Bryan Singer’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” takes on the ride of legendary British rock band Queen, as well as the life of frontman Freddie Mercury. In the film, Queen’s record label at one time resisted releasing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” perhaps one of the band’s most famous songs, as a single — but did that really happen?
In the movie, band members Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), Brian May (Gwilym Lee) and John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) walk into EMI Records to play their single “Bohemian Rhapsody” of their new album, “A Night at the Opera.”
However, EMI executive Ray Foster (a fictional character loosely based on former EMI chief Roy Featherstone, according to AXS), refuses to release the song as the band’s next single following “Killer Queen,” mainly because he didn’t understand the song and also thought a six-minute tune would never play on the radio.
After a heated discussion in the film, the band storms out of the meeting with the label and engages in a foul-mouthed screaming match with Foster, played by Mike Myers. The film hints that the band might quit the label — Malek’s Mercury tells Foster that he will be forever remembered as the guy who lost Queen — but manager John Reid (Aidan Gillen) says they are still under contract.
In reality, the band didn’t quit EMI until 2010, nearly two decades after Mercury’s death.
However, EMI execs did indeed have trepidations about releasing “Bohemian Rhapsody” as a single. According to Lesley-Ann Jones’ biography “Mercury,” “EMI and the industry in general voiced misgivings. Radio stations wondered what the hell they were supposed to do with a six-minute single. Even bassist John Deacon expressed his fears, albeit in private, that to release ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ would prove the greatest error of judgment of Queen’s career.”
In the movie, Mercury takes the record to his pal Kenny Everett, a British radio DJ, to play the track — which effectively forced the record label’s hand by getting the song directly to the public.
This is, indeed, true, according to the biography. “It took the genius of Kenny Everett to hear and see ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ as a classic single,” wrote Jones. “Everett played a pivotal role in getting ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ released as a single and was famously first to air the track.
“A demo was sent to him with strict instruction not to broadcast it, but simply to get back to Freddie with his opinion. Everett adored the track, and played it fourteen times over one weekend, claiming to his boss on every play that ‘his finger slipped.'”
Although Everett’s “cheek helped bring the most popular track of all time to the attention of the metropolis,” Jones noted that he may not have made the song a U.K.-wide hit since Everett’s station exclusively London-based.
“Diddy” David Hamilton, whose BBC Radio 1 show attracted 16 million listeners daily, said he too gave the song a push. “I remember thinking that it was totally different from any pop record I’d ever heard before,” Hamilton told Jones. “It was innovative. Operatic. It soared and swooped and got under your skin.”