Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody

One of the greatest songs made ever. The song has pretty interesting structure.

Song structure

The song is nearly six minutes in length and is composed of six distinct sections – introduction, ballad, guitar solo, opera, rock, and an outro.

Introduction (0:00-0:48 )

The song begins with close four-part harmony a cappella introduction in B-flat, which is entirely multitrack recordings of Mercury. The lyrics question whether life is “real” or “just fantasy” before concluding that there can be “no escape from reality.” After 15 seconds, the grand piano enters, and Mercury’s solo voice alternates with the chorus. The narrator introduces himself as “just a poor boy” but declares that he “need[s] no sympathy” because nothing matters: chromatic side-slipping on “easy come, easy go” highlight the dream-like atmosphere. The end of this section is marked by the bass entrance and the familiar cross-handed piano vamp in B-flat.

Ballad (0:48-2:36)

The grand piano continues the 2-bar vamp in B-flat. Deacon’s bass guitar enters playing the first note, and the vocals change from harmony to an impassioned solo performance by Mercury. The narrator explains that he has “just killed a man,” and with that act thrown his life away. The chromatic bass line at the end of brings about a modulation to E-flat. Here Taylor’s drums enter (1:19), and the narrator makes the first of several invocations to his “mama” in the new key, reusing the original theme. The narrator explains his regret over “mak[ing] you cry” and urging mama to “carry on” as if “nothing really matters.” A truncated phrase connects to a repeat of the vamp in B-flat. As the ballad proceeds into its second verse, the narrator shows how tired and beat down he is by his actions (as May enters on guitar and mimics the upper range of the piano 1:50). May sends “shivers down my spine” by scratching the strings on the other side of the bridge. The narrator bids the world goodbye and prepares to “face the truth” admitting “I don’t want to die / I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all.” Another chromatic bass descent brings a modulation to the key of A, and the “Opera” section.

Guitar solo (2:36-3:02)

As Mercury sings the rising line “I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all,” the band builds in intensity, leading up to the song’s first highlight: a guitar solo by May that serves as the segue from ballad to opera. May’s solo continues to build intensity, but, once the bass line completes its descent establishing the new key, the entire band cuts out abruptly at 3:02 except for quiet quaver chords on the piano: the “opera” has begun. In live performances, the stage would go dark and all the members of the band would walk offstage and allow the entire opera section to play from the recording.

Opera (3:02-4:07)

A rapid series of rhythmic and harmonic changes (E flat major to F minor to A major, among others) introduces a pseudo-operatic midsection, which contains the bulk of the elaborate vocal multitracking, depicting the narrator’s “descent into hell”. While the underlying pulse of the song is maintained, the dynamics vary greatly from bar to bar, from a single Mercury voice and solo piano, to a multi-voice choir. The choir effect was created by having May, Mercury, and Taylor sing their vocal parts continually for ten to twelve hours a day, resulting in 180 separate overdubs.[2] The band used the bell effect for lyrics “Magnifico” and “Let me go”. Also, on “Let him go”, Taylor singing the top section carries his note on further after the rest of the “choir” have stopped singing. Lyrical references in this passage include Scaramouche, the fandango, Galileo, Figaro, “Bismillah,” and Beelzebub, as rival factions fight over the narrator’s soul. The introduction is recalled with the chromatic inflection on “I’m just a poor boy…easy come, easy go.” The section concludes with a full choral treatment of the lyric, “Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me.”

Hard rock (4:07-4:55)

The operatic section leads (with the voices singing “for me” on a block B-flat major chord, topped by a sustained high B-flat falsetto from Taylor) into an aggressive hard rock musical interlude with a guitar riff that was written by Mercury. During group singalongs (including the famous scene in the film Wayne’s World), it is traditional to headbang during this passage. At 4:14, a double-tracked Mercury sings angry lyrics addressed to an unspecified “you,” accusing him/her of betrayal and abuse and insisting “can’t do this to me, baby.” There follows three ascending guitar runs, which May described as something he had to “battle with” when performing the song live. The third guitar run is then imitated by Mercury on the piano.

Outro (4:55-5:55)

After Mercury plays ascending octaves of notes from the Bb mixolydian scale, the song then returns to the tempo and form of the introduction. A guitar accompanies the chorus’ “ooh yeah, ooh yeah”, to give the effect of trumpets. This effect was achieved by playing the guitar through an amp designed by Deacon, affectionately nicknamed the “Deacy Amp“. The song progressively becomes quieter while Mercury again sings “nothing really matters to me…” The final line, “any way the wind blows,” is followed by the barely audible sound of a gong.

Is this the real life-
Is this just fantasy-
Caught in a landslide-
No escape from reality-
Open your eyes
Look up to the skies and see-
Im just a poor boy,i need no sympathy-
Because Im easy come,easy go,
A little high,little low,
Anyway the wind blows,doesnt really matter to me,
To me

Mama,just killed a man,
Put a gun against his head,
Pulled my trigger,now hes dead,
Mama,life had just begun,
But now Ive gone and thrown it all away-
Mama ooo,
Didnt mean to make you cry-
If Im not back again this time tomorrow-
Carry on,carry on,as if nothing really matters-

Too late,my time has come,
Sends shivers down my spine-
Bodys aching all the time,
Goodbye everybody-Ive got to go-
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth-
Mama ooo-
I dont want to die,
I sometimes wish Id never been born at all-

I see a little silhouetto of a man,
Scaramouche,scaramouche will you do the fandango-
Thunderbolt and lightning-very very frightening me-
Galileo galileo
Galileo figaro-magnifico-
But Im just a poor boy and nobody loves me-
Hes just a poor boy from a poor family-
Spare him his life from this monstrosity-
Easy come easy go-,will you let me go-
Bismillah! no-,we will not let you go-let him go-
Bismillah! we will not let you go-let him go
Bismillah! we will not let you go-let me go
Will not let you go-let me go
Will not let you go let me go
Mama mia,mama mia,mama mia let me go-
Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me,for me,for me-

So you think you can stop me and spit in my eye-
So you think you can stop me and leave me to die-
Oh baby-cant do this to me baby-
Just gotta get out-just gotta get right outta here-

Nothing really matters,
Anyone can see,
Nothing really matters-,nothing really matters to me


~ by Rajeev on October 2, 2006.

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