he would refuse to go into any further detail regarding specifics about the song.
Other band members have commented that he put a lot of himself into the track. Potential relationships and childhood traumas are likely what spawned the song, but it’s been stated that those issues would remain a private concern for the band members and composer of the track. According to Roger Taylor, the song is self-explanatory and has a bit of nonsense thrown into it.
With that out of the way, we can begin looking at the rumored meanings of the track, do a little speculation of our own, and take a look at the actual lyrics of the song.
In a way, Bohemian Rhapsody can be looked at as a simple story. In short form, a man confesses to the murder of another man at the beginning of the track while talking to his mother. He then pleads poverty at the trial for his murder before resigning himself to a doomed fate. We never know who he killed, the reason why, or what ultimately became of him—though that part is implied.
On the surface, the track is that story, a fantastical retelling of some common musical themes. But knowing Queen and Mercury, it definitely had more depth to it than that.
One theory we can immediately cross off our list is that the song was Mercury lamenting his AIDS diagnosis. That wouldn’t happen until 10 years after the track was released, and he had been writing the songs that would become Bohemian Rhapsody years before it would come to fruition.
Another thing we can get rid of is that the track was meant to be a showcase of progressive rock. Queen didn’t create Bohemian Rhapsody with any of this in mind and Mercury sure wasn’t trying to show off by writing it. There has to be a deeper meaning to the song.
And this is the point of the article that I have to apologize to readers out there. You’re not going to ever get a conclusive meaning of this track. But we can try to piece it together a bit from interviews and circumstantial evidence.
Bohemian Rhapsody was likely a coming-out song for Mercury. He had several tracks about breaking free of the oppressive childhood he faced and the harsh expectations he dealt with. In many ways, he was always trying to pretend he was straight, whether for his on-stage persona or to try to avoid hurting his family.
The man he kills at the beginning of the track is his old self, the silhouette in the song is his former self haunting him, and the story as a whole is him imagining how amazing his life would be if he lived the way he wanted to.
Now, most of this is pieced together from interviews done with one of his lovers, Mercury himself, and small details that have come out over the span of years. In the end, nothing has ever been confirmed about the true meaning of Bohemian Rhapsody, and you can find plenty of people who argue that it had nothing to do with his orientation.
Perhaps, the meaning is best left in the hands of the composer. Mercury never revealed it, both for personal reasons and because of the artistic side of the song. According to him, revealing the meaning would ruin the majesty of the track and rip away the meanings each listener takes from it. In the end, Bohemian Rhapsody is meant to be a song that anyone can pull meaning from and find something that they can relate to.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
quality content for the Music Grotto website. Dakotah is passionate about music in a wide variety of genres, from hip-hop to country and lo-fi to metal, and he enjoys creating music pieces for Music Grotto.