Is ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ the Greatest Pop Song Ever?

Listeners of the BBC radio show Desert Island Discs were asked which eight tracks they’d want to have if they were, you guessed it, stranded on a desert island. The top picks revealed this week were Ralph Vaughan Williams“The Lark Ascending,” Sir Edward Elgar‘s “Enigma Variations,” and Ludwig van Beethoven‘s “Symphony No. 9 in D Minor ‘Choral.’”

But representing the pop universe that most of us inhabit, “Bohemian Rhapsody” came in at No. 4. What, no “Like a Rolling Stone”? No “Hey Jude”? No “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”? Nope, voters went for the 1975 Queen classic, the 6-minute FM radio staple, the song re-introduced to a new generation of headbangers by Wayne’s World.

It’s probably fitting that, on a list dominated by classic music, “Rhapsody” made the cut. But for pop lovers, wasn’t “Bohemian Rhapsody” the sort of arena rock excess that punk was supposed to flush out? Melody Maker magazine, quite memorably and nastily, said the song sounded like “Balham Amateur Operatic Society performing The Pirates Of Penzance.

Time, however, has been kind to “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Not only did Wayne’s World make it a hit again in 1992, you can hear its influence on Radiohead‘s 1997 opus “Paranoid Android.”

And of course, Freddie Mercury‘s bravura performance is a major reason why the song has been deemed a classic. His mastery of several vocal styles is on display here, starting with the tear-jerking, Elton John-esque opening. (His “I don’t want to die/Sometimes I wish I’d never been born at all” took on a deeper poignancy after the singer’s shocking 1991 AIDS death.) Then there’s the campy, absurdist opera middle-part, with its “Scaramouche” and “Galileo” chants, and of course, the thrashing finale that, without fail, gets the heads throwing back and forth. It’s a sad, ridiculous, thrilling, and ultimately transcendent emotional journey, all in one song.

Greatest ever, though…?

What do you think of “Bohemian Rhapsody”? One of the greatest songs ever, or is it simply overblown, overplayed, and overrated?

Kevin Wicks

Kevin Wicks founded BBCAmerica.com's Anglophenia blog back in 2005 and has been translating British culture for an American audience ever since. While not British himself - he was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri - he once received inordinate hospitality in London for sharing the name of a dead but beloved EastEnders character. His Anglophilia stems from a high school love of Morrissey, whom he calls his "gateway drug" into British culture.

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