|Bohemian Rhapsody (Queen)|
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One of Queen's greatest hits. It topped Britain's chart for 9 weeks in 1975. Ironically, the song that knocked this off the #1 chart position in the UK was "Mama Mia" by Abba. The words "Mama mia" are repeated in this in the line "Oh mama mia, mama mia, mama mia let me go."
It reached number one again in 1991, after Freddie Mercury's death, achieving total sales of 2,176,000 and becoming the UK's third best selling single of all time. The single was accompanied by a promotional video, considered groundbreaking, it helped establish the visual language of the modern music video.
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,
I'm just a poor boy, I need no sympathy,
Because I'm easy come, easy go, Little high, little low,
Any way the wind blows doesn't really matter to me, to me
Mama, I just killed a man,
Put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger, now he's dead
Mama, life had just begun,
But now I've gone and thrown it all away
Mama, ooh, Didn't mean to make you cry,
If I'm 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, body's aching all the time
Goodbye, everybody, I've got to go,
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth
Mama, ooh, I don't want to die,
I sometimes wish I'd 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) Galileo, Galileo Figaro
Magnifico. I'm just a poor boy and nobody loves me
He's 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) Ah
No, no, no, no, no, no, no
(Oh 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 stone me and spit in my eye
So you think you can love me and leave me to die
Oh, baby, can't 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
Any way the wind blows
To understand the lyrics, read the SONG MEANING section first.
LANDSLIDE= When it rains a lot, sometimes part of a hill may collapse and all the earth or sand comes down destroying everything in its way. An avalanche is made of snow, a landslide is the same but with earth (the land slides).
SYMPATHY= Compassion. A mixture of love and understanding.
EASY COME, EASY GO= Someone who thinks that everything is easy to achieve, especially earning money, and who therefore does not worry about anything
LITTLE HIGH, LITTLE LOW= No idea about this phrase, it probably means he's average, just a normal person or, more literally, neither happy nor sad (a little of both).
ANY WAY THE WIND BLOWS DOESN'T REALLY MATTER TO ME= I don't care about anything, I just want to live my own life and, please, leave me alone.
MAMA, JUST KILLED A MAN= The first part of the song he was talking about himself, he is just a simple man but the outside pressure is overwhelming, too strong for him (caught in a landslide). With this line a new section begins. He's talking to his mother, telling her that he's killed a man. That man is himself, his old self. He's telling his mother about his homosexuality and he's very sorry that information is going to hurt her (didn't mean to make you cry).
PULLED MY TRIGGER= Shot the gun. The trigger is the little tab you pull to make a gun shoot.
NOW I'VE GONE AND THROWN IT ALL AWAY= Now I've spoiled/ruined everything, it's a disaster.
[I] DIDN'T MEAN TO MAKE YOU CRY= It wasn't my intention to make you cry.
CARRY ON= Continue (with your life).
[IT] SENDS SHIVERS DOWN MY SPINE= Your spine is the column of little bones that support your back. If something sends shivers down your spine, you feel like some energy, or cold, or fear is quickly moving down your spine. But we use this figuratively to say that we are afraid or excited, we feel an intense emotion.
ACHING= /eɪkɪŋ/ hurting. If your body's aching you feel pain all over your body.
GOTTA LEAVE YOU ALL BEHIND AND FACE THE TRUTH= He has to say goodbye to his old self, but also to his family, or at least goodbye to the relationship he had with himself and with his family. Everything will change now, and that really hurts. It's so painful that he feels he's not ready for a thing like this (Mama, ooh, I don't want to die / I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all).
And now the third part starts. In the first part he talks about himself, in the second part he talks with his family, and now he talks with society. But society here appears in the form of a jury at a trial, judging him and accusing him of monstrosity.
SILHOUETTO= This word is not English, the correct word would be SILHOUETTE, which means an outline of something and is usually filled in with a darker colour. He changes the word a bit to make it sound Italian (the language of the opera) and now he's going to introduce some more Italian or Italian-sounding words.
SCARAMOUCHE= A roguish cowardly buffoon character in the Italian "commedia dell'arte".
FANDANGO= Another Italian-sounding word, but this time it is Spanish. It's the name of a lively folk dance, often confused with "flamenco" (though they're two different styles). The reference to Scaramouche dancing fandango is probably a bit of nonsense (or is it?).
THUNDERBOLT= The sound of a lightning.
LIGHTNING= A very bright flash of light you can see in the sky during some storms caused by a sudden discharge of electricity in the clouds.
FRIGHTENING= Scary. If something is frightening, you feel very scared/afraid of it.
GALILEO= An Italian astronomer from the 16th century.
FIGARO= A character from a famous Italian Opera, "The Weddings of Figaro", who was a hairdresser from Seville, in the south of Spain.
