Saturday, March 13, 2010

Queen Song of the Week: Chorus? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Chorus, Part II

BoRhap - oh where to begin. The story goes that Freddie Mercury played the opening part of the song ("Mama, just killed a man.") for the rest of the band, stopped playing, told them, "And that's where the opera bit starts up. Let's get lunch."

As the band worked tirelessly in the studio on the layers and layers of harmonies, Freddie would come in with lyrics scribbled on scraps of napkins for them. It was all in his head - he just needed to recreate it on tape. What many don't realize is that the background vocals of BoRhap were performed entirely by Freddie Mercury, Dr. May and RT. No additional vocalists were used! Each sang his part over and over again, the tapes were overdubbed and spliced together using Scotch tape, and the result is the stunning choral-like harmonies that make BoRhap immediately recognizable from its first note. Additionally, it was RT, not Freddie Mercury, who sang the song's signature high note, a piercing B5 ("For meeeeeeeee") right before the guitar solo begins.

When it came time to release the first single off the album A Night at the Opera, the band chose BoRhap and stood behind their choice even when the record company insisted that at nearly six minutes, the song was too long. Ultimately it was Freddie Mercury who convinced a friend, a local DJ, to play BoRhap on the radio and from there the record company relented. To choose the B-side of the single was just as difficult. The rumor is that RT so badly wanted I'm In Love With My Car (featured here) to be the B-side that he locked himself in a cupboard until Freddie Mercury agreed.

Unfortunately, the complexity of BoRhap made it impossible to play live in full. Typically the band began with Freddie Mercury on the piano and following Dr. May's solo when the opera section kicked in, they'd play a recording while the band left the stage, finally at the end they'd reappear in time to play the hard rock portion ("So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye.") and the outro of the song.

In 2002, RT and Dr. May played the song live in full for the first time with the cast of the musical "We Will Rock You" at the Queen's Golden Jubilee. RT admitted after the show having to ask the musical's drummer how to play the operatic bit of the song because it had been nearly thirty years since he had last played it. More recently, the recording artist Pink has been performing the full version of the song on her Funhouse tour. (No offense, boys, but I like Pink's version better. BoRhap is campy and over-the-top enough, it doesn't need the "musical theater" treatment. Pink's traditional gospel choir is much truer to the original recording).

Finally, not only is BoRhap universally recognized as one of the greatest rock songs of all time, it also played a significant role in launching the music video industry. Because Queen set off on tour immediately following release of the song, they weren't available to perform on Top of the Pops, as each week the artist with the #1 song was invited to do. To make up for their absence, the band spent about three hours and 4500 pounds to make a music video which aired in place of a live performance. While technically not the first music video, the use of the video appealed to other artists who would no longer have to be available to play live on television in order to get their song played.

Stay tuned tomorrow for my discussion of The Millionaire's Waltz.

Happy Listening!

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