5 Fun and Faithful Covers to Celebrate the 40th Anniversary of “Bohemian Rhapsody”
This is one epic rock song that refuses to age.
On October 31, 1975, Queen unleashed “Bohemian Rhapsody” on an unsuspecting world. The multi-layered, nearly six-minute song was unlike anything heard before, and it secured the band’s place in rock and roll history. In a press release published October 20 on the band’s website, Queen celebrated the timeless hit as “the song that changed everything.”
“Rhapsody” is, for Queen, “a song that resonates through time, a special moment in music history that has yet to be repeated.” The release also revealed the song’s surprising origin story. In spite of its almost classical, operatic feel, “Bohemian Rhapsody” was carefully patched together from surprising sources:
Freddie [Mercury] wrote the whole song – including the composite harmonies – on telephone books and scraps of paper.
Brian May recalled recording ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’; ”That was a great moment, but the biggest thrill for us was actually creating the music in the first place. 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. 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.”
Queen did remarkable work with the analog recording technology at the time, but it was labor-intensive. According to the release, the band “spent days overdubbing the vocals in the studio using a 24 track tape machine,” and when they were done, Queen had something like 120 tracks of vocal work alone. “The opera parts alone took longer than 70 hours to complete,” stated the release.
One easy way to measure “Bohemian Rhapsody’s” impact over time is to take a look at how often other artists have taken it on. It’s a challenging song for anyone who tries, from 80-voice choruses to drunk karaoke singers with the lyrics in front of them. Here are five interesting and sometimes awesome attempts, with the original at the end, as a bonus.
The Muppets, 2009. Come on, it’s the Muppets. And they absolutely kill it. Our favorite part is easily Animal’s bravura celebration of the lyric, “Mama.”
Japanese opera singer Ken Nishikori. Whether or not you like opera, the fact is if one rock song has tempted a lot of opera singers over time, it’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Freddie Mercury sported an operatic tenor’s vocal range and the challenge to see if they could keep up with Freddie has been irresistible to classically trained singers ever since. Once you get past a few quirks in Nishikori’s English pronunciation, you realize he sings the everloving hell out of the classic.
Pink, 2009, Sydney, Australia. Pink’s rendition is pretty powerful and faithful to the original in so many ways. It’s surprising more female vocalists haven’t tackled the song—we’re glad Pink took it on, because she does it real justice, and pulls it off live in concert, as well.
Panic! At The Disco, live performance, 2015. If there’s any better evidence of the respect current artists have for “Bohemian Rhapsody” it’s in how faithful the covers are to the original. Panic! At The Disco proves this with a note-for-note take that does plenty of justice to the original.
Wayne’s World. The hilarious “Bohemian Rhapsody” sing-along from this classic Mike Myers comedy pretty much belongs on any rundown of “covers,” even though it doesn’t technically fit the definition of one. Get to the part where the guys start head-banging with the music and try to not smile, it’s almost impossible.
Queen, the original video. Sure, all the covers are fun, and it’s great to see a 40-year-old classic rock song still held in high regard, but nothing will ever top the original. It will probably still sound fresh and powerful in another 40 years.