The Making of “Bohemian Rhapsody”: Take a Deep Dive Into the Iconic Song with Queen’s 2002 Mini Documentary

Despite being fraught with pro­duc­tion dif­fi­cul­ties, an absent direc­tor, and a crit­i­cal quib­bling over its sex­u­al­i­ty pol­i­tics, Bohemi­an Rhap­sody, the biopic of Fred­die Mer­cury and Queen, has been doing very well at the box office. And though it has thrust Queen’s music back into the spot­light, has it even real­ly gone away?

The song itself, the 6 minute epic “Bohemi­an Rhap­sody,” was the top of the UK sin­gles charts for nine weeks upon its release and hasn’t been for­got­ten since. It’s part of our col­lec­tive DNA, but with a cer­tain caveat…it’s noto­ri­ous­ly dif­fi­cult to cov­er. It is so fine­ly con­struct­ed that it can’t be decon­struct­ed, leav­ing artists to stand in the shad­ow of Mercury’s deliv­ery. Bri­an May, in the above video, gives cred­it to Axl Rose for get­ting close to the pow­er­ful high reg­is­ters of Mer­cury, but even that was a kind of karaoke. And let’s not even talk about Kanye West’s stab at it.

So it’s a good time to check in with this 45 minute-long mini-doc on the mak­ing of the song, which took the band into the stratos­phere. Pro­duced in 2002 for the band’s Great­est Hits DVD, it fea­tures gui­tarist Bri­an May and drum­mer Roger Tay­lor. The first part is on the writ­ing of the song, the sec­ond part on the mak­ing of the music video, and the third, the bulk of the doc, on the pro­duc­tion.

Don’t expect any expla­na­tion of the sub­ject mat­ter of the song–as May says, Mer­cury would have shrugged off any inter­pre­ta­tion and dis­missed any search for depth. And while Mer­cury always took care over his lyrics, the pow­er is all there in the music.

As for the video, that came about from neces­si­ty, as the band want­ed to be on Top of the Pops and tour at the same time. By using their rehearsal stage at Elstree stu­dios for the per­for­mance footage and a side area for the choral/­close-up seg­ments, they made a strange­ly icon­ic video. (Who doesn’t think of Queen’s four mem­bers arranged in a dia­mond when those vocals start up?). The two main effects were a prism lens on the cam­era and video feed­back, all done live.

The last part is fas­ci­nat­ing and a deep dive into the mix. Bri­an May, along­side stu­dio engi­neer Justin Shirley Smith, play just the piano, bass, and drums from the song at first. Mer­cury was a self-taught pianist who played “like a drum­mer,” with a metronome in his head, says May.

The gui­tarist also iso­lates his var­i­ous gui­tar parts, includ­ing the har­mon­ics dur­ing the open­ing bal­lad por­tion, the “shiv­ers down my spine” sound made by scrap­ing the strings, and the famous solo, which he wrote as a coun­ter­point to Mercury’s melody. It’s geek­ery of the high­est order, but it’s for a song that deserves such atten­tion.

Inside The Rhap­sody will be added to our col­lec­tion of Free Doc­u­men­taries, a sub­set of our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What Made Fred­die Mer­cury the Great­est Vocal­ist in Rock His­to­ry? The Secrets Revealed in a Short Video Essay
Hear Fred­die Mer­cury & Queen’s Iso­lat­ed Vocals on Their Endur­ing Clas­sic Song, “We Are The Cham­pi­ons”

Fred­die Mercury’s Final Days: Watch a Poignant Mon­tage That Doc­u­ments the Last Chap­ter of the Singer’s Life

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the artist inter­view-based FunkZone Pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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