Song lyrics – Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
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Hello and welcome to Learn English Vocabulary. My name is Jack and I’m making this podcast for you to learn or revise English vocabulary. You can find a transcript of this podcast on LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk. There’s a page for this podcast with the transcript, an activity and a task for you to do in the comments section.
Today, I want to talk about a song which was requested by Gisele. This song is one of the most famous songs ever written and is by the band Queen. The song is called Bohemian Rhapsody which was written by Freddie Mercury in 1975.
If you’re interested, I’m going to live stream the recording of this podcast on Facebook and youtube so you can search for Learn English Vocabulary and you’ll find a video with the recording of this podcast. I’ll be recording the live stream of the recording of the next podcast at 2 pm UK time on Thursday.
I’m not really sure how to grade this podcast because most of the lyrics in the song are B1, some B2 and only a couple of items are C1. However, the language I need to use to discuss the meaning of the song, or what I think it means will be advanced.
Let’s start with the title. The adjective bohemian used to be used to refer to a person from the kingdom of Bohemia which was in the Czech Republic over 100 years ago. However, for quite a long time, it has been used to describe someone who is unconventional. This means they are strange and don’t do things the way most people do them. The opposite is conventional which means normal or traditional and ordinary. When you go for a job interview, it’s conventional to wear a suit or smart clothes. The word conventional can be used to imply that something is boring, especially if you are talking about art or fashion.
The word bohemian is often used to talk about artists who have different ideas and different ways of looking at the world. Quite recently, it’s been used to describe a style of dress that’s a bit hippy and a bit grungy, sort of how Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones dresses.
A rhapsody is an expression or outpouring of feeling or emotion. It’s also used in music for an emotional composition. There is a really famous piece of music by George Gershwin called Rhapsody in Blue.
The word expression is usually used to talk about the feeling or emotion that you show using your face. So a smile is a happy expression. This comes from the verb to express which means to show a feeling. As well as facial expressions, you can use gestures and actions to express or show your emotions and ideas. You can also use art to express yourself. So the title of the song means an unconventional expression or outpouring of emotion.
An outpouring is a really strong expression that you might not be able to control. I think the word is usually used with negative emotions such as anger, grief and sadness. So when a famous person dies, sometimes there is a massive public outpouring of grief. Normally, the word rhapsody is used in more positive terms to talk about intense feelings of love and happiness.
The song is unconventional in style. Most songs have verses and choruses, but Bohemian Rhapsody has an introduction part and then a ballad section and then an operatic section followed by a hard rock bit and then an outro. It’s also nearly 6 minutes long.
Another reason for the song’s title is it relates to Freddie Mercury’s life and back when the song was written, Freddie Mercury was married and living a conventional life. However, Freddie Mercury was gay and so he might have written the song about his feelings that would have been considered unconventional. Today, I don’t think most people in the UK discriminate too much between gay and straight relationships. Love is love; people deal with the same issues in relationships whether they are conventional or not. But in 1975, homosexual relationships had only recently been decriminalised.
To discriminate means to treat a particular group of people differently. It’s generally used in a negative way to describe unfair treatment of groups of people. Decriminalise means to stop something being illegal.
Let’s take a look at the lyrics now.
The introduction section starts quite softly with:
Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide
No escape from reality
We use real life as a synonym for reality. When children are talking, they often talk about things that are just in their imagination. They contrast this with ‘in real life’. You also hear people say ‘he’s a real-life hero’ or ‘she’s a real-life secret agent’. This is an emphatic way of saying something is real or true.
Is this just fantasy? A fantasy can be a type of dream or imagined situation. We use the verb fantasise to talk about imagining things we want to be real. This is especially true of sexual desires. Another meaning that Freddie Mercury would have known relates to music. A fantasia is a type of composition that is free form, that is, that doesn’t follow traditional musical conventions.
Caught in a landslide; I guess this means he feels overpowered by events and things that are out of his control. No escape from reality. The song continues:
Open your eyes
Look up to the skies and see
I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy
Sympathy is quite a tricky word. It’s a noun and it means a feeling of sadness, but not for our own problems. It means to feel sad for someone else who is experiencing something difficult. If someone loses their job, you might have or feel sympathy for them. I have a lot of sympathy for all the people who are losing their jobs during the pandemic. If a family member dies, people send messages of sympathy.
Sympathy is also commonly used to say that you don’t feel sad for someone if you think they somehow deserve their troubles. For example, you might hear someone say: I have no sympathy for these protestors who are in trouble with the police. The adjective form is sympathetic and I think this is also used more commonly in the negative way. My friend’s car has broken down, but I’m not very sympathetic because he didn’t look after it properly.
In the next part, Freddie sings:
Because I’m easy come, easy go
Little high, little low
Any way the wind blows
Doesn’t really matter to me, to me
The phrase easy come easy go is usually used about money. It means you don’t care when you lose money or some kind of advantage. In a kind of literal situation, you might hear it in a casino. If someone wins a lot of money playing poker and then loses it again, they might say easy come easy go. If someone describes themself as easy come, easy go then they mean they are relaxed and don’t get too excited about things. The next line explains it: little high, little low. A calm relaxed person doesn’t experience extreme highs or lows.
In the next line, Freddie sings that it doesn’t matter to him which way the wind blows. This is quite a common metaphor to talk about signs that changes that are coming, usually in organisations or even in society. So you might hear someone saying: I quit the company because I could tell which way the wind was blowing. This means I could tell what changes were coming and I didn’t like them.
Now the song shifts into the ballad section. Apparently, Freddie Mercury had been working on the song for years and had called this section his cowboy song. I think that the lyrics to this section are more straightforward.
