10 Operatic Facts About “Bohemian Rhapsody”

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Queen’s classic “mock opera” was released on October 31, 1975, which means it turns 40 years old today. Though the song was met with skepticism when played for preview audiences, it ended up spending nine weeks at number one on the UK charts in 1976. It currently ranks as the third best-selling UK single of all time (behind Elton John’s Princess Diana tribute “Candle in the Wind” and Band Aid’s holiday-made “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”) and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2004. Here are 10 fun facts about the iconic song to consider the next time you’re hitting those “Galileo” high notes along with your car radio.

1. FREDDIE MERCURY STARTED WRITING IT IN 1968.

“Bohemian Rhapsody”, or “Bo Rhap” as it is known by Queen fans, had its beginnings in 1968 when Freddie Mercury was a student at London’s Ealing Art College. He’d come up with an opening line—“Mama, just killed a man”—but no melody. Because of the Old West feel (in his mind) to the lyric, he referred to his work in progress as “The Cowboy Song.”

2. THE BAND’S PRODUCER WAS SKEPTICAL OF ITS OPERA-LIKE COMPOSITION.

Roy Thomas Baker, who produced the band’s A Night at the Opera album, first heard the framework for "Bohemian Rhapsody" when he picked Freddie up at his Holland Road flat in London one evening before going out to dinner. Freddie led him to the piano to play the song he’d been working on. As Baker recalls the scene, Freddie played the opening ballad section of the tune then stopped and exclaimed, “And this is where the opera section comes in!” Baker laughed at the time, but when Freddie came to the studio days later armed with various pieces of paper with notes and doodles outlining his composition, the producer determined to use all his talent and equipment to capture Mercury’s vision on tape.

3. MERCURY WAS ALWAYS ADDING ANOTHER “GALILEO.”

In 1975, “state-of-the-art” recording meant 24-track analog tape. The harmonies on the opera section (all sung by Mercury, drummer Roger Taylor, and guitarist Brian May) required 180 separate overdubs, and eventually the tape had been run over the recording heads so many times that it became almost transparent. In the end it took three weeks (Mercury was always adding “another ‘Galileo’,” Baker explained) and five different studios to complete the track.

4. ELTON JOHN THOUGHT THE SONG WAS TOO “WEIRD” FOR THE RADIO.

Prior to its release, Queen’s manager played a rough mix of the song to one of his other high-profile clients, Elton John, to get his opinion. “Are you f*cking mad?” was the singer’s reaction after listening to the nearly six-minute song. His verdict: it was too long and too “weird” for radio.

5. THE SONG’S SUCCESS IS DUE IN PART TO A SINGLE DJ.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” owes part of its success to British DJ Kenny Everett, who had a popular morning radio show on Capital Radio. In early October 1975, EMI was still pressuring Queen to release “You’re My Best Friend” as the first single from A Night at the Opera. Everett got his hands on an early pressing of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” with strict instructions not to broadcast it (wink, wink). Somehow, strictly by accident (his finger must have slipped), he played the song 14 times over the course of two days. Callers flooded the radio station and local record stores with requests for the song, so the suits at EMI relented and released the magnum opus as a single.

6. PROMOTING THE SONG PROVED PROBLEMATIC.

After it was decided to release “Bohemian Rhapsody” as a single, the band was faced with a bit of a dilemma: At the time in England, it was traditional for bands to appear on shows like Top of the Pops to promote their latest hits. But Queen was scheduled to begin a tour soon, plus (as Brian May admitted) they’d feel self-conscious miming to the operatic section. They solved the problem by filming a promotional film, or “pop promo” as it was called in the industry lingo of the time, that could be shown not only on UK music shows, but also around the world in other markets, such as American Bandstand.

7. THE VIDEO TOOK JUST UNDER FOUR HOURS TO FILM.

The band arrived at Elstree Studios (using the same stage they were using to rehearse for their upcoming tour) at 7:30 in the morning, and were finished and relaxing at the local pub by 11:30 a.m. The total cost of the video was £4500, or about $2025. This was the first music video directed by Bruce Gowers, and the success of that clip eventually prompted him to move to Hollywood, where he went on to direct such TV programs as the MTV Movie Awards, the Primetime Emmy Awards, the People's Choice Awards and the first 10 seasons of American Idol.

8. THE “BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY” SCENE IN WAYNE’S WORLD TOOK 10 HOURS TO FILM.

The classic scene in the 1992 film Wayne’s World, on the other hand, took 10 hours to film. Dana Carvey didn’t learn the lyrics ahead of time, and if you watch closely you can see that he’s often just randomly moving his mouth while “singing” along. (And all the actors complained of neck pain after headbanging through so many takes.)

