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Listening: Bohemian Rhapsody

This month I’ve been looking at the difference between hearing something and actually listening to something. This week I wanted to take that a step further talk about a very famous song – Bohemian Rhapsody.

This is a classic piece. I like to use it a lot when I’m talking about music and listening to music because there is so very much going on with this piece.

So before I go any further, go and find the official version so that you are making sure that the artists get paid for their wonderful work. Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. Come back to me when you’ve got it.

So we’ve got Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. If you think about the very beginning of the song, it starts simply with voices:

Is this the real life, is this just fantasy?

That isn’t just one voice, but several voices. They’re singing in harmony, which means that there’s lots of different lines where they’re almost forming a full chord of music with the different voices and it’s giving it a wonderful big sound. They’re all gelled together into this one wonderful sound.

From there, a piano softly joins in. Once the piano is joined in, it’s going to move to Freddie singing.

I’m just a poor boy. I need no sympathy.

And there are more harmonies around that:

Easy come, easy go, little high, little low

After that, when it gets to the anyway the wind blows area, if you listen, there’s a tiny little sound effect of wind blowing. It’s these wonderful little bits that I want you to start picking up on. So when it goes, doesn’t really matter to me. And then Freddie says on his own, to me, I want you to listen to that bit because up until then, all of that has been what we could call the intro.

From the point when he sings to me and then mama, just killed a man, you listen to that, the piano changes and it starts playing a slightly different chords. But underneath that, if you listen, there’s actually the bass coming in and it’s just really playing BONG at the beginning of every bar. That is underpinning and underlying and really supporting the piano when it’s playing.

That is moving into the the beginning of what we call the ballad section of this song. Bohemian Rhapsody was actually written as a mock opera. So it does have these different sections, which is what makes it so wonderful to use.

Moving into the ballad part of the song.

Mama Just Killed a Man, put a gun against his head, pulled my trigger, now he’s dead. Mama, life had just begun and now I’ve gone and thrown it all away.

So I want you to listen to what’s going on in that. Throughout that, things are starting to layer.

Mama, I just killed a man and now I’ve gone and thrown it all away, mama,

It’s just changed key. Things are getting bigger. So they’re starting to get drums involved. The bass is getting bigger. Brian May’s guitar is starting to come in there as well. The whole sound is starting to get bigger, but it’s still got that ballad feel to it.

If I’m not back again this time tomorrow, carry on, carry on as though nothing really matters

Listen to that bit because it’s got big, big, big. And then they’re pulling it all the way back again to when Freddie sings

and nothing really matters

And then he is going back to repeating the very beginning where it’s just piano to verse two of this ballad part.

Verse two,

too late, my time has come

It’s pretty much the same, but they’re really getting into it more. And if you listen to the drums, there’s more of a beat now. It’s not just emphasising and full stopping around Freddie, there’s a boom, boom around too late.

My time has gone, shivers down my spine, body aching all the time.

And there’s also sound effects in there. I think it’s under sent shivers down my spine. And I want you to start listening for those little effects that really make these songs. And not just this song. There’s a lot of songs.

Didn’t mean to make you cry, but if I’m not back again this time tomorrow

You can hear it getting bigger and bigger. The piano this time tomorrow, carry on, carry on.

And then you’re going into Brian May with his very typical Brian May-sounding guitar. You’re going through that guitar solo which is working as the glue to bring it all together.

The next section is what we call the operatic section. And you will know why, because it’s very, very different. Brian’s going through this incredible solo until it’s going into operatic section. At the end of the solo, listen to how it moves in.

And that transition from one part to another is so wonderful to listen to.

I see a little silhouetto of a man, scaramoosh scaramoosh, can you do the fandango?

We all know this. And those of us old enough will remember it more than anything from Wayne’s World. But that is very operatic, the way they’re singing it.

Galileo, Galileo, Galileo,

It’s actually even in all operatic sound, they’re not just going Galileo, Galileo, Galileo, they’re making it sound operatic.