Mama, just killed a man
Put a gun against his head
Pulled my trigger, now he’s dead
The word trigger means the small curved piece of metal that’s part of a gun that you pull with your finger to make the gun go off.
Mama, life had just begun
But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away
This is massive and dramatic in the song. I’ve thrown it all away. Not just thrown it away, but thrown it all away.
Didn’t mean to make you cry
If I’m not back again this time tomorrow
Carry on, carry on as if nothing really matters
This is a simple story about a young man who has murdered someone and is expecting some sort of trouble as a consequence. I’m not sure if there is some deeper meaning to this, but I think that it’s probably a metaphor. He goes on …
Too late, my time has come
Sends shivers down my spine
Body’s aching all the time
The line my time has come is interesting. This is sometimes used in a positive way. If it is your time, it is usually your turn to be successful, but it can be used to say that it’s your time to die.
To shiver means to physically shake because it’s cold. It’s an involuntary action – it’s not something you can control.
Your spine is your backbone or rather the bones of your back. If you get shivers down your spine, it’s because something has really frightened or thrilled you.
Body’s aching all the time. To ache means to have a continuous pain – usually in your back or teeth. You can also get an earache.
Goodbye, everybody, I’ve got to go
Gotta leave you all behind and face the truth
We use the verb face to mean to confront or deal with a problem. I think this is more commonly used in negative sentences. I can’t face it today. So for example, I really don’t like dealing with business paperwork. I tend to leave everything till the last minute because I can’t face it till I really have to deal with it.
Mama, ooh (Any way the wind blows)
I don’t want to die
I sometimes wish I’d never been born at all
Now the song changes again and moves into an operatic section. The words are obscure and relate to opera and may have been chosen because of how they sound.
I see a little silhouetto of a man
Scaramouche, Scaramouche, will you do the Fandango?
A silhouette is the dark shape or outline of something with a bright light behind it. Silhouettes are often used in art, photography and film in particular.
Scaramouche is a character from Italian opera. I don’t listen to opera so I had to look this up, but apparently, this character is a bit of a … well, a coward who boasts and shows off all the time. Not a great character.
The fandango is a type of dance, but it also means to mess about and act like a fool.
Thunderbolt and lightning very, very frightening me
A thunderbolt is lightning. Normally, we talk about thunder and lightning – thunder is the booming noise you hear when there’s a loud storm. A thunderbolt is lightning – an individual strike. I was struck by a thunderbolt. Or I was struck by lightning.
Galileo, Galileo – Galileo was an astronomer and physicist who was famously forced to deny his findings and ideas because they were not popular in the catholic church.
Figaro is another character from operas, this time he is clever and normally gets his way, but he is also essentially a good person.
These lyrics could simply be words that Freddie Mercury chose because they sound good and fit the operatic section, but I think that there’s a trend and that Freddie identifies with aspects of these characters. In the next section, I think this is clear.
I’m just a poor boy, nobody loves me
He’s just a poor boy from a poor family
Spare him his life from this monstrosity
To spare someone something means to stop them from experiencing something horrible. You might hear people talking about a killer who killed lots of people, but let one person live. The killer spared the life of one person.
A monstrosity is usually a large ugly thing. It comes from the same root as the word monster. It’s probably used most commonly to talk about really ugly buildings. It is also used to talk about really horrible acts. In times of war, you might hear people talking about the monstrosities committed by different sides.
Easy come, easy go, will you let me go?
Bismillah! No, we will not let you go (Let him go!)
Bismillah! We will not let you go (Let him go!)
Bismillah! We will not let you go (Let me go!)
Will not let you go (Let me go!)
Never let you go (Never, never, never, never let me go)
Oh oh oh oh
In this section, I think Freddie is singing about getting away from his family and the culture and tradition that he was in part raised in. His parents were Indian Parsis who are Zoroastrians. I’m afraid I know very little about Zoroastrians except that there is a community in Mumbai that migrated from Persia and they have strange burial rites.
I think that the word Bismillah is also used in Arabic as an exclamation to say in god’s name. In English, people say for God’s sake in the same way, it’s probably slightly less dramatic.
Anyhow, whoever these people are, they are refusing to let Freddie go.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no
Oh, mama mia, mama mia (Mama mia, let me go)
Beelzebub has a devil put aside for me, for me, for me
Beelzebub is one of the names of the devil. Or perhaps one of the devils as he has put a devil aside for Freddie. If someone puts something aside for you, it’s normally to save something for you. So you might ask someone in a shop to put something aside for you and not sell it to anyone else.
Now there’s a heavy rock section.
So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye?
So you think you can love me and leave me to die?
Oh, baby, can’t do this to me, baby
Just gotta get out, just gotta get right outta here
This section is more defiant – it’s like Freddie has made up his mind and is fighting back against the traditions that made him a cowboy and then a figure of ridicule or persecution and then finally wouldn’t let him be free and be himself.
I think that the language is straight forward. The song returns to a more reflective feeling for the outro. Freddie sings:
Nothing really matters
Anyone can see
Nothing really matters
Nothing really matters to me
This is a really long song and this will be one of the longest podcasts I’ve made for Learn English Vocabulary.
I have enjoyed looking at the language and thinking a bit about what it might mean. I don’t think Freddie Mercury or the rest of the band have ever said what the song means so it’s up to you to decide and interpret the lyrics. I hope that this podcast has helped you understand the words and that you can go back and listen to the song again and enjoy it all the more. Thanks again Gisele for recommending the song.
If you have enjoyed this podcast, please leave me a comment or a rating or a review. I love to hear from you and any comments or suggestions you have. If there are any topics or songs or scenes from a film that you would like me to talk about or anything else you would like to hear, I would be delighted to make a podcast for you. So please visit LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk and say hello.
Thanks for listening.