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15 Interesting Facts about Bohemian Rhapsody as it Hits 40

... Tim Chester/Mashable:

What is "Bohemian Rhapsody" about? Short answer: nobody has a clue.

On the one hand, it's the tale of a man who confesses murder to his mother and ends up on trial, but on another it's a nonsensical melange of Florentine astronomers, Rossini characters and Scaramouches.

Some think it references Freddie Mercury's sexuality; others insist it's about spiritual redemption. Wayne and Garth think it's just good for a head bang.

As one of rock music's most histrionic and memorable tracks hits its 40th birthday (the original was released during a relatively dull period between glam and punk on Oct. 31, 1975), here are 16 things we definitely do know about Queen's masterpiece.

  • 1. It was originally called 'The Cowboy Song.'

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    The working title was eventually ditched for "Bohemian Rhapsody." Mercury was working on lines for the song as far back as the late '60s.

    2. Freddie Mercury wrote the song in bed.

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    The double-jointed singer would wake up in the night and reach back to his headboard and play what he'd heard in his dreams.

    3. He composed the whole thing on scraps of paper.

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    The whole song was in Mercury's head, Brian May says, with the frontman carrying around numerous scraps of paper.

    4. It was recorded in six different studios.

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    The band tested contemporary tech to its limits.

    5. 180 overdubs were used in the final recording.

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    The laborious process took weeks and weeks.

    6. That riff was actually created by Mercury on the piano.

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    "Freddie's piano playing was exceptional, although he didn't think so," Brian May told the BBC recently. "In fact, he thought he was a bit of a mediocre piano player and stopped doing it later on in our career."

    7. The opera section alone took three weeks - the amount of time most rock albums were completed in.

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    Producer Roy Thomas Baker recalled the lengthy process in 1995.

    8. The band almost wore out the tape it was recorded on.

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    Queen made so many overdubs the tape was practically transparent.

    9. Producers put microphones down metal tubes to get a more 'honky' sound.

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    John Deacon also used "something like a Tandy Radio Shack speaker with a 3 Watt amplifier" as the band experimented.

    10. Roger Taylor locked himself in the tape closet during recordings.

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    He wanted his song "I'm In Love With My Car" as a B-side. He got his way in the end.

    11. Queen's record label said the song was too long to release.

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    However, DJ Kenny Everett in the UK and Paul Drew in the U.S. began playing it on radio and forced the label's hand on both sides of the Atlantic.

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    13. It was kept off the top of the charts in the U.S. by Kris Kross.

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    The song topped the charts in Canada, Australia and the UK (twice) as well as numerous other territories, but it wasn't so successful in the U.S. Its first release saw it stall at number 9 while in 1992 (after Wayne's World) it was pipped to the post by a pair of rappers that wore their clothes backward.

    14. Brian May turns the radio up when he hears it.

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    But he doesn't air drum.

    15. The video cost a paltry £4,500 ($6,880) to make.

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    It was recorded for their appearance on "Top Of The Pops" and was pretty much the first video promo.

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