MAGNIFICO= This word is Italian (or Spanish) and it means "fantastic, wonderful".
SPARE HIM HIS LIFE= If you spare my life, you have the power to kill me but you decide not to. Also, if someone is going to kill you, you can say "spare me!", which means the same as "don't kill me, please".
MONSTROSITY= The condition of being a monster.
SPARE HIM HIS LIFE FROM THIS MONSTROSITY= Save him from this monstrosity.
BISMILLAH= An Arabic expression (also used by Parsis, his Indian family) which is the opening word in the Qu'ran (Koran) and literally means "In the name of Allah."
MAMA MIA= An Italian expression that means "oh my God!".
BEELZEBUB= One of the names of Satan, the Devil, the incarnation of evil and wickedness.
DEVIL= An angel of evil, server of Satan.
BEELZEBUB HAS A DEVIL PUT ASIDE FOR ME= Satan has a devil specifically for me. To put something aside is to reserve it for later use.
STONE ME= Kill me by throwing stones at me (a traditional way of killing people found guilty by Islamic law).
SPIT= To spit is to eject saliva from your mouth, as a way of insulting and humiliating someone.
GOTTA GET OUT= I have to get out, I must escape.
OUTTA= (coll.) Out of.
In my opinion, this song is probably autobiographic. It tells about Freddy Mercury's personal traumas and depicts it like a dream, with an illusion of nonsense but with a solid story under it. Freddy, the lead singer of the band, was gay (in the closet most of his life), very shy (except when performing) and had a lot of problems. Through this song, he expresses his inner feelings and fears. If you listen to the lyrics from this perspective, the song is not nonsense, but a heart-biography. Some people think he wrote this when he knew he was dying with AIDS, but at that time he had no AIDS yet. In fact, nobody knew what AIDS was yet.
He admitted being gay in 1974 for the first time, and he wrote this song in 1975. Coming out of the closet (letting people know he's gay) must be really really hard, and this song is telling about that, about his experience in that recent process. He feels rejected (nobody loves me), people can't understand him, he is different. The man he kills in the song is his old self, the fake straight man he pretended to be. It's hard for his family, it's hard for him, but he needs to do it, he needs to kill that man he was to start a new life (Mamma, I just killed a man). But he really feels torn about this (I sometimes wish I'd never been born at all) and has problems anyway accepting his homosexuality (spare him his life from this monstrosity). Now he's openly gay, but still has contradictory feelings about it; part of the song is a conversation with the jury, but he gets no absolution (will you let me go? / Bismillah! No, we will not let you go).
In fact, there's no need of explaining much, just bear in mind that he wrote this song a few months after telling everybody he was gay, and the lyrics are quite explicit. Anyway, there has been a lot of controversy about this song so I'll copy here a few other explainations from other people:
Judith Peraino said that "Mercury intended... [this song] to be a 'mock opera,' something outside the norm of rock songs, and it does follow a certain operatic logic: choruses of multi-tracked voices alternate with arialike solos, the emotions are excessive, the plot confusing."
The name "Bohemian" in the song title seems to refer not to the region in the Czech republic, but to a group of artists and musicians living roughly 100 years ago, known for defying convention and living with disregard for standards. A "Rhapsody" is a piece of Classical music with distinct sections that is played as one movement. Rhapsodies often have themes. (thanks, George - Dusseldorf, Germany).
Freddie Mercury wrote the lyrics, and there has been a lot of speculation as to their meaning. Many of the words appear in the Qu'ran. "Bismillah" is one of these and it literally means "In the name of Allah." The word "Scaramouch" means "A stock character that appears as a boastful coward." "Beelzebub" is one of the many names given to The Devil.
Mercury's parents were deeply involved in Zoroastrianism, and these Arabic words do have a meaning in that religion. His family grew up in Zanzibar, but was forced out by government upheaval in 1964 and they moved to England. Some of the lyrics could be about leaving his homeland behind. Mercury claimed the lyrics were nothing more than "Random rhyming nonsense" when asked about it by his friend Kenny Everett, who was a London DJ. (thanks, Jonathon - Clermont, FL and Jonathan Horgan - Cork, Ireland)
The story told in this song is remarkably similar to that in Albert Camus' book The Stranger. Both tell of a young man who kills, and not only can he not explain why he did it, he can't even articulate any feelings about it. (thanks, Bob - Santa Barbara, CA)
You can make the case that the song title is actually a parody, and a clever one at that. There is a rhapsody by Franz List called "Hungarian Rhapsody," and "Bohemia" is a kingdom that is near Hungary and was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Furthermore, "Bohemian" is an adjective for something unusual or against convention, and the song is just that. So "Bohemian Rhapsody" could be a clever title that not only parodies a famous work but describes the song. (thanks, Con - Melbourne, Australia)