Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen is one of the strangest and least-understood songs in the rock genre. It comes across as an artwork, a moving lament, and extreme silliness at the same time. The six minute long composition finds time to jump between ballad, opera, and hard rock movements. The song was one of the first releases to have had a promotional clip attached to it, and the sheer scale of it influenced the video boom of the eighties.
The rhapsody, written by Freddie Mercury, was pieced together using an overdubbing of harmonies—sometimes coming to as many as 170 layers in the opera sequence—recorded over three weeks of intensive work. This means that the only person who knew what its final sound would be like was Mercury.
Producer Roy Thomas Baker certainly wasn’t sure what they had until it was finally done:
“Nobody really knew how it was going to sound as a whole six-minute song until it was put together. I was standing at the back of the control room, and you just knew that you were listening for the first time to a big page in history. Something inside me told me that this was a red-letter day, and it really was.”
The band wanted to release Bohemian Rhapsody as a single, but the EMI executives disagreed, claiming it was too long to air on the radio. But, while the single was released in edited form in some countries, it rose to international fame in its full version. Mercury commented afterwards:
“We were adamant that it could be a hit in its entirety. We have been forced to make compromises, but cutting up a song will never be one of them.”
The promotional clip—produced by Bruce Gowers on video tape instead of film—looked technologically advanced and even futuristic at the time of release. Gowers, who was one of the leading music video producers (still a fairly new art genre), also worked on several the Beatles promos, including Paperback Writer.
In Bohemian Rhapsody video, the multiple images effect of the band members that can be seen during opera sequences was created by putting a prism in front of the camera lens.