Figaro-o-o-o. I’m just a poor boy. Nobody loves me. He is just a poor boy.

This massive sound wall of sound, and it’s nearly all voices and it’s very much a call and response. If you take your ears away you’re starting to listen to the sense of it, there’s a fight going on. This fight between the two factions for this man’s soul and also the thunderbolts and lightning.

Thunderbolts and lightning. Very, very frightening me.

It’s big. It’s getting bigger, it’s getting bigger, it’s getting bigger and then stops.

And when it gets into the Galileo, you’ve got this wonderful falsetto of Roger Taylor. Then I think it’s Freddie at the bottom, Galileo, Galileo, Galileo, which again is very, very reminiscent of some of the masses by Mozart where you’ve got that idea of the good and the bad pulling. And that’s exactly what they’re doing with the Galileo. And then when you get to the,

I’m just a poor boy, nobody loves me and everybody joins in, he’s just a poor boy from a poor family sparing this life, from this monstrosity,

It’s almost like a wall of sound.

Easy come, easy go, will you let me go?

And again, that’s a single person. That’s Freddie and his piano in that single person. This is all creating tension, this idea of quiet singles, full on walls of sound. And you don’t know it, but it’s building then it’s starting to layer towards the end as it’s getting to this massive, massive crescendo of the operatic section.

Mama mia, let me go, Beelzebub has a devil set aside for me, for me, for me.

So when he is going up into that top absolute falsetto, that is so high, I think that’s a top B flat or something bonkers like that.

And that in itself is the beginning of the transition into the rock part of the song, this third part. And that top note scream is almost like a scream of that person’s soul at the end. And that’s building that tension straight into the rock section.

This rock part is the Wayne’s World bit, and that is your typical hard rock of the seventies, typical Queen with a full on Brian May sounding guitar to it.

So you think you can love me and leave me die.

Everything about it is typical of how you would think of soft rock, the way the guitars are sounding, the way the drums are working, the bass is working, and even how Freddie is singing. It’s suddenly become much more melodic, but much harder.

So you think you can love me and leave me to die. So you think you can leave me and spit in my eye, oh baby, don’t do this to me baby. Just gotta get out, just gotta get right out of do, do, do do.

All of that is just typical rock. And it’s taken everything of that build up so far, and it’s pushing that energy and it’s working with all of the ballad part. It’s started to build that energy. The operatic part has taken that absolutely to a crescendo.

And now this rock is continuing that energy through. And this is where you are working through your energy.

just gonna get right out of here.

And from that bit it transitions into the last part of the song and you can hear it. The guitar solo is starting to pull back a bit and listen to how the instruments are starting to stop almost, or how they’re dropping out, but then dropping back in, in a much more subtle way.

When the piano comes back in again it’s quite subtle, and that’s the beginning of that shift again out of that soft rock section.

Oh yeah. Oh yeah.

Things are starting to drop out. The drums will drop out, the bass will drop out, the guitar will drop out, and it will once again become just Freddie singing with the piano.

Now it references the intro.

Nothing really matters, anyone can see. Nothing really matters

And there’s a pause and we’re just on Freddie on the piano at this point.

Nothing really matters to me

More piano. But then Brian May’s guitar comes in with this wonderful last refrain, and it’s such a different sounding guitar to the hard work part of it. it’s a wonderful last refrain and then it closes back with the full harmony of the band singing

Anyway the wind blows.

And at the very, very end you get this wonderful gong. And that gong is so important because it releases the tension. That song, that entire song has built up for you the whole way through. It’s been building tension.

You’ve managed to get a lot of the energy out through the soft rock, but it’s bringing it down, bringing it down again, and then that gong is that final release. And at that point, you can literally sigh and go, isn’t that one of the greatest songs in the world ever?

If you’ve listened to it and you want more, listen to Coldplay’s Viva La Vida. That’s also a really good one. It’s got a lot of layering in.

Watch the video here.