9. A SYMPHONIC GONG WAS ADDED TO ROGER TAYLOR’S DRUM KIT.

When the band launched their tour to support A Night at the Opera, Roger Taylor’s drum kit was outfitted with a 60-inch symphonic gong (which had to be cleaned, packed, and set up on each date) just so he could strike that final note in “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

10. A BLUE VINYL PRESSING OF THE SONG IS WORTH MORE THAN $5000.

The Holy Grail in terms of Queen collectibles is a 7-inch limited edition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” that was pressed in blue vinyl. In the summer of 1978, EMI Records won the Queen’s Award To Industry For Export Achievement (that’s “Queen” as in Her Majesty Elizabeth II). The label’s primary reason for sales in far-reaching territories that lacked manufacturing facilities was Queen, as in the band. To celebrate their prestigious award, EMI pressed 200 copies of “Bohemian Rhapsody” in blue vinyl, each of which was hand-numbered. Numbers one through four went to the band members, of course, while other low-numbered copies were given to friends and family members. Bona fide copies from this original pressing currently sell for upwards of $5000.

Additional sources: Queen: As It Began, by Jacky Smith and Jim Jenkins Is This the Real Life? The Untold Story of Queen, by Mark Blake Queen: The Story of Bohemian Rhapsody
The Making of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’”

Rare, Early Portraits of Jim Morrison and The Doors Are Headed to Auction

Jim Morrison of The Doors photographed in 1968.
Jim Morrison of The Doors photographed in 1968.
Michael Montfort, Swann Auction Galleries

The Doors left a bluesy mark on rock ’n’ roll music that lasted long after the tragic death of frontman Jim Morrison at age 27. But because the band only existed for about six years—in a pre-smartphone era, no less—there isn’t a ton of behind-the-scenes content to tell the story of Morrison’s bright, albeit brief, career.

Come February 25, nine rare photos of Morrison from The Doors’ first European tour in 1968 will end up in the hands of one fortunate fan. Swann Auction Galleries is selling them as part of their “Classic and Contemporary Photographs” auction, which also includes portraits of early Hollywood stars like Joan Crawford, John Barrymore, and Veronica Lake.

The black and white photographs of Morrison were taken by German-born photojournalist Michael Montfort when the band performed in Frankfurt, Germany that September, and they manage to capture the strangely hazy, somewhat intense nature of the legendary lead singer. In one, Morrison looks right into the camera while leaning against a church pulpit; in another, he lies on the stage clutching the microphone with his back turned to the audience; in yet another, a sweat-drenched Morrison holds a leather jacket in one hand and makes a peace sign with the other.

jim morrison of the doors lying onstage
The Doors' Jim Morrison takes a break onstage during a Frankfurt concert in September 1968.
Michael Montfort, Swann Auction Galleries

The Doors played early hits like “Light My Fire” and “Break on Through (To the Other Side)” to raucous, devoted crowds across Europe, but the tour wasn’t without its calamities, due largely to Morrison’s substance abuse. After leaving Frankfurt, the band stopped to perform a show in Amsterdam, where a drug-addled Morrison collapsed on stage during Jefferson Airplane’s opening set. He was immediately taken to a hospital, and keyboard player Ray Manzarek stepped in as lead singer that night. Morrison finished the tour, but his drug addiction would continue to plague him until he died of a (suspected) overdose in Paris in 1971.

jim morrison the doors backstage photo
A messy-haired Morrison flashes a peace sign in 1968.
Michael Montfort, Swann Auction Galleries

The collection of nine photos is expected to fetch between $1500 and $2500, and you can place a bid here.

[h/t Swann Auction Galleries]

10 Facts About The Beatles's 'Ed Sullivan Show' Debut

Express Newspapers/Getty Images
Express Newspapers/Getty Images

In 1964, Beatlemania officially reached America. On February 7, 1964, the Fab Four—John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison—boarded Pan Am Flight 101 at London's Heathrow Airport with an estimated 4000 fans on hand to wish them good luck on their first trip to America. When they landed at New York City's JFK Airport several hours later, another crowd of approximately 4000 (screaming) fans were waiting for them. But that was nothing compared to the number of people who would tune in to see the legendary rockers perform on The Ed Sullivan Show on February 9, 1964. Here are 10 things you might not know about that historic television event.

1. The Beatles didn't come cheap.

Much like The Tonight Show today, being asked to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show in the 1960s was a huge honor for up-and-coming (and established) artists in the 1960s. The publicity generated from an appearance on the show was enough for most talent to say yes. But The Beatles would only agree to appear if the show covered their travel expenses and paid them a $10,000 fee (which would be just over $80,000 in 2019 dollars). Sullivan and his producers agreed, but only if The Beatles would commit to making three appearances. They had a deal.

2. But The Beatles did end up being a relative bargain.

Though forking over travel expenses and an appearance fee wasn't the norm for The Ed Sullivan Show, it ended up being a great deal for the program, and proof that Beatlemania was just as thriving in America as it was in the UK. It's been estimated that close to 74 million people—40 percent of the country's population at that time—tuned in to watch The Beatles play.

