Queen’s famous video for ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ has hit another major milestone this morning as it has now officially hit 1 billion views.
The band said on their Facebook page: “1 billion views of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ [on YouTube]! That our music is still creating such a large impact to this day is simply incredible, and we thank you.”
The remarkable story of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ dates back to the late 60s, when Freddie Mercury was a student at Ealing Art College, starting out as a few ideas for a song scribbled on scraps of paper.
Queen guitarist Brian May remembers the brilliant singer and songwriter giving them the first glimpse in the early 70s of the masterpiece he had at one time called ‘The Cowboy Song’, perhaps because of the line “Mama… just killed a man.”
“I remember Freddie coming in with loads of bits of paper from his dad’s work, like Post-it notes, and pounding on the piano,” May said in 2008. “He played the piano like most people play the drums. And this song he had was full of gaps where he explained that something operatic would happen here and so on. He’d worked out the harmonies in his head.”
Mercury told his band mates that he believed he had enough material for about three songs but was thinking about blending all the lyrics into one long extravaganza. The final six-minute iconic mini rock opera became the band’s defining song, and eventually provided the title of the hit 2019 biopic starring Rami Malek as Mercury.
Queen first properly rehearsed ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ at Ridge Farm Studio, in Surrey, in mid-1975, and then spent three weeks honing the song at Penrhos Court in Hertfordshire. By the summer they were ready to record it; taping began on 24 August 1975 at the famous Rockfield Studios in Monmouth, Wales. It was a moment that May described as “just the biggest thrill”.
The song, which appears on the album A Night At The Opera, was finally released on 31 October 1975, and the impact was instantaneous. “I was green with envy when I heard ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. It was a piece of sheer originality that took rock and pop away from the normal path,” said Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA.
Though the group’s record company were initially reluctant to issue ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ as a single, Queen were united in insisting that it was the right choice, despite exceeding the three-minute running time expected of most single releases. The band were told the song had no hope of getting airplay, but they were helped by Capital Radio DJ Kenny Everett, a friend of Mercury’s, who played it 14 times in one weekend and started the buzz that eventually ended with the single going to No.1.
Queen also hired director Bruce Gowers to shoot a ground-breaking video, which features the band recreating their iconic pose from the cover of their Queen II album. The promo, which cost £3,500 to make in just three hours at Elstree Studios, was a superb piece of rock marketing, celebrated for its eye-catching multi-angle shots capturing Mercury in his favourite Marlene Dietrich pose. The band had fun making the video, and Gowers recalled: “We started at seven-thirty, finished at ten-thirty and were in the pub 15 minutes later.”
On 20 November 1975, the new video was premiered on Top Of The Pops to huge media and public interest. Queen watched the programme in their Taunton hotel room. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ became the band’s first US Top 10 hit. In the UK, it went to No.1 for nine consecutive weeks, a record at the time, even holding off the surprise Laurel And Hardy novelty hit ‘The Trail Of The Lonesome Pine’, which had to settle for the No.2 spot.
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