3. Technically, it wasn't The Beatles's American television debut.

While The Ed Sullivan Show marked the first time The Beatles had performed live on American television, it wasn't the first time they had appeared on American television. On November 18, 1963, NBC's The Huntley Brinkley Report aired a whopping four-minute-long segment on Beatlemania—the craze that was sweeping England. Just a few days later, on November 22, CBS Morning News ran a five-minute segment on the band's overseas popularity. The segment was scheduled to re-air that evening, but the news was preempted because of JFK's assassination. Walter Cronkite eventually re-aired it as part of the CBS Evening News on December 10, 1963.

4. more than 700 people got to witness The Beatles' performance live.

While more than a third of America's population witnessed music history in the making the night The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, 728 very lucky individuals got to see it all go down live as part of the show's audience. And when we say "very lucky," we mean it: the program received a record-setting 50,000 requests for tickets to the show.

5. Many people linked Beatlemania to JFK's assassination.

In terms of timing, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the rise of Beatlemania in America were closely linked. While many people at the time decided that the band's popularity was in part due to the president's death—that Americans needed something upbeat and positive—others believe it's purely coincidental. In 2013, Slate ran a piece debating (and largely debunking) "the questionable connections between Camelot’s demise and Liverpool’s ascent."

6. the beatles weren't the evening's only performers.

Remember Charlie Brill and Mitzi McCall? No? That's OK. Neither do the majority of the 74 million people who watched The Ed Sullivan Show that night. Brill & McCall were the unfortunate act who had to follow the Fab Four's Earth-shattering, industry-altering performance. The married sketch comedy duo pretty much bombed, as the audience was rather distracted. In 2014, couple—who will celebrate their 59th wedding anniversary this year—talked about that infamous night with CBS.

"For us, it went lousy," McCall said, laughing. "It was terrible.”

"We were doing a sketch," Brill added. "We couldn’t hear each other. Because of the screaming."

Though the appearance didn't do much to advance their career, ultimately, McCall said, it was "an honor" to be a part of it. "We were there when the world changed," she said.

7. One of the Monkees was on the show that night, too.

Davy Jones was also on The Ed Sullivan Show that night, but not as part of The Monkees. Jones was performing with the cast of Broadway's Oliver! Jones played the Artful Dodger, first in London then in New York, and ended up being nominated for a Tony for the role.

8. No, the crime rate did not drop the night The Beatles played.

You've surely heard that old legend that the crime rate in the U.S. dropped dramatically during The Beatles's appearance on the show. Apparently the whole nation was so transfixed by the lads from Liverpool that everyone preferred to tune in instead of running around committing felonies and such. It's a nice story, but according to Snopes, it's not true.

The rumor started when Bill Gold, a reporter from The Washington Post, snarkily remarked that while The Beatles were on that evening, no hubcaps were stolen anywhere. It was meant to infer that The Beatles appealed to the type of degenerate who would do such a thing, but the meaning was twisted and reprinted by Newsweek. Gold ended up writing a tongue-in-cheek retraction on February 21, 1964:

"This week’s issue of Newsweek quotes my report from B.F. Henry that there’s one good thing about the Beatles—'during the hour they were on Ed Sullivan’s show, there wasn’t a hubcap stolen in America.'

It is with heavy heart that I must inform Newsweek that this report was not true. Lawrence R. Fellenz of 307 E. Groveton St., Alexandria, had his car parked on church property during that hour—and all four of his hubcaps were stolen.

The Washington Post regrets the error, and District Liner Fellenz regrets that somewhere in Alexandria there lives a hipster who is too poor to own a TV set."

9. That "very nice" telegram THe Beatles received from Elvis Presley did not come from Elvis Presley.

10th February 1964: A group of Beatles fans watching their heroes perform on the American television programme 'The Ed Sullivan Show'
Central Press/Getty Images

Wasn't it nice that Elvis Presley kicked off The Beatles's American "debut" with a personal telegram? Just before John, Paul, George and Ringo took the stage, Ed Sullivan announced that he had received a "very nice" telegram from The King, wishing the Fab Four "tremendous success." Notoriously known for being jealous of The Beatles, Elvis had actually done no such thing. His manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was responsible for the note, and only sent it because he thought it would make Elvis look good. (Apparently, the disdain was mutual; when the band received the telegram prior to their performance, Harrison reportedly asked, mockingly, "Elvis who?")

10. The Beatles failed to impress Ed Sullivan's musical director.

The crowd (and a third of America) may have been going crazy when The Beatles performed, but Ray Bloch—The Ed Sullivan Show's musical director—wasn't as impressed. When asked for a comment about the performance by a reporter for The New York Times, he was blunt: "The only thing that’s different is the hair, as far as I can see. I give them a